"I no doubt deserved my enemies,
but I don't believe I deserved my friends."
- Walt Whitman
Ernie started working in Manila sometime in 1994. We were still constant companions and we were witnesses to almost every detail of each other's lives. I was there when his back pains started, when his cancer was diagnosed in November 1997, when he started treatment, when he got married, and in his last days at the hospital. All these, however, will take more pages than I can maintain.
When I was staying at the University of the Philippines' dormitory, he was a frequent visitor (just as I also frequented La Loma, where he was staying with his brother Ogie) and would sleep in the dorm sometimes. My U.P. classmates and friends got used to his presence and accepted him warmly to our circle of friends. The pictures below were taken at the University of the Philippines. The second one was taken by my roommate Chito when Ernie and I were making fun of Chito's sexy poster of a popular "bold star" at the time.
Ernie first manifested the symptoms of his cancer in October 1997. He had dry cough which we thought would just go away. He complained to me about his back pain which he said he first felt while reading (a technical book, as usual) and lying on his bed. We both assumed it was just muscle sprain until one time, he phoned and awoke me at 2:00 in the morning (his new job was in Laguna, about two hours away from Manila) and complained that he was sitting on his bed, his back against the bedroom wall, and couldn't sleep because his back was aching intolerably. Just talking to him somewhat eased his pain but we couldn't talk longer because of the astronomical cellular phone rate. (Typically of him, he'd still report to work promptly at sunrise after the pain had gone.)
The following weekend, I accompanied him to the hospital where his brother Noel is a resident surgeon, for an x-ray examination. When I went on fieldwork to Baguio City before his diagnosis was confirmed, he still called me even at hours past midnight if he couldn't sleep. I felt helpless not knowing how I could help ease his pain.
When the biopsy result indicated cancer, we were at a loss. Ernie never smoked so I myself felt that his having lung cancer was grossly unfair. It shattered one cancer fallacy - that lung cancer only afflict smokers - which a lot of people, including myself, vaguely believe.
A week before he was hospitalized and died, it was my birthday. He greeted me consistently in our almost daily telephone conversations even days before the actual date.
On my birthday, he called me a couple of times and invited me to go to their place because he asked Lanie to cook something for the occasion. I answered that I couldn't promise to go because I had a previous appointment. (I was planning to treat him and Lanie on a later date.) In his last call late that afternoon, he said that wherever I planned to go, he and Lanie would wait for me until 10 in the evening.
I didn't show up but didn't think much about it because Ernie was the kind who wouldn't take offense over such incident. I had long figured out his personality and as had happened several times before, I knew that I didn't even have to apologize, explain or justify anything. Predictably enough, we barely discussed the incident in our conversations the following days, not because we avoided it but because he had always given me the tacit trust and understanding that whatever reason I had for not doing what he requested must be valid. This is one of Ernie's admirable traits which I rarely find in other people, not even in myself.
On the weekend before his death, I visited him and was ready to treat him and Lanie out. He begged off however, saying that he didn't feel very well and might catch a virus if he went out. So I stayed for lunch and encouraged him to sleep while I read a programming book because he had been having fitful sleep the few nights before.
When he died a few days later, I was touched to learn from Lanie that Ernie waited for me on my birthday and that they ate very late because he was hoping I'd arrive by 10PM. I brought him and Lanie out for dinner during his last birthday (May 22nd) and he perhaps wanted to return the gesture by playing host on my birthday. The thought that I didn't give him that satisfaction made it more difficult for me to deal with my best friend's death even days after he was buried.
Indeed, only when those dear to us are gone do we regret the the things we failed to do, the words we left unsaid, and the times we didn't spend with them.
Ernie caught pneumonia and was brought to the Intensive Care Unit a few days before he passed away. He had great difficulty breathing so was put on a respirator and slept sedated most of the time.
Lanie and Ernie's brothers (one, Noel, is a resident surgeon in the same hospital) were in constant watch but I only had to stay until midnight for two days because I had important meetings at the office on that critical week. On September 25, 1998 which was a Friday, I intended to work half-day and spend the night at the hospital until weekend. Right after I arrived at the office that morning, I called Ernie's cellphone several times to know his condition but couldn't get through. I e-mailed our friends to pray for him and called classmates so they could visit him.
After presenting a report in a meeting, I excused myself and started writing another one which I intended to finish before lunch so I could leave by then. As I sat in front of the computer typing the report, I again felt an urge to try Ernie's cellphone and this time was able to contact Lanie who was crying and hysterically asking me to go at once because Ernie just passed away.
Ernie's body was still warm when I arrived and his death certificate later showed that he died at 10:45AM.
I went home with Ernie's remains and his family for his funeral in Aroroy, Masbate. When I came back to Manila, I was surprised to discover something uncanny in my phone bill. That last call I made to Ernie's cellphone was timed at 10:45AM of September 25 - the very exact time he expired.
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