The past few days had almost become that moment for me. Almost.
First, I was a 17-year old who was nervously anticipating the release of her final grades for her very first semester in college. Then, suddenly, I was thrust into a world of medical jargon and blinding eye exams and hospital lines when the first doctor I had visited had told me, plainly, that I had a cyst in the optic nerve head of my left eye. Small. Irreversible. Prominent. It was right there when they took a picture.
And all of this had resulted from the fact that two weeks before that check-up, I had been having spells of dizziness that came at random moments and differed in magnitude. But, definitely, I felt these spells more when I was doing vision-related activities such as driving and reading. Initially, I had thought they were caused by stress. But for that a long time, my parents and I knew a doctor had to be consulted.
After the first check, with more tests to be done on the area, I had to wait. Needless to say, it was one hell of a wait.
The Pisay* student in me quickly got to thinking. Forever thankful to my teachers for exposing me to the ruthless researches abundant of jargon, I anxiously Googled my condition and found several relevant scientific papers. I could almost hear the drum roll reverberating through my head as I scanned them one by one, clinging to the words I already knew--"optic nerve", "cyst", "dizziness". But then, new words came out in my search--"congenital" and "meningioma". These two words represented the polar ends of my diagnosis. According to my research, it that cyst were congenital--if I was born with it--then it would be harmless; but if that cyst had just grown, then it could most likely be "meningioma", or a brain tumor.
When I had come to that conclusion, I zoomed forward. I could already see me in a hospital bed, strangled by wires here and there. I could already see me lying sedated with my left eye wide open--literally wide open, during an operation. I could already see me in so many various states of sickness and even in, sadly, a state of death.
But God, Allah, Buddha, Guru Nanak--or however any of us may call that divine power--is good.
After more tests and a visit to another ophthalmologist and even to one neurologist, what had previously been that unjust, cruel cyst had ended up becoming labeled as a "physical variation". It is apparently congenital, and with no current damaging effects to my eyes. There is still no definite cause for my dizziness, but the doctors have said that it may be a case of mild vertigo if not stress. In any case, the more recent diagnosis looked like a pink stuffed toy next to the roaring monstrosity of a tumor. I could finally breathe again.
When I had come to that conclusion, I zoomed in. In the waiting area in St. Luke's hospital, I was thinking to myself, "What had this experience taught me?" Before I could get down to answer, the strangest thing happens.
In anyone's life, there are moments that really redefine everything for them. The world ceases to be what they once knew. Their lives completely and irrevocably change. This was definitely that moment.
In the same waiting area, a small girl approaches me. She has a deformed face--a hair-covered lump on her forehead, a set of crossed eyes, and grayish, greenish teeth. Despite that, she was playful and friendly. She took my hands and positioned them as if to pray. Suddenly, a simply-dressed woman--her mother--sits near us to call back her daughter, "Aljean! Aljean! 'Lika nga dito!" ("Come here, please"). Aljean did not heed her mother. She giggled as her pigtails swayed back and forth. She pulled me to the window nearby that overlooked quite a lot of buildings. She was pointing to random places, and I couldn't understand what she was saying. She approached two other strangers--one wore an Ateneo ID and looked like a professor while the other was probably his son. She sat on the lap of the younger guy; he kindly obliged. Aljean was then motioning to touch the tablet of the professor, but we all laughably had to hold her back. For about an hour, I was there with her just running around and playing with our hands and giggling and trying to understand each other. She was an otherworldly sprite, and, if you looked closely enough, the corridor was a little brighter with her around.
Her mother later explained to me that the culprit is "hydrocephalus"--a condition wherein too much fluid can be found in the brain. Aljean had had it when she was an infant, and had undergone countless operations from birth in order to sustain her life. Sadly, her parents were not well off; her mother sadly lamented to me how hard she has repeatedly tried to solicit donations from PCSO, government officials, and even relatives in order to pay for the costs of her daughter's operations. Thankfully, she said, the doctors who handled Aljean were heaven-sent as they no longer charged them for consultation fees.
As a result of her condition, Aljean is not only deformed physically but also mentally. She no longer knows yet how to speak properly, write, or read; and (also due to the financial state of her parents) has never been enrolled in a special school she deserves. To voice out some of my sentiments, I talked to Aljean's mom about the SPED centers I was aware of. I told her that I believed there are public institutions that could help Aljean, and after her major operations, maybe her mom could focus on an education for the girl. She took this suggestion well, thankfully.
That little thought was somehow the least I could do to repay Aljean for what she has taught me: courage. Despite the stench of death lingering during operations, sicknesses, she stayed strong. Despite the difficulties, she and her family were with her all the way. People like her inspire us to be brave, given our own problems in life. People like her motivate us to do what we can to alleviate the conditions that distance them from a healthy life. She was my moment, my catalyst of change, and it would great to know that she could be taught to do the things that I believe are important.
My life has changed. I can only now feel how completely healthy I am, how completely alive I am. I can only see now what I can do given such a short life. I can only see now how grateful I am, for everything.
Maybe the dizziness was just an excuse. Maybe the cyst had to be there just for me to see, just for me to be at the hospital corridor on that day, at that exact moment. In any case, it was definitely worth it.
*Philippine Science High School