THE WISDOM OF THE TOOTH: AGONIES OF TOOTH EXTRACTION

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(The root of the problem.  The panoramic X-ray of the affected 3rd molar.) 

For the last 72 hours, I’ve had a lopsided face, been on hundreds of milligrams of medication every 6 hours, not eating much except mostly ice cream, and spending a lot of time in bed.  It’s not clinical depression.  It’s post-operative care after the surgical removal of my 2nd molar and impacted 3rd molar.  Simply put, I’ve had my bottom left wisdom tooth removed and the tooth next to it.

It’s the second time in 4 years that I’m having dental surgery.  The first time was when I had my bottom right wisdom tooth removed.  That was excruciating.  My mouth was open for several hours as the orthodontist yanked, pulled and grunted relentlessly while invading my oral cavities with all sorts of cold instruments of torture, including what I thought was a mini chainsaw (it was an automatic drill) to cut through a small piece of bone… which explained the burning smell at one point (too graphic, I know).

My left wisdom tooth had not given me problems for years, except about a month ago when it started becoming sensitive then became painful, and started waking me up from sleep.  I knew it had to go.

So one bright and sunny afternoon, I was in the dentist’s clinic waiting to get a panoramic dental X-ray when I started pondering:  Why so much pain for a tooth I don’t even use?  Why all this trouble for a body part that is as inconsequential as the appendix or the tonsils?  (And while we’re at it, why is wisdom tooth extraction so damn expensive and why doesn’t my health card cover it?!!!  Pardon the mood swings… it’s the meds.)

Some scientists claim there’s an evolutionary explanation to the wisdom tooth.  Our prehistoric ancestors had bigger jaws and more teeth because it was said to be necessary to catch, breakdown and chew their large prey.  But with evolution, man’s brain grew bigger, the jaw line receded, tools became more sophisticated and food became more processed.  A lot of teeth became unnecessary.

Medically, there’s not enough space for the wisdom tooth, so instead of growing upright it gets squeezed into a tiny corner and gets embedded into the gums at a weird, painful angle.  This is what’s called impacted tooth.  This could cause damage to the surrounding teeth, gums, nerves and jaw.

I came across another thinking about pain, a spiritual view this time, when I picked up a reading material from the dentist’s lounge.  The book is How to be Really, Really, Really Happy by Bo Sanchez (trust me, you’ll gravitate towards anything that will give relief when your teeth hurt).  He writes, “Pain urges one to continue walking.  If the journey were not painful, one would be tempted to stop – and slow down along the way.”

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(How to be really happy before dental surgery.)  

I’m sure Bo wasn’t thinking about my impacted tooth when he wrote about pain, and I wasn’t high on meds yet at that time but still I was able to draw connections.  Pain, whether physical or emotional, forces us to get to the root of the problem and confront it.  It’s that desire to get out of the pain that pushes us to snap out of our complacency, despair, etc. and find solutions that will free us and give us comfort.

With those in mind, after having my X-ray results examined and getting a 2nd opinion, both orthodontists concurred that not only should the left molar be removed but the 2nd molar as well.  Whopeee!  Twice as much pain.

So the day of surgery came. I ate a big breakfast (fried rice, sausages and eggs) because I knew I won’t be eating normally for the next few days.  And I braced myself for a lot of pain.

Sitting on my orthodontist’s chair (she’s a petite and soft spoken woman but, man, can she pull!) I told her “God bless you” and said a prayer for her sure and steady hands.  She injected anesthesia (local anesthesia… I’m not going to be knocked unconscious for dental surgery) but I asked for a few more happy doses, just to be sure.

So with some light pop music in the background, the procedure began.  I expected the worst, but before I could even pray a full rosary, the dentist had already pulled both teeth, was cleaning up, and told her assistant to call up my cousin to pick me up pronto!  It turned out to be an easy procedure because the impacted tooth was at a convenient angle and the dentist did not even have to cut through bone.  Praise God.

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(Dental surgery diet. Not bad.)

So now upon doctor’s orders, I’m spending the next 5 days at home to let the wound heal and the swelling subside.  God heard my prayers because apart from a little discomfort, I feel no excruciating pain.  The first 24 hours, I was eating nothing but ice cream (cold heals the wound faster), but by the 2nd day, I was eating normal food again (in very, very small bites and chewing only on my right side).  I can’t talk too much or laugh too big, and my cold compress gel is now my best friend (as well as sweet friends and cousins who come over to entertain me).

