New Year, Old Receipts, and Memories

It was New Year’s Day. I woke up early even though I stayed up late the previous night and spent it with the company of friends, and did not sleep until past midnight to welcome the arrival of 2017.

What’s up with me? Even how late I stayed up the night before, I still wake up early the next morning. I think it is how I’m wired or just how I was trained – to wake up before the sun goes up. Though that morning, it was past 6 already, yet it was still dark. It was a Sunday too. No work, and no place I needed to go.

But since I couldn’t sleep anymore, I got out of bed, and searched for something to do. Besides, it is a new year, so better start it right. Plus in the Chinese calendar, this year is the year of the rooster. So we really should be getting up early like the rooster, right? Maybe I should have started crowing cock-a-doodle-doo or tik-ti-la-ok (that’s what Filipino rooster sounds like) to wake up the whole neighborhood.

I thought of cleaning up and vacuuming the house, but my wife and kids were still asleep, so I looked for something to do that was more quiet and muted. I found myself in the office room, where the computer and the file box of bill statements were, and decided to do the bills.

What better way to start a new year, than paying debts and doing bills?

Even though I do my bills on-line, I still keep paper bills and receipts on file. As my storage box was already bursting with old bill statements and receipts, I knew I had to get rid of some of the old ones to make room for the new.

As I was looking through the files and files of old bills, I came across the receipt and paperwork of our very first family car here in America. It was a second-hand Honda with about 50,000 miles mileage. We bought that car after I finished my training and after landing a real job. That was 17 years ago and we were still living in Florida at that time.

Having only one car at that time, and with no good public transportation system where we live, my wife and my daughter, a toddler at that time, would go with me when I go to work in the morning. They would wait in the car at the parking lot while I do my hospital rounds. From the hospital we will drive to my clinic and drop me off there. Then my wife would take the car to go wherever they needed to go, and just pick me up later in the afternoon. That way they will not be housebound the whole day, plus my wife could also do some errands like grocery shopping.

When we moved to Iowa in the middle of a harsh winter, we were ill prepared to drive in the snow, sleet and ice. And one snowy morning I ended up driving, I mean slipping, into a ditch that the car needed to be extricated. That was when I decided to trade-in our old Honda, and got myself a car with an all-wheel drive that can frolic in the snow.

While sorting old receipts, I also dug out a hospital bill from Scottsdale Arizona, issued about a decade ago. I attended a medical conference in that city, and brought my whole family along.

While in Arizona, my son who was 3 at that time, started to breathe heavily. He then also started to wheeze, that I could hear even without a stethoscope. Being a trained lung specialist, I knew that there was something wrong. That was the first time we learned that he has asthma, and that he was having a bad asthma attack.

We brought him to the nearby hospital. Not long after, he was given a nebulizer treatment (asthma medicine given via mist) in the Emergency Room. While the nebulizer was being administered with a “cute” pediatric oxygen mask that was shaped like a dinosaur snout, my son was crying. I asked him if he was in pain or if the treatment was bothering him, but that was not it.

When I continued to query what was wrong, he finally said, “It’s purple!”  He was referring to the “cute” oxygen mask that he thought was for girls. That was also the first time we learned that he does not like purple, nor does he like Barney.

I also found from my file box, stacks of old receipts from the gas company, including our very first one when they initially filled the propane gas tank of our house here in Iowa. We have gas tanks (LPG cylinders) too, when I was still living in the Philippines, but the gas tank we have here in Iowa is bigger. Much, much bigger.

Since we live beyond the outskirts of town, there are no gas pipe connection from the city to our home. So we have a large (up to 1000 gallons) underground gas tank, which needed to be filled regularly. Propane gas heats our home during winter, and powers the boiler for hot water. Even our fireplace is propane powered. Where we live, people could endure summers without air-conditioning, but would not survive winters without heaters.

When I was growing up in Manila, I wondered how could Santa Claus dropped by in a house without a chimney? I could have not thought that one day, I would be living in a house with a fireplace and a chimney, even though I don’t believe in Santa anymore. I could have not thought that winters could be this bitterly cold as well.

Even though gas was important for us, I am sure though that it was not just propane gas that kept us warm. In our home, the embers of love is much more important than the furnace and the fireplace. We have spent 12 happy winters in this house, and counting.

I was so absorbed in my thoughts that I have not noticed that the sun was already way up in the horizon. Who would imagine that a file box of bills would be such a treasure trove of nostalgia and memories?

Despite the sentimentality associated with them, I still have to make room in the file box for the new ones. Just like facing a new year – out with the old and on with the new. So I took out the old and outdated receipts, and toss them through the paper shredder.

As for the memories, I am keeping them.

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Nothing To Do In Iowa

Summer here is on its last leg, and autumn is knocking on our doors. Yet we are still trying to squeeze out the fun of what’s left of this summer.

