Christmas 2017

Some parts of the United States have seen significant snowfall early this season. Even in places that rarely see snow, like Atlanta Georgia and Texas had some snow this December.

But not here in Iowa. We have been dry the whole month of December. Though 2 days ago we had some dusting of snow. The snow fall was so little that they melted few hours later. I thought we missed our chance of having a white Christmas this year.

Then this Christmas eve, snow came to our area. We’ll have another white Christmas after all!

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Like the anticipated snow fall here, the coming of the Messiah was long-awaited by his people some two thousand years ago. Yet when he came, they missed it! Only the unsuspecting shepherds came and some wise men from far away foreign land.

Today, I hope we don’t miss the reason for this season. And it’s not the snow.

Merry Christmas every one!

(*photos taken with an iPhone)

Iba Namang White Christmas

Habang ako’y nagda-drive pauwi kagabi ay aking napuna na may mga butil-butil ng niebe (snow) na lumilipad. Matagal-tagal na rin namang kaming naghihintay ng snow, kahit na hindi ko paboritong libangan ang mag-shovel nito. Sabi kasi sa aming weather forecast, maaaring magkaroon daw kami ng 1-2 inches ng snow. Yey, White Christmas!

Pagbangon ko kaninang umaga ay dumungaw ako kaagad sa labas. Kakarampot naman pala ang snow na bumagsak. Ang kuripot naman!

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Dahil konting-konti lang ang aming snow (above photo), siguradong malulusaw at maglalaho na ang lahat ng ito bago pa mag-Pasko. Sang-ayon ulit sa aming weather forecast, wala na kaming  snow fall bago mag-Pasko dito sa Iowa. Mapupurnada yata ang aming White Christmas!

Nainggit tuloy ako sa mga lugar dito sa Amerika na maraming snow ngayong Pasko. Noong nakaraang araw lang, ay pinadalhan ako ng aming kaibigan ng photo na kuha niya mula sa Morristown, New Jersey (photo below). Parang scene sa Frozen ang dating.

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Sa Morristown, New Jersey ako unang napadpad at nanirahan dito sa Amerika. Tatlong taon din akong lumagi doon. Dito ko naranasan ang aking kauna-unahang White Christmas, na noon ay nakikita ko lamang sa mga pictures. Dito ko nasabing para akong nakatira sa loob ng Christmas card.

Nang ako’y bata pa at naninirahan sa Maynila, hindi ko inakalang ako’y makakaranas ng White Christmas. Nagkakasya na ako sa mga dekorasyon namin sa aming classroom sa paaralan ng mga Christmas tree na pinuno ng mga bulak para magmukhang may snow. Sa bulak lang masaya na ako.

Tapos sa klase kakanta kami ng “Dashing through the snow” at “I’m dreaming of a White Christmas.” Ano ba naman ang malay ko sa snow at White Christmas? Alam ko lang noon ay “dashing through the flood!” Kinakanta rin namin ‘yung “Frosty, the Snowman.” Pero ‘yung Frosty alam ko at gusto ko. Ito ay isang brand ng ice candy noong bata ako. Masarap siya!

Taong 1991 nang nakaranas ako na pumuti ang kalsada sa Maynila. Pag-gising ko isang umaga at sa pagdungaw ko sa labas, ay nakita kong medyo maputi ang aming paligid. Nag-snow sa Maynila?! Pero nang aking kilatisin, hindi ito snow, kundi abo pala! Abo mula sa pagsabog ng Mt. Pinatubo.

Taong 1994, aking nilisan ang Pilipinas. Hindi para makakita ng snow o maghukay ng yelo, pero para tugisin ang aking mga pangarap sa buhay.

Ngayon, makatapos kong maranasan ang marami ng White Christmas, iba na ang gusto ko sa Pasko. Ibang puti na ang gusto ko, hindi snow. Puti, tulad ng puting buhangin sa beach ng Zambales.  Puti, tulad ng kesong puti sa loob ng bagong lutong pandesal. Puti, tulad ng bagong kaskas na niyog sa ibabaw ng puto bungbong.

