Most of you may not have had the chance to enter the halls of the Philippine General Hospital but have heard bits and pieces of tear-jerking stories abound within its charity wards.
As a consultant/ professor who was given the privilege to serve the underserved within the hallowed walls of this institution, I have become used to the sight of poverty and helplessness that surround it. It is just unfortunate that sometimes, one can become numb to the harsh realities of life.
Everyday we hear of one sad story after another.
RJ, 1 1/2 year old, child of a 17-year old kitchen hand, has a growing mass that has already replaced the globe. Their consultation was delayed because they were afraid to go to the hospital because they had no money. The wife of the young father has no job as well.
Knowing about their situation, I did not have the heart to tell them that their child’s cancer is very aggressive and is growing fast, instead I just told them that we will do our best to remedy the problem. Hope is all they have and I am not about to take that away from them.
After staying in the hospital for more than a week, they were able to gather enough money from friends, relatives and former employers to get a CT Scan done. As of this writing, they’re looking for more funds for his son’s operation. This is on top of their daily needs and supplies such as syringes, dextrose, cotton balls, soap, etc., things that the largest public hospital in the Philippines don’t provide to patients for free.
Just outside our building, I saw a pair of septuagenarians sitting along the sidewalk of our out-patient department, the woman was hugging the man, supporting him as it was apparent that he is half paralyzed from a stroke. People were just passing by oblivious to their suffering from the aftermath of the disease and the need to look for money to buy medicine.
I could not help but ask: Where are their children? Why did they allow their old parents to travel alone going to the hospital? My initial thoughts were that they are probably working to fend for their own family and to give a little extra to their parents.
If she’s taking care of him, who’s taking care of her?
In that short time span of seeing the old couple, sharing their twilight years in sickness and in health, I could not help but feel a hard lump on my throat. I just had to take out my phone and capture this scenic moment, hoping I could show them to other people one day.
There are more stories to be seen and told, most of them of desperation and pain. But there are also stories of hope and determination.
One particular scene which happened just outside the gates of our OPD along Padre Faura St. moved me from sadness to disbelief, from anger to being inspired.
Katrine de Leon, 44, is a Stage 4 breast-cancer patient who just came from a regular consultation and stopped a while to watch and listen to a protest in front of the Supreme Court. The protest was about the P10 billion Pork Barrel Scam which involved some of our Senators, Congressmen and the now infamous Janet Lim Napoles.
After a while, she approached one of the organizers, Dr. Genevieve Rivera-Reyes (from the Health Alliance for Democracy) and said she wanted to share her story. She spoke just a little over a minute, but she spoke from her heart. The following is an English translation of her impromptu speech which was posted on YouTube:
“I’m one of those in dire need of funds here at PGH. Alas, donors are few and far between. We do not know where to source them… Everyday all I do is to raise cash for my chemo and radio therapy. I do all I can. One time I begged for alms.
“They ask me why do I go begging for alms. But then I shot back: Where are the funds of the congressmen. What happened to their promises to us?
“When we need bone scan, we go outside the PGH. When we knock on the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office, they (PCSO staff/personnel) give us a hard time. They insist that because of the sheer number of patients requesting financial assistance, not everyone can be given cash for chemo. This is true because I am not the only one needing chemo.”
“I have experienced sitting along the sidewalks with arms outstretched for every peso I can raise for my chemo so I can survive. I am suffering from Stage 4 cancer, but I am not losing hope. If only the people running the system are doing it right, we would be better off. Thank you very much.”[youtube url=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uox9h7kRMlI&feature=youtu.be”]
After thanking the crowd for listening and cheering her, Katrine simply walked away quietly.
If we try and reflect on these stories, I think a good question would be something like what my 3rd year medical student, Ivana Ungajan, asked me last week during one of our small group discussions:
“Sir, we’re exposed to many of these cases everyday, and sometimes they become emotionally difficult to carry. How do we distance ourselves and protect ourselves emotionally [and psychologically]?”
My answer to her was simple. I told her not to distance themselves, but rather analyze the cases closely and use them to make themselves better physicians. These are all valuable tools that will help them shape their character and hopefully, their way of thinking and way of life.
Seeing and listening to people like Katrine must remind us that we cannot and should not make ourselves numb from these everyday human sufferings. Rather, it must remind us of our role to take up their fight and be their voices. For what she says is certainly true, if only we had good leaders who really cared for the masses, then we would not have come to this. If only our hard earned taxes were not diverted to a few people’s pockets and used to buy Louis-Vuitton bags, Porsche cars, apartments in Los Angeles, or mansions in Wack-Wack; if only the stolen P10 billion was used for the country’s health needs, then our sick patients would be resting in proper beds instead of going to some congressman’s office or even the sidewalks to beg.
If we believe that health is human right, then it is our duty to remind and demand from our government its constitutional mandate to provide for our health needs.
Finally, I told Ivana that these cases should also serve as inspiration for them to continue fighting for a better future for all Filipinos and should serve as a challenge for them to become agents of social, economic, and political change.
– Dr. Darby Santiago