I woke up yesterday to the sound of rain outside my window and news that school and work had been cancelled. It had been raining since last weekend and parts of Manila were under water. I literally had to drag myself out of bed because we still had to go to the hospital. We still had patients to see and take care of at the Philippine General Hospital.
While a tropical storm above the northeastern waters of the country was enhancing the southwest monsoon and bringing heavy rainfall over Luzon, another storm was brewing.
My first patient for the day was Gibb, an 8-year old child who underwent brain surgery for a malignant tumor in his cerebellar region. He was scheduled for an MRI of his head and whole spine.
I saw his mother, Precy, hunched over in prayer, her fingers nimbly going through one rosary bead at a time. I began chatting with her about her son.
Gibb began exhibiting symptoms last year when his family noted that he was becoming cross-eyed. This eventually progressed until the little boy couldn’t stand or walk straight. They brought him to a private hospital in Cavite but decided to transfer him to PGH because of financial constraints. Something we usually hear from a lot of our patients.
Gibb soon underwent the operation he needed. Precy told me they had to use all of their savings and money given to them by her sibling for the surgical procedure. She used to work in manufacturing but had to stop. Her husband, Antonio, currently works as a regular contractual waiter in one of the restaurants in Manila. Both paid taxes. Both had very little. She said it cost them around 60 thousand pesos.
For the craniospinal MRI, Precy shared that she was able to get money from other relatives and from people in her baranggay. She said it wasn’t easy, but she was glad that they were able to come up with the money. I saw the sense of relief in their eyes when Gibb was wheeled into the MRI complex. It was another step towards getting better. Another hurdle passed. It cost them around 18 thousand pesos.
Like most cancer patients, Gibb and his parents were advised chemotherapy. For this, Precy had to approach people in government for help. And as people in healthcare know, it’s no easy task. The 34-year old mother had to secure requirements, papers, and had to take several trips to a number of government agencies and offices. It took her a number of weeks. Precy then began enumerating the Guarantee Letters she was able to secure: P10 thousand from Senator Pia Cayetano, P5 thousand each from Senators Recto, Marcos, and Trillanes, and P2 thousand from Senator Enrile. She also received financial help from her congressman, mayor, and vice governor. All of these, she said, will go to Gibb’s chemotherapy.
Aside from that, Gibb will also have to undergo radiation therapy. The young mother shared that for this, they had planned to sell some of their possessions like inherited jewelry. Papers for aid from PCSO and help from their governor were also being processed.
She sounded hopeful. She admitted that they didn’t expect to end up where they were right now. The whole process of giving their son the appropriate medical and surgical treatment he needed was long and arduous. She said they were tired. There were times she felt defeated. “Para ho kaming nanglilimos,’ she said.
Recently, Janet-Lim Napoles and the P10-billion pork barrel fund scam hit the headlines. I felt bothered, disturbed, and angry. As a tax payer, if things people have been saying are true, I am appalled with how my hard-earned money was ill-spent and allegedly stolen. As a Filipino, I am deeply bothered. I weep for my beloved nation.
If all of the allegations are true, I hope Napoles, her family, and all the other people involved can live a day in the life of our patients. Walk in their shoes. And see how difficult things are for most Filipinos, especially the marginalized ones. I hope they experience the panic and hopelessness our patients face when they are given huge hospital bills prior to a procedure. Or the discomfort of sleeping under the patient’s bed on cardboard mattresses. Or being confined in one of our wards instead of a luxurious suite, where privacy is almost non-existent and where every cough, cry, and sneeze is shared by at least 40 other people in the room.
There is now a movement calling for the abolition of the pork barrel fund. While I am for it, Precy’s and Gibb’s story reminds us of where part of our taxes go and the good that can be done if our financial resources are managed correctly.
Some people have been saying that P10 billion could have bought us new roads and bridges, built new school houses or railroad tracks, paid for badly-needed education or healthcare for thousands of Filipinos. I think that absurdly huge amount of money could have given us something equally important – hope. Hope that the government is investing in its people. That Big Brother has your back during your time of need. That politicians can put the interest of the majority before theirs. That things can get better – not just for some, but for all of us.
I usually just go about my business everyday, reading the headlines. Sure, I get bothered by the troubling things I see on the news. Predictably, I complain with my coworkers over lunch about how our country is going to the dogs, like a couple of rants on Facebook, and then eventually shrug things off. Like the pseudo-couch activist that I am. However, things resonate differently within me now. I’ve decided I’ve had enough and I feel I should do something, even if it’s a small thing. I asked Precy if I could share her story to which she agreed.
On August 26, Monday, people will gather in Luneta asking for an explanation from our government. I hope to be there. Things may not change and we may never uncover the truth. But I hope our voices will be heard. And hope, is hope.
Today, Tuesday, I woke up to the sound of rain outside my window. And while I prepare to go to work, I think about our countless patients like Precy, Antonio, and Gibb and the long journey they still have to take.
It’s still dark outside. A storm is brewing.
About the author:
Toto Carandang, M.D. is a graduate of UERMMMC Medicine Class of 2003 and is currently pursuing post graduate training at UP PGH. Our heartfelt thanks to him for allowing us to post his article on this blog.