Oh and by coincidence, perhaps as a tribute to evolutionary science, I’m using a kid’s toothbrush for now (extra soft for ages 2 to 5), color apple green, with the design of a happy dinosaur with a big toothy smile.

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IN LOVE WITH THE GHOULISH CHARMS OF THE ADDAMS FAMILY

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(Eula Valdez as Morticia and Arnell Ignacio as Gomez in Addams Family)

The show opens with ghoulish creeps and dead people, set in a dark and dreary graveyard estate in Central Park, New York… and, boy, does it turn out to be one endearing, love-filled musical!

I was charmed right from the opening musical number, When You’re An Addams.  It’s a catchy number that will get you smiling and hooked from the get-go, with the eccentric moves of Addams family patriarch Gomez (Arnell Ignacio) and the sensuous grooves of matriarch Morticia (Eula Valdez), complete with dance sequences in various genres – tango, line dance and rigor mortis (you have to watch to see what this looks like).

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(The cast in the opening number When You’re an Addams)

There’s a twist in this broadway musical adaptation of Addam’s Family involving daughter Wednesday (K-la Rivera); a twist that will get the whole clan (including ancestors from the grave) all riled-up and turning upside down.  Sure, Wednesday is still dark and brooding and still wields a crossbow, but she’s no longer a girl.  She’s now a lady, and she’s fallen in love… with a boy, a normal boy, Lucas, who’s from a nice, conservative, traditional family in the Midwest (a swing state!, says Gomez).  But Wednesday and Lucas aren’t just in love.  They want to get married, and only Gomez is in on the secret… with much agony.  Morticia is kept in the dark and she’s getting suspicious.

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(The dark princess and the normal boy in love.  K-La Rivera as Wednesday and Ryan Gallagher as Lucas Beineke)

The most riotous scenes in the musical are those involving Gomez, Morticia and Wednesday as they plan a special dinner with Lucas’ family.  Wednesday’s only request is for the family to act normal, but how could they when you have a 100-year old grandmother who’s into potions, a younger brother who’s into torture and smoking (to relieve stress), a bald uncle who talks to the dead and is in love with the moon, and a butler of Frankenstein-esque qualities.

Surprisingly for all its eccentricities, the musical draws its most charming qualities in how it approaches the issue of love.  It’s very human (as opposed to very undead).  It recognizes that love starts out pure, uncomplicated, thrilling and exciting.  But it loses its magic along the way because of fears, over-cautiousness, work, secrets, unsaid feelings and unexpressed emotions that pile up over the years.  As Morticia tells her son Pugsley, “Life is a tightrope, and on the other side is your coffin.”  It takes risk and trust to make love work.

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Eula Valdez is perfectly cast in her role as Morticia.  She has a lovely alto voice and amazing stage presence, and even with a full cast on stage you can’t help but keep your eyes glued on her.  Arnell Ignacio is endearing in his portrayal of Gomez.  He has the right mixture of pompousness and soft-heartedness when it comes to his love for his family.  K-La Rivera as Wednesday acquits herself in the company of veteran performers with her clear, powerful singing voice and convincing portrayal.  Special mention to Carla Guevara-Laforteza as Alice Beineke, mother of Lucas.  She’s a scene stealer during the dinner sequence as she transforms from sunshiny Midwestern mom to frustrated wife on the verge of a breakdown.

I must give props to the show’s set designer, Faust Peneyra, and lighting designer, Dong Calingacion.  Their executions were spot-on and lent perfectly and evocatively to the feel of the entire musical.   

The show is directed by Bobby Garcia for Atlantis Productions and runs until December 1 at the Meralco Theater.

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(Photo credits: Atlantis Productions, Inc.)

50 YEARS TODAY: A SNAPSHOT ON THE KENNEDY ASSASSINATION

(I wrote this piece in September 2013 while doing my fellowship with the World Press Institute in the U.S.  The WPI fellows had a rare and lengthy encounter with District Court Judge John R. Tunheim who chaired the Assassination Records and Review Board (ARRB).  This body was tasked to declassify thousands of documents on the Kennedy assassination.  Our encounter with Tunheim was a crash course on one of the most riveting moments in American history, but several hours were barely enough to cover the bullet points of the ARRB’s major findings, and more questions remain in my mind about the Kennedy assassination.)

