Christmas 2015

We are experiencing a seasonably warm December right now. In fact we have more rain than snow this month, that we had flooding in downtown Des Moines these past couple of weeks. Yesterday it felt weird that we even had a thunderstorm, with lightnings and pouring rain this late in the year. Is this Iowa winter?

Come to think of it, if it has been cold enough, with all this moisture in our area, this could all be snow!

I know it’s not just here in the Midwest that we are experiencing the relatively warm weather, but also in other parts of the US. Some friends of ours in New York City even posted in Facebook that it was 70º F today there. I guess there will be no snow in Central Park this Christmas.

Experts said that it is El Niño, the periodic warming of the equatorial eastern Pacific Ocean, accounting for this phenomenon. Or is this global warming?

It’s not that I am complaining, for I’ll rather have a warm day than freeze, but my children have been wishing for snow for Christmas, just like the song “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas.” And they may not be the only ones who are praying for snow.

Then today, on this Christmas eve, it came. Santa Claus? No. Snow!

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We will have white Christmas after all.

From our family to yours, may you have a Merry Christmas!

(*photo taken with an iPhone)

 

When You Wish Upon A Star Wars

I entered the room and stood silently at the foot of his bed, watching him breathe. He was hooked to a small ventilator that is connected to a mask covering his face with straps around his head, that he looked like a jet fighter pilot. Beside the bed was his father and his mother who were obviously distraught, yet trying to hold off tears.

Luke* (not his real name) was one of our ICU patients. Even though he was only in his 20’s, he had his fair share of surgeries and hospitalizations than many patients in a geriatric floor combined.

He had a genetic disorder that prevents the development of various organ system. This affects the skeletal system giving them a peculiar look and stature, that some people coin the term FLK syndrome: Funny-Looking Kid. Though for me, there’s nothing funny at all. This disorder also causes heart defects, and can involve other organs like the lungs, liver, gastrointestinal tract, lymphatic and blood system. Even so some people with this genetic disorder could live to adulthood, some would succumb to this disease early in life.

Luke had a number of surgeries to fix his heart problem, and other procedures too many to recall. He had been treated in well-known hospitals like Mayo Clinic, for his disease. But despite of all the technology and medical interventions, his body continued to betray him.

For the last several months he had been in and out of the hospital, usually staying for several weeks at a time, including ICU stay. I have taken care of him a number of times in the past.

In spite of his illness, Luke tried to live his life as “normal” as possible. His family gave him the opportunities and the best care they could. His mother, who was a patient of mine too, had the genetic disorder as well, albeit with a milder manifestation, thus I knew the family well.

One thing I learned, was that Luke likes Star Wars, even though the first Star Wars movie came out more than a decade before he was born. Yeah, he was a fan of this movie genre, just like the rest of us, I guess.

In this last hospital admission, Luke came in with a lung infection causing respiratory failure, requiring intubation and mechanical ventilation. He came on Thanksgiving Day.

After several days in our ICU, we were able to extubate (take out the endotracheal tube) him, only to place him on a non-invasive positive pressure ventilator (NIPPV) with a face mask, as he cannot breathe on his own. This is like a CPAP machine. At least he can stay awake and not be sedated on the non-invasive ventilator, and he can speak as well. He can only tolerate a limited time off the NIPPV, and had to be hooked right back on it. He would not survive without it.

As I watched him with his “jet-fighter mask” with his bed as his vessel, what came to mind was that in a cruel twist of fate, this kid who likes Star Wars, now breathes like Darth Vader: whoooh….poooh, whoooh…..poooh, whoooh…..poooh. Every breath, there’s a gush of pressurized air coming out of the ventilator and through his mask.

After one holiday, another one is approaching. Christmas is just around the corner. And Luke remains in the hospital, ventilator-dependent, with no clear sight that he’ll get better. He knows it, and his family knows it. Luke’s days here on earth is numbered.

With wishful thinking, maybe he can linger a little longer to see the new Star Wars movie which he was looking forward to seeing for the longest time. But how? Him in the hospital? On a ventilator?

But wait, isn’t it Christmas season after all?

Wish granted!

After making elaborate arrangements and collaboration, Luke and his family will be going to a movie theater, to be accompanied by some medical staff, for a special private showing of the “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” when it opens this weekend.

After that trip to the theater, Luke will be going home for Christmas with his family, on hospice care. No more hospitals. No more ventilators. No more pain.

