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Thinking Out Loud: An Essay From There
Losing Somebody Else’s Fight by Ronnie E. Baticulon, MD
“Maayo naman!” (I am good) said the wide-eyed ten-year-old boy with a flash of his cavity-laden teeth. I began to tickle Eric in the stomach and was satisfied to see him giggle and move about in his metal stretcher bed because of what I was doing. At least he was wide-awake and playful, as a child should. With a tumor the size of a five-peso coin in his brain, he probably would not be able to celebrate his next birthday if he did not undergo surgery soon.
Of course, he didn’t know this. He didn’t have to. We had just told his mother at his bedside, and the only response we got was a meek crying as if mourning for her still living child.
Eric is the youngest of seven children. His parents brought him to our hospital from Masbate because they noticed that he had difficulty walking and would often fall to the ground whenever he attempted to run. Understandably, his parents were shocked to find out that what they thought to be a quick orthopedic problem turned out to be something more sinister. At the rate it was growing, his tumor could compress the part of his brain that controlled his heart rate and breathing in a few months’ time, weeks even.
He would die without knowing he was dying, taking with him whatever potential he had and whoever he was meant to be.
“Matalino ka ba?” (Are you smart?)
He kept giggling—no facial asymmetry—and turned his head away, refusing to reply.
“Eh anong favorite subject mo?” (So, what’s your favorite subject?)
“Filipino po.” (Filipino)
“Ayaw mo ng math?” (You don’t like math?)
“Hihihi. Ayaw.” (No.)
I stopped my neurologic examination and looked at his mother, who had now begun to run her fingers through her underweight child’s brown hair in gentle, sweeping strokes. My mother used to do that when I had a fever as a child. I would always remember the feeling of warmth and serenity it brought. This mother’s doting gesture wasn’t meant to primarily comfort, however. It was her apology to her son for giving up too soon.
“Wala po kaming pera pampaopera, Dok.” (We do not have money for surgery, Doc.)
“Hindi po pwedeng ganun ‘Nay. Gawan po ninyo ng paraan. Tawagan ni’yo po lahat ng kamag-anak ninyo. Mangutang po kayo kung kailangan. Anak ni’yo po iyan; kapag namatay iyan, wala nang bawian ‘yun.” (That should not be an excuse, ma’am. You have to find a way. Contact all your relatives. Borrow money if you have to. That is your son. If he dies, then there’s nothing you can do about it.)
She continued to cry, wiping her tears with her dirtied Good Morning towel.
“Dok, wala po kaming kakilala dito sa Maynila.” (Doc, we do not have relatives here in Manila.)
“Ano bang trabaho ng asawa mo?” (What does your husband do for a living?)
“Nagtatanim lang po ng mais at kamoteng kahoy.” (He plants corn and cassava.)
“Magkano po ang dala niyong pera nung pumunta kayo dito?” (How much money did you bring on your way here?)
“Isanlibo lang po, Dok. Nabawasan na kasi bumili pa ako ng mga gamot kanina.” (Just a thousand pesos, Doc. And I now have less because I had to buy medications earlier.)
- Operating Room – PHP 20,000
- Anesthesia Needs – PHP 7,000
- Serial Cranial CT Scan – PHP 5,000
- Antibiotics – PHP 15,000
- Laboratory Workups – PHP 5,000
- Mechanical Ventilator – PHP 2,000 + PHP 500/Day
“Iuuwi na lang po namin siya, Dok,” (We would just bring him home, Doc) she said, not looking at me but at her son, who remained oblivious to the somberness of our conversation.
To begin with, children do not belong in a hospital. They are meant to watch Batibot (a Filipino TV show for kids), play Agawang-Base and Langit-Lupa (traditional outdoor games for children), get into fights deciding who’s “it,” read about the adventures of the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, bring out Father’s slippers when he arrives, and help Mother set up the dining table. They are not supposed to be bedridden, incubated, catheterized, injected with, or operated on.
They cannot fight their fight, and nothing is more disheartening than hearing their parents refusing to fight for them.
“Gusto mo nang umuwi?” (Do you want to go home?) I asked Eric in resignation.
“Opo, Dok! Wala na kaming peh-raaaa… kahit piiiii-so.” (Yes, Doc! Because we don’t have mo-neeeeey… Even a single pehhhhhh-so.)
I smiled with a sigh.
(Was that even possible?)
Some days, you cannot save them all. *Dr. Ronnie Baticulon was one of the firs awardee for the Dr. Benigno S. Aldana, Jr. Educational Award and later received the NOF-AAACPN Award. He pursued pediatic neurosurgery and is now practicing at the University of the Philippines.