Thursday, May 07, 2015

Kathy's Big Heart for Animals

Kathy’s Big Heart for Animals

Last Saturday, May 2, 2015, we went to a friend’s farm in San Marcelino, Zambales and Kathy was thrilled to introduce her young daughters to not only farm produce – practically all the vegetables mentioned in the Tagalog children’s song, “Bahay Kubo,”  but also to different farm animals –goats, bulls, turkeys, peacocks and peahens, geese and goslings, ducks and ducklings, hens, roosters and chickens, and one carabao. I’m sure I missed out on naming some of the animals, but Kathy could name them all.

When Kathy was young, our home was a veritable zoo.  

We had a dining area that opened up into an atrium, which had a macopa tree. Hanging from a branch of that tree was a cage, which was home to Pinoy, a Palawan parrot (local name: pikoy) that was a gift from our friend Leslie Murray. Roaming freely in this semi-open space were all sorts of animals that we had acquired at Kathy’s request or insistence – rabbits, parakeets, turtles, chicks, dogs, and a stray cat who bravely came into our house, leaving outside about a dozen not-so-brave ones who only came to feed, but not stay.

Once (or twice) I had wanted to give away the birds – both the parrot and the budgies – because their food (bird seeds) dropped to the floor and often attracted mice and rats.  One day, I saw a big rat on the ground below Pinoy’s cage, and I screamed for Jun, our maintenance man. My scandalous instructions for Jun to kill the rat brought Kathy rushing to the atrium. “No, mama, please no – that rat is my pet.” “Your pet?” I asked, incredulous. “How can a rat be your pet?" I asked again, refusing to believe.  “Watch him. He will eat with our cat and dog,” and with that, she put food on a plate. True enough, there they were, forgetting about the historical feud that has kept these animals traditional enemies for, I don’t know, time immemorial? Needless to say, Kathy won her plea, and the rat was given a reprieve on life.  (I don’t know what enticed it to leave its safe haven – probably better food, or an attractive female rat, at our neighbors).

We brought home a rabbit for her from Silang, Cavite when we were coming home from Tagaytay. Having learned about their procreative ways, we only bought one, and not two. (Or maybe we got two, but I don’t remember anymore, but for the sake of this narrative, let’s say it was just one). It was going to be a gift for Kathy. I don’t know how long the rabbit lived, but for all its mortal life, it roamed freely – climbing over the roof, or being brought into the children’s room, which was on the second floor, overlooking the atrium.  But as we are all mortals, one day, while Kathy was in school, we found that her rabbit had died.

We panicked. We worried how Kathy would react to this sad news. John quickly dispatched one of the boys to Cartimar (pet market) to buy a rabbit that was the same color and size as the one we’ve just lost. When the new rabbit came, we were convinced that Kathy would not know the difference. A few minutes after she came home from school, she was in tears. She was asking about her rabbit. “There’s your rabbit, playing” her papa said. “No, that’s not my rabbit!!” Kathy insisted. “Why do you say that,” John asked, trying to keep up with his cover up story. “Her eyes are different,” Kathy sadly declared. John tried to insist that it was the same rabbit, and that maybe the color of her eyes changed because she fell from the roof, but you could tell from Kathy’s sad face that she wasn’t buying her dad’s story. To his credit, John let it go at that, and just said, “I’m sorry, Kathy.”

All her books as a child were those about animals.  She especially loved horses.

Once, she was upset with us, and we found her trying to attach a bundle of a few wrapped clothes to the end of a pole – like in illustrations of children running away from home. She said she was leaving home and would build her own house, and we may not join her in her house. I asked her where she was going to build her house, and she declared, “At the Zoo!” I think she was four years old. I don’t remember how we got her to give up that wild idea.