Perhaps he could stay home until Christmas. But if not, Luke could soar into the heavens and once and for all, walk on stars. His final home.

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(*name intentionally changed for privacy)

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Update 12/22/15: after posting this story here, I learned that our patient was featured in the local news. See link here.

 

 

A Christmas Miracle

We have entered the month of December and Christmas is only 3 weeks away. For this month I would like to re-post stories that happened around Christmas, which I have witnessed first hand, and that I have written several years back.

I first published the following story, “Gift of Life,” on December 15, 2010.

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Gift of Life

Everybody said that her pregnancy was ill-conceived and ill-advised. But who are we to judge her?

Mary (not her real name) lies in our ICU. Her 21-year-old body looks frail and debilitated, her skin is pale and sallow, and her breathing is irregular and shallow. Attached to her sick body are a number of tubes, catheters and monitors. The regular bleep and tracings in the monitor screen above her bed tells me that she is still alive, although she looks otherwise.

Mary was born with cystic fibrosis. This is an inherited disease caused by a defective gene that causes thick mucus plugging of small tubes and ducts, mostly affecting the lungs and the digestive system. Patients suffer with frequent lung infections, digestive problems, and usually succumb with respiratory failure or liver failure. The disease is fatal that many patients will die in their childhood and adolescence. However, in the past few decades, with the improvement of care, patients who made it through adulthood has an average lifespan of 35 years.

Mary’s childhood was anything but normal. She was in the hospital or doctor’s office so often more than she was in school. She was on medications constantly. She had known more doctors than childhood friends. She experienced more than her share of suffering and disease. But she had beaten the odds. Now, that she made it through 21 summers tells me that she is a fierce survivor.

But now, this pregnancy. Her family doesn’t want her to have this. Her doctors told her that her body may not be able to tolerate the additional stress of pregnancy and that it will be very high risk to continue. But she made up her mind that she will keep this child whatever the cost.

Due to developing problems and complications, she was admitted to the hospital’s maternity ward on her 32nd weeks of conception, where she was expected to stay for the rest of the pregnancy. However, after a few days in the hospital her condition worsened. Her liver function deteriorated and she went into fulminant hepatic failure. Mary slipped into coma. She was then transferred to our ICU.

Because her baby may get compromised further, we had no choice but to deliver the baby, even if it was barely 33 weeks old (full term is 38-42 weeks). Mary underwent an emergency caesarean section.

Now, 3 days after her baby’s delivery, Mary still remains in our ICU. She continues to be comatose.

As I stand beside her bed to examine her, I see the pictures of her newborn baby posted on the wall of her room. Being a parent, I cannot help but feel a twinge of sadness. Will she ever know that she brought forth a beautiful baby, premature, but otherwise healthy boy? Will she ever hear the yearning cry of her dear child? Will she ever see the sweet smile of her son? Will she ever hold her baby in her arms, the life that she fought for so dearly to bring to this world, even if it meant going against medical advice?

I just hope that someday this precious boy would be grateful and proud to the mother, he may never know. And may he appreciate and realize the challenges, the difficulty, the sacrifices her mother went into, to give him the gift of life. Yes, even in exchange of her own life.

But wait. This is Christmas season. Time of miracles. Maybe there will be one here tonight.

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Post Note:

After I published this story, Mary did improved and recovered. She got out of the ICU and eventually went home to take care of her beautiful baby. I took care of Mary a few more times and I always asked her about her baby boy. Her son became her pride and joy.

Sadly, Mary eventually succumbed to her illness last year, leaving a very young son, who at least experienced a mother’s love, even for so short a time.

Pasko sa Talyer

Disyembre 25, araw ng Pasko. Ako ay nakaupo sa isang kahoy na bangko. Sa paligid ko ay grasa, mga lumang gulong, kalas-kalas na makina ng kotse, at kalat-kalat na kasangkapang pang-mekaniko.

Ako ay nasa loob ng talyer.

Ano kamo ang ginagawa ko sa talyer sa mismong araw ng Pasko? Naghihintay! Hindi kay Santa Claus, kundi sa aming sasakyan na nasira. Ito ang aking kwento…..

Matapos ang maraming taon na lumagi sa Amerika, at matapos maranasan ang maraming “White Christmas,” kami ng aming pamilya ay umuwi upang mag-Pasko sa Pilipinas. Mula sa Maynila ay umarkila kami ng van upang dumalaw sa aming mga kamag-anak sa Ilocos Norte at Ilocos Sur.

