PERSONAL ESSAY: Beyond the four walls: Reflections in a time of sickness 

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/10 January) — I had my own visits to the doctor lately such that I call the season after the Christmas break as sickness season. I’m glad I have recovered. Stress has its own means. The body is taking its own reminders and is getting back.

For this reason, one friend advised to never forget to take a deep breath many times. Exercise does help us do that without reminders. But if you are missing exercises, too, be warned. It’s dangerous to your health. I thought I did that when I swam a few meters in a beach in Medina shortly before yearend. I had a blast. Then again, there are other factors like the weather these days.

Anyway, I realized I was not alone in this season’s sentiments. The city’s clinics, outpatient departments, and emergency rooms (perhaps admissions, too), were abuzz with citizens over the last two weeks.

The nurses and other attendants confirmed what we realized through our eyes and ears.

“Daghan man gud kaayo mga pasyente ron nga mga adlaw. Sir. Dili malikayan nga naay mga sayop nga inana,”(There are many patients these days so we can’t avoid those mistakes) she said when I complained why a new doctor missed writing down how many milligrams she is prescribing for a family member’s medication for tonsillitis. The pharmacists in downtown Malaybalay refused to sell us the meds because the preoccupied practitioner missed three digits.

Anyway, I could not recall a time of the year with more patients than this one in the private hospitals I went to in this city. All beds in the emergency room were taken. Beds for admission were also full, except for some in the wards. There were patients lining up at the ER, waiting for their turn to be assigned a room. Some had to be turned down and referred to other hospitals.

In the ER, a toddler was wailing while nurses performed a medical procedure. In the next bed, an elderly man was solemnly contemplating his fate as they waited for what the resident doctor would give as antidote to whatever he was suffering from. His 20-something son who was looking after him seemed to be spacing out. I have blurred observations of the humans in the other cubicles in the emergency room not because I could no longer eavesdrop. If I have no patient, I would check. But it was enough to hear the agony of the sick. I could not imagine how it looked like in the wards.

To add to the sick, there were those who figured in accidents (not from firecrackers or gunshots).I saw a lot of personnel from a bus company busy paying at the cashier and talking to relatives. A bus skidded off the highway near Aglayan and landed at the canal. I had no idea how many were hurt as the bus personnel gave vague answers. I was not there to push questions, too.

I could not imagine how it was like in the public hospital. We used to go there but we have the impression the more we would get sick there for waiting too long and for many other reasons. This is just an impression. Some other time, they were very efficient.

At the emergency room of another hospital, I sounded off my observation of how rich hospitals could get this season. I told the attendant I hope it redounds to better services and better pay for workers, too.

“Sir, please use a microphone so it can reach the intended parties,” the attendant gamely responded. I wanted to ask more but I had to attend to my patient who complained about dry cough and possible asthma attack. They were laughing and grinning. I surmised they needed a raise; the front liners wanting a fair share of the cake.  Sickness is part of the economy. When we get sick, we spike expenses and it’s counted in the GDP. The hospitals make money. I only hope it cascades down to the nurse who is injecting chemicals to the lonely man at the bed near the counter.

Among the questions asked in the patient’s interview before the doctor’s turn to check: “What’s the name of your mother and father?” “When was the last time you were admitted here?” “What is your work?” “Where do you work?”

Between coughs, a patient blurted short responses. I was surprised by this line of questioning. Then again, giving the answers is still the faster way to redeem yourself in that ordeal.

In the ER, two children (likely cousins?) with diarrhea were sharing a bed. In the next (with curtain dividing bed spaces), an elderly patient struggling with hypertension. In the next, a quiet surgical operation was ongoing. I saw only two doctors coming in and out. There was pregnant silence in the room. The watchers took glances and initiated chats with others in the room. Perhaps, this is the fellowship drawn from sickness season.

I am not new to this, I have been covering health for years and I have been to worse scenarios. It is just that in these instances, I am a watcher. I have a patient. I am a patient, too.

I did not intend this to sound like Claire Danes’ denigration of Manila as a “ghastly and weird city” in magazine interviews with Vogue and Premier in 1998. The actress was shooting “Brokedown Palace” then, according to the blog, Archipelago Files.

Danes told Premier that Manila “smelled of cockroaches” “There’s no sewage system in Manila, and people have nothing there. People with, like, no arms, no legs, no eyes, no teeth.”

Maybe these are reflective observations of an experience. Maybe this is reporting for a reporter who misses the field, badly.

Maybe I am harping on why we should invest more in preventive measures to ensure good health, not a bias for the curative state when we are left with no choice.

There is one realization I will not deny. When my laptop malfunctioned because of my failure to maintain and use it properly, I harbored some ill feelings against the technician who repaired it in a couple of minutes and charged me P400. When I missed to turn my park lights and drained my little car’s batteries, I put a cold shoulder at the mechanic who took care of it in five minutes for P300.

It’s not that I am not thankful. I just felt I only got myself to blame. The same thing I think about hospitals. I am thankful they are there but I have an after taste – all these because we do things wrong, because we are violators, we are ignorant or reckless, maybe.

Lastly, because we are humans, we are using borrowed, mortal bodies. We are vulnerable.

Wishing you a healthy and a more productive year, folks. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Walter I. Balane/MindaNews is also station manager of Bukidnon State University’s DXBU 104.5 FM and teaches journalism and economics.)