Saturday, May 24, 2014


SPENDING two consecutive days in a Cebu City private hospital gave me a brainstorm. What if, instead of adding new wings for clinics, the latest in facilities and more parking space, hospitals made space for walking parks, gyms and wellness centers?

What if, instead of ornamentals, pretty rocks and stone angels, trees, herbs and medicinal plants turned hospital gardens into communal green larders where folks can take a cutting or two for their own gardens?

Among community extension workers, this is the wisdom: one’s service is completed when one becomes redundant in people’s lives.

But hospitals never become irrelevant. Step inside and you will be back again. You will return for “regular” visits and become a captured, if reluctant, enrollee for life until death signs the certificate for final release.

In a kid’s mental map of the neighborhood, hospitals represent health. But today’s medical complexes are Byzantine bureaucracies enshrining sickness and pathology.

That must be why many of us go to hospitals only when we absolutely have to. It’s a state of mind created not by the fear of contamination lurking in the unnaturally bright and antiseptic corridors but by the overwhelming certainty that we can only be healthy again as soon as we put miles between us and these edifices dedicated to a dubious god of wellness.

Joining the lunch hour queue at the cafeteria, I wondered at the schizophrenia dissecting hospital culture: posters inside elevators exhorting hygiene and exercise; softdrinks, 24-hour vending machines and skinless longganiza as cafeteria come-ons.

Seeing hospitals through the eyes of an ailing loved one makes me harsh and blinds me to the operating principle behind these institutions: free will. Hospital administrators express this best by a terse sign posted outside elevators: using the stairs is better for your health.

The long line of people that never ebbs outside elevators is my answer: on the drug of free choice, people often choose the easier, but not always the better, way.

Without education, free will is a risk and a threat to us. I realize this as I listen to a nephrologist advise a septuagenarian that dieting should have begun 50 years ago. In my 20s, what occupied my days? Novels, deadlines, a boyfriend; certainly not calorie-counting or busting hereditary curses.

Shouldn’t more kindergarten teachers invite a nephrologist to speak to kids who may not yet even know how to spell the word?

A room full of intelligent, open and curious five-year-olds should be challenging enough for a specialist. Like kids, kidneys come in “terrible twos.” These are shaped like a bean and become no bigger than an adult fist.

“Bones can break,” goes the Internet, “Muscles can waste away and the brain can sleep without risk to life”. But you need the Dynamic Duo kapowing and kablasting their way past all the junk so that we are fine, inside and outside.

That’s a story worth keeping in the annals of childhood. Of course, a hospital stroll can also be as elucidating, specially past the kidney unit and the dialysis room where the patients binge on lechon while their blood is filtered by machines.

But this is hardly education, just free will, frittered away in a setting that beds medical care and wellness like patients on separate cots.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s May 25, 2014 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

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