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Pagkatapos naming mag-celebrate ng bisperas ng Pasko at makipag-Noche Buena sa Vigan, kami ay dapat magbibyaheng pabalik sa Maynila upang doon naman magdiwang ng araw ng Pasko kasama ng mga kamag-anak at kaibigan sa Metro Manila.

Ngunit napurnada ang aming plano. Nasira ang aming arkiladong sasakyan. May tumutulo sa ilalim ng makina. May butas daw sa karburador ng aming van.

Ginalugad namin ang buong Vigan upang humanap ng bukas na talyer, ngunit lahat ng aming puntahan ay sarado. Sino nga bang kumag ang gustong magtrabaho ng Pasko?

Naalala ko tuloy si Jose at si Maria na malapit nang manganak, noong kauna-unahang Pasko, sila ay naghahanap ng silid na matutuluyan doon sa bayan ng Bethlehem, ngunit wala silang nakita kundi isang kuwadra. Mapalad nga kami mayroon kaming tinulugan at talyer lang ang aming kailangan.

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Matapos naming puntahan ang apat o limang service station at talyer, ay nakatagpo rin kami ng isang lugar na pumayag na kami ay pagsilbihan.

Sumalubong sa amin sa pinto ng talyer ay isang babaeng may kargang bata. Sabi niya ay may binili lang sa palengke ang kanyang mister, na siyang mekaniko doon sa naturang talyer.

Hindi nagtagal ay dumating na ang isang mamang nakamotorsiklo. Siya ay may bitbit na kalahating isda na lapu-lapu at iba pang rekado. Siya ang aming hinihintay na mekaniko. Pagkatapos niyang iabot ang mga pinamili sa kanyang maybahay, kami ay kanyang malugod na hinarap at inasikaso.

Hindi rin nagtagal ay sinumulan na niyang buting-tingin ang aming sirang sasakyan. Walang makikitang bahid ng pagkabugnot si manong. Sa katunayan ganado at pasipol-sipol pa ito sa paggawa, kahit amin siyang binulabog sa araw ng Pasko.

Lumipas ang isa…..dalawa…..tatlo……apat na oras……patuloy pa rin sa mano-manong pagkukumpuni ang aming mekaniko. Hindi pa rin tapos ang aming sasakyan. Hindi “White Christmas” kundi “Wait Christmas” ang nangyari sa amin.

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Aaminin ko, ako ay nayamot sa kakahintay. Hindi lang siguro yamot kundi galit pa ang sumagi sa aking isip. Bakit ba nabutas ang hinayupak na karburador? Hindi ko kailangan ito! Hindi ako naglakabay ng malayo, lumipad ng eroplano, tumawid ng dagat upang mag-Pasko lamang sa talyer!

Ngunit may leksiyon yatang nais ipahatid sa akin ang Diyos sa Paskong ito.

Sa aking paghihintay, ay wala akong ibang libangan kundi magmasid sa loob ng talyer. Sa isang sulok ng talyer ay isang maliit na silid na mahigit lamang sa isang dipa ang luwag. Dito marahil nakatira ang pamilya ng aming mekaniko. Sila ay may dalawang anak. Tunay na masikip at halos kasya lang silang apat matulog doon.

Ang nakatatandang batang babae, ay marahil apat o limang taong gulang. Madusing ang kanyang kasuotan, ngunit masaya itong naglalaro sa loob ng talyer, sa gitna ng lupa at grasa. Matahimik itong gumigiling-giling sa sariling niyang tugtog at himig. Siya ay kontento sa maliit niyang mundo. Alam kaya niyang Pasko ngayon? Meron kaya siyang pamaskong natanggap?

Ang bunso naman ay halos sanggol pa lang, ay natutulog sa nakalatag na banig sa munting silid. Si Santa Claus at mga lumilipad na reindeers kaya ang kanyang panaginip? O baka naman lumilipad na ipis? Ano naman rin kaya ang napamaskuhan nito?

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Habang nagtratrabaho si mister sa aming van, ay nagluluto naman si misis sa kabilang sulok ng talyer. Marahil ang kalahating lapu-lapung binili sa palengke ang kanilang pagsasalu-saluhan sa Paskong ito. Meron din naman silang konting buko salad na nasa maliit na tupperware at may isang pitchel na iced-tea rin silang handa.

