Archive for July, 2009

Have you ever seen a Jackson Pratt drain?  It’s a suction drainage device used to pull excess fluid from the body. It’s a flexible plastic bulb shaped like a hand-grenade and connects to an internal plastic tube.

The first time I noticed the JP drain attached to my left side near my surgery, I was surprised. At first the fluids were more of a diluted blood then gradually, they turned into an orange color. I was fascinated and kept playing with it at some moments of boredom in the hospital.  The nurses regulary drained and measured the fluid.  I fondly called it  my granada or bala but it was kind of uncomfortable when you walked because it was heavy too if it was not emptied of the fluids inside.  I kept asking the nurse what it was called and I also kept forgetting it, oh, so it reminded me of Michael Jackson (only because of its name).  They only removed it a day before I was released from the hospital. Oh gosh, it was quite long, the remaining  tube attached inside my body.


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The stark truth is that I was afraid. I was afraid of going under the knife again. Nine years ago, I had my first major surgery due to endemetriosis.  My  OB-gynecologist had to do a total hysterectomy to prevent further damage to my reproductive system.  I accepted that wholeheartedly and I recovered pretty fast. But when you knew that another surgery would be a life-changing one, everything comes into focus.  The only thing that kept me sane during those dark days was my complete and unwavering faith in the Lord.  This line kept playing in my head, “let go and let God take charge of my life for me”.

I entered Chinese General Hospital and Medical Center on July 12th at around 2:30pm with a bouquet of fresh and gorgeous flowers waiting for me at the information desk.  It was personally delivered by one of my friends at Multiply, Mary An.  She knew that I love flowers and her sweet gestures made me smile.  How thoughtful!  It was an uncomfortable night of taking laxatives and undergoing water enema.

July 13, 2009  – Monday

Had my first IV starting at 7am, I was no longer allowed to eat any solid food, not even a drop of water.  My high school friends came to visit – Vicky, Beth, Lor, Edna and Liza.  Another night of extensive water enema and taking another bottle of laxatives.  If there is one thing which was very hard for me to tolerate, it was the process of drinking a bottle of castor oil.

I received several inspirational texts from close friends. They offered prayers and masses for me.

July 14, 2009 – Tuesday

I was fetched from my room at exactly 6am, was taken at the O.R. at the 2nd floor.  I was a bit groggy by then but I still managed to pray mentally while the monitor attached to my arm had its steady beep.  At 7:15am, I saw Dr. Ang’s face (he is my oncologist).  My journey has begun.  I knew nothing until I woke up at 12:15pm at the recovery room and saw Dr. dela Cruz (my cardiologist), one of the kindest if not the kindest doctor I’ve ever encountered.  It was three hours of agony watching the clock until 3pm.  My blood pressure has dramatically dropped down so I had to stay there for a while.  I had chills and aching body. I’ve been operated on before at the UST Hospital but nothing can compare to the noise, loud laughter and loud talks in CGH’s recovery room.  It seemed that they were quite indifferent to the plight of recovering patients.  Or was I just too sensitive, seeking silence while my body ached?  The nurse assigned to me was even “suplada”, to search for a better word.  I was taken to my room at 3:15pm.  That’s right, I kept watching the clock like a hawk watching its prey.

It was the longest night I ever had in my life. Aside from back pains, guarded movements because of my surgery (they did a resection of my colon, aptly called sigmoidectomy), I experienced the worst stomach pain/hyper acidity due to no food intake.  It was my third day of abstaining from food. Ate Violy (my  sis-in-law) arrived from San Antonio and she sat with me the whole night, alternating with the hubby.  The room where I was initially assigned to had a defective air conditioning.  I survived the night just turning my head from side to side, uttering a silent prayer that my agony would end.

July 15, 2009 – Wednesday

My daughter, mom my brother and sis-in-law came for a visit.  Blessed relief, I was able to transfer to another room and it was cool.  My daughter  stayed with me for two days and one night so hubby could go home to rest.  With still three bottles of IV attached to both arms, I woke in the middle of the night with my left arm in pain. The IV bottle was empty.  How neglectful could they be? I could not sleep the rest of the night because every time my eyes opened, it was almost always drawn to the IV bottle attached to me. Luckily, the nurse was able to aspirate it.