At another time, we had a shoot for the Ajinomoto calendar, and it showed a pretty female model with a few day-old yellow chicks. After the shoot, Kathy pleaded to have the chicks as pets but we agreed to her keeping only one.  We did not expect that a chick could survive living in a studio, but we were surprised that it grew to be a rooster. But a studio in the city is not quite the ideal home for a rooster – or a rooster is not the ideal pet for a studio in the city, and so we asked a carpenter who worked with us to take it to Bicol, with Kathy’s permission, of course. Kathy only consented to have the rooster relocate to Daet, Camarines Norte, with the promise that the rooster would finally be happy to be roaming around freely in the province. 

To go back to Pinoy, the Palawan parrot. It actually lived a few years with us. Our plans in 1992 to build a car studio meant that we had to give up the atrium. That meant that Pinoy would no longer have a home. John convinced Kathy that keeping him in a cage was not a good idea anyway, and that setting him free was the best thing for Pinoy. Kathy agreed, and Pinoy was helped to fly away. What we did not expect was that this bird, kept in a cage for many years, had lost his ability to fly, and what was even more tragic was that it was Kathy who, when she was alighting from her school bus, saw his dead body sprawled on Bautista Street. We were filled with guilt and horror, but could not do anything but to cry and grieve with her, and consoled her by promising that Pinoy would be flying freely in parrot heaven.

I suppose that parrot heaven is a place in Kathy’s heart, where she kept memories of him alive. When she was a college freshman, she joined an essay contest sponsored by Cathay Pacific for which the prize was a one-week wilderness experience in South Africa. She wrote the story of Pinoy, but from the parrot’s first-person account.  The essay, together with a presentation of her photo portfolio (as suggested by her dad), won for her one of the five slots for the trip to South Africa.

De la Salle University, which is where she went for college, required their students to do community service, and her class was assigned to render community service at a home for battered women. That was a bit too much for her tender heart, and she asked her teacher, if she could render community service at the Manila Zoo instead. Her adviser agreed, and not only did Kathy work at the Manila Zoo, she even organized a volunteer group. But doing volunteer work at her dream place was not without heartaches. She was disheartened by the lack of commitment and enthusiasm about their work by zoo workers, and lack of encouragement from the zoo management. One day, she came home looking really discouraged and even exasperated and unburdened to her dad. She had wanted to introduce behavioral enrichment programs for animals that she had learned in South Africa, and she kept being told that Manila Zoo animals were too old for enrichment programs. John decided to visit the zoo to try to convince zoo vets and officers to implement Kathy’s proposed program.  They threw back the challenge at him and asked him to choose the animal with which he would like to work. He chose the elephant, but that’s another story.

Before Kathy had graduated, she had a group of zoo volunteers organized and their organization incorporated as a foundation, successfully getting companies to donate materials, pledge support and sponsor programs at the Manila Zoo.  She and a friend, Kitty Arce, co-founded MyZoo Volunteer Group Foundation, which at some point had more than a hundred seriously committed volunteers.

The test of their commitment came one day when they were told that the Zoo was planning to put down a sick foal. They named him “Orion” and offered to nurse him to good health, even providing him shelter in the volunteers’ office. The volunteers found a way to convince a top equine doctor to look in at this foal.  Volunteers took turns in watching over him 24/7, which meant that some volunteers had to spend the night at the zoo. Kathy was there every night – which became a source of serious concern for me. It was not too bad during the first week of this foal’s confinement because it was still summer vacation and not a few students volunteered to stay on health-watch. But after a week, summer ended and school started, and only Kathy was left to spend the night at the zoo. I sent the maid to accompany her, then the maid and the houseboy, then her papa. Also, Kathy and I looked for a guard dog to accompany her at the zoo. We went on a search for a German Shepherd, but as we went from one kennel and breeder to another, she fell in love with a black Labrador puppy. I argued that a Labrador was a friendly dog, and Kathy argued that Filipinos don’t really know the breed, and could be frightened by any big, black dog. And so it came to be that we took in Lucas, and we all fell in love with him.

Let’s go back to Orion. The equine doctor finally had to break the sad news to Kathy and her group of volunteers that he could no longer be saved.

