Once in a while, in our busy and chaotic medical life, a few patients would come by and jerk you off your comfort zone for empathy and go bonkers on the absurdities of life. They come into your clinic like the usual patients complaining of this or that disease. The moment you ask these patients about their history however, you pause at one point in awe and be moved for a while. Something hit you and had hit you hard. You are, in medical numbspeak, “infected” with their moving story.
One of my few personal favorites is the story of Mang Pedring. Mang Pedring, is a fifty something bread winner of his family. The father of four and a laborer, he frequents and works part time inside these gambling site to earn his living. He barks (as kristo) in a cockfight, a tayador in a tumbo (I wont bother expounding on this because I really have a vague idea what this coin gambling is) and a meron in a card game called Pusoy or tsikitsa. He broke his left arm after falling off a motorcycle. He was on his way to the cockpit- the gallery for cockfighting.
It was almost a month after his injury when he sought consult at my clinic. Prior to this, Mang Pedring went to a number of bonesetters, a doctor, and was actually admitted in one hospital for 5 days. His last closed reduction and casting didn’t went well for some unknown reason (I learned later, that he took off his mold because it felt so tight for him, without consulting his previous doc). What’s worse is, he drained his funds going through all these unsuccessful attempts at “fixing” his broken arm.
Funds, which he revealed, was a pool of money earned from gambling- from the throw in of his fellow gamblers when they learned of his predicament, and (the most disheartening was) what he earned as a cockpit kristo or barker while his right arm is strapped in a sling and a cast. That helpless ironic sight, as I imagined from his story, made me twitch in empathy. I cannot imagine raising my broke arm in an attempt to earn my living, much more do it in a gambling site. He came begging me to fix his arm so he can go back to his ‘work” and earn for his family.
What I was trained of course, is not to give weight on his conflicting circumstances but focus more on his ailment, which is his broken arm. Orthopods were trained well to aim at a holistic treatment of a “broken” patient- to return the patient to his functioning, pre injury status. In Mang Pedring case, to his gambling “work”.
I owe it to Hippocrates and to mankind to do just that and leave the morality of his gambling work to the society’s judgment. In fact, I never pass on judgment unto Mang Pedring. I simply wanted to bring him back to his pre injury level. Whether his work qualifies (or not) as a job for many of us, that is not my concern and is not what struck me in his story. It is his struggle to earn a living while still on the mercy of a cast over his left arm. The ghastly scene is further brutalized by having to work as a barker in a cockfight. What suddenly flashed in my mind? A wounded gladiator.
Funds depleted, and totally frustrated at his broken arm, I reapplied his cast ( as a temporary “fixation”) while we where looking for funds for his operative treatment. I said I could help finding a sponsor for his metal implant and negotiate for a “free surgeon”. He only has to look for his medicines needed during the operation. Right there, I saw Mang Pedring’s eyes beaming with happiness. He cried in front of me. Cries, which really whacked me out of my objective senses for a minute. I saw his desperation. I saw his hope. Now his desperation is mine too. His hope, lies in what I could do to ease out his predicament. I have to fix his broken arm. Soon. Fast.
Then what he said (in hiligaynon) before leaving struck me the most:
“I gotta get back to the cockpit and the tumbuan doc and ask again for a “throw- in” for my surgery. I know people there would help me”
I scratched my head in disbelief. Mang Pedring was and even in dire needs, look up to his gambling and fellow gamblers for help. Whatever our society has passed judgment as morally wrong wouldn’t matter to this guy for as long as it saves his limb and and put food in the table for his family. For once, I thought Jesus, the kristo, was disguised as a gambler. Mang Pedring is and will probably be a gambler. But his aspirations and dreams were similar (or parallel) to the non gambling patients I’ve treated. He wanted to return to his job and feed his family. Whether his method or job is morally wrong to some of us that is not my hemisphere of expertise. I simply wanted to return him to his pre injury functioning level. Period.
After 2 more casting sessions, Mang Pedring didn’t come back to my clinic anymore. While in the process of “pooling” funds for his surgery, he felt his armed healed already and removed his cast. Of course I wanted to confirm that with an x-ray. I also wanted to see if the money he pooled is really safe in his piggy bank and not to the gambling aficionados. I didn’t get that chance. One gambling insider later told me Mang Pedring is back in the cockpit again, without his cast and seem to have a functioning arm. I just smiled. Perhaps my work has ended successfully there.
Perhaps, I made a gamble on Mang Pedring.
(Photo credits goes to Islander in the City, here)