2015 will always be remembered

    The year 2015 will always be memorable.

    The reader may ask why and, realizing my hesitation to reply, he/she will probably think that I  won a house and lot in a raffle draw or first prize in a lottery, received a prestigious award, or got an all-expenses paid travel to popular tourist destinations abroad.

      The reason is none of the above— but I’m getting ahead of my story.

   On a Sunday in the latter part of January 2015, I visited my doctor for a routine check-up at the Saudi Specialized Medical Center Hospital (SSMCH) along King Fahd Road in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

   I told Dr. Ayman, an Egyptian, that I was feeling sudden stabbing pains in my stomach as I took my daily walk at night.

    He proved to be as patient as my endocrinologist, unlike my cardiologist, who is also of Arab origin.

    “Have your stomach examined through ultrasound, “ Dr. Ayman said.

   He sent me to the laboratory three floors underground in the hospital building.

    “Your lab test is okay,” said the Filipino woman technician. But her facial expression as she reviewed my lab test was not convincing.

    “There’s a shaded portion in your right kidney. The doctor will explain what it is if you see him at four this afternoon,” she said.

    I was worried. It was about 2 p.m., so I returned to the office on Khurais Road.

   Although bothered, I tried to concentrate and do some work as I sat before my computer. But I lacked a conscious awareness of what I was doing.

   I finished some work, including a daily report I had to file for the following day’s newspaper edition.

    When the clock struck four, I returned to the hospital as scheduled, happy that I made use of the time instead of doing nothing before seeing Dr. Ayman about the lab test result.

    The doctor was reviewing my lab report when I arrived. I sat anxiously on the chair in front of him across his table.

    Then he said, “Your right kidney has cancerous cells.”

    Fear crept up my spine; I felt frozen. I could not move as I tried to compose myself.

    “But there’s no (need to) worry right now. They’re in the early stage. You could have the ailing kidney removed later, but the only remedy is to remove it,” he said.

   I decided right there and then to have it removed immediately, partly to avail of a free medical procedure and partly out of fear.

   What he said next heightened my fear.

    “The position of your kidneys is abnormal. Instead of being separated or stretched out diagonally, one is on top of the other,” Dr. Ayman explained, his intervening silence stoking my fear.

    I was at a loss for words. But the kind doctor allayed my fears, assuring me that the hospital had an expert on my ailment. He said I had to see Dr. Ahmed Chabalout.

    “He’ll be in his office today. I’ve informed him about you and your case,” Dr. Ayman said.

   Dr. Chabalout was a Syrian consultant general at SSMCH and a transplant surgeon at the King  Fahd Hospital, a tertiary hospital at the corner of Khurais Road and Dhabab Street.

    He received his medical degree from Damascus University in Syria and trained in the United States.

    With apprehension, I approached Dr. Chabalout’s third-floor office in the sprawling multi-story hospital building.

    He was a slight man of middle age with short hair and stubble. Friendly, he talked in a manner that indicated he had performed similar procedures before.

    “We can schedule the operation on  Thursday morning. You must be here by eight (a.m.),” he said. It was as simple as that.

    I did as he told me. As I was brought into the operating room on Jan. 29, he was there waiting with a broad smile as if to make me feel relaxed.

    He asked questions to make me feel at ease; then I felt sleepy. I could not remember anything more until I woke up two hours later at 11 a.m.

    Dr. Ahmed was in the recovery room and asked me how I felt. He followed as I was wheeled back to my room at the hospital and told me to take a walk later in the night.

    A sense of mortality came over me. I could not help but think that, for the second time, I escaped death.

    I remembered what my friends told me after I narrowly escaped death in a car accident on Dec. 28, 2008.

    I was with an embassy team going to Al Jawf in the northern part of the Kingdom to render consular services to overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) there.

    I wrote an article about the tragedy, and a Hong Kong-based friend-mentor, Virgilio B. Lumicao, chose to comment on its literary merit.

    “It was a nice one, Lakay. I’m impressed at how well you sustained the reader’s interest until the tragic end,” he said.

    He called me “Lakay,” as well as another friend, Prof. Filemon  “Fil” Viduya of the College of Communication of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (COC-PUP), because we are Ilocanos.

    I am from Barangay Bobon in Burgos town, Ilocos Norte, while he is from Solano, Nueva Vizcaya. Fil is from San Quintin, Pangasinan.

   Vir probably felt that it was morbid to talk about the death of a young Welfare Officer because of the car accident, so he discussed the article’s literary merit instead.

   Coming from Vir, a good writer himself, the compliment warmed the cockles of the heart. He could come up with beautiful poetry —musical, rhythmic, melodious — in a short period of time.

   It is true that one who takes time to write and with difficulty can come up with poetry that evokes a spontaneous overflow of powerful emotions, but he seemed to have the genius for it.

    Other friends commented that there could be a reason why I escaped death.

   “Maybe there’s a mission that God wants you to do,” said Marcial “Jun” L. Nacion, Jr., a retired OFW community leader in the Saudi capital.

    Resty S. de Jesus, a Filipino community leader in Riyadh, added, “Maybe there’s something more that you have to do.”

    Resty works as an accountant and cashier at the Saudi International Trading Comp. (SITCO).

    Arman Mariano, another retired Ilocano OFW who used to be with the King Saud University, added, “Lakay, baka may misyon ka pa.”

(Lakay, maybe you still have a mission.)

   Arman shared with pride that, like him, Undersecretary Hans Leo J. Cacdac, officer-in-charge (OIC)  of the Department of Migrant Workers (DMW), was also from La Union province.

   Having a mission was furthest from my mind. I was not like Vir Lumicao and retired journalist Ma. Rosa “Jing” S. Ocampo who were supporting scholars financially. Rosa was with Malaya, Hong Kong Standard and TTG Asia Media.

   Or the prolific American novelist/writer Danielle Steel, who supported the homeless.

   In a book, “A Gift of Hope,” she wrote in the foreword:

       “For eleven years, I

   worked on the streets

   with the homeless and

   without question it altered

   my life. It is life-changing

   to be there, to look into

   the eyes of people who

   are lost, suffering, sick in

   body and mind, most of

   whom have lost hope.”

   I am not Vir, Rosa or Danielle Steel but I thought I could do something else.

   Before the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)  pandemic started and brought the global economy to its knees in March 2020, I began helping OFWs, particularly harassed domestic helpers (DH).

    I wrote about their problems and brought these to the attention of concerned authorities.

   I have been doing this with retired career Ambassador Rafael E. Seguis, who finds time to help distressed OFWs in retirement. 

   So, a defining moment came in 2015, and I had to play a role first brought to me through an earlier incident in 2008.

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  1. Hi Lakay, I didn’t know that you had a liver problem and undergone surgery for it. You had been quiet about it as, I remember, in 2015 you were still burning the midnight oil putting out the Pinoy Extra supplement for Arab News. In fact, that project of yours had contributed substantially to my endeavor to send some poor kids to school. I wish to share with you that the effort was not in vain, as all but two of them did not waste the opportunity and are now gainfully employed and helping their families. The first of them has risen from the ranks to become VP for Northern Luzon of a Filipino global bank. The latest to finish graduated with honors at the top of her class jin August this year and landed a job a fortnight before she stepped onstage for her diploma. The last of the beneficiaries will hopefully graduate this school year. And I thank you for helping me fulfill those kids’ dream of attaining college/university education.

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