Last February, I spent my 77th birthday in the ICU of the Asian Hospital, stricken with attacks of asthma and pneumonia, and worst, exacerbated by my fibrillating heartbeat. I felt like my lungs had frozen like a concrete slab.
I am a COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) case, which means my respiratory system is permanently impaired—thus, its capacity for oxygen intake is roughly only 50 percent.
COPD is an irreversible disease, and its best treatment is to prevent it from deteriorating further. Should my heart and lungs congest, I would literally drown to death.
But I made it. Credit goes to my cockeyed optimism and the excellent teamwork of my specialist doctors: Dr. Fabio Posas, cardiac and peripheral vascular intervention; Dr. Len Fernandez, pulmonologist; Dr. Claver Ramos, nephrologist; Dr. Eduardo Jamora, pulmonologist; and Dr. Ofelia Valencia, cardiologist.
At 77, my recovery is slow, and the risk of a relapse is high. My pulmonologist, Dr. Len, and my wife, Encar, conspired to confine me at home, fearing that I would mount my BMW GS 650 and bike to Tagaytay. “Don’t! You can die on top of your bike!” my wife warned. (I ain’t scared.)
My superstitious side tells me that I have nine lives, like a cat. It all started when I survived several serious illnesses when I was a 2-year-old infant, frequently running a high fever, if not due to malaria, then due to pneumonia, bronchitis or diarrhea.
Infant mortality was high in the 1930s. What saved me, according to Inay Aurea, was the repeated injection of Omnadin. Omnadin does not exist today. It’s been long obsolete.
When I was 12, I had an advanced case of tuberculosis. My phrenic nerve was cut to prevent my lungs from bleeding me to death. The surgery is considered primitive today. I was lucky that the streptomycin was discovered in the late 1940s. It saved me in the nick of time. Before the 1950s, to be sick with TB was a death sentence.
I was diagnosed hypertensive after my first wife died in 1984. In 1994, I suffered a myocardial infarction attack while in a remote seaside resort in Cebu. I thought I’d die inside an old, rickety ambulance jeep that shook, rattled and rolled along pockmarked barrio roads, it’s ear-splitting siren piercing my brain. Like the cat, I survived that one, too.
After four weeks at Cebu Doctor’s Hospital, I was well enough to fly home.
My closest tryst with death was when I was stricken with pulmonary embolism, caused by deep vein thrombosis during a long flight from New Orleans to Manila in 1994. When I landed in NAIA after 18 hours of flight, I was suffocating, my strength all gone. I reached home in the throes of death.
I was rushed to Makati Med. The doctor at the emergency room asked my wife where we came from. “A block away from here,” my wife confessed. “You’re lucky!” said the doctor. “A few minutes more and your husband would be dead.”
My doctors Eduardo Jamora and Jose San Gabriel quickly managed the crisis and restored my lung and heart functions to normal. That was very close. I was beginning to believe I really had nine lives.
I have also gone under the knife twice for an ear infection.
Before I retired in 2007, I had an angioplasty to loosen up two of my plaque-clogged arteries.
Getting sick (the life-threatening kind) can unnerve our whole being, destroy our equilibrium, bring us to the edge of despair. Blame God for our misfortune. All this is bad psychology and does not help at all in the process of healing. To fight the doom and gloom, I adopt some mindsets that help me vanquish the fear of death.
A) Spirituality—It’s good psychology to be humbly prayerful when sick. When sickness demoralized me, I cried over the shoulder of my father confessor. The old priest said, “Hey! Put your life in the hands of God and let him decide your fate.” I followed this simple advice, and learned to pray better and felt closer to Him. My mind becomes clear-headed and wise; even pains become Christian mortification.
Most importantly, be in the state of grace. Hear confession and receive the Eucharist in your hospital bed. It will make you feel safe and cheerful. Remember your family, and friends are praying for you.
B) Longevity—Medical and pharmacological breakthroughs and computerized diagnostics have resulted in more modern treatment and management of high-risk diseases such as hypertension, heart diseases and other internal organ disorders.
Our life expectancy is much higher than our grandfathers. The old normal was, life begins at 40. The new normal life begins at 60. Because of medical advances, senior citizens (age 75-95) have doubled in size all over the world. We all can benefit from the new longevity. It’s our government’s primary duty to make modern health care plans available for all.
C) Doctor’s orders—Filipino doctors are the best in the world. We can honestly communicate our concerns and fears with our doctors, in as much as they will study and inform us of our illness and its treatment. The more you know about your sickness, the more you can take charge of your emotions and cooperate fully with doctor’s orders.
D) Fighting spirit—I keep my list of things to do. I’ll publish two more books. I’ll make it to my son’s graduation when he finishes Law. I’ll see my infant grandson go to kindergarten. I’ll celebrate my 25th wedding anniversary with my wife, Encar. I’ll keep my BMW 650 GS Sports, my 1967 Mustang Convertible and my 1985 Mini Cooper for my great escapes.
I’m going to use up my ninth life to the full.
E-mail the author at [email protected] gmail.com.