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(Zac Efron stars in the upcoming Kennedy assassination movie as the young doctor who first attended to JFK.  Screen grab from official trailer)

This October, a new movie on the Kennedy assassination will be released in the U.S., ‘Parkland’, starring Zac Efron, Billy Bob Thornton, Marcia Gay Harden, Paul Giamatti and many others.  Written and directed by Peter Landesman, and co-produced by Tom Hanks, the movie is based on the book, ‘Four Days in November’, by Vincent Bugliosi.

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(Paul Giamatti stars as Abraham Zapruder who unwittingly captured the Kennedy assassination on film. Screen grab from official trailer)

According to the film’s official website, ‘Parkland’ recounts the tumultuous events during U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas, Texas on Nov. 22, 1963.  It weaves together the stories of ordinary people including the young doctors and nurses who treated Kennedy at Parkland Hospital, the members of the Secret Service, and the unwitting cameraman who captured the events on film.

The Hollywood film puts the spotlight on one of America’s most tragic moments in history, but the international journalist fellows of the World Press Institute got a deeper, more intimate peek at the events one balmy afternoon. The venue was the 1920s English-style lake side cottage of U.S. District Judge John R. Tunheim in Marine on St. Croix, Minnesota.

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(The WPI fellows with Judge John R. Tunheim)

For three hours, Judge Tunheim presented videos and documents culled from his work as chairman of the Assassination Records and Review Board (ARRB).  The board was appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1994 to declassify and make public thousands of records pertaining to the Kennedy assassination (the movie ‘JFK’ starring Kevin Costner had just been released earlier).

Half a century and several investigation committees after the Kennedy assassination, many questions remain unresolved.  Several theories behind the killing have been floated through the years: the feds, CIA, Secret Service, Fidel Castro, Cuban intel, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, the Soviets, the Israelis, and many more conspiracy angles.

“It was a huge jigsaw puzzle,” Tunheim said, “[as a judge] I deal with real evidence, and if you look at the evidence, it all points to Oswald.”  That’s Lee Harvey Oswald, the former U.S. marine and employee at the Texas School Building who, according to the Warren commission, was the sniper who killed Kennedy.  He was charged with the assassination, but as he was being transferred to the county jail, he was shot dead by Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby in full view of news cameras.

Conspiracy theories emerged when it was learned that Oswald defected to the Soviet Union years earlier and tried to seek asylum. He was rejected, sent to Minsk in Belarus, before being returned to the U.S.

Perhaps one of the biggest pieces of the puzzle is the ‘single bullet theory.’  Was Oswald acting alone, or was there a 2nd shooter?  Some had cast doubts that Oswald had the ability to reload the rifle shells in a matter of seconds, between the shot that hit Kennedy on the upper back and exited his throat, and the shot that hit the president on the head.

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Tunheim played back several times the video from the famous Zapruder film.  Dallas businessman Abraham Zapruder was just an ordinary citizen who wanted to capture the president’s motorcade using the latest super 8 movie camera (“the Iphone of the time,” said Tunheim).  Instead, what he captured made history: frame by frame of the gun shots that killed the president.  The images are just as harrowing 50 years later.

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(The WPI fellows viewing the Zapruder film)

“There was no evidence of a 2nd shooter,” Tunheim said, “no spent shells on the grassy knoll” (the area believed to be the location of a 2nd shooter).  Tunheim, however, adds, “but why is the bullet positive (emerged intact) when the bullet that hit the president’s head was shattered?”

The House Select Committee on Assassinations in 1978 made another conclusion: that Kennedy was probably assassinated as a result of conspiracy due to organized crime, but without enough information as to who or what group was behind it. The president’s brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, was known for his relentless pursuit against organized crime, but many have speculated about the connection of the Kennedy’s with the mob.

Perhaps I’ll watch “Parkland” this October.  Perhaps it will be a good movie (I’m curious to see Zac Efron in the role of the first-year surgical resident who was the first to attend to Kennedy), but I’m certain, it won’t be the complete story.

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Link to WPI Reports: http://worldpressinstitute.org/wpi-reports/blogs/paul-henson/2013/09/01/beyond-zac-efron-movie-50-years-after-kennedy-assassination

THE DAY THE SKY FELL ON THE PHILIPPINES

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(The following post was published in Russian in New Times in Moscow.) 

