An L-shaped stone in Quezon’s ureter | Inquirer Opinion
Looking Back

An L-shaped stone in Quezon’s ureter

Someday a Filipino medical doctor should write a book on the illnesses of our great men and women, if only to show how our history would have turned out differently depending on the health of our heroes and presidents. Where would our country be today if Manuel Roxas had not died of a heart attack in 1948 and completed his term in 1950? Would Roxas or even Sergio Osmeña be president if Manuel L. Quezon had not been felled by tuberculosis during his exile in the United States in 1944? Ferdinand Marcos died in exile in Hawaii in 1989 from complications of SLE or systemic lupus erythematosus; what if the disease had taken his life or incapacitated him a decade earlier? What if Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s present illness had overtaken her while she was in office?

Over the years I have been fascinated by references to the health of our heroes. Juan Luna died of a heart attack in Hong Kong in 1899. The cause of death recorded in his death certificate, signed by P.P.J. Wodehouse (a nephew of the British comic writer P.D. Wodehouse) is “angina pectoris.” But then his brother, a noted toxicologist, was of the opinion that Luna was poisoned. Edilberto Evangelista was one of the most prominent Caviteños during the Philippine Revolution. He died a hero during a battle in 1897, but what about rumors that the bullet that struck him was not from the enemy but from a Filipino gun? Was it an accident or an assassination? Philippine history has enough material to fill a season of “CSI” or thought-provoking documentaries, if only our colleagues in TV would take time to do some real research instead of rehashing stories about Rizal’s love life or the Aguinaldo-Bonifacio rivalry.


Going through my old notebooks, I found Quezon’s account of the major surgery he underwent in Johns Hopkins hospital in the United States in 1934 to remove an L-shaped stone in his left ureter. It is unfortunate that we do not have a transcript in his colorful Spanish or Tagalog and merely rely on a US journalist who recorded the beginning of Quezon’s story as follows: “The American doctors told me I had to be operated upon. There was nothing left to do but to go through it. Besides, when there is a thing I want to do, I do it right away.”

Before he went under the knife, Quezon wrote two letters: one to the Filipino people and another to his wife, which he entrusted to a secretary with instructions that they be delivered and read in the unlikely event of his death. I don’t know if these deathbed letters survived, and I can imagine the letter to his people being yet another rousing call for unity toward greatness, but what did he write to Aurora Aragon Quezon? Everyone knows that Quezon was a ladies’ man, and this reminded me of a friend who made a deathbed confession of past infidelities to his wife before surgery and received her forgiveness. He unfortunately survived and never heard the end of it. All we know is that after Quezon finished writing these letters, he ordered adobo and said: “[T]he night before my operation I had one good and hearty fling at my favorite dish. I didn’t give a damn what the doctors would do to me the following day.


“You ought to have seen the faces of my friends when I went into the operating room. They were that long [Quezon then motioned by placing his palms two feet away from each other] and it looked as if they were the ones Dr. Young was going to open up.

“I wanted a general anaesthesia. I was afraid that I would get mad or impatient during the operation. I used to get mad when the doctors asked me a lot of foolish questions or applied to me a lot of their damned gadgets. The doctor and his assistants promised me a general anaesthesia but they fooled me. They placed over my face instead an oxygen inhalation mask. When I found that it was not putting me to sleep, I said, ‘You may as well take the damned thing off. You are not fooling me. It bothers me.’

“When the mask was taken off, I watched in a mirror in the ceiling how the doctor was cutting me. The nurse noticed what I was doing and she immediately placed a piece of cloth over my face. But I talked to the doctor just the same.

“I broke hospital rules right and left. I talked to so many people that the doctor gave strict orders that no one could see me for some time. If I had not broken the doctor’s orders I would have gone out of the hospital at least ten days sooner.

“The incision healed well. I ate two poached eggs on the third day and soon after that I was eating rice again. A few days after my operation I drank whiskey with the newspapermen in Baltimore. Say, I wish to make an addition to the newspaper reports. Before I toasted the American doctor in his own medicine, I proposed a toast for Philippine independence.”

Quezon must have been a difficult patient indeed, his fighting spirit high so that after the surgery he said: “You ought to see my incision. The doctor did a beautiful job. You can hardly see it. Right now it is just a short, straight, thin line… I am glad it is all over. I am sorry I lost so much time. I am eager to get back to work.”

Too bad we do not have photographs of him showing the incision. It would make a good illustration for a book that may be titled “Illness and Philippine History.”

(Comments are welcome in my Facebook Fan Page.)

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TAGS: Ambeth R. Ocampo, diseases, Ferdinand Marcos, Manuel L. Quezon, manuel roxas, Philippine presidents
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