EVERY MORNING I wake him up, tapping his left arm or stroking the white tufts of hair on his head. My 70-year-old patient opens his eyes like a newborn, squints at the beginnings of what will turn out to be a blinding daylight, and looks at me.
"Kamusta ka, Tatay?" I ask him. I'm rewarded with a relaxed and peaceful movement of his facial muscles, steadily forming a constricted smile. The tube that connects his lungs to the mechanical ventilator prevents him from saying anything back. He mouths the words anyway, and I attempt to make sense out of them. His children at bedside help me through the process. "Hinahanap ka niya kagabi, Dok," they tell me.
The monitoring sheet, crumpled and torn at the edges, looks hopeful: no hypotensive or febrile episodes, with oxygen saturation at 99%. I tell the family that the patient is responding well to treatment. The infection is resolving. They reward me with a hopeful smile.
Meanwhile I scribble on the chart, under the heading "SIC notes." SIC means student-in-charge. Powerful words, when I over-analyze it: I'm still a medical student in training, but I'm being held in charge of this patient. With great power comes great responsibility, said Spiderman's grandfather. He may well have been talking to a PGH intern.
I return to the beside to instruct the family on the urgent labs that need to be done. His children listen attentively. I like it when bantays realize that timely lab results can spell life or death for critically ill patients.
The patient seems comfortable, despite being hooked to a humongous breathing machine. I can imagine that if he can speak, the first thing he will probably tell me is that wants to go home; the second is that I look like Aiza Seguerra (15 random patients, in various stages of consciousness, have told me so). I often wonder what his voice sounds like.
I tell my patient, "Magpagaling ka"—not that he can do anything to rid himself of his infection. He is bed-bound; half of his body is paralyzed; and without the machine he cannot breath. But I say it anyway because it's a statement that empowers him, giving him a sense of control over his condition. And it feels just like the right thing to say at the time.
I assure him that I will be back to extract blood from him. I explain that it is a necessary procedure and therefore he needs it. He nods in affirmation. I say goodbye for now, and he smiles back at me like a child. Minutes later he falls asleep, oblivious to the fact that beside him are patients whose blood pressures are steadily falling, whose chests feel heavy and painful, whose only wish is to go home and be cured.
It is only 6:30 am.