Not dying here | Inquirer Opinion

Not dying here

/ 01:00 AM December 22, 2017

Sex and not dying. That’s what biology is all about,” says Hank Green, the educator whose “Crash Course” videos are some of YouTube’s most popular. I’m not sure about the sex part (plausible deniability, in case my father’s reading this), but I’m pretty sure there are a million and one ways you could fall short on the “not dying” part. And in a country like this, there’s a good chance your dying would not even be your fault.

You could, for example, contract some inexplicable disease because you failed to please the engkanto living in your mango tree. Or you could overdose on lechon and beer this season because, in the name of pakikisama, you couldn’t say no to your friends. Or, for something more classic, your body could just happen to have developed an illness like diabetes or cancer, and you couldn’t keep up with the skyrocketing bills from bungling Philippine hospitals.

If we are organisms fundamentally wired to protect ourselves or even our species from dying, we seem to be excessively bad at it as of now. It’s so easy for our health to reach the brink in this country. You can practically hear Death knocking when you are faced with the overworked and/or underpaid healthcare providers in public hospitals, or the eye-popping invoices in private ones.


In an effort to make us all a little healthier, our lawmakers are ever so gently trying to raise the tax on our sweetened drinks. It’s to dissuade us from too much sugar, they say. Then you realize that this tax would give the government P47 billion in revenues in just the first year of implementation. You can only hope that one day, if you find yourself sharing a ward with another patient who holds parties around his bed, some of those billions would be used to at least install decent room partitions.


For now, we survive mainly through sheer will. Being sick in the Philippines tests your fortitude most of all. Sometimes, the hurdles in healthcare loom too large in front of you that they look like dead ends. Some give up trying.

“Each time I have to go to the hospital, the bill never costs less than P20,000,” a good friend admitted to me after surviving another emergency visit. The tumor in his lung makes the very act of breathing hurt, and some nights, he wakes up in excruciating pain. But he has refused chemotherapy, believing it would only be a waste.
I listen to him fold—he who is young, witty, and genuinely kind—and there blooms in me a palpable sense of fear and loss, and bitterness at how the circumstances here lead the best people to resign.


It gets tougher during the holidays, when everyone’s stress levels spike alongside traffic queues, and the merriment in the air feels synthetic and tedious in light of each new prescription.

But if you, like my friend, have found yourself sick in the middle of a very Filipino Christmas, you are paradoxically fortunate to be sick here. Here is where people will use the holidays as an excuse to pull it together for a day or two just to make it a nice Christmas with you, despite everything.

Here is where all else may fail—money, machines, medicines—but you are bound to have company that relentlessly tries to rearrange the atoms of your physical world with conversations and laughter, if only to buoy you above the waves of pain.

Perhaps that is the tradeoff: In this country, your body walks the precarious line between life and death, but it is also held steadfastly by those around you, taking you by the hand.

You may blame the hospitals, the doctors, the nurses, Big Pharma, the economy. You may already have lost hope in our healthcare system or in our government at large. That’s understandable. What would be a shame is for you to give up on your own body, because no matter the anomaly in your cells and tissues and organs, there are more in you—and around you—that enable you to fight.

So keep fighting. Keep your reasons to live. Keep filling those beautiful, well-loved lungs with air.

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