Back in May 2009, I had the privilege of joining a medical and dental mission to the island communities (four baranggays) in the Calamian Group of Islands in Palawan, specifically around Coron.
Part of our mission was to provide much needed medical consultation and medicine to locals, who would otherwise not go to the hospital for two reasons: First, the nearest hospital is very far and can only be reached by boat; second, they don’t have the financial resources to go and see a medical professional.
We conducted medical consultations, free prescription, we delivered free medications, and even performed minor surgical procedures. And yours truly–despite having zero medical knowledge (save for binge watching ‘E.R.’ and ‘Grey’s Anatomy’)–was given the opportunity to assist in those medical procedures.
During our medical mission in the town of Banuang Daan, one of our doctors allowed to me to do an important procedure on my own. This may very well be more of a rite of passage rather than a (minor) medical procedure. This procedure allows patients to walk in our medical tent as a boy and leave the tent as a ‘man’ (so they say).
That afternoon in some remote island village somewhere in northern Palawan, I circumcised boys.
Turning boys into men (well, sort of)
Doc Nesti, one of our missionary doctors, showed me (and a couple of nurses with us) how to do it. He demonstrated twice and then let me do it to a few patients as he looked over my shoulder. On my third patient, he let me go solo so he could also take care of other patients. To be honest, I remember snipping and then looking behind me for Doc Nesti’s approval–only to find out he’s moved on to other patients.
It may sound gruesome, but to be perfectly honest, I can still remember the adrenaline rush of administering anesthesia, cutting, and snipping. I was too excited to care about the gore.
The first thing I had to do before ‘turning boys into so-called men’ (at least anatomically to some people) was to check it they’re ready to be cut. Doc told me about the factors to consider, including age and certain stuff I would rather not describe in this article. Usually, I still ask Doc if the patient’s ready before I stick a needle on the boy.
Speaking of sticking a needle on the boy, I remember having a brief Meredith Grey feeling as I filled the syringe with general anesthetic. I remember lifting it to eye level to make sure there were no bubbles. For some reason, there was something so TV-ish with that practice.
Before injecting, I had to take two fingers to press the base of the ‘surgical area’ to look for the right spot to administer the numbing fluid. Once injected, massaging the base was important to make sure the drug goes where it should go. One minute and a generous wiping of povidone iodine later, the initial cut can be made.
“Aim well,” I remember thinking to myself. “Keep your hands steady.”
And I did. I aimed well. I kept my hands steady–steady enough for at least seven patients.
It took about two cuts on the average. Once I’ve made the cuts and cleaned up the blood, I’d tell Doc so he could check my work and stitch up the boy.
I remember asking if I could do the sutures, too.
“Maybe after a year in medical school,” Doc answered in Tagalog with a smile.
As I’m writing this, I realized my reluctance to equate the liberation of a boy’s body part from surrounding foreskin to manhood.
While society may think and impose on pre-adolescent (and might I say extremely impressionable) boys that getting circumcised means turning into a man, I kept on using quotation marks and disclaimers like “sort of” and “so-called.”
I just couldn’t bring myself to agree on some people’s belief that being a man means having no foreskin. On a personal note, I think people don’t even consider neither the biblical history nor the medical importance (or lack of it) of the procedure, especially pinoys. Since I was in elementary, I got the impression that if a boy is ‘supot’ (uncircumcised), then he is less of a man than the others.
This is the kind of thinking we are leading today’s children and our future children to believe.
I’m sure many people share my reluctance to equate manhood with a man’s body part. A man’s essence is more than what’s dangling between his legs, in the same way that a woman is more than her charm or wits or her ‘lady parts.’
In my own point of view, a man knows how to protect himself and the ones he care about. A man knows how to take responsibility and action. A man knows when to step back and when to step in. A man doesn’t seek to understand the nuances of his partner–be it a woman or another man–but he seeks to love his partner no matter what. A man doesn’t flee from a problem, he faces it with a solution (or at least with courage).
A man knows when he made a mistake and he is man enough to own up to it, make up for it, and do better next time.
These things don’t just apply to men, I tell myself. A man is all that and many other things I might never know because, well, I’m not a man.
So, yeah. While those patients may have walked into our make-shift clinic as pre-adolescent boys five years ago, I certainly hope they’re walking as men now.