Our sorry state of health

Apparently Jose Fabella - the guy after whom the hospital was named - was the country's first secretary of health. Appointed by President Manuel Quezon before the war, he was, according to a memorial marker, given a free hand to implement reforms he deemed necessary. The guy devoted his time to establishing programs and systems aiming to improve the health of expectant mothers and their children, which explains why the Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital is where pregnant mothers go to give birth - and why it always features during New Year's Eve newscasts, when reporters set out to look for babies who will be born at midnight.

I found myself with a smirk while reading that memorial marker. Thanks to his undying efforts and enthusiasm - I'm paraphrasing here because I failed to bring a camera - the Philippines is now at par with other progressive countries in maternal and children's health, in the cities and in rural areas. And yet the Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital, like most public medical buildings in the country, isn't exactly up to speed with the latest developments - or, at least, so the newscasts suggest. I mean, I've aware of private (and really high-end) hospitals with equipment so advanced it's hard to pronounce. Their marketing staff go out of their way to say that they offer "world-class" service. And here I am, in a public hospital, where fees are considerably less expensive, but everything else seem to be in short order. Or so the newscasts suggest.

So why was I there in the first place? My aunt, who lives twenty minutes away from us, is expecting her second child. She's due tomorrow. They aren't exactly well-off, so my uncle - my mother's brother - asked if we could bring them to the hospital when the day comes. Yesterday my aunt noticed some spotting - I don't know what that means, but she was also experiencing some pain, so they thought that labor was imminent. My dad drove the car and I provided the company, for what might be a pretty long night.

Yes, my aunt also lives in Cavite, and that's made their decision to have their baby daughter delivered at Fabella a bit confusing. The hospital's deep inside Manila, conveniently hidden near the slums that surround the Manila City Jail. It's an hour away from our place. Their seven-year-old, a rambunctious bloke we call Tak, was born in a hospital in Las PiƱas. And there's a couple of hospitals a few minutes away from their house!

Turns out my aunt's doctor is based in Fabella. And, somehow, they decided to stick with the guy the whole way. There's also the fact that it's much cheaper there, and compared to other public hospitals, it's pretty well-equipped. Fortunately the hour-long trip was smooth - my aunt wasn't yet in pain, but the doctor suggested that when spotting occurs she could give birth any time.

Fabella is dubbed as a "baby factory" for a reason: mothers go there to give birth. It wasn't particularly packed when we get there, but we saw relatives literally setting up camp at the main entrance, as well as the entrance to the emergency room. A lot of mats, a lot of people sleeping there - and, in the case of one family who were waiting in front of the emergency room, a bunch of picnic baskets. "Kulang na lang, damo," I told my not-so-anxious uncle, recalling childhood trips to Tagaytay. I cannot recall, of course, what happens when there are many people in the hospital.

Outside the emergency room, a handful of pregnant mothers were seated. Apparently, that's where you wait when you cannot be admitted to the hospital yet, because you aren't yet giving birth. The idea is, you check yourself in, have yourself checked, and wait for the go-signal to be admitted. Labor pains? Dilated vagina? Broken water? (That doesn't sound right.) Go in. Otherwise, you wait. If you live far away and cannot afford to go back and forth, you wait. Maybe marvel at how old the building is. Think about how much more comfortable it would be if, like Ale and Ranice, you had a little more money and could afford to get yourself in a private hospital. Not necessarily those high-end ones - just somewhere with a cushion, rather than painted-over metal.

The Philippines is now at par with other progressive countries in maternal and children's health, in the cities and in rural areas.

"Baka naiwan sila sa 1953," my mother said when I told her about it. But the more plausible explanation came from my dad, who explained to me - well, reminded me - how prosperous the Philippines was after the war, thanks in part to post-war compensation from the Americans, but mostly to the fact that our leaders were still patriotic. I can imagine that, back in 1953, Fabella shouted "state-of-the-art!" Now, of course, it isn't. I haven't been inside, but we're heard it over and over again - our public hospitals not being able to accommodate everyone, because they don't have what the patients need. And by that, I mean either equipment or beds, both of which are available in private hospitals that cost a lot more. And then I'd think about how everything became about politics than service, and then to how Martial Law kept us stuck in the past while our neighbors zoomed ahead, and how we all complain when someone well-meaning proposes an idea that's reasonably restrictive but, logically, should work out well in the long run. "Kawawa naman kaming mga Pilipino!"

My aunt wasn't admitted. She wasn't due to give birth yet; it's all because of the medicines she was taking. We went home, still unusually quiet. Within twenty-four hours after she arrived home, her water will break, and my mother will be forced to bring our car - it's a Monday, and our car's plate ends in a 2 - and do everything all over again. And my rambunctious cousin - "si mama, buntis!" he told me last night - will be a big brother to Sabrina, just as I promised him last night. It's a promise I failed to deliver. Not that I have to. It's not really up to me.

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