It was one of the most gripping images I saw of super typhoon Haiyan when it struck central Philippines:  a group of people on the roof of a house trying to evade fast rising flood waters,  holding on for dear life as they were buffeted by rain, wind and storm surge in Tacloban City.  These images were captured on video by our news team on the ground.

For several tense hours, we lost all communication with our journalists.  When we reestablished connection later, the full story of those people on the roof dawned on us: They were children in an orphanage called Street Life Philippines that was pounded and destroyed during the super typhoon.  They climbed the roof and held on for nearly two hours, refusing to be swept away by the violent waters.

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What struck me most was what the founder of the orphanage, a foreigner named Erlend Johanndsen, said after surviving the ordeal: “Up there was the longest one and a half hours of their lives. But it also showed the true spirit of humanity and the true spirit of Filipinos. They were really holding on, refusing to surrender, refusing to give up.”  He said the children even managed to smile after that traumatic experience.

Indeed  the Filipino spirit is strong and indomitable.  But this time around, the tragedy seems much greater and the heartbreak for thousands of victims may take longer to recover from.

A man who survived the raging floods wept as he was being interviewed by our news team.  “I’m sorry,” he said in between tears, “I was unable to rescue my child.  He was already lifeless when his body was recovered.”

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When you walk the streets of badly hit towns, you see the extent of the damage.  It is a scene straight from an apocalyptic film.  Where houses and structures once stood, now you find a heap of garbage strewn by a mighty force.  On the streets, the foul stench of decaying corpses, the horror still etched on their faces.

And those who are alive do not feel they are fortunate.  “We survived the tragedy, but we will die of hunger,” one survivor lamented.  Another man was in tears as he cooked the very last piece of dried fish he was saving for his family.

Relief goods are painfully slow to come because of the badly damaged roads and ports, the lack of transportation and fuel, and the sheer scale of needed aid.

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But as it happens during every tragedy, Filipinos pull together to help those who are less fortunate.  Volunteers work day and night repacking goods, clothes, medicines, blankets, tents and other items donated by individuals, groups and institutions.

World aid has also been pouring in from different countries, the United Nations, the International Red Cross, World Food Programme, the Vatican, and other institutions.  But more will be appreciated.

Year 2013 is about to close but the local weather bureau says there will be 2 or 3 more weather disturbances that may affect the Philippines — we’ve had over 25 typhoons already  this year.  We can only brace ourselves for more.

I look at the brave kids from that orphanage, and I see the indomitable spirit of Filipinos.  The country may be bruised and battered by one natural calamity after another.  But always, we rise up and carry on.

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Link to New Times article:  http://newtimes.ru/articles/detail/74083

TULONG NA SHIRTS, SAGIP KAPAMILYA DONATION HELPLINES FOR YOLANDA VICTIMS

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There are many ways to help the victims of Typhoon Yolanda through ABS-CBN Sagip Kapamilya.

TULONG SHIRTS

Proceeds from sale of Tulong Shirts will go to Sagip Kapamilya.  Retail price is P250.00.

These will be available for sale starting Nov. 15, Friday, at the following authorized retail partners, aside from ABS-CBN stores:

AYALA MALLS:

· Alabang Town Center

· Glorietta

· Trinoma

· Greenbelt

· Market Market

· Festival Mall

· Harbor Point, Subic

· The District Mall in Cavite

· Marquee Mall in Pampanga

For those overseas, call the nearest TFC office or TFC dealers.

More authorized dealers, outlets and malls will be announced in the coming days.

You may also place orders through http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/TULONGPH

DROP-OFF POINTS FOR DONATIONS IN-KIND

1. Sagip Kapamilya Headquarters, 13 Examiner St., West Triangle, QC
Telephone Number: 411-4995, Mondays to Sundays, 8am to 6pm

PBB Activity Center from 8am to 6pm

McDonalds NCR stores until Nov. 15, Friday

2. Visayas

a. ABS-CBN CEBU, North Road, Jagobiao, Manadue City
b. ABS-CBN Bacolod, 26 Lacson St., Barangay 1, Bacolod City
c. ABS-CBN Iloilo, Luna St., La Paz, Iloilo City

3. Mindanao
a. ABS-CBN Cagayan de Oro, Greenhills Road, Bulua, Cagayn de Oro City
b. ABS-CBN Davao, Broadcast Avenue, Shrine Hills, Matina, Davao City

