Saturday, July 30, 2011

Cupcakes for the Pain

A week ago, I was diagnosed with an ectopic pregnancy.

Two weeks before that, I already knew I was pregnant. We have been trying for a few months, after all, so after being delayed for a week, I was excited/scared to take a home-kit pregnancy test. When the two lines indicating a positive result appeared, I was beyond elated. I wake up a sleeping Matt to tell him, who was jubilant as any half-awake person could possibly be.

Announcements were made tentatively, beginning with immediate family. As the reality slowly set in, everyday our excitement built-up, and it became harder and harder to keep it under wraps. We began telling our closest friends, wanting to share the good news of this amazing blessing.

But, during my first ultrasound, we received some crushing news. I remember it vividly- the technician (also a doctor, but not my OB) said, "Yes, you are pregnant. But we have a problem." My heart immediately jumped up to my throat, I looked helplessly at Matt and my mom, who both looked equally perplexed.

The uterus is empty, she pointed out, and she shifted the ultrasound towards the left, and pointed with the cursor where the sac is embedded. The fertilized egg attached itself to the widest part of the left Fallopian tube, whereas it should have continued its journey down the tube and attached itself to the thickened lining of the uterus. The technician then points at the center of the sac where you could see what looks like a blinking white light. It was the fetus' little heart, beating.

An ectopic pregnancy is probably one of life's biggest sucker punches- at the height of all the elation and excitement, you are suddenly told, "nope, sorry, it's not going to happen." A ruptured tube from an ectopic pregnancy can cause internal bleeding, and even lead to the mother's death. I cannot even articulate the devastation of being given the most beautiful gift, only to be told later on that there is no way in the world I can keep it. It all began to sink in on the car ride home, where Matt and I finally broke down, sobbing quietly, as we sought solace in each other's arms.

We got a second ultrasound the following morning in another hospital, which yielded the same result, and then everything happened so fast after that. My doctor instructed me to have myself admitted at noon for a laparoscopy, saying that delaying the surgery would only increase the risk of rupture. And based on my research, that is the last thing I want to happen at that point- it would lead to intense pain and also call for a more complicated procedure. My surgery was scheduled for 5PM and I remember being wheeled into the OR at exactly 5:30PM. The anesthesiologist gave me a first shot which was meant to sedate me- "like being drunk on Patron", she joked. The second shot I felt running up my arm from the IV, and before the feeling hit my shoulder, I was knocked out.

The procedure usually lasts four hours, the nurses told us. Mine was done in a little over an hour and a half.

Laparoscopy allows the surgeon to explore and perform surgery with the aid of a thin, tiny camera and minuscule incisions. The doctor made a small slice on my left fallopian tube, and then scooped out the "growth". The blocks on the tube were caused by endometrial growths, which she also found on the right tube and behind the uterus. The cause of endometriosis is unknown, but there are several theories. Whatever it is, mine was finally discovered and dealt with, and now it's gone. "I fixed all that needed to be fixed, to prepare for your next pregnancies," my doctor reassured me. I find consolation in the fact that at least all my parts are still there- my tubes and ovaries intact. At least.

After two nights at the hospital, I go home to continue my recuperation. I discovered that painkillers are good for the actual "surgical pain", but not the stomach cramps from gas. That was where most of the discomfort came from. The best cure for it was to move around- roll from side to side, or get up and walk around a bit, even if it hurt. I never would have imagined farts to be such a precious commodity, but at that point they were. Now, I'm still taking it easy, spending most of my time off my feet. I sometimes forget that although minor, I just had a surgical procedure performed on me, and I should allow my body ample time to heal. I am very thankful that I have that luxury, since not all women can stay in bed for a week or more.

All this free time allows me to be introspective and see the beauty in the midst of my misery. The love and support from family and friends have been overwhelming, and even up to now I would cry alternately out of both sadness and joy. I am thankful that my condition was diagnosed early on, allowing my doctor to act quickly and perform the surgery at record time. It really could have been a lot worse, I realize that now. And on that note, I'm just so lucky to have had an exceptional doctor and the best healthcare. St. Luke's Medical Center at Fort Global is an excellent hospital (Matt described it as "very first-world") and I hope that we could find a way in the near future for this kind of medical care to be made available to everyone.

More importantly, this experience brought my relationship with my husband to a different level, adding a different dimension and greater depth. I feel so close to him now, and seeing how he handled himself throughout this ordeal made me appreciate him even more. He is a strong and loving person, and he will make an amazing father when the time finally comes.

