Sunday, August 26, 2007

Part 6 of "Broken and in Pieces, the Story of Mike"

More than a month has passed since my buddy’s lower leg was shattered in an “accident.” For him, it’s been sheer hell. He’s normally a very active fellow; in fact he’s hyperactive, so this forced inactivity is driving him nuts.

(To see how this mess started, here are parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5).

His orthopedist has been a godsend. By chance, we had found the good doctor just a few weeks before the mishap in our continuous search for local physicians wily enough to help us out as we assist veterans looking for decent medical consultations.

Most of the doctors hereabouts don’t write well, at least not in English, so finding this guy was great. The fact that he writes brilliantly AND he’s a brilliant orthopedic surgeon is pure bonus.

For my friend and his shattered leg the first three weeks or so was all hospital time. He had to wait for the battered tissue to reduce swelling enough for the first operation, which was devoted to pushing and pulling all the bone splinters and fragments back into the semblance of what was once a straight and intact tibia.

Two surgeons spent 5 hours getting that done using a heavy stainless steel cage called a fixator and a whole lot of X-rays to make sure the pins were going in correctly. I hear that the latest fixators are made of lightweight materials, but not so over here. Currently, my friend has about 25 pounds of metal dragging down his right leg. Or at least it drags on it when he tries to get up, which is not very often, just when he goes to the head or takes a few minutes to check his email on his PC.

He’s had to return to the hospital twice now, in fact, he’s there now, this last time because of a serious infection. The way I see it, around here, all infections are serious. In this tropical climate with the environment so laden with bacteria, those lurking nasties await the smallest chink in our bodily defenses to attack us.

In my friend’s case, he has more than a half-dozen metal pins pushed through the flesh of his leg into the bone, all designed to “fixate” the lower leg to allow proper alignment during the healing process.

Every couple of days, using a brush and a solution of hydrogen peroxide, the doctor scrubs away the clotted material from around the pins penetrating his leg. I guess it’s a form of débridement. The holes have to be kept open until its time to remove them. As far as my friend is concerned, that day can NOT come too soon. He tells me he’s been dreaming of the day a normal cast will replace the current cage-like monstrosity.

Last week, a few days before he reentered the hospital for his current round of IV administered antibiotics, I was deeply concerned because his leg was throbbing from the inside in an area that had not hurt all that much before. I also noticed his foot seemed a bit discolored and extra swollen. Right away, I knew it was probably the onset of a serious infection. The doctor thought so too, and a laboratory analysis proved us right.

I don’t know how he doesn’t have infections ALL the time considering he’s got those pins providing an out-and-out super hi-way right into the depths of his leg.

Infections scare me because they remind me of Mike, a fellow American veteran whom I once “assisted” with VA claims advice at least once or twice a week. To get my broke-legged buddy to listen carefully to his doctor’s instructions to get into a hospital for another round of heavy-duty antibiotics, and better yet, to do so IMMEDIATELY, I told him the story of Mike.

Up until his death about two years ago Mike was a fixture on Fields Avenue, which should be called “Party Avenue.” Usually from the early afternoon on you could catch him tooling about in his battery powered wheelchair scooter, and almost always he was skunk drunk by 2 p.m.

Once he had his daily buzz going he’d find a spot to park along the street and just sit there like an inebriated Buddha in the sun. He’d talk, mostly in an incoherent mumble, to anyone and everyone he happened to know or thought he knew.

Indeed, he looked like a suntanned Buddha-bum with his completely shaven baldhead and round, deeply browned tummy poking out prominently from his wide-open unbuttoned cotton shirt.

Mike didn’t sit on his chair so much as he perched up there, mostly because he had no legs, since not even the stumps of them were left. The good thing about Mike was it didn’t take much drinking to get him drunk since he was missing most of the bulk of his body.

When Mike first came to see me for help with his VA and Social Security claims I had assumed that he’d lost his legs to diabetes or to some grievous war wound, but in time I learned that his leglessness had not happened due to disease at all.

Mike had only nominal service with the navy back in the late 50s between wars, so he didn’t qualify for any veterans benefits. His only income was a small amount from social security. If not for the help he received with filling out applications from the veterans groups here in town he probably would not have received even that. In fact, that powered scooter of his was a donation from those same groups.

He had come to the Philippines for the same reasons many have come here over the years—for the low cost of living and the wonderful women. In the end, the Philippines killed him; or more like it, he offed himself, using the Philippines as the means.

The beginnings of his woes started off ordinary enough—one day he was a passenger in a trike when another vehicle struck it. Mike’s legs were injured; I’m not sure how badly, maybe some broken bones and lacerations. If he’d been anywhere back home it would have been no big deal. He would have been taken to an emergency room where they would have patched him up, indigent or not, but that’s not what happens here.

Here, if you get hurt and you can’t pay for antibiotics, or surgery, well, you don’t get them. Mike lay with in his bloody bandages in a bed in a public hospital in a large room with a bunch of other people who could not afford quality care, and his legs slowly rotted off his body. Gangrene set in and he lost them.

