Normally, I refrain from writing about the personal lives of my patients. It's just not done. I take exception to this dictum now because this patient has, for me, an extraordinary life, the kind that I'm not sure if I will have the privilege of encountering ever again. I want to capture here snippets of our conversation, that I may not forget them.
You see, he is a sailor to the core, literally the captain of his ship, and he has traveled all over the world in all kinds of boats and weathers. I asked him, "What kind of boat were you a captain of, before you retired and became a captain of this your own boat?" He said, "Oh, it doesn't matter what kind of boat. There are boats and there are boats. The important thing is that you are at sea."
Being a sea person is nothing unusual in the Philippines. Since our country is an archipelago, traveling and trading by sea is the norm. I believe every Filipino family has members that are either fishermen or seamen, meaning merchant marines. We have plenty of both in my own huge brood of relatives.
But this patient of mine, let's call him S.C. for Sea Captain, is no ordinary sea-man or fisherman. He had been at sea for almost all his life (started sailing at nine years of age) because, I could sense, it is his calling, it is his passion, it is his home. I said to him, your every day must be like an adventure, living in a boat sailing across the Pacific and the Atlantic... He said he doesn't look at it as an adventure. It is just his life.
Listening to him, I could see he was a poet and a philosopher. For how could one not be, living under the mercy of the elements for weeks or months with no land in sight but 360 degrees of water and wind and sky? I said, "What do you do out in the ocean, when you're not sailoring or battling storms or fishing or doing stuff that sea captains do?" He said, and this with exaggerated enunciation and animated facial expression, as I listened intently and focused on his lips which were concealed by an overgrowth of white beard, "I theeenk about Anything that I want to." I asked him if all sea captains had white hair and bushy white beards like just like him. And he humored me by saying yup.
Sometimes it was hard to understand his words, he had an accent and most importantly, his lush white beard covered his mouth so I couldn't read his lips. Plus he talked in idioms and metaphors so that several times I had to ask what did he mean by what he said. And he patiently unravelsed his simplistic philosophy of life and living to which I could not help but nod. It was so refreshing to meet someone who was not into the rat pace of the human race.
After a while he became a little bit sleepy as he just had a shot of pain reliever from the nurse. I let him rest and turned my attention to his wife, the boat's navigator, cook, laundry woman and Girl Friday. She could raise a mast and all the other things that sailors do as they were only three persons in their boat: S.C., his wife and their young adult grandson. I asked how come their grandson was of a different color from them. And she said, "Oh, he is our godson, our hanai son. And he is a wiz with computers. He taught us that these modern cameras can take videos and even record voice!"
Oh, hanai ! I know that term. They had lived for thirty or so years in Honolulu but decided to anchor their boat elsewhere as the cost of living in Hawaii had become ridiculously outrageous. She remembered the awesome sunsets of Hawaii with nostalgia and she whipped open her computer to show me her Picasa album of sunsets and sea. She raved about this one particular sunset where everything was red everywhere, it was like being surrounded by a sea and sky of fire.
S.C. was drifting off to sleep but still listening in. I looked at him and saw Poseidon's own hanai son, used to standing at many a ship's deck, now confined to staring at a stark hospital wall. He knew his diagnosis and he knew his treatment options. He had several battles, age does catch up with us all. He choose to fight the fightable ones. The unfightable ones, he let be. Like one used to the batterings of the sun and sea, he accepted what the tides have brought this time. I can only imagine how difficult it must be for a man used to wide open spaces to be suddenly chained by all sorts of tubings coming and going out of body orifices. I bid them goodbye and he nodded, I assumed to dream his seascape bliss.