In November 2018, my friend Ella was in Manila to visit her sick grandmother. After four years in Qatar, I was dying to see her. She invited me to dinner in Bonifacio Global City (BGC) on a Pay Day Friday night.
My mother and grandmother picked me up from the office around 3:30pm and we headed to EDSA, which was its usual tragic, slow-moving, congested state. We dragged on for an hour from Quezon City to Makati. Off all places to get stuck in traffic, it was McKinley road. Of course we had no idea on how bad it was over there during rush hour. We dragged on for another hour. As we neared the restaurant where my mother was to drop me off, she started feeling nauseous. She felt so terrible that she had to pull over at McDonald’s on 7th Avenue. Mother threw up twice and complained of a headache and vertigo. I went inside McDonald’s to ask for some water and ice. The manager, Lei, offered to help. She called Lifeline for us. It took almost 15 minutes for the emergency team to arrive due to heavy traffic. They checked mother for signs of stroke and other things. Since she couldn’t drive at all, we had to take her to St. Luke’s hospital. I tried to stay calm. I tried to think that it was just stress from the long drive. I tried to not think about the fact that I could lose all my savings in one day if she had to be confined here. I had HMO but I couldn’t use it for my mother. Lastly, how the hell do we get home from here?
They ran some blood tests and told us to wait for the results. All I could do was stay with my mother, watch her look awful, and feel so goddamn helpless. Grandmother told me to get some dinner for the meantime, but I didn’t feel hungry at all. I didn’t even feel tired. Isn’t it amazing how a situation like this can dull your physiological processes? I went out anyway. I guess I needed to take a walk, I thought.
I had always been amazed at how BGC looks especially in the evening. It’s totally different from Quezon City. Sidewalks are unobstructed and accessible for wheelchairs. People follow traffic rules and could cross the streets safely. I walked about two blocks away from the hospital and found the Bonifacio Stop Over. There were a lot of dining options there but I had no appetite for anything. I just settled on The Coffee Bean since it had seating. Toast and black coffee, things I normally enjoy, I couldn’t taste that night. I sat there, chewing, thinking about everything that happened earlier, and what could possibly happen. Is my mother terribly ill? Would she need surgery? Therapy? Could I afford it? If she should die, who would take over as my caregiver? Could I go back to work after all this? It scared the hell out of me.
The coffee had gone cold and I managed to finish the toast with a little butter on it. I had to go back to St. Luke’s. As I walked, the fear was sinking in, and a part of me wished that a car would spiral out of control and hit me. “Woman fatally injured by traffic accident” the headline would say. Unlikely but preferred at the moment. With the physical disability that comes with rheumatoid arthritis, I have become so dependent on my mother’s care that I never thought about my welfare in the event that I would lose her. My grandmother has five other children who could easily take over my mother’s caregiving duties. She has a pension and allowances from her children. They got her back. Who has mine?
The blood tests came out negative and the doctor said that mother could go home. While I was out, I learned that Grandmother called my brother Edward and one of her sons to come and pick us up. It was my god father, Tito Tante. He arrived with my cousin Geo who was there to drive us home too. Grandmother settled the bill, which wasn’t much, thankfully, and we left. Tito Tante got our car parked at the McDonald’s on 5th Avenue. I rode with him on the way back to Quezon City while mom, Edward, and Grandmother went with Geo. As usual, Tito Tante was the person who could talk sense into me and help calm me down.
We got home past midnight. Once I hit the pillows, all the pain and tiredness set in. Worst night ever.
That Saturday morning, mother felt sick again. This time we had to get her into a hospital. She stayed there for two days on intravenous fluids since she couldn’t hold down any solid food. For two days, I didn’t bathe or eat properly. For two days, I truly felt disabled. I was tired, nutritionally starved, and my hygiene suffered with it. This time I felt all that and it sucked.
Sunday afternoon, the doctor said that mother could go home the next day. She received some visitors and I think that it lifted her spirit. She seemed to be feeling better. The next day was also Ella’s return to Qatar. Mother told me to go and see her off. Edward spent Sunday night watching over Mother so I could go and meet Ella.
I headed to Ortigas where she was staying. It was wonderful to see Ella again and to my surprise, Victoria and Bryan with their first son! Ennah was there too. For a few hours, we caught up like old times. Before I went home, Ella surprised me with an early Christmas present: a smartphone!
In some ways, someone did have my back. Ella, though living far away, whom I haven’t seen in years, gave me something to help me rely less on my mother. A beautiful new phone that could hold the latest apps and allow me to have my own Grab account. I no longer ask my mother to drive me to far places. She can’t anymore as we would eventually learn that her condition turned out to be tinnitus. She cannot do heavy work, get stressed, and eat certain foods. Occasionally something would trigger vertigo and vomiting so she would have to rest for a day. She is now on medication and monitoring her diet.
My mother is a caregiver to both me and Grandmother. Her life has been devoted to us. She didn’t have the chance to build a career. Caring for people is a physical, emotional, and economic challenge. Even when I thought that she didn’t need to do much for me compared to my Grandmother, her being sick for a few days took a toll on my wellbeing.
I took a leave Monday to settle Mother’s discharge matters. Edward and I split the hospital bill with ease. I knew that this could happen again since Mother was aging and now chronically ill. I decided to get her life insurance and build an investment fund for future medical needs. Edward and I agreed that we will absolutely NOT resolve to borrowing money for emergencies. We will not incur any debt. We will be financially secure.
After that night in BGC, I saw the true value of having a job and an education. Without these, I would remain completely disabled and my future left uncertain. I go to work everyday grateful for what I have and what I continue to receive. Every month, I feel richer and a little more hopeful as I watch my savings grow. There are still times that I feel anxious about the payments due for Mother’s insurance, but knowing how I am working towards assuring that her needs will be covered makes it a little easier.