I run…therefore I am

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Frontrunner Article #4: The Great Disconnect

to run or to treat...?

to run or to treat…?

‘Doc, was that you we saw running the other day?’ queried my patient.  It’s been a question I get a lot since doing my training runs on weekdays.  Whence before I dreaded being sighted on the road dripping in sweat in very skimpy outfits by patients and friends, today I wear my running badge with pride and some confidence.  If before I led a double life of runner and dentist, today, I eagerly share my ultra trail and road adventures with gusto and gratification.

The last 23 years I’ve been in the practice of dentistry, friends and patients have always pictured me as the mild mannered guy whose idea of fun involved prying out tooth fragments and draining pus on swollen faces in the comforts of my sterile clinical existence.  It was a cocooned existence where the action was confined inside the hallowed caverns of the oral cavity, the valleys of the periodontal pockets, the uphill cusps of molars and darkened tunnels of root canals.  It was a safe, predictable, staid and boring lifestyle which little by little took a toll on the shoulders and back.

welcome to my cubicle!

welcome to my cubicle!

While I never looked better then, replete with well formed arms and chest (I was a gym buff), I had zero cardio-vascular workout and was easily fatigued and burnt out.  Plus the blood pressure went out of control.   Time for a game change…

i miss my rippling triceps...but then.

i miss my rippling triceps…but then.

Back in 2003, I loved posing, ala-Gardo Versoza.  This one was taken by Taal lake...

Back in 2003, I loved posing, ala-Gardo Versoza. This one was taken by Taal lake…

4 years ago when I stumbled into the world of running, I started donning the skimpiest of apparels and exposing myself into the ever-changing elements of extreme heat, rain and all sort of flotsam in the choking  world of Metro Manila roads.  So imagine one moment I’m pounding the pavement under the sweltering heat, dripping in sweat and all sort of bountiful slime and dirt.  And an hour later, I’m in the safety of my operatory attending to patients’ needs as peppermint oil wafts across Sitti’s cooing voice.

Back to my simple controlled life...

Back to my simple controlled life…

The great disparity was simply jarring that the first impulse was to conceal it from my patients.  The thought of them seeing me oozing with sweat and grime was just too much to take.  So this is my double life – one is controlled, organized and serene while the other is unpredictable, chaotic and full of surprises.  While I hardly break a sweat inside the clinic, the other is about dirt, sweat and I just love it.

We want our dentists well groomed, smelling sweet and uttering the wittiest statements & dishing out the most helpful of tips, don’t we?  And not cursing the wind and the race director (where the hell is the finish of this %$@* race?).  Now who would want to see his dentist slugging it out in muddy trails and treacherous mountain tracks?  I can just read their thought bubbles:  “Now isn’t that going to weaken his dexterity and clinical skill in handling my dental cases?” or “So how can he still take care of me when he’s always up there in the mountains, caked in mud and being feasted upon by jiggling leeches (eeew…)?

having a blast in the real world...

having a blast in the real world…

Now, let me run through all these misimpressions.  Oh yes, I am exposed to all sort of inconveniences (torture, if you may) in an environment teeming with dirt and grime an ordinary sheltered individual won’t be able to stomach.  But after each adventure, I’d bathe and scrub myself clean to the bone and I’d like to believe we observe aseptic techniques in our practice once ensconced in our four-walled, environmentally controlled clinic.  And yes, after years of hitting the road and trail, I can still take out an impacted molar or negotiate some shrunken root canals.

life is a series of movements whether it's macro or just learn to adjust to the situation.

life is a series of movements whether it’s macro or micro…you just learn to adjust to the situation.

And I still haven’t thrown my clinic sked into chaos in favor of the outdoors.  I can’t keep hiking if I don’t have the funds to sustain it so the most I’d take out in my work week is 1-2 days.  Basically, I still have 5 full days to see patients – yes, even if I’m a bit burned and limping.  Fact is, I look forward to be back to my air-conditioned environment after days to being exposed to inclement weather.  It balances things out without feeling burned out on either side of my polarized universe.

Without a doubt, running, besides stabilizing my fluctuating blood pressure and lulling me to long peaceful slumbers (didn’t know that Sleepasil has been routine to some colleagues), had strengthened me, physically and skillfully.  I can take hours of continuous dental procedures without complaining and feeling wasted – always keeping in mind that the finish line is coming round the bend.  Or during those toxic stressful clinic moments where I’ve learned to handle the situation the way I’ve battled injuries and submission during a race.

i run. i treat. i am rundmd.

i run. i treat. i am rundmd.

But eventually, like some illicit love affair, one tries to inevitably merge both lives.  I soon realized that running would play a greater part for the rest of my earthly life so I might as well wear it like a proud badge.  Soon enough, I was opening up to my patients on my exploits on the road and trail.  And what do you know, they were piqued curious (perhaps, by that BDM trophy resting at the reception area) and fascinated by my ‘secret life’.  I was no longer the guy who was buffed, clean and whole some, I had become the gaunt dark warrior – looking burnt and hardened but brimming with eagerness and perseverance and ready to take on any challenge, whether at the dental operatory or the road…

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As in most places in Marikina last September 26, 2009,our poor clinic was one of the casualties of storm Ondoy bringing in 5 feet floods with mud.  We were fortunate to be around when the waters started rushing in the clinic (we even treated 2 patients that September 26th morn).  At first we tried warding off the rising waters by sealing the glass doors with dental wax, glue gun or whatever material we thought would prevent water from seeping in.  But when the deluge was too much, we knew our space would be underwater in no time.

