Book 13: Swans and Swine


CHAPTER 1.  Dr. Elvira Henares Esguerra


Part 1.  In my daughter, my mother lives again

Amazing, it is as if my mother was alive again.  The explosive laugh that raises the roof and pinpoints her location in a darkened theater,  the passion for small intricate details that exasperate others, the repetitious pleonasm with which she issues instructions, the love for and loyalty to friends and family that extends above and beyond the call of duty, the eloquence and loquacity with which she invests the dullest subject, the ability to motivate people and organize them in pursuit of a common endeavor, the persistence and tenacity with which she pursues the hardest tasks, the wide and open smile that shines like the sun in the morning, the pride and prejudice, the sense and sensibilities, and sensitivity – all these qualities that made my mother Concepcion G. Maramba-Henares one of the most unique persons on this planet are all there, complete and undiminished, in the person of my daughter Elvira.

            I was graduated from the best schools in a breeze and with honors, so I cannot fathom why, more than 40 years later, I have this recurrent nightmare of being again back in school attending classes without knowing the lessons, and taking exams unprepared, in rooms I couldn’t locate.  I say this because my daughter Elvira faced the same nightmare in stark reality.  After having graduated as a pharmacist in UP and successfully hurdling the pharmaceutical board exam, after subsequently earning a doctor’s degree from UE-RM, and successfully passing the medical board exam, poor Elvira, after four years of hiatus as a wife and mother, finally decided to take the diplomate exams that will qualify her to practice as a dermatologist.

            A diplomate is not given by your school, it is granted by your peers in the same profession, your elders and masters, your potential rivals and competitors – it is their way of welcoming you as an equal into their august company.  This is the toughest test of all, and very few can take it without the feeling that they are facing the nemesis of their lives.  In medicine, after graduation and the medical board exams, one is required to take three years of residency in one’s field of specialization in a hospital.  As a resident one is usually made to do the most menial and most trivial tasks, favoritism is rampant, and resentment is usually directed against the superiors or “consultants” in the hospital. So much so that in the Department of Dermatology in Makati Med, a song sung in a competition had lyrics pointedly about “three witches” and more than half the graduating class did not attend the graduation dinner paid for by their superiors.

Some of them would take the diplomate exam and fail miserably, and most others will simply not take the exams at all and spend the rest of their days as a general practitioner rather than a specialist.  My daughter Elvira chose to wipe out the memory of her humiliating experience as a resident, and concentrate on being a wife and mother – which she did rather well, giving me a son-in-law who is talented and successful doctor, and two grandchildren who are goodlooking, well-behaved, disciplined and endowed with excellent grades, all housed in a beautifully organized and well-decorated residence.  Last January, she changed her mind, and told her husband, she will take the exam slated for April, “I am no longer afraid to fail.  If I do, I will take it again and again till I pass.”  (continued).

Part 2.  Scared to take an exam she might fail

The Henares has always been a family of landowners, businessmen and engineers, with a penchant for literature and the stage.  My eldest daughter Elvira was of different mold, she decided to be a doctor.  For her pre-med course she enrolled in Pharmacy in UP upon the advice of Dr. Victor A. Reyes who told her that whatever happens, she would at least be a pharmacist.  I was appalled, “Elvira, that is the hardest course in UP, over half of the students flunk and it takes five years instead of four!”  And Elvira answered, “I am taking Pharmacy because it is the hardest.  If I make it there I will surely make it to medicine.”

            While in UP Elvira once met the chairman of the College of Medicine Dr. Florentino Herrera, husband of Ameurfina, the Supreme Court justice, and a friend of mine, who told her in no uncertain terms, “The trouble with you girls is that you flaunt your wealth driving around UP in a Mercedes Benz and when you become a doctor, you get married and stop practicing.  The UP is wasting its subsidy on you.”

            Elvira was so incensed she enrolled instead in the UERM Medical school, abandoned her Mercedes Benz, and took a bus everywhere, left the house in Dasmariñas Village and boarded as a bed-spacer in a rat infested hole about one fourth the size of her bathroom.  I hated that phase of her life.

            Even before she decided to be a doctor, Elvira and her sisters used to go to Makati Med as volunteer candy stripers to help out the nurses, and even put up impromptu entertainment shows for the charity patients.  We Henareses have an aversion to blood and to corpses, but not Elvira.  When my parents died, she helped out cleaning and dressing their remains.

            When she got her diploma as a doctor, she went to Makati Medical Center for a three-year residency, but had such a hard time getting along with her superiors that she together with most of her classmates decided not to take the diplomate exam.  Everybody assumed that she just wanted to start a family, which she did for four years.  Later she confided to her husband that she was deathly scared to take the exam because she was afraid of failing.

            On her fifth year after her residency, in 1997, she decided to take the exam scheduled for April.  When she applied, she used her married name, Elvira Esguerra, because she did not want anyone to recognize her.  No use, the doctor in front of her recognized her, “Dr. Henares, that is you, right?  Just go to Makati Med and get a certification that you have completed your residency.”

            This was the moment Elvira feared, having to see the very person who made her residency hard to take. If I have to see her, Elvira prayed, let it be a healing process. “Elvira, how nice to see you after so many years,” she was pleasantly greeted by Dra. Verallo, “What can I do for you?”

            “Doctora, I want a certification from you that I am qualified to take the diplomate exams.”  “What? You haven’t taken your exams yet?”  And Elvira answered:  “For four years, I was afraid of failing.  Now I am no longer afraid.  If I fail, I will try and try again.  Eventually I will succeed.”  “You must be prepared this time, you’re the first to apply,” remarked Verallo, and Elvira answered  “I applied very early so that I can no longer back out.  The pressure is on, it is do or die.”