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...

Monday, August 05, 2013

Family Sunday Strategy

Our youngest daughter, Sacha, blogged that she prefers to be a homebody, even though she remembers that as a child, we would always eat out and go malling. I will confess to the first but not to the second (neither John nor I like to shop, although I could stay the whole day in a bookstore), and will explain why we formed the habit of eating out.

John has always been a workaholic.  We all needed to be because advertising photography work is notorious for not following office hours, or even office days, weekends or holidays.  Every job always seems to be a rush job, and clients anxiously wait for us to submit transparencies or prints, in the old days, and in today’s digital age, CDs, DVDs and now, hard disks. For this reason, although I would have wanted to raise our children away from the city, we chose to combine our photography studio and residence together in Makati. John would proudly say he has a two-second commute. This was the only way to avoid the traffic jams that choke our highways and city roads in order to come to work quickly while still being  close to the children, and accessible to them even during office hours. Weekends and holidays were not something we could commit to spend with the family, so we made up for those days by making spontaneous trips whenever we could, sometimes, to take them on our location shoots, no matter that they may be during school days.

Due to the demands of work, it was difficult to have regular family dinners. Advertising photography meant that we could be working all day and all night (our record stands at 39 hours non-stop), and lunch and dinners were grab-a-bite affairs. John takes about two minutes to gulp down lunch, and most often, dinners were like that, too.

Although I cooked on special occasions, I could not commit to cooking regularly – since in addition to the family, we also serve meals to all our employees, and occasionally, for clients. We have a full-time live-in cook, so even until today, I cook very rarely. During those rare occasions when I did cook, John would briefly join us for dinner, and then quickly leave the dining table to go back to work. Between the call of work, and the need to sit down properly for a home-cooked meal, John heeds the former.  It’s okay – I was never an enthusiastic cook anyway, and I did not mind employing the “let’s eat out strategy.” At least when dining at restaurants, we had a bit more time to enjoy each other’s company.

For reasons cited above, I planned that every weekend that John did not have to work, we would eat out. Not in fast food restaurants where there was no waiting, and not in fancy restaurants where food was expensive. We would go to restaurants that could be classified as casual dining places – Dulcinea, Via Mare, Luk Yuen, Hap Chang, Amici, Max’s, Aristocrat, Pancake House, Rack’s, Teriyaki Boy, Almon Marina, and occasionally, to restaurants that are a little bit more upscale, like Mario’s (we don’t know where they’ve moved), Italianni’s, or our favorite 24-hour restaurant, the Old Swiss Inn.

Between the time after we’ve placed our orders and before we were served, we had a few minutes – usually five to fifteen – and throughout the meal – maybe another 15 or 20 minutes – my family would be gathered around a dining table, albeit not our own, and we could have  - not the after-dinner conversations that I craved for – but the precious before-and-during dinner time, when we could finally connect with each other.

Yes, eating out is a strategy to bring together our family.

All the children are grown up and gone now, but out of habit, John and I still eat out on weekends – patronizing the same restaurants, occasionally joined by Kathy and her John. And Gaby, of course. 

But today, Kathy and her little family are in Holland and John only spent the morning between the zoo to look after Maali, and FPPF to inspire young photographers. John made no plans to fly his RC planes today – I wonder why. John and I – just the two of us - had the rest of the day – from lunch to dinner – to saunter around the mall. John promised to avoid the usual restaurants, and we tried the Mu Noodle Bar (he liked the beef noodle soup). This is out of our usual strategy – John normally does not like trying out new restaurants, but it was fun. John even threw in a little malling, as we explored the new computer shops on Glorietta 2. Again, that was a special treat – not because of the shops – I didn’t buy anything, John did – but that it afforded us time together.

This is the icing on the cake:

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v80), quality = 95

Oh... Its Sunday... forget about everything... time to smell the roses... get a life... taking Harvey for a lunch date... Enjoy the day. FB Friends... Feels good speaking to a group of newbies at the FPPF Seminar...

John Chua One lovely lazy afternoon indeed... We went to check out Glorietta Two ( since we have been shooting the place last week... Ate at a MU noodle bar... got ourselves two powerful mini speakers for our laptops... window shopping... enjoying every minute... Now back home after the mass.... Hmmmm a nice home movie would be just perfect to end the day... I hope you got a nice day too... You deserve it... Tomorrow... well its another day.