Yellow Pad

That was my mantra when I rushed Dodong to the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) via ambulance on that frightening morning of Dec. 29, 2014.

I had never conducted a patient via ambulance since 1980, but there I was, calling the central ICU (CENICU) to prepare the bed and get all that was necessary. He was stuporous, eyes rolled upwards, temperature running at 40. Pure dead weight. There was nothing I could do inside the ambulance but tell the kind driver “bilis-bilisan mo nga! (hurry up!)”

At the PGH entrance, the team was there with the stretcher; at the CENICU, the bed was ready, all the specimen bottles were lined up on the table, and after drawing blood, he got his first empiric antibiotic.

Never did I suspect that he had bacterial meningitis — not too common in this age group with a mortality rate that could go as high as 90%. A spinal tap on New Year’s Eve yielded drops of pus. I sought the expertise of Medy Saniel, our ID (infectious disease) consultant. No hesitation, even if she did not see patients in the pay wards.

Never did I expect the University of the Philippines (UP) President to be seizing 17 times (status epilepticus) and going into cardiac arrest in front of me, literally dead for four minutes. But never did I say “That’s it.”

We were nine doctors in the core team, six medical residents, and fellows for every discipline. And nurses, of course. There was no chaos in this crisis. Each of us was moving in the same direction, always communicating with each other, until the final “Carry out the order” was given by me, as main attending.

Milo Roa was able to wean him from the ventilator in spite of his 40 pack year smoking history (or smoking a pack of cigarettes everyday for 40 years). Gap Legaspi drained the fluid in his subdura, Leonard Pascual monitored his neuro status, John Anonuevo stabilized his atrial fibrillation, May Ann Abrahan kept his sugar in control, Alvin Mojica made him stand up in rehab, Rene Tuazon looked at all the orifices in his head to find the source of the meningitis.

The second miracle was his ability to stand up and do simple exercises, insisting that he face the mirror so he could see how he looked. Others would not want to see how they looked, but not Dodong. He said, though barely audible, so full of uncertainty and sadness, “Agnes, I don’t know how Princess and I can shoulder all these expenses.” I said “huwag mong intindihin yon. Maraming tutulong. OK lang. (Don’t worry about it. Many will help. It will be OK.)”

After two months, he was discharged to the UP Infirmary. He stayed there for nearly two months, and described it as “worse than Camp Crame.” He would escape and go to his house.

The third miracle was the full recovery of his mental acuity in spite of his cardiac arrest and bacterial meningitis. I had asked him if he met anyone while he was in a coma. “My father.” But he denied it the following day. I don’t think he believes in after life. Pero sinabi nya iyon! (But he said it!)

So there you are, the living miracle. I thank the family, especially Princess, for being calm when we did our rounds, allowing us to move as we wished and providing all the necessary needs.

To my medical team, we can only look back at the past four and a half years with both humility and pride, as well as a profound sense of gratitude


Agnes D. Mejia, MD was Francisco Nemenzo, Jr.’s Attending Physician. She was the Dean of the UP College of Medicine from 2012 to 2018. This testimonial was given on the occasion of the 60th wedding anniversary of former UP President Francisco Nemenzo Jr. and Ana Maria Nemenzo on Oct. 20 this year.