I’m no stranger to emergency rooms. They are more or less the same, actually; all have the same air of urgency and anxiety that naturally surrounds close calls.
In my most recent emergency, upon being brought in, I was incredulous to behold an old, rather cadaverous man up on his feet by his bed, looking impatient, apparently cleared for discharge. He was waiting for his wife as she took instructions for home medication from a medical resident. I was myself being helped out of my wheelchair into the cot in the cubicle next to his.
I was lucky to have found cot space, because not much later there would be a wait list of emergency patients. Curtains that hung to a foot off the floor demarcated cubicles, but they did not prevent my husband and me catching some of the neighbors’ conversations or making out the goings-on from the shadows.
The old man was gruff; sometimes he spoke too loud as if hard of hearing. When they pulled out his IV needle, he growled like a bear, a scary sound. I’m proud to say that I take my suero like a man myself, give or take a few silent tears.
My own condition had seemed worrisome, until the tests showed I had a mere acid-reflux attack, something apparently quite common these days. Choosing no age or musical aptitude, it has not spared Regine Velasquez and my stepson Paolo, both singers, or me.
Indeed, I would later get a lot of sympathetic texts and calls from friends admitting to the same condition. Believe us, it’s as scary as a heart attack, and, doctors themselves would tell you, requires that no chances be taken.
I could see in the space under the hem of the curtain that my neighbor was shuffling to put on his rubber slippers. Presently, like Lazarus, he walked out of there. I don’t know why, but the sight recalled the morning I arrived at St. Luke’s too late to catch my mom in her final moments.
I just couldn’t accept it; she looked more alive than the other patients in the ER. I wondered, then, how the angel of death picks targets.
My attention was diverted when a new neighbor was wheeled in, a 43-year-old commanding frantic attention. He sounded anxious himself and, except to him and his family, seemingly irrelevant; he was telling the resident he was scheduled to leave for training abroad.
I imagined he was worried about job security. He had been declared to have suffered a real heart attack. He was on his way to the ICU, his wife following trying to suppress tears; I was preparing to go home.
I wondered how young their children were. They’d have to be renting, if not still living with either of their parents. Being employed, he’d surely have some insurance. I spoke of his case with my cardiologist, who was all heart listening.
It’s indeed tragic, he said, that many are stricken in their prime, while they’ve just begun to build a family resource for home, education and health. He singled out three causes: predisposition, sedentary lifestyle, unhealthy diet.
A heart attack, he said, will greatly reduce a sufferer’s capacity to work and earn, and, on the other hand, increase his expense—the premium of his insurance policy, for one thing.
I myself have no health insurance; none at all. So, I’m looking, first chance, into PhilHealth for seniors, and set to enroll in a program that provides ambulance service and first aid on call. Our barangay offers a whole lot of opportunities for education in health, livelihood, etc., as well as free medicines and services for maintaining not only physical health but also a healthy attitude. There are cultural activities like travel around the region or concerts and such other entertainment.
Whether we like it or not, we are changing, and we need to adjust ourselves to stay reasonably healthy in mind and body. And I’m not talking about just change in ourselves to adapt to; climate is itself changing, and terrorism is wreaking havoc on the landscape we’ve lived with and grown accustomed to, destroying people’s lives and heritage.
The joys of travel, postponed mostly until this time of our lives, are eroded by ever-increasing risks. Not only are we inconvenienced, we are made afraid. Dream cities like Paris, Rome and New York could be in danger of going the way of Beirut, a favorite that I can return to now only through my memories of travel in the ’50s.
At any rate, Vergel and I are determined not to be deterred; trips around the region should be joy enough. But since we are determined to squeeze the last drop of the juice of life, if Paris beckons hard enough, we will succumb. After all, each emergency-room experience, in which death is but a curtain away, has made me realize it’s just as risky a place to be.
For seniors like us, how much more dangerous can the City of Lights be?