The girl with a hot neck
Once upon a time there was a girl with a hot neck. She always had a fever that made her neck burn to the touch. It made her sad that she couldn't be near anyone because of her hot neck...
I was the girl with the hot neck and that story is one that was made up by my oldest sister to cheer me up during one of my hospital stays. There were many of them. I toured hospitals as a child, becoming sick enough for confinement every year or so. I knew hospitals well enough that I made friends with nurses and made recommendations on their food offerings. I categorically praised the "Beef with 7-Up" dish they served at the San Juan De Dios Hospital along Roxas Boulevard to everyone I knew, forgetting that there would be no reason for them to go there if they didn't need to.
I knew where the nursery was in most hospitals I frequented, as my daily request to my caregiver would be to visit the babies and watch the preemies take little breaths inside their incubators. I wondered if I was like one of them when I was small. They told me I was born with Primary Complex, a condition of infants born with weak lungs. I watched the red-skinned infants squirm in their swaddled wraps, fascinated enough that my yaya worried when I was a teenager that passersby might think I was a dalagang ina (unwed mother).
Not that I'd have time for any shennannigans that created nursery occupants, as I managed to acquire in the next few years what seemed to be every conceivable disease in the developing world. Typhoid, check. Dengue? Been there, done that. Pneumonia? yes. Tuberculosis? No sweat. Salmonella enterocolitis? Expert level. Whatever it was, I collected it. I became such a curiosity for a child who seemed to catch every infectious disease while living in relative prosperity. (READ: To every angry patient I have ever met)
Hospital stays became routine and I mastered at a young age not to flinch when approached with needles. I worried the interns because I became their only patient who would stare down a butterfly needle, intravenous catheter, or Vacutainer, and observe it actually break skin and blood vessel and fill its chambers with my dark red blood. When they were done taking my blood, I'd say, "Yun lang? (That's all?)" daring the nurses to a duel by way of phlebotomy.
You see, I wanted to be a doctor, particularly a pediatric surgeon. I got my fill of Doogie Howser MD and E.R., and my favorite quote was "Life is a guts ball game" from the novel Doctors by Erich Segal.
I wanted to have a gentle manner like our family doctor Dra. Severino, in whose home clinic I'd spent many febrile evenings nearly convulsing or vomiting into an empty can of Nido Milk. They said she only charged those who could afford it, so I said that when I became a doctor, I wouldn't charge anyone anything. It never occurred to me that I needed to have at least some income if I wanted to eat!
I loved hospitals, intravenous sets, stethoscopes, and white coats. I loved the extra attention I got when I was hospitalized. While at San Juan de Dios or at Manila Medical Center, I could even make a request for my favorite Aristocrat pork barbecue meal with Java rice and extra sauce, and I would get it! I was having a grand old time.
Of course being sick was not good, as it drained our finances and put my mother in a permanent state of worry. So they tried to get me well as quickly as they could, getting my emaciated self to eat anything, bringing me juice packs with a lot of Vitamin C, activity books containing crossword puzzles, connect-the-dots and color-by-number sheets. And lots and lots of books!
I'd get some reprieve every so often and would get back to my precocious self, building things with my tool set or coming up with some invention, only to succumb to an emergency asthma attack that progressed to pneumonia, to a mysterious dehydrated state that made me a case study for hospital residents. Again in college I caught some fever that turned my legs purple, bursting the capillaries in my legs as a hallmark or Typhoid Fever.
I worked my way around it, and through the rest of my sickly days. I fully expected that bugs that came my way were bound to latch on to me and wouldn't let go until I ended up in a hospital. It happened a couple more times when I was on my own, once putting me in a strange Emergency Room where I got an injection in the waiting area as I shook with a septic fever, pretty sure I was going to die. But oops, I survived. (READ: What makes young adults sick?)
In some strange development, I'm now (knock on wood) practically bulletproof as an adult in NYC. The whole room could be sick and I would stay standing through everyone's convalescence and recovery. If a group gets food poisoning after we all eat at the same restaurant, I'd stay well and brag about my Third World cast iron stomach. I also lost all my allergies when I moved out of Manila. I even stopped suffering from asthma, and I could stop a budding sore throat in its tracks by a Betadine gargle and Strepsils (both imported from Manila!), and a cocktail of immunity boosting vitamins.
Could it be that my homeland made me sick? Or maybe I just outgrew my sickly self and developed an extra strong immune system? Perhaps it had something to do with learning to make the most of it, just like the end of my sister's story:
One day, the girl with the hot neck was visited by her sister, who had the grandest idea. Since her neck was so hot, why not put a frying pan on it? She put the pan on the girl's hot neck and started cooking eggs, bacon, and sausages for everyone. And the girl with the hot neck wasn't sad anymore because everyone loved everything she cooked on her hot, hot, hot neck. The End. - Rappler.com
Shakira Andrea Sison is a Palanca Award-winning essayist. She currently works in finance and spends her non-working hours recalling childhood stories in subway trains. She is a veterinarian by education and was managing a retail corporation in Manila before relocating to New York in 2002. Her column appears on Thursdays. Follow her on Twitter: @shakirasison and on Facebook.com/sisonshakira.