Inalok pa nga ako ng buko salad at iced tea ni misis, ngunit nahiya naman ako’t akin itong tinanggihan.

Kahit kakaunti, sila ay maligaya at handa pa nilang ibahagi ang kaunting meron sila. Ako kaya? Maligaya ba ako ngayong Pasko? Hindi! Naiimbiyerna at nagmumukmok ako dahil sa nadiskaril ang aming mga plano. Sino kaya sa amin ang may tunay na ispirito ng Pasko?

Hindi kalaunan ay nagising na ang bunsong bata. Maya-maya pa ay malikot na itong pagapang-gapang sa sulok ng talyer. Nang aking tanungin kung ilang buwan o taon na ang kanilang bunsong babae, ay napapahiyang sinabi ng aming mekaniko, na lalaki at hindi babae ang kanilang bunsong anak. Nakadamit babae lamang daw ito, dahil wala silang mapasuot na damit kundi mga pinaglakihan ng kanyang ate.

Parang biglang winalis ang aking pagkayamot. Wala akong dapat ireklamo.

Hindi na nagtagal at natapos na ring kumpunihin ang aming sasakyan. Sa wakas makakabiyahe na rin kaming pabalik sa Maynila. Sa wakas matutuloy na rin ang aming selebrasyon ng Pasko!

Ngunit mas mahalaga sa lahat, ay mayroong kakaibang damdamin ang umusbong sa aking puso. May kakaibang pananaw ang nabuo sa aking isipan. Matapos sumahin ng mekaniko kung magkano ang aming babayaran, ay may bago nang ispirito ng Pasko ang naghahari sa aking katauhan.

Pinasobrahan ko ang bayad na aking inabot, sabay sambit ng “Salamat at Maligayang Pasko sa inyong pamilya.”

Abot-tenga ang ngiti ni manong, sabay bati rin ng “Merry Christmas sir! May pambili na nang bagong damit si bunso.”

Mula sa sabsaban, isinilang ang ating Manunubos. Mula sa talyer, ako’y pina-alalahanan ng tamang diwa ng Pasko.

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(*photos taken in Vigan, Christmas 2012)

 

 

 

Trees and Lights

Last weekend we went to Festival of Trees and Lights, which was on its 31st year. This event had become a staple kick-off to the holiday season here in our city.

In this event, beautifully and custom-decorated trees were on display, and were available for silent auction. It also features music by a number of local children’s choir in the big auditorium, and an assortment of children’s craft and activities, including a visit with Santa and a kid’s train ride.

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Not just this event heralds Christmas, but it also embodies the spirit of giving of this season. All the  proceeds of the event benefit the Blank Children’s Hospital in Des Moines.

Over the years, this fund-raising event had helped hundreds of sick children and their families. Certainly a fun-filled event, with a good cause.

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(*photos taken at Iowa Events Center in Des Moines)

Beginning to look a lot like Christmas

I woke up this morning feeling cold. I pulled up the comforter to warm me up a bit. As I opened my eyes I was greeted with snowflakes softly tapping on our windowpane. It is December after all, and in two weeks it would be Christmas.

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view from our window

Today, my wife decided to decorate our home for the season. Yes, we were a little late decorating this year. We even skipped having a Christmas tree this time. Putting up a freshly cut tree had become a tradition in our home since we moved here in Iowa.

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our fireplace

As we hung up our holiday ornaments, and with snow continuing to fall outside, it is really “beginning to look a lot like Christmas,” just like the popular song goes. That also means that I need to shovel and clear the snow in our the driveway later. Rats! Though my son was excited to go outside and build his snow fort. One man’s misery is another one’s fantasy!

However even with the “holiday cheers” in our home, for some reason I cannot get off my mind the images of a place where I was, a little more than a week ago. A place of devastation (see previous post), where Christmas is the farthest thing you think of. And another familiar song is ringing in my head – “do they know it’s Christmas time at all?”

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(image from Manila Bulletin)

As I ponder on this, I was comforted with the thought that real Christmas is not about decorations and Christmas trees. It’s not about shopping and completing our list (wives, are you listening?). It’s not even about receiving gifts or exchanging gifts (good luck telling that to your kids!).

Christmas is commemorating the coming of the Son of God to this wretched planet (wars, calamities and all), to redeem our dying world. With that thought, we all can celebrate Christmas.