appreciating the past

by Evans Yonson

(Note: This is the conclusion of last week´s feature on Hospital Sant Pau.)

There are three signs posted on one wall. The first one says that smoking is dangerous to one’s health. Smoking is prohibited inside the room but is allowed within the hospital grounds as evidenced by the ashtrays scattered all over. Isn’t there a Spanish law that prohibits smoking in all the hospital grounds not only inside the buildings? The second sign on the wall is the hospital consultation services schedule. Laboratories are only open during the day except for emergency cases. Otherwise, out-patients are advised to come back for the results of their tests the next day. This is unusual for medical laboratories. Shouldn’t the laboratories be opened 24-hours every day? Who decides if my condition is not an emergency case? I realized, of course, the doctors will decide for me. The third sign, which really caught my attention, says that should families leave their patients, they are advised to give their contact numbers at the nurses’ station.

This sign made me laugh and caught the attention of the old lady sitting beside me. Let’s call her Isabel. She asked me why I laughed. I replied that the sign is very strange for me.  Isabel said that some families just leave their patients and never come back. I was surprised and asked her what possible reasons could there be if you leave your son or your mother in the hospital. Isabel cited some instances where old people just die without being claimed by their families. I jokingly told her that she’s leaving the waiting room soon. She said her husband, who is 75 years old, had an asthma and she brought him her a few hours ago. Isabel is 72 years old. She has been married to her husband for 48 years now. She said that her children and grandchildren will arrive soon. She spoke highly of Manolo, her husband, and how they raised their children. Manolo is an accountant and used to work in a bank. This is not the first time that she brought Manolo to the hospital. She said that she is used to the asthma attacks and prayed that her husband will soon realize the dangers of smoking. She said that no amount of doctors’ advice could stop her husband from smoking. Suddenly, the sound speakers sounded calling for Isabel Barrenechea. The sound was so sudden and loud that it caught me unaware. I was so frightened. It was Isabel’s call. She stood up and told me not to smoke if I want to live longer. With that she said goodbye and I wished her and her husband well.

The short chat with Isabel urged me to smoke and I could probably observe the rest from outside through the glass window. I stood up and walked out the door. I lit up a cigarette stick. After my third puff, one of the men came out and asked if I had an extra cigarette. He said he could use a cigarette now to relax himself. I handed him one with my lighter. He asked me who I was with. I replied that I brought a friend to the hospital. He said he has his daughter at the emergency room. Let’s call him Antonio. Pilar, his daughter, developed bronchitis while they were on vacation in Gran Canaria. He mentioned that they were in the islands during the Easter Week. He said that the sudden change of temperature could have affected his daughter’s immune systems. Antonio’s cellular phone rang and he excused himself. I overheard him saying to bring some food as he was hungry and some clothes. He put off his phone and told me it was his wife. He said that he expects his daughter to be admitted to the hospital because she looked very pale and sickly when he brought her here three hours ago. It started to rain and we agreed to get inside again. Antonio thanked me again for the cigarette and he went to sit beside a young man. He must be Antonio’s son. I sat down in another corner.

I looked at my watch and I have been here for almost three hours now. Sitting in front me is a woman probably in her late 30s or early 40s. She is reading an English book by Haruki Murakami entitled Norwegian Wood. Nice book, I said in English.  She replied and said yes in English. The sound speakers sounded again. I commented that those speakers are frightening me. Laia (let’s call her that) nodded and said that it is really deafening her. It makes her worry even more for her mother, who is 68 years old. Her mom has osteoporosis and has difficulty in walking that she needs to be in a wheelchair. Laia’s father died many years ago, she said. She decided to take care of her mother. She jokingly said will probably be single for the rest of her life. The sound speakers sounded again and calling the same name for the second time. The announcer’s voice seemed too demanding now.

I told her that my mother had died of diabetes in 2004 when she was just 66 years old. She said sorry to me. But I told her my mother had lived a very good life. She responded that her mother, too. Laia’s mother has travelled to many places as she is an interior designer. Her mother’s travels have brought Laia to the different parts of the world. They have lived in the United Kingdom, Germany and Greece. Laia learned how to speak English in these travels. She looked out to the window and said she remember fully well her travels to Asia with her mom. The Asian tourists are now coming out of the hospital building. She has been to mainland China, Singapore, Thailand, and the Philippines. She spoke with a look of fascination each time she mentioned each country. With all these travels, she said that they have accumulated a large collection of antiques, statues, and other Asian artifacts.

Without even telling her, she said that she knew I was Filipino the moment I entered the waiting room. How did she know that I was Filipino, I asked her. A Filipino couple lives with her and her mother here in Barcelona. She mentioned that her mother loves Filipino food. She disclosed that she and her mother are planning to visit the Philippines next year. They want to see the famous rice terraces, the old Spanish quarters in Manila and so on. I told her that they need more time to see everything in the country. She replied that they intend to stay for two months in the Philippines. The sound speakers were activated again and this time mentioned the name of Laia’s mom. She gathered her things and put those into her big black bag. She took out a business card and handed it to me. She told me that I contact her if I need anything. I answered positively and she said goodbye.