OUR family had the scare of our lives last October when we finally took serious notice of our youngest sibling’s long-darkening ankles and feet—and his right big toes that had swollen and turned black!

Our youngest brother Joseph Nelson might lose his right toe to what? Diabetes!

That’s what almost happened to our brother Joseph who used to regularly buy cases of soft drinks in 1.5 and 1.75 liters, that is mostly for his own consumption, prompting neighbors to ask in the vernacular: “You have a party (again)?”

The fairest skinned among our three brothers—taking after our mestiza mother—we thought that Ading Joseph Nelson’s darkening feet and lower calf area had just been “aka-i-baan”—in the native language (Pangasinan) of our late mother.

Akaibaan, meaning, that our brother was “napagkatuwaan ng mga nuno sa punso”—in Tagalog.

We Ilocanos (and our Pangasinense forebears on the maternal side) believe that unseen fairies that we accidentally step on—or pour hot water on—retaliate by causing disease on the offending or stepping foot of thoughtless people who do not warn them ahead of impending danger.

So when venturing out to (out-of-the-way) gardens—and/or pouring hot water anywhere – we shout or mumble: “Kayu-kayo!”

Short for “Umalis kayo” (in Ilocano) and “Unalis kayo” (in Pangasinan)—meaning, please transfer or move and make way...

(Though I just checked online and found out that the correct Ilocano term is “dayu-dayu”!)

And when entering an unknown domain, or visiting a place for the first time, we exclaim, “bari-bari!”


We had thought that our brother has just been bitten by some red ant or garden insect as he oversees our “forest” home up a mountain slope in Rosario, La Union.

We have also simply believed that the wounded underside of his big toe had further gotten infected when he went swimming in one of the beaches in Bauang, La Union during the “Oktoberfest” beach-combing season...

It turned out that his swollen big toe had earlier been pierced by a thumb tack that got stuck in his rubber slippers, but he did not notice nor feel his toe getting punctured!

Street-smarts: A sign of diabetes!

And, yes, the wound that exacerbated the previously darkened toe had gotten infected as no care nor covering was earlier administered to secure it.

So I rushed him to the Rosario District Hospital in our adopted provincial place in the town of Rosario—once-upon-a-time one of the barrios of our grandparents’ hometown of Santo Tomas, La Union.

Thanks to the hospital’s caring nurses—somehow an all-male team of nurses when we brought brother Joseph Nelson there for check-up just before the All Saints Day weekend—I got to have a closer look at his painful big toe that had then developed gangrene (as pointed out by the alert nurse).

The responding male nurse pointed out the gravity of brother Joseph’s toe’s condition – mentioning the dreaded word “diabetes”—thankfully!

Thankfully, as we are no longer in the dark about mysteriously darkening extremities!

When the attending (chief) doctor arrived, he prescribed a blood test to check on brother Joseph’s “blood sugar” level.

And true enough, we confirmed two days later that Oboy’s fasting blood sugar level was much higher than the normal level!

Insight: We had to wait for two days to have the blood test for our bunso (youngest sibling) Jo-Nel (his preferred nickname) as we learned that there is such a thing as “over fasting”!

Fasting should not go beyond eight hours! In sick Jo-Nel’s case, he slept before 12 midnight without taking anything (food/water) near midnight and woke up late and reached the hospital for blood test beyond 8 am.


As brother Joseph was limping in pain, we could not leave him alone to his own devices (and self-diagnosis the “aka-i-baan” way).

So we brought him up for treatment/confinement in our home city, Baguio City. Anyway, the good doctor who had checked on him at the Rosario District Hospital was off for the All Saints Day weekend; and, anyway and more importantly, Baguio City is the Philippines’ medical capital north of Manila!


World Diabetes Day:

As the world marked World Diabetes Day on November 14, it had been a fortnight since our brother Joseph had started injecting himself with insulin – as advised and instructed by the senior diabetologist over at the Baguio General Hospital and Medical Center (BGHMC).

(The Baguio and next chapters of brother Oboy’s diabetes predicament and treatment in future columns...)



“Diabetes is a chronic, metabolic disease characterized by elevated levels of blood glucose (or blood sugar), which leads over time to serious damage to the heart, blood vessels, eyes, kidneys, and nerves.

“The most common is type 2 diabetes, usually in adults, which occurs when the body becomes resistant to insulin or doesn’t make enough insulin. In the past three decades the prevalence of type 2 diabetes has risen dramatically in countries of all income levels.

“Type 1 diabetes, once known as juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes, is a chronic condition in which the pancreas produces little or no insulin by itself.

“For people living with diabetes, access to affordable treatment, including insulin, is critical to their survival. There is a globally agreed target to halt the rise in diabetes and obesity by 2025.” ~ World Health Organization (WHO)


“Kaibaan” and “bari-bari” and the Ilocano people of the Philippines:

Pre-Hispanic Beliefs and Traditions:

Prior to the arrival of the Spanish, Ilocanos were animists who believed in spirits called anito who were either bad or good, male or female. These anito ruled over all aspects of the universe. For example, Litao were anitos of water, Kaibáan, also called Kanibáan, were anitos of the undergrowth in a forest, and Mangmangkik were anitos of trees.

“The Mangmangkik were often feared for causing sickness when a fellow tree was cut down. To appease the Mangmangkik before cutting down a tree, the following chant was made: ‘Bari Bari. Dikat agunget pari. Ta pumukan kami. Iti pabakirda kadakami.’

“This chant calls on the Mangmangkik and beseeches them not to curse the people cutting the tree down.

“Similar chants and phrases are uttered to appease the Kaibáan when hot cooking water is thrown out into the yard for disposal. The Kaibáan can be befriended, giving luck and blessing to the person. “Likewise, if a Kaibáan is angered, illness and in some cases death would plague the person’s health and family.

“Other ways anitos were respected and appeased were through offerings and sacrifices to idols on platforms called a simbaan or designated caves where the anito frequents. These offerings, called ‘atang’, consisted of various foodstuffs and sweets, as well as cigars and paan. Atang is also offered to the deceased during prayers for the dead on All Soul’s Day...” ~ Wikipedia