this story originally appeared in the philippine daily inquirer on march 22, 2012.
SINCE I was a kid, I have always been fascinated by the thought of what priests do in their day-to-day lives. While attending Sunday Mass or just watching them outside wearing their robes, I pondered on how it would be to be in their shoes even for a day.
I was so mesmerized that I took an entrance exam to a missionary school. Sad to say, my mom talked me out of the idea. Actually, she cried me out of it, despondent that her son would be a priest and a missionary and that she would have lesser chances of having grandchildren (we are only two children in the family). My knowledge that priests are not allowed to get married and idle talk that many things are restricted from them did pave the way for my change of heart.
So for the past four years of college life I took up nursing, the so-called “trend” at that time. Still, even though I had added many years to my life and fantasies should have evaporated from my silly mind by then, my fascination with the life of priests and missionaries continued. It was further fueled by the fact that I went to a Catholic school run by Marist Brothers, where I daily got the chance to have a glimpse of them from far away. I was content to be that way.
(After graduation and passing the nursing licensure examinations, my mind became set on the idea that nurses are for hospitals alone. That was yet again another silly idea, for the first job I had was in a review center as a review coordinator.)
My memories of my kindergarten days are still vivid. I used to go to my aunt’s office in the school run by the Marist Brothers and romp around like a pig gone wild. I would stop for only two reasons: I was exhausted and it was time to eat and rest, or one of the Brothers would enter the office and I would become engrossed in following him around.
There were also times during that tender age that I would put a towel around my neck and act like a priest celebrating a Mass. But that was all. I did not pursue the fascination. They say being a priest or a missionary is a calling. I definitely agree, and perhaps God called me to serve in another way, and that was through being a nurse.
Never did it come to my mind that while being a nurse, I would experience life with the Marist Brothers. Talk about opposite poles—being a nurse and working at the hospital on one hand, and being a Brother serving the students, the school and the people of General Santos City and Sarangani province on the other. But one call would prove me wrong. One morning in December 2011, I received a phone call from my aunt, who is working at the business resource office of Notre Dame of Dadiangas University. I was quite apprehensive to receive a call from her because she seldom phoned, so I thought it was an emergency.
And it really was an emergency. Brother Bob, an 82-year-old American Marist, had been rushed to the hospital for a heart ailment and he had just come out of the intensive care unit. My aunt asked if I could be a private nurse to him.
At first I was hesitant to take the job, mainly because I had yet to familiarize myself with the hospital. I had worked for a year and a half as a review assistant, and not a hospital nurse, much less a nurse taking care of a patient with a critical heart condition. But I don’t know what ignited in my heart and mind; after a bit of contemplation, I said yes to my aunt.
As I prepared myself for the delicate task of caring for Brother Bob, memories from my childhood came rushing back. It was such nostalgia. I reminisced on my school days, of seeing Brother Bob walking around and greeting the students, beaming his huge smile at them as if giving them the boost that they needed. I came to the realization that I was quite lucky to be chosen to take care of Brother Bob; I reminded myself that he was the pioneer and the key person behind my alma mater’s decision to offer nursing to its students. It was during the late 1980s that the GenSan area needed nurses. Brother Bob saw the need and proceeded to put up a nursing school. Thus was the Notre Dame College of Nursing born.
At the hospital, after the paperwork and after being briefed on the necessary tasks, I was introduced to Brother Bob. And then and there I felt blessed. I jokingly told myself that having to converse with him in straight English would mean having to go through “epistaxis”—the medical term for nosebleed—but I got a grip of everything and the time spent with him was smooth sailing.
The next morning I was once again enveloped with anxiety for my aunt called me again. This time it was happy news. Brother Bob was to be discharged from the hospital and return to the Marist convent, which is located on the Notre Dame campus. I was asked if I would still be available to take care of Brother Bob, monitor his vital signs, and give him his medication. This time, without second thoughts, I said YES!
The time spent with Brother Bob was a very inspiring one. Talking and sharing ideas with him, knowing his opinions, constituted a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I became more pleased when I met some of the Brothers in the convent. Even the school president, whom I had seen only from afar, was now just an arm’s length away at dinner time. During those times, the Brothers talked about many things, including the school and its governance, their projects in far-flung areas, and helping the indigenous people. The conversations with the Brothers who have worked silently through the years enlightened my heart and my mind.
My heart melted at being invited by them to join them in praying the rosary. It was such a blessing to be able to pray with them. I describe it as being “one breath away from heaven.”
Just weeks ago, I began my training at a hospital in our area. But that didn’t hamper my service to Brother Bob. I still check up on him after my scheduled training. Every time I give him his medication, it all comes back to me: the day I was blessed to be chosen to care for him and get to know the other Marist Brothers. I will treasure in my heart the time spent with them, and I will tell my grandchildren stories of the blessed time I experienced being one of “them.”