Luckily he didn’t die, although it’s a miracle he didn’t. I’m not sure, but I think some local Americans finally learned of his situation and chipped in to help him survive the amputations. Once out of the hospital he lived under some cardboard in someone’s carport for months, when once again, some of his fellow expats stepped in and got him some help from social security. After that, he could afford to pay a small rent and still had money enough for utilities, and more importantly to him, enough to keep him drunk for most of the day.

When I met him he was already dying. His heart was barely pumping enough blood to keep him alive and his internals were already so damaged from the drinking that it was just a matter of time before he croaked. He had a number of serious conditions that he should have been taking at least a half-dozen medications to control, but he spent all of his small income on his drug of choice—his booze.

The local embassy warden tried to convince him to let the United States fly him home to some kind of sanatorium in the States, but Mike knew he’d never be able to have his “fun” there and refused to go. In time, I learned that he had finally died.

So, okay, it wasn’t JUST infections that ended Mike’s life, but if left unchecked, those microscopic flesh-destroying bacterium WILL do a number on you. The good thing is once I told my little yarn about Mike to my friend it seemed to get him off the pot and he was back in the hospital the next morning.

Mission accomplished…


shazamo said...

Enjoy your posts and reading about your life. I have been to Angeles a few times now and can relate to what you mean by "Party Avenue". I remember the guy you talk about "Mike", my friend and I said hello to him while he was sitting outside on the street about 3 years ago?. I also saw him get taken into Swagmans for lunch with a group of people. I heard he was riding side saddle on the trike the day of the accident.. not sure?. It was sad to hear he passed away soon after my visit. It's an amazing place there in Balibago and in the Phils.. it get's in your blood and you always want to go back.

PhilippinesPhil said...

Yes Shazamo, Balibago is truly unique; even here in the Philippines there is no place else like it. It's not as crazy wild as it was during the "American time," but even at 10% its pretty wild.

You've GOT to be extremely careful though. This place can be deadly what with the police waiting to "ambush" and extort from unsuspecting unprepared tourists.

The problem that we "permanent personnel" have is when they confuse us with "you." We're pretty sure from their reaction that the cops thought my friend was a tourist. The local ne'er-do-wells realize that its much more difficult to shake us down than it is you temp visitors. Throw me in jail and cuff me around and I'll just wait them out. They do that to unwary tourists and invariably they simply "pay up" so they can get the hell out of here. It happens EVERYDAY...!

KA said...

... men really relocate for the sake of women? Really?

PhilippinesPhil said...

You're a psych major and you know SO little of men? You really should come here and THEN you'd understand.

Lets use me as an example. I'm 50, and lets say I'm single. If I'm in the US looking for female companionship the only women I'll find interested will be older than 45 or in their 30's if they are looking for a daddy for their kids.

Over here, no matter how old the man is he can and WILL get a girl as young and as beautiful as he wants. Its almost unreal. For instance, one of my 79 year old buds has an 18 year old live-in. And she chases him around making sure he keeps it in his pants!

For one thing, women prefer older men here (maybe not 60 years older though!) and the other of course is economics--a bit like that 30 something American woman looking for a baby-daddy.

In fact, it's kind of funny how so many of the guys living here for awhile FORGET how truly old, ugly and unattractive they are UNTIL they take a trip back to the USA. Then, once again, they are ignored if not outright dismissed or even spurned at which point they start planning on getting back over here!

So, why wouldn't men come to a place where the women aren't shallow like they mostly are back there (present company excluded)?

On that note, I have a question for you Kat. How many male friends do you have over the age of 40? Not just acquaintances, teachers or relatives, but regular people? If you plan on studying human behavior you really should find out about folks in their later years. From your writing it seems that your circles tend to mostly include fledgling types like yourself; you know--young, inexperienced, untried, and unseasoned.

Let's put it this way. The way I was at your age, I am drastically different from that now. As a student of psychology doesn't that interest you? What happens to people in 30 short years to make them such different people? Hmmmmm.

KA said...

... Ok, where to start with that.

Ok, you're looking for young, beautiful women who will look past age and appearance? Isnt there an irony in this? Looking for young beautiful women who can see beyond appearance when judging them for their age and appearance? what would have been so wrong with a 30-something or 40-something woman?

Or is it only ok to judge WOMEN on beauty?

Why don't I have many friends over the age of 40 (sans military, so i guess they're not regular men...)? Because we're on two different parts of our life. You don't see many 40 somethings in ROTC, or in the LT mafia, or in school with me. I can say that I am friends with a 40-something woman who sits beside me in 3 out of 6 of my classes. The 40-something men who approach me in a non-professional atmosphere are just... ugh, dirty old men. Let's face it, I don't like being made to feel like a brainless slut by men in their 20's, 30's, 40's or anywhere. Older men target me, a woman in my 20's BECAUSE of my appearance, I just reciprocate it. The closest I got to being with an "older man" was a guy 9 years older than me, and the main reason was because he was capable of speaking to me like I wasnt just a transport for breasts... you know, like i was a person of the female gender who possessed an education, common sense and the ability to do something other than look cute.

