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The Beauty of Men

October 13, 2019

First of three parts

THE boy was a syncopetic mess: between grimaces, where he was parceling out pain with what remained of misplaced bravado, the boy complained with difficulty of a black dizziness that drifted in and out. Other than that and the pain which he later said was radiating from his abdominal area, there were no reasons to suppose he was going to end up dying just before daylight. He had been rushed in a tricycle to the emergency room of Holy Child Hospital at half past two o’clock in the early morning, straggling in on the shoulders of two other boys, all fugitives from a Friday night out, and not even the PGI on duty knew how things could turn, first slowly and then, as if a breach of time had been reached, escalating quickly.

You could read the panic and bewilderment on their college boy faces, Dr. Gideon Tiempovalles would later thought — all of which registered shock at this unexpected detour. It was, after all, a weekend night in a city that knew how to do weekends, and shouldn’t they still be out there celebrating being careless with their bodies and their booze, in the blissful and heedless way only the very young could? Instead, they were facing hospital gray walls and early morning tomb silence. They still smelled of a party — the whiff of beer and that sweet-sour odor of club smoke — but now their moussed-up hair was disheveled and not in the way they probably wanted that to happen. Creases marred the sheen of their party clothes.

Dr. Tiempovalles had been quickly summoned to attend to the boy, nudged awake from his catnap by Naty, the nurse on duty, who doled out the right amount of dutiful apology. The doctor’s lounge hummed in the dimness of fugitive fluorescent light, and he took what time he could to rub his eyes, to get used to the light, to summon energy into his limbs.

This was something he had already resigned himself to doing: the reality of post-graduate internships — the graveyard shifts and the uneven hours of sleep when once not too long ago, or so he thought, he too had been like one of these boys. He thought of how fast the years turned, but not that he cared.

Perhaps, he had been just a little too old to decide — after some listless years being a bored medical technologist without further prospects — to enter medical school in his late 30s, but here he was, with a few more of this grind before the boards, and it was much too late to change his mind, or his life. At least, he thought, he made some sort of something of himself, never mind what his mother once thought of him — uttered in words he could never forgive her for, may she never rest in peace. Here he was after all, striving. Here he was clocking in the hours, trying to save people’s lives. Here he was finally making sense of a life that felt much too much like a late blooming. He allowed himself these cheap reassurances for a little bit more before he slipped his stethoscope over his head and around his neck, and made the short walk to the ER. The forties are the new twenties, he growled.

Nevertheless, he felt very old all of a sudden.

“What’s his name again?” he asked wearily to no one in particular, while Naty went about her business of taking note of vital signs. The ER itself was awash in the brightest white light, and he winced.

“Dennis, doc,” one of two boys said, “Dennis Mainit.”

Gideon sighed, the last cobwebs of his sleepiness fading away.

“What exactly do you feel, Dennis?” he asked the boy.

There was no answer from the boy, only a frightened whimper.

Around him, the ER was quiet, and only the bright lights were humming. Gideon had not prepared for idleness and paperwork for this particular weekend crunch, and he had thought how nice it was to have television or catnaps ticking off the hours till daylight. On most Friday nights, the emergency room was a beehive of activity. Always on weekends there were bursts of vehicular accident cases coming from all over Dumaguete: young people with broken arms, or broken legs, or even broken necks.

But not this night; it had been forgivably slow, and Gideon had tried to keep himself awake reading his notes for the board exams, which were only a few months off. Between that, he filled time with routine paperwork. Or watching, with feigned interest, a comedy show on TV which merited no mirth. He had already fallen asleep halfway through his board exam notes on gynecology when the night nurse woke him. Dennis Mainit would be their first serious case for the weekend.

Gideon told the boy to sit up on the bed, but a moan told him this was impossible.

“How old is he again?” Gideon quickly asked Naty.

Nineteen, she replied after a quick scan through the admission form which had been haphazardly filled out by one of the two boys — blanks glaring here and there. They didn’t know any emergency contact, she said. The boy didn’t have his wallet with him either, she said, nor a cellphone. But he was most certainly a college student at the university, she said.

Gideon nodded, and then shook his head.

The boy was barely conscious now; he was looking at Gideon with a diluted look in his eyes, and for a sharp moment, almost against his own will, Gideon saw that the boy had beautiful, soulful eyes — a brownish hazel, and lashes that were long and cruelly inviting. And that face. The boy’s cheekbones were high, framing everything else with sculpted precision. Such striking beauty, it dug deep into his head, stirring memories. Gideon was instantly awake, his breathing made quicker, almost self-conscious.

