The anesthesia incident
“Ma’am, anesthesia po.” I answered. My heart was racing. Beads of sweat formed on my forehead.“Come again, Dexter? Why anesthesia?” my teacher asked in front of the whole class.
I couldn’t look straight at her. What did a first-year high school student know about anesthetics, when what he was thinking about was a brown, antiseptic liquid called povidone-iodine? And why would he respond so loudly, with conviction and pomposity, despite the fear of being wrong engulfing him that time?
“Class, I’m asking for the contents of a basic first aid kit,” my teacher said.
“Ma’am, wait. Anesthetics can be found in a first aid kit as it is used to prevent pain in stitching wounds in an emergency setting,” I said.
The whole class applauded, and my teacher commended me for my answer. It was a glorious moment — to escape a daunting situation I had brought on with my braggadocio, and to be praised for an answer that I managed to scour from the crevices of my juvenile brain.
Fast forward to college, where I realized that I had that answer mostly wrong. No medical personnel in his or her right mind would include an injectable solution of lidocaine in the basic first aid kit we usually see in our shelves.
But the way I answered that question was really a big deal for me. You see, when life hits us hard, we retreat to our comfort zones — a wall we build to protect ourselves from grief and disappointment. I was 12 that time, and three years before that question was asked in class, we lost Papa in the most abrupt way one could imagine. He was my stronghold, my top supporter, along with my mother. It was the start of a continuous toil — I had to go through adolescence and high school feeling incomplete, downhearted, and insecure with life. Every word I uttered in recitations, every letter I encircled in my long exams, every group activity I had to partake in was an expression of uneasiness — of worry that I might humiliate myself purposely, of fear that I might fall again alone without a cushion behind my back.
I wasn’t depreciated by the people around me, but as early as that, I had to learn how to stand on my own, to think on my feet, to grapple with and rise above the challenges and self-doubts I felt inside. As petty as it sounds now, the seemingly lucky break I had with that first aid question made me believe in myself a little bit more, and motivated me going forward.
From time to time, I try to capitalize on the uplifting feelings I get from the tiny achievements I make in this crazy life. Although some are flukes like the “anesthesia incident,” as I like to call it, I sometimes convince myself that such things happen for a good reason, ultimately rationalizing that those small bouts of appreciation from the people around me could greatly help my self-confidence.
A decade later, here I am, a medical student surviving one day at a time, cramming through every exam like a desperate gladiator battling for his life in an arena. A lot of days I wrestle with having to choose between sleep or study. But in between those little scuffles with myself, I still think about the anesthesia incident that happened back in high school.
It reminds me of that famous Faulkner quote, “You don’t love because: you love despite…” And it strikes a chord every time, the idea that loving one’s self is a continuous process, albeit hard and strenuous especially on days when I just want to lie down in bed and do nothing. We love ourselves despite the falls and the flukes, the hurts and the uncertainties, because no one can save us but ourselves.
I guess I’m in a much better position now than I was 10 years ago. At least I’ve become proficient enough to know the difference between an anesthetic and an antiseptic.
* * *
John Dexter Canda, 23, is a teaching assistant and a third-year medical student at Ateneo de Zamboanga University.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.