Chronicled by FRIENDS: Meet-ups with the college crowd

As weeks rush past, more and more of my conversations with highschool and college friends center around career paths and job decisions. At first, it was fine. It was easy to say I was taking a break. Sometimes, I replied that I was still considering my options. Occasionally, I joked that I was waiting for the results of my Big Brother Audition. And then I got tired of getting asked about what I was doing with my life. So I took a short break away from everyone, and the next thing I knew, the whole world had become a working people land.

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And then I realized how pathetic it was that I was still financially dependent on my parents and not moving on from that foggy place of bumhood. Not surprisingly, every conversation ended with a resolution to finally close my bumlife chapter.

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Unfortunately, it’s a looooot harder than I thought it would be. It’s been more than a month since I first handed out my resumes and application letters. (Sidenote: I must be the only UP Diliman ChE graduate unable to get a job offer within a year of graduation.) I thought I was strong enough to handle the hazards of job-hunting. But I realized otherwise when I found myself crying tears of frustration and self-pity yesterday.

I’m here, in my favorite place in the world, my hometown, Tuguegarao City. It’s 35.5 degrees today and the sky is a perfect, cloudless blue. It’s the prototype of my favorite day. But the urge to say this has never been stronger: Life sucks.

*Feeling down today but talk to me again in a week and I’m sure I’ll be over myself by then. 

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The Hospital Hater Hypothesizes

5 Nov 2014
~4 pm

There is no place quite as depressing as a hospital. I hate hospitals. I hate the smell of antiseptic, the walls painted a most unattractive shade of green, the miscellaneous sounds of grief. I hate the somber mood. I hate them all.

hI am here outside the St.Paul Hospital Emergency Room, my phone on one hand, a canned pineapple juice on the other, and a sheaf of reviewer on organic chemistry on my lap. None of them takes my mind off this depressing setting. I’ve been here for all of fifteen minutes and already, I can feel the gloom permeating my subconscious. My mom is inside the ER, along with my dad talking to the on-call doctor. Her high-blood pressure earlier had me abandoning my reaction kinetics book mid-sentence. “The effect of pressure on the heat of reaction is negligible when . . .” There is nothing negligible about the effect of pressure on my mother’s body.

I don’t have to eavesdrop to know that the two women conversing across me have something weighing heavily on their minds. The cadence says it all. The man behind me sleeps but his dreams are not sweet. His brow is furrowed, the lines of anxiety evident on his face. The sight of a man in the chapel cannot comfort me. His sobs may be muffled, but his grief refuses to be subdued. The nurses’ laughter in the nurses’ station earlier is a stark contrast against the muted conversations, the cries of an infant inside the ER, the steady hum of machines doing what the human body is supposed to do on its own. They perhaps would be happy sounds outside of this place. But here, they only emphasize the gloom of impending death, and the silence brought about by the fear of it.

I’ve been to many hospitals before- to government hospitals, neglected, cramped, chaotic, and to ones that are practically hotels for the sick. On the outside, they are as different as poor is to rich, but even the luxurious hospital experience the latter offer cannot hide the gloom of the place. If anything, the restaurants and the shops in such places add a note of despair to the whole setting. They are a mockery to the sick rich, who, for all their wealth, could buy only things, but not the capacity to enjoy them. A taunt to every one whose millions could not be bartered for good health. Penniless, billionaire- when it comes to control on how long our life’s going to be- we are all the same.

I am not skittish. I have no qualms about eating food from the hospital cafeteria nor about using the hospital comfort rooms. I am not the type to be unduly spooked by the idea of an elevator guy wearing a red tag nor grossed out by the sight of a patient vomiting. I generally can watch a blood-and-gore movie and still eat my fries with ketchup. I’ve watched horror movies then slept alone in my room afterwards. I can even listen to poop talks while I enjoy my meal. But this mixture of fear and anguish I sense in the air gets to me like nothing else.

The hospital is a place where the dying die. A setting for lives meeting their end. I hold this thought almost subconsciously. It is an inaccurate generalization, as few of the people I have visited in a hospital actually died. An unfair belief, because the hospital is also a place where the sick is cured, where most of us first took our breaths outside our respective mother’s womb. I know, I know. But the thoughts we develop subconsciously are the ones we cannot dispel easily. It’s why kids check under the bed for monsters night after night.

