Ilizarov Fixator:
Rings of Faith, Hope and Love
RENOVATIO! I survived when the van I was riding in with my
students collided head on with a truck on March 5, 2007. We
were on our way back to UPLB after fieldwork. After seeing
photos of the accident, it is a miracle that everyone involved
in the collision is alive. Seated directly behind the driver, I
suffered the most physical injuries. The bone of my right leg
had shattered into pieces, my left rib was broken, and my left
cheekbone had dropped a few centimeters. Today, more
than a year after the accident, areas of my face still feel
numb. I consider this another lease on my life and my
“renovatio” or rebirth changed the lives of many.
According to my students, the accident happened just a few minutes after I told them I was going to sleep.
Residents of Moncada, Tarlac where the accident took place, say that exactly a week ago, a whole family was
killed in that spot in a similar vehicular accident. They also claim that they saw a bright light which they
followed to the dark highway that led them to where I and my students were. Some of my students told me
they were blinded by a bright light beside me just before the accident. They wondered how I was not
awakened by all the screaming and collision. As I try to put together the pieces of the accident, I can only
recall that I was trying to squeeze myself out of a very dark square tunnel and then saw my body lying on the
floor of the van