On Nov. 15, 2019, I was jolted by the alarm clock at 5:30 a.m. I had to wake up early for my appointment with a doctor at the Philippine General Hospital (PGH). These days, it takes more than two hours by bus to commute from Las Piñas to Manila.
I am pushing 76, but I feel still strong enough, thank God, to travel long distance and see the doctor for my regular diabetes check-up.
Doctor consultations at the PGH entail a lot of time and demand a lot of patience. Before you can see a doctor, you must first fall in line with the other patients to register for the lab test schedule.
Then you again fall in line at the cashier to pay the discounted fees.
Three days after, you go back and follow the long line of patients to the laboratory clinic for blood tests.
Then, it’s a wait of five days before you go back to the hospital as early as 6 a.m. to submit your blue card to the nurse, who, after finding the copy of the result of your lab test and your medical chart, will tell you to wait in the corridor together with hundreds of patients who are waiting for their name to be called over the loudspeakers, to see the doctor inside a consultation room crammed with five tables.
It takes an eternity to wait for your turn to see the doctor. But it is worth it, because after 2-3 hours, you will finally see one who will treat you free of charge.
It is a consolation for me that the different doctors who have treated me at the PGH for diabetes and other ailments for more than 10 years now are all young, energetic and eager to greet you with that happy-to-help look.
They look at the patient as their patients. One time, I caught two tired doctors grabbing a quick lunch of rice and vegetables on styrofoam plates at a small table in one vacant corner of the clinic. Their picture is etched in my memory.
When my daughter brought Christmas gifts (a box of Red Ribbon chocolate cake and an envelope of gift certificates), the doctor assigned to me politely refused to accept them, and instead gave them to the staff who shared the cake among themselves and raffled away the gift certificates to celebrate Christmas.
The patients who crowd the outpatient department every day come from the poor sector, those who live on the margins of society (“laylayan ng lipunan”) who cannot afford to pay the high cost of basic medical care by private doctors in private hospitals. I see them falling in line patiently, some squatting on the floor along the wall, their clothes dusty, rubber shoes worn out from the long journey, their eyes gazing afar, sometimes vacant, sometimes angry.
It’s a heartbreaking picture of humanity — the faces burdened, haggard, yet waiting patiently, knowing that at the end of the long line they will see a good doctor who will make them happy.
Seeing this long line of patients, I remember George Bernard Shaw, who, in denying the existence of a benevolent God in his debate with G.K. Chesterton, said: “God must love the poor because he creates so many of them.”
The patients I encounter at the PGH share with me their tales of woe and make me realize how their condition of poverty and misery compels them to invent heaven and dream of it, or expect the promise of it made by the One who suffered and died on the cross, and then rose from death to prove that His promise of eternal life to those who believe in Him is not an empty one.
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Mariano F. Carpio, 75, is a retired teacher of the University of Santo Tomas.
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