The Agony of Waiting


Saturnino P. Javier, MD, FPCP, FPCC, FACC

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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My son Luigi recently passed the board examinations for Physical Therapy (PT). After a five-year course geared ultimately for a doctorate degree in Medicine, and two months of a review course that sought to synthesize five years of learning in PT, he embarked on a two-day board examination that would allow him to attach the initials PTRP (Physical Therapy Registered in the Philippines) to his name. When the Board exam results came out, he delightfully bragged – “I have four new initials to my name, Papa!”

Between the five-year course and the rightful claim to this four-letter addendum to one’s name was a stretch of time that might as well be labeled a phase of agony – the seemingly interminable waiting period from the day of the examination to the release of the results.

“I just can’t do it” – referring to the few seconds of opportunity to glance at the results at the website that enumerated the successful passers of the two-day examinations. He relied on the text message of a classmate who took the cudgels for him. And his friend’s text message was permanently saved in his phone – “You can now relax. You made it.”

When he first described the examinations, he was distraught. He said it was too hard as it covered some areas that were not sufficiently discussed in class or even in the review session. My only question was – “how did the others fare?” And he said, everyone found it very hard. I tried to assuage his anxieties by assuring him that for as long as many others felt the same way, he should be fine. I was relying on the assumption that the Gaussian distribution or the bell curve encompassing the ratings of the examinees will be the deciding factor and that he should very well be within the area of the acceptable standard deviation from the curve. Easy for me to say, I know – but hard for him to just accept, as a consolation and as a reassurance.

The Board exam results meant the world to him – this was his first major hurdle as a professional – en route to a medical course. The painful waiting period was the torturous phase – basically defined by the anxiety-inducing uncertainty of it all.

His agony brought to mind my own ordeal in the mid 1980s. His waiting mimicked mine – although I would argue that mine was more agonizing, more stressful. Back then in Tanauan City, where I had my rural health practice – a mandatory phase after internship that required all Medicine professionals to render two-months of service in rural health areas, I distinctly remember how my ordeal went – at a time when internet, Wi-Fi, world wide web or text messaging did not exist. Back at that time, results would have to be waited for – via newspapers. (Yes, it was a Jurassic era of mobile technology.)

When word came out that results would be out on a particular day, I remember how I could not muster any will power to sleep, or any meaningful effort to relax. Along with a few fellow examinees/friends of mine, we camped out at the public market a few kilometers from my home to await the arrival of the daily newspapers so that we could finally see the results of the one examination that would change our lives – as a board-certified physician of the Republic of the Philippines. With heartbeats racing, adrenaline levels spiking and the mind raging with anticipation and trepidation – there I saw “Javier, Saturnino P.” on the list.

Luigi’s exhilarating moment – when he learned that he passed the board exam – was vicariously pleasurable. I know how a colleague described how she knelt and cried, how another one jumped multiple time, or how another was speechless and remained catatonic for a while.

We react to life-changing news and pivotal results in diverse ways – but the agony of the waiting must generally be a period where one tries to skillfully go on with life in a regular, normal way – yet remains easily distracted and stunned by episodic tension-filled moments whenever the passing thought of the examination results takes over. One wakes up every morning with trepidation – thinking when this agony will ever end – but also realizing that every additional day of waiting is one more day blessed with a reasonable hope of good things to come.

In the end, all painful things somehow too must end. For Luigi and I, we were just too glad to savor every bit of the moment of triumph.

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