A Fear Untold

It was not the best time to have a fever.

But I had it.

It was hours after I did some grocery shopping, for which I had lined up for five — ruthless — hours.

My fiancee, Kath, called it a sinat and asked me to take a rest. At her mom’s advice, she prepared ginger tea with lemon and had me take some Bioflu (“Not ibuprofen!”). She was panicking, muttering she really should’ve gone shopping and not me who is asthmatic.

“I don’t have cough and shortness of breath,” I said, reassuring her — but really nervous at the same time. Isn’t covid-19 supposed to have an incubation period? Aren’t symptoms supposed to appear at least two days after exposure? If this is — heavens forbid, covid-19 — then maybe I got this two weeks ago, before the lockdown?

It’s bad when you’re a chronic overthinker.

That night, I carefully noted that I didn’t have chills, but any draft of air felt noticeably cold. Thankfully I slept like a baby. But the next day, the fever came back (or maybe it just didn’t leave?). We didn’t have a thermometer, but I knew what’s normal temp or not. Worse, I found the left side of my neck swollen and red.

It was sunburn.

I concluded the fever had been due to severe sunburn. After grocery-shopping, I carried three bags with both hands, right while the sun was at its apex. I would hide my face from it, exposing my nape.

It was sunburn. Just a sunburn. With a side effect.

The next day, however, I started to feel tight in the chest. I suddenly felt aware I was heaving deep breaths. I didn’t hear any wheezing sound — wheezing is part of an asthma attack — which is bad. This may NOT be asthma. Maybe it’s worse. My heart skipped a beat.

Did I get infected? But I was obedient and stayed home and went out only to get food! Do I have to go to hospital? Can my fiancée accompany me? Am I going to die?

I told you being an overthinker is inconvenient.

And what does “shortness of breath” mean? Is it the same as one experiences when having asthma?

I read as much as I could about the virus and its symptoms. Trouble is, the more information I got, the more I sensed that there is still a lot more to know and that nothing is certain. When the spectrum of manifestations of the virus is from having none to having severe breathing difficulty, it’s quite haphazard to say you’re virus-free unless you get tested.

So I took a puff out of my trusty inhaler. I had it since an asthmatic episode last year. With 200 actuations, it can last me maybe one or two years, if I effectively avoid my triggers.

I could hardly notice any difference in my breathing after that one inhalation. But I didn’t want to take another, else I might grow dependent on it.

I took more rest.

Fortunately, my throat was alright, my body didn’t feel weak (I was just sleepy, but maybe it’s the paracetamol working), and most importantly, I didn’t have cough.

When I called my mom, she also dismissed my symptoms as my body’s terrible reaction to having been trapped indoors for weeks then suddenly getting exposed outside without meal and water for almost half the day.

I felt relieved. Mothers know best, after all.

But on the third day, and on the fourth, the “asthma” repeatedly appeared. I was gasping for breath, kind of. So I began to doubt myself. Is this really just asthma?

Overthinker mode was on. When you say the disease’s symptoms are fever, cough, and shortness of breath, do you mean all of them at the same time or one or two at a time? And in that order, or not really?

I was drowning with questions, and Kath was starting to worry again. But I admired the quiet strength she acquired since two days ago.

“Maybe you should call the hotline,” she told me, after I brought up the idea.

But I couldn’t bring myself to dial the numbers. My dread added to my breathing difficulty.

“I don’t have cough, and I’m not feeling weak,” I told her, unsure.

“You better call, or else we’ll be worrying the whole time” was the reply.

So I called. 155–200. PGH’s hotline. Since PGH was practically my “teritoryo” until two years ago, I preferred it to DOH’s hotline which is scarily called “COVID-19 HOTLINE” in capital letters. PGH seemed more approachable.

I’m just going to consult, that’s all. I’m not gonna die.

“Hello, I’m not feeling very well.”

The operator asked for my basic information, then the symptoms. I also told him about my adventure to the supermarket some days back. And my asthma meds.

“No body aches or sore throat?”

