Dr. Chua gives a long-suffering sigh. He must have been feeling very ambivalent about the visit – relieved that I finally had the good sense to come a-calling when I did and at the same time exasperated, probably for the same reason.
I have to agree with the good doctor. I had been pushing my body beyond endurance for the longest time, I kept ignoring until I became oblivious to the signs that said my body was in terrible distress.
Normal blood, according to Dr. Chua, carries 12 to 14 grams of hemoglobin per liter. My hematology result showed that mine stood at 3 grams to the liter. By rights, I should have been on my knees and pleading for mercy. Instead, impatient for the elevator to come, I hiked up ten flights of stairs to get to Dr. Chua's clinic and onto
his examination table. I said I couldn't stay long. I was needed at a meeting and that I had to hold class later that night.
"I should have you admitted now for transfusion," Dr. Chua snorted as he tinkered around some more getting samples for the first of the series of tests he would subject me to. "You don't have enough oxygen in your blood. I wonder how you can concentrate."
Um, it's probably called compensation. The human machine is configured that way. We buck resource limitation by shunting the fuel flow where it's needed at the moment. I can concentrate well enough, thank you. I got to the tenth floor, didn't I?
I pleaded work and daughters' exams and professional obligations and husband's schedule. I bargained for the weekend when I would have gotten stuff in order. Somewhat. Like, I could try.
He sighed again and extracted a promise from me to come back the next afternoon right after class when he could do a transvaginal sonogram. He muttered under his breath something about mind over matter and something else I could only imagine to have been uncomplimentary about superwomen who work too hard. He asked about my smoking and warned that off-kilter blood chemistry taxed the heart in the long run.
I was in consultation at the psychology lab three days later when the public address system blared the notice for suspension of classes due to the transport strike. Finding myself with nothing more I could accomplish that day, I checked into the hospital where they immediately pinned me on an IV line. I was on the IV league for five whole days. On the third day, it felt like a Skinnerian experiment. Now I know how the pig feels tied down to a stake. And why that dog on a leash turned surly.
The damned IV came with a metal stand that had no rollers. It was too much bother carting it around. Many times I'd reach for something and end up denied by a hair's breadth. Today I caught myself stopping my momentum just before that phantom line tugged at my flesh. Skinner! The line had been off for several hours already.
In the movies, transfusions are done with the donor and the beneficiary lying side by side, blood flowing from one to the other as they philosophize about the brotherhood of man and the special bond that develops from blood compact. In real life, if you had been leaking away your lifeblood for close to two years, the transfusion is a slow procedure that takes six hours per half liter from an anonymous donor flowing through a side drip on the IV. You go to the Red Cross to buy fresh whole blood and the staff there whips up a menu: "How fresh do you want it? One day old? Two days old? You don't know. Oh, please, run along and ask your doctor. Next!"
Anyhow, you finally have someone else's blood flowing into your veins. You think that's a relief? Think again. The health professionals on duty check on you every thirty minutes, until you feel like you're something on barbecue that has to be turned over until you're done. And good. Whoever said you'll get rest in the hospital was talking through his hat. I had people taking my vital signs five minutes apart. Must have been a slow day for the staff.
For two days, I gassed up under the watchful eye of Nursing Station 4A. I had heads popping in the door to see the "walking 3-grammer", it was like I was a circus freak or something. Can't blame them. They were watching for anything from allergic reaction to respiratory complications as my body adjusted to the new blood chemistry. Every time they caught me sitting up, they'd herd me back to bed to check my vital signs.
On the second night I complained that it felt like an elephant was sitting on my chest.
"Ah, angina!" said the student nurse as she strode briskly out the door. I wondered why nobody did anything about it, or whether the information got to my chart for reference. "Ah, angina!" sounded too much like something you said after Ron Eli cued, "Name that tune!"
My doctors finally got me where I couldn't escape. On the second night, the orderly woke me up at 1:30 a.m. for a ride down to the radiology lab. Turned out he got the wrong Ilagan. There was another one two doors down. In any case, there was an order for my x-ray later that day so the technicians had me hugging the asbestos slab in the middle of the night while he took his weird pictures to his heart's content.
What's the x-ray for? Gee, I guess a smoker is always suspect. In fact, there was a sign on my door that said anybody caught smoking will be asked to go out. Boy, did I want to test that rule. But meanwhile, hit me, baby, with your x-ray gun.
Lungs checked out okay, but that heart looks a little too big. Ah, I may be smaller than I should be but everyone knows I got a big heart. What's the surprise?
The internist had no sense of the sublime. She hooked me up on ECG. So there I was spread-eagled on the bed in my gray pajamas looking like a bad remake of The Exorcist playing with kinky electrodes. ("Mommy! The bed is shaking!") Hubby kept taking pictures. Aaargh.
The ECG results turned up suspicion of heart murmur. They wanted to do a 2D echo this time, so they wheeled me down to the computer carnival. The technician did not want to see my breasts so he made me face the other way where I can't see the terminal. As I battled with rejection, hubby – who was sitting at my feet facing my breasts and the terminal – joked that he saw the technician's name written on my heart.
I really couldn't take any more of that. I thought I only needed to have my blood chemistry corrected and my uterus taken out. All these other tests got me feeling I was lowballed into something more than I bargained for. Worse, I felt like a giant pincushion and was starting to have nightmares where witchdoctors were using me as a kewpie doll.
They were all after my blood. Especially that kindly medical technologist who liked to read Roald Dahl.
Finally, a nurse hit me with a sedative and I woke up four hours later to be told they scraped my endometrial lining and sent out that mass for biopsy. Nothing to do but wait for the result.
"May I go now?" I asked politely.
Somewhat reluctantly, they said yes, but only if I promised to come back next week. Maybe then they'd take the misbehaving uterus I had been so willing to give to someone else in time for Christmas. (Wayward and Fanciful is Gail Ilagan's column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Ilagan teaches Social Justice, Family Sociology, Theories of Socialization and Psychology at the Ateneo de Davao University where she is also the associate editor of Tambara. You may send comments to [email protected] "Send at the risk of a reply," she says.)