Like the summers before, we again had a few friends and relatives from out-of-state who visited and stayed with us here in Iowa. They came from New York, from Florida, and even from out of the country like Taiwan and the Philippines.

One friend who came from Florida, was told by her office mates when they learned that she was flying to Iowa, that there’s nothing to see and do in Iowa. Except if you’re a Presidential candidate and you’re campaigning.

True, Iowa is not a tourist destination, like California or Florida. There may not be much to see here. But for our friends, seeing us, maybe is reason enough for them to visit Iowa.

Yet we tried our best to show our visitors what is here to see. We toured them around the city of Des Moines, the covered bridges of Madison County, and the farm fields of Iowa. Some of them even had the chance to go to the annual Iowa State Fair.

They said that our state fair is truly part of Americana. For where else can you go around the fair grounds while chomping on a whole turkey leg or a pork chop on a stick? Or munch deep-fried Oreos or deep-fried Sneakers? Or see the biggest cow, or the biggest pumpkin? Or see the famed butter cow sculpture?

This summer, we also had the chance to visit other states, like Montana and California. We have a few relatives in California, including my mother-in-law, who sadly to say, got awfully sick and eventually passed away during our visit there. Thus our vacation had a sudden turn of sad events.

She was hospitalized in a small hospital in Hollywood. In fact, the hospital was a couple of blocks from Sunset Boulevard and all the touristy spots in Hollywood. But driving back and forth to the hospital and where we’re staying was not a pleasant trip, as we were most of the time stuck in terrible traffic in the Los Angeles area.

photo taken after we visited my mother-in-law at the hospital

My mother-in-law stayed in the ICU for a few days, and I had the chance to talk to her physician. I introduced myself as an ICU doctor as well, so we can have a direct talk about the nitty-gritty details involved, as well as management, and of course prognosis.

The ICU physician was nice to me. Though he was in a bit of disbelief that I am practicing in Iowa. Perhaps he, like many others, have the impression that there’s nothing but corn and cows in Iowa.

He even asked my kids what do they do for “fun” in Iowa. My kids just politely said “a lot” without giving much details. I’m sure the good doctor was expecting answers like going to Disney, or visiting a theme park (which we also have though not as famous), or going to the beach.

My kids could have answered, how about catching fireflies. Or riding ATV in the cornfields with our friends. Or riding bike in dirt trails. Or perhaps just watching the sunset, or counting the stars.

As he was leaving, my mother-in-law’s doctor told me that he felt “sorry” that I live in Iowa. I just smiled and did not answer. It was past eight in the evening, and I knew he was not even on-call that night for he told me so, and yet he was still making rounds and seeing patients.

Me in Iowa? If I’m not on-call, I’m done with work by five in the afternoon, and I’m doing something “fun” by that time. Or maybe I’m just home spending time with my family.

In reality, it was me, who felt sorry for him.

For somebody who have lived in Manila, New Jersey, New York City, California, and Florida, I know what I’m talking about. And that’s why I chose to live where I’m living now.

Yes, there’s nothing to do in Iowa.

me and the bike trail in the middle of cornfiels


 

Home Sweet Home

Several weeks ago, when my son came home from a weekend autumn camping, as soon as he entered our door, he shouted: “Hoooooome, sweet home!”

Maybe he sorely missed his comfortable bed after sleeping for 2 nights in a tent and on a hard ground. Or maybe he was yearning for a warm shower, as he had not showered for 2 days, for the campsite where they went to did not have shower facility. Or maybe he got sick enough from using the porta potty, as again they did not have restrooms with running water. Or maybe he was longing for his mother’s delicious home cooking. Or maybe he just missed home.

But this was not an isolated occurrence. In fact, every time we come home, whether it was from a rugged camping, or from a luxurious outing, from a short excursion, or from a long road trip, or even from a dream vacation, like Disney World and Hawaii, he still calls “Hoooome, sweet home!” as soon as we enter our current home here in Iowa.

That makes me ponder, do my kids really regard our home as a “sweet home?”

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Recently, my wife have transposed our old video cassette tapes into DVD’s and we watched a few of the tapes we have. I enjoyed specifically the ones when my daughter and son were much younger, when we first moved in to this house. Our first summer. Our first Thanksgiving. Our first winter. Our first Christmas. Our first Christmas tree. And other special events.

But there are also the “not-so-special” events that may have not been videotaped, but captured in my memory nonetheless. My kids running in the yard. Raking the fallen leaves and then jumping into the pile of leaves. Watching the deer in the yard, eating our flowers. My wife chasing the deer away. Plowing and shoveling snow (though that’s not my favorite). My kids making snow forts and igloos. The hurried breakfast. The more relaxed dinner. The bedtime rituals with my children. My kids playing music. And the times we just plain playing goofy.

