Dr. Tan removed the stethoscope from his ears and let it hang around his neck.
“Can I go home, Doc?” Indo asked in a wheezing voice, buttoning up his shirt.
“Not yet, Nong Indo,” the young doctor said. “We have to observe you for a few days more.”
“But, Doc, I’ve been here for three days already. I feel much better now. I can—” Before Indo could finish his sentence, he was racked by a cough. The man pressed his hand on his chest, hoping the pressure would cut short the convulsion, but as though teasing him, the attack seemed to go on endlessly, or at least longer than the previous ones. When it was over, he spat on the bedpan and gasped for breath.
“Nong Indo,” Dr. Tan said, “you have pneumonia. It’s something much more serious than an ordinary cough. Don’t worry, though. If you keep on taking your medicine, you can go out of here by the end of the week.”
“End of the week? Doc, please, I really have to go home today. There’s so much left to do in the farm. If I don’t work, my family will starve. My wife is due soon, and not counting the one she’s carrying, we have six children, all very young.”
“I’m afraid I can’t let you go home, much less tend to your work, Nong Indo. Your illness will surely get worse.”
From leaning on a pair of pillows, Indo sat up straight on the bed. “I know how much I can handle, Doc. I’ve been using this body for forty years, and I’m telling you, I’m strong enough now. How can you tell I can’t do this or that? You knew me just a couple of days ago, and every day since, you only see me for less than fifteen minutes.”
Dr. Tan sighed. “All right, if you insist. I’ll discharge you, but first, promise me you will rest for at least one week before doing any heavy work.”
Indo nodded. He noticed that the young man had stopped addressing him as “Nong Indo.” He couldn’t care less. If he had to provoke the doctor just so he could get out of this prison, so be it.
Dr. Tan stared at the IV bag hanging on a stand beside the bed. “And the second condition is,” he said, “the dextrose must be used up first.”
Indo complained, “The nurse has just replaced it. It won’t be empty right away.”
“It will take eight hours or so,” Dr. Tan said. He checked his wristwatch. “That means it will last until seven tonight. You have to spend one more night here in the hospital.”
“I can’t, Doc.”
The doctor closed the folder he was holding. “I’m sorry. Some of your medicines are injected in the IV. One night more. Please bear with that. Now if you’ll excuse me, I still have other patients to see.”
Indo cursed under his breath. These newly graduated doctors from well-off families, he thought, they don’t understand what a poor man should for his family. Indo’s corn was mature enough for harvesting. If rain fell on it, the entire crop would be ruined. He was lucky for the weather had been good since he was confined, but he could not push his luck. The harvest must start right the next day, not any day later. He should be able to check out of the municipal hospital this afternoon.
Indo stared at the IV bag. What did the doctor say? As soon as it was emptied, he could go home.
The cough came again. Indo’s lungs convulsed so forcefully that he felt pain not only in his chest but also in his lower belly and groin. When the attack subsided, Indo reached out for the narrow tube connecting the IV bag and the needle inserted on the back of his hand. He had seen the nurse manipulate the roller clamp with her thumb. It was easy, just like playing with a toy: roll the dial down to make the fluid drop slower, up to make it drop faster.
Indo’s wish was granted. When he reached home, rain was lashing down on his unharvested crop and his wife and children were crying. He was lying in a coffin.
Nong – Visayan term of respect for an older man