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Empty Corridors

By David Haldane

May 18, 2023



Standing alone in the hallway of a darkened hospital, I cursed out loud. Then the situation’s absurdity hit me, and I laughed instead. It was 2 am and no one was there. Damn, I thought, welcome to the provincial Philippines.

First, a little background. Being, shall I say, somewhat older than most of my contemporaries, I suffer from the usual complaints of old men, including an enlarged prostate. For the past six months, I’ve been seeing a urologist about it at a major hospital here in Surigao City. The problem is that he’s based in Butuan, three hours away, and can only come to town weekly, usually extremely late. So I’ve become accustomed to meeting for consultations in the wee hours of the morning and night.

This meeting, however, proved more problematic than most. First, there was the matter of the pre-required ultrasound, which they erroneously scheduled on what turned out to be a holiday. “Someone will text you,” I’d been told.

When no text came, I returned to the hospital. “Sorry about that,” a nurse said cheerfully. “We’ll reschedule and send you a message.” At 10 am the next morning, I messaged her instead. “What?” she replied, astonished, “you didn’t get my text? Your appointment was at 7 this morning!”

To make a long story short, I finally got the ultrasound at 8 pm that evening after showing up early for a 7 pm appointment, drinking a full liter of water as instructed, and holding it in for an extra hour until my bladder felt ready to burst.

But no matter, I thought, all is well that ends well. “Hi sir, on May 11 at 2 am early morning is your schedule to see the doctor,” the nurse had texted regarding my upcoming encounter with the elusive urologist. Yet here I stood at the appointed time in a deserted hospital corridor. Shivering in the rain on the 30-minute motorcycle ride home, my laughter lapsed once more into cursing. “What?” read the nurse’s message later that morning. “You didn’t get my text?”

DeJa’Vu, anyone?

This, I told myself, would never happen in the US. Why not? Because the person making sure it didn’t probably would be Filipino. Which brings us to the ultimate irony of this exhausting saga: why are these lovely people so disorganized at home yet renowned abroad for their competence, reliability, and skill?

My daughter, a generous and forgiving editor and musician in ultra-liberal Portland, Oregon, attributes it not to any failings of the people themselves, but to the general lack of professional infrastructure and financial resources among those for whom they work. My wife—a Philippine native who now spends a portion of each year toiling as a highly paid and sought-after medical laboratory scientist in California—has a more cynical view.

“It’s the island culture,” she maintains. “Everything is very laid back. There’s not much opportunity or money to be made, so why work yourself too hard?”

Whatever the underlying cause for all the confusion, my story has a happy ending. After being told to report for my consultation at 1 pm, then at 3, I finally saw the doctor at 4:30 pm when, as usual, he put my worries to rest.

Walking out to the veranda that evening to face the luscious purple sun sinking over an expansively calm ocean dotted with distant land masses, my ears were greeted by the familiar voices of a gaggle of relatives. They were gathered on the deck below to laugh, eat, talk, and sing while squeezing the last full measure of devotion from the ancient karaoke machine left there following the party I’d missed the night before.

And just like that, all was forgiven. My conclusion: there is something to be said for living in this highly disorganized and occasionally infuriating island culture.





David Haldane’s latest book, “A Tooth in My Popsicle,” is available on Amazon and Lazada. A former Los Angeles Times staff writer, he’s an award-winning journalist, author, essayist, and broadcaster with homes in Joshua Tree, California, and Northern Mindanao, Philippines, where this column appears weekly in the Gold Star Daily.





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