Tuesday, July 16, 2002

The Not-So-Common Cold

I was going to write something entirely different today, but like most things in my life, my cold seems to interfere with matters.

To begin with, my family's health isn't something one should be proud of. My father has been having breathing problems even before I was born. Even now, he refuses to see a doctor, mainly because he believes that he's going to die anyway. My mother's side of the family suffers from diabetes. Strangely enough, I don't think we were afflicted with the disease.

When I was young, I got sick easily, mainly because of my frail immune system, which is due in part to my parents. When I was a babe, they rarely kept me out of the crib and never exposed me to dust. Now, one sniff of the stuff and I start sneezing. Blame my parents for their over-protectiveness. It comes to haunt me now.

The fact that I'm as skinny as a skeleton doesn't help either. Again, this can be attributed to my parents and their excess of concern. When I was four, I appeared to eat little from my plate. The maids and my parents would tell me to eat more and more. I told them I was already full but they refused to believe it. They made me eat more food, more than I could handle. And then I vomited. Of course this would go on three to four times in a week. Did this stop my parents? No... it only reinforced their sensibilities to try to stuff as much food as they can in me. My picture when I was four and when I was five were drastic. I was still chubby in the former. I was quite skinny in the latter. Because of my lack of fat, I quickly got cold. Heat, on the other hand, was something I barely felt, which is probably why I like going out in the hot, sunny afternoons.

In nursery, I was known for two things: my ability to sneeze often, and my propensity to cough out phlegm. I was always with a hankie, and with good reason. The moment I come to school without one is the moment I finish a roll of tissue paper in one day.

Grade school was no different, except that I was able to use my phlegm as a defense mechanism against bullies. It was a simple concept: you come near me, I spit at you. It was gross but it kept me from receiving a lot of bruises.

Of course my "cold attacks" were prone to happen more at home than at school. Since my parents rarely copulate, me and my sister were sleeping in our parent's room. Atop the king size bed was my sister, my mom, and then me. My dad was sleeping on a cushion below my sis. This should have clued me in on how dysfunctional the relationship my parents have with each other, but that's another story. Below the bed though was the carpet, and carpet tend to contain a lot of stuff I'd rather not say. In addition to that, the air conditioner was to my right. I don't like the cold. To me, hell would be a frozen wasteland. I started having colds every night.

My parents sometimes shut off the air conditioner when my cold becomes severe (i.e. I still can't breathe and it's already 1 am) but that was the exception rather than the norm. On the good side of things, my cold was limited to me and it wasn't contagious. That's why my parents still keep me in their room every night and why I still have classmates.

Mom tried giving me antibiotics but that was only a temporary answer. For one, it took several hours to take effect. For another, the effect lasted around an hour. For the rest of my life, I'd have a tower beside my pillow so that I can sneeze into it, much like I do with a handkerchief. If I didn't, our tissue bills would soar as high as Mount Everest.

Of course the diagnosis of the doctor was strange. For one thing, my nose was crooked. He asked me if I was hit by someone on the nose. I told him I couldn't recall any event, especially not one recently. He then told me that one hole was larger than the other, and it was due to the fact that the middle bone was sliding more to one side. The second strange diagnosis is that I was allergic to antibiotics. He said that it would provide only a temporary relief and would make the next attack more severe. Even as early as four, mom was leading me to self-destruction.

For quite some time, I was treated with the most bizarre medical treatments. One was the device that plunged the medicine directly into my nostrils. I had to put the device into one of my edifices and press it. A strange, foul air would go in and I'd be screaming for fresh air. And then I had to do it again, this time on the other hole. Did it work? After a year or so, I threw away the damn thing.

Since my parents didn't let me sleep in another room, I was stuck with their bedroom. They did install an air purifier which worked for the first few weeks but managed to get clogged up by dirt often. We later bought a newer model but the same thing happened. I guess American filters just can't survive Philippine atmosphere.

Sometimes, it was getting too severe that I'd sleep at 3 am only to wake up at 6 am to be ready for school. And this happened on a regular basis. What I mean by a regular basis is every week. If I was lucky, I'd sleep on the sofa and my parents would stop pestering me. I told them that what I needed was to be away from their room with the carpet and the air conditioner. They didn't listen. Instead, they sent me to another doctor. A Chinese one.

What Western medicine didn't find out, Eastern practice did. I underwent another strange procedure wherein the doctor made several dots on my forearm and placed different chemicals on them. It was then exposed to the light and an hour later, some of those dots became rashes. Thus I found out my allergies.

Naturally, I was allergic to dust. No surprise there. I was also allergic to cockroaches. It surprised me but not as surprising as the next revelation. I was allergic to chocolate!!! Before I sleep, I'd usually take a pack of Swiss Chocolate with Marshmallows and drink it. No wonder most of my attacks happen in the evening.

For a period of two months, I was taking injections every week. My driver and maid would bring me to the emergency room of Cardinal Santos (because that was where you could get injections) every Wednesday, pay the nurse the P30 fee, and take the shot. Two months later, I was taking injections once every two weeks. After that, once every month. And now, this is why I am not afraid of disposable injections. The big needles still scare me, especially once when I had to take a blood test. The only good thing I got from these injections is that sometimes, the pain was too much that I wasn't forced to play the piano. I'd say that I couldn't use my right arm and the lessons would be called off.

After all those injections and refraining from eating chocolate, my situation only got alleviated a bit. I still had colds on a regular basis and I was having trouble breathing often. I knew at this point, if there's anyone who's going to save me, it would be me. Not my parents, not the doctors, but me. I took matters into my own hands.

First, I requested to be relocated to the guest room. For one thing, there's a plant there, so I'm sure I'm getting oxygen. Second, the room doesn't have a carpet. Third, I don't need to turn on the air conditioner for the sake of my parents. Things became better as my colds came less frequent and I'd have "big attacks" once every three weeks. For a guy who got them on a regular basis, once every three weeks was a great relief. And not too soon as well since I was around grade seven at that time. I needed all the sleep I could get.

Second thing I did was get into shape. No, I did not lift weights but concentrated on cardiovascular exercises. In my case, it meant walking. Since my parents were overprotective of me, they didn't allow me to walk to school nor come home from school even though it's only three kilometers away. It's actually quite safer than it seems despite the rampant kidnappings going on. For one thing, I had to walk through several exclusive villages, and not just anyone could enter those places. For another, with the way I looked, I was the last person a kidnapper would think of abducting.

While I didn't get to walk to school, I did manage them to allow me to walk to the mall, which was one kilometer away. Slowly, I started getting fit. And slowly, my colds were decreasing in frequency. By the time I was third year high school, I was able to walk home from school. At this point, the stronger cold attacks happened once every two months. What nine years of medicine couldn't do, a year of exercise cured.

Nowadays, walking or running is the favored mode of transportation. People are surprised at the lengths I'm able to cross. Little do they realize it's more for therapy rather than masochism. And with my thin body, Philippine heat hardly fazes me.

When I get a cold these days, it's really worth noticing. I still carry a handkerchief and keep a towel by my bedside every time since I'll never get rid of the phlegm, but a cold is something that seldom occurs. The best thing of all, I don't rely on medicine for treatment. And I'm able to partake in a little chocolate from time to time.

No comments: