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By David Haldane

Oct. 18, 2018

I don’t know what it is about me and salads. Two weeks ago, I had one named after me, David Salad. And this week a different one put me in the hospital. Perhaps sharing your name with a salad is kind of like marriage; being unfaithful can cause a calamity.

My own near-fatal infidelity began as many do; with what seemed like an innocent flirtation. Ivy and I had spent the morning at the local mall, picking up some things we needed. By the time we finished, it was lunchtime, so I suggested eating at a restaurant we had never tried. And there it was, staring invitingly up at me from the menu; the sweetest, most demure,delicious-looking little salad I had ever seen.

“I’ll take that,” I said to the waitress, pointing to my new heartthrob’s picture. And, I swear, it was as if the salad winked at me; I should have known then that I was deeply in trouble.

Our first spat came only a few hours later. I felt a twitching in my stomach as if someone was trapped in there and desperately wanted out. The massive getaway that followed was utter and complete; a dramatic escape through both exits without even a moment’s hesitation for doubt or debate.

And that pretty much describes my next several days.

Here’s the thing about Philippine hospitals; you got your public and your private. My wife, who works in the medical field, says that, while the level of care at the city’s large public hospital is quite good, it is also generally crowded with pretty long wait times. And by then it was obvious to everyone that I was in no shape to wait.

So we made our way to the emergency room of the Surigao Medical Center. And, sure enough, within an hour of my arrival, I’d been admitted to the hospital for treatment of, yup, one particularly nasty little intestinal amoeba. My private room was not luxurious, to be sure, but it included all the basics; adjustable bed, bathroom, air conditioning, cable TV and a small extra bed for a “watcher” of my choosing. That position, naturally, was filled by my loving wife who, I must say, did an incredible job tending to my every need. This being the Philippines, of course, various other family members also got involved; at one point, in fact, no fewer than three of them shared that tiny single bed.

Life as a patient in a Philippine hospital, of course, is charming in every way. One of the most charming moments came around 5 a.m. each morning when a beautiful dark-eyed young Filipino nurse would waltz in, flip on the lights, and cheerfully ask about the size, frequency, color, texture, and consistency of my previous night’s poop. Another charming moment…oh, never mind, I’ll just leave you with the first one.

Suffice it to say, that after three days and three nights, plenty of medications and interrogations and the expert tutelage of the very excellent Dr. Francis Mantilla, I was ready to go home. The final price tag: 26,336.84 pesos, the equivalent of about $485US. Around what it would have cost, in other words, under Medicare back home.

So what have I learned from this experience? Primarily, to never again cheat on a salad. From now on, it’s just me and my special one until death do us part. Which, based on my record so far, could be sooner rather than later.






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A former Los Angeles Times staff writer and winner of a 2018 Golden Mike award in radio broadcast journalism, David Haldane fell in love with the Philippines on his first visit there in 2003. A few visits later, he also fell in love with the beautiful young Filipina to whom he is now married and, with whom, he has returned many times. David has written extensively about his experiences in the Philippines for several publications including Orange Coast and Islands Magazine. Today he and Ivy, along with their eight-year-old son, Isaac, divide their time between homes in Joshua Tree, California, and Surigao City, Philippines. His award-winning memoir, Nazis & Nudists, recounts, among other things, the courtship of Ivy and finding a place to call home. For David that turned out to be at the tip of a peninsula marking the gateway to Mindanao where he and Ivy are building their dream home next to a lighthouse overlooking the sea. This blog is the chronicle of that adventure.






  1. MarK Claytor says:

    I had a similar experience coming back on a ferry to Batangas from Puerto Galera. The ferry was large, new and very accommodating. The ride was long and a free, buffet-style lunch was included in the fare. At lunchtime, we were shown a wide selection of items served by a well-groomed staff from a sparkling clean buffet line. I chose the chop suey. It was “killer.”

    About 2 hours from the Batangas pier, my stomach started with a rumbling, uncertain feeling. Within the next hour, I was in serious intestinal distress. Upon arrival in Batangas, I grabbed the first tricycle to the nearest motel hoping all the way that I had the strength to control my urges. I forewent my final destination of Lipa City and was incapacitated in that motel for 2 days.

    My experience was ironic. I generally have the proverbial cast iron stomach and there is nothing that I enjoy so much as the street food of Manila and Lipa.

  2. Jose says:

    Mr. Haldane,

    This is not about salad or amoeba but about hospitalization in the Philippines…in Davao City, to be exact. I had the misfortune contacting pneumonia while doing work for the great “uncle” somewhere in Mindanao. My very first time to get admitted in a Philippine hospital, get treated by a Filipino doctor. It was at the (DDH) Davao Doctors Hospital where I was admitted. To make this short, I have nothing but admiration for the doctor who treated me (Doctor Romulo Uy was his name, I believe) and the staff were also outstanding. Except for the hospital food. Well, not because it was bad but they were not prepared to serve something close to “halal.”
    When I mentioned why I prefer not be served certain kind of food, they were rather surprised and wanted to know if belong to the religion of Islam. I said no but I will take the Muslim food being served at the hospital, anyway. They were glad that I was happy with that arrangement. Thank you for writing about salad…I will remember that next time I visit the Philippines.

