Saturday, June 23, 2007

Rolls Royce and The Salvation Army

I first visited Hongkong in 1984. My American boyfriend wanted me to meet him there for the weekend because he was working in Guangzhou and I was living in Manila. It was my first trip outside of the Philippines and yes, I was 27 and never been away from the farm. Jerry made all the arrangements and you bet, it was always the best money can buy. I know that now.

Jerry told me to just follow the sign after I clear immigrations and customs and he would be outside the door waiting. I was so nervous I just wanted to see him and know he was there. And there he was just as he said. We headed towards a black car with a uniformed driver opening the door for us. He told me we were staying at the Peninsula. Ok, I have been to the Pen in Manila, but what do you call this car? I have not seen one like this. Rolls Royce, he said.
When we arrived at the hotel, he mumbled something about afternoon tea. I was not interested in tea or the afternoon --I was mesmerized by the "grandeur" of the hotel lobby. But back then my vocabulary was very limited I could not have used mesmerized and grandeur at the same time. It was more like “Wow! Damn, look at this sh..”
We got to the room, and the first thing Jerry said was " don't pack that robe in your suitcase when we check out, I am not paying for it" I did not notice the robe hanging in the bathroom until he mentioned it. Jerry is just so romantic that way.

Our room was overlooking the water with the view of the buildings across in the Hongkong side. Jerry took a picture of me looking out the window. He gets tickled, he says watching my eyes grow big from excitement. We ate and shopped. And after seeing all the Chinese trinkets on the sidewalk, the pearls and the 24 carat gold chains and bangles in every corner and no money of my own to buy, I hinted to Jerry that I needed a blender. See? It’s only 35 Hongkong dollars. But he said I don't need it. Then he bought me a Hermes scarf from the Hermes store. I never wore it, but I still keep it, just to remind me the difference between need and want.

In 1986 I married someone else, also an American, and in November 1997 for our 10th wedding anniversary, Don and I came to Hongkong. It was the first for Don but this time it is different because Don did not have money like Jerry. We stayed at the Salvation Army’s Booth Lodge. We checked in around 2 a.m. wide-awake, Don started humming Amazing Grace while I checked out the bathroom. Definitely not The Pen. Don’s always happy anywhere; we sat in bed singing hymns until we fell asleep. The lodges’ cafe was its’ redemption because it was like having a meal in your porch. One time while out shopping, we found ourselves sitting in a restaurant where no one spoke English but we did not want to leave because the food on other people’s plates made us salivate. We managed to order using our hand pointing at other people’s food. Food and shopping in Hongkong we love but the elbow-to-elbow crowd of people made me feel claustrophobic. In fact, when 9/11 happened, the pandemonium on the street of New York reminded me of one afternoon when Don and I were walking back to the lodge and people packed every street you could not walk fast if you wanted to. The first couple of days we were in Hongkong we learned to just duck into an eating-place, which is everywhere whenever the crowds overwhelmed us. One time we ducked into a jewelry store and came out with pearl earrings.
Don loved Hongkong but he loves the flight attendants of Cathay Pacific more. Even flying cattle class, Don always acted like he was eating in a Michelin-star restaurant. He would run the flight attendants rugged asking for this and that. I would remind him we were at 32000 feet- under the mercy of a pilot not pampered by a chef. He loved the Cathay Pacific attendants "because they are always pleasant and gentle unlike other airlines" is his standard line when he brags to our friends. "And they are sooo pretty." Now, that part ticked me off.

Don really enjoyed his first trip to Hongkong, that even during the SARS panic, he refused to fly on another airline. When we flew in 2003 to supposedly retire in Cebu, he was not well. As soon as we boarded, Don immediately flopped into his seat making the other seats next to him his own. We were told at the Cathay Pacific counter the plane was almost empty because people were afraid to fly because of the SARS.

In 2005 my daughter Chat and her husband John honeymooned in Asia with Hongkong as their jump off city to get back to the US. Chat liked Hongkong because of the shopping – she bought all kinds of imitation anything ( she gets the flu if she does not buy) and she loved the train system. She would love the horse and buggy too as long as it would take her to the mall. And John? He crinkles them lips and rolls his eyes. Yes, even with his almost real Rolex.