July 16, 2009  – Thursday

Alden came for a lightning visit despite the heavy rains and typhoon.  Thursday night was a repeat of the previous one – my IV got clogged and it was more painful. I was waiting for the assigned nurse just to make a simple apology to no avail.  She even told me that they might have to transfer it to my right arm. I flared up! I would understand if it only happened once, but two nights in a row, that’s negligence on their part right?

Next came the male nurse and a resident intern.  It took them almost two hours to locate a good vein (after two attempts, pumuputok at lumolobo yung vein ko). I have small veins, the rest almost invisible. That’s why I am afraid of needles, they never seem to get it in one shot.  I have half a dozen needle marks in my two hands, two of which still bear bluish mark while another one has turned yellow.  All my medications the first five days of surgery were injectables – pain reliever, antibiotics, medicine for hyperacidity etc. It’s my 5th day of no food, no liquids etc.

July 17, 2009 – Friday

I could turn sideways, walk a step or two, could text all my friends back since my left hand was free.  I lived through all those inspirational texts, messages of concern, mass offerings and constant prayers from friends and family.  Special thanks go to my five high school friends, Lor, Edna, Vicky, Liza and Beth, Mary An, my Multiply friend who always get in touch, Alma, a fellow Flipper who prayed for me during my operation, Lovell, who never fails to text me almost everyday and offering mass for me too and to Tobbie, another friend from KSA. Thank you so much for considering me as your older sister. And to all my other online friends and relatives who constantly prayed for me, thanks!  My thanks to Dahil, another best friend from the US who called me up at the hospital and Wing, a former neighbor and friend who now resides in Virginia, my sis-in-law, Ate Edna together with her kids who came for a visit despite the continuing rains, Sr. Thea, a friend since my teen years for those words of encouragement, my two other angels, Jomari, our neighbor and my son Josef for volunteering to donate blood so I could be operated on. I guess, it’s now a standing policy of every hospital for a patient to have at least two blood donors (of any type of blood) before they would schedule you for operation.

July 18, 2009 – Saturday

Alleluia!  I could now take one teaspoon of water every hour.  Blessed, blessed improvement from several days of parched and cracked lips.  Now, I realized that those daily  rituals which we often  ignore like drinking water become manna from heaven whe you are denied of it for a long time.  I saw the sun’s rays behind the blue curtains at the wide windows, signalling a day of new hope. I could walk around my room now, sit for an hour or two in the two plastic chairs provided by the hospital. I even tried sitting at the small bed provided for patient’s companion. It felt uncomfortable because it was so low.

My high school friends came back for another visit, so thoughtful. I spent an hour listening to them recall our high school days together. Lovell came by despite a very hectic schedule, he just planed in from Davao and had to attend a whole day Saturday class in UST.  Nothing could beat a few moments of happiness when you are surrounded by people who truly cares.  I spent the night a little more comfortable than the previous nights before.

Sunday onwards until I was discharged from the hospital were days of recuperating, slowly gaining strength despite the limited intake of food.  I was only allowed soft diet until a few days after I left the hospital.  My best friend Karen and her hubby visited me Sunday morning. I am back at home now, enjoying a brief respite from the dark days and nights of having my sigmoid resection.  Two days ago, I learned from my oncologist that I am on Stage 3 so there is really no choice for me but to undergo a minimum of six sessions of chemotherapy to a maximum of eight.  And as I’ve said before, I am enjoying the brief time which I call my “pre-chemo days”. And I really, really thank God for being always there for me. More than ever I felt His presence during those days and nights that I can’t sleep, thinking of nothing in particular but to get well and enjoy life again.

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Caught the hubby staring at me with that thoughtful and somewhat puzzled look.  “Have I grown horns?”, I asked.  Then he said, “You are so brave”.  I understood what he meant.

Lately, some friends called me up, what a pleasant surprise.  They were one in saying, all will be well in the end.  But of course, what else would I believe?  So I told them, I am living my life now, one day at a time.  Life sometimes gives us an endless series of problems.  It’s the process of  accepting and solving our problems that gives life its meaning. We become stronger, we grow mentally and spiritually.  Most of us have a tendency to ignore our fears, thinking that when we ignore them, they would just banish from our lives. We deny, we procrastinate, we think of something  other than what is at hand.  The road is long and the path is thorny but it is our faith that will surely carry us through. I always believe that God won’t give us crosses that we can’t bear.

Life is beautiful. Life is a challenge – problems are meant to be overcome.  So I’m living my life one day at a time, relying on the  power of a  loving God.

