Road to Recovery

As this is to be my last post about my first trip to Catigan, I think I need to explain my approach. It’s hardly compulsive reading for some I know. While writing it, I was very conscious of that. It’s some fat English geezer playing native, I’m sure has come to some readers minds. Well, I was there for my own reasons, I didn’t go seeking a story, and I’m not from the BBC giving a report or making a documentary. I’m an amateur blogger with a cell phone for a camera. I came to spend time with my kids and all I can write about is how it was from where I was sitting. Sorry, if I haven’t interviewed tribal elders or videoed native dances but I never saw any.

It’s been largely about me. The reason I have approached this recent series of 7 articles in this manner is because all I can realistically do is relate it to my adaptation and experiences for whatever reason I was there. I cannot write through the eyes of a local as I’m not a local.

My blog is an attempt to create an alternative insight based on my limited experiences and relate it to other foreigners who are curious about life here. I found myself in Catigan and had no wish or intention to make it this personal, but I could not see any other way to credibly write it. So having justified my mundane approach, I will continue.

After leaving the hospital, I went home in a legal sidecar. Had no choice, it was late and nothing else available so 180 peso later I’m dropped at the end of the path. Every pothole, of which there are many, made the sidecar shake, rattle and roll and where as normally I would hardly notice it, after the accident, every movement felt like I was being hit with an iron bar.

After being dropped to where sidecars could go no further, I had a 20-minute walk to the house down a bumpy path. Fortunately, it was a dry night and although pitch black, I didn’t have the concern of having to negotiate its treacherous nature when wet. If it had rained that night, I simply wouldn’t have made it home as I could not bear the pain of a fall in my current condition. 

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The Walk Home When Wet

Walking was agony too, although not as bad as the sidecar ride. Eventually, I made it home and then it started to hurt. 

Poorly Equipped For Recovery

I had a day’s worth of medication for pain and anti- biotic as that’s all I could afford at the time and settled down to recover. It soon became apparent that I couldn’t lie down which is all I wanted to do but I couldn’t. I slept in a plastic chair as that was as comfortable as I could get. Over the next few days, I just felt worse as the agony set in and became a prolonged and difficult time.

I couldn’t dress, wash, use my beloved toilet and above all, I simply couldn’t rest properly which was what my aching body was crying out for. I was better standing and could walk but with great pain and extremely slowly. After many hours, I decided to force myself down so I could rest. I was in agony. It took me around 10 minutes to get down on one knee and I became simply stuck there unable to get back up or lie down. When helped, I had to ask to be left to do it myself as any pull in the wrong direction was agony. It was pain like I’d never known before and I managed it by simply gritting my teeth and forcing myself through the pain barrier and eventually, I made it onto the hard wooden floor which was my bed and rested. It took me around an hour to get down there. Little did I know at the time that getting up was going to be a whole heap worse.

Money being so tight I could only afford to complete the course of antibiotics and had to suffer the pain as painkillers was an extra expense I couldn’t afford, but I knew the antibiotics was crucial to my well being. They weren’t cheap. I used mefenamic acid for a painkiller as it was inexpensive but it wasn’t really helping as much as I would have liked.

Other injuries came to light, one of which was a broken tooth which was giving me as much agony as the other injuries and I was having one hell of a bad time. I was totally helpless for around a week. As time went on, I kept pushing myself and eventually was able to stand from a lying position and I started walking round the locality gingerly which I felt at the time was my best way to fight back against the injuries and pain. By this time, the locals had worked out I had no money therefore I had no friendly morale boosting visits.

My kids kept looking at me sympathetically and pointing to my wounds and saying “Yayay Daddy” and I could only reply “yes, yayay”. I can’t find anything online that confirms this as a childlike Visayan word for hurt, but that seems to be the meaning of it with my kids.

I am not complaining too much about the hospital as they are just a part of the system. It is not the fault of the private hospital system that this country cannot protect its poor. It wasn’t nice to be put in the situation I was in and I’m sure many will unkindly be thinking that as I’m a foreigner then I should be left to suffer anyway if I have no money. Unfortunately, that does seem to be the thinking with some here.

Equality of Poverty

If they treat me that way due to lack of money I can only surmise that that’s how a poor Filipino is treated, too. As I pointed out in Crash, it may have been another matter had my injuries been life threatening, I have no way of knowing. However, I cannot understand the logic of one public hospital only in a huge city like Davao. The difficulties of living in a place like Catigan became increasingly obvious.From all the research I have done, it would seem that Davao Medical Center is the only public hospital in Davao but it must be said also that it has an excellent reputation.

It then got me to thinking, what if one of my sons was bitten by a venomous snake. What happens? It would take about an hour to get a sidecar or bike most likely and that’s after carrying them for 20 to 30 minutes to where you can find a bike.

I see the problems due to remoteness and geography; it became all too clear that getting sick in a place like Catigan was not a good position to be in.

