I was asked to sign a waiver at the emergency room for the medical staff to intubate my father. I decline. He hates tubes. Give me another option, I tell them as I continue to watch my father struggle to breathe.
I keep updating my siblings via a messaging app. It’s about 8am. In the middle of breakfast on Thursday, January 7, 2021, he chokes on something. His eyes seize up, his lips darken. I rush him to the hospital about 5 kilometers away.
I tell the staff to perform a Heimlich maneuver on him, but they say he’s too frail. He’s 80.
The ER doctor pulls me aside. He calmly informs me my father’s oxygen level is critically low. Every moment counts.
My sister sends a googled phrase about intubation, that word I’ve read many times over performed on COVID patients, some eventually passing away.
Not today. Not papa. I tell them to go ahead and intubate him. I sign the waiver. They close the curtains.
I stare at the curtains. I keep on praying. Thy will be done, Lord. Please give him strength, peace, and comfort. Please save him.
I take long breaths in. I exhale out slowly and with control to relax me, keeping me from freaking out. Think on your feet, Lala. Pray. Breathe. Update my siblings. Takedown notes.
A staff enters and the curtains part for a short while. I can see the tube being inserted into papa’s mouth and throat, his head tilted back.
They open the curtains. One of the staff in full PPE gear comes over and shows me the almost 2-inch vegetarian barbecue piece that caused him to choke. They attach more instruments to him to monitor his oxygen level, his heart rate, they take blood samples, urine samples, the works.
They ask a thousand other questions. His height, weight, religion, allergies, medicines, etc. Analyn, his caregiver, expertly handles them as I stay at his bedside. He motions for paper and pen. “Hard to breathe a while ago,” he scribbles.” “Clogged.” “Let’s pray.”
When he writes, “blood works,” I know he’s very lucid. Before the pandemic, and during quarterly visits to his Manila-based doctors, he always had his blood works done. This is his first time to be physically around doctors since the yearlong lockdown, and yet he’s thinking beyond the pain of now.
From extreme stress and fright, I stare at him with renewed awe and inspiration. Papa is a fighter, a planner, and a strategist through and through.
We move to the ICU and stay there for 4 days. He had a mild heart attack when his oxygen level dropped, we learn.
We get a steady stream of doctors, nurses, other medical staff who take his blood pressure and prick his fingers for blood sugar monitoring even late nights. Visitors drop by, including the hospital’s medical director whom my retired-professor uncle flunked in a math class. He interviews his doctors and nurses. He notes the family names and connects the dots. He asks them how many dogs they have.
In betweens, he asks for Nat King Cole, Andy Williams, and Bo Sanchez. When he needs to stay awake after they remove the tubes, he requests for Elvis Presley.
He video calls with mama everyday. They exchange flying kisses. He turns to me and asks who is keeping her company. When he still couldn’t talk with the tubes in his throat, he writes a letter for mama for me to bring home: “Huwag matakot. (Don’t fear.) God is with me. Always pray hard.”
We are now back home where he is continuing his recovery. His doctors agreed he’s better off doing his daily routine than getting bored in the hospital, COVID notwithstanding.
Truly grateful for this warrior of a father.