9 December 2014

Tomorrow marks a full week since we buried tito Leo’s body, two whole weeks since the day he breathed his last. On Thursday, it will be three weeks since he entered a coma he never woke up from. Today, the ninth of December, is a full month since he was attacked by a mild stroke brought about by a blood pressure soaring at 240/110. He was preaching behind the pulpit when it happened. It was his last message.

When I think of everything that transpired between the 9th and 26th of November, every little hopeful up and every agonizing down, it feels a little unbelievable that all those could have happened in a span of 18 days. And yet, I remember how the clock ticked so slowly on those days I kept my phone close, waiting for an update from my sister and my tita because I couldn’t be at the hospital, while they, in turn, waited for news from the doctor; on those nights I cried after my roommate went to sleep; on that afternoon I raced up four flights of stairs to a room full of family. Every person in the room was family, except for the doctor who came to bring the painful truth- that if the rules of science were to be obeyed, my tito was never waking up.

I remember the interminable waiting that ironically ended too soon. I remember the hours after tito’s second operation while we prayed and prayed and waited for tito to wake up, inching closer to despair with every hour. I remember his neurosurgeon’s words that tito was to wake up within 24 hours or never. I remember dreading the passing of the time. I remember dawn breaking and the morning failing to bring any of the joy it promised. I remember the crushing sorrow lasting far more than a night.

I remember the little ups- how the doctor said it was a good thing my tito was on respirator or he might have stopped breathing even before his second operation. I remember thinking it was a reminder God was in control, that surely God was telling us to hold on to our faith because He was keeping tito alive. I remember the doctor from the ICU saying tito was not brain dead more than 48 hours after tito’s second operation. I remember the ICU nurse telling tita that during visiting hours, tito’s blood pressure spiked and remained stable. I remember having tito transferred to a private room so we could spend more time with him. I remember the gospel hymns and the Christmas carols we sang around his bed. In the midst of it all, I remember the private nurse saying, “Masaya si sir. Tumaas bp nya at stable vital signs nya. Dalawang oras ko na inoobserbahan yan“. I remember my cousin saying only half-jokingly, “walang uuwi!“. I should have heeded him and spent the night in the hospital, as was my plan, because what I remember from the next day is getting greeted by the heartbreaking sight of tito’s body wrapped in a blanket from head to foot.

Even now, I remember the painful moments we alternated between waiting for a miracle or waiting for tito’s last heartbeat as we alternated between hope and despair. I remember the anguish of losing tito, because I feel it still. I also remember tito alive because we keep talking about him at home, how we feel suspended in that state between acceptance and disbelief. It’s easy to remember because my cousins and I take turns torturing ourselves with memories of tito. Not a day has passed that a picture of him did not grace my feed. Yesterday, I put up our tree and my mom and I couldn’t help reminiscing how tito used to tease her whenever we put up our Christmas decorations. Last night, my brother checked the NBA season standings and I remember tito mocking our Celtics love while sporting a cap with the team’s mascot up front. This morning, I made coffee and I remember our shared taste in 3-in-1 brands (Nescafe sucks; Kopiko rocks.).

It still feels unbelievable that he won’t tell another corny joke again, nor strum a gospel hymn again. It seems an incredulous thought that none of us will ever taste his igado, beef steak and zinagan again- a shame because they were the absolute best. None of us will be wed with tito as officiator or ninong (deciding between the two was a dilemma, I am to learn, not exclusively mine). None of us will listen to his preaching nor his wisdom-filled advice again. None of us will have the pleasure of asking tito about a theological point. And understandably, none of us can get over the loss in less than two weeks.

I remember a lot of things and no doubt, my cousins and titas and titos remember other memories. I remember again the long days in the hospital as we all reminded ourselves that we were on a test of faith. An exercise of trust, like the one we are in right now. If it was hard letting go of tito in the hospital, it’s even harder moving on without him. Tito was our family’s spiritual leader. He would have been the first to point out God’s sovereignty to us. And amidst all the grief, pain and problems following tito’s death, I struggle to remember that tito’s first response would have been an emphatic, “pray!” And though praying has become extremely difficult to do since tito’s death, and God has never felt as distant as He does right now, I bow my head in prayer- asking God to make the hurt stop, and the problems, too, because there is only so much grief one can face in the space of two weeks.


The Hospital Hater Hypothesizes

5 Nov 2014
~4 pm

There is no place quite as depressing as a hospital. I hate hospitals. I hate the smell of antiseptic, the walls painted a most unattractive shade of green, the miscellaneous sounds of grief. I hate the somber mood. I hate them all.

hI am here outside the St.Paul Hospital Emergency Room, my phone on one hand, a canned pineapple juice on the other, and a sheaf of reviewer on organic chemistry on my lap. None of them takes my mind off this depressing setting. I’ve been here for all of fifteen minutes and already, I can feel the gloom permeating my subconscious. My mom is inside the ER, along with my dad talking to the on-call doctor. Her high-blood pressure earlier had me abandoning my reaction kinetics book mid-sentence. “The effect of pressure on the heat of reaction is negligible when . . .” There is nothing negligible about the effect of pressure on my mother’s body.

