Standing on the shoulder of giants- My Family

in Blog Rounds/Education/Medicine/Training by

I would be a leap of faith just to believe I can be where I am today, but my family just made it all possible.

“Our family is everything to me. No matter how remote my actions and decision are before, today and in the future, you’ll find a “connection” between those actions and you, my family”R.A., an excerpt from a letter to his mom and siblings, during the “hard times” of med school.

Third sibling in a family of four, the eldest of the boys, a father’s pet and the family’s nightmare, I am cut for an outrageous fate. Fate, it seems, is full of ironies.

The passing of a beloved father

My dad died when I was just eight years old and my family was plunged into an abyss of compounding problems fit for a telenovela.

And so goes the story of my re-education.

A cut for survival
It was surviving that was central to the family’s agenda. So, a “cut” is made in all the basic needs of the family- food, shelter, education, for us to survive.

It was education that was hardly hit, thanks to EDSA revolution back then. A sibling in college, another one entering college soon and a younger brother in elementary- all surviving and being supported by a single working mom. The loss of our dad has had the ripple effect in no time. But there were signs of disasters waiting to happen.

The grim reality
You gotta have a scholarship in high school or you’ll not going to any school at all” this grim reality my mom told me with tears welling in her eyes. “We can’t afford to send you to school”. These words, sunk into the deepest recess of my brain and bled my heart to no end. It was a cut my mom made to ensure the survival of our family. And though, I sense the simmering helplessness and agony in her, she has shown a firm and decisive role to govern her family through the hard times.

Why me? Was it because I was the third or was it because I was expendable to the family?” At a young age of 12, I knew a storm of hard ships is coming our way. But this was just the beginning. And I was one of the hardest hit.

One step at a time.
So, while gnawing in pain and agony for the luck I got, I took it on as a challenge. “I will loose nothing in this uphill battle. I have no way to go but up.”

My dad wanted a doctor in the family and this was his plan for our eldest sister early on. But he did not lived long enough to even see my sister step into college. The dire financial chaos my family is in only dampened the spirits of my sister to even enter premed. She went into accountancy instead.

Meanwhile, I was inching my way though high school scholarships. The initial taste of success emboldened me to “I want some more” type of aggressive academic greed. Daunting the challenges were at those times, I stood my ground and leaned on the “walls” of my family. If I was victorious , that is because I was so darn proud of my family. We were beginning to shatter all the gloomy expectations for our family

Undaunted and victorious over the challenges given to me in high school, I trained my gun next on college. Opportunity then knocked when UPCAT applications came into my mailbox. “A scholarship and a thick stomach is all I need” I jokingly told my mom and sisters. “You got to be nuts” said my sister. “Even if you get inside UP and get a scholarship, will you be able to survive on that alone, through college in a far away place? Away from us?” They’re afraid I’d land with the “great thud” when I hit the ground of failure.

Give me just a year. If I fail, I’ll stop at my wishful thinking and go back here…” My family knew that with my initial success in high school, I am virtually unstoppable. So I got my way. Though afraid of what I might get into, they supported me all the way through, hugs and tears included. I am embarking on a path no one else in my family had gone into. So the benchmark is, unknown.

The Ebb and Flow Cycle
So that series of “one year” came and lead into another… and another. My family and especially my mom was an inspiration. She never spent a dime on my tuition fee, that is because I felt, she has had enough of her share of hardships. So I made it a point my mom would be proud of me, and she be proud of her self. That despite having to bring up all four ostensibly ambitious children, her hard work did pay off in thousand folds. So every year during my college, she has to travel from our place to my school, climb up the stage and receive an honor in recognition for growing up four fine and ambitious children, proud of their mom, proud of their family. It was a memento of her marvel for survivorship.

It was like these since then, the same story repeated through med school and even training. I, haughtily pursuing my medical career and my family giving the turbo charged after burners in times of chaos. I was busy carving a path for my career, and my family asphalted it for me.

Whether my decisions would run for and contrary to their wisdom, they embrace me and hug me though my journey. How I became a doctor despite all of these, is another story to tell. But my family is pivotal to all the decisions I made in the past.

I stood my ground through years. But I have shoulders to stand on- my family.

Dr. Remo-tito Aguilar co-founded #HealthXPh. A board certified orthopedic surgeon, he is Chief of Clinics at General Santos Medical Center and Medical Specialist II Orthopedics at the Southern Philippines Medical Center in Davao City. Dr. Aguilar is a healthcare social media evangelist and writes his medical musings at The Cast & Curious (