In 2006, my brother, Charles, complained about having these bouts of headaches that wouldn’t go away. I told him to ask Mama to get him to a doctor for a consultation. I knew that I could and should have taken him instead but I didn’t. Stupid me, I didn’t view it as something serious. It’s probably the reason why I have always felt a little responsible for what happened in the year that followed.
In 2007, his headaches became more severe and frequent that his health began to deteriorate. He could hardly eat, always had fever particularly in the afternoon, and he had gotten so weak he started missing his classes. Soon, he had been diagnosed with TB Meningitis, one that targets the brain. Our sister, Vanie didn’t have a decent work then and I only earned PHP 8,500 per month. How I managed to buy his medicines, which by the way, cost me an arm and a leg, while paying the bills in our house is beyond me. All I knew then is that I had to take care of it. I wanted to save my brother.
I had to make sacrifices of course, including my personal needs. I had to cut back on certain things that single women should be enjoying like shopping, gimmicks, travel, food, etc. The most that I could buy for myself is for my personal hygiene. I had no choice, I had to spend a lot for Charles’s medication. Several times he was confined at San Lazaro Hospital. I would come by for a visit and every time I do, I get my heart broken. I tell you there is nothing more painful than to see your loved one suffering. The pain it gave me was so thick it was almost tangible.
There was this one time when I came for a visit and had the shock of my life. I saw my brother with his arms and legs tied down on the sides of the bed. Mama said that Charles just had a seizure, so severe they couldn’t control him. They had to tie him down to prevent him from hurting himself. As she told me this, Mama fought hard to keep her tears from falling; I couldn’t hold back mine. When I stared back at my brother’s eyes and saw just how much he was hurting that did it for me. I sobbed like never before in my life.
Charles was the fourth child and the one who broke the all-female cycle in the family. Papa had always wanted to have a son thus, his birth was a dream come true. Needless to say, Charles was our father’s pet, he adored him like no other. He was the only one in our family who had the most number of pictures, godparents, and toys, and every year we had a party for his birthday.
Charles liked to play. He mastered every game there is, from the family computer, Gameboy, Game Gear, to the Playstation. He was also the artist of the family. At 3 years old, Charles turned the walls of our house into a big canvass, drawing images that looked too good to have been made by someone his age. I knew then he had potential and as he grew older he had gotten better. He could draw more complicated things, like portraits, landscapes, or any of his favorite anime characters. He did them all with ease, hardly using an eraser. Soon people took notice of his gift and started seeking his help for their school projects or homework. He gladly helped them all, without even asking anything in return.
My gift of music and my love for the English language, Charles inherited. Like me he wasn’t good with numbers, but he sure knew and loved English the way I did. Charles was always happy and it was never hard to please him. I knew he could have gone a long way, if only he didn’t have to leave soon.
Weeks before he passed, we watched how quickly his health deteriorated. He had to wear diapers because he no longer had control of his bladder, he couldn’t finish his food, couldn’t get up from the bed on his own, and he was always quiet ’cause talking alone took so much effort.
In 2007, on the night of October 31st, he complained that he couldn’t pee and that it was hurting him. He didn’t want to go to the hospital but I knew I had to take action. When I told him he really needed to see a doctor he no longer refused.
We rushed him to San Lazaro Hospital in the middle of the night. I remember the darkness, the street lights, and the barren roads. I remember liking the unknown song that was playing inside the cab. I remember keeping my fear at bay, convincing myself that everything will be fine.
In the hospital, people seemed to be always taking their time. We had to wait to be attended by one of the staff, we waited before we were given a wheelchair, we waited as they deliberated which part of the hospital my brother should go, we waited to be attended by the doctor, we waited for the result of the medical tests, and we waited to hear the doctor’s decision. I don’t know how I managed to stay awake when my body was just about to give in from exhaustion. I longed for the comforts of my bed, wanting so bad to sleep it all off. But I hang on and kept these thoughts to myself. Indeed, it was the longest night of my life and to this day I’m not quite sure how I got through it.
It wasn’t until 6:00 in the morning that the doctor decided to confine my brother for further observation. At 8:00 a.m. he was transferred from the ER to ICU. The look on the faces of the people at the ICU was more than I could bear. It was like they were wise to me over something that I couldn’t or wouldn’t see. Had I known that it was his last day I wouldn’t have gone home to catch some zzs. It is one of the biggest regrets of my life. I was in denial that Charles was leaving us; I honestly didn’t see it coming.
That afternoon I returned to the hospital and had my heart broken. The look on Tita Blanca’s face gave it all away. I knew even before I reached Charles’s room that something went terribly wrong. When I got there I saw the doctors and nurses surrounding my brother’s bed, trying their damnedest to revive him. My heart was gripped in terror. I remember praying like I never did before and made all kinds of bargaining with the Lord just so he would spare my brother’s life.
I hoped, prayed, cried, and waited. Finally, the doctors started backing away from the bed with a look of regret on their faces. Slowly, I approached his bed, held his hand, and saw traces of tears on his cheeks. Then it hit me; the boy I took care of when he was just a baby, the one who loved Aerosmith, the one who used to call me “Ate” (big sister) was gone. Anguish sets in; the pain was so great it knocked the air out of me.
It made me realize how inconsiderate and disrespectful death is. It doesn’t care about your age, status in life, or how nice you have been to your neighbors. It doesn’t care if you still have dreams that you want to pursue, if you’re in love with someone, or if you are yet to finish school. When it comes, you’re done, that’s it… no stop button, no pause, no rewind.
Charles’s death reminded me of my own mortality and in the process, forced me to appreciate life. In his short time on earth, Charles lived his life the best way he knew. He made lots of friends, had big dreams, and found happiness even in the littlest of things. Indeed he had so much gratefulness in his heart and never stopped dreaming. Yes, even when he was terribly sick he always asked me if he could take up Fine Arts in college. I always answered “yes.”