To every angry patient I have ever met
To be honest, I understand completely. It is 38 degrees out on this hot summer day and instead of buying your children popsicles and dressing them in ruffled swimsuits as any mother should in this weather, you are here in the outpatient department, clutching an appointment card that has grown soft with sweat.
You have been here since 4am, groggy from too little sleep, because you were told that government hospitals are dressed in red tape. You arrive before first light, on an empty stomach because you expect to be home in time to cook your husband breakfast, and find that everyone else has been told the same story. At 4am, you are #54 in a line of 120.
To be honest, I understand completely. You have been sitting thigh to thigh with other mothers for, at best, 4 hours before the doctors arrive, hair wet from the shower, cups of coffee in their hands, eyes looking suspiciously of sleep. It is another 30 minutes before the first patient of the day is called into the office. Sweat carves a river down your back. You are hot in caves no one has seen.
To be honest, I understand completely. When you see me in my white uniform, creased in places, elbows and knees, from bowing my head too often as is required of me, you think student. You think of the word practice and imagine me learning through trial and error and making mistakes on your body instead of a doctor in a bright white coat sitting behind his wooden desk performing Medicine. You think “I cannot believe I waited all this time for this.”
To be honest, I understand completely. When you ask me whether it is okay to continue taking your anti-hypertensives 3 times a day and I say wait, let me get back to you and walk up to my resident and ask for her okay, you think I must deserve more than this. When I ask you to pull up the hem of your dress so I could perform an internal exam and the corners of your mouth turn down in disgust and you request for a totoong doktor (real doctor), I understand.
The path to practicing medicine
To be honest, I wish you would take the time to understand me too. I was born a writer and a traveler but, at 16, I decided I wanted to become a doctor because my pen and my feet seemed too slow. At 19, I helped raise money for a 7 month-old boy with sunset eyes who needed brain surgery. At 21, I graduated from college with an honorable mention, a minor on top of my major, and two businesses that taught me the meaning of friendship and of money earned and not given.
When I wrote my application essay for medical school, I said that I wanted to make cancer kinder. At 23, I performed my first minor operation. In the year past, I have sutured more wounds than you can imagine, delivered babies, and performed CPR. I am one report away from finishing my MBA degree. I turn 26 in 2 months and 5 days.
A difficult road
To be honest, no one told me it would be like this. No one told me that the road to saving lives would be so rough around the edges. Every 3 days, I clock in 36 straight hours, taking care of mothers, fathers, and children who are not my own. These days, the first 24 hours is always a marathon of patients asking if their bellies are okay, patients in quiet labor, loud labor, and patients with babies crowning between their thighs. When there is time for rest, usually at 4am, when the emergency room is quiet, I unroll my sleeping bag (on a couch if I am lucky and under a table if I am not, which is most of the time), and settle in for a dreamless sleep. Every half hour on good days, a nurse would call to ask for an IV line to be put in or a catheter to be inserted. At 5:30am, I am awake, tucking lab results into charts while the rest of the hospital is asleep. At 7am, I am expected back in the office for morning endorsements. Breakfast is a carton of milk and a packet of biscuits. On really bad days, breakfast and lunch is a can of coffee.
Today, when I met you, pregnant mother of two with a baby girl on the way, was a really bad day.
No better thanks
Pregnant mother of two with a baby on the way, at 2am one week ago, a 10-time mother held my hand as she was being wheeled into the delivery room to ask me to move to America, where the pay is great and doctors are nice. While in my head I was adding the cost of living to the emotional commute of leaving my family over 8,000 miles away, I found myself saying that I wanted to stay because there really shouldn’t be any other way.
After all this time, 8 years and counting of higher learning, lost Sundays, watching friends make a living, squeezing summer into sunrises on the way to work instead of long, lazy days, there is no better thanks than one followed by doktora and sight restored, cancer removed, another life saved.
Pregnant mother of two with a baby on the way, I understand that you are angry about the wait, the heat, and the state of this wretched thing we call the Philippine healthcare system. Pregnant mother of two, I am angry about all of those things, too. More than anything, I would love for your prenatal visits to happen behind closed doors instead of flimsy curtains smattered with blood, with your husband holding your hand, and your doctor calming your worries. But this place is all we have and right now, right this second, I am the only one here, willing to learn and help and change lives and all of those beautiful things that only happen in dreams. I only ask that you let me.
I only ask that you let me turn this into a good day. – Rappler.com
Patricia Lee has nimble fingers. When she is not writing in patient charts, her hands are spread in downward dog, springing up from a surfboard, or creating art with paper and a regular old box cutter. She is in her fourth year of medical school hopes to be your ophthalmologist one day. You can find more of her stories on lifeisgoodblog.tumblr.com.