Written Account of the Las Vegas CIM Alumni Reunion 2001

Cle S. Estrera, Jr.(Class '72)

The "Sin City"
If New York is called the city that never sleeps, then it is safe to say that Las Vegas is the city that is fully awake 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Las Vegas never dozes, it never snoozes, and it never develops hangovers and headaches. As a matter of fact, Las Vegas is the number one city in the world visited by tourists. Last year alone, more than 37 million people visited the city. That's more than five times the population of Virginia. People from all over the world flock to Las Vegas, many of them are hoping to exchange their core dreams for cold cash. Everywhere you go, every turn you make, there is always that constant clanging sound of the winning slot machines. Vegas is the gambling Mecca of the New World. But you have to admire the city for having the best of everything including the unduplicated wonders of the world. It has the New York skyline just across the MGM Grand Hotel where the reunion was held. It includes the Statue of Liberty as well as the Empire State and Chrysler buildings. The city has an Eiffel Tower and even a Venetian cityscape. Pseudo-Venice is surreal, with white puffy clouds overhead and romantic gondolas drifting by. It is patterned with the original, with the exception that the canals don't smell like dead rats according to a European tourist that I happened to converse with. Then there is the Bellagio Hotel that has the dancing water fountain at its front in synchrony with a great classical music.

Las Vegas is just overwhelming. However, if you look closely, there is a sinister intention of the place that is obscured beneath the whirlwind of opulent hotels, amusement park rides, all-you-can-eat lobster and prime ribs buffets, dancing girls, and some X-rated shows which advertisement's brochures are distributed by Mexicans along the sidewalks. The city is designed and refined over the years with the sole purpose of separating fools from their money. It is so well conceived and so ingeniously plotted that even the sidewalks are aligned against you. The name Vegas itself is a lie. It means grassland - when it's really a desert.

Vegas is there to take your money. But the true genius of the place is the way people feel good about getting fleeced. The old men who sit at the poker tables taking piles of chips from the rubes rarely crack a smile as if to them, it's just business as usual or just a part of the experience. They make you feel like they win more than they lose. But the trite platitude at the poker table is that if you don't know the sucker - it's you!

The Reunion
The CIM alumni reunion this year can easily be called stellar. Many alumni brought their families with them to attend, making one wonders whether it's just the city with the prospect of making big easy money, or it's really the fun of meeting friends, classmates and colleagues with the intention of renewing and maintaining contact and friendship. But whatever the reason, everyone had fun.

The attendance of every reunion activity was more than expected and was very encouraging. Even the dinner at the Chinese restaurant was overflowing with the alumni members. The food was great and so with the atmosphere. When alumni meet wherever they are, there are always jokes and laughter. Some may have gray hairs and others may be balding a little bit, but their attitude remains the same. They love to be together, to lobe jokes at each other, to cackle and crackle until they get cramps in their stomach. Then they look forward to their next reunion and that will be on July 10-13, 2002 in Washington, D.C. Boys and girls, make sure you mark your calendar.

The CME part was a success. All the speakers were well prepared and knowledgeable in their corresponding topic of discussion. But the CME speaker who caught most of everyone's attention was Dr. Aaron Estrera who is a diplomate of both General and Cardio-Thoracic Surgery from Dallas, Texas. Dr. Estrera was wise enough to analyze that since members of the alumni have varied interest because they are of different medical specialties, he had chosen a topic that would appeal to everyone's fancy and thus would stretch everyone's attention span. Instead of talking about a subject in his medical specialty, he talked about ethics, The Nuremberg Doctors' Trial. It's about the German physicians who were considered to be the best in the world at the time, knowingly tortured and brutalized human lives in the name of medical experiments. Their principle was based on the philosophy that what is useless is bad and what is bad must be terminated to save society from being contaminated. Dr. Estrera was meticulous in his presentation of details particularly the visual aids showing skin-and-bones corpses piling up like sardines, the results of the Nazi physicians' "successful" experiments. The experiments were lethal, fatal, and brutal. The respect for human life was worst than dismal. It defied every conceivable human laws and principles.

