The Cost of a Life

I propped myself against her husband’s empty hospital bed as Ofelia Reyes remained seated on the plastic monobloc chair next to it, both hands kneading self-pity and frustration on her lap — repeatedly, pointlessly, helplessly — as she narrated the events that left her shaken, robbed of what little money and hope their family had had left. Her husband’s operation went well, I had just told her, but even with eyes averted, she could not keep herself from crying as we spoke.

“Parang naririnig ko pa ang mga nangyari, Dok.” (It’s as if I could still hear them, Doc.)

Her husband was still in the recovery room. Despite the sweltering heat in the ward, she never took off her pink sweater, perhaps clinging to it now as her only source of comfort.

I had been held up before, in front of the Supreme Court of all places, so I knew how it felt to have your material belongings forcibly taken, your life threatened. To a person at ease, making the logical choice between the two is easy. But not so to a rattled victim, whose mind could readily be paralyzed by panic leading to indecision, and that is where the danger lies.

“Hayaan mo na ‘yun, Mommy,” I told her, “Ang mahalaga, walang nangyari sa inyo ng anak mo.” (Let it go, Mommy. The important thing is, nothing serious happened to you and your son.)

The day before, I spoke to Ofelia and her husband to explain my contemplated surgery and its accompanying risks. For weeks, her husband had been receiving antibiotics but the mass in his brain did not seem to be decreasing in size. It could still be pus from hardy bacteria, I explained, but there was a small possibility that it was a tumor, in which case, the surgery could take longer and we would need to prepare blood for transfusion.

There was no blood available for Ofelia’s husband in the hospital’s blood bank, and so at 2 o’clock in the morning, Ofelia, with her son in tow, had to go to Philippine Red Cross in Manila and Philippine Blood Center in Quezon City to look for blood.

On their way back, in an FX plying the Buendia-Fairview route, they were held up.

The hold-uppers were two males, both in their early 20s and wearing white shirts as if college students. Ofelia and her son sat in the middle row, behind the driver, while the perpetrators were at the back. There were three other passengers in the vehicle. Half-asleep and trying to get as much as rest as she could before she went back to running in and out of the hospital ward, Ofelia thought that one of the men was simply handing his fare to the FX driver.

To her shock, at the end of the outstretched hand was a gun.

“Hold-up ito,” he declared. (This is a hold-up.)

“Huwag kang titigil,” he said to the driver. “Dahan-dahan ka lang na parang walang nangyayari. Kung hindi, pasasabugin ko ang ulo ng mga pasahero mo.” (Don’t stop the vehicle. Drive slowly as if nothing’s wrong. Or else, I will shoot the heads of your passengers.)

His companion took out a long knife from inside his bag.

Roused to complete wakefulness but frozen in fear, Ofelia gripped her son’s hand and looked at him, both of them helpless, with no words necessary to communicate the pity they saw in each other’s eyes. How much more misfortune lay in wait for their family? Quickly, they handed over their cellular phones and wallets as the rest of the passengers did the same, threatened by the muzzle and the blade that were being nervously pointed from one head to the next.

“Walang tititig sa amin. Kung hindi, papatayin namin kayo,” the man with a gun said. (Don’t stare at us. Or we will kill you all.)

“Kung wala lang akong kasama, Dok, gusto kong tumalon palabas ng FX,” Ofelia said. (If only I were alone, Doc, I would have jumped out of the vehicle.)

Looking through the passenger side window and making a mental calculation of how slow the vehicle was going and how much impact her body could sustain, Ofelia wanted to escape because inside her petite shoulder bag, concealed by her pink sweater, there was 52,000 pesos.

Just six hours earlier, she made a deal with their neighbor. For 52,000 pesos, Ofelia mortgaged their house, with a promise to buy it back in three months. Her husband would undergo surgery the next day, and she did not want to have nothing in hand for medications and operating room supplies. Everything in excess, she would use to pay for her three children’s tuition, two of whom were in college. Her second son had just told her the unfortunate news that he had failed his scholarship examination. Parang awa niyo na, huwag na itong bag ko, Ofelia prayed and pleaded in silence. (Please, spare my bag.)

But the inevitable happened. The hold-upper with a gun spotted the bag strap on Ofelia’s shoulder.

“Ano iyan? Sabi nang akin na lahat. Ibigay mo sa akin iyan.” (What’s that? I told you to surrender everything. Give that to me.)

Her husband unemployed due to illness, their savings used up, their house mortgaged, their children still not enrolled — Ofelia wanted to cry. She wanted desperately to jump out, to make an attempt to escape with all the money she had left, money that was not even hers to begin with. She could not do it. The man wielding a knife put the weapon right across her son’s neck, sliding it up and down her son’s Adam’s apple, maliciously teasing her as she hesitated.

In resignation, she surrendered her bag.

The two men alighted shortly after. The driver, unharmed, drove to the nearest police station, but the police were unable to trace the suspects.

It was thus with a heavy heart, that I delivered the good news, it was not a brain tumor. Ofelia tried to suppress her tears as I explained the findings of my surgery and the treatment her husband would undergo prior to being sent home. (To a house that did not belong to them anymore, I had to remind myself)

Our team would try to find a sponsor for her husband’s medications, I promised, as I gently pat her back and tried to console her. For now, I could only listen and empathize, as I marveled at the strength with which she faced her family’s burden. Exhausted, she did not know yet how she would tell her husband, for fear that the news would hamper his recovery. Her son, still in shock, had been sent home to rest.