Needless to say I have few male friends of any age. Lifetime development interests me, but considering why men think a woman is shallow because she, as a woman being judged on her age and beauty, can't see past a man's age and appearance doesnt interest me at all. i think I got a handle on that one.

PhilippinesPhil said...

So judgmental for a psychologist! You're going to have to watch that.Oh and careful about throwing them stones Kat, coz I'm about to toss a couple back at ya.

When you said "yes" to your man, I suppose the fact that he's a hotty with a nice bod NEVER entered into the equation? Be HONEST now.

As for me, my wife is 41. I've been married for 10 years. BUT, if something happened, why wouldn't I want to marry someone nice to look at AND smart? Hell yeah!

Your "dirty old men" comment is exactly what I'm talking about. Back there, If I even look at a young woman, much less try to talk to her, like asking for the time, the look on her face says it all, "Ewwwwwwww!" Who needs that? I've NEVER once seen a woman give me that look over here. It doesn't happen. Of course, part of that is that Filipinas are just too nice to do it. For me, THAT'S good enough!

Anyway, my comment on "older people" shouldn't have been just about men. Still, what makes us like this? I never even suspected this "world" of young vs old even existed. You're going to be a psych, figure it out... hmmmmm.

You don't have many male friends. That makes sense. I think you and I are a lot alike. I have few friends of ANY gender. I don't really need any to be truthful.

Oh, on your last rather defensive thought there. I implicitly said "present company excluded" so that meant YOU! I know your not shallow, or maybe you think you're not, but as I eluded to above there ARE plenty of shallow women in the good ol USA. I am here to tell you that. I can chat up just about any woman in my college that I approach, and about any subject, but not so back there, because ONE look at my 50 year old face and their "ewwwww!" face comes out. Are you feeling me yet?

Better yet, lets have this conversation again in 30 years when YOU are 50. Oh, never mind, I'll probably be either dead or drooling on myself... snicker...

KA said...

Everytime i try to comment it's swallowed up into the blogger vortex, so here's my last shot.

I don't appreciate being gawked at and being treated like I'm nothing without my appearance; does that make me intolerant? if you really think so, then you're perception is a little skewed.

I never said anything about men LOOKING at women, i said APPROACHING. It's been my experience that older men are more bold than younger men; older men are more likely to hit on me in a blatantly chauvenistic way (ie. not taking the conversation off of my appearance, or petting me, etc) while younger mena re more likely to fumble over their words. Both are bad, but one I can feel sorry for, the other one I want to punch in the face (but don't out of some semblance of respect for my elders).

I have never been approached by an older male in a social context that was in anyway respectful where I was not treated like a child with breasts.

As for a final point about my husband, about two/three(ish) years ago I had a choice between Mr Rich, Mr Hooah-Hooah, Mr Gorgeous and J. Obviously I picked J for one BIG reason; we've been friends for a decade (I'm 20 years old, so it's kind of a big deal). Our friendship began when I was a pimple faced, metal mouth in my VERY awkward/shy phase before I had any use for boys. There's a great amount of security in that.

Wanna know my real discriminator? Physical fitness.

PhilippinesPhil said...

As I said, when I was 20 I saw things way differently than I do now. 30 years from now, so will you.

I never approach and speak to anyone, to any woman, with the idea of hitting on them, THAT'S the baggage that women, especially American ones, bring to the table. I simply enjoy conversing. I've noticed that females back there immediately start thinking "that way." I wish they wouldn't.

The fact that girls hit on me here all the time merely feeds my ego, but I've NEVER acted on the "hits." I DO think its sweet that they see me as more than just an old guy though, perhaps as an old "American" guy who can take CARE of them. ... grin....

Your discriminator is physical fitness for what? For a relationship? That's natural. But its also very shallow, and very American. I have to admit I'm just as shallow. A hard body is hard to resist.

Mike on the other hand had no legs and he was a drunk, yet, he had sweet younger girlfriend, I think in her late 20s, that seemed to see past his baldness, his age, and his condition. As we say here ALL the time, ONLY IN THE PHILIPPINES!

Getting back to your initial seemingly incredulous question:

"... men really relocate for the sake of women? Really?"

Absolutely! and thank God for THESE women! There are none sweeter ANYWHERE!

Hey, that was your last shot? Why quit now? You're doing great!

KA said...

because blogs comment machine keeps eating up what i type.

lol, i dont discriminate on physical fitness for the reasons u may think. I live an active lifestyle - i want to backpack, sky dive, camp, and work out and have an incredibly healthy diet. It's what I value, it's what's important to me. Why wouldnt I want a partner who can back pack, sky dive, camp and work out with me? the very least...can understand why I eat and schedule my day the way I do. If I had someone who lived a largely sedentiary lifestyle, they wouldnt value every day things the way I do; like my insistance on an almost vegetarian diet and aversion to All fast foods.

I was once with someone who didn't value education or physical fitness so when i sat down to do homework or started to go for a run (this was back in my marathon days) he decided to try and schmooze and distract me (to no avail as I dumped him right that second.)