Jose A. Quirino

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One of the first Filipino physicians to specialize in painless childbirth, then known as “twilight sleep”, was Dr. Jose Felix Quirino, who graduated from the University of Santo Tomas medical school in 1904. He was born in Manila on January 30, 1884, the only child of Vicente Quirino and Trinidad Arcinas, both residents of Binondo.

Jose learned his ABCs from his mother at the age of six, then studied at the school of his father in San Fernando. But since this school taught only the first two years of the segunda ensenanza, he went to Manila to study in the school of Don Ignacio Villamor, later President of the University of the Philippines, and at the Ateneo de Manila in Intramuros. His parents closed their school in Pampanga to be with their son, and opened another school at Calle Elcano in the San Nicholas district of Manila.

The Revolution of 1896-7 interrupted his last year at the Ateneo, but instead of waiting for classes to open Jose spent his time taking piano lessons under a certain Sr. Garcia and learned English from a tutor. He obtained his bachillerato in 1898 with the grades of excellent. During the two or three years that he studied under the Jesuits, he received various medals and diplomas.

Jose then enrolled in the school of medicine at the University of Santo Tomas in Intramuros, and graduated with the degree of Licentiate in Medicine and Surgery in March of 1904, again with the rating of excellent.

Even as a student at the Ateneo and Santo Tomas, young Jose was frail and in poor health. But his mother kept a sharp watch over his diet and took good care of him. “He was an obedient and dutiful son who never gave me any disgusto,” Dna. Trining told her daughter-in-law years later. “Only once did his father, Don Vicente, ever punish him, and that was when he lost some pennies in a well. It was a trifling amount and I complained privately to my husband that he had been overly severe in punishing our son, but Don Vicente said that he had punished the boy not for the loss of the money but for having been careless.”

Jose must have been attracted to medicine at the time when he made the choice of a profession: somehow the idea of curing and helping people must have appealed to him, rather than law or any other profession. Perhaps the shining example of Rizal, an Ateneo graduate, prompted him to pursue that profession; or perhaps the prominence that Filipino doctors had attained in the community spurred him to emulate them.

His mother used to relate that he often came home pale and tired from the medical school, especially during the year when he had to study dissection of the human anatomy. Often, she would find a finger or an ear in some of his pockets that some mischievous classmate had hidden there as a prank. But he was an assiduous and bright student who made high grades, and so impressed one of his professors, Dr. Gregorio Singian, that the latter immediately took him after graduation as an assistant in his clinic.

Several months later, Jose opened his own consultorio at his home on Callejon Gonzalez in the Ermita district, a little side street connecting San Marcelino and Nozaleda (now General Luna) streets. A year and a half later, he felt he had saved enough money to get married.

He had been engaged for a couple of years to a pretty mestiza lass named Dolores Lozada, also of Manila, but did not want to burden his parents with an early marriage; and had waited until he was firmly established in his profession before assuming the cares of a family man. They were married at the Capuchin Church in Intramuros on November 26, 1905. The bride was then 17 years old and he was not quite 22 years old. Their first child was born on January 14, 1907, and named Felix Vicente, and exactly three years later to the day the second son was born and baptized Carlos Felix.

A year after his father’s death, Dr. Quirino moved his entire family to their new home a block away, not far from Paco Cemetery. Here he opened a larger office, a clinic specializing in women’s diseases; he had a large clientele, among them Dna. Aurora Aragon who later became Mrs Manuel L. Quezon, for his fame a gynaecologist spread rapidly, since his return from Europe. He taught some courses at Santo Tomas, according to one of his former students, Dr. Basilio J. Valdes.

By 1908 he had saved enough money from his medical practice to go abroad for graduate courses. He had a cousin named Ignacio Syyap, who was suffering from some ailment that needed the attention of foreign specialists, and took the opportunity of accompanying him to Europe for treatment. They left Manila on February 22, on a Meesageries Maritime vessel for Genoa, Italy, and from there headed straight for Berlin, at that time the center of advanced techniques in the medical profession. He entered the Charitee Clinic in Berlin as an assistant of Dr. Bumm, the famous toxicologist and gynaecologist, and then moved to other hospitals studying the techniques of other well-known doctors. For some time he stayed in Kiel, then in Munich, before returning to Manila on December 23, 1908, in time to be home with his family on Christmas.

“Despite his short length of time in Germany,” relates a fellow physician, “he studied the German language to a point of perfection such that some Germans in Manila who had spoken to him in this tongue could not understand how in the short space of eight months he had been able to express himself so well in their language. He was therefore one of the very few Filipino physicians who, knowing the language, shared the scientific knowledge he had obtained in Germany. Free from egotism, a lover of progressive ideas in the medical science of his country, he hastened to transmit to his colleagues what he had seen and read in the medical journals which he continued receiving from Germany, without hiding anything of value to the profession.”

Dr. Quirino’s fondness for that new-fangled contraption, the automobile, which he had grown to like while he was in Europe, proved to be his undoing. Late in 1913 he bought an Ames Continental touring car with an open top ordered especially from the United States, and derived much pleasure driving behind the wheel, for there were not many professional chauffeurs in the city at that time. In the afternoon of November 9, 1913, he bundled his entire family composed of his widowed mother, wife, two sons and a young man who cleaned the car, for a pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage in Antipolo.

After having said their prayers at the town church, they drove back at dusk for Manila. The gravel roads were then not as wide or smooth as today; in negotiating one of the hairpin turns, the car got out of control and plunged down the steep side of a hill. The automobile rolled over once, then shuddered to a halt at the bottom. The woman screamed and the children cried in fright. All of the passengers were safe and sound, except for minor scratches and bruises – miraculously, so it seemed. But not for Dr. Quirino. The wooden steering wheel had snapped with the fall, and the jagged edge had entered into his heart. He was bleeding profusely from the mouth and nose. His death had been almost instantaneous.

When Don Juan Sumulong in Antipolo heard of it from passers-by, he and the parish priest immediately rushed to the scene of the accident – but there was little they could do to help. On board a carretela or horse rig they brought the corpse back to the town, as the disconsolate widow and mother wept their hearts out in sorrow. An autopsy was held in Manila: it was revealed that the deceased had ulcer perforations in his intestines. The family physician, Dr. Singian, then revealed that the deceased had fainting spells and was in a bad shape physically at the time of his death; apparently, he had one of his fainting attacks while at the wheel, causing the automobile to plunge down the precipice. Yet, he had carefully kept the information from his family in order not to worry them.

“From the time of his arrival in 1908 to the time of his fatal accident in 1913,” said the speaker at his necrological service, “by dint of application, perseverance, activity, unusual zeal and professional disinterestedness, Dr. Quirino succeeded in reaching the front ranks of renowned physicians in this capital, particularly distinguishing himself as an able surgeon in the speciality he had consecrated himself. May our unfortunate companion rest in peace, and may his memory serve as an imperishable example to that new generation of young Filipinos who have enthusiastically embraced that noble medical profession for the honor and glory of our country.”

  • Dr. Quirino was the author of: Sobre un caso de sifilis maligna tratada con exito por el dioxi-diamido-arsenobenzol (formula 606): read before a session of the Colegio Medico-Farmaceitico de Filipinas on November 5, 1910; “Presentacion de un caso de carcinoma del utero con metastasis ganglionar operando con exito hace dos anos,” read at the February 27, 1911, session of the Assemby of Medicos y Farmaceiticos de Filipinas; and his brilliant “Estudios estadistico del cancer en Filipinas,” at the first regional assembly of the association in Manila on February 6, 1912.