So, to get myself through this, I have put myself on a high-sugar diet. The first morning at home, back from the hospital, I was feasting on my niece's goodie bag (she celebrated her 5th birthday the same day of my surgery): breakfast was Reese's chocolate peanut butter cups, bite-sized Milky Way bars and Gummy Bears. Flipping through my sister's cupcake cookbooks brought on a different craving, which my husband was only too happy to indulge- the day before our anniversary (which we had to celebrate at home) he surprised me with four gorgeous cupcakes from Sonja's, two of which were my favorite Red Velvet.

No, cupcakes do not cure a broken heart, but they remind you of happier times and better things. These situations tend to reinforce the presence of a Higher Being, and- as cliche as it may sound- that things happen for a reason. And I believe that. I have to. Because- despite cupcakes not having any curative properties- they are good. And all will be good.

Note: The rate of ectopic pregnancies have risen over the years- currently, it is 1 out of 50. It is the number one cause of deaths for mothers during the first trimester. If you think you are pregnant, a trans-vaginal ultrasound could confirm if the pregnancy is in utero or otherwise. Do not delay treatment or surgery- talk to your OB about your options. Remember: the sooner the diagnosis and treatment, the better the results.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Doing the Ilonggo Chicken Dance

I don’t know how it all started or where it came from. But the craving just suddenly hit me. And it hit me hard.

For a week I was going crazy over everything Ilonggo- La Paz batchoy, Casa Carmela’s pitaw (bottled snipe cooked adobo-style), and chicken inasal. Good friend and fellow foodie Cookie Goddess picked up on my obsession and said that we had to try this inasal place in Quezon City. I am known to travel long distances for food, so lunch in the not-too-far north was not such a bad idea.

One stormy day, I carpool with Cookie Goddess and Mrs. G-Ro to Bacolod Chicken Parilla. Parilla is what they call grilled meats in Argentina. Every part of the cow (which is king in Argentina) is used, so do not be surprised when you see intestines, tongue and even penis (!) in the open charcoal pit. But Bacolod Chicken Parilla is obviously about the Philippine’s poultry of choice, with statistics showing that Pinoy’s consume 500,000 tons of chicken a year. The Ilonggos, I have discovered, can cook it like the best of them, and that is why I felt the need to brave flood waters to have a taste of what seems to be the Scout area’s best kept secret.

We spot a table in the air-conditioned area and promptly place our orders. I admire the sauce bottles filled with vinegar, soy sauce and chicken oil, and I know that I’m in for a multi-sensory treat.

As soon as the garlic rice was placed on the table, our chatter suddenly stops, knowing that we are only moments away from inasal heaven.

We ordered a plate of liempo, simply because we love pig and would want to see how Parilla does theirs. It was a bit anti-climactic, I must admit, knowing that we have all had better grilled pork belly. So again, we wait impatiently for what we came here for. (Actually, we didn’t wait long- maybe all of 10 minutes. But we were hungry beasts, so it felt like forever.)

Finally, the plate piled high with grilled paa (chicken leg quarters) arrived. Beautifully charred in the edges by hot charcoals, the flesh is juicy and a healthy orange from the achuete oil. We all dig in, soaking the inasal and rice with chicken oil. I take a bite of the chicken, without dipping sauce first, appreciating the perfectly-balanced marinade that flavored the meat- the aromatic garlic, a little zing from the ginger, and a slight tanginess at the end from the vinegar. All the strong flavors were blending seamlessly together, but not in an overpowering way that the grilled chicken gets lost in it.

As we devoured the paa, the plate of random chicken parts we ordered was placed down on the table- atay (liver), baticolon (gizzard) and isol (butt). My family knows how much I love chicken butt, and more often than not it is immediately offered to me when we share a whole roast chicken. Parilla’s has a glistening, crisp skin, a fitting case for the juicy, fatty inside. If you have not tried chicken butt, it comes pretty close to beef bone marrow in terms of richness. That’s all you need to know. The baticolon was just alright for me- it had the texture of a silicon swimming cap, something that I don’t normally chew on. People who are into it love it, though, and I bet they will like Parilla’s. The liver, too, is something I enjoyed- simply because I love liver.

I brought home some paa and Kansi (Ilonggo-style bulalo) for Matt, and he loved the food as much as we did. He admits, though, that if I did not tell him I got it from Parilla, he initially thought the chicken came from JT’s Manukan (which we have had on several occasions, and we just had delivered a few days prior). In my non-expert opinion, I do think that Parilla (along with JT’s) is one of the best chicken inasal I have tried in Manila.

Great. This craving thing has just become a vicious cycle.

Bacolod Chicken Parilla
Sct. Gandia cor. Sct. Reyes Sts.
Quezon City
Tel. no. (632) 371 8522