We have lived in this house for barely 10 years, yet I am already packing so much memories in this home, that will last a lifetime. I know I have cherished memories from our home in Sampaloc Manila where I spent more than 25 years of my life. But those memories are now being rivaled in this home where we currently live.

As I looked into every corner of this house, there’s a fond and loving memory attached to every nook of it. The porch. The stairways. The kitchen. The family room. The sun room. The basketball driveway. The yard. And even the guest bedroom, where my mother who have recently passed on, spent several months with us, every time she came for a visit.

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Yet in the end, I don’t think it is the house itself.  Rather it is the people that we surround ourselves and share these beautiful moments with, that is really more precious. And those people, we call our family.

As we approach another Thanksgiving season, just like the Pilgrims of old, who celebrated and gave thanks for their new country and their new home, I join them, and as a pilgrim myself, in thanking God for our home sweet home.

Last night, as we experienced an early snowfall this season, and after driving, or should I say slipping and sliding in the snow, and after a few tense moments of treacherous travel, we finally arrived home safe and sound. After pulling up in our driveway and entering our garage, my son once again exclaimed, “Hooooome sweet home!”

Right after he got out of the car and entered the house, he also complained, “Mom, it still smell like fish in here!”

It is home alright.

(*photos taken with an iPhone)

Of Goslings and Ducklings

June has rolled in upon us. The entry of this month heralds that spring will be officially transitioning into summer here in the northern part of the hemisphere. Born and raised in a tropical country, where there is eternal summer, I can’t wait for the summer to come, after experiencing a harsh winter here in Iowa. Come to think of it, we even had a snowstorm in May this year!

Another thing that June is known for is weddings. This month is named after Juno, the Roman goddess of marriage, and that may be the reason why it is the most popular month to tie the knot. Many couples will take the plunge this June and start their own little family.

Speaking of family, it’s not just humans who raise their little family this time of year. I can see mother deer and their fawns, as well as big and little rabbits frolicking in our yard, much to the dismay of my wife, as they eat her flowers.

A few mornings ago while I was running, I saw a family of geese swimming in the pond near our place.

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A couple of weeks ago, we also came face to face with a family of ducks, while we were dining in a restaurant that is beside a man-made pond.

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Like the seasons, with spring turning into summer, then into autumn, and finally into winter – these little goslings and ducklings will grow and mature, and then not too long after, they will become parents and will have little critters of their own.

It was spring last year when we learned that my wife was pregnant with our third child. And it was also spring last year that we lost our supposed to be third child in an early termination of pregnancy.

Few nights ago, my wife commented that we could have been holding our 5-month old baby right now. Yeah, that’s an endearing thought.

But we don’t dwell on the “what ifs” and “could have been.” We have long accepted that it was not meant to be. Besides we have two “older” children that are constant source of joy and inspiration for my wife and I.

Being a parent, I believe, is the greatest privilege that our Creator have endowed us.

For all the parents out there who have little ones right now, can you please hug your babies a little tighter, for our sake. May you all have a beautiful summer.

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Related Posts:

Goodbye Ella Grace

Life’s Gifts and Surprises

Still My Beating Heart

She laid there motionless in the ICU bed. The only movement was the regular rise and fall of her chest as the ventilator blows air into her lungs. The only activity in the room was the continued bleep and tracings of the bedside monitors attached to her, indicating that she still has a blood pressure, and a heart beat, for otherwise she really appeared lifeless.

As I entered the dimly lit room, I noticed a photo on top of the counter near her bed. It was a photo of a happy family. In it was the patient and her husband, surrounded by their eight children. Yes, eight. That was kind of large family to an American standard, or perhaps anywhere else nowadays.

I appreciate families placing photos beside their loved one’s bed. Especially in our patients in the ICU as most of the time we never knew them before they got sick and deteriorated to their current condition now. Somehow the photos gave us an insight to the life, a snapshot if you will, of whom we are taking care of. It humanizes them, at least to us. That they were someone’s mother, or wife, or friend. Or they were once a decorated soldier (as their uniform indicate), or a coach, or a teacher. That they are not mere blob of a body hooked to life-sustaining machines.

My patient was in her early fifties. I learned that all the eight children that she have, were all adopted. They ranged from sixteen to eight years of age. That tells me what kind of person I am caring for. A woman with such an enormous heart, with overflowing love to adopt eight kids, and call them her own.

Unfortunately, it was also her heart, I am talking now of her anatomic organ, that caused her illness.

Few years ago, she needed an open heart surgery to replace one of her heart’s valve, the aortic valve, which was diseased. The aortic valve is the one that opens and closes as the heart pumps out blood from the left ventricle (the main pump chamber) into the aorta (the big artery that distributes blood to the head and the rest of the body). Her aortic valve was replaced with an artificial mechanical valve.