Umulan na lang sana ng bagong kaskas na niyog. Samahan na rin sana ng pag-ulan ng puto bungbong at bibingka. Teka, masakit yatang mabagsakan ng bibingka!

Hay, nami-miss ko na naman ang Pilipinas.

Sa lahat ng mga Pilipino sa iba’t-ibang lupalop ng mundo, ano mang puti ang pumapaligid sa inyo – maging ito’y snow, o kaya’y abo at lahar, o puting buhangin at malinaw na dagat, o kaya’y disyerto, o mga puting semento, o kaya nama’y mga kumpol na bulak, o tambak ng puting basura, o kaya’y maging bagong kayod na niyog – kayong lahat ay aking binabati ng Maligayang Pasko!

 

 

Bethlehem Hills and Herod’s Mountain: A Christmas Reflection

It is mid-December, and in a few days it will be Christmas. It’s a season for celebration, yet it is well-known that the holiday season can be a cause of stress and depression for some people. Perhaps we should let go of that long Christmas shopping list of ours.

Even if the whole world celebrate Christmas in December, it is likely that Jesus was not born in the winter. Based on Biblical narrative, shepherds were watching their flocks in the fields at night during that time, and December nights in Judaea can be too cold for the shepherds to sleep outside in the fields.

Many scholars believe that it was probably spring time when Jesus was born, so December 25th is unlikely to be the exact date of Jesus’ birth. What I am saying is that the date may be off, yet I am not saying that we should not remember or celebrate Jesus’ birth. That’s another subject of discussion and debate.

Earlier this year, we were blessed with a visit to the Holy Land, including a trip to the city of Bethlehem.

IMG_4282.jpgBethlehem is about 10 kilometers away from Jerusalem. Today it is a Palestinian territory. So our guide who was an Israeli national and who was touring us in Jerusalem, boarded off our charted bus just before we entered Bethlehem, and another tour guide whom I assumed was a Palestinian, hopped in our bus after we entered the city and cleared the checkpoint. They must have some specific rules and arrangement.

We went to visit the Church of Nativity, the site believed where Jesus was born. This Byzantine basilica was built on top of a cave. So at the cellar of this church was a grotto (photo below), marked as the traditional site of Jesus’ birth.

img_4306Though the exact location is hard to prove accurately with archeological support, for me, it is enough that the city of Bethlehem exists to believe that Jesus was born. It does not matter where the exact spot is, as long as it was recorded that it was in Bethlehem, the city of David.

“For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord”(Luke 2:11). What a reassuring thought, that our Lord and Savior came to this earth, and that should not be a cause of stress and depression, but instead of joy and hope.

While on the bus, I observed that the terrain around Bethlehem was hilly. In fact, Bethlehem sits on top of a hill rising about 3,500 feet above the desert valley. It must have been difficult for Mary who was fully pregnant and about to give birth to climb those hills.

IMG_4290We passed through some hills that were full of houses and buildings today (photo above). It was probably in one of those hills, two thousand years ago, where shepherds were watching their sheep when suddenly they saw a bright light and then the angels appeared to them announcing the birth of the Messiah. It must have been a marvelous experience to be on those hills that glorious night.

The tour guide asked us to look beyond Bethlehem hills and direct our sight to a strange-looking mountain in the distance. It was truncated and cone-shaped. I enlarged the section of the photo above to feature the mountain. (Sorry I was not able to get a better picture.)

IMG_4290It was a strange-looking mountain because it was man-made. The mountain was named Herodium, a fortress that Herod the Great constructed, about 5 kilometers southeast of Bethlehem. This was the same King Herod that tried to kill Jesus by slaughtering all the male infants in the region.

As history recorded it, when Herod the Great, was searching for a place to build his home and fortress, there was not a mountain high enough for him to build this structure. Instead there were two hills near each other at the site where he wanted it.

