“Sir, regarding patient Ofelia Reyes, inform ko lang po kayo na nag-mortality na. Mother was firm with her DNR status.” I was sleeping on the couch in the Neurosurgery office when my message alert tone woke me up. It was 1:42 in the morning. Our resident mosquitoes were feasting on my ankles, where I had forgotten to put my insect repellent lotion out of stupidity and exhaustion. Though the news was not unexpected, it took a full minute to register in my head: my patient had just died.
Today, my youngest sister will graduate as valedictorian of her high school class. As she delivers her valedictory address on the podium, my engineer father and my homemaker mother will be listening from dedicated seats in the front row. Dapper in his polo and regal in her blouse handpicked just for the occasion, they will share the spotlight as my sister accepts her gold medal.
“Inday, kakalbuhin ka muna ha?” Eric Reyes said to his 13-year-old daughter Ofelia as she lay restless on the operating table. I sat at the head end of the table, scissors in one hand while the other adjusted and focused the light on her shoulder-length black hair. Her hair was dry and full of tangles. Grit and oil clung to my fingertips as I parted and divided her hair into locks, making the strands more manageable to trim. But it was full and thick nonetheless.
“Nakaka-disappoint nga Sir, eh. Kaka-declare pa lang na suspended ang klase bukas dahil sa ulan, tinatanong na agad ako kung puwede bang half day sila. Nung (medical) clerk ako, kahit gaano pa kataas ‘yung baha at kahit gaano kalakas ‘yung ulan, pumapasok kami.”
“You have to realize, not everybody sees the world the same way you do.”
It is hardest to talk to somebody mourning the sudden loss of a loved one. You are faced with questions that demand exact answers, but no explanation is ever enough, no course of action justified. Grief takes away all reason, leaving only an impenetrable wall of shock and anger. You are not even sure if it is appropriate to say sorry; you know that you did the best you could, and still failed.
Let me make it clear that when I saw the patient six hours after his surgery, I recognized right away that he was not fully awake. That was why when I noticed you and your co-intern sitting behind the desk just beside the patient’s bed, my first question was, “Gising ba siya kanina?”
Earlier today, as I was walking past the guard who checks employee IDs at the hospital entrance, my attention was called by a colon cancer patient whom I took I care of as a general surgery resident a couple of years back. “Doktor Baticulon!” he called out. I sat beside him and asked how he was. I was glad to find out his cancer has been in remission since his surgery and chemoradiation.
As if the anguish of having been raped by a drunkard were not enough emotional trauma, Ofelia Reyes found out–two months after the atrocity–that she was pregnant.