Wednesday, March 22, 2006


THEY HAD A GOOD PLAN THEN: Linda would be the first to go and get settled in New York, while her husband David would stay behind to mind the children as they continued their schooling in Manila.

However, misfortune struck when only six months after Cindy had gone, the oldest of their three children, Tina, became pregnant; she and her boyfriend were only 17 at that time. Tina was supposed to earn a degree in Physical Therapy and then go to New York immediately afterwards, but her emotions precluded her better judgment; succumbing to the boyfriend’s carnal desires and now she’s pregnant. She had also moved out to live with her boyfriend at his parents’ house. Both David and Linda were heartbroken.

So as to prevent the youngest child, Cindy, from suffering a similar fate, she was immediately sent to New York to live with her mother; she was only 12 then. The middle child, Ramon, was to follow suit upon graduating from high school.

But David’s plan to travel with Ramon fizzled out when another unpleasant twist of fate hit their Manila home — his father had a stroke which left half of his body paralyzed. David wouldn’t even think of leaving his bedridden father anytime soon, so all plans for him to go to the States were shelved.

Linda was dismayed by all the unfortunate turn of events. She felt guilty enough for having forced her husband to agree with her to move to the States at this point of their lives, and now David seemed to be at his wit’s end -- caring for his father who was convalescing indefinitely in the hospital. The strain was quite evident in his voice whenever they talked on the phone. As a show of support, Linda told her husband to prioritize his father’s needs above all else.

BY THE TIME LINDA WOULD GET HOME from work around midnight, her daughter Cindy would be fast asleep. But always, there would be food on the table that Cindy had cooked earlier. All that Linda had to do was heat it up in the microwave oven. She looked forward to coming home every night to delight in her daughter’s home-cooked meals. Grandma taught Cindy everything about cooking a year before she left to live with her mother.

Linda, rather unconsciously, would ponder on family problems while she feasted alone on her daughter’s cooking; in effect, finding comfort from food. Consequently, she began to steadily gain weight. Worse, she had fallen into a vicious cycle of overeating when depressed, and would get depressed when she overate. Linda’s self-esteem started hitting rock bottom.

FOURTEEN-YEAR-OLD CINDY HAS NOT GONE FOR A DENTAL CHECK UP in more than a year. She had asked her mother to set up an appointment for her when the continued swelling and bleeding in her gums began to frighten her.

The dentist didn’t take too long to diagnose Cindy’s problem. He called Linda at her job and matter-of-factly informed her of his findings: The bleeding in Cindy’s gum, as well as the discoloration of her teeth was caused by certain vitamin deficiencies, which was further exacerbated by the stomach acid that comes up with vomit — common to those suffering from bulimia.

The dentist suggested for Linda to bring Cindy to her regular physician immediately to confirm his diagnosis. Linda was aghast. Her sweet daughter couldn’t possibly be experiencing such problems.

Cindy vehemently denied it when confronted later on by her mother. Deep down, Linda desperately wanted to believe her daughter. However, there were sufficient telltale signs to support the dentist’s diagnosis. For one, Cindy has developed a fondness for chewing gum (to prevent bad breath caused by the stomach acid in her mouth) and would go through a can of air freshener much too quickly (to obscure the stench of vomit in the bathroom). In addition, upon closer inspection, Linda discovered that Cindy’s index finger was calloused and somewhat discolored; proof of her use of it to induce vomiting.

A week later, Cindy’s physician confirmed her fears — that Cindy was indeed suffering from bulimia nervosa. But however frailed her nerves were at that point, Linda nonetheless remained determined to help Cindy overcome her eating disorder. She contacted the therapist who came highly recommended by the physician and arranged for an immediate appointment.

AFTER ABOUT A YEAR OF WORKING as a staff nurse at Lenox Hill Hospital, an opportunity for a higher paying position as a private nurse came up. Linda grabbed it. Working on a 16-hour shift, she would share the duties of caring for an infirmed patient with another Filipina nurse (on the other but only 8-hour night shift) for which Linda received a little more than $500 a day. She only had one day off a week, but being exhausted from working the 7 am-to-11 pm shift, she would spend most of it sleeping. She practically had no time left to spend with Cindy. The young girl, on the other hand, had assimilated into a role of a responsible latchkey kid.

Invariably, no highly-prized position goes without its own political undercurrent. Firstly, private duty nursing is a cliquish affair and competitions can be fierce when getting a case (job assignment). The Filipina nurses are vying for the much sought-after cases against the Jamaicans, Irish, Indian and other ethnic group of nurses in New York. And those in the position to hire and fire thrive on the gifts and other forms of pricey bribes from desperate private duty nurses.

Secondly, malicious maneuverings within each group occur as well. Although Linda may be enjoying her day off, at the back of her mind was the horrible thought that the friend she had chosen to relieve her during her days off might be conniving with the nurse on the other shift to take over her position for good. All they have to do is convince the patient or the appointed family caregiver of the patient to displace her. It had happened once before. Rumor has it that someone convinced the patient to replace Linda with a slimmer, healthier-looking private duty nurse. It was at that time Linda became cognizant that her being overweight could be used against her.