So what did Herod do? He cut down one hill and with an army of laborers he placed the pared hill on top of the other hill to make it higher, one bucket of dirt and rocks at a time. He literally moved a mountain.

When Jesus and his disciples were having discussion about faith, they were probably looking at this Herod’s mountain, which was hard to miss in the Judaean desert. Its dominating presence was a constant reminder of an oppressive regime. It was a common knowledge of that time how Herod moved a mountain.

However, what Jesus was telling his disciples is that faith, is much more powerful than what Herod can do. With faith they can be mightier than the mightiest ruler of their time.

“Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20)

Yes, we can move mountains. Though not by our own power but by the mighty power of God.

What mountains are we facing? What giant challenges are gripping our hearts with fear? Let’s put our faith in the King of Bethlehem hills, and He will move our mountains.

May we all have a meaningful Christmas.

(*photos taken with an iPhone)

Last Walk of a Fallen Jedi

(It’s Christmas season once again. Also in 10 days the new Star Wars movie will be out. I would like to re-post a story of one of our ICU patients. The original article was posted in December 2015, “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. Perhaps he envisioned himself as a Jedi Knight. 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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Post Note: Luke made it through Christmas. He eventually lost his battle few months later.

The End Of A Miracle

(I am reposting an article from December 26, 2010, “My Christmas Calling.” I wrote it after being on-duty on Christmas day.)

Christmas morning. Freshly fallen snow was on the ground. It was a White Christmas after all.

Bah, humbug!

I forced myself to get up from bed. My throat was sore. It felt like somebody stuck a fork in my throat and scraped it raw. My body aches like I just ran a marathon. I caught a Christmas bug, you know. No, not the “joyful feeling” of the holidays. A real bug.

I don’t want to go to work, emotionally and physically. But I have to. I am on-duty for Christmas. Our patients in the hospital, especially in the ICU, needs my care. (But who will care for me?) On days like this, I just have to suck it in, take a couple (or make it a handful!) of Tylenol and will myself to go.

I left home with the kids still sleeping and the gifts under the tree unopened. Maybe I would be able to come home early and we can open the gifts together.

In the hospital I greeted people with perfunctory “Merry Christmas,” though I was not feeling the “merry” part. In fact was in a Scrooge-mood.

It was a busy day: 32 total hospitalized patients I rounded upon, 2 hospitals I went to, 19 ICU patients, 12 ventilator-dependent, 2 carbon monoxide poisoning that needed hyperbaric oxygen treatment, 1 chest tube insertion, 1 endotracheal intubation, 1 arterial catheter placement, 2 central venous catheter placement……. and a partridge in a pear tree.

As I dealt with the very critically ill patients and talked with their families, I knew that I was not the bearer of good tidings and joy, but rather of grim news most of the times. As the families broke down into tears and came to term to the gravity of the condition of their loved ones, I thought that these people were experiencing far worse Christmas than me. At least I am going home tonight. My patients will not. Some of them will not come home, ever. And for these families, Christmas will never be the same.

Slowly my “Grinchy” attitude peeled off and was replaced with a sympathetic spirit. I then realized my purpose for this holiday: that is to give my compassionate care for these unfortunate people, in this supposed to be joyful occasion.

The last patient I admitted to the ICU on Christmas came late afternoon. He was 32 years old. When he was 7, he received a life-giving gift, when he became a recipient of a heart transplant. His “miracle” heart had kept him alive for all these 25 years. However, for the past few years, his existence was less than joyful. Complications after complications have developed, and one by one his organs started failing. Including his borrowed heart.

Today he was brought to the Emergency Department barely alive. After transferring him to our ICU – placing him on a mechanical ventilator, putting tubes and catheters in his body, and flooding his system with medicines – his condition did not really improve much.

