My eldest daughter, 20-year-old Beatrice, was rushed to the ER Sunday night for severe upper abdominal pain. Tests revealed stones in the gallbladder; there was an urgent recommendation for surgery. Not an emergency, but still urgent. I recognized the need but wanted to get a second opinion, whether there were other, less expensive hospitals, or perhaps a non-invasive way to deal with the problem.
Upon being reverted to full, even a soft, diet, and with the medication less intense, Beatrice experienced the same pain all over again. So minutes before we were supposed to hand over our discharge slip to the hospital guard, I made the decision to not leave and schedule her surgery as soon as possible. She was operated on at 8am the following day.
When she was wheeled back to her room, she was holding with her a plastic container with the stones. There were two large ones and about 10 smaller ones, “like tamarind seeds,” her boyfriend remarked. No wonder the pain was so bad.
These several days have been testy for me and my family. Familiar routine was broken. Expenses shot through the roof. But it was also sobering, like being hit on the head with a...stone. Here are some of my reflections:
1. Sometimes, the best decisions are the ones you make in a snap. Not on a whim, for that is entirely different, but in a snap. This has happened to me several times before. At the back of your mind you have a plan, you know which direction you have to take. But the details remain vague—until that one defining moment when everything falls into place. We were packing our things when I decided we should have the operation ASAP, because the situation had become an emergency. Imagine if we had gone home—we would have returned anyway, and there would have been greater risk of complications.
2. Family should always come first, and people will understand. This past week I missed meetings, fell behind on deadlines, and requested for advances on some projects. University music student Josh missed some classes and some rehearsals. Ninth grader Sophie missed half a day of her school fair. I can’t get over how understanding people have been, and perhaps it is because they know we would have delivered otherwise. All of us chipped in—there were sacrifices to be made, and they were tough, but this is what love and family are all about.
3. Friends are gems. I never spent the a night at the hospital. I was there all day but always came home to the house to sleep on my own bed and to see the younger ones off to school every morning. On many occasions, Beatrice’s friends overwhelmed me with their support. Some of them kept Josh company as played the role of nightly “bantay”. Some traveled from faraway places just to see her. Some brought thoughtful gifts or offered to help any way they could. The kids and I don’t have a battalion of friends, but the ones we have are just THE BEST. You know who you are. Hugs.
4. We should be open to surprises. I cannot get over the kindness of strangers that have been shown us. You get a phone call from somebody you don’t expect to reach out to you. You get all sorts of support from those you haven’t said more than a few words to. On the other hand, those who are supposed to be there for you reveal that they never are. It’s a great litmus test to determine the people who deserve to stay in your life—and those who must be chucked.
5. Laughter gets you through. Faced with the pressure to be superwoman, it is very easy to wallow in foul temper or sport a sullen look. Unfortunately, that’s not going to help you any. So watch a silly music video. Imitate the lines in a cheesy telenovela. Learn the lyrics of Drake’s latest rap song or the steps to “Shake It Off” and press the “record” button. A smile gets you through and invites all things positive. Yes, you’re invincible.
6. An hour’s massage could be all you need. Or a pedicure. It is perfectly all right to disappear for a few hours to spend time alone and regain your bearing. You will make better decisions afterwards. This is what exactly happened to me with #1. I had a Thai massage nearby and when I returned I made all the tough decisions I had to make. Like a boss.
7. Money is important, but it is just money. Savings could get wiped out, and that could make you wince as though you had gall stones yourself, but know that the funds could be replenished. Aren’t you so smart that you can earn it all back eventually? Meanwhile, good health is priceless. I’m not saying that because I am getting old. Health is wealth—it’s such a cliche, but it’s true.
8. You can never run out of reasons to celebrate. It is always a happy occasion to resume normal living, “normal” being loosely defined. For me and my kids, it’s staying up well into the wee hours, gathering around the dining table with our individual work, binging on tv series, reading a book, catching up with homework or playing an instrument. And microwaving a popcorn besides. Soon we’ll be coming home. Our youngest, Elmo, will be ready to receive some awesome news about his high school. We just might make that Big Move someplace nearer the new office. And many others I may not even contemplate today.
Hours before her operation, Beatrice—now one organ less, physically incomplete but on all other counts more whole—took a selfie and wrote the following words on her Facebook wall: “...Let’s start ridding ourselves of malfunctioning/ infected organs! And/ or things that hurt us in general! #hugot”