“Bakit ang inet!” I yelled to Countess Anastacia Romanova, my clinic secretary. I wasn’t being a jerk, I just had to yell through the two layers of face mask and the industrial-thick face shield. I had just finished chemotherapy on my patients in the cancer institute, and had to run under the lunchtime sun to my clinic, which was located in another building. Five minutes in I was about to burst into flames. “Sira ang aircon,” The Countess harrumphed.
“Kakaunti naman ang patients di ba? Di ba??!”
“Nine po,” she said sternly, as she slammed the paper charts on my desk. Dread gripped my innards, sweat continued to pool in my pants, and my stomach started growling. I should have eaten more than an egg yolk for breakfast, I scolded myself.
Before I could remove the thick isolation gown the first patient came in. Breast cancer stage II for adjuvant treatment, which I hoped, was not Her-2 positive, because it was the more aggressive kind, and would require a much lengthier explanation. She was Her-2 positive.
The fourth patient was also breast cancer for adjuvant treatment. My throat was starting to dry up. Luckily I was only wearing a t-shirt underneath the isolation gown, but it was starting to get soaked. This must be what hot flashes feel like, only this is continuous, and not just a flash. I never did figure out if it was hot flash or hot flush.
“Ang hirap mag menopause,” I quipped as I fanned my face with both hands. Nobody laughed. They were also suffering and couldn’t care less about any unnecessary jokes. Great, I also wanted this to be over. I was starting to palpitate, maybe heat stroke, maybe hunger. I hoped the patients wouldn’t ask too many questions, or be too ma-chika, just for this day, until we get this ancient airconditioner fixed, or until we pull the damn thing out and throw it in the fire. One intense summer day back in residency the airconditioner in our callroom suddenly conked out, and all twenty-one of us started whining. For one whole day we would whine, complain, and bitch at each other. Finally Ruter would have none of it. He stripped off his shirt, unscrewed the useless aircon, and threw the damn thing out of the room. Magically he also made a new aircon appear. We, the whiners, clapped and cheered.
After almost half an hour of consult, Patient Munroe seemed content with my detailed explanation on the ins and outs of chemotherapy. She seemed intent on starting her treatment in two days. She was about to leave, when her kumare suddenly remembered something. She brought out a pile of printed materials and asked:
“Pero may nabasa ako sa internet, mas lalong iiksi ang buhay, dahil ang chemo ay pumapatay ng bad cells, AND good cells, can you clarify if… what if, supposing….”
I had three options. A) Be all condescending, lose my temper, blame the heat, get video-recorded, and be cancelledetht forever. B) Pretend to pass out in pure dehydration or C) Compartmentalize, summon patience and other virtues, be a total Mother Theresa.
I didn’t get a chance to choose.
“Itatanong na lang namin yan during chemo doc, labas na kami, ang init!” Mrs. Munroe said, as she pulled her kumare out of the clinic. Thank you ma’am!