Sep 12, 2014

A Medical Doctor's Story on Death, Suffering and God

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Once in a while, you'll see -- among the deluge of shallow, silly and banal status updates on Facebook -- something profound, honest and transcendental. And you stop. And think. And can't get it out of your mind. That's what occurred to me upon reading a series of status updates posted by a former classmate in medical school. Of course I never got to finish med school but this former classmate of mine did, and for many years now, he has been practicing as a medical doctor in Cagayan de Oro. He is Dr. Ted Feliciano, the guy we call "Flawless" back then because he had the fair complexion that would put us gals to shame. He struck me then as a regular guy who was deep inside a pensive, thoughtful man. Apparently, I was right, as you may well see if you read on.

This is science colliding with the spiritual realm, a beautiful yet painful acknowledgment of the sovereignty of God in the midst of death and suffering. It fascinates me to find real stories of God letting Himself known to men -- especially those who, by virtue of their profession or learning, are more likely to have their faith challenged or eroded completely. With his permission, I am copying and pasting here Dr. Ted's story.

A medical doctor's story on death, suffering and God

"As a physician I have in one way or another been asked if I see the hand of God in the things health professionals do. The answer I give (and Im guessing a lot like me would have the same reaction) is the usual generic salt and pepper talk about the greater power that be, that i can only do so much, the rest is up to God. We cure, God heals. That we can be instruments to God's gift of healing. But really thinking about it, I have not really seen it, in a way that can't be justified by the chemical reactions of the drugs we give, the physiologic phenomenons in the books that are so intricately playing in the many, so many insults the modern world is throwing at the human body....until a few days ago.

"I got a call from the wards, an 80 plus female patient admitted a few hours past was noted to be gasping, hypotensive, unresponsive.. I intubated her (a grandma, with a lot of grandkids knowing she was in a hospital but I'm guessing never had a clue she was touch and go) ..in the course I was in the room she went into cardiopulmonary arrest..and as a sane medical practitioner I initiated CPR (cardiopulmo resuscitation). Gave her the meds to jump start her heart, and in the back of my mind prayed 'Lord God, bless the things we do, touch us and keep us in your light that we may save this loved grandmother.' I have done this a million of times, I have known this like the back of my hand..and I have lost so many people doing the things i do during these times..I have seen my father go through this, and I promised myself to do all I can do to save lives after seeing him pass through my hands..but sadly I have been burnt up, I went through the the days seeing so much death and suffering...

"As we were trying to revive fragile old grandma, I, the tired calloused doctor that I was, tired, hurting, lost..prayed....no!! It wasnt a prayer, it was a an adamant challenge..'I have done this so many times, and I have lost so many, and I have to live with it, tell me, show me that these are all worth it!!!' Now believe me, how fragile this loved grandma was looking, she had all the fight in the world!!! She fought for nearly 1 and a half hours...

"As we were trying to revive brave, loved grandma, her daughters asked that they talk to her...at that moment the cardiac monitor showed mere fasciculations of her heart... A tracing not amenable to life..what I noticed was everytime her daughters talked to her the tracing picked up, a significant QRS (a cardiac beat in an ECG tracing) would be noted... This would go on for more than an hour..until her daughter from the states (or somewhere else) talked to her through a cell phone and told her to just rest, that she was loved, and everything was gonna be okay..then and there she stopped breathing...and I had a flat line...

"We as doctors can always justify what i saw in the cardiac monitor as the effects of the drugs we give, that the fight we see in our patients are the results of the chemical and physiologial reactions we are so adept at learning in our books.... But on that day, an early morning in September, a day I was about to give up on the thing I so loved..I got a humbling awakening..In the game of life... We never lose, just look at it this way..God will always win..no matter how we question, no matter how we try to make a sense of it all..He will always triumph for all of us. He will always understand...what we strive for, what we do... Should always be humbly in His Glory..."

Photo Credit: christchurchreformed.com

Sep 3, 2014

I love farmers' markets!

