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[IRL] ODA SA WALANG MA-KASAMA

By Menchu Aquino Sarmiento


As more of our able-bodied workforce makes their way overseas, the phenomenon of families made up of their left-behind elders is more common. My elderly home companions: one with Parkinson’s, the other a septuagenarian recovering from a stroke and a heart attack, weren’t up to chaperoning me when I had cataract surgery, scheduled at 6 am. This was an outpatient procedure under local anesthesia, lasting less than half an hour for the surgery itself, then another hour or so spent waiting for the doctor to go down to his clinic for the first follow up, which took less than 10 minutes. I embarked on this excursion alone. Even if my family members had been physically able to accompany me, it would be pointless to subject them to the invisible miasmic threats of the hospital milieu. They slept in and watched the morning news.


Apparently though, patients rarely come in alone even for such routine procedures. The room where I was supposed to change into my surgical gown and pajamas had no hooks, shelves or hangers where I could stow my purse and street clothes. The only furniture in the changing room were two tall bins where patients “doffed” their hospital gowns and PPE. There wasn’t even a chair I could sit in to pull on the floppy hospital pajamas. The ubiquitous kasama was expected to act as purse-bearer, and clothes-hanger. The fact that I didn’t have one and required two chairs instead: one to hold my stuff, and the other to sit in while I changed, shocked the operating room staff. My valuables were kept in a plastic garbage bag inside the ER.


During this fourth and hopefully last lockdown, it was my turn to take my bachelor brother to a nearby ER as a PUI. He was fully vaccinated and didn’t have the usual COVID symptoms though. As the only family member able to take him, I had filled up and signed all the forms. Since he was safely inside, receiving 4-star medical care if one went by this facility’s online reviews, I asked the nurse if I could go home for my own much needed rest as an A-2 with co-morbidities who had been nursing my brother for the last two days. However, I was forbidden from leaving him in their capable hands.


The hospital policy was that I must continue to wait outside the ER, amongst strangers, baking in the heat, inhaling the fumes of passing traffic, for an unforeseeable span of time, “just in case.” What that fortuitous event might be which required my presence, was unclear. I certainly would be useless to them during any medical emergency, and worse than useless if this “just in case” happened to be a high intensity temblor on the Richter Scale, as I would then need rescuing myself. Considering that this hospital was run by a conglomerate which was also into telecoms, they had surprisingly little faith in communications technology. “You can Viber me if there’s a just in case, and I can be here in ten minutes,” I pointed out. But then, their sister tele-comm’s signal has always been patchy.


Getting a bantay for our brother in the time of COVID is trickier. As an A-2 with co-morbidities, I am unfit to watch him. It would be wrong to subject our young unvaccinated kasambahay to the risks of hospital contagion. The solution is a licensed caregiver or a special duty nurse. Because of the threat of covid, the rates have understandably gone up to factor in hazard pay. That is just another of the bitter pills we have to swallow during these worst of times.


The bantay may be most needed in the understaffed public hospital wards but that is also where they can least afford to be. Families of service or charity ward patients are from the lowest socio-economic strata. Most are subsistence workers: no work, means no pay. They are the least able to afford giving up work days just to be bantay. Cosmopolitan Church across from the PGH realized their plight and gave free lunches in a program called ”Feed my Flock,” which also nourished their souls with God’s Word.



Although Filipino healthcare workers function optimally in the developed world’s hospitals without a bantay, the Philippine hospital system seems to have so little confidence in the capability of this same professional staff to competently take care of Filipino patients locally without the omnipresent bantay. Do our HCWs become better, more compassionate, efficient and hardworking, more ethical and less inclined to cut corners in the Western World? Pres. Manuel L. Quezon who famously said he would prefer a country run like hell by Filipinos, than one like heaven by Americans, didn’t spend his last days in a fetid Filipino hospital ward. He died in a tuberculosis sanitarium along the scenic shores of Saranac Lake in upstate New York.


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Menchu Aquino Sarmiento is an award-winning writer and a social concerns advocate. IRL (In Real Life) are short verbal pagmumuni-muni, the essay equivalent of fast fiction--but in real life. She really wants more Filipinos to care, and to do something legal and non-violent about it, preferably together, so that we act more like a civilized country, a mature democracy.



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