I had come to St. Paul Surigao University Hospital to see about, well… a persistent pain in my left testicle. But now I’d been waiting in line for almost five hours and my demeanor was becoming irritable.
“Jesus,” I snapped at my sister-in-law, who’d graciously consented to accompany me, “this is bordering on the absurd!”
The thing is, it wasn’t an emergency room doc I was waiting to see, but a highly recommended urologist who maintained regular office hours. The problem was that they started at 10 p.m. and didn’t end until he’d seen all his patients.
“Just come in at 10,” his secretary had cheerfully instructed, “and he’ll get to you as soon as he can.”
Back in the US, the procedure would have been different. The doctor’s secretary would have given me an appointment and, even though it might be weeks in advance, I’d have spent those weeks waiting at home rather than in some darkened hospital hallway. And never at 3 a.m.
“OK, that’s it,” I finally said, abruptly standing up and shrugging my shoulders for dramatic effect. “I’m done waiting. Let’s just boogey on out of here!”
Then, suddenly, as if by magic, the doors of fate opened and enveloped me in their soothing folds. “Sir David Haldane,” the assistant called before gently ushering me into a small nondescript office. The doctor, clearly wide awake and far more functional than I felt at this ungodly hour, studied the scrotal ultrasound I had tucked under my arm.
“Oh,” he said, and then “ah. Well, you don’t have cancer, that’s for sure. Looks like an infection in the epididymis, the tube connecting the testicle to the vas deferens transporting sperm to the ejaculatory ducts.” He quickly drew a diagram to help me understand. “Nothing to worry about,” the doctor assured me, “the pain you’re feeling is from a cyst. I’ll prescribe some pills and in two weeks, it will be gone.”
The truth is, I’d heard very little after “you don’t have cancer.” But I knew that I’d been saved. And so went home to sleep soundly in my bed for the rest of that night and day.
Here’s the point: while the practice of medicine in the Philippines is often disorganized and inefficient, it’s also extremely competent. More so, in my experience, than in the United States. That reality was driven home to me two weeks later during a second visit to the same doctor who, after discovering a grossly obese prostate residing in my nether regions, poo poohed the medicine I’d been prescribed for it years before. “That stuff will loosen up your bladder,” he scoffed, “but I can give you something that will actually help.”
So far, it seems to be doing just that. Which confirms my earlier impressions of Filipino doctors gleaned from once spending three days hospitalized for a nasty intestinal amoeba, later having an ugly assemblage of ear wax removed from my unhearing ears and, finally, vicariously experiencing the birth of a child I’d fathered despite my infection-prone epididymis.
My Filipino wife, who has worked in healthcare both in the Philippines and America, thinks the difference has to do with technology. In the United States, she says, where medical technology is highly sophisticated and readily available, medical practitioners rely on it more heavily than on their own knowledge and experience.
“When something breaks down,” asserts Ivy, currently serving as a medical technologist at two California hospitals, “everybody freaks out and nobody knows what to do.”
And too, she says, doctors in the Philippines—where they are fewer and farther between — see a much wider variety and number of cases. Which is probably why they keep their patients waiting so long.
But here’s the thing: there are worse experiences in life than spending the night in a long, darkened hallway. Especially if, at its end, you learn that your testicles are cancer free.
Bottom line: I would do it all again in a flash without uttering a single complaint. Let’s just hope, though, that I never ever have to.
David Haldane’s latest book, “A Tooth in My Popsicle and Other Ebullient Essays on Becoming Filipino,” is due out in January. A former staff writer for the Los Angeles Times, where he helped write two Pulitzer Prize-winning stories, Haldane is an award-winning journalist, author, and radio broadcaster with homes in Joshua Tree, California, and Northern Mindanao, Philippines. This column appears weekly in the Mindanao Gold Star Daily.