    • David Haldane says:

      Great story, Jose. Yes, I too was very impressed with the care and professionalism of the doctors and nurses. Sometimes they get a bad rap in the West, but I really think it’s undeserved.

  3. John Reyes says:

    A couple of months ago, hundreds of people across 14 states were sickened from Mcdonald salads that were found to be contaminated with the parasite cyclospora.

  4. John Reyes says:

    Hi David –

    Hope you are feeling much better. I had to smile at your mention of “watchers” during your hospital stay at Surigao Medical Center. In the vernacular, the watchers are known as “bantay”. The mention of the word jogged my memory back to my month-long May 2000 trip to the Philippines that featured, among other things, my overnight stay at the President Ramon Magsaysay Memorial Hospital (PRMMH) located in Iba, the provincial capital of the province of Zambales. I am prompted to post this rather long story because your cultural experiences at Surigao Medical Center mirrored mine in so many ways.

    Officially, I went to the Philippines on an aquisitions trip on behalf of my then-employer, the Library of Congress, at the behest of the LOC’s regional director and field office based in Jakarta. Unofficially, I went to the Philippines to visit my mother and to celebrate the barrio fiesta of Salaza, which fell on May 15th. The following night of my arrival, Mom hosted the pre-fiesta Flores de Mayo candle-lit religious procession and a ballroom dance held at the barrio auditorium following the procession.

    After the last tango was played at 1AM, typhoon “Biring” bore down on barrio Salaza and throughout Luzon. It would linger non-stop for the next 12 days with torrential rain and heavy winds. During the storm’s brief lull, I decided to go to Iba to catch up on my work email at the internet cafe located there. It wasn’t long before I started feeling faint, nauseous, and sweating profusely in front of the computer. I went outside to get a breath of fresh air, but it didn’t help. I asked my cousin/driver if there was a hospital nearby. There was – just around the corner from the internet cafe.

    I had been wondering for some time what it would be like to be in a Philippine hospital, both as a patient and as a cultural observer. In fact, just before my departure for the Philippines, I had been discussing this very topic with my internet friends from the Philippines. Discussing the PRMMH from my desk in Washington thousands of miles away from Iba, I never thought that I may someday be part of the hospital’s history. As fate would have it, my being in the vicinity of PRMMH was not good enough. Fate would make sure that I was physically within the confines of PRMMH to contribute to its glorious history.

    Willing participant or not, it didn’t matter. I felt sick, and I needed to see a doctor fast. Leaving the internet cafe in haste, we arrived at the hospital within 5 minutes. In the lobby, which also served as the emergency room, a group of men in civvies (they were medical doctors) met us, and as soon as they saw me pale and perspiring, quickly sprang to their feet. Without so much as asking what I was there for, they laid me down on a rolling bed, hooked up electrodes to my chest, placed a pill under my tongue, and slapped an oxygen mask on my face. They immediately knew what was wrong with me. They worked silently and quickly as if they’ve rehearsed the procedure a thousand times before. I heard no idle conversation whatsoever. The silence was broken only when one of the doctors sent my cousin to the pharmacy across the street from the hospital to buy medicine they needed to give me right there at the ER, and in response to the very first question I asked since entering the hospital, “Sir, you are having a heart attack!”

    Hours later and once I was deemed stabilized, the doctors decided to keep me overnight for observation. It was 5PM, Saturday, the 13th of May 2000, when I was wheeled into the general ward to spend the night, while typhoon Biring continued to rage outside.

    The following cultural observations then are a product of my overnight stay at PRMMH. As you can see, my hospital experience closely resembled yours, from the “bantays” (watchers) sleeping on the same bed to the charming nurse who waltzed into your room at 5AM, with the only exception being you were in a private room and I was with the general population.

    First and foremost, the doctors and nurses and other members of the PRMMH professional staff appeared to be competent and knowledgeable in their respective fields of specialization. I found them extremely courteous and polite, and the nurses very pretty. They were very attentive and responsive to a patient’s needs just like in the States. However, standard patient care that we take for granted in the West was sorely lacking at PRMMH. This situation, while significant, is entirely correctable and not necessarily due to the incompetency of the medical/professional staff. It was more, I believe, due to staff shortages and lack of critical modern equipment caused by inadequate funding.

    The ward I was in had two prominent rules: hours of visitation, and “Isang pasyente, isang bantay” (One patient, one watcher). It was obvious that the rules were ignored and never enforced. The room was auditorium-large, crammed with about 40 beds arranged haphazardly to take advantage of available space. Private rooms with air-conditioning were still under construction on the upper floors, I was told. Glaring fluorescent lamps overhead were too bright for comfort. As it was relatively cool because of the steady rain, the windows were kept open.