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Silence creeps into the night

Yet I hear whispers –

A man’s voice singing lullaby

The song brought back an excruciating pain

of yesterday’s joys and laughter.

Silence is there to be understood

Implanting a ray of hope –

Tomorrow, I would break my fast early

and meet the dawn.

The party is waiting

the drinks are turning cold

What a pandemonium!

A loud cry was heard

And silence was broken.

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I’ve finally finished packing.  I had quite a long list on what to bring  to the hospital when I check in tomorrow.  Whoa! I feel like I am having a short vacation, one would think  it  would be a long one, I have to bring a number of night wears because I don’t feel comfortable wearing the typical open-back hospital gown.  It is some sort of anathema to me having to walk around with your bottom sticking out for all the world to see.  And it’s never comfortable enough that you know it was previously worn by another person. As I have always said in my previous posts, I am not an OC but I make it a point to have everything ready when I need it.  I live by the girl scout motto, you see!

What books do I need to read there?  There’s my daily devotional book,   Bible Diary  2009 given by a close friend, Simple Moments by Fr. Jerry Orbos and maybe, just maybe, another chance to reread Tuesdays with Morrie, a personal favorite.  I’ve been laboring with one of Nelson de Mille’s thriller Wildfire. It’s quite a little boring compared to his previous thrillers like Plum Islands and Lion’s Game. I have enough of Islamic attacks and US retaliation plots.  I need something soul-uplifting and inspirational.  How I wish I could bring with me Rod Mckuen’s poetry.

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One song can spark a moment,
One flower can wake the dream
One tree can start a forest,
One bird can herald spring.

One smile begins a friendship,
One handclasp lifts a soul.
One star can guide a ship at sea,
One word can frame the goal

One vote can change a nation,
One sunbeam lights a room
One candle wipes out darkness,
One laugh will conquer gloom.

One step must start each journey.
One word must start each prayer.
One hope will raise our spirits,
One touch can show you care.

One voice can speak with wisdom,
One heart can know what’s true,

One life can make a difference,
You see, it’s up to you!

– Author Unknown-

Just sharing……be inspired!

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Don’t get me wrong, sharing my plight is some sort of catharsis for me. It makes the pain easier to bear.  Now, I believe that you will really know your true friends when you are at your lowest.  Some may turn their backs on you, some may empathize but the people who truly care won’t hesitate to say a few words of comfort and assure you of their prayers that you badly need.  And as I’ve always said, I rather have a few friends who are sincerely praying for my health than have a hundred who would just tolerate what is happening in my life. It hurts sometimes that those you expect most to understand would not even say a word.

Finally, I am scheduled to undergo that much needed surgery come Tuesday morning. After almost a month of going back several times to my doctors and being cleared of all the pre-op requirements, after all the anguish of knowing that I am not hundred percent fit, I really hope I could overcome it all.  Only God is the greatest healer and the greatest doctor but I am also praying for my oncologist, my cardiologist and all the people who would take charge of my surgery. Lord, guide them all.

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I call it the default CD in our car (at least for hubby and me).  And its been there for quite a long time now.  The children understand and they never try to change the disc. My son just listens to his favorite radio stations when he drives alone and I have mine too but listening to Richard Marx’s album every time we go on a long road trip makes that smile on my face permanently pasted, if you know what I mean.  What it is about Richard’s voice that keeps one arrested?  Be it rock, pop, or ballad, he has it all.  He sang background vocals to so many artists like Lionel Richie, Madonna, KennyRogers, Barbra Streisand and so many others. An impressive musical resume – he has more than thirty million records sold, writer of more than ten #1 songs, 2004 Grammy Song of the Year winner with Luther Vandross for Dance With My Father.  I uploaded the whole album here about a year ago, Can’t really get enough.

In the song, Heaven Only Knows, he has this to say;

I watch the world go round and round
And my life goes at the speed of sound
I walk the night
And I wonder just where I belong, oh

My heart is young, but my soul is old
I’ve never been one to do what I was told
My back to the wall
Is the only place I can feel strong, oh

A bit introspective, silent  cries from a weary soul and sometimes, in our great hour of need, we can relate.  And the following lines really touch me in a way that makes me long for what heaven is.
Heaven only knows
what lies before me
Heaven only knows
what  all my searching is for
All my life I’ve waited for a miracle
But i can’t ask for anything more.

