Fernando Chua, MD passed away today, July 19, 2014: his friends and proteges in the Chinese General Hospital are still in shock as we write this. He expired at 11:30AM, and from the call of his closest friend, Dr. Samuel Ang earlier, at 3:00pm, as much as he would say he expected it: Dr. Ang was obviously not yet grieving, but he was trying to take it all in, trying to understand what all this would mean to him and to the other friends of Dr. Fernando, who were seen by Dr. Fernando to be under his protection from a corrupt and corrupting world. This, we guess, summed up Fernando Chua: his large (and loud) presence and personality, and yes, his complexity, made him difficult to understand, and yet impossible to shake off. He was a loyal friend, a fierce enemy: no matter how your were classified (friend or foe? No in-betweens) in his book, he was quite a presence.
There is no way to write about this legendary anesthesiologist of Chinese General Hospital: legendary in temper, principles, likes, and dislikes. One thing for those of us who really did not know him well but could claim to at least some efforts to comprehend this incredible bundle of energy, it never failed to strike us that in his element, which was when he was in the Operating Room of the hospital he had served for over three decades with some of the best medical doctors in the country, he was usually wearing his University of Connecticut OR cap (which he is wearing in the photo we have put up above). That cap said a lot about the man, as it was the University where one of his children successfully hurdled medical internship. He loved his family, but it also said a lot about his belief that most good things emanated from the United States. It was his badge of honor to have his medical doctor-sons in the United States, making a name for themselves in medicine, having been given opportunities he had helped get, but opportunities he also never had in his life; and there is another son here in Manila who is helping manage a business concern that he was proudly involved in conceptualizing and starting. We would have friendly, even if one-sided arguments. It was one-sided because he thought, since we were younger, we really had yet to see what he had seen. Very much like Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem, the Ancient Mariner, he was not out to exchange ideas: he was here, in front of you, to impart wisdom, stories, and warnings about the wrath of a natural law in this world where there was a confused sense of right and wrong.
He was of the old school in many ways. He would proudly share stories of what he had been able to buy for his children. It was a contradiction of the man, to proudly declare to all the material goods he was able to give his loved ones, but to insist that most of what were important could never be quantified or even physically grasped. Maybe it was not a contradiction: just way of objectifying that parental affection. That OR cap also said to and of him, and everyone else, that he had come a long way from his days of trying to make something out of his life; it was his emblem in his world, which was really the Chinese General Hospital: it was a declaration of arrival. But no doubt he also had his share of people in this age of Facebook would be described as “unfriends”: as his ability to throw a tantrum was the stuff of stories that had been passed, retold, blown-up from one generation of Chinese General Hospital health workers and patients to another. Silence could also be his ultimate signal of contempt. His eyes and ears were sensitive to all sorts of nuances that a wrong shift of a tone, or an improper or disrespectful inflection, could provoke an immediate rebuke.
Aside from being an unforgettable character, we are writing this because he imprinted in us one lesson that he kept insisting we should learn. He said it was all we needed to be worthy of being a member of the human race: that for a man to be successful, to be respectable, to be somebody who for him was worth associating with, the basic ingredient was simple: It was to have a great sense of shame. “You have to have a great sense of shame if you want to be somebody worthy of trust and friendship. I tell that to my children. I tell that to my junior doctors. Ask them if I really say that. Ask Dr. Benito. I tell them when they do things, they should consider what their family and friends will say. They should ask: will my family and friends be embarassed by this thing I do, or will they be proud?” He was so insistent about it, as he thought there was a short supply of such a sense of embarrassment, that he had to tell you, he just must tell us people who were significantly his junior, and obviously for him, it was his way of showing his hopes and care for us, junior members of the human race. It was this passing of a man, whose affection, or even love for his family, friends, and colleagues was marked by a shout out for some sense of shame that made him so memorable. Just like the Ancient Mariner, it was figuratively the albatross around his neck, this sense that we live in a world of no shame. He was very old fashioned in this old world kind of way.
We had been asking him for an interview for this website, and that would never happen now. In spite of his age and his battle with cancer, we note the passing of Dr. Fernando Chua with sadness and disbelief. He was 68 years old.