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  • Dr. Benjie Luna

On Being a Doctor and Growing Old

[When The Long Lunch was launched in January 2016, I imagined it as a conversation and invited readers to join in. This essay, sent to me last week and published here with his consent, was written by Dr. Luna, whom I have not met, after my article “Who Are All These Old People” resurfaced on his memories page. –DDP]

Sobering. I appreciated this gem of an article enough to post it last year, and it hardly registered a bleep on my friends' list radar. Last year, my 86-year-old mom was diagnosed to have a highly-invasive form of cancer. I am still hoping it was all excised, never to show up again, but who knows. This year, my dad with end-stage kidney failure had serious infection which led to septic shock, all from a tainted catheter. Thankfully, he survived this. A few days ago, a dear uncle who I never really got to know up close and personal, passed away.

I see many frail, really elderly patients every day and I see them as that: frail, really elderly people who need my medical expertise. Sometimes, I see a glimpse of them when a loving relative tells me how his or her ailing patient was once a great scientist, a brilliant lawyer, an honest Congressman who never made himself rich at the expense of the people (yes, they existed), an exacting teacher, a father who taught his daughter how to fish and how to ride a bike, a mom, the ever-loyal personal cheerleader who always had Band-Aid and kisses ready for her son's next misadventure on the playground, or simply someone who cared enough and did enough to make this world a better place.

But I never really cared enough to pry. Or to know more. To me, it generally doesn't register a lot, if at all, because I needed to see the next, frail, elderly patient for the day.

I, too, have a 9-month old elderly citizen discount card, ready to flash it at every opportunity for that meager amount of money I would potentially keep in my pocket. I actually cringed the first time I used it to try and get a discount on a 50-peso chicken fillet rice meal, actually afraid this inexpensive purchase was an exception to the rule. It was like buying your first condom in a small drugstore. But now I know. Rather than someone to be laughed at and ridiculed, I now see myself as proudly having a badge of courage, a rite of passage, a title well-earned.

So, the next time I see a frail, elderly patient, I will try and see him, not just as the next number, but as a "patient," an honest-to-goodness person with a wealth of experience and an abundance of delightful knowledge to share. I will ask a little bit about what he was in his prime how his world was, and how his kids are doing. I will see the sudden sparkle in his eyes, perhaps a tear, perhaps a hint of a smile.

And from now on, that is how I will treat my frail, elderly patients for as long as I practice this wonderful art of medicine. Have I said my Lenten piece enough for myself and for others to hear? In the words of my young colleagues in the wards, "sakto lang, sir."

It is a Good Friday.


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