I am 6 ft. tall, and despite the prolonged healing process the universe decided for my left knee after injuring it last year, I believe I can still be considered as athletic. While decades of smoking has taken its toll on my stamina and cannot go through a whole basketball game in one go, with ample water breaks and breathers, I can still finish a dose-dose game, jog over five kilometres, drive down to manila at 12 midnight, work all day, and drive back up at the end of the day. Heck, I can still easily lug two mid-sized house speakers up and down the Art Park of Camp John Hay. But I must admit, and I’m sure my better half will nod in agreement (with eyes rolling), that I’m such a baby when I’m sick. Whether it’s a full blown flu or simple colds, I would need to be taken care of like someone in a hospital’s ICU. So you can imagine how it’s been since I came home from a major surgical procedure for something that has been given me what has been one of the greatest scares of my life.
I’ve had this infected tooth for a couple of months so when a lymph node got swollen last December, I didn’t give it much thought. But one time, while having lunch at the house of a friend who’s Baguio’s best guitarist and who also happens to be a nurse, he noticed the lump on my neck and with genuine panic in his eyes and real urgency in his voice, said, “kuya, pa-check mo kaagad yang bukol sa leeg mo. Please, as soon as possible.”
My wife and I have noticed it too, but were perhaps too scared to find out what it really was and be confronted with some dire scenario. I would notice the worry in her eyes every time she looked at that lump, the same worry I have on mine whenever I saw it in the mirror. So when that friend, Ethan Andrew Ventura, finally verbalized what’s been going on in our heads, we thought it was time to go see a doctor.
Had that pesky tooth pulled out one morning and later that day, I went to see an EENT doctor. It’s funny how every time we’re confronted with our mortality, our brain goes into overdrive and like a runaway train, bombards us with thoughts that we would never conjure up willingly. I sat in the doctor’s lounge waiting for my turn, thinking how the scene right before me would be the scene that played the day I find out that I don’t have that much time anymore. Finally, my name was called. It’s nothing serious, the doctor said, knowing that I had just had an infected tooth removed, the swelling was just a result of that, he said. He prescribed some antibiotics and told me that while the drugs would reduce the swelling, I shouldn’t expect it to totally go away for the next couple of months. I breathed a sigh of immense relief, and immediately texted the good news to my wife.
Fast forward to about a couple of weeks later – the swelling didn’t subside, in fact, it seemed like it worsened. We decided to get a second opinion, and the second doctor said that while the first diagnosis could be correct, we should not totally disregard the other possibilities. Among those possibilities is the dreaded Big C. He suggested going in there to remove it and get a biopsy.
The first hurdle for a struggling artist like me is of course the cost of the procedure for despite the offer of two doctor friends to offer their services for free, hospital costs, while reasonable, are still beyond the reach of this man on the street. We inform the doctor that we’ll first try to collect from my clients whose accountants naturally don’t care about the urgency of my situation. We inquire from them if how soon can that check from an performance I directed a month ago; or that one for the event I covered on video weeks ago; or the one for performances we did last month can be released. Not soon enough. And then one day we received a call from my guardian angels – family, who informed us to go ahead and schedule the surgery asap and not to worry about cost as they would be covering it. And so last Thursday, I found myself being wheeled into the operating room.
At the operating table, noted anaesthesiologist Dr. Robert Capuyan, and trusted surgeon Dr. Joey Ancheta discuss the procedure, and I felt relieved that I am leaving it all in the capable hands of friends. I found myself drifting off and just a couple of minutes, everything went black. I woke up an hour and a half later and I was just so glad that I found myself back here, in a recovery room of a hospital in Baguio.
Another half an hour later and I as in a hospital room surrounded by my family and friends – and while the wound prevented me from laughing out loud, I managed a huge smile and a slight chuckle when my sons said that I was so lucky – I’m lying on what they thought was the coolest bed they’ve seen (it can be raised with just a few turns of a lever!), I have food delivered, there’s a TV bolted on the wall across me, and there’s hot shower in the bathroom!
The results of the biopsy won’t come out until after seven days, but as I browsed through my two elder children’s messages online, and watched my younger ones excitedly exploring the hospital room – pressing this and that button, changing the channel, turning the shower on and off, and laughing their heads off, I clutched my wife’s hand tightly and thought how lucky I am, indeed.