Chicken – my fish
Today, my fish stopped swimming.
He just settled at the bottom of his tank like he was tired of moving. It seemed like he was tired of being a fish. I did everything the vet told me to do—cleaned his tank, gave him special meds, but he has remained lethargic. His bright blue-yellow colors have also turned pale and dull.
Sometimes he tries to swim to the top of the water, which is only two inches high, but he ends up sinking to the bottom. I have been watching him all day, because anytime now he might say goodbye and I won’t even notice. I miss how he would swim so swiftly especially when he’d see me, sensing that he would get his food. Sometimes he looks at me like he’s telling me something, but—he’s just a fish. I have no idea what he’s thinking.
My fish’s name is Chicken. That’s because I promised myself that if I had a pet, I would name it something weird. So the next time I get a dog, I’ll name it Fish. Or if I get a cat, it will be named Dog.
Chicken is a birthday gift to me from my med school best friend. It’s true that Chicken has given me something to look forward to. I feel happy whenever I see him swim in his tank and get even more excited during feeding time. I know we don’t (and can’t) interact much, and I can’t pet him, but it seems like we’ve made some sort of understanding. I feed him, and he makes me happy. And because he makes me happy, I feed him some more, clean and decorate his tank, give him plants to play with, and even say hi to him every morning.
Chicken helps me when everything feels so noisy and crowded. When I see him swim and move about, I tell myself being a fish must be so happy, living in my own tank and waiting to be fed. Chicken wants nothing more but to be a fish, and sometimes I wonder why it’s so hard to be human. I wonder why we need to be many versions of ourselves when we can just be as simple as who we are. I know, we are complex beings, and life is hard, but maybe it doesn’t have to be? But I don’t know. Maybe that’s why I’m a human and not a fish.
These past few weeks have been the hardest in the course of my studies to become a doctor. Despite feedback about how hard the board exam review is, I was never prepared for the mental torture we have to go through just to get our license. I’ve had my share of losses, disappointments, and ugly breakdowns, sometimes studying while crying because I didn’t have enough time anymore. I know I’m not alone—but I also know that no struggle is worse than the other. All of us are tired. All of us lack motivation. All of us are angry and sad and frustrated and utterly disappointed in the system. I didn’t know we have to sacrifice so much just so we can help other people, and in the end, we are and can still be treated as mere commodities, dispensable and replaceable.
It has dawned on me that this is the life I have chosen, a life that I hope would be long enough for me to be able to help more people. Being a doctor is so much more than white coats and prestige — it’s about character, determination, grit, and, most importantly, compassion. It’s hard to be human, and harder to be a doctor, or any profession for that matter. I bet some of us just want to be a fish instead.
I thought Chicken was going to die today. He wasn’t moving at all, and I couldn’t see if he was still breathing. I tried to give him a nudge just to check, and I was surprised. He darted around so fast like he wasn’t sick at all. Then he rested. After a while, he swam again. And rested. And so on.
Maybe Chicken is telling me to rest. Then I can swim again after. Maybe I just need a little nudge. Or a little tap on the back.
For now, I’ll rest. After that, I’ll keep on swimming. My fish is a fighter. And so am I.
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Liel Tria, 27, a post-graduate intern from the University of the East–Ramon Magsaysay Memorial Medical Center Inc., is reviewing for the physician licensure board exam.
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