Kathy and her student volunteers continued to work during their free times at the Zoo, but graduating from college and entering the workforce offered them very little opportunity to continue. Kathy had gotten too busy with work at the zoo (and other activities that divert the attention of young people, such as music – she was photographing popular rock bands, and sports – which for her then was hockey) and was not going to graduate on time.

We offered her a proverbial “carrot” - a trip to South Africa for finishing college, no matter what course she would finish.  It was probably the “call of the wild,” – all the animals she once knew, met and fell in love with at the Johannesburg Zoo – that enticed Kathy to focus on her studies, and to aim to finish her university education, which she finally did.

We were about to live up to our promise of sending her back to South Africa when Cathay Pacific heard of it, and offered her a free ticket. So the money reserved for travel was used to buy her an Apple laptop. One of her best friends whom she met during her “Wilderness Experience” offered her accommodations at the Johannesburg Zoo.  We gave her enough pocket money for a month’s stay in South Africa, and she was all set to relive and extend her wilderness experience.

Again, this calls for another story, but suffice it to say for now that one month became extended to five months, and Kathy came home completely enamored with South Africa, where she claimed she found her “soul.”

Fast forward – she worked with us as an industrial photographer while photographing her black Lab, Lucas, her yellow lab, Ginger, and once a while, friends and their pets, and borrowed animals from Manila Zoo. Then, she met and fell in love with a Dutch engineer, John (like her dad)  whom she met while photographing the Malampaya facility, off Palawan.

Fast forward even faster to 2015. Kathy is 35, married and has two young daughters. When she got married, she brought Lucas (her black Labrador) and Ginger (her yellow Lab) to join her household, and when John’s dog in Holland died, they acquired another dog, a Belgian Malinois, whom they named Anouk. They have also adopted our African lovebird, and paired him off with another African lovebird from a family friend. Fortunately or unfortunately, both birds are male.

During our fun trip to the Zambales farm that we visited recently, our granddaughters were letting out shrieks of delight when they mingled with the geese, ducks and chickens, just as their mother did years ago. When Gaby grabbed a gosling, Kathy pleaded to allow Gaby to keep it. Our host said yes, but her husband and I agreed that the gosling might prefer to grow up as a goose or gander in a farm.  Kathy’s heart for animals prevailed, and asked Gaby to release the gosling to remain with her family in the farm.

As for me, while I knew that geese is plural for goose, I learned that a group of geese on the ground is called a gaggle. That’s a lesson on goose, geese and gaggles (is there a plural for gaggle?) that I learned just now from my daughter who has a big heart for animals, and is my resident expert on animals.

Kathy's Postscript: Kathy CG Punch line. We were going to name the gosling Ryan.... Ryan Gosling. Ha ha ha. From the ajinomoto shoot we got a pair of ducks. The chicks were from a studio shoot. One dozen. I was horrified they were talking about frying them and eating day old chicks. Til his dying day Tang Quinong swore the chickens were nicely retired in his farm.... We got the rabbits from the Philcomsat shoot, papa and I saw them by the roadside on our way home. We had a pair but missy kept killing the babies. Bugs, the grey one, was the one who had an impostor.  at one point we had three dogs and 19 puppies. Six parrots. Two dozen parakeets. A dozen chickens. Two ducks. Two rabbits. A frog and a rat.... I also had pet mosquitoes but they didn't live long or do much. Dengue wasn't even heard of back then. It was a zoo. I wish we had a horse, but that's why Orion was special. Now we have two dogs and two birds.... I wanted two geese, but John didnt know how we could move if we had to with farm animals 

Kathy CG And a pet earthworm before I hit 3rd grade and learned girls shouldn't be playing with earthworms 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

"Thirty days hath September..."

Since all our daughters were wished for (meaning planned), they’re almost evenly spaced – three and a half years between the eldest and the second, and another three and half years between the second and the youngest. But that sometimes created problems, as things that are clear to a 10-year old, may not be comprehensible to a three year old.