He felt an electric suddenness to the situation. He knew this boy.

Gideon breathed deep and touched the boy’s forehead, skin upon cold skin.

“Do you know what happened?” Gideon asked the two boys with him.

“There was a fight in Barefoot — ” one of the boys said slowly.

“Barefoot?” It wasn’t a question; it was an absent-minded prodding for some confirmation.

“The bar along EJ Blanco, doc,” the boy continued, punching out his words as Gideon felt for the seated boy’s pulse. It was fast, tachycardic. The boy was already pale, and sweaty. Diaphoretic. Cold, clammy perspiration.

“And?”

“Umm, we don’t exactly know what happened, but Dennis here,” the other boy rambled on, “well, the fight was long over, and we were just discussing things, although he was very quiet, and then he just keeled…keeled over, just like that. But that happened only much later. Dennis said he was in pain. He said he wanted to go to the hospital — “

“What’s wrong with him, doc?” the first boy said.

Gideon looked at Dennis, and shook his head. “We’ll find out soon enough,” he said, his voice slow, but already he felt a certain quiet dread.

He didn’t know why exactly. The boy looked all right save for the syncope, but the many nights he had spent at the hospital tending to the steady stream of blood and guts had given him a way of seeing how the human body could be so secretly fragile, so meaninglessly disposable.

“Do you feel pain, Dennis?”

Dennis slowly nodded. “Yeah,” he said in a dead hush.

“Where?”

“Right here, right in my guts.”

Dennis patted his belly slowly. His breathing became labored.

“Okay… Dennis, why don’t you try to lie here while I examine your belly area?”

“Sure,” Dennis replied, still very quiet. He shuffled slowly to shift to supine. But the boy quickly doubled up in anguish, and back to a sitting position, he clutched his belly and gave a low, deep cry.

“Oh, Jesus,” Gideon muttered.

He turned to the nurse and said as calmly as he could: “I think it’s time to call Dr. Lento, Nats.”

COULD he have done enough? Could he have, perhaps, been quicker to diagnose what was wrong? Was there really saving the boy?

Gideon was restless in bed and couldn’t sleep, too many questions reverberating in his head. Six hours had passed since he had gone home from the shift, and ordinarily, he would have gone straight to bed to scrounge out what hours he could to erase his sleep deficit. The subsequent slumber was always deep, and sometimes restful. In his shuttered bedroom, the curtains always drawn and the hum of the air-conditioning the only sign there was an outside world beside the urgings of his body, he usually surrendered to this solitariness and drifted off in snores and REM-induced dreams.

Now there were no dreams, and although he felt an immense tiredness, he also sensed an unease he could not shake: every time his body would start succumbing to the first stages of sleep, something in him would trip and nudge his mind to awful wakefulness, and all he could finally do was stare darkly at the ceiling, his tiredness draped over him like a blanket, and he thought of the questions he had no answers for.

Soon, outside his small apartment in the poblacion, the city was stirring. The honks and whirrs of cars and tricycles hogged the air—a mishmash of noise that punctured what was left of his desire to sleep. He was used to be only waking up to this, complete with a balmy stickiness to his body despite the air-conditioning, and with the antiseptic hospital smell still clinging to his skin despite having showered the moment he had straggled home at past seven o’clock that morning. Today, the sounds of the city didn’t pounce like the usual alarm to wake up to; they grew like a subtle menace around his restiveness, taunting him.

His thoughts flickered, and Gideon remembered Dennis’ eyes again.

He caught his breath, wincing as he did.

Then the phone rang, just in time to shake off the unease. He looked at the caller ID. It was Michael. Again.

He let it ring until it stopped, and Gideon sighed.

But the phone rang again, like he knew it would. And again. And again.

“I’m not sure tonight would be a good idea, Mike,” Gideon said after saying hello.

“You promised.”

“I just don’t have the energy. I had a tough weekend working the ER.”

“Didn’t you get enough sleep after? You always do naman.”

“Well — “ But how to explain what was eating him up? “I just don’t feel like it tonight, Mike. I’m really tired”

“Don’t be such an old man, Gids.”

Gideon waited a few seconds before he could reply. “Fine,” he said. “Fine.”

“You better.”

“I’ll grab some late lunch first.”

“Okay then.”

“Listen, I — ”

But Mike had already hanged up, the phone’s dial tone becoming Gideon’s final wake-up alarm.

To be continued next Sunday

Credit belongs to : www.manilatimes.net

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