One by one they go
Our earthly human existence is, measured in temporal terms, from birth to death. Or as some people waxing poetic say, from crib to grave. Birth is one of, if not the most wonderful, natural phenomena on earth, with the first breath of life — primera pneuma viva — echoed by the cry of the newborn, bringing a collective sigh of relief and sublime joy to those in the delivery room.
As glorious and almost magical as the experience of birth is, death is a sad event, closing the book on life with finality. The prospect of death raises questions about the nature and true meaning of life, and for that matter, the reasons for suffering and dying. Obviously, even to the most pious, there are no easy answers to these questions.
The medical profession and other health-related courses are geared toward the preservation of life, in the healthiest and most productive way humanly possible, through preventive endeavors as well as curative measures.
My decision to be a volunteer physician to senior citizens was accompanied by the acceptance of my limitations as a healer. I’m sure even summa cum laude graduates of the most prestigious medical schools will agree that when death sounds its call, not even the strongest medicines and high-tech clinical gadgets around can stop it. Doctors can’t play God.
My first encounter with elderly folk was through the medical missions of civic organizations. To reach out, I organized a monthly free consultation with screening tests for sugar, cholesterol, triglycerides and uric acid; the occasional electrocardiogram, and even Dexa bone tests for osteoporosis, done in my clinic. The tests were generously supported by local pharmaceutical companies. For continuity, follow-up consultations were done in the elderlies’ respective barangays.
Thus, in the almost 20 years that followed, a core group of senior citizens evolved from being just patients to friends and eventually family. The hilly terrain of Baguio makes it very difficult, especially for those with arthritis, to come to my clinic, so I would do house calls, an experience that allowed me to know more about the patients beyond their clinical persona. I learned about their dreams, their struggles and difficulties in life, and the eternal gratitude to God many felt for having reached old age.
Through the years, our periodic lab blood tests have prevented the serious complication of the so-called metabolic excesses, like sugar, cholesterol, triglycerides and uric acid. I personally endorse my patients’ cataract diagnosis to the ophthalmologist, their denture problems to the dentist and their flu shots to the pediatrician.
Having prevented the most common causes of death — like heart attack and stroke, plus pneumonia, and proud to have kept my diabetic patients from dialysis — I consider their birthdays to be occasions for thanksgiving.
Except when an uninvited guest gate-crashes a celebration, and things are never the same again. The big C, once it has cast its wicked spell on the human body, is like a wayward train that wreaks havoc and disaster along its path. Now, the oncologists take over, using every item in their armamentarium to delay the onslaught of cancer.
I pray for a miracle. Until reality sinks in, it is God’s final call. I could stay and be with my patients in their sickbed, but I do not want to see them inside a rectangular wooden or metal box. I’d rather that in my mind’s and heart’s eyes, I remember them alive, laughing and enjoying life to the fullest. And that’s how I want to see them when we meet again, somewhere, someday.
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Victor Romulo Gallardo Dumaguing ([email protected]), 70, is a retired professor of St. Louis University and other colleges in Baguio City. He is a practicing internist and a volunteer physician of FBASECA Seniors.
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