08 April 2017

Getting Hepatitis and Fearing Missing out on my Final NCAA Season


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Midway through the first semester, construction workers built a wall made of thatched materials along the length of the football field starting almost from the northern post of one goal all the way to the other. We wondered what was going on and how we were going to train for the next NCAA season. Dima announced soon enough that a new building was to be erected behind the college canteen. This would be known later as the Velasco Building, which would be completed after I had graduated from college.

Meanwhile, we continued to train on what was, essentially, half a football field. It was ridiculous, really! More so when the ball sailed over the makeshift wall into the construction area and the guy who kicked it had to fish it out from the excavation. But train we did, and not just the stamina-building routines but also scrimmages.

That we couldn’t go on that way was obvious, but we continued to train that way for another two weeks or so. One day, Dima announced that training for the rest of the school year was to be held at the Rizal Memorial Stadium, instead. About time, too. Our defiance in continuing to train on half a field was admirable; but it was also detrimental to our development as a team.

So thus, each training day, we trudged to the Rizal Memorial via the gate behind the school and walked along the narrow road that ran alongside the creek into the Leveriza indigents’ area. Some of us were wary about doing so initially because the area did not have a good reputation at all. Over time, we got used to passing through and I guess the squatters in the area got used to us as well.

It was not uncommon for us to see children hanging from the railings that lined the creek defecating into the water below. But there was this afternoon on our way back to school from the stadium when there was a grown man taking a crap into the creek. It was gross! His pants were pushed up to his knees as he squatted on the road, while he held on to the railing with his two hands. In broad daylight! What could we do? It was such an invasion of privacy but we needed to get back to school. So we just walked past him pretending he was not even there.

Three months before the start of the NCAA season, disaster struck. I came down with hepatitis. First, I had what looked like the ‘flu. When I was well enough to go back to school, I found that I could barely eat. When I went home for the weekend, I started to urinate blood. That scared me! So off I went to the Fernando Air Base Hospital where I was diagnosed with viral hepatitis and confined for a week.

I was distraught! I was looking forward to playing my final NCAA season and this disease was the last thing that I needed. I worried less about the hepatitis itself and more that I wouldn’t be able to play. My older brother Ronaldo had previously had his own bout with viral hepatitis and he was advised not to undertake any strenuous physical activities for six months. My mother was insistent that I would stay away from football for the same amount of time.

Fortuitously, my doctor was a tad more modern than my brother’s probably was. One time, and of course when my mother was not at the hospital, I asked him exactly how much time I needed before I could return to the football field. “Two months,” he told me. “You’ll be as good as new.” I could’ve jumped with joy! Of course, my mother continued to rant on even after I was discharged from the hospital that I was not to play for six months. Like I ever listened to her. She was not a doctor, after all. I had every intention of playing my last NCAA season out; and had no intention whatsoever of letting her know.

I never did discover where I got the hepatitis from, but my suspicion was this cheap eatery along Leon Guinto Street where I ate whenever I was running low on cash. The fact that the food was cheap also meant that the place didn’t really look very hygienic.

Two weeks after I first came down with hepatitis, I was ready to go back to school. The most outrageous reaction I got was from my Humanities professor Joey Reyes, the very same guy who would become a celebrated movie writer and director years later. When I approached him at the teacher’s desk to show him my doctor’s certificate, after I told him that I had hepatitis, he raised his hands dramatically and cringed away from me. I wasn’t offended at all. He looked funny and I just laughed at him.

I was by no means close to him but Reyes was still one of the most iconic professors during my time at DLSU. It was not uncommon to see him walking along the corridors with his good friend Manny CastaƱeda, who would also become a famous entertainment industry personality, and the two of them surrounded by students, all so obviously enjoying themselves.

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