Although some cases can last quite a long time, once the patient dies or checks out from the hospital to move to a nursing home, the private nurses lose their job and wait for a new case. At times, a more reliable source for a new case is a referral from a colleague. However, most of the Filipina private nurses in Linda’s group have been converting to a certain Christian movement. Once a member of it, they were encouraged to aggressively recruit others to convert as well. And if unsuccessful, would ostracize the unwilling person as a non-believer and thereby labeled a foe of the movement.

Linda felt the pressure to join, but she remained adamant; preferring to hold onto her Catholic faith. Yet she knew that once her current case has run its course, she faces the dismal possibility of not receiving any recommendation or invitation from among those peers. And should this happen, she may have to go back to working as a regular staff nurse. The ensuing drastic cut in salary, undoubtedly, would be distressful -- David’s father’s costly medical care alone is wholly dependent upon the money that Linda sends from New York.

On top of all these engrossing tribulations, Linda was about to deal with another serious dilemma; that of Cindy’s

IT TOOK ABOUT SIX MONTHS OF ONE-HOUR SESSIONS TWICE A WEEK for the therapist to gain Cindy’s trust and confidence, as well as unravel the truth behind her eating disorder. As it turned out, Cindy was a casualty of war in school waged not with fists and lethal weapons, but with scathing remarks, which can be even more detrimental to a young person's psyche. Apparently, a culture of cliques steep on intentional meanness ran rampant in her junior high school in which the different and unpopular students were often tormented and ostracized.

Cindy was among those who had become the butt of a clique's disdain; a constant subject to relentless teasing, taunting, and gossip-mongering just because she was different. She was usually not invited to parties that everyone would rave about, as well as ignored by the more popular girls in school. These were indeed demeaning incidents which always reduced her to tears.

Contrary to common belief, girls do engage in bullying just as frequently as boys do and could be just as vicious at it. And the most popular girls are not usually the nicest. The dominant figures in a clique with several hangers on are commonly referred to as “queen bees;” they set the tone of the group’s behavior and manner of dressing. What makes matters worse is that these bullies perceive their cruelty as hip and a cool thing to do.

Adverse effects of bullying are varied. The worst case scenario was the Columbine school shootings in which the perpetrators have been tormented by the school bullies for years. But in most cases, some victims suffer from nightmares while others lose interest in school altogether. For Cindy, it was developing a serious eating disorder. She was petrified of being hideously taunted for being fat as most overweight girls in school were often subjected to.

She was utterly miserable, but didn’t have the heart to approach her mother to discuss her troubled predicament. She was afraid of adding another burden to her mother who was already coping with more than enough problems of her own. Thus, Cindy suffered in silence.

LINDA SEEMED TO BE IN THE VERGE OF A BREAKDOWN after learning from the therapist the cause of her daughter’s problem. “This couldn’t possibly be happening to my baby,” she thought. “And neither should another problem as serious as this one should afflict our family. It’s just too unfair!”

For the first time in her life, Linda felt so completely alone. She terribly missed her husband and the spiritual strength he could provide at times like these. She was distraught by the realization that both she and her daughter — so far removed from their family in Manila — were basically experiencing a similar fate.

Although life back home was not one of affluence, they at least enjoyed the continual warmth and support of a tightly-knit family; getting by all right just the same. But Linda traded all that for a taste of the American dream, and it hasn’t been as auspicious as she had hoped it would be.

Be that as it may, Linda has to get her act together and fast. There’s quite a lot of reevaluations and decisions for her to make; the sooner, the better.

The foregoing story is purely a work of fiction. Any similarities between any characters herein and actual persons living or dead are purely coincidental.

Art credit: MiArt 2006
Artist: Jordi Barnabas


posted by Señor Enrique at 9:06 PM


Anonymous Anonymous said...

nice one!

March 23, 2006 1:37 AM  

Blogger Rey said...

It's sad to see communication barriers between parent and child. Just when you thought you've known someone enough, then spring surprises.

March 23, 2006 10:05 AM  

Blogger niceheart said...

Is it not sometimes the plight of overseas worker? They want to give their family a better life but by leaving they are actually breaking the family apart. It's tough.

March 23, 2006 12:13 PM  

Blogger Sidney said...

Always nice and true to life stories. As niceheart points out it is probably the plight of most OFW's. The Philippines should try to create enough jobs at home.

March 23, 2006 2:15 PM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

Orange: Thanks!

Rey V: As often said: The road to hell is paved with good intentions. We see someone not wanting to be a burden when, in fact, in so doing only exacerbates an already fragile situation.

Niceheart: I think for every couple of success stories we hear about those who had managed to create better lives abroad, there's one that has gone awry. Hopefully, knowing some of its pitfalls may prepare some to better plan their moves.

Sidney: With America's baby boomers heading towards retirement, the U.S. will be experiencing serious shortages in manpower. Hence we may see more opportunities over there coupled with a more laxed immigration policy. For that reason alone, there will be those who will remain attracted to experience living/working over there. Great for young and single people, but a challenge to those who have to uproot their entire families.

March 24, 2006 6:26 AM  

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Life in Manila as observed by a former New Yorker who with a laptop and camera has reinvented himself as a storyteller. Winner of the PHILIPPINE BLOG AWARDS: Best Photo Blog in 2007 and three Best Single Post awards in 2008.


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