I was sad and angry, when it had been a straightforward and uneventful operation. I could not help but feel guilty, too, because I did not need to transfuse blood during the short surgery.

Ofelia and her husband did not deserve this. This is not bad luck. This is the society we live in, where the vile and callous prey upon the destitute, defenseless, and despairing.

As doctors, we could only promise to do our best to heal our patients. Beyond the hospital, out on the streets, the struggle between life and death continues.

Author’s Note:

My patient was sent home last week but he continues to require antibiotics and serial diagnostic examinations. Since this article was posted, people have been asking how to help. I visited them earlier today and I’m relieved to say that they are doing well. Thank you for your kindness.

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22 comments

  1. I couldnt agree more doc. For teachers, we can only do but believe that the kids we teach will be good citizens someday. But after school, out of sight, I dont know what they do….

    I pray Ofelia gather all the strength she can and that her family can survive this phsse in their life.

    • Hi Kat! We do our best as government doctors to fulfill our sworn obligation to heal. In the same way that you do your best to fulfill your job as a teacher. We can all just hope that the people in charge of peace and order do their best to accomplish their duties, too.

  2. Everyday i visit your page and see if there’s any new post. Right now i feel so sad and angry about what i just read. I hate how this innocent people suffer so much in our society well in fact they don’t deserve to and how heartless people in authority don’t even mind them at all. 🙁 i am a fresh college graduate still looking for a job but i still have little savings left and i just want to donate it to *Ofelia’s family. It’s not that much but i really want to help. Is there an account where i can deposit it doc? Please let me know. Thank you so much and may God continue to bless a very good doctor like you. 🙂

    • Hi Kaela! I’m sorry but I try not to accept monetary donations for patients. I will try to get in touch with the family and give their contact details to you. Thank you for your kindness.

  3. Now I”M sad and angry!!!!

  4. cgmontecillo

    I’d like to help too. If there is a way you can give the family’s contact details, it will be much appreciated.

  5. My bag was slashed and my new phone was stolen from me several years ago near LRT’s Pedro Gil station. I know what it feels like to be rattled like that, though of course I can’t even begin to compare my experience to Ofelia’s. 🙁 God bless her and her family. I hope that they’ll be able to find the means to pay for their needs.

    • Hi Patricia! That is sad to hear. Delikado talaga Pedro Gil and Faura Streets. Not for the faint of heart. I visited them today and they are doing well. Thank you for reading.

  6. Carmen Espiritu

    God Bless You Doc Ronnie!

    Such a big fan of you and your blog! 🙂

  7. maria corazon vijandre

    I want to share my shocking and unforgettable experienced, my grandson is admitted (PGH Ward 11 October 2013)for VP shunting on the day of surgery my daughter ask me to change the iv antibiotic she bought outside the hospital as per advised by my grandson doctor we know that doctor’s knows best for their patients .while crossings the road way back to the hospital 1/2 meter away from the main gate with two security guards standing I feel somebody is in my back holding my ears and in just a wink of an eye I lost my gold earrings which I’m wearing for almost a decade’ it’s a small earrings(with sentimental value)‘akala po namin kasama nyo at ina alalayan kayo punta na lang po kayo sa E.R at dumudugo ang tenga nyo sabi ng security guard I just walk and stop in front of hospital pharmacy building
    I’m still in the state of shock no words, no tears even pain I only feel something dripping from my ears down to my neck my daughter came ‘nanay ano ngyari sayo tapos na ang operasyon nasa recovery na at gising na ang apo mo , with that magic words tapos na gising na im back to my normal state the first words I said is LORD salamat at sana yung gumawa sakin ng di maganda kahit pano makatulong ang hikaw ko sa pa ngangailangan ng pamilya niya .Doc Baticulon my grandson is your patient till now, I always pray to GOD na sana bago mo lisanin ang PGH ay ma operahan mo siya at sana lang ay magtagal ka pa sa PGH maraming pasyente ang uma asa at na ngangailangan ng isang doctor na katulad mo with the help of almighty GOD we trust on you hindi ka namin makakalimutan maraming maraming salamat po Doc Baticulon more blessings to your family and God Bless

  8. This makes me so angry. But reading the comments of all the people who would like to extend their help restores my faith in humanity.

  9. Ana del rosario

    May I also have their cell nos or contact nos? Thanks

  10. Minsan, Pa autograph naman Sir Ron.. 🙂

  11. Pls write more

  12. chim de los santos

    is the metrobank account for the patient’s name? i would like to help. thanks.

  13. Hi Roni – can you send cell number thru my email as well? I would like to help. Do you have any updates? Ngayon lang ulit kasi ako napadaan sa site mo. Salamat! Pagpalain ka Dok Roni! -G

  14. […] 5 children, all valedictorians—but even his professional anecdotes are gripping. He writes about a wife who lost the money for her husband’s hospital bills to muggers, for example, and does so in a way that shows a very real glimpse into the lives of the people […]

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Names, dates, and events may have been changed to protect the identity of patients. The stories are not meant to provide medical advice for specific illnesses. The author neither accepts online consults nor gives medical advice online. Please consult your trusted physician.