I spoke with her mother in the ICU’s waiting room. She quietly, but boldly stated, in between sobs, that she was ready to let go of her son who have suffered enough. She indicated to me that she just wanted his “boy” to go gently into the night.

Somehow, the ‘miracle’ heart will be resting this Christmas night.

Did the miracle ended?

I don’t think so. For the miracle of love persists. Love that is shown here by letting go. Letting go in some occasion, is more selfless than holding on.

There is another 7-year old boy who is waiting for his gift. That boy is my son waiting at home. He may be anxious to open his gifts. Or maybe he’s anxious just to see me come home.

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Payapang Daigdig

Christmas is around the corner. And once again, I’m missing home.

Home where the street carolers are singing “Sa may bahay ang aming bati, merry Christmas na malualhati.” Or “Ang Pasko ay sumapit, tayo ay magsiawit.” Or if by chance you ignore them, you’ll hear “Thank you, thank you, ang babarat ninyo, thank you!”

One song that I have not heard for a long time is this song: “Payapang Daigdig.” It is perhaps our Filipino equivalent of Silent Night.

It was written by Felipe de Leon. The song has been inspired as they said, by the turmoil brought by World War II. It was first sang during the Japanese invasion of the Philippines. De Leon penned the lyrics of this hauntingly beautiful song, after seeing his hometown, Manila (my hometown too), in ruins.

If you listen to the song, it is quite amazing that its message is in stark opposite of the reality of that time.

To all the OFWs, expats, and all Filipinos who are missing home this Christmas, may you find peace, despite of all the unrest, on this holiday season.

 

(*video taken from YouTube, posted by Analyn Solano)

Lights Up

Our Christmas lights are up.

Actually, I set them up since last week. Only to take them down again.

No, it’s not that the neighbors complained that it was too early for Christmas. It’s not that we contemplated on canceling Christmas. And it’s not that Santa is not coming to town. Nothing like that.

Why I took the lights down has a more rational reason.

Last week, when we were experiencing a seasonably warm November (up to 70’s degrees Fahrenheit), I decided on a whim to put the Christmas lights up. I hang them up at the edge of our roof. I rather put them up when it was warm and not when it’s bone-chillingly cold.

So with my trusty ladder, and with the help of my son, I climbed up and dangled our Christmas lights for all the neighbors to see. By the way, I was not the earliest among our neighbors to set up Christmas lights. I saw one down the road, even two weeks earlier than me.

Risking life and limb (maybe not life, only limb, for it was only 10 feet high), and after more than an hour of work, I completed setting our outside Christmas lights up. I was so proud of my accomplishment.

Only to find out, after I plug them in to the electric outlet, that almost half of the lights were not working. What a bummer!

All my efforts and time spent were gone down the drain. I suddenly felt my back really ached. Maybe it was more imagined than real. I almost got a headache too, when I thought of banging my head to the wall!

I have no one to blame but me. Why did I not check the lights if they’re working or not, before I hang them up? Yeah, very brilliant of me.

My wife said, trying to keep a straight face, “at least you’re not making that mistake again.” Thanks dear, that makes me feel better. Not.

I left the unplugged bum lights hanging for a week , while I let my disappointment simmer down a bit.

Then this week, after getting a new set of Christmas lights, which I think was time for an upgrade anyway, I finally took the old non-working lights down, and hang up my new brighter and yet more energy efficient LED lights.

And yes, I tested them first, even if they’re new, before I hang them.

Our temperature also got significantly colder this week, with the lowest in the 20 – 30’s degrees Fahrenheit. But I just bundled up, suck it up, and do what I needed to do.

As I look at our Christmas lights tonight, somehow they look more beautiful than ever. They better be, for I spent double the time and effort putting them up. Make you appreciate the things that you work your tail off.

Of course I also gained a notable experience and a valuable lesson learned: never assume, always check it out first. And that just not apply to Christmas lights.

I am not taking them down until after next year’s Christmas.


(*photo taken with an iPhone)

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)