Friday, June 01, 2007

One day, We will all be

I have finally set up my office --right in the middle of my living room. I liked this apartment because it was brand new when I moved in, I also liked the niche that served as computer/office space. The smallness of it did not make me feel cramped but rather secure, yet, regardless of the things I like in it, it just don't feel homey. But today I am going to tackle the task of trying to make it one. I will attempt to make it look like someone actually lives here. But I will not be at peace til I share this article I have filed away more than 5 years ago. This was written by a physician and published by Focus on the Family; the brain-child of Dr. James Dobson. It still touches me.

“The Golden Rule, Revisited”

They lie there, breathing heavy gasps, contracted into a fetal position. Ironic, that they should live 80 or 90 years, then return to the posture of their childhood. But they do. Sometimes their voices are mumbles and whispers like those of infants or toddlers. I have seen them, unaware of anything for decades, crying out for parents long since passed away.

I recall one who had begun to sleep excessively, and told her daughter that a little girl slept with her each night. I don’t know what she saw. Maybe an infant she lost, or a sibling, cousin or friend from years long gone. But I do know what I see when I stand by the bedside of the infirm aged. Though their bodies are skin-covered sticks and their minds an inescapable labyrinth, I see something surprising. I see something beautiful and horrible, hopeful and hopeless. What I see is my children, long after I leave them, as they end their days.
This vision comes to me sometimes when I stand by the bedside in my emergency department, and look over the ancient form that lies before me, barely aware of anything. Usually the feeling comes in those times when I am weary and frustrated from making too many decisions too fast, in the middle of the night. Into the midst of this comes a patient from a local nursing home, sent for reasons I can seldom discern.
I walk into the room and roll my cynical eyes at the nurse. She hands me the minimal data sent with the patient, and I begin the detective work. And just when I’m most annoyed, just when I want to do nothing and send them back, I look at them. And then I touch them. And then, as I imagine my sons, tears well up and I see the error of my thoughts. For one day, it may be.

One day, my little boys, still young enough to kiss me and think me heroic, may lie before another cynical doctor, in the middle of the night of their dementia, and need care. More than medicine, they will need compassion. They will need someone to have the insight to look at them and say, “Here was once a child, cherished and loved, who played games in the nursery with his mother and father. Here was a child who put teeth under pillows, and loved bedtime stories, crayons and stuffed animals. Here was a treasure of love to a man and a woman long gone. How can I honor them? By treating their child with love and gentility. By seeing that their child has come full circle to infancy once more, and will soon be born once more into forever.”

This vision is frightful because I will not be there to comfort them, or to say, “ I am here” when they call out, unless God grants me the gift of speaking across forever. It is painful because I will not be there to serve them as I did in life, and see that they are treated as what they are: unique and wonderful, made in the image of the Creator, and of their mother and me. It is terrible because our society treats the aged as worse than a burden; it treats them as tragedies of time. It seems hopeless because when they contract and lie motionless, no one will touch them with the love I have for them, or know the history of their scars, visible and invisible. I am the walking library of their lives, and I will be unavailable. All I can do is ask, while I live, for Gods’ mercy on them, as they grow older.

And yet, the image has beauty and hope as well. Because if I see my little boys, as aged and infirm, I can dream that their lives were long and rich. I can dream that they filled their lucid years with greatness and love that they knew God and served Him well, and were men of honor and gentility. I can imagine that even if they live in their shadow land alone, somewhere children and grandchildren, even great-grandchildren thrive. I can hope that their heirs come to see them, and care, and harass the staff of the nursing home to treat Grandpa better. I can hope that they dare not allow my boys to suffer, but that they hold no illusions about physical immortality, and will let them come to their mother and me when the time arrives. And best, I can know that their age and illness will only bring the day of that reunion closer.

My career as an emergency room physician has taught me something very important about dealing with the sick and injured, whether young or old. It has taught me that the Golden Rule also can be stated this way: “Do unto others as you would have others do unto your children.” I think that this is a powerful way to improve out interactions with others, not just in medicine but in every action of our lives. And it is certainly a unique way to view our treatment of the elderly. For one day all our children will be old. And only if this lesson has been applied will they be treated with anything approaching the love that only we, their parents, hope for them to always have.