Bloodstained Politics at the Philippine General Hospital

With reports from Kristine Abigail Lingbaoan

MANILA — Dr. Gerardo Legaspi, a neurosurgeon in the Philippine General Hospital (PGH), had his hands full with a bleeding tumor in front of him. The blood pressure of the patient was very low, heart rate was abnormally high – more than a hundred beats per minute – and blood loss was nearing two liters.

The patient could die any moment. Legaspi requested two units of packed red blood cells from the Assistant Director on Hospital Operations (ADHO), stressing the urgency of the life-threatening situation.

However, only one of the two units of blood was approved and delivered almost an hour after the request was made. Legaspi was already frantically following up the request after he noticed that the blood coming out of the patient was already diluted – there was a very low concentration of red blood cells.

“ They [ADHO] are making an issue out of your mass leave that was why the release of the blood units is delayed,” reported the doctor assisting him. They were able to stabilize the patient temporarily, but the blood pressure started to drop rapidly again.

Tumor bleeding was unrelenting. Legaspi said to the circulating nurse that he would file a case against the ADHO in court if anything happens to the patient.

At 12 noon that Tuesday of April 8, the second blood pack was finally delivered, coming a full two hours after the operating doctors requested for it.

The patient was able to survive despite massive blood loss. After the operation, Legaspi asked Dr. Roel Domingo to narrate to him what transpired at the ADHO when he requested for the blood – why the blood requisition was dangerously delayed.

Legaspi related that there were three women, whose names he did not disclose, at the ADHO when the request was filed. According to Dr. Domingo, one of the women at the ADHO said, “Why is he (Legaspi) doing a private, elective operation? Is he not part of the mass leave? Release just one unit.”

Plain Harassment

For Legaspi, what the ADHP did reflects their lack of professionalism. Legaspi was one of the 102 PGH doctors who applied for a leave of absence (LOA) in protest of the UP Board of Regents’ (BOR’s) “unceremonious” removal of Dr. Jose Gonzales as the PGH director on February 25.

Moreover, Legaspi then was technically not on leave because his request for LOA was not granted by the dean of the UP College of Medicine (UPCM).

“Even if he is on leave, he has the right and the capacity to check on his patients,” said JF Gutierrez, a student of the UPCM and a member of the Laban UP-PGH, an alliance of student and faculty organizations formed against the removal of Gonzales and the privatization of PGH. It was not an “elective” case, contrary to the statement of the approving officer of the ADHO, “because the patient could die right there and then if the operation was not conducted,” he added.

In a private elective case, the patient has no immediate need for an operation.

Gonzales said the incident was “plain harassment.”

“Regardless of whether [Legaspi] was on leave or not, a patient’s life is at stake. They should not have linked the request to the mass leave,” said Gonzales.

To show indignation, Laban-UP PGH organized a blood-letting campaign from April 13 to 16. Anyone could donate blood as long as they are physically qualified.

As of April 15, more than 30 people have donated blood. “This is a form of protest, to dramatize how [even] a doctor’s job to attend to the health of his patient was politicized by the [PGH directorship] issue,” Gonzales said.

Laban UP-PGH is set to hold a protest action during the university graduation on April 25 to condemn the “political maneuverings of the BOR.”

Rapid Fire

Gonzales was appointed as the PGH director only on January 7, almost a month after the BOR voted 6-5 in his favor on December 18, 2009. UP Student Regent Charisse Bañez was one of the regents who voted for Gonzales.

On January 29, the BOR removed Bañez as the student regent – the sole representative of more than 50,000 students – despite the lack of quorum. According to Malacañang-appointed regent Abraham Sarmiento, Bañez could not represent the students simply because she failed to enroll in the current semester.

Having nullified Bañez’s vote, the BOR voted again on the PGH directorship on February 25, even without the student regent and without consulting Gonzales or requesting his presence in the BOR meeting. The day after, Dr. Enrique Domingo, the newly elected PGH director, was appointed.

“We were surprised because Domingo was not included in the original list of candidates that became the basis of our voting last December 18. It is also strange that it took a long time before Gonzales was sworn into office while the process of appointment of Domingo was rushed,” said UP Staff Regent Clodualdo Cabrera.

Faculty Regent Judy Taguiwalo recalled that UP President Emerlinda Roman even commented during the December 18 BOR meeting that Domingo was not qualified because he was not yet tenured. However, there was no recording of the statement, so there was no way to verify it, Taguiwalo said.

What they did to me was rapid fire. They removed me, a qualified personnel occupying the position, without due process. There was no vacancy and no court case has been filed against me,” Gonzales said.

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2 Comments - Write a Comment

  1. I find what was published here that the delayed release of the blood was politically motivated very very improbable. I worked at the PGH for quite a while, and it is VERY COMMON for those requesting for pRBCs (the blood) to be denied, or not given the whole allocation. While sad, this isn't an extraordinary case, and connecting it to the political ongoings in PGH is very laughable. If anything, they should have asked for blood BEFORE the operation (like what most residents do).

    While I am against the machinations that put Dr. Domingo in office, this to me sounds like a blatant lie. Sadly, this is just business as usual at the PGH. I do sincerely hope that this changes for the better, but not because these kinds of lies are perpetuated. Just the facts itself of the political ongoings should be enough to cause an uproar, adding these bold-faced lies just shows me that maybe both sides are "trapos" and may be undeserving of our support.

    1. This was factual though, so it is not a laughing matter. We do not print nor perpetuate lies, blatant or otherwise.

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