We all heard and read about the heartbreaking demise of one dedicated selfless cardiologist amid the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic last March, honoring him as a hero doctor among the many frontliners who succumbed to the deadly virus.
On Maalaala Mo Kaya’s two-part comeback episode after an eight-month hiatus due to this pandemic, it is quite fitting to dedicate a stirring depiction of Dr. Israel “El” Bactol’s life, which showed how he made sacrifices all for the sake of his treasured Hippocratic oath in serving the needy and forsaken, especially in the remote areas.
Growing up in a poor but closely knit family in Peñaranda, Nueva Ecija, El (Arjo Atayde) always had the overwhelming support of his Nanay Celestina (Sylvia Sanchez), who had always pushed him in pursuing a medical degree, even if they were struggling in making both ends meet. El thought that being a doctor was his calling, considering how he saw his impoverished townmates could not get immediate medical attention due to the absence of a doctor in their area.
After all, El was a bright achiever in school and could easily get the scholarships needed to reach that dream. But even with this privilege, there were still expensive investments needed to push this further. And this came at a price, having to force El’s elder brother Elijah (Hero Angeles) to give up on his dream of being a pilot and instead take an education degree, following the footsteps of their parents. While he sulked at first because of this predicament, Elijah would give way for El to attain his goal of being a doctor someday.
After graduating high school, El would proceed to get a prized scholarship for a chemistry degree that he would complete with flying colors, eventually taking hold of a chemist’s license. But this of course was just a stepping stone for his ultimate goal of being a physician. His family, especially Nanay Celestina, would then be happy and proud for Eli after he obtained another scholarship, this time for a medical degree. But the road to reaching that ultimate goal entailed a lot of hardwork, ordeals and sacrifices on the part of El. But those difficult times for El was worth it for eventually passed Medical Board Exam, delighting his family to no end, including his brother Elijah, who said he never regretted the fact that he gave up his dream for El.
El would soon take on the role as the “Doctor to the Barrios” when he served in Occidental Mindoro for two years. Here he would work non-stop to treat deprived and disadvantaged patients, including upland minorities such as the Mangyans, which made him even more passionate about his mission. He will even miss important occasions with his family as a result of his painstaking work. Nanay Celestina would always reiterate to El that while the people he serves is fortunate to have a selfless physician like him, he should always think of his own welfare as well all the time.
After his two-year assignment in Mindoro, El went back to Nueva Ecija and started his residency as an internist at a local hospital. Here he became closer to his family, although he would still not go home daily and reside in a dormitory because of its proximity to the hospital, where he was on “32-hour” shifts. El, however, would allot his weekends at home with his mom, who wishes to spend more time with him. In his stint as the chief resident at the Nueva Ecija private hospital, El was stunned and captivated to meet a new doctor, who is set to take her residency in the medical facility. El could not take his eyes off the gorgeous doctor, Dr. Lerma Iglesias (Jane de Leon), as she introduced herself to the hospital staff.
In a subsequent visit to his family, El would hint at finally finding a prospective partner, given that Elijah is also set to marry his longtime girlfriend soon. After Nanay Celestina said she wanted to meet the woman El liked, her son told her not to rush things. “Marami pa naman oras, Ma,” El said heartbreakingly as Nanay Celestina in her letter to MMK said she really wished that what he said was true—that she and his loved ones would have spent more time with her honorable and endearing son.
In what is considered as a moving, riveting episode, the first of the two-part MMK “Stethoscope” is such a well-crafted masterpiece, featuring superb acting performances and breathtaking creative elements for viewers to appreciate. Director Dado Lumibao made it sure that such a piercing, heart-wrenching story would become as utterly memorable and deeply placed in everyone’s hearts. With the eclectic symphony of marvelous creative gems, from the brilliant script and awe-inspiring production design to mesmerizing camera work, MMK’s “Stethoscope” is destined to become a drama classic.
But, what really made it that unforgettable was the spine-tingling performance of the cast, most especially the mother and son tandem of Sylvia Sanchez and Arjo Atayde, who both naturally conveyed that incredible filial bond they actually share in real life to the characters they portrayed. Being both exceptional thespians, Sylvia and Arjo indeed made their characterizations even more special and impactful, even in non-verbal onscreen interaction. Individually, they have again proven their worth as among the top caliber acting jewels in the country.
Because of this, the climactic second part of MMK “Stethoscope” on December 5 is very much anticipated.