Sisters

She looked pained, the patient lying on a stretcher parked inside cubicle three. She had broken teeth, bloodshot eyes, and fuzzy hair—a woman who hadn't slept through the night because she was bleeding. She seemed ten years older than the age she would later confess to: 35 years. Only a little more than a quarter of a century, when you think about it, and still so young.


"Hello, Ma'am," I said, "I have a couple of questions to ask you. Can you give me your full name?"

I couldn't quite get her mumbling—either her provincial accent was too strong or she was too weak to properly enunciate. "Can you spell that for me, please?"

After trying a couple of times, I gave up. Her pulses and breathing were faster than normal, but at least her blood pressure was okay. I didn't want to cause her further distress or irritation.  "Do you have a bantay, Ma'am, whom I could ask instead?"

A woman, probably in her early forties, came in. "What is it, Doctor?" the bantay asked, anxious for news. People have called me that many times. It feels good sometimes, but I feel pressured to live up to the title that I have, by virtue of the system, been forced to prematurely assume. For the record, I am a doctor-to-be, a mere medical student dressed in white, carrying a blue-green stethoscope and a crumpled green clipboard, walking around PGH as a space-occupying lesion—and eons (actually, a little more than two years, if I pass the Boards at the first take) from being a licensed medical practitioner.

My patient's companion answered all my questions, and just as I finished jotting down my findings on the monitoring sheet, I asked the bantay if she was a close friend of the patient. 

"I'm her sister." The companion held the patient's hand tightly. 
stump
I commended the bantay for being so loving and supportive, especially during these hard times. Gradually both their tears welled up. 

"She's the only one I have," the patient said. "She has watched over me since I learned that I have cervical cancer. Ang hirap, Dok."

Moved by the scene, I was temporarily at a loss for words.  

That disease has affected women of childbearing age, despite easy-to-do and affordable screening procedures (like the Pap smear), prophylactic HPV vaccines, and vigorous information campaigns. Cervical cancer hasn't quite gotten the same level of publicity as breast cancer has and information about it probably hasn't trickled down to the class C and D populations of the country.

"You don't have a family here in Manila?" I asked.

"They're all in Bicol. And it's too expensive to go home. Besides they offer better treatment here."

I learned that they've been going back to PGH for periodic blood transfusions. I wanted to encourage them with the news that God is sovereign over human suffering, but I had other patients to attend to, and there were so many things to do. I regret this now. One must always give time for the things of utmost importance.

As I left the two of them in the cubicle, I heard the patient's sister ask her in a reassuring tone, "Do you want me to change your diaper now? I brought a few more for you."

I came back thirty minutes later, but I didn't find them there anymore.

4 thoughts on “Sisters”

  1. In our professional medical career we face many situation where we our-self helpless. Though we try our best still we are not able to save others life. Its a bitter truth.

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