Saturday, April 29, 2006

from the mt pulag files: when you wheeze upon a star

so i said i would climb a mountain. and i did.

am now a million stories richer.

ok, that was an exaggeration. i probably have just 4 or 5 good ones, but at the top of the list is a sordid tale that involves two doctors, an obstinate patient and some warming oil.

one would think that if there were three doctors joining a climb to the peak of the second-highest mountain in the country, one would be relatively at ease in case of medical emergencies. it may be a different scenario however, if, say, one of the doctors (aka me) unintentionally becomes the patient.

it was the only night we had to stay in the mountains, so i wasn't too worried about it. what could possibly go wrong, right? the answer is (all together now ...) "a lot."

first of all, when you are instructed to KEEP WARM, just do it. don't assume that because you're warm enough just before sleeping, you will be warm all throughout the night. and that i was: warm enough just before sleeping.

where i wheezed
anyway, i lay there on the cold, hard mountain with only a thin layer of tent floor plus sarong plus fleece jacket between my skin and pulag, fully expecting to drift into dreamland. it didn't happen. for about an hour, i listened to my three tentmates snore their way through the night and wondered if their sounds could lull me to sleep. they didn't. i couldn't sleep even if i tried all the tricks in the book: praying, changing positions, counting the angles in the tent roof, counting sheep, counting the fleas in the fleece of sheep (if you flease, do sheep's fleece have fleas?) ... until i slowly but surely realized:

i couldn't breathe.

at first it was a mild thought, as in "hmm, i'm getting congested", which would make any person automatically breathe through his or her mouth, which i did. and then the thought turned rather medical, as in "i am very aware of my breathing. i know i'm hyperventilating. why am i hyperventilating?" until finally, when i had to breathe violently through my mouth and could hear myself wheezing, my thoughts turned morbid, as in "i can't breathe!!! i'm going to die in the mountains because there are no hospitals in mt pulag!!! my parents will kill me for dying in the mountains!!!" (i didn't say these were entirely rational thoughts.)

anyway, my breathing got so noisy that DJ* woke up.

(*not "DJ" as in "hey mister DJ put a record on i wanna dance with my baby", but more like "i-like-using-nonsensical-aliases-in-my-blog-for-kicks"-type of DJ. i have to hide the identities of my friends to protect their flourishing careers. from hereon, my doctor-characters will be called DJ and DD, who may or may not be clinic administrators or oncologists. i'm not going to say. it is also important to note at this point that DJ and DD are, supposedly, my close, personal friends.)

he woke up in a semi-panic, asking me what was wrong. meanwhile, i was trying to figure out how to treat myself (attempting to be the brave doctor that i was not).

1. was i feeling suffocated? i let some of the mountain air in through the tent door and like an ungrateful guest, the breeze slapped my cheek hard. maybe that wasn't the best idea.

2. was i cold? i wasn't sure so i put my gloves back on. wheee.

3. was i having an asthmatic attack? DJ suggested that i take a puff from his salbutamol inhaler (which, in a serendipitous twist, DJ – who may or may not be asthmatic – decided to keep handy during the night). i agreed, but realized just before puffing that i didn't know how to use it.

fact of life: it is difficult to be a fast learner while you are struggling for air. so as he was trying to explain how to use the inhaler, i couldn't fully comprehend it and ended up spraying my tongue with the medication. it doesn't take a genius to know that the stuff is supposed to go down your airway, not land on your tongue, unless your tongue was having an asthmatic attack.

after many tries, DJ eventually convinced me that it was a good idea to wake up DD (the third doctor), who was in another tent. i initially didn't want to wake anyone up, not knowing that almost all my campmates were awake anyway, on account of my raucous breathing. DJ ran over to where DD was and tried to rouse him with what he thought was an alarming statement: "eng can't breathe!"

to this, DD and tentmate gave the expected "huwhat??!!" ... and promptly fell back asleep.

after he realized that no one was coming out of DD's tent, DJ asked mr tentmate if DD woke up. mr tentmate (a nondoctor who may or may not have a brokeback thing going on with DD) had to force my friend (if i have to emphasize this a million times, i will) DD to get out and see what was going on.

meanwhile, i was still inside my own tent, still trying to breathe normally and failing, and wondering what in the world was keeping my two doctors from DOING SOMETHING ABOUT THEIR FRIEND'S EMERGENCY.