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Tropical fruits and vegetables from the farmers' market
I love farmers’ markets. The produce are fresher, cheaper and of greater variety than those found in the city market. Our city has 2 farmers’ markets, and the one we frequent opens twice a week -- on Wednesdays and Saturdays, that is.

Here’s a quick shot of my finds at the farmers’ market a couple of Saturdays back. I believe that was the day on which I made green papaya pickle. In clockwise fashion, from 12 o’clock onwards, the picture shows the following finds:

A whole head of squash -- Price: 20 pesos or half a dollar per kilo

The Philippines only has 2 varieties of squash -- one which is green-skinned and another which is yellow-skinned. I so envy the many varieties of squash and pumpkins I see in Western markets.

3 pieces of sayote -- Price: a set of 3 pieces for 20 pesos or half a dollar

Forgive me, but I do not know what sayote is in English. I usually slice them thinly and saute with tomato-based sardines or else dice them, saute them in herbs and add in beaten egg.

Lemons -- Price: 30 to 40 pesos or a dollar per 100 pieces
The Philippines has green lemons only and these lemons are small, hard and very sour. The juice of 3 lemons is enough to make a glass of refreshing and all-natural lemonade -- which is my family’s main source of natural Vitamin C.

A bunch of basil --Price: 100 grams for 25 pesos

I have made a cup of basil pesto out of this bunch but I did it at night which yielded grossly dark pictures that are not post-worthy at all. I am going to make another cup soon -- and at high noon for picture-perfect timing.

Jackfruit -- Price: That much for 10 pesos

Now here’s a fruit that is a favorite of all my three kids, though not exactly of mine.

Carrots -- Price: usually 60 pesos or $1.50 per kilo

Carrots are rather expensive here but they’re good to have all the time as they can be eaten raw or served in quick salads.

Taro leaves -- Price: That much for just 10 pesos

Dahon sa gabi as we call it, taro leaves make good meals. Just wash and drain them, then put them in a pot. Add in red onions, fresh ginger, one big ripe tomato, a red bell pepper and a cup of coconut milk. Bring it to a boil and simmer it for about 5 minutes or until the leaves and stalks are all soft and mushy. If you have dried anchovies, you can put them in as well but if not, you can simply season it with salt. Savory, slimy and sticky, it would be a very sumptuous stew.

Green papaya -- Price: All those green papayas for 45 pesos or 15 pesos per kilo

The moment I learned about the amazing health benefits of green papaya was the moment I decided to not run out of green papaya pickle in my pantry (as if I had a real one, lol). Seriously, green papaya may just be the most powerful agent for cleaning the colon of mucus, pus, debris, waste, toxins, parasites, etc. Here is my post on making green papaya pickle.

Purple string beans -- Price: a bundle of 5 pieces for 10 pesos

I love string beans and especially the purple ones as purple represents the potent anthocyanin pigments which do double duty in our bodies as antioxidants. Do you know that a single piece of string bean costs 1 peso in my city? That’s quite dear, in my opinion.

Grated coconut meat -- Price: usually 15 pesos per piece of grated coconut

I hope you can make out that plastic above the purple string beans. It contains grated coconut meat. Yes, the farmers’ market sells grated coconut meat for just 15 pesos. Just put the grated coconut meat in a large bowl, add in a cup or two of water (preferably lukewarm) and then press and squeeze the coconut milk out. Run the milk through a fine sieve or cheesecloth and you can have pure, fresh and lauric acid-rich coconut milk that you can use to cook the taro leaves I mentioned above.

White radish -- Price: Sorry, I forgot, lol

This is my Dad’s folk remedy for cough. During our younger years, whenever Dad sees any of us kids wheezing, he would grate a piece of radish, squeeze its juice out and mix it with lemon and sugar and have us drink it. Quite tolerable actually. White radish is good for Filipino sinigang.