So acting as one unit, we started bringing up all our delicate stuffs – the small dental machines, the paper documents, the drawers containing the dental instruments and whatever we could fill the upper space with.  We were fortunate to have built an attic (as extra storage area) because we just couldn’t imagine where to bring all our delicate items.  We left when the waters were waist deep and most of the things were brought up to safety except for the dental chair (too heavy) and the x-ray (mounted on the wall).  It was like in a Titanic movie when it took us time to open, close then lock the metal and glass doors.  All the while, my car was sinking from the deeper waters outside by the parking area.  We ventured out as waters continued to rise, settling in one of covered areas.

By late afternoon, with the continuing rains, I braved the floods and knocked on a high school classmate’s condominium room on the 8th floor after searching for his name on the now wet records.  He and his wifey warmly welcomed me in and later my 2 assistants.  As the night settled in, we continued to observe the worsening conditions – the floods, the rushing trash, the people clambering on building roofs, wet and hungry.  And of course, our clinic and my car – by now a rectangular island of blue metal in a sea of brown.

There was no electricity.  Most of the communications were by mobile phone which by now was at risk of running out of power.  We subsisted on canned foods with gloomy thoughts and restless energy looming through the night.  By 11 pm, we noticed the waters finally settling to a certain level then eventually going down.  By 5 am, water has completely disappeared in front of our clinic.  And so we ventured to check the extent of the damage.  By 9 am, an army of cleaners was summoned by my family, hosing and eliminating every trace of mud from the insides of our clinic space.  Before night fall, mydentalspace is free of any trace from the storm.  Or so I thought…

It would take another 10 days before the major dental appliances (dental chair/x-ray/compressor) all submerged to dry up, be cleaned up and brought to normal working condition.  We started treating patients on the second week after the storm but a month later we had a 4-day break for minor repairs and repainting of the clinic walls.  1.5 months after Ondoy, our clinic is back to normal operations and my car is running again.

Despite everything, we are still very thankful to the Lord as the damage/trials we experienced was not that permanent and we were able to rise out of the problems faster than some.  And we learned a lot from this tempest – no problem that comes along is too difficult to hurdle, family and relations matter more over material possessions and always build an attic which is accessible and useful.

Anyway, you have a detailed rundown of my Ondoy experience.  2009 is one of the most trying year I believe on my 44 years of existence, but the Lord has prepared me for a predicament of this magnitude and I thank Him for giving me strength, fortitude and hope.

December 2009

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Editorial: Weathering our Storms

Editorial:  Weathering our Storms

Life often catches us when we are most vulnerable and unsuspecting.  The day typhoon Ondoy struck Metro Manila, we were busy treating 2 patients at our dental office, unmindful of the voluminous water dropping from the gray clouds.  We could have treated more patients that Saturday morning where it not for the murky waters which started invading our reception area.

That’s when we realized that this was no ordinary calamity.  We started hoarding all our equipments, papers and small appliances up into our small loft.  The dinky space was full to the brim in a matter of 30 minutes.  The big furnitures, dental chairs and x-ray machine were left to soak in the raging waters which had reached waist deep when we left the clinic.

Outside the endless rainfall has rendered the parking lot, roads and cars underwater in few hours – along with it, my own car.  I gathered my assistants and we stayed in a condo unit of a high school classmate for the night, unknowing of the catastrophe that was devastating the whole Metro.  Gloom enveloped Marikina City as I gazed at it 9 stories above the rising, running flood waters.

We woke up (we hardly slept that night) to learn the devastation and death Ondoy brought on areas as far as Laguna and Bulacan.  Inside 17 medical/dental, muddy waters have entered every corner of our clinic and caused some damage and havoc which would take weeks to undo.  With a lot of help from well-meaning family and friends, we never ceased cleaning, repairing, replacing and painting until we were ready to treat our patients in 2 weeks.  A few more renovations later and the clinic never looked better for Christmas 2009.

It’s been 9 months since Ondoy and its traces can still be felt every now and then (a hard starting car engine or the peeling paint on one wall).  And rightly so.  They’re there to remind us of what we’ve gone through and how we were able to rise above these adversities.  They are a testament of how much strength and fortitude human nature can take and overcome them.

May  2010

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Editorial: (almost) 20 years

Editorial:  (almost) 20 years

Come 2010, I will be commemorating 20 years of rendering dental service to patients of every age and case.  How I have survived through two decades without losing interest or hope in a profession which challenges and discourages is beyond me.  I opened my first clinic in our house garage months after I finished an intensive extership training in Oral Surgery at the Philippine General Hospital.

Anyway, the first clinic catered to mostly neighbors, friends and relatives’ dental requirements for two years before moving to the Kabuhat Polyclinic (A. Fernando Ave. cor Marcos highway).  For 17 years, the practice would grow and flourish, surviving brownouts and the Asian crisis while improving on its dental equipments and appliances.  Case in point:  we started reminding patients of their appointments via our neighbor’s phone landline moving to our pocket pager into our own landline (a precious commodity that time) to our multiple cellular phones (courtesy of Sun).  Along the way, I would undergo training in Prosthodontics (3 years) and Orthodontics (1 year).

Finally on July 7, 2007, we got our own 36 (m)2 unit at the Marquinton Residences with a plush reception and its own restroom plus a new medical space.  It’s been an eventful journey from our simple beginnings.  With the recent renovations we just did, I can say that we have finally found a home.  We invite you to enter our new space, you won’t regret it.