“I have a favorite story about Capt. Gregorio Oca that not too many people may have heard,” says Dr. Arnold Purisima, current Chairman of the Dental Department of the Seaman’s Hospital. “I started as a Junior Associate, but I eventually had Capt. Oca as my patient. One Sunday, I was asked to come in because Boss needed treatment. Since it was a Sunday, there was no other staff around, and I worked alone.

“After the treatment, he needed medicine, but there was no stock in the pharmacy, so he sent someone to go buy it in Faura. So we were both left alone in the room, sitting side by side with nothing to talk about. I felt like I needed to break the silence, but I didn’t know how.

So I just asked him, ‘Sir, nagmo-mall ka ba?’ and he said, ‘Oo naman, Doc.’ Then I asked him, ‘Saan ka madalas nagpupunta, Boss?’ I was expecting him to say sa mga accessories ng cars, sa mga boutiques, sa mga signature [brand shops], but you know what he said? He said, ‘Madalas ako sa kitchenware. Mahilig ako sa mga kawali, kaldero, mga ganun.’ Wow! I wasn’t expecting that. That’s why I can never forget that moment.”

[So I just asked him, ‘Sir, do you go to the mall?’ and he said, ‘Of course, Doc.’ Then I asked him, ‘Which shops do you often go to, Boss?’ I was expecting him to say that he likes going to car accessory shops, boutiques, or signature brand shops, but you know what he said? He said, ‘I often go to the kitchenware. I like pots and pans and things like that.’]

Beyond that revelation of Capt. Oca’s fondness for kitchenware, Dr. Purisima has learned more from Capt. Oca in the 31 years that he has been with the Seaman’s Hospital. “One thing I learned from Capt. Oca is to love your work. Once, there was this dental assistant who accidentally dropped the tools. Capt. Oca told him, ‘Boy, love your work. Mahirap maghanap ng trabaho, at lahat nang gamit na yan, importante.’ [It’s hard to find a good job, and all of those tools are important.] He meant that even the small things matter, and as much as possible, you should do everything perfectly.”

While Capt. Oca demanded excellence, he was also generous and supportive of his team. The hospital is well-equipped and up-to-date in terms of equipment and tools, and also in terms of staff seminars and training. “[The hospital] is supportive of their employees. They usually give us what we need to enhance our professional skills. Anything you ask, as long as it is needed, it will be given.”

Of course, other than the generous professional development opportunities that the staff receives, the famous Christmas parties is also Dr. Purisima’s favorite measure of generosity. “In my first year [at the hospital], I won a trip for two to Hong Kong. And that was the consolation prize!” It’s no wonder that the Christmas party has been the most awaited day for most.

Dr. Purisima ends his stories with very practical advice for seafarers: “Have your dental check-up early, even before your medical examination. Usually, seafarers come to the dental clinic when they need a pre-employment examination already. It’s better to have dental work done earlier so that when the pre-employment exam is needed, their dental problems have already been addressed. Seafarers are allowed to use the hospital facilities six months from the time they disembark. So schedule your dental work in that time.”

Rheea Hermoso-Prudente

Rheea loves words, food, books, travel,  paper, and water in any form (though not necessarily in that order). She recently moved up to the foggy mountains of Baguio with her husband, two daughters, and portly cat. She homeschools her kids, and dreams of making a go at homesteading.