Get real
Philippine Daily Inquirer, 23 November 2013


My first choice as subject matter for this column was the Supreme Court’s decision on the Priority Development Assistance Fund. It was announced to the media late Tuesday afternoon, so there was plenty of time for me to read it myself, together with any separate concurring opinions before writing. After all, in three separate cases—1994 (GR 113105), 2001 (GR 125680 and 126313), and just last year (GR 164987)—the high court had affirmed the constitutionality of the PDAF and its predecessor, the Countrywide Development Fund. So I wanted to see (with my own eyes) what had changed between then and now, how the justices rationalized their decisions.

However, as of Friday, the Jurisprudence section of the Supreme Court website, which contains all of its decisions since time immemorial, did not include the Bernabe decision. In fact, no November decisions by the high court has been posted. Which may mean one of four things: The Supreme Court has not made any other decisions in November; the one in charge of the posting is a slowpoke; some justices were still finishing their opinions; or the justices themselves can’t be bothered to accommodate the public’s interest promptly. Whatever the reason, it does not reflect well on the high court.

I had a second choice: Juan Ponce Enrile as alleged mastermind of the Napoles scam. This, allegedly according to a 246-page memorandum written by Assistant Ombudsman Joselito Fangon, which was leaked to this newspaper in the form of an 8-page memo that contained the juicy parts including a statement (reportedly on page 242) that “all facts point to Senator Enrile as the unseen hand directing the compass and the tempo of the whole orchestra.”  Wow.

My problem is I’ve got to see (with my own eyes) how he built up his case, and with what facts—since prior to this point, no report from the newspapers even hinted that Enrile’s role, or responsibility, in the matter was greater than anyone else’s. And I don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of seeing the Fangon memorandum; I don’t think it’s a public document. It’s probably for the Ombudsman’s eyes only.  If Fangon knew it would be published, he would have probably been more circumspect.

However, Senator Enrile lives right across from me, and there was a chance I could get a scoop. But I saw his wife Cristina in church on Thursday, and she told me that he is in Cagayan until tomorrow (Sunday). So no luck there either. But I remember that in my last conversation with him, when his former chief of staff was under the gun, he told me in no uncertain terms that in a fair court, there was no way he could be implicated. Emphasis on “fair.”

So I got stymied in my two choices for column material. I intend to get to them yet, Reader. However, that leaves me with what I can write about this week. And I decided that I would write about a personal experience: my stroke.

Hold on. Don’t just harrumph and turn the page. It may save your life, because a stroke or brain attack is the second leading cause of death in the Philippines (as it is worldwide, except in low-income countries).

The No. 1 is diseases of the heart (or, in the World Health Organization’s term, ischaemic heart disease).

From what I see, the risk factors for both are very similar: diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), high cholesterol, and smoking.

When I had my stroke, the doctors had tests run on my heart, too. Near as I can make it, both attacks have to do with lack of blood supply, although 20 percent of strokes are hemorrhagic.

These are the orders of magnitude involved: Worldwide, the heart attacks (11.6 percent) and brain attacks (10.6 percent) accounted for 22.8 percent of total deaths in 2011. In the Philippines, 2009 data show that 100,908 died of heart diseases, while 65,489 died of “diseases of the vascular system.” Total deaths were 488,000, so the percentages are 20 percent and 13 percent, respectively. Cancers accounted for 9 percent.

I was lucky to survive both leading killers—the heart attack in 2001, and the brain attack six weeks ago. So that qualifies me for living on borrowed time, thanks to great doctors and medical care. The saying “mala yerba nunca muere” may have contributed to my survival also.

From experience, a heart attack makes itself known with more drama. More often than not, the patient feels some pain. The brain attack, or at least the one I experienced, was painless. That’s the trouble. You don’t feel pain, so you think it can’t be life-threatening.

What’s more, the signals, if any, may be very brief, such as double vision, loss of balance, or numbness. They come and go in a minute. These are the so-called transient ischemic attacks. And since you no longer feel them, you think everything must be all right. Big mistake.

With me, the warning signals were trouble speaking and lack of coordination. But I ignored them. My stroke was diagnosed on a Thursday, but I was having trouble speaking and coordinating one day before. My only excuse for that stupidity is that of course a brain attack damages your brain, and you don’t realize what you are doing. That is why the people around you may be key. Because in a stroke, time is of the essence.

The good news is that I didn’t have any paralysis, or physical deterioration. The bad news is that the part of my brain which had loss of blood supply dealt with my communicating skills: Since I teach, write, and appear on TV, that is very bad news indeed. But the other good news is that I will recover, the doctors say, hopefully in three to four months.

To your good health, Reader.