These are just a few of what I bring home from a trip to the farmers’ market. There are a lot more actually, though I know there are infinitely more out there in your part of the world. I would love to see the finds that you have in your farmer’s market, too. Care to share?

Aug 26, 2014

Fish Sinigang or Filipino Sour Fish Stew

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fish sinigang of Filipino sour fish stew
I’m not really sure what the English translation of sinigang is -- there are those who use the term “tamarind soup” for example, which is really more of a descriptive term anchored on its main souring ingredient, tamarind.
I asked Google and her (or his?) first answer is that sinigang is a sour and savory Filipino soup. Hmmm, that’s more like it as really, “tamarind soup” misses the point as many recipes of sinigang do not use tamarind as the souring ingredient. In this fish sinigang recipe, for example, I use kamias or iba which tagalogtranslate.com says is ginger lily.
Lest you get confused, here’s my description and definition of what sinigang is to me. Sinigang is a savory and sour stew which can be broken down into the following main ingredients:
1. Sour element -- usually tamarind or kamias (ginger lily), though others use santol rind or plain tomatoes
2. Meat -- could be fish, pork, chicken, beef or shrimp
3. Herbs -- mainly red onions, ripe tomatoes and fresh ginger but could also include lemongrass, scallions or green onions, red bell pepper
4. Vegetables -- Filipinos usually use radish and the yellowish Imelda-variety kangkong -- though you could probably use bok choy and spinach

kamias or iba or ginger lily
Souring Ingredient
Tamarind really is the best souring element you can use as its sourness is bitingly rich. Unfortunately, fresh tamarind is a rare find in the market in my city and what I can find mostly is kamias or ginger lily which is not as sour as tamarind but has a mildly fruity savor. I avoid using commercial tamarind powder mixes (or sinigang cubes) as they abound in MSG.

ingredients for fish sinigang of Filipino sour fish stew
Meat
Pork and shrimp are two of the most flavorful meats you can use for sinigang. However, as I am avoiding pork nowadays, and shrimp is a no-no for my allergy-prone daughter, I have a bias for fish sinigang.

Herbs
If, like me, you want to stay clear from tamarind broth mixes, you would do well to go almost overboard in the use of herbs. Wickedly red tomatoes add to the sourness while red onions and ginger give spicy undertones.

Vegetables
For some reason, white radish has a way of complementing the sourness of sinigang and so this veggie has to be in your pot. I find this strange as raw, fresh radish is pungent and spicy and yet, when dropped into a pot of sinigang, they turn mild and mellow and delightfully mushy. The leafy vegetable -- Imelda-variety kangkong -- is the best leafy vegetable to use as the hollow core of the stems holds some of the soup, oozing juices with each bite.

fish sinigang of Filipino sour fish stew

I personally love sinigang which is sour enough as to make my lips pucker despite my valiant efforts not to, and also one in which the meaty, savory element strives to shine through despite the sourness.
Now on to the recipe:

Fish Sinigang or Filipino Sour Fish Stew

Ingredients:
  • 1 kilo fish (fatty, bony fish is good, such as the head or jawbone part)
  • about 20-25 pieces of kamias, sliced longitudinally into halves (use more if you like it really more sour)
  • 3 large, ripe tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 large red onion, chopped
  • fresh lemongrass blades tied into a knot
  • thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, crushed
  • 1 large red bell pepper
  • 1 large white radish, cut into circles
  • a bunch of kangkong or water spinach
  • salt to taste

Procedure:
  1. Pour about 10 cups of water into a stainless-steel (or non-aluminum) pot and drop in the kamias. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 5 minutes to bring out the sourness.
  2. Add in the tomatoes, red onion, lemongrass and ginger and boil for about 3 minutes.
  3. Add in the fish and bring to a rolling boil, after which simmer the stew for 5 minutes.
  4. Add the radish rounds and cook for 3 minutes. Add salt to taste.
  5. Add in the leafy vegetables and simmer for just about 30 seconds.
  6. Serve immediately.

Happy slurping and sipping this most savory stew!

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