“Ay sumaa ka’t, ina?” (So, you’re going home, mother?) gently asked Pablo Afidchao – Amboy, to us his cousins – more as a declaration than an inquiry as he placed his right palm over the forehead of his now unresponsive mother. She just had a fatal cardiac arrest despite the valiant efforts of the nurses and doctors to keep her alive.
“Wen, sumaa tako’t,” (Yes, we’re going home) he muttered as he glanced at the monitor overhead that, just moments ago, blinked two red question marks and a flat line.
Earlier, he had glumly told the medical personnel scrambling to revive her to stop squeezing the ambo bag and the CPR. He knew there was nothing more to be done but to let go. The moment her mother’s veins collapsed about an hour back and the doctor and the nurses found it hard to insert the needles into her veins, he knew it was a lost battle. He should know – Dr. Pablo Magkachi Afidchao should know.
At that moment, as I looked at him watch the nurses take out the ET tube and the IV needles from the lifeless form on that white hospital bed , I wondered what went on in the good doctor’s mind as he suddenly found himself helpless while the dreaded Hooded One whisked aunt Chuma’s breath away.
Somehow, I felt that Amboy also knew that this was coming when aunt Chuma, after four days of unconsciousness, surprisingly opened her eyes and gave him a blank stare for more than 10 minutes. She had seemed to want to say something through her ET tube.
I was ecstatic then, thinking that it was a sign of recovery. Little did I know that it was a gesture of farewell…
We followed the cadaver to the inner room of the morgue at the basement of the new five-story Baguio General Hospital and Medical Center (BGHMC). Aunt Chuma’s body was already wrapped in a thick blanket and laid on a steel washing tray. There was another corpse on the other tray, the soles of its hard, yellowing feet eerily facing me.
I stepped into the outer room where stood two new, stainless steel refrigeration cabinets, each with two empty chambers on top of each other. As I looked at the four empty cadaver trays, I wondered how many dead bodies have been placed into them.
Other questions soon peppered my consciousness: How does it feel to be inside one of these chambers? Why are most of us so afraid of death? Is there a ghost standing right beside me? Why do morgues have to be painted or tiled white? Why not pink or light blue? What really happens to a soul at death? Does it tarry on this earthly plane for an hour?3 days? 40 days? 1 year? Why is it a big deal for many people whether their dead are laid in a wooden chest or a steel casket? Whether a wake lasts for a day or a week? Why do the living have to build mansions for the dead while a large part of humanity lives in makeshift hovels? Why do we often reserve our finest words for a person only when he or she is already laid in a casket or slid in a tomb? Why do we reserve the best flowers for graves that know only the smell of their own stench?
The questions went on and on until I suddenly realized that I was alone in the morgue. I quickly went out, to shake the chill away.
Besides, I remembered that I must be preparing for my family’s trip tomorrow. Tonight they will be transporting the cadaver to Bontoc. I and my wife and my kids will follow the next day. It will be another reunion aunt Chuma wished for a few months ago -- but without her laughter.