Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The world of DOTA: Where we can all be heroes

by Gideon Lasco

NEXT DOOR INTERNET CAFE, GUERRERO ST. - Within this computer shop a melee is unfolding between the boys of Class 2010 and Class 2011. I was too late to join the fight. If I were five minutes early, by now I would've been gearing up my thunderbolts as Zeus, the Lord of Olympia. The Greek god of gods is not supreme, however: Lucifer can be a formidable enemy.

Enter the world of DOTA, the latest successor to the LAN games throne. With almost 80 characters to chose from, each with a  unique 'personality', the possibilities are endless. It combines the mystical environment of Warcraft, the intensity of an role-playing game like Ragnarok, and the tactical excitement of Counter-Strike to create an opium for the boys – and girls too!

The phenomenon of computer gaming, like a drug-resistant virus, easily infiltrated our supposedly-immune-to-fun College of Medicine. In Class 2010 where I belong, roughly 30% of the guys play DOTA; the figures go higher for the more benign lower batches.

Interestingly, what was traditionally an all-boys activity is gradually becoming co-ed. My classmate Odelle Concepcion, who has become an avoid DOTA player, says: “There’s nothing masculine about DOTA or the other games. Girls can enjoy it too!”

While their classmates were applying for fraternities, the DOTA players in 2010 have formed a clique, which they dubbed PHI DOTA MU - perhaps this is a way of saying that in computer games, as in the fantasy worlds they bring to life - and like Greek-letter fraternities - a special bond of camaraderie exists among them.

Games like DOTA have doubtless helped to make the 21st century male more and more cerebral. Whereas the medieval crusader would take a lifetime to learn how to defeat his enemy Moor, I only have to click the mouse to kill the devil himself. And if I die, it will just take a minute for me to get back to the field again. Woe to the ladies though, who would have wished a much more glamorous male: the perspiring, muscular athlete is now the chuckling, C2-drinking guy with glasses.

Not everyone will have their names chanted at the Biochem court while an interclass basketball game goes on; not everyone will claim the distinction of a College Scholar. But in DOTA, everyone’s equal: neither muscles nor memory can give you the edge, only experience. Of course it is a non-entity when it comes to credentials: being the best DOTA player in the College won’t land me a slot in Surgery. But it will make me much happier than if I’m reading Robbins. Can you beat that?

Computer games will not replace sports and outdoor activities; I still consider it a sacrilege to exchange a hike up Mt. Ugo for two days of DOTA. But do I have two days? A med student is lucky to have two hours.

Philosophical meanderings aside, DOTA is a great game, a great detox activity. We may desire to climb mountains or play ball, but a ward summons or a sudden rain can ruin everything. There's always DOTA, though. It’s just next door, within the Ladymed’s sight.

As Iskolars ng Bayan, we are perpetually asked to be heroes of the nation and act like adults, healers, five-star physicians. Tall order for someone like me, who remains nostalgic over high schools days when we skipped classes in order to play Starcraft. Sure, I may turn out to be somewhat heroic. But for the time being I can shrug off these weighty challenges for a while and go to our virtual playground, where we can all be heroes and forget about the next Pathology exam.

I could write more. But I’ll have to wrap this up. The next game is about to begin!

November 2006

Saturday, May 6, 2006

Fight or flight? A medical student weighs between staying in PH or going abroad

by Gideon Lasco

Fight-or-flight response: n. a physiological reaction that occurs in response to a perceived harmful event, attack, or threat to survival.

Sometimes, I feel that we medical students are the most abused breed in the country. Before, our all-white uniforms carried an aura of dignity and prestige. When people find out I'm a medical student, they will express admiration and wish that I'd give them a free consultation as soon as I pass the board exams.

"That's still too far from now, I would always say," adding, jokingly: "If I give free consults all the time, how will I raise a family?!"

Of course those exchanges are light-hearted, but nowadays there are tougher questions we always have to prepare for. Not just the quotidian "What are you planning to specialize in?", but questions that speak of the times we live in.

First: "Are you planning to take up Nursing?"
Second: "You're just end up working abroad, won't you?"

Oftentimes I am tempted to give a vehement "No of course not!" to the first - and an annoyed look at the second, but I try to be polite. Yet should I say no, they would sometimes follow up, "You're just saying that because you're young and idealistic. Let''s see what will happen in the future." Many people expect us to be heroes, but sadly, they judge our profession even there are many things they do not understand.

Coming from a middle class family, my parents work hard so that I can study medicine. The expenses include tuition fees, dorm rentals, books, medical tools like stethoscopes, and of course, my allowance; what makes it heavy for many breadwinners is the fact that it has to be sustained for several years. Indeed, I would likely be still toiling in the hospital long after my high school classmates have graduated and landed on good jobs.

Daily we study, nightly we review. For a single exam, we have to read hundreds of pages, memorize hundreds of terms, and pay hundreds to photocopy lecture transcripts and handouts. It takes a week to do all of those, and there's an exam almost every week. It's been a month since I was last able to go home to my family in Laguna, because I don't want to fail a subject.

We have to bear the foul stench of cadavers and dissect them, inside-out, in the name of learning. Daily, we medical students take the risk of having all sorts of diseases in PGH ranging from tuberculosis to the common cold; from Hepatitis B to flu.

All these for five years. And to specialize, at least three more. Only then can you begin your practice. It will still take some time before patients will fall in line in your clinic.

Yet, I want to become a doctor. I want to learn about the human body and mind, and enter a profession that is both challenging and fulfilling. Being in medical school, I am well on my way in achieving my goal, but the question is: where do I practice medicine?

If being a medical student in the Philippines is hard, being a doctor is even harder. There will always be sick people in need of care, but many of them cannot afford to pay the cost of medicines and medical services. Doctors also have to make a living, and they cannot always render their services pro bono. Patients can go to public hospitals, but with government budget on health being sliced yearly, government doctors feel that their meager salary - after all those years in training - not worth it.

As for choosing private practice, that too comes with its own challenges: If you want to have a clinic or practice in private hospitals, you have to buy bonds or stocks that sometimes amount to millions.

Who then can blame doctors for leaving the country? Or for taking up Nursing?

Flight from the country is a viable option to those who have experienced the difficulties of Medicine. After years of labor, they expect to be rewarded. And in pursuing an opportunity abroad, one can ensure the future of their family.

On the other hand, fighting for the country is also a choice. The fight I speak of is the battle against diseases that plague the nation; both medical and social ills. Having visited communities all over the country, from the Cordilleras to Southern Mindanao, I realize that just one doctor can make a lot of difference. The satisfaction of seeing lives saved, and people uplifted, can make the financial sacrifice worth it.

A less dramatic example of fighting for the country is staying in hospitals that need physicians badly. These hospitals are scattered all over the Philippines, and if doctors choose to stay in their provinces where they were born, it will mean a lot to their people. Finally, highly-specialized doctors who train abroad would also do well by bringing their skills to the country.

It largely depends on the individual. Any profession is a struggle, and one must choose a path in which he will be satisfied. We cannot demand every doctor to make sacrifices, but we have to appreciate those who do. It is unfortunate that the few doctors who remain in the barrios receive death threats, and are sometimes even killed, by powers-that-be who do not wish our people to progress.

Personally, I remain undecided. As I hurdle challenge after challenge in med school, I learn a lot of things: the vastness of human knowledge; the importance of empathy; and the fragility of human life. In time, maybe the path ahead will be made clear.

Fight or flight? With four more years before I graduate, I will wait before making my decision. Surely, it won't be an easy one.

Gideon Lasco
LU IV (2nd year Medicine)
June 13, 2006