Yet, no matter the difference in their ages, as children, they all seem to want the same thing – even when there is only one of whatever it is that they are coveting. John, their dad, used to drive a two-door Mitsubishi Mirage, and everyone wanted the rear passenger’s window seat nearest where they got in. For safety reasons and since John drives and I don’t, that’s through the front passenger side.  This meant that it won’t be easy for the other two to get into the car, as the first one to get in is blocking the way. We get a lot of arguments that pleading, cajoling and threatening could not resolve.

Obviously, we needed to set down rules, so that they would not be fighting to be the first to get in the car. Here comes Disciplinarian Mommy decreeing that they should take turns, pronouncing that the coveted seat belongs to eldest daughter Ching Ching on dates ending on one to ten; Middle daughter Kathy’s turns are from the 11th to the 20th; and youngest daughter Sacha’s are on the 28th (or 29th), 30th or 31st. When it’s Ching Ching’s turn to be at the right window seat, Kathy goes in first and takes the leftmost seat (behind the driver), Sacha takes the middle seat (the most unpopular seat) and Ching sits on the prized seat – the right window seat. They rotate, moving clockwise.  But when February came, Sacha felt shortchanged and complained that the month only had 28 days. We had to tell her about leap years.  I suppose she was too young to be familiar with the calendar, so we recited the nursery rhyme –

Thirty days hath September,
April, June, and November.
All the rest have thirty-one,
Except February alone,
Which has twenty-eight, in fine,
And each leap year twenty-nine.

I pointed out to her that while she was losing two turns in February, she actually had seven extra days spread throughout the year.  Yes, you lose some, you gain some. 

With that explanation, we did get to impose the rule, and peace and order returned. All they needed to know was what date it was. The bonus was that they also became aware of calendar dates and months.  The rule continued for many years until Ching Ching, and later Kathy, learned to drive. And then it was a different ballgame.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

I love you, John.

I chanced upon an advice column by Mrs. Socorro Ramos, the founder of National Bookstore. A woman who was getting married was seeking advice about her fiancé. She said that she’s a very neat person, to the point of being O.C. (obsessive-compulsive), while her fiancé is a slob, and was worried that she would be miserable when she begins to share a home with him. Would she be able to bear with his sloven ways? Should she break up her engagement now before it’s too late?

Her advice to this woman hit me hard. While I am not particularly neat or organized, I consider myself to be a more tidy person than John. He has many virtues, but being neat is not one of them. Sometimes, he leaves a trail of pieces of clothing – shoes and socks on the floor, then his shirt, his pants -  in the distance between the front door and our bedroom. I don’t think he would appreciate more details than this. Early in our relationship, he promised that he would be less sloppy when we would have children, but our children have been born, have grown up and have gotten married, with one having two children of her own, and I still trip over John’s shoes.

Mrs. Ramos advised this distressed woman to think of all the good qualities that her fiancé possesses, especially those that made her think of him as the man of her dreams.  She also asked her to think of other negative traits – aside from being a slob – that would make her want to give him up. If his negative character is stronger than his better qualities, then by all means, cancel the engagement now. But if the reasons she fell in love with him in the first place are stronger than his sloppy ways, then she could consider marrying him. She could keep peace and romance in her household by resigning herself to picking up after him.  Each time she picked up a piece of clothing from the floor, she should say, “I love you, (name of her fiancé).”

I told John about this advice column and the wonderful advice that Mrs. Ramos gave, and told him that I have been following her admonition, and that now, as I kick his shoes to where I won’t trip over them, and pick up his socks, his shirt (and sometimes his shorts or brief, and his pants, I cheerfully declare, with each piece of clothing that I throw into the laundry basket, “I love you, John.”

This ritual has been going on for months, and once or twice (okay, maybe a few times), John has heard me give the same advice whenever the topic of neatness or sloppiness crops up.