“None.”

He asked to be excused for a few minutes. He probably sought advice from his superior. I had a feeling the operator was a young doctor, or maybe a nurse.

But I was nervous as hell. The silence was killing me.

When he came back to the line, he said, “It’s most probably just your asthma, sir.”

Sweet Jesus!

I didn’t hear much anymore of what he said next. “Stay home” something, “call us if it gets worse” something, and something more. What’s important for me then was the fact that he dismissed the possibility it’s covid-19.

But those few words were enough for me to be at peace again. It was like getting a full blow of cool, freeing oxygen into my lungs.

Lesson? It sucks to be asthmatic.

And I really should’ve taken breakfast and water and prepared for a five-hour queue at the supermarket that one time.

I’m feeling okay now. And for the first time in my life, I’m glad to have asthma — just asthma.

That ordeal taught me another — and deeper — lesson. And that is: Life is fragile, appreciate every moment.

When I was still heaving breaths, end-of-life scenes already started to appear. Dying unmarried to the love of my life, crying in contrition and isolation, awaiting judgment and clinging to a frail hope. It’s a terrible train of thought. But maybe good to jolt me back to realizing the real valuable things in life: the little things of love, the soft voices of loved ones, the silence of understanding and being understood.

Going through that health scare hadn’t been easy. But, thank God, I got through that tunnel stronger and more appreciative of each day.

It’s still not the best time to have a fever. But it’s always the best time to count your blessings, especially your loved ones and your every breath.

Real Talk with Saint Joseph

If discouragement overwhelms you, think of the faith of Saint Joseph; if anxiety has its grip on you, think of the hope of Saint Joseph. — Pope Benedict XVI


Today, March 19, was supposed to be the high point of a seven-Sunday period of meditating on the life of St. Joseph — not only because today is his feast day, but also because today is supposed to be my wedding day.

I had asked St. Joseph to be my guide in navigating the transition from bachelorhood to married life. After all, he married the best woman and became ‘father’ to the best Son.

That rosy outlook — nay, plan — did not, of course, play out as expected. A global pandemic exploded. The wedding was deferred. People got sick. Many died. The period that was supposed to be the happiest became one of the most difficult in recent memory.

Looking back on the past month-and-a-half, however — in that period of reflecting on St. Joseph’s “joys and sorrows” — I’ve come to realize the hard (and painfully obvious) lesson of that Seven Sundays devotion: life is joys and sorrows.

It’s an ancient custom wherein for seven Sundays before the feast of St. Joseph you ponder on the holy patriarch’s joys and sorrows — such as his sorrow when he lost the Boy Jesus in the Temple, and his joy when he found him three harrowing days later. The Seven Sundays of St. Joseph may be seem like an easy devotion (you only do it on Sundays!), but its lesson is quite the toughie.

Life is joys and sorrows! Many times we think sorrowful times are defects or blots that should never mar our life-story — such as the dark areas on a Caravaggio painting. We forget that it’s wrong to expect our lives to be perfect tales where no conflict or lack or loss exists. We are supposed to consider life as we do a Caravaggio: see the dark areas actually bringing out the beauty of the illuminated parts — indeed of the whole picture.

And given this salad or confetti nature of life (joys and sorrows galore), the deeper lesson from St. Joseph is that whether we are glad or sad, the love of God is as constant as the sky.

I can only imagine St. Joseph’s distress when he had to bring Mary and the Infant Jesus to faraway Egypt, because Herod was about to have a baby-killing spree in Bethlehem. But St. Joseph surely wasn’t troubled for very long: he understood that God Who is Constant Love was with him — literally — and so soon had peace and joy.

Of course, our unfortunate lot today is that we are amidst a ravenous pandemic. A sorrow in every way you look at it. But — without diminishing the gravity of the suffering of COVID-19 victims and their families — we also know this is just one of the sorrows we encounter throughout life. But we also understand — by faith — that despite these sorrows, God’s love remains mysteriously, inexplicably constant.

