A Letter to a Mentor

Essay by Jean Alcover-Banal Posted online 10:15 PM 25 January 2018
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THE MENTOR AND THE MENTEE. The smiling faces of Dr. Jean Alcover-Banal and Dr. Ramon Abarquez. (Photo by Dr. Jean Alcover-Banal)
Dear Doctor Abarquez,

With sadness, I bid you farewell. A great teacher to many of us. Your words of wisdom and pearls of knowledge will never leave us: the heart beats with a twist; why did you give a beta-blocker; right ventricle or left ventriclethat is still myocardium; you have to get married, studies show that it will make you live longer; the ECG clearly shows acute cholecystitis; where is digitalis, why is it not in your drug list.

You were always the early bird for Monday at the conference room at the Cardiovascular Section (CVS). Because I literally lived at the CVS complex at the sixth floor of the Philippine General Hospital, I have had the pleasure of chatting with you while waiting for the others to arrive. You would ask me to open your email. As you go through your Inbox, you told me stories of old days, your most memorable cases, your former students. You were enthusiastic about the latest journal articles on heart failure. You even compelled me to write a paper with you about it. I did it grudgingly, I admit.  I've always sucked at research. A couple of times you asked me to edit your speeches which I enjoyed immensely. I've always felt like I was a dwarf standing on giant's shoulders, and yours were great as they were warm and gentle and kind.

Months after I left PGH in 2012 after finishing my training, I was told that you were still looking for me when you come early on Monday mornings.
"Nandiyan ba si Jean?" 
"Ay Sir, umuwi na po sa Mindanao."
This went on for several Monday mornings until finally you remembered, "Ay! Oo nga pala, wala na siya dito."

I last saw you in March a year ago. You were sitting on a wheelchair and unable to eat by yourself anymore. But your mind was still vibrant and alive. Your questions, though your voice was almost inaudible, still puzzled us and pushed us to think differently just as when we were students. During the Alumni Homecoming party that evening, you were still, as always, an early bird. I meekly approached you while you looked frail on your wheelchair.
"Hi, Sir. Kumusta na po kayo? Si Jean po ito." I was afraid you woud no longer remember me.
You pressed your cheek on mine and replied, "Jean! Of course I remember you. How's your practice in Mindanao? Have you read our paper on heart failure? It got published."
Then you talked about heart failure and beta-blockers and digitalis just like the old times. I could barely hear you. But I just sat there, looking at you, savoring the moment.
"I'm turning 89 this July," you suddeny said.
"Yes, Sir, I know, " I said while gently holding your frail, gnarled hand.
For a while, I just sat there thanking God for allowing me to cross paths with you, wishing that somehow someday I will make you proud.

You were one great man, Sir. And you lived an extraordinary life. We, your students, could never thank you enough.

With Love,

P.S. I hope there's digitalis in heaven, too. I'm sure you'll be having a lively debate with cardiologists up there.

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Noel P. Pingoy, MD, FPCP

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