It is an easily explained belief, though. I have always been the patient or the visitor. I have yet to view the hospital with the eyes of the doctor or the nurse. That is my excuse. An unacceptable one, I admit. After all, I have had the chance to hold the opposite view, and I turned it down. It has been more than five years since I declined to interview for UP’s Intarmed program.

Sitting here alone, watching sick people and their worried family come by in an ambulance, listening to underpaid nurses and orderlies talk to them in their most efficient bedside voices, I am an easy target for helplessness. I suppose it is this emotion that makes me see hospitals the way I do. Later, I would have to fill a prescription I know nothing about in the pharmacy, watch a nurse take my mom’s BP and insert a needle for her dextrose, wait long hours for mama’s doctor to come by and talk to her for five minutes, tops. And I will do all those with the knowledge that I can offer nothing but moral support.
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For the second time since my own operation three years ago, I wonder what would have happened had I grabbed my shot at med school. It is possible, maybe even likely, that I would have failed the interview, thus making this whole mental enterprise moot. But if I had taken that interview and passed it, I could be a fourth year med student today. (Of course, there is a distinct possibility I may have shifted out a long time ago. Med brains and engineering smarts are definitely not the same. While I am not exactly rich in either, there’s always an abundance in God’s grace, which makes me suppose I might have made a passable med student. ) I may enter a most lucrative career yet, though that is certainly not my aim, but I am close to wishing I tried my hand at pre-med/med, after all, because it will put me in the best position to serve my loved ones in the future.

Look at me, a recent graduate of BS Chemical Engineering from my lifelong dream campus, participating in this exercise in futility. I am two weeks away from my board exam and still, I spend precious time torturing myself with thoughts of what if. Count on my indecisive self to second-guess irreversible five-year old decisions. These reflections are running amok in my brain, killing every bit of security my college degree gave me. Then again, what security should a college degree give one, anyway?

Six hours later:

Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain. Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.

James 4:13-15 (KJV)

I almost smile at the perfect timing of this pre-planned Solid Joys devotional. Here is God’s reply to my insecurities. It is a perfect reminder that there are things in life we cannot control- and life itself is one of them. Coming at the heels of my self-doubts, it is a most apposite message to me- that ultimately, it is God’s decision to continue or end a life. Even then, all earthly lives are but mists, ephemeral vapors that dissipate in their own God-ordained dynamics.

There is no need to second-guess, after all, nor any reason to be subject to helplessness. In whatever profession, I can only be of as much help as God will allow me to be. And I think I’d rather be an engineer who understands how dependent she is on God than a medical professional who rests on her knowledge and expertise alone. Of course, one could also be a doctor who trusts God. That probably would be ideal. But I’m already here, that particular crossroad five years behind me, and another fork before me. It is a waste to make a pastime out of cooking up hypothetical situations. I don’t know what lies ahead of me. I don’t even know if I’ll pass my board exam that is but two weeks away. I’ll trudge ahead, anyway, and let the turning of the day bring me closer to the fork, because I know One who sees beyond every fork, and He is the One guiding me on.

Why I’ll Never be the DChE Poster Girl

If the university ever prints a brochure advertising the Department of Chemical Engineering, I would be the last person you’d find there. You wouldn’t find me on the cover, smiling and maybe talking to some faculty members. Nor would you find me quoted on why a high school senior should pursue the same field of study I am pursuing now. Given my attendance to department activities, you probably wouldn’t even spot a tiny, pixelated version of my face in the photo collage at the back of the brochure. I’d never make it to a DChE publicity material, not only because my eye bags ensure that my face is never camera-friendly or because I don’t have the latest ChE polo shirt to wear to the pictorial. Neither is it because I’ve never represented the department in the annual Engineering Cup or my batch in the Battle of the Batches.  It’s not even about my less than stellar academic performance and the 3.0s which seem to punctuate every subject that begins with ChE in my true copy of grades.  The truest, most honest reason why I’ll never be the poster girl is the culmination of all the reasons I just mentioned: I don’t love my course enough to promote it. I don’t love my course, period. 