DD and DJ finally arrived. one of the first things DD said to me was, "i wish i had a stethoscope." i just looked at him blankly. DD ignored my look and asked, "may i listen to your chest?"

maybe on the real brink of death, i would let go of common decency and let the doctor listen to my chest, but i still had some fighting spirit left so i wheezily said, "you can listen to my back (you strange man you)."

after he did what he had to do with my back (probably took a little nap back there), DD suggested i take another puff of the inhaler, and took the time to re-teach me how to do it properly.

at around that time, someone brought up the idea of warming oil, in case i was actually cold and didn't know it. so one of my campmates (i was seated but hunched over – i really couldn't see what was going on) gave DD and DJ the bottle.

after a longish pause, i heard DD and DJ discuss a bit and conclude with, "how do you use warming oil?"

upon hearing this, i inhaled with all my might and semi-shouted, "i'm going to die in the mountains because my doctors are stupid!!!"

thankfully, one of my smart nondoctor girlfriends volunteered to apply the warming oil on my back. while she was spreading the oil, however, i was distinctly aware of a third hand applying oil on my right elbow. MY RIGHT ELBOW. if you wanted to cover as much surface area as possible, what body part would you choose? honestly. (i found out later that it was DD: "it was the only part i could reach.")

three successful puffs and a decongestant pill later, DD wanted me to try something else.

"i think you should drink coffee because it might help."

"why?!" i shouted. (let's all keep in mind that i wasn't breathing properly, ergo, the oxygen was having a hard time getting its way to my neurons.)

"it has theophylline, so it's the next best thing ..."

"it's not proven!!!"

"can you please just try it?"


"why not??"

"i don't want to pee in the mountain!!!"

if you are not female and have never tried urinating as a female in the wild, do not judge me.

anyway, i'm getting tired of this story so let me just cut it here and say i finally succeeded in sleeping that fateful night.

the next morning, i woke up to the happy sensation of normal breathing. over breakfast, DD and DJ swore they never wanted to be my doctors ever again in this lifetime. they said they knew doctors were bad patients, but i was just a stubborn, angry, ungrateful, unreasonable bitch (not their words). in fairness to the bitch, may i just say ... i couldn't breathe! should i have been nicer? i may or may not have the answer to that one.

DD, still thinking about how to use warming oil

epilogue: DJ, DD and i are all still good friends to this day, my right elbow is softer than the left one, and DJ always keeps his inhaler nearby ... just in case we run into another mountain.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

hippo hop hooray

it's easter today – a day that represents the seemingly impossible, pleasant surprises and, most of all, coming to life.

and so it seems like the perfect time to yield to intense easter pressure: i am officially reviving my dead blog.

(if i fail to blog regularly again, i will delete this entry. remind me.)

so anyway, remember juancho? (and you thought i would write about something else ...)

very pregnant mom of juanch: juancho, what is tita eng (me, fyi)?

juancho: she is a brilliant writer with a smashing personality and a generous spirit.

ok, he didn't really say that. i will, however, teach him that answer as soon as he can pronounce the letter 'r' pwopowly.

what he really said was ...

juancho: a doctor!

vpmoj: what is mom?

juancho: an interior designer!

vpmoj: what is tatay*?

juancho: tatay is ... a hippo!


i hope this boy stays funny forever (with apologies to the hippo).


*tatay means 'father' – if you want to know why juancho's parents are 'mom and tatay' and not 'mom and dad' or 'nanay and tatay', email me. but really, don't you have better things to do?