A New Migrant's Introduction to Life in NZ
Pagdating sa Auckland, nakahanap naman kaagad si Jean ng isang room na mauupahan. Nakipag-flatting sila sa bahay ng isang Pinay na ang asawa ay Kiwi. Isang maliit na kwarto. $100 per week plus hati sa water at electricity bill. Magandang umpisa dahil within one week may tirahan na sila. So far so good.
Next mission, yung schooling ni Fidez. Buti naman yung flat nila malapit sa isang private Catholic school. Although private, may subsidy ng gobyerno kaya ang tuition $150 per year lang. Nagpunta si Jean sa iskul at inenrol si Fidez. Natanggap naman si Fidez. So far so good, pa rin.
Napakalaking accomplishment nito. Within two weeks may tirahan na sila at may iskul na rin si Fidez. Everything was going smoothly as planned towards settling into a new life in New Zealand.
This was until things started to go wrong...
Tinanong ng school kung meron na silang family doctor, GP (General Practitioner) kung tawagin. Sabi ni Jean wala pa. Kailangan daw meron para may record ang bata ng mga vaccinations at health history. So pagkagaling sa iskul dumiretcho si Jean sa isang malapit na clinic at pina check up si Fidez. Everything was normal. Then naisip ni Jean na magpa-check up na rin kasi para daw madali siyang mapagod lately.
Dahil wala naman makitang karamdaman ang GP, lahat normal naman, ni refer ng GP na magpa-blood test siya. So lakad uli si Jean, tangay-tangay si Fidez sa malapit na Medlab at nagpakuha ng dugo. Pagkatapos noon, naglakad na sila pauwi.
That night may natanggap na phone call si Jean, galing sa GP. "Mrs. you have to pack some clothes and proceed to the Auckland Hospital right away. A bed is already waiting for you".
Siempre shock si Jean. Bakit kailangan siyang i-ospital? Normal naman ang pakiramdam niya, except nga lang na madali siyang mapagod. The GP made no further explanations. He just said something was not right with her blood test results. Hindi na ni Jean inurirat. Inisip niya na baka precautionary lang kaya tumuloy na siya sa ospital. Pagdating sa ospital sinalubong siya ng hospital aide na may dalang wheelchair. Sabi ni Jean, "no thank you I can walk by myself". Pero pinilit pa rin siyang isakay, indicative of something terribly wrong.
That night, she learned that her blood test showed that her blood platelet count has dipped to alarming levels. Too low that if it had gone even slightly lower, the effects to her body would have been irreversible. Possibly a coma, OR DEATH. That night Jean was confined in the hospital.
Fidez was not allowed to stay in the hospital, dahil bawal dito ang may bantay sa ospital. She had to stay with some friends who we hardly knew yet at that time. Imagine, a 5 year old child, seeing her mom in the hospital with all the needles and medical equipment around her, and now parting with her mom to stay with people she hardly knew. And all these happening within 2 weeks of their arrival in a foreign land! Walang kaibigan, walang kamag-anak na titingin. I can't imagine how a 5 year old child must be feeling at the time.
LA to Auckland
Meantime, tinawagan ako ng ospital sa trabaho ko sa LA. Sinabi ang situation ni Jean. The good news was that it was not leukemia. They determined this after a biopsy test on her bone marrow. The bad news was that they still could not determine the exact cause. Basta ang sabi nila "she's very very sick" at kailangan ako doon para at least merong mag-alaga kay Fidez. Agad-agad naman akong nag-resign sa job ko at nagpa-book ng flight papuntang Auckland.
It was when I arrived at Auckland Hospital a few days later that I learned what Jean had been through to fight her unseen ailment. I learned that Jean was suffering from a blood disorder called TTP, the causes of which are still unknown. This disease was causing clots in her blood vessels, consuming her platelets. The mortality rate if left untreated was 95%. This disease is considered very rare, like only 1 to 3 for every million people are affected by it.
The only cure the doctors knew was through a process called plasma exchange. Para itong blood transfusion. Pero instead of the actual blood, plasma (the fluid that carries blood) ang pinapasok sa ugat mo. Kaya "exchange" kasi, sa isang tube na nakasuksok sa ugat mo pinapapasok ang "good" plasma, at sa ibang tube naman na nakasuksok sa ibang ugat mo, sinisipsip naman ang "bad" plasma. Jean went through this process for days and nights until her platelet count stabilized. Whenever her platelet count dipped, the process was repeated again and again and again and again.
It was during one of these treatments that I later found out from Jean how she went face to face with death. She had an episode normally described as a "near death experience". Her body was asleep but her mind was fully awake, like in a vivid dream. She felt conscious of things around her. The doctors, the nurses, all of them she was aware when out of nowhere an old man appeared beside her and his strong hands began pulling her out of bed. The man was big and strong. She knew it was a man because she could see his hands, but somehow she couldn't see his face. The man was trying to lead her to a long hallway, which was very bright and had lots of doors. Jean tried to reach the buzzer's button beside her bed to call the attention of the nurses. But even though she tried as much as she could, she couldn't make her fingers touch the button. It's as if an unseen force was pushing her hands away.
It was at this time, while feeling totally helpless that she began to cry and pray. "God, I'm not afraid to die. What I'm afraid of is leaving my 5 year old daughter alone. She has no one in this place to look after her. For her sake, please don't take me yet". It was after she said this that the man vanished and she regained full consciousness. Later she asked the nurses if they saw a huge man beside her bed and they all said there was no one.
Back to Normal
Two more weeks passed since I arrived in Auckland before Jean was allowed to leave the hospital. Halos isang buwan bago naging normal uli ang kalagayan ni Jean. Every day, then every week, then every month, then twice a year she had to visit the hospital for blood tests and check up. Ngayon awa ng Diyos, once a year na lang siyang nagpapatingin sa ospital and happy to say na hindi na bumalik uli ang sakit niya. Nagpapasalamat din kami at wala kaming kinailangan bayaran sa kanyang pagkaka-ospital. That would have used all our savings and maybe more.
Whenever I think of what happened to Jean I realized how powerless we really are. Advances in science and medicine are futile. Because at the instant when it's time for us to go, there is NOTHING, NOTHING AT ALL, that we or any man could do to extend our stay in this world. At that instant, whether we are a believer or not, all we could do is call out and implore the mercy of a supreme being, whether it be God, Allah, Yahweh or Jesus... and then surrender completely our fates to Him and allow Him to decide for us.
This, ladies and gents, was our introduction to life in New Zealand.