Sunday, August 12, 2007


ON THE NIGHT of my 47th birthday, July 23rd —my 20-year-old son, Duane, almost lost his life. Injections of five vials of a very expensive antibiotics saved his life – those shots cost a total of $6000 or roughly 258,000 Philippine pesos. A quick research revealed that said antibiotics cost $289 a vial in the US—or $911 more than what it’s worth in Manila.
A deadly virus or bacteria infected Duane’s system a few days before he was rushed to suburban Manila’s Medical City’s ICU. It took the hospital—a leading (hence, most expensive) private hospital back home—two days to detect what was going on. By the time they gave him the first two or three shots, Duane’s lower limb was already paralyzed and he was already near-comatose.
Almost 7,000 miles away, the telephone was my only connection to my son’s breathing. I thought out loud, another year, another life, was gifted me by God on this very day. I was ready to give it away for my son’s life. On that very moment that I waited for word – how would he respond to the injections – I was ready to give up all that is me in favor of my son. I couldn’t wait, I’d like to give my son all the energy, all the love, all the spirit, all the years that I had…
Duane had to live. Nothing mattered, nothing matters.
Twenty-seven years ago, when I was around Duane’s age—while working as a countryside correspondent for a Manila daily and community organizer—I witnessed many similar situations.
The innocent and the weak caught in crossfire of the government’s Communist counter-insurgency operations… the impoverished and the helpless unable to survive the devastation of all imaginable natural disasters – typhoons, floods, earthquakes, landslides, shipwrecks, volcanic eruptions.
Medicines are gold. Doctors and surgeons are gods. Hospitals or ICUs are rooms in heaven. In other words, these are unreachable, unattainable saviors of life. People simply wait for death, consigning their fate to God.
I shed buckets of tears, my heart bled like a wounded river – as the howling of relatives of the dead and the heartbreaking prayers of loved ones of the wounded and sick drowned my many days and nights. I have hoped that I was superhuman, that I could heal the pain and ease the misery – or save lives.
But I wasn’t superhuman. I had to take the pain… and live with it.
How many “Duane situations” happen in many parts of the world – beautiful lives unable to hang on because there is no money to buy the medicine? No money to rush to a hospital? No money to pay doctors? My son’s hospital bill amounted to more than half a million pesos ($15,000), excluding steady supply of medicines and therapy budget as he recovers at home.
Without a phone call from my many relatives in the West Coast--to the hospital--I don’t think my son would have made it. A phone call meant assured $$$$$ to the hospital, assured profit to the local dealer, assured income to the giant pharmaceutical business... That’s what it’s all about. “Antibiotics” is more than gold--it is the one shot of life that saved my son.
Duane is an Economics senior at Jose Rizal University in Manila, a working student, and an active artist, poet and photographer. I have published many of his drawings – and used at least two of his paintings as front page art in the first few issues of The Indie. Each time my birthday comes, he emails me the lyrics of Dan Fogelberg’s song, “Leader of the Band” as a testimony of his admiration and respect to all the “madnesses” that I pursued in my 40+ years of life.
On my 47th birthday last July 23, he wasn’t able to—he was fighting for his life.
Beginning this month, I will take The Indie on the road as well as the undying flame of the Traveling Bonfires to fundraise for my son and tell people that life is dear and important. That health care is utmost, easy access to antibiotics should be the priority of all governments, medical care should be on top of all political agenda.
Let us save lives than waste them.
I will be traveling from Asheville to other North Carolina cities – including Chapel Hill, Durham and Winston-Salem – all the way to Richmond VA, Washington DC, Baltimore and other Maryland towns, then New York City, New Jersey, Delaware, and hopefully, to Philadelphia and Boston. Friends along the road will again join me in poetry readings and rock events and concerts.See you then…


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