A lot of poor people in the Philippines are so poor that they could not even afford to buy medicines – and they are so poor that they are afraid to go to the hospital, knowing they have no money to pay for the services they get there or the medicines the doctors will surely prescribe for their ailments.
Many poor people have died due to lack of money to get themselves basic health care – and the doctors in public hospitals have first-hand experience of how many times that could happen even under their watch.
One of these doctors, Lorraine Marie T. Badoy, shared on Facebook the heartbreaking truth about patients in public hospitals.
One of the worst things about being a doctor is this: you sit your patient down, examine her and you notice her threadbare clothes, shoes that are worn and cracked, the sad, anxious look. Smell the sour, sweaty smell of someone who took public transport to get to you and walked some distance under the heat of the sun.
And you can tell going to a doctor is not something she does on a regular basis. Just something she does when something really really realllllly hurts—incapacitating, blinding pain not the run-of-the-mill pain that rich folks have checked just because it’s annoying.
They come to you when some body part is bleeding, oozing with some fluid, bent at a real weird angle and has incapacitated her in some real and significant, hard-to-ignore way—usually when it gets in the way of their earning a living. (But if it’s just their sleep that’s disturbed or it it’s just them puking their brains out, they bear it. Bear it. Bear it.)
And they come to you after they’ve exhausted all means–praying to all the saints and to God and to their guardian angels, tried the herbs in Quiapo Church, gone to the village quack who adds more injury on top of the original injury and has thus, made her medical condition even more challenging.
And finally, you find out what it is that ails her and you tell her she needs to be confined and you write out a prescription of life saving medication for her.
And this is where you lose her—the connection you carefully built, shattered because she has tuned you out. She no longer hears you.
Once you start talking about hospitalization, medicines, tests, she is out that door even as she continues to be physically present—but this time, with a distant look in her eyes.
And that faraway look is because she has retreated into that part of her that knows the road ahead for her will be filled with suffering or that she will die soon. Because there is no money for anything extra for the poor. How can there be when they scrounge around for even just where to get their next meal?
They lead such tight, tight lives that cannot tolerate a setback—no matter how minor. Something that might set us back for a few weeks, can mean something they can never climb out of.
And this is how poverty becomes the vicious cycle that traps them for generations—where the only thing they can give their children, besides the life of strife and grief they grew up in as children, is the continuation of this life of endless strife and grief well into their adulthood and until they finally leave this earth—never knowing the joys, the delights we, who are better-situated enjoy. Travel, education, books, good health, good food, the ability to lead the lives of our choosing—empowered, empowering.
And this is how it’s been with us since time immemorial.
And health–like transportation, like education, like shelter, like employment opportunities, etc– is a social justice issue MORE THAN ANYTHING—and where the lack of it, a most effective weapon that makes sure the poor stay poor for all time.
And then, quite suddenly, on Rodrigo Duterte’s 6th month in office, the announcement is made: hospitalization will be free –and medicines too!–for poor Filipinos.