To ask why I am even here now is a valid question. There is no one reason, but it might be easiest to share the story of how I met my course. Senior year in high school featured an immature me choosing a course based on prestige and lousy pieces of advice. To be fifteen, I suppose, was to care about what people thought about me, to desire to be admired, to sincerely believe that I could be anyone I wanted to be. Everyone’s first choice was BS Business Administration and Accountancy, so mine had to be something else. I so admired my sister’s “So what kung uno ka . . .” angas shirt so I just had to get in the coolest college in UP. My math and science grades were fairly good so I thought I’d accept the challenge of taking up an engineering course. After crossing out the engineering courses without board exams, and the ones my father told me I was too feminine for, I found myself scrawling BS Chemical Engineering in my fourth and final UPCAT form, the one which I submitted a few days later. Such is the tale of how I became a ChE student, and it is one which makes me inwardly cringe. 

Freshman year came and I contemplated about shifting out. Despite the fact that I did not love my course then, I thought I’d come to love it once I started with my major subjects. It was also the fact that I really could not decide on which course to shift to that made me stay. My indecisive, stick-in-the-mud side constantly controls me so by the end of my second year, I still hadn’t decided on what field of study to pursue. I then abandoned all hopes of shifting out and made up my mind to earn a degree on BS ChE. Whatever I’ll do to that is a choice which belongs to the future, when I actually have my degree conferred upon me. Perhaps, I’ll try to get a job to better appreciate my field. Maybe my thesis and plant design will even interest me enough to take a masters degree. I can get a second degree just so I can finally know what I missed when I chose ChE. More likely, I’ll take the board exam and bum around at home for a few months, procrastinate some more, and assign the job of decision-making and praying for discernment to the more mature me.

Right up to this point, I’ve been very negative but the truth is I learned a lot in my course. I journeyed from trigonometry to transport phenomena, from balancing chemical equations to mass and energy balances in unsteady-state systems, from titrating carbonated drinks to titrating methyl acetate. I learned how to design pumps and heat exchangers, and perhaps I do them less excellently than my professors expect of me, but I did learn. I am learning how to face the frustration of striving so hard just to stay in the middle of the pack. I am becoming skilled at cheering myself up when failing exam scores begin to mount. I am getting trained to push myself to work when my target grade to pass becomes impossibly high. I unwillingly receive a tutorial on how to get over defensive feelings whenever a new topic in my major subject makes me feel so dumb the same time I receive a piece of chocolate from my ES instructor because I topped a long exam. The urge to declare in my facebook wall that my grades in my general education subjects can attest to my being a non-slacker student comes whenever I fail yet another ChE exam but I’ve never given in to it, thank God. The need to shout to the world that I am much smarter than my collection of embarrassing moments in class recitation leads others to believe almost always overwhelms me but it does eventually leave. I have had my share of unos and tres and I’ve learned that comparing them is like comparing apples and oranges- pointless and frustrating.

I’ve often wondered why I take extra effort understanding ChE principles. I am still puzzled by how math, chemistry and engineering science concepts I grasped so easily before stop making sense when taken in the ChE context but I guess it has something to do with the fact that my brain always has to get around my prejudices against my course first before I finally understand my lessons. I feel prejudiced against ChE because I’ve always felt like a square peg in a round hole in my home department. I hate that my creative juices can’t find an outlet in my course. I loathe the fact that writing, something I’ve enjoyed since grade school, is reduced to boring formal reports and journal reviews by my major subjects. It doesn’t help that I find no one among my peers who share my frustrations because my batchmates who might once have felt the same way I do have either shifted out or learned to love the discipline.

I guess one of the most important things I’ve been taught in ChE is that a square peg can  grow in a round hole. Maybe, she’ll always grow at a slower pace but with God’s help, she will survive. Perhaps, my best efforts will never quite compensate for my lack of natural affinity and interest in my course, but I’m still here, with no singko so far, by God’s grace. I will graduate, I promise myself that. Whatever I do after graduation, the things ChE taught me will never go to waste. And that’s a good thing because I learned in ChE how difficult it is to treat waste. #