The other night, he was home earlier than I was, and as soon as he saw me, he picked up one sock, and I heard him say, “I love you, John.” He looked for the other sock, picked it up and repeated, “I love you, John.”

He is funny. It’s one of his virtues and for that, how can you not love this man? I love you, John.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

"Take Care of My Negatives:" Coping with Cancer and Thoughts of Death

It was not even five o’clock in the morning when they came to wheel John out of his hospital room to prepare him for surgery.  

In November last year, we discovered that his prostate screening antigen level was elevated. A month of being on antibiotics did not bring it down, and a series of tests revealed that he had stage two prostate cancer. The year’s months passed while he hopped from one doctor to another, seeking a second, third, fourth opinion.  I was getting exasperated and told him that he was running out of urologists to consult.

I did not want to nag him, so I enlisted our daughters’ help to convince him to undergo a biopsy, the only definitive test to determine if he indeed has cancer or not.  Finally, he did, and the verdict was as feared – he had the dreaded Big C. We made a new round of doctors, and diligently researched on the Internet, as we “shopped” for a treatment option. All doctors tried to soften the blow. They told us what we have already heard and read about prostate cancer – that it was a slow moving cancer, and as one doctor said “if we could choose a cancer, this is what we would choose.” Another doctor said some men who have prostate cancer could die of old age and not even need treatment for their prostate cancer.

But just as we were heaving a sigh of relief that he had the least troublesome kind of cancer, one doctor said he should make sure that the cancer is contained only in his prostate. He prescribed scans to check John’s bones and abdominal organs. We were back on the rollercoaster of anxiety and apprehension as John dutifully submitted himself to the scans and waited for the results. Thankfully, both scans were negative.

But the different ultrasounds and scans also showed that he had a stone in his ureter. One doctor prescribed medicines to try to melt it, while another doctor ordered a lithotripsy (shock wave treatment to break down the stone so he could pass it down). John went for the lithotripsy.

He rejected radiation therapy (too time-consuming, too many trips to the hospital) and decided that he wanted surgery. Having narrowed down his choice to the most radical treatment meant looking for the best doctor and the best-equipped hospital. Consulting with friends and relatives in the medical profession, we were told about robotics surgery, and that the latest equipment were available at St. Luke’s Medical Center at Global City. Two doctors were needed to perform robotics surgery – one to handle the robotics while the other stood by the patient’s bedside, prepared to do traditional surgery, in case something went wrong with the robotics equipment. The two doctors whom we had approached at St. Luke’s were both trained and experienced in doing robotics-assisted prostatectomy, and reassured John that he would fine no matter which surgeon he chose. He didn’t think it was right to let them toss a coin to decide who would be the lead surgeon, so John decided to go for the older doctor to handle the robotics.

John worried about the cost of the operation until I told him that it would be covered by his Blue Cross medical insurance. Our insurance was reimbursement-type, but our broker had mentioned years ago that if we made prior arrangements, Blue Cross could pre-approve the procedure and hospitalization, and we would not need to advance payments. That was another worry off his mind, as we made the trip to the hospital.

We checked in the night before the 7:00AM scheduled surgery.

The hospital staff was friendly and efficient, with nurses or doctors introducing themselves and explaining their roles, (“I am Nurse Christine, your night nurse. I will be attending to you until 6am, when your day nurse, Jerry, would take over.”) They pointed to the features of the room – the buzzer to call nurses in, the lights, how to raise and lower the bed or parts of it, what time the doctors were expected to come. They patiently explained all the procedures that they were required to do, and what the patient should even expect to feel and experience. Before all that, as a standard security measure to make sure that they are dealing with the right patient, they asked him for his name and birthday.

They prepped him for the surgery, putting in I.V. needles on both hands, even though only one received intravenous fluids that night. We were introduced to the new machines that detected the flow of IV fluids – which beeped when the flow was blocked. John must have had a restless night, as that machine beeped many times through the night, and I had to press the buzzer just as many times to call in the night duty nurse to restore the flow.

He was awake, and so was I, when they came before five o’clock in the morning.