And you are probably familiar with the song, Right Here Waiting, one of the best tracks in the album.  It is an absolute favorite, done in a captivating and soulful way that only Richard knows how.
Oceans apart day after day
And I slowly go insane
I hear your voice on the line
But it doesn’t stop the pain

If I see you next to never
how can we say forever

Is forever true?  Sometimes, we take things for granted , thinking  everything would last somehow.  Really, nothing is permanent in this crazy world that we’re living in, but in the song Now and Forever, there is a promise of tomorrow, a grateful acknowledgment  that finding someone to love is heaven sent. Nostalgic and sometimes when I listen to it, it makes me weepy. And I love these lines;
Whenever i’m weary from the battles
that rage in my head
You make sense of madness when my
sanity hangs by a thread
I lose my way but still you seem
to understand…..

So sensitive to the plights of young people on the streets, he has this to say in his song Children of the Night and I am quoting everything here;
All that I know in my life
I have learned on the street
No magic carpet, no genie, no shoes on my feet
Will I wake up from this nightmare?
A fear that chills me to the bone
Though I may be one of many
I feel so alone.

We are the children of the night
We won’t go down without a fight
Our voice is strong, our future’s bright
And thanks to what we learned from you
We’ve grown into the children of the night.

Left by my father with only this scar on my face
Told by my mother that
“No, you were just a mistake”
I have tasted my own hunger
Sold my body to survive
Some have paid to scratch the surface
But they can’t touch what’s inside

Hardened by life’s experiences, we shield ourselves from the pain of being rejected.  We learn to survive and in this crazy world, we long for something better.  He ends his song with the lines, Lord, I know I’m bound for heaven, Cause I’ve done my time in hell. Don’t get me wrong ,I love all the songs in the album but these stand out among the rest.

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I have to wake up early so the hubby and I could go to the Diagnostic Center for my various laboratory requirements.  Doc’s request and I have to oblige.  Apart of course from the usual laboratory tests done for a typical surgical operation (believe me, I’ve been there, done that nine years ago), I was made to undergo 2 D Echo with Doppler, a thirty minute procedure ,nothing more than an ultrasound to let me know if my heart is functioning well,  CEA (Carcinoembryonic Antigen,  cancer marker test) and CA 125.   For a while there,I got confused. I have already paid the cashier when I noticed that CA 125 was still included in the request.  Based on my previous research (nah, I do a lot of researching now), this blood test is requested for patients suspected of ovarian cancer.  So I asked the nurse if I still have to include it. He suggested to call my doctor.  Call him at 6:30 in the morning?

The nurse and I were both laughing when I told him that I no longer have an ovary, that was gone, nine  years ago.  “So would we still include it, Ma’am?”, he asked.   Go ahead, what’s one more exam to make sure that there is no cancer cell inhabiting your body.  I told him that in one of my readings, I found out that it is possible to have cervical cancer even without your cervix and he just nodded.  After more than an hour, we were done and I felt so hungry.

It’s another Jollibee breakfast, got no choice,  but this time it’s a healthy slice of  “daing na bangus” with two small  slices of fresh tomatoes.  Yummy, and the coffee is hot!  I told hubby to request for a free Phil. Star newspaper.They give that gratis for a minimum purchase of P100 (I think).  Back when that promo was still new, they give a copy to most of their customers  but now, you have to request  for it first. Most people are not probably aware of it though.

On our way home, we passed by Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Shrine in New Manila.  The place was almost deserted except for two cleaning ladies and two old ones, talking in front  of the main altar.  We were able to finish praying the rosary.  It’s a nice feeling to be able to commune with God in such a silent and sacred place.  More than ever, I always feel His presence when I am inside the church.  Sometimes, I get messages from my aunt always asking how I am.  It’s during those times when friends tell me to get well that I feel a big lump in my throat. I am strong, this too will pass.

Have you ever wondered, most of us feel awkward when we are confronted with inevitable things like being sick? I remember a quote from one of the best loved writers on spiritual life, a Dutch-born Catholic priest Henri Nouwen and he had this to say;

“Why is it important that you are with God and God alone on the mountain top? It’s important because it’s the place in which you can listen to the voice of the One who calls you the beloved. To pray is to listen to the One who calls you “my beloved daughter,” “my beloved son,” my beloved child.” To pray is to let that voice speak to the center of your being, to your guts, and let that voice resound in your whole being”.