Not much happened due to my condition over the course of my last month. I was in the same flip flops as millions perhaps throughout the Philippines. I had no money left as my income was cut off. Public hospital was an option it must be said, but so far when you’re not fit to travel.

Tortured by Professionals

My tooth had developed an abyss which was causing me agony. I couldn’t simply grin and bear it, I was in a lot of pain. I was expecting treatment for my abyss before any thought of pulling a tooth. However, the dentist had dollar and pound signs in his eyes when he saw a foreigner and he had other ideas. I asked him not to stick his poking stick into the tooth affected as it was agony. Within 12 seconds of me saying it he pushed it in hard and it made me almost jump right out the chair and hit the ceiling. I thought for a minute I was in a scene from Marathon Man He wasn’t even listening to me although he spoke perfect English. He was going on and on about how much he would charge me to clean my teeth and then proceeded to try and pull the tooth which I had already told him was too painful to be touched.

I listened as he told me he will pull it easy; I foolishly agreed to let him try. The abyss really needed to be treated first. He kept telling me I was a baby and I should just endure it. He gave me around 5 injections of Novocaine in all and after each attempt it was agony and he still would not give up till I said “no more, stop now.”

It’s hard to say what his motive was as I told him again and again I had little money. By the way, he was telling me how badly I need a whitening clean for my teeth and to book it for the future. I got the feeling he wasn’t listening, and if he was, he didn’t believe me.

He was like a mad man and he charged me plenty of money for my torture. Every Novocaine injection, he obviously charged me for. He wanted the extra 400 pesos which would have been the charge had he managed to successfully pull it. Each shot of Novocaine was a separate charge. It was hard to believe how much he salivated over my perceived money even to the extent that he was prepared to give me agony to get his hands on a little of it. I can only speculate but sometimes being seen as rich when you don’t have money makes that poverty all the harder to bear.

I didn’t care if my teeth were purple. No amount of Novocaine was ever going to numb the pain and I left as quickly as I could. I’m not a softy, believe me. This was an almost surreal experience for me. It felt like a date with Jeffrey Dahmer.

Worse part was I had let myself get talked into being tortured. I kept telling him it was no good, it was too painful; he was like a dentist possessed. I was too messed up by the experience to simply take my mouth to another dentist besides he had had the last of my available cash at the time.

I believe, in his mind, no matter how much pulling that tooth was going to hurt me with an abyss under it, he wanted it removed so we could move onto the next stage which would have been to have my teeth gleaming like pearls which naturally, as a foreigner, I could afford. Professionals can often be the worse examples of greed in this country.

Sensing that my ribs may be cracked and my shoulder damaged, I went around Toril enquiring about the price of x-rays. They weren’t hugely expensive but I just so happened to have virtually nothing at this time. It was food for the kids or x-ray. Obviously, it was no contest so I went home just to pray things will heal themselves.

I improved, got most of my mobility back and had no further treatment. I still don’t know if I had cracked a rib. People tell me since the accident, my ribcage had become just a little out of shape. It was a simple case of no money, I had to just go on. It took around four months to recover and I still have clicking sensations in my rib and occasional shoulder pain. I have no idea what damage there is but I’m ok now.

I’m sure millions of people here have felt that awful feeling of helplessness that comes with having no money.

I recovered and went back to Cavite where I had come from and fully recovered there with a toilet, cold shower and a bed to lie on. Heaven, I needed my city softy convenience to recover from what was a very nasty accident from which I have to say,I was very, very lucky and proud of myself for enduring it even though it wasn’t really through choice.

A month after the accident, I left Catigan and all my new found fitness didn’t really seem relevant anymore. However, I believe having lost weight and having eaten so well on fresh vegetables and fruits, my body was better equipped to recover from the injuries.

I went back to the city and for a few months lived the easy life again. I was only just getting to the stage where I was actually learning about how people live in Catigan. To learn more I would have to return.

I watched, listened but didn’t learn much at all as I was so caught up in adapting to notice others' lives. Events hampered my education and I would return a few months later to try again having my health back and a little wiser as to how people live outside of the city.So it was sad farewells to my boys but I vowed to return. Next time, I would actually learn something.

So what’s the point in telling you all this? Well, if I was a Filipino telling you how life was so different for me in a new environment, I’m not sure anyone would be interested. I guess the thinking may be, well, you’re a Filipino that’s what your used to so what’s to talk about. Well, as a foreigner, I relate this story of adaptation and people are curious because I’m a foreigner. That’s a shame because I was playing at it in some respects, these people or some of them are treated like this every day. It’s not malice, just simply lack of facilities and when you're incapacitated, being in a place like Catigan makes everything seem so far away.

By the time I was well enough to travel to public hospital many miles away on a jeepney, I was not in so much need of any help.

Yes, I had briefly lived in a little paradise. However, the conditions and problems of living in paradise were all too obvious, especially when you don’t have money, which applies to most in this community. So my mundane tale of 4 months in Catigan is for a reason. So you have shared how it was for me over these 7 articles. Do many question how it is for millions of others?

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