To persevere

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For one to triumph, one must first Persevere. To persevere, one must have Patience. For one to persevere and have patience, one must hope. And we get hope through Prayer.

 

I remember it was Dr. Jonathan Amante who told me about the 3 P’s almost seven years ago.

I enrolled at the Silliman University Medical School in 2016. I was originally part of ‘Batch Vision’, then I got to ‘Batch Asterion’, and you know how it goes.

In early 2018, my father, Carlos Florendo, was diagnosed with tuberculosis. He went through the full regimen, and was always compliant. But his cough never went away. When he had additional imaging done in Cebu, my father was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer.

When we were in our second year in Medical School, we already learned the prognosis of Stage 4 lung CA. So I knew well that when my father’s lung biopsy results came out, it showed that it was non-small cell, and it was adeno-carcinoma.

My father, and his second eldest brother (my Tito Anton), were in the shipping business, and my father must have gotten the disease from 30 years of checking on the engine rooms of each vessel, almost on a daily basis.

So my father went through the most advanced anti-cancer treatment: immunotherapy and chemotherapy. The cancer took a toll on his body — and his finances, too.

One day, my father told me he couldn’t pay my tuition anymore, as he had spent all his savings on his treatments. And with CoViD restrictions that time completely starving the roll on-roll off shipping business, my Tito Anton, who had also been supporting me in Med School, had a hard time, too.

I had to find a way. You see, dog lovers in Dumaguete refer to me as “Dumaguete’s dog whisperer”. I eventually trained dogs on the weekends to come up with my tuition. By 2021, I graduated from SUMS, and had my post-graduate internship at the SU Medical Center.

During that time, my father’s eldest brother (Tito Ted) began to have a hard time breathing, and had an unusual fever. He was eventually diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma, with the primary tumor located in the lungs. Perhaps some of my fellow PGIs and medical consultants have met him at the SUMC-MAB where Tito Ted was confined  for almost six months.

By October 2022, I took the Physicians’ Licensure Exam. My preparation then was not enough; I failed. That outcome, however, didn’t stop me from trying again.

When I came back to Dumaguete, both my father and Tito Ted were already bedridden.

In December that year, I married my long-time girlfriend, Trisha Barrios. Four days after our wedding, my Tito Ted passed on. So I decided I should skip the March PLE, and spend time instead with my parents. I helped with my father’s health management since we kept him home, and had home health done. His attending physicians were our teachers at Med School, so I felt I was still a PGI assigned at home.

By January this year, my father peacefully passed away. I was at his side as he crossed the other shore. I heard his last words, felt his last pulse, and heard his last breath.

My father, Carlos Bernardez Florendo, was the progenitor of my dreams of becoming a doctor. He was part of the first batch of the Cebu Doctors University College of Medicine, but he stopped schooling by his second year. My father often told me that if only he continued to study Medicine, he may not have developed cancer working in the engine room of vessels.

Another source of my dreams was Dr. Betty Calderon, one of my anti-cancer thesis advisers when I was finishing my BS Biology degree. She, too, passed away earlier in September of 2022.

I still opted to skip the March PLE, and continued my self-study. When the pre-Board reviews started in April this year, I decided to enroll in a different review center. And I believe I made the right decision because I felt better-attuned to a systems-approach of review wherein multiple subjects are studied holistically together, rather than studying one subject handout at a time. I felt differently-abled this time around.

During my review, I continued to juggle my dog training business, and my studies. I was training dogs early at dawn, attended online classes, then trained dogs again after my classes. It was rough. I had to persevere. I was thinking, how can I help others if I am not even able to help myself? If I won’t make ends meet, how would I be able to afford my needs, my daily meals, and my stay in Cebu? I was no longer a teenager; and adulthood hit me hard. I had to fend for myself now.

As the PLE was fast approaching, fear and doubt started creeping in on me. Every time people asked me how my review was going, it felt like someone was pointing a knife at my throat.

On the first day of the exams before heading for the University of Cebu-Banilad, I prayed, together with my wife. When I arrived at the testing venue, I noted that almost everyone was in uniform, except me! I couldn’t recover my past uniforms anymore, and I had only one PGI smock left, it even had a torn sleeve in my armpit. I was telling myself I had to pass the exam this time because I only had one piece of smock left! I had nothing to wear anymore the next time around.

Everyone here would agree that it was the hardest exam of our lives. It was even harder than my first one. When I received my first test paper, I scanned through the pages, and I realized that nothing even seemed familiar. Worse, as I started answering each item, I realized there were no “bees”! The buzzwords were not buzzing!

I’m sure you all remember that feeling when each time you read a long-stem question, and you didn’t know the answer, it actually physically hurt your body? Then your peripheral vision starts having dark spots, and you feel your temperature rising? This is exactly how I felt during the exam on Anatomy. And my palms started sweating, the pencil would slip through my fingers. I even dropped my pencil twice! And we all know about that superstition that we should never drop our pencil during major exams. I was even about to leak my pants because of those thoughts.