It’s a beautiful affirmation  on the beauty of praying.  I feel so touched when friends say that they are praying for me.  I could not thank you enough. Sometimes, we are also bound to ask, “Is prayer our steering wheel or our spare tire?’ When everything comes to naught, it’s just between you and God.

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Our Trip To The Chinese General Hospital and Medical Center

This is it!  I’m going to see an oncologist, Dr. Samuel  Ang at the CGHMC.  He was the one who operated on my brother when he was diagnosed with colorectal cancer six years ago.  (He is doing fine, has completely recovered after undergoing chemotherapy, thank God).

We left the house around 8am, a bus commute from Ortigas Ext. to Greenhills.  Thursday is a color-coding day for our car.  It was a smooth trip going to the hospital except for a slight traffic near the entrance of Manila North Cemetery. I actually saw two  funeral cars almost side by side entering one of the largest, if not the largest cemetery in Metro Manila.  The taxi driver commented that nowadays, it’s costly to bury the dead.  I agree, I think you need to pay a monthly tax/rent (usually done in public cemeteries) so you would be assured that your dead loved ones  would still be there on your next All Soul’s Day visit. Sigh!  You’re never assured of anything even in death.

Waiting is not one of my greatest virtues.  I must admit, sometimes, I find it hard to accept that I arrive on the dot if not earlier at the appointed place and time only to learn that the person I am waiting for comes late.  But I am digressing here again, okay, okay!  We arrived at the hospital at around 9:40am, not bad, considering that we live in Cainta and the hospital is in the heart of Metro Manila.

It was quite easy to locate Dr. Ang’s clinic, it’s at the ground floor of the new building at CGHMC.  His clinic hours begin at 12pm but there were already other patients who arrived ahead of us.  I am quite intrigued, alongside the doctors’ names are Chinese characters, maybe, they are the Chinese  equivalent of their Christian names.  Some of them were quite familiar to me, they were former Science students in UST.  Back when I was still working as a student librarian, I met lots of them at the library.  And I’m glad, really glad to learn that Dr. Samuel Ang is also a Thomasian like me.

Here I am, doing a draft of my blog while waiting.  Perhaps, you’ll agree that it is a more productive  pursuit than thinking of what the doctor will say when he sees the biopsy done on my colonoscopy.  There is a nice food shop at the hospital complex.  Chowking, Jollibee and Nathan’s.  Nathan’s have pork barbeque and grilled chicken.  I don’t want to eat such heavy meals this early so I opted to order breakfast at Jollibee – your typical half-cup of fried rice, meaty hotdog and poached egg with a tepid cup of brewed coffee.  Though I occasionally drink the brew, I like it hot so hubby requested for a new hot cup.

Oh yes, there’s the familiar cart of Fruitas (Fresh from Babot’s Farm kuno, it’s just a tag line, mind you).  I tried the Four Seasons, a combination of apple, carrots, mango and pineapple.  They call it Spring.  At P59 per 12oz. paper cup, it is reasonable enough.  There is a small grocery store called C-Mart, selling everything from bottled drinks, chichiria to baby and adult diapers.  There’s a cake shop too, how enterprising.

Meeting Dr. Samuel Ang

I finally met Dr. Samuel Ang, a general surgeon, a surgical oncologist and a Diplomate, American Board of Surgery.  I was impressed, he graduated Magna Cum Laude at the UST Faculty of Medicine and Surgery.  He immediately gave a laboratory request for my brother when I mentioned that the latter was a former patient of his.  He personally called up my gastroenterologist and wrote a letter to my OB-Gynecologist thanking her for referring me to him.  He promised to give a discount on his professional fee because he understands the hardships patients go through when undergoing major surgeries like this.

And the verdict?  He will have to do a re-sectioning of my sigmoid colon, cut the 18 cm. portion affected by the sigmoid mass.  I need clearance from a cardiologist so he referred me to one, Dr. Alvin dela Cruz, another super-bait doctor at the hospital.  I need to complete the laboratory requirements before my scheduled surgery. and I thank God that I found a compassionate friend and doctor in my OB-Gynecologist, Dr. Ditas Decena (UST Hospital). Dr. Decena and I go back twenty years – that’s long enough for a patient-doctor relationship, don’t you think?  I am also thankful that she referred me to Dr. Samuel Ang. I know, with them around, I am in good hands.

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