High Blood

Tales of a ‘pensionada’

05:06 AM November 20, 2017

“Life is short. Smile while you still have teeth.” —Anonymous

This year I officially started receiving my Social Security System pension after my younger sister and brother did the necessary early spadework for me. They knew I had a low opinion of the bureaucracy and didn’t have the patience for queues and following up paperwork.


During the last stretch of paper pushing, I decided to spare them any further grief and to experience for myself the process of opening a new bank account, where the monthly pension would be deposited, and filling out more forms.

Miracle of miracles, in less than two months I received my lump sum, the biggest amount I ever could claim as my own. By the following month the pension, a modest, four-figure sum, was also entered into my account.


I was heady with glee, chortling to myself how, for the first time in my long freelancer’s life, I was in the black. My daughter was the first to borrow an amount. Feeling big-hearted, I gave it to her on her promise that she’d pay me back in December.

I imagined creative projects I could sink my newly minted money into—a fourth book of poetry, a book party to celebrate its birth, meaningful donations to my favorite causes like the Art Relief Mobile Kitchen (ARMK) that responds to natural and manmade disasters by feeding affected communities, the Cultural Arts Events Organizer (CAEO) that continues to mount classical music concerts even at sometimes great financial loss, to friends fighting the ills that the aging flesh is heir to.

It turned out that becoming a philanthropist was a pipe dream. Within weeks after I got the lump sum, I bit into a granola bar one morning and broke a tooth. I rushed to the good-looking and dapper dentist, who saw other things wrong with my gums and teeth. He quoted a five-figure price for the treatment package.

Immediately I called my husband for advice. The dental clinic had a good reputation in our entire city, although hubby calls the doctor a “society dentist” because of his clientele.

What was my extra money for, and shouldn’t health be your priority at this stage? hubby asked. Repairs were made on one tooth. But that was just the first of a series. One lunchtime a few days later, I bit into a chocolate bar and half of another tooth came out. Back to Dr. Dapper, whose soothing manner and Julio Iglesias piped-in music put me at ease.

Like LifeStyle columnist Chit Roces Santos, I’m the type who has to be dragged kicking and screaming to the dentist’s clinic. If it weren’t for the tooth extraction I was scheduled to undergo, I wouldn’t have found out from the cardiologist, whose written consent I needed, that I was classifiable as a moderate risk in having a heart attack. Another maintenance medicine was added to an already lengthy list.

If he were a civil engineer, my dentist would be the David Consunji of dental works. He built bridges up and down my mouth. They felt smooth when I rolled my tongue against them. For the gaps growing between my teeth, he fortified them with inconspicuous braces.


With my luck, a third crown broke. By this time, Dr. Dapper was greeting me with a sympathetic smile. When work on the third gap was done, the dental hygienist chased after me after I had settled my bill. “Doctor D. said for you to come back in February 2018 for your annual checkup and for you to eat something cold and soothing like ice cream.”

There wasn’t enough cash for ice cream. I settled for ice-cold ginger lemonade at a Vietnamese hole in the wall. There I contemplated my “reversal of fortune” and mentally counted the ways I could recover. There was always a few hundred pesos to spare for the ARMK emergency feedings and a CAEO ticket. My sick friends I always lift up in prayer.

The return to my former situation only meant writing oftener and getting paid regularly for the effort, taking in small editing jobs, and continuing to be a granny nanny to my granddaughter (my daughter promised me a Christmas bonus). Through it all, I’ll be grinning and laughing openly.

* * *

Elizabeth Lolarga, 62, is a freelance writer-copy editor. She is the author of “Catholic and Emancipated,” a collection of essays put out by the University of Santo Tomas Publishing House.

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