So I told myself, “Eric, now is a good time to pray!” I desperately needed God’s guidance. I also recited this poem in my head, titled The Secret:

I met God in the morning when my day was at its best,

And His Presence came like sunrise, Like a glory in my breast.

All day long the Presence lingered, All day long He stayed with me,

And we sailed in perfect calmness O’er a very troubled sea.

Other ships were blown and battered, Other ships were sore-distressed,

But the winds that seemed to drive them Brought us to a peace and rest.

Then I thought of other mornings, With a keen remorse of mind,

When I, too, had loosed the moorings, With the Presence left behind

So I think I know the secret, Learned from many a troubled way:

You must seek Him in the morning, If you want Him through the day!

This poem has been handed down in my family for generations. After reciting it in my head, I finally stopped freaking out, then I proceeded to answering the exams.

Each day was different. As I answered each test paper, I noticed how totally different it was in style than my exam last year. But I just knew this was totally in God’s hands now. No matter how much we prepare, no one is a hundred percent prepared to face what the Board of Medicine would throw at us.

After the exams, I felt a mixed set of emotions: relief that it was done, doubt, fear, and anger. I had doubts again that I would pass this time — because I knew the feeling of failure. Afterall, I had failed countless of times before in my academics. I also felt fear of showing my face to my teachers and family that I have failed the Boards again. I also felt anger. As I was walking back to the condominium where we were staying, I started to realize the errors I made even in the easy questions! I was angry at myself for having prepared for many months, only to lose out on MPL 1 questions. (After the last day of the exams, I’m sorry I didn’t go to dinner with my classmates — it was because of the insecurity I felt afterwards.)

The trip back to Dumaguete seemed longer than usual; I even got a traffic ticket in the town of Minglanilla, which made it much worse. The days awaiting the results were terrifying, too. The Professional Regulatory Commission channels had kept on updating since Nov. 6 that they would soon be releasing the PLE results — which felt like forever for me.

Then on Friday night, Nov. 10, before I went to bed, I told my wife Trisha I had this gut feeling we had to pray. So we said our fervent prayers, and ended it with the poem, The Secret. A few seconds afterwards, my phone notified. It was the PRC channel on FB Messenger with the actual results. And guess what: my name was there in the list of passers. The juvenile delinquent who wasn’t able to march on graduation day in high school, the college student who failed Physical Therapy, the student who failed Anatomy and Histology in his first year, the student who didn’t graduate on time each time – now had passed the Physicians Licensure Exam.

The subjects on Pharmacology and Pathology were my waterloo in my first PLE. In my preparation for my second take, I had actually read Katzung’s and Robbins’ reviewers cover to cover three times. And this was Robbins’ final question: As a student in the health sciences, you have just finished this review book, learning to apply your knowledge based in Pathology to clinical and experimental scenarios of human disease states. Which of the following represents your best application of this knowledge? a) Collegial consultation; b) Compassionate care; c) Differential diagnosis; d) Lifelong learning; e) Patient education; f) Research projects. And the answer: All are actually correct. We hope that you have advanced your knowledge, and are now better able to help others in your health science career. Go make the world a better place for everyone.

Did you know that the national passing rate for Board repeaters was only 20 percent? For those friends of ours who haven’t hurdled the PLE yet (I say “yet” because not passing the Boards the first time simply means “delayed success”), we can say to them: One must be broken before one can feel blessed. The finest of steel has to go through the hottest of fire. If one’s path seems more difficult, it could mean that one’s calling is higher. And that all things are possible for one who believes. I should know; I was one of them. Let us not forget those who have been broken, or those who’s path always seems difficult. They need our support and prayers, too.

For everyone who have successfully hurdled the PLE, we realize that the field of Medicine isn’t a sprint or a drag race; it is a marathon! We have fought a good fight, we have finished the race, and most of all, we have kept the faith. But we shouldn’t stop here. Medicine is a lifetime of learning, and therefore, a life-long marathon.

In the following days and weeks, months and years, we will be venturing into the selfless world of Medicine, as we leave our mark, ready to make the world a better place than it was yesterday. I’m sure that each of us who has successfully hurdled the PLE has made our parents proud. We can continue making our families proud by achieving even more – serving other people in our communities in the best ways we have been trained for at Med School. I’m so grateful I had been given the opportunity to study at the SU Medical School, and now even more grateful to share my experience with you.

 

Dr. Eric Bernard Cabahug Florendo

 

____________________

 

 

Dr. Eric Bernard Florendo was born and raised in Dumaguete, together with three other siblings. Their parents are Carlos & Melzen Florendo. Eric, now 30, finished his BS Biology at Silliman University in 2015, and his Doctor of Medicine at the SU Medical School in 2021. He married his long-time girlfriend, Trisha Barrios. His hobby is dog training, and regularly competes in the IGP, a sport that mainly tests and evaluates a German Shepherd’s tracking, obedience, and protection skills as a working dog. He intends to pursue a lasting career in Surgery.

 

 

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