Illustration by Jaymee L. Amores

Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer came later
(The Philippine Star) - February 4, 2018 - 12:00am

My mother prepared my brunch last Monday — a fare of crispy fried dalagang bukid and kilawing labanos with ground pork liver. A small bandehado of sweet-smelling rice stared at me, and I stared back at it through its wispy, dancing steam. A pitcher of fresh melon juice also lounged in the middle of the table.

I started to eat — with gusto. My mother watched me with joy as she sat across the table. (My mother, as much as possible, does not allow any of us to eat alone at the dining table at home. It can be lonely to eat alone.) And what a treat because she also sang me Christmas songs. Perhaps, in her attempt to impress me, she also sang Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer. The first two lines were correct. The succeeding lyrics she just invented. She didn’t care. That moment, I felt my mother was bringing me Christmas — one month after the whole world celebrated the holiday season.

Truth is, during the holidays, I had a bout with pneumonia. I did not get to join the festivities that came with the season because I was still convalescing when the big day came.

Exactly a week before Christmas Day, I was admitted in a hospital in Laguna. I coughed non-stop for 13 hours, from Sunday afternoon up to early morning of Monday. I only allowed my mother to bring me to the nearest hospital when I had difficulty breathing, when my chest seemed to explode, when my lower back was already painful, when my throat felt parched. I lost my voice and sounded like Ariel after Ursula kept the mermaid’s voice in a shell. At 2:30 in the morning, Gulod and its neighboring barangays were quiet. My barking sliced the silence of the night. I reached the hospital, went straight to the ER, did some tests, including an X-ray. Next thing I knew, I woke up in a room that had a 1978 H.R. Ocampo in the foyer and a 1980 Ang Kiukok atop my bed. Not bad, I had National Artists for my company. After a few hours, I fell asleep again. I woke up when it was already dusk. The view outside was reminiscent of a detail in an Amorsolo painting as rays of the setting sun made love to the blue Mt. Makiling.

A gentle knocking at the door came. A comely, genteel man named Dr. Felecitos Obillo stood at the foot of my bed, flashing his welcoming smile. I knew I was in good hands.

“You are being treated for two kinds of cough. One is brought about by your pneumonia. The other is allergic cough,” he said. “The first kind of cough, I can assure you, I can treat easily. The second one is stubborn. But I will do my best.”

Dr. Obillo thoroughly discussed what my condition was all about, explaining to me every detail, even his approach to how after six days I would be able to go home. I counted the days in my finger. There goes my company Christmas party, my annual party with my old friends. I made no pretense to show my disappointment.

Still with a smile, my pulmonologist told me, “The best part is, because I will make sure you will improve every day, you will be out of the hospital a day or two before Christmas.” I smiled.

Later on, I found out Dr. Obillo is one of the best pulmonologists in the country. He visited me every day, gladly telling me about my improvement, describing to me the sound of the “crackles” in my lungs and regaling me with medical trivia like how many millions of little air sacs there are in the human lungs. That when these air sacs are opened, they can fill a whole football field. At the end of my confinement, Dr. Obillo and I became friends. 

On the days I was in the hospital, my mother, who never left my side, taught me how to enjoy every moment: to allow well-meaning friends to visit me. Her best friends Inang Dele and Ate Oma were always present every afternoon, bringing me bananas, ponkans and mangoes. Some of my friends and relatives in Cabuyao I had not seen for quite a long time came to visit me, too. They brought me pospas, sinigang sa bayabas na buto-buto, nilagang baka, nilagang kabute sa luya, pesang dalag. Well-meaning family and friends aided in my healing. Now I understand why my mother will never allow us to have her confined in a hospital in Manila. “I will get weak if I don’t see my friends,” she said in the vernacular. And most of her duster-clad friends do not know how to commute to Manila.

Two days before Christmas, I was out of the hospital. Dr. Obillo was the first to greet me “Merry Christmas.”

Christmas Day saw me under the himbaba-o tree in our backyard. My wingspan for merrymaking was clipped. My mother welcomed little children in our home that day but I couldn’t participate in the celebration and gift giving because I easily got dizzy and tired. I wasn’t coughing anymore but I was not back, of course, in my element. I needed to rest for one more week.

New Year’s Eve came. I went out of the house to see the revelry of the neighbors with their Roman candles. Avoiding the smoke, I went in a jiff inside my room. I could hear the noise outside. Inside my room I heard silence.

On Jan. 2, I went back to work. I was excited. I missed the holiday celebration but I was just glad Dr. Obillo, who came to work on Dec. 31 just to check on me at St. James Hospital, gave me a clean bill of health. I was thankful for the gift of restored health.

And I remember the lessons learned, one of them is to consult a doctor at the onset of cough. My coughing started weeks before my confinement. Also, learning to avoid my own triggers is one step ahead of being well: chicken, shrimp, eggs. And cigarettes. And rain. Well, what will cause my coughing spree is the alimuom, the vapor that comes when the rain-drenched earth starts to dry. I get by.

Last Monday, when my mother cooked my yummy brunch and sang me Christmas songs did I only feel the spirit of Christmas. Indeed, that morning, it felt like Christmas. The breeze in Gulod was nippy yet I felt warm inside.

I left Gulod that day with a celebration of Christmas in my heart. I arrived in Manila still with the spirit of the season.

I was singing Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer on my way to work. I forgot the lines so I invented the lyrics.

Rudolph came late. Still, Rudolph arrived.

Merry Christmas.

(For your new beginnings, e-mail me at I’m also on Twitter @bum_tenorio and Instagram @bumtenorio. Have a blessed Sunday!)

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