A replacement mechanical valve can last for many years, in fact, a lifetime, unlike a tissue valve (usually a pig’s or a bovine’s valve) which only last an average of ten years. However, a mechanical valve increases the risk for forming blood clots, and thus the recipient of those valves requires to be on blood thinners (anti-coagulants) permanently.

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mechanical heart valve

A few months ago, our patient underwent a necessary outpatient simple surgical procedure that required her anticoagulation to be interrupted briefly. Sadly to say, this caused a catastrophic event. She developed blood clots that led to a very extensive stroke. Our patient really never recovered completely after that. In spite of all the efforts and rehabilitation, she never walked again, she never spoke again, nor she did much of anything anymore.

I can just imagine the heartache to her husband and their kids to see her in that state of helplessness. But their family tried to move on.

And now this happened. She developed a severe bacterial infection that spread into her blood system. She went into septic shock. This infection caused a bacterial nidus to settle in her mechanical heart valve, a condition called septic endocarditis. The problem with a prosthetic metal valve affected with an infection is, it cannot be treated with antibiotics alone, it needed to be removed or replaced surgically. A surgery that she perhaps cannot survive through, nor can she survive without.

As I met with her husband and discussed her grave situation, he softly told me, with tears rolling down his cheeks, that the most loving and humane way of caring for her, was to let her go. I cannot agree with him more. And as we end our talk, he was not the only grown up man with tears in his eyes, for I did too.

The children came one by one to her room and they said their final goodbye. It was so painful to watch. After that, the life support was taken off. All the medication drips, except for medication to keep her comfortable, were shut off.

After several quiet moments of waiting that seemed like an eternity, her beating heart……the heart that was large enough to adopt such a large family, and the heart with such infectious love to share, and the heart that beat for others…..became still. Very still.

Search for the Perfect Tree

Six years ago we had our first real freshly cut evergreen for our Christmas tree. When I was growing up in Manila, we rarely put up an artificial Christmas tree if at all, more so a real live one. I don’t think there are available real pines for Christmas trees back home? And even if there are, we surely cannot afford them anyway.

The real ones were so much better, from the way they look, the way they feel (though sometimes prickly), and the way they smell. We like them very much that every Christmas we had real ones ever since, except for last year.Well, last year was when we exchanged our white Christmas for a warm Christmas, when we went back home in Manila for the holiday season. In fact, that was my first Christmas back in the Philippines after 15 years of living abroad.

About two weeks ago we went to a tree farm to choose and tag our Christmas tree. So there we were, in a freezing cold, out in vast open farm, with endless rows after rows of evergreens, looking for the perfect one. After passing tree after tree after tree, they all looked the same to me. But my wife has strict criteria. “Oh, that’s too tall. That one is too small. Oh, that’s to shaggy. That’s too baldly. That’s too fat. That’s too thin. That’s too asymmetrical. That’s too…..”. And so on and so forth.

After several minutes of walking through several rows of trees, my wife sensed my lack of enthusiasm, so she sent me and the kids to the farm’s office to get warm. She continued her quest to look for the perfect one. She probably looked over hundreds of them, and I’m not exaggerating.

It was comfortable and toasty inside the farm’s store and office. There was even a man dressed like Santa in a corner handing out gifts. I told my son, who is seven, to go and sit at his lap so he can have the loot that he was giving away. However, he did not want to go, and told me that Santa might have a bad breath. I tell you, my boy is either anti-Santa, or too old for that, or too smart that he knew that the loot from Santa was not worth the trouble. So we just bought popcorn and watched the toy train as it rolled through a miniature town on display while we waited for their mom.

After some time, that seemed like eternity, my wife have not yet returned so I got worried. I called her then on her cellphone to make sure she was still doing OK, and that she was not lost in the forest of trees, or got kidnapped by Christmas elves. She answered and said that she was doing fine and was near a decision on picking the right tree. Sure enough she came back minutes later and told us that she tagged the perfect one.

Yesterday, we went back to the farm to have our chosen tree chopped down and wrapped so we can take it home. You see, you don’t want to harvest your pine too early, or it will dry up and lose all its needles even before Christmas arrives. So usually we choose and tag it by the last week of November, and have it cut down and bring it home by early December.

Our pine was cut down, wrapped, and was tied on top of our car. We then went home with our perfect tree.

After all the trimmings, the decorations, and the lights were placed, I admit that it was beautiful. As I stood beside it with my wife and kids, and gazed some more, I agree that it was indeed a perfect tree. Not that I can tell the difference from all the other evergreens that I saw in the farm. But what makes it perfect are the people I am with as I stood there watching. People that I hold very dear in my heart.

our perfect tree