 I stood up and walked the few steps from the daybed where I was supposed to sleep but hardly did, to just outside John’s hospital room door that was as far as I could join him. He held my hand, and whispered, “Harvey, take care of my negatives.”

This is 2013, and we no longer shoot with films, and therefore have not been handling negatives.  But his admonition takes me back further than 13 years ago when we gave up analog cameras to embrace the digital revolution.  It takes me back to 1972, and to another hospital situation.

John’s papa had gifted him with a new Honda 300cc motorcycle, and young and recklessly daring as he was (24) at that time, he accepted a dare from his friend, Ernesto, to a race on Roxas Boulevard (then called Dewey Boulevard). (If I may digress a bit, the whole stretch of Dewey Boulevard lined Manila Bay then, and Manila’s famed sunset could be enjoyed by any who would sit on the breakwater that ran parallel to the boulevard. In later years, reclamation projects pushed forward the shoreline, and we have lost this easy access to the magnificent colors of the sun’s going down).

Since his friend had a more powerful motorcycle,  John was given  “partida” – allowed to have a headstart.  After a couple of minutes of driving alone, he heard his friend revving his engine. As the sound of the other motorcycle’s engine grew louder and nearer, John steered his motorbike to the right side of the road, to give his friend space to overtake.

But his friend – violating basic Philippine (same as U.S.) driving rules – overtook on John’s right side, and the two men and their motorcycles collided. His friend was not harmed, but as John later recalled, his last memory after their motorcycles crashed was of him “flying, and looking back at his motorcycle.” He landed face and belly down on the curb, the full impact of the crash leaving him unconscious.

He was rushed to the “Hospital de San Juan de Dios,” just a few meters away from the scene of the accident. One of his mother’s employees (as I recall, his nickname was Taba) rushed to fetch me from the apartment that I was sharing with my brother, while someone else summoned his mother. He was still in the emergency room when I arrived, but they were getting ready to wheel him into the X-ray lab. John must have been in terrible pain and probably having thoughts that he could possibly die as a result of this accident, when he very faintly whispered, “Harvey, please take care of my negatives.”

Miraculously, he had no fractures, but his skin –on the right side of his body, from his face down to his finger tips – was peeled off, exposing his flesh, as if he had suffered third-degree burns. It took a month in the hospital (how he survived a month in a hospital is another story) before new skin grew.

When he was finally released from the hospital, he went straight into doing photography. One day while going through his files of old negatives, he called me, and with grim expression on his face, and great drama in his voice, asked me, “Do you remember that night that I had a motorcycle accident?” “Yes, of course,” I answered. “And do you remember that I asked you to look after my negatives?” “Yes, of course, I remember.”  Those life-or-death moments are difficult to forget. Just as I braced myself for possible bad news, John broke into an impish grin, and said “Well, I’m sorry that I thought I was leaving you my most valuable legacy – but there is nothing among my photos that is of value.” Relieved that he was out of danger, we could now afford to laugh at how much we cared and shared about each other, even with how little we owned.

Forty years later, as he said those words again, “Take care of my negatives” I was not sure what to think – was he thinking that he was near death once more, was he sharing our in-joke, was he reassuring me that four decades later, his negatives must have escalated in value, what exactly was his message? Confused, worried and anxious, I sat alone on the bench in that empty hospital room, and turned to prayer.

It’s been a month and a half since that surgery. His PSA level is down to .0003 (maximum is positive 4), and while it is still difficult to get him to rest and take it easy, he is more patient with himself, and willing to slow down, just one bit. This is what John has to say, after his encounter with the Big C and his near brush with death:

Since my operation... I have had a different outlook in life... Patience is now a virtue that I hold close to my heart... Savoring every moment of whatever Life has to offer me... I watch young people in love and see old couple enjoying the mall, little children playful and laughing... I see grouchy old men too... I hope one day I won't be one... Learning new things which I should have learned a long time ago... Luckily, I still have time left...