I don’t have to eavesdrop to know that the two women conversing across me have something weighing heavily on their minds. The cadence says it all. The man behind me sleeps but his dreams are not sweet. His brow is furrowed, the lines of anxiety evident on his face. The sight of a man in the chapel cannot comfort me. His sobs may be muffled, but his grief refuses to be subdued. The nurses’ laughter in the nurses’ station earlier is a stark contrast against the muted conversations, the cries of an infant inside the ER, the steady hum of machines doing what the human body is supposed to do on its own. They perhaps would be happy sounds outside of this place. But here, they only emphasize the gloom of impending death, and the silence brought about by the fear of it.

I’ve been to many hospitals before- to government hospitals, neglected, cramped, chaotic, and to ones that are practically hotels for the sick. On the outside, they are as different as poor is to rich, but even the luxurious hospital experience the latter offer cannot hide the gloom of the place. If anything, the restaurants and the shops in such places add a note of despair to the whole setting. They are a mockery to the sick rich, who, for all their wealth, could buy only things, but not the capacity to enjoy them. A taunt to every one whose millions could not be bartered for good health. Penniless, billionaire- when it comes to control on how long our life’s going to be- we are all the same.

I am not skittish. I have no qualms about eating food from the hospital cafeteria nor about using the hospital comfort rooms. I am not the type to be unduly spooked by the idea of an elevator guy wearing a red tag nor grossed out by the sight of a patient vomiting. I generally can watch a blood-and-gore movie and still eat my fries with ketchup. I’ve watched horror movies then slept alone in my room afterwards. I can even listen to poop talks while I enjoy my meal. But this mixture of fear and anguish I sense in the air gets to me like nothing else.

The hospital is a place where the dying die. A setting for lives meeting their end. I hold this thought almost subconsciously. It is an inaccurate generalization, as few of the people I have visited in a hospital actually died. An unfair belief, because the hospital is also a place where the sick is cured, where most of us first took our breaths outside our respective mother’s womb. I know, I know. But the thoughts we develop subconsciously are the ones we cannot dispel easily. It’s why kids check under the bed for monsters night after night.

It is an easily explained belief, though. I have always been the patient or the visitor. I have yet to view the hospital with the eyes of the doctor or the nurse. That is my excuse. An unacceptable one, I admit. After all, I have had the chance to hold the opposite view, and I turned it down. It has been more than five years since I declined to interview for UP’s Intarmed program.

Sitting here alone, watching sick people and their worried family come by in an ambulance, listening to underpaid nurses and orderlies talk to them in their most efficient bedside voices, I am an easy target for helplessness. I suppose it is this emotion that makes me see hospitals the way I do. Later, I would have to fill a prescription I know nothing about in the pharmacy, watch a nurse take my mom’s BP and insert a needle for her dextrose, wait long hours for mama’s doctor to come by and talk to her for five minutes, tops. And I will do all those with the knowledge that I can offer nothing but moral support.
For the second time since my own operation three years ago, I wonder what would have happened had I grabbed my shot at med school. It is possible, maybe even likely, that I would have failed the interview, thus making this whole mental enterprise moot. But if I had taken that interview and passed it, I could be a fourth year med student today. (Of course, there is a distinct possibility I may have shifted out a long time ago. Med brains and engineering smarts are definitely not the same. While I am not exactly rich in either, there’s always an abundance in God’s grace, which makes me suppose I might have made a passable med student. ) I may enter a most lucrative career yet, though that is certainly not my aim, but I am close to wishing I tried my hand at pre-med/med, after all, because it will put me in the best position to serve my loved ones in the future.

Look at me, a recent graduate of BS Chemical Engineering from my lifelong dream campus, participating in this exercise in futility. I am two weeks away from my board exam and still, I spend precious time torturing myself with thoughts of what if. Count on my indecisive self to second-guess irreversible five-year old decisions. These reflections are running amok in my brain, killing every bit of security my college degree gave me. Then again, what security should a college degree give one, anyway?

Six hours later:

Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain. Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.

James 4:13-15 (KJV)

I almost smile at the perfect timing of this pre-planned Solid Joys devotional. Here is God’s reply to my insecurities. It is a perfect reminder that there are things in life we cannot control- and life itself is one of them. Coming at the heels of my self-doubts, it is a most apposite message to me- that ultimately, it is God’s decision to continue or end a life. Even then, all earthly lives are but mists, ephemeral vapors that dissipate in their own God-ordained dynamics.

There is no need to second-guess, after all, nor any reason to be subject to helplessness. In whatever profession, I can only be of as much help as God will allow me to be. And I think I’d rather be an engineer who understands how dependent she is on God than a medical professional who rests on her knowledge and expertise alone. Of course, one could also be a doctor who trusts God. That probably would be ideal. But I’m already here, that particular crossroad five years behind me, and another fork before me. It is a waste to make a pastime out of cooking up hypothetical situations. I don’t know what lies ahead of me. I don’t even know if I’ll pass my board exam that is but two weeks away. I’ll trudge ahead, anyway, and let the turning of the day bring me closer to the fork, because I know One who sees beyond every fork, and He is the One guiding me on.