IN the course of my long career as a journalist, I’m often asked by other people this question: What have been your most “memorable” interview and/or coverage so far?
I’m almost always stumped as I try to answer the question not because I’ve had no unforgettable encounters with lifestyle and show biz denizens.
But if you do it almost everyday, everything becomes a blur unless a particular interview was a total disaster or the subject, perhaps unable to take the heat from all that grilling, suddenly threw a glass of wine at you a la Cherie Gil in “Bituing Walang Ningning.”
Thank goodness, no such thing has yet to happen to me
Reception to remember
But if you ask me now, I’d say covering Sen. Chiz Escudero and Heart Evangelista’s reception at Blue Leaf in Parañaque on Feb. 18, 2015 was one coverage I’d remember for the rest of my life. It wasn’t because of the event itself, but because my mind was somewhere else as I trailed the Balenciaga-clad Gretchen Barretto in the hope of snapping a good picture of her and posting it on the newspaper’s official Instagram account.
While Heart and Chiz toasted to life, my father was dying a few kilometers away in a Cavite hospital. My head was throbbing, as I endured the proceedings—from the reception’s five-course dinner to its slew of featured performers the couple invited to entertain 1,000 guests.
Under normal circumstances, I would have been in my elements. I still was, but as I went through the motions of covering the event, half my brain couldn’t help but wonder what the hell was I doing there in the first place.
My father was fighting for his life, and there I was amongst strangers who didn’t have the slightest clue what I was going through. Despite bumping into a few media friends throughout the evening, I’ve never felt so alone in my life. It was as surreal as it could get.
Honoring a commitment
Since the coverage was a commitment I made to my boss a week ago when my Dad still had a fighting chance, I made good on it by leaving my father for a few hours and showing up at Blue Leaf.
It was enough to give me a splitting headache as I exited the scene four hours later and drove back to the hospital. It was a Wednesday evening, February 18, and my Dad, who had been admitted exactly a week ago after being diagnosed with pneumonia, didn’t seem to be showing any signs of improvement.
In fact, by then his legs had already become swollen—a telltale sign of water retention since his kidneys were already beginning to fail. His albumin level, the protein in the blood responsible for holding fluid until it’s excreted out of the body, was most likely down as well.
His back was also beginning to show a few red patches, which, according to one of his caregivers, could have turned into bedsores had he stayed in bed a week or two longer.
As it turned out, he had less than four days to live. Since my sister had already left for the US, and my youngest brother had yet to arrive also from the US, the task of attending to my father during his final days and immediately after his death fell on me.
A lot of people, perhaps in the hope of making me feel better, would say how good I was for sticking it out and being such a responsible son. Believe me, it was a task I didn’t relish not because I didn’t love my father, but because it was too painful to bear.
Too numb to cry
By the time the ICU doctor told me that they had tried everything to resuscitate him to no avail, I had already become too numb to cry. I merely nodded and thanked her after she expressed her condolences.
“Of all the relatives I’ve dealt with, your reaction was quite unusual,” she told me. “Anyway, don’t thank me. They say it’s bad luck to thank people who condole with you.”
What could be badder than this, I nearly ended up asking her.
It was already Sunday afternoon, February 22, when my Dad was declared officially dead. His time of death was listed at 12:50 p.m., but he had already flat lined 30 minutes earlier. Ten minutes into their effort to resuscitate him, the doctor came out of ICU to tell me that they’re doing everything they could.
I had camped out at the fourth floor lobby where the ICU is ever since Belle, Dad’s caregiver that day, called to tell me that the ICU doctor needed to know if I still wanted my father resuscitated. It was 7 in the morning, and my Dad’s BP had plummeted to near zero.
“Yes, yes, tell them to do everything they can,” I said. “I’m on my way.”
To resuscitate or not
Those of you who were in a similar situation probably know by now that I had yet to sign a “do not resuscitate” (DNR, as healthcare professional call it) waiver.
It was something I learned from my father’s lead doctor, the infectious diseases specialist, as early as Friday afternoon after he was moved from a regular room to the ICU earlier that morning.
A DNR waiver shouldn’t be confused with agreeing to pull the plug on a breathing but brain-dead patient. As I understood it, the waiver is given to immediate family members to sign (or not to sign) when everything humanly possible has been done to treat their critically ill loved one.
In short, the patient could flat line any minute. Would you allow him to go quietly, or would you rather take a chance by telling his doctors to resuscitate him at all cost?
It’s not an easy decision to make considering that resuscitation, apart from the costs it entails, could only prolong my Dad’s suffering. Worse, he could end up indefinitely in a coma after being “successfully” resuscitated.
On the other hand, if you opt for DNR, could you live with your conscience thinking of what could have been had you allowed his doctors to resuscitate him? What if he lived?
When Daddy’s lead doctor told me about it, I already knew that only a miracle could save him. In her last-ditch attempt to save my father’s life, the doctor even administered a new round of antibiotics earlier that afternoon.
“Would he last through the weekend,” I asked her pointblank.
She couldn’t give me a definite answer. I wanted to know because I needed to prepare everything just in case. And with the banks closed during weekends, I didn’t want any more unwelcome surprises from a hospital whose primary reason for being was to hound patients’ relatives to cough up more money as their bills start to pile up.
That was how realistic I had become. From worrying and imploring the heavens for a reprieve just a day or so ago, I turned almost overnight into a task-oriented machine because I had to. I had no time to break down and wallow in self-pity because I was now the only one calling the shots.
Soon after they succeeded in resuscitating my Dad early Sunday morning, the doctor told me that they were now giving me the option to sign the DNR form. The very thing I dreaded two days ago was now happening.
At first, I wanted to sign it to spare Daddy from suffering any further, but after consulting my two siblings and my brother-in-law over the phone about it, I left the DNR form blank.
We ended up agreeing “not to play God,” and instead allowed Daddy to get all the help he would need until the very end. It dawned on us a tad later that we were also playing God with our decision.
What if Daddy really wants to go? What if his time has come? Are we only delaying the inevitable by refusing to sign the DNR waiver?
To the very end, Daddy never made it truly difficult for any of his children. He only had to be resuscitated at 7 a.m. and 12:20 p.m. Unlike some patients in a similar situation, he didn’t linger for more than three days in ICU.
In my heart, I wanted him to hang on long enough until my brother and his family, including baby Peter, arrive Monday evening. But when I talked to the nurse in charge of his care that Sunday morning, this was what she said:
“Based on my experience and judging from what I see, Daddy doesn’t have much time left,” she said as gingerly as she could. “If you still have relatives who haven’t said their goodbyes yet, now is the time to do it.”
It doesn’t matter if Daddy is already unconscious (just the night before, his eyes were still half open, as he weakly raised his eyebrows to acknowledge my presence), the nurse added, the last thing to go is usually a person’s sense of hearing.
Talk to him
“Talk to him. He could probably still hear you,” she said.
Amid the drone of machines that were keeping him barely alive, I started saying my goodbyes. I assured him that he could go if he wishes to because everything would be all right. It would be hard without him, but I’m pretty sure we would somehow manage. I also told him not to worry about Mommy, as I intend to be by her side and see her cancer treatment and other health-care needs through.
I’ve never been prone to cry in public, but before I knew it, my voice was beginning to quiver and crack. There was no way for me to control it, and I didn’t bother to. It was almost 11 a.m. As fate would have it, my Dad had less than two hours to live. (To be concluded)