Roll Call (Once Again)



Dr. Saturnino P. Javier is an interventional cardiologist at Makati Medical Center and Asian Hospital and Medical Center. He is a past president of the Philippine Heart Association (PHA) and past editor of PHA’s Newsbriefs

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I had the great opportunity to attend the Grand Alumni Homecoming of the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery of the University of Santo Tomas this January 2019 at the Grand Marriott Ballroom in Pasay City. Our batch turned 35 years old – and as Coral Jubilarians, this was a meaningful chance to reconnect once again, renew ties and rekindle friendships with classmates and batchmates.

As I have written before, class reunions generally bring about a frenzied catching up with everyone on each other’s lifetime – a rapid quest to instantly learn what one has gone through in life. This effort to obtain a full recap of one’s adventures, achievements and challenges in three decades or so is interspersed with recollections of anecdotes–memorable saves, clinical misadventures, ward mischiefs or shared troubles.

Fortunately for our class – Section B of 1984, the organizing committee decided to schedule other gatherings in other venues to give everyone the chance to join one or the other. So aside from the Grand Alumni Homecoming, the batch had a weekend sojourn at scenic and tranquil Pollas Farms, a well-landscaped and beautifully situated resort in Alfonso, Cavite, owned and managed by classmate Amy Kalaw-Holgado.

The alumni homecoming in Marriott once again played vividly and poignantly what may be the future scenes of our lives – if and when we are blessed with more years to our near-senior or early senior years. The main program included musical presentations from the different batches – anchoring on the genre of different cultures around the world – Latin, American, Argentinian, Japanese, etc.

In my book, the most touching was a simple but unforgettable number by what I could surmise was from a late 1960s batch – a group of eight septuagenarians – one seated on a wheelchair – all garbed in small Barbie Girl-like outfits cuddling little stuffed toys – dancing to the upbeat tempo of an old but familiar ditty. All noticeably slow, expectedly not lithe, unsurprisingly uncoordinated – but nonetheless, definitely memorable.

Never mind frailty, forget about choreography, who cares about unsynchronized moves and steps? These were literally our grandparents – the oldest alumnae of the batch – having fun and enjoying life. For many, it was the highlight of all the night’s presentations.

Since it was an all-women team, one colleague retorted – “Women really outlive the men.” Prompting the men seated in our group, and the husbands among couples to look at each other, taking on a pregnant millisecond pause – before erupting into loud, boisterous laughter.

The sight of old, weak, greying, crutchbearing or wheelchair-borne predecessors was the lens through which one could see a portent of what lies ahead. As medical professionals, physicians have the advantage (or misfortune) of knowing all medically possible and potentially real expectations. With a wishful and prayerful outlook, one sees through that lens the images of Parkinson’s, dementia or strokes – if not tracheostomies, colostomies and indwelling Foley catheters. Or worse, death.

In our class of a hundred, at least nine have succumbed to illnesses – mostly malignancies. As a tribute to this small group – we recalled with fondness the times spent with Ramon de Torres, Mater Estal, Ela Fe, Norman Flores, Edmund Fullido, Ma. Lourdes Gongora, Julie Hayag, Antonio Ignacio and Patricia Lichauco. (The latter happens to be a very dear friend – who passed away very early on and whose name I chanced upon on the obituary of the Philippine Star on my flight back to the Philippines after two years of training in the United States.)

But like every celebration of birth anniversaries, where the overriding message is the hope for more birth anniversaries to come, alumni homecoming events distinctly carry with them an implied need for attendance check – a summative look on how many are still around, still actively practicing, still able and strong, or how many can just wish they could come if at all.

Interestingly, unlike previous conversations during our Silver Anniversary, the talks have shifted away from or less focused on ourselves. The questions – “where are you now, what hospital are you affiliated with, what field are you in” have become less. The core of the discussions have shifted to other topics – our children’s medical careers, joys of grandchildren, retirement prospects, investment projections, pensions, maintenance medications, cancer remissions, among others.

In a few years, when we gather again, one can assume that talks will necessarily veer toward how many are no longer around. The gift of life and the reality of death and disease will again occupy front and center of banters and quiet talks. The plain and simple truth that no one lives forever will be implied as roll calls will inevitably reveal who has gone on or who manages to stay on. Until such time, one toasts (and prays) to hopefully more homecomings. Cheers!

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