CASH DONATIONS
ABS-CBN Foundation, Inc.-Sagip Kapamilya
BDO-Scout Albano Branch
Peso Account Number 39301-14199

BDO Dollar Account
Account Name: ABS-CBN Foundation, Inc.-Sagip Kapamilya
Account Number: 39300-81622
Branch: Sct. Albano, Quezon Avenue, Quezon City
Swift Code: BNORPHMM

PNB Peso Account
Account Name: ABS-CBN Foundation, Inc.-Sagip Kapamilya
Account Number: 419-539-5000-13
Branch: Timog, Quezon City
Swift Code: PNBMPHMM

PNB Dollar Account
Account Name: ABS-CBN Foundation, Inc.-Sagip Kapamilya
Account Number: 419-539-5000-21
Branch: Timog, Quezon City
Swift Code: PNBMPHMM

BPI Peso Account
Account Name: ABS-CBN Foundation, Inc.-Sagip Kapamilya
Account Number: 3051-1127-75
Branch: West Triangle, Quezon City
Swift Code: BOPIPHMM

BPI Dollar Account
Account Name: ABS-CBN Foundation, Inc.-Sagip Kapamilya
Account Number: 3054-0270-35
Branch: West Triangle, Quezon City
Swift Code: BOPIPHMM

Metrobank Peso Account
Account Name: ABS – CBN Foundation, Inc. – Sagip Kapamilya
Account Number: 636-3-636-08808-1
Branch: Examiner Quezon Ave. Branch
Swift Code: MBTCPHMM

INTERNATIONAL DONATIONS

Through ABS-CBN Foundation International:

There are four ways you can send help:

1. Send a check payable to ABS CBN Foundation International, write “Typhoon Yolanda” on the memo section of the check and mail to

ABS CBN Foundation International
150 Shoreline Dr
Redwood City CA 94065

2. Direct Deposit

Wells Fargo Bank, Redwood City Brach

Account Name: ABS CBN Foundation International
Account Number 5129562574

3. Donate online through paypal, credit card or debit card: visit http://www.abscbnfoundation.org

4. Call our toll free US customer service number for more information or to process your donations: 1(800)527-2820 (Overseas Filipinos may call this number from whatever region you are in: North America, Asia, Middle East, Europe, Australia, etc)

Thank you for your generosity.

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THE BIRTHDAY STORM

Image Rain is a shower of blessings from heaven, they say.  But what I got on my birthday was one of the strongest tropical cyclones ever to make landfall in world history.

I woke up morning of November 8 to gray and dreary skies, had a birthday lunch lovingly prepared by mom, then dashed off to work, waiting for super typhoon Yolanda’s deep impact (international name: Haiyan).

Birthdays were much simpler and blissful when we were kids, weren’t they?  My earliest memory of my birthday was in prep school.  It was my special day because I got to wear casual clothes (a striped sports shirt, white short pants and rubber shoes) and not the school uniform.  I brought to class lots of balloons and a cake with marshmallow icing topped with super hero action figures to share with my classmates.

As you get older, birthdays evolve.  Some years it’s happy and memorable, some years it feels like a chore, other years, it’s a downright struggle. Image As it has been tradition over the last several years, my birthday dinners are celebrated with the people in the late-night news team in the newsroom, more than 50 of them, who’ve become like extended family to me.  They’ve seen me at my best and worst, and birthdays have become signposts of the previous year’s experiences and of what is yet to come.

For this year, we shared a modest feast, shared some laughs and good cheer, and for a split second, we forgot that there was a super storm wreaking havoc in central Philippines.

But just as quickly as the celebration started, the party broke up to prepare for the news program which was airing in less than 3 hours.  And the stories of that evening were no less than heartbreaking.

Our news teams on the ground were soaked and drenched to their socks, buffeted here and there by rain, wind, storm surge and flying corrugated tin roofs, with little or no food and water.  But the citizens suffered way, way much more.

Life, with all its twists and twisters, does not stop even for birthdays.  With hope in our hearts, we blow a birthday candle each year with all the joys and heartaches, the happiness and grief, the blessings and losses, the comings and goings.  But when you really think about it, you do realize that you’re still so blessed.

And with God’s grace, you may have a birthday cake again next year.  Hopefully, it is topped, not with a super storm, but a super hero action figure.

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