JONATHAN ESPEJO SY
University of the Philippines College of Medicine
Class of 2017
May 30, 2019
I just found out that I had missed the launch of Young Blood 7, a compilation of essays from the Young Blood column of the Philippine Daily Inquirer. What is more frustrating is that it took place at the Shangri-La Plaza on April 27, when I was with my folks at SM Megamall, right next door. Nevertheless, I am eternally grateful to the Inquirer for the honor of a lifetime. Cheers to the underdogs!
I missed out on an opportunity to tell the world the story behind the “‘Valedictory’ Speech You’ll Never Hear,” which I thought it was a long shot. Suntok sa buwan. At graduations, we listen to a speech by the valedictorians, but we hear nothing from the underdogs who made it by the skin of their teeth, so I thought maybe I could be the first. I began drafting my essay on our last day as medical interns and sent it in an e-mail to Young Blood the next day. I woke up to the sound of my phone ping at 5:58 in the morning five days later. It was my anatomy professor, Dr. Rafael Bundoc. The Inquirer had run my piece. My only regrets are having used “irregardless,” which is incorrect according to the Oxford English Dictionary, and having forgotten to mention Dr. Gerardo “Gap” Legaspi, Director of the Philippine General Hospital, whom I had the honor of shadowing in the operating room, who himself gave an excellent, inspired speech at our graduation. Dr. Legaspi, I beg thy forgiveness.
On the bright side, it’s somewhat better to have missed that than to have never given it a shot in the first place. But that is the story of my life, a life of opportunities missed and mistakes repeated, a life frequently hounded and pestered by the phrase “what could have been.” They say hindsight is 20/20; the irony is not lost on me and my four eyes.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines weltschmerz as “a feeling of melancholy and world-weariness.” Merriam-Webster goes on to elaborate that it is “a mental depression or apathy caused by comparison of the actual state of the world with an ideal state.” It is a personal demon of sorts with which I have continued to wrestle since college. It rears its ugly head in the face of things beyond my control, like seeing my friends from high school and their lives take off while I was still crawling my way through medical school. It stares me in the face whenever I fail an exam because I had not studied well enough. It comes with the need for control and the illusion of having it, from which it is difficult to break, to accept that you do not know everything there is to know. That you do not have all the answers. That you are just starting out. That you (forgot that you) dedicated yourself to a lifetime of learning. That you are so foolish to let yourself falter when you knew better. That you could have done something differently had you known what you know now. That you had become this person you swore you would not allow yourself to become. That you have become your own biggest liability. That you did not figure that out sooner.
So when do we stop making stupid mistakes like this? We don’t. We only get better at solving or preventing them. Everyone who’s anyone has their own share of foibles that make them cringe and grimace to this day. Never assume those people have it all figured out.
Most people do not see the struggle behind the scenes of becoming a doctor, especially in a society that, according to Jake Tapper, “worships the prodigies. The Mozarts.” We worship success and, I guess, eternal youth of some sort, because Mozart died at 35.
“But to measure success by how old you are when you achieve it is silly.” Take it from someone who did not become a full-time journalist until the age of 29, a tribulation of seven years after graduating from college.
Having a professor say, “I barely passed anatomy,” is one of the most encouraging things a medical student can hear. It means your effort is worth something. It means your struggle—your failure—is validated. Justified. Soon to be vindicated.
As I studied for the board exams and navigated the emotional maelstroms therein, I daydreamed about the future the way we would fantasize about what to do with the lottery jackpot should one of us be so lucky to win it. I imagined becoming a professor at my medical school, maybe becoming a mentor of sorts to students having a hard time like I did. My students would remember my lectures for the funny anecdotes I would make. My exam questions would be very challenging but so well-constructed they would say it makes perfect sense. It’s not exactly happily-ever-after, but it kept me going.
Those who are not afraid to admit that they too struggled to get to where they are now, are the role models—dare I say heroes?—that we need today. To shatter these illusions of perfection and success too good to be true. To inspire my generation and the next to take after them, to continue what they had started. If that doesn’t make my failures worth it, nothing will.