So we go through the crucible of this crisis with fortitude, as St. Joseph did in all his tribulations. We work, we pray, we help — we await the unfolding of the will of God.

Love in the Time of COVID-19

How a Pandemic Stole the Wedding We Prepared for a Year — and Why We’re Still Winners

It’s probably one of the stories I’m going to tell my grandchildren: a pandemic postponed lolo and lola’s wedding.

With only seven days before our big day, Metro Manila was declared on semi-lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Which came as the bittersweet conclusion of nights of lost sleep. We thought, at least now our suppliers won’t charge us for the postponement.

The emotional toll of the postponement also turned out to be more manageable than we had feared. A few tears were shed, but then came the thought that a later date is going to help us execute our wedding plans better, probably gain the guests who couldn’t attend on the original date and, above all, truly keep our guests and family safe. (And with all the wine we already bought for the wedding toast, it now seems we’ve “hoarded” enough “alcohol” to fight this pandemic!)

Seriously, though, this crisis has become the dramatic climax of the series of lessons learned over the course of our engagement. Elsewhere I’ve said going through our engagement period helped us to rediscover the reason of getting married in the first place: to be gifts to one another and to give glory to God through whatever challenge life throws at us. Well, COVID-19 is quite the challenge. And when we overcome it, boy what an honor it will be — like a scar earned in battle.

In the meantime, I will just savor the fact that my loved ones are all safe and healthy. I suppose this pandemic has truly brought us to our knees to thank God for our blessings, feel that that we are all one army fighting one enemy, and cling on to the hope that soon all will be well again. I guess, in a way, that’s how you cancel a pandemic.

The Thrills and Necessary Throes of an Engagement

On this day last year, the love of my life said yes to marrying me.

With only a few weeks left before our wedding day, here are some of the things I learned in our yearlong engagement.

  1. Wedding-planning is the opportunity to have a big, shared project. From the beginning, Kath and I thought of our wedding as a sort of baby we have to plan, take care of, and of course cherish. The task of planning, organizing, documenting, and meeting suppliers tested our mettle, but it also gave us joy to see the event start to become tangible (e.g. souvenirs and invitations). I suppose wedding-prepping is the trial run of our life together as dreamers and doers of big, beautiful things.
  2. Getting engaged is knowing yourself more, and deeply. In the past twelve months, I discovered many things about myself, things which I could not have imagined without the context of ‘forever in marriage’. Sometimes the exercise of self-knowing flew to the theological: I realized that the wedding ceremony has an eschatological dimension. No wonder weddings bring us happy tears : they are the earthly equivalent of meeting God in heaven; every person’s deepest, sometimes-unrecognized desire.
  3. The period of engagement is the most intense time to know your beloved — like, *really* know her! Since we got engaged, Kath and I became keener in spotting our quirks, virtues, and errors. Thus this was also the time for us to exercise forgiveness and correction with greater finesse — an act like counting the strands of a feather — an art and duty that’ll do us well for the rest of our lives together.
  4. Talking to God about your beloved — and talking to Him *with* her — makes the relationship stronger. Adopting a particular “Prayer for Marriage” was our best decision since getting engaged. It’s a prayer we say daily at the same time wherever each of us was. It’s a prayer that reminds us about our decision to get married in the first place: to be gifts to each other and to glorify God. With that prayer and our usual acts of piety, we gain a peace and direction that simplifies our life.

But the greatest lesson for me, of course, is how lucky a man I am. My vanities and frivolities lay in ruin at the unassuming simplicity, wisdom, affection, strength, virtue, and beauty of one Katharine Sta Maria, my future bride.

What I Learned from my Recent Job Search

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6 lessons that may help you land your dream job

After a long period of hemming and hawing, last May I decided to leave academe and return to corporate life.

That was one of the scariest decisions I made. True, I had about two months to find a job before my previous employer stopped giving me salary (my contract would expire at the end of our summer-term vacation); but also true, many employers are known to be sluggish at best and discriminatory at worst. I would probably need more than two months before I get to my next job.

I got it on the third month.

The journey was tough and rife with mistakes. But it all ended with more than I wished for. Here are the top six things I learned in the past three months, searching for a job:

1. Job hunting is a full-time job.

Turns out, looking for a job can and should be taken as a full-time job, because of all the research and traveling and writing you’ll have to do. It took me a while to learn this. I barely had any progress in June, when I was often busy at a volunteer organization I belong to. My mind was split into the job hunt and “extracurricular” tasks. It’s no wonder I had zero feedback about any of the applications I sent. So yes, “Professional Job Hunter” might as well be a thing.

2. Start early and relearn the ropes.

Photo by Domenico Loia on Unsplash

When you’re already having that vague, unsettled feeling of wanting a new job or career, then already start refining your resume and LinkedIn profile. Don’t wait till you’re out of a job. Reacquaint yourself with the basics of job hunting. The Internet is a vast resource for this, of course, but I recommend that you also consult an actual recruiter. Halfway through my job search, I belatedly consulted a recruiter friend on how to improve my resume. Turns out, I was doing my resume wrong! One of the lessons I learned: I didn’t really have to stick to just a one-page resume, especially since I was already aiming at managerial positions. It was a blow to my ego, but I learned a lot.

3. Learn new things.

One of the toughest parts of being unemployed is the psychological tunnel you’ll have to go through. Sure, there is light at the far end, but 99% of the place is utter darkness. It’s easy to imagine demons lurking in the shadows: the naysayers and their ugly ilk. So why not bring your flashlight or torch and read something on the way? You can also bring your smartphone for Duolingo!

Probably the good thing about being jobless is now you have time for reading. Photo by Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash

What helped me a lot in the past three months were reading books and articles, watching online courses, and attending Toastmasters meetings. I also figured blogging was a good activity as well: creating something always brings with it a lot of research and discoveries. And if you have enough budget for it, you can try getting LinkedIn’s Learning subscription. They have hundreds of well selected courses I found both enjoyable and informative.

4. Learn from every rejection.

Now this is the hardest part of the process. Rejections hit right smack at our ego, the only thing we probably retained from our previous job. And this squishy blob— ego — gets even more sensitive when it’s not seated in a job or position; it becomes younger — as young as a four-year-old brat.

There, there. Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

For me, the most humiliating part was how almost none of those I sent online applications to ever gave me feedback. Were my cover letters bland? Were my customized resumes too generic and unattractive? Are the recruiters simply sluggish as expected? These were the questions twittering in my head. Later on, I realized it must have been the resume (see #2 above). In any case, I realized it’s no use complaining; it’s only going to make my blood boil and probably make the people around me annoyed. When I already had my glass of bile-like sadness to last me another month, I finally decided that rejections are a good thing — like all the world’s failed courtships and relationships — they are signage that direct you to what’s most suitable to you and you alone. I threw away that glass of gloom.

5. Widen your network through extracurricular organizations.

I’m a member of Maharlika Toastmasters Club, where they never laugh at my jokes, hahahuhu. Photo: Maharlika Toastmasters Club

I mean Toastmasters. Okay, it doesn’t have to be Toastmasters, but find yourself an organization that will give you a diverse network of professionals. Thanks to Toastmasters, I found myself in a caring environment that promotes self-development, especially in communication and leadership. It was in Toastmasters that I learned to communicate better and began to lead teams and get to know a wide range of people — some of them recruiters. That “recruiter friend” I mentioned above is a toastmaster. And so is the one who recruited me to my new employer.

6. Get professional help (from heaven).

My personal favorite is St Josemaria Escriva, followed by St Clare of Assisi, for anything work-related. I started a novena to St Josemaria nine days before his feast day (June 26). On the eve of the feast, my then potential employer personally gave me an application form. Sixty days later, I got the job — one that’s even better than I wished for.

If you’re still in between jobs, I hope you got something useful here. Don’t give up. Let the naysayers say their nays. In time and accompanied by hard work and prayer, you’ll get the job suitable for you and you alone.