In any event, what Dr. Estrera was driving at was the moral or ethical implications of what the Nazi physicians did in today's medical practice. One would sense that to Dr. Estrera, we, physicians, have the moral or ethical and professional obligation to save and preserve human life, not destroy or end it; that life is precious, not useless. Thus if we condone a physician for taking one's life even in the name of mercy or because he thinks that such life is worthless, then we are no better than the Nazi physicians. But questions remain. If one has the right to live, isn't it also appropriate that one should have the right to die? What if one considers his life as not worth living anymore? Doesn't one have the choice of ending his life of pain and misery? Then who should help him in assisting a painless death? Since we, physicians, are more knowledgeable in the agents of death, does that mean that we are also the appropriate persons to help one in assisting his own death? Yet if we are knowledgeable in the agents that can end one's life, we are also knowledgeable in the agents and procedures that can save and preserve it, that can provide pain relief and comfort. So the final question would probably be: why choose to help end one's life when we can help him preserve it? The issue of course involves more than just our own principle and philosophy. In involves our deepest moral, religious and even political conviction, not to mention the oath we took as physicians to do no harm. We cannot just say, "Let's refer the patient to Dr. Kevorkian."

The Good News
During the business meeting, it was reported that once again CIM is ranked number one by the Commission of Medical Education. The CIM graduates who took the Philippine Medical Board Exam recently had the passing rate of 100%. It's a school achievement that the members of the CIM alumni are proud of.

Beginning school year 2001, the CIM medical curriculum will change to problem-based learning patterned with the teaching of Harvard University. CIM will be the only medical school in the Philippines that will have this kind of teaching. But it's safe to beat that other schools will follow pretty soon. Like the advertisement of the Mercedes Benz, they will be falling behind. They will imitate but can never dominate. In this mode of teaching, instead of being passive, listening to lectures and taking notes, the students will have active participation by dividing them into smaller groups of about 10 students in each group. They are encouraged to participate in a discussion guided or moderated by an instructor, and they are graded according to their participation. For instance, the symptom of pain will be dissected by the students as to its cause or origin and its basic patho-physiologic mechanism. One can deduce that when the students become full-pledge physicians, they would more likely look at their patient as a whole human being rather than just parts. They would know what to ask, to look, to listen, to feel and to become a little more specific in their diagnostic work-up. And by the way, CIM accepted only 100 students this year.
(Correction, July 24)-Dr. Terry Lambo-Quisumbing from class 1972 recommended the following correction: Apparently, the first to implement the problem-based teaching is UEERM(I don't know what it stands for) pioneered by Dr. Fernando Sanchez. Other schools in Manila are already adopting this method. In Mindanao, the Mindanao State University has started this teaching several years ago and so with the new medical school in Zamboanga. In Cebu, CIM is the pioneer of this method of teaching. It is the work of DR. Mario Sancez who has been very enthusiastic about this program. He will go to Hawaii for 6 months this coming December on an ECFMG grant to a medical school with this method of teaching.

The Bad News
The alumni relocation project for the school of CIM remains in limbo. Members of the alumni are a little leery that there is no reciprocal written communication between the alumni board or officers and the school board. About three acres of land have been found in Busay for the possible relocation of the school. Perhaps it was not heard well, but the cost of the land is about $3 million, and that is, a million dollars per acre! It's probably the most expensive piece of property in the world, not to mention that the area has problem with water supply. For the ASPO(Anak Sa Pobreng O) among us, the cost is staggering to the imagination. It defies what is reasonable, and defines more of what is rip-off. It makes the real estate property in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina cost like peanuts. Perhaps the cost is a joke and the owner of the property would just say what Woody Allen said at the end of the movie, Picking up the Pieces, "If you cannot take a joke, then go fuck yourself." We'll take it!

The Grand Ball
Everyone was having fun in the Grand Ball as the beat went on, not to mention that everyone was looking great with their tuxes and gowns. The night was made more enjoyable with the dance exhibition by a CIM couple who have medical practice in Las Vegas itself aside from dancing practice of course, in their rendition of the many ballroom dances. These couple were just great. Their steps were calculated, their movements were precise, and as they danced on the dance floor with amazing grace, they "floated like a butterfly but did not sting like a bee." Sorry, I did not catch their names. There was also a song presentation by Dr. Sedillio's sister whose choice of song was amazingly appropriate for the occasion, The Cabaret. It was a terrific song rendered by a terrific woman with a terrific voice. And for laughs, Dr. Pastor from the class of 1971 told funny jokes although this time he was a little bit disoriented because he was not told at all or not given any time to prepare. But just the same he did his best and everyone had some good laughs.

Incidentally, the class of 1971 was celebrating their 30th anniversary. To all of the members of the class '71, from the class of 1972, a toast! You can visit the web site of the class '71 at this address and just click on it: www.cimclass71.homestead.com

Date written - July 18, 2001