    Patients and visitors alike can be seen hacking and spitting out of the windows. To my unaccustomed eyes, the ward was chaotic – a beehive of activity, people milling about all night long, performing chores normally associated with nursing. These folks were the “bantays”. They numbered between 3 to 6 family members and friends for each patient in obvious disregard for the rule that said, “Isang pasyente, isang bantay” (one patient, one watcher). These “bantays” visit with patients primarily to provide psychological support and nursing assistance. They rotated in shifts, carrying with them their pots and pans, coffee makers, and kalderos of cooked rice. Here you see a “bantay” changing clothes in the middle of the ward, there you see another “bantay” cooking supper, and another rubbing lotion on the back of a patient.

    Around midnight, the racket subsided a bit. I looked around to see 3 or 4 people asleep on the same bed with the patient with their street clothes. When the duty nurse came around to dispense medication or to take temperature, she had to wake all 4 sleeping bodies to find out who the patient was.

    I woke up from a semi-stupor around 5AM to see vendors carrying food-laden baskets, weaving their way around the tight spaces between the beds, softly murmuring, “Suman, suman po kayo diyan”, in a duet with the crowing roosters outside, while a neatly-uniformed orderly kept busy sweeping the floor with a “walis-tambo”. To my surprise, one of the lady food vendors came toward my bed. I soon realized that because we made eye contact, though unintentionally, she thought I wanted to buy. I had suman (rice cake wrapped in palm frond) for breakfast that morning.

    The hospital provided a sheet to cover the bare vinyl-covered mattress, and that’s it. Patients had to bring own their own bedsheets, pillows,eating utensils and just everything else they needed for their stay. Gowns, towels, soap, shampoo, and toothpaste were not standard issue. Comfort rooms did not have toilet papers. If you went to the bathroom and did not bring toilet paper with you, you’re in for one of the greatest cultural shock of your life. However, there was a tabo (a dipper) sitting on the floor nearby, but no soap. The tabo is used to clean yourself with the Filipino way after going to the bathroom. That procedure is called, “kaw-kaw”, but that’s another story for another day. LOL

    There were no photocopiers in the building, no televisions, no cafeteria, and there were no flower or gift shops.

    I bade farewell to PRMMH at 7:30AM that still-rainy Sunday morning, my mind filled with fond memories of my overnight stay at the hospital. The good news was, I was well enough to be discharged after an overnight stay. I also had a competent doctor who gave me the readouts for my EKG tests to show my doctor when I returned to the States. He was also willing to provide me with a photocopy of the diagnosis that I asked for, but there wasn’t a photocopier in the entire building. My only regret was being discharged too soon to have experienced a larger slice of Filipiniana at the President Ramon Magsaysay Memorial Hospital. Under a torrential downpour, I hopped onto a tricycle for the 15 minute trip home to barrio Salaza.

    Cost of overnight stay at the hospital: 0
    Doctors’ fees: 0
    Donations, however, were accepted, and I donated generously.


    What I found really interesting was what my stateside doctors revealed to me upon my return to the States. Although the Filipino doctors who treated me in the emergency room that day told me I was having a heart attack, the head of cardiology department at George Washington University Hospital in Washington, D.C. said I NEVER had a heart attack. He found no scar or sign of damage to my heart. I do recall, however, that while still being treated in the emergency room, I asked to go to the bathroom. I started feeling better right away after the bathroom visit.

    In hindsight, what I probably had was a case of my unaccustomed stomach reacting to the first Filipino-cooked food I had eaten the previous evening since arriving from the States. The meal was an Ilocano specialty: “dinengdeng” cooked with huge prawns.

    • David Haldane says:

      Great story, John! I think your experience was a bit wider than mine. Glad it wasn’t as serious as it must have seemed…

  5. Rob Ashley says:

    David: Ah Salad Love…there is no match for it and I too have been awakened at 5:00 am by a doe-eyed nurse inquiring about my excrement. It’s magic. Rob

    • David Haldane says:

      Ah, a fellow salad lover! And with inquisitive doe-eyed nurses throw in to boot. We are truly brothers in the struggle…

  6. David Haldane says:

    Yup, an important lesson I learned the hard way.

  7. Peter Devlin says:

    David, that sounds horrendous. I can empathize because I had a similar experience several years ago when vacationing on a remote island of the north coast of Palawan. I don’t think I’d ever felt so ill, and in fact had to be medevac’d off the island in the middle of the night. On arriving on the mainland I was taken by tricycle to a Baptist Missionary hospital in the middle of what seemed like a jungle! The facilities were close to primitive to be honest, but the dedicated staff took care of me well, and i was so ill I could care less about my surroundings! After 3 days of re-hydration and meds I was able to leave, and totally shocked that they only asked me to pay cost price for the lab work and meds – less than 3,000 pesos. After returning home I realized how lucky I had been so sent them a donation to make up for the low cost they charged. Amazing.
    Be well.

  8. Dave says:

    Been there and lived to tell the tale. It was so much fun that first time. First from the back, pour water, turn, bend over and from the front. Not done, just keep repeating the same till tricycle gets there. But great hospital stay, the 20 minutes my wife and i were alone. Really watch those water bottle lids for sealed tops.