What Tonsilitis Feels Like
This is how much it costs to be sick in the Philippines.
It’s currently the fifth day of my suffering and I’ve been feeling feverish on and off, often in the morning and before I sleep. When I wake up my mouth tastes like thick, stale saliva, and I imagine a layer of putrid yellow growth like moss on my tongue. The back of my throat throbs, both in dehydration and pain.
I’ve been moving in small steps, because of the faint chill that keeps blowing, raising my goosebumps. During the first few days it was hard to even see things, as if the screen of my eyes had its brightness setting way down. My head throbbed like my headache had a headache, and all I felt like doing was lie down, but even in bed I couldn’t rest. I was cold then I was sweating, then cold again. I kept waking up every three hours. Think of a massive hangover, but add in a sore throat that stings when it’s dry and stings when it’s wet.
I asked some people what the folk remedy was for treating a really bad sore throat was: take a shot of vinegar and then chase it with a slice of cool, juicy papaya. I’m sure there’s some legit medical explanation for this, but all I could think of is that the acridity of the vinegar is just to shock the senses, so that one could briefly forget that the pain, which doesn’t go away. What makes it worse is that the illness has altered my taste, so aside from not being able to eat properly, I couldn’t even taste things right. I was eating spaghetti the other day (my favorite dish) and I couldn’t enjoy it, mostly because it didn’t taste appetizing. It was just salty.
Breathing has become difficult, but not because my throat has swollen up. It’s the cold season and the air is dry, and dry air dehydrates my throat. It’s difficult to speak too. I had the same thing when I was in high school, and my then-girlfriend used it as a reason to break up with me: “We don’t talk anymore,” she said. Girl I had multiple ulcers on my tonsils, damn! I got so thin because I couldn’t eat, and people — especially the teachers — made fun of me, saying I slimmed down like a drug addict. This is something I don’t understand about Filipino culture. We Filipinos like noticing when others get fat, especially in reunions when we say, “O, tumaba ka ah!” (“Wow, you got fat!”) as a greeting to someone they haven’t seen in a long time. And when our friends get thinner, they ask, as a joke, what illegal drugs they’re doing. Wow.
Anyway this thing also makes me think of something else: about how everyone has tonsils and so everyone is vulnerable to tonsilitis, but others just have to suffer it like another sore throat because they couldn’t afford the medicine, which in my case, already cost 500PHP for 14 antibiotic pills (that’s ~36PHP a pill). I even chose the generic pills because those were cheaper. The doctor warned me to finish my course of pills — which means that other patients don’t, which is a major cause for the rise of drug-resistant bacteria. Although some patients can be really stupid to think that just because they don’t feel pain anymore then the infection is over, I think that most patients just can’t afford to finish the course. When I was in high school, I was also prescribed a numbing spray to make eating easier, and that cost almost as much. Add in the pain killers (the doctor prescribed mefenamic acid). So, for tonsilitis, the course of a week’s treatment costs upwards of 1000PHP.
Now, the current local minimum wage rate can go as low as 247PHP. This means that there are people out there who also have tonsilitis, but who literally can’t spare 1000PHP for the luxury of curing their throat pain, who have to suck it up to go to work because they can’t afford a sick leave (and, so might just infect others). According to a report done by the National Economic and Developmental Authority, an average Filipino family of five, working around a hypothetical monthly budget of 10,000PHP, would only spend about 389PHP on health. In contrast, they’d spend 806PHP on transportation (which, in the Philippines, is a health hazard on its own), and 959PHP on rice (which, in an agricultural country, shouldn’t really be that expensive, right?). For those who have to suffer this constantly, so much that they’d have to surgically remove their tonsils, a tonsillectomy would cost 60,000–70,000PHP.
That is some systematic BS. Everyone is vulnerable to the same things because everyone is human, but not everyone has access to resources to bounce back from the damage these threats cause. And right now I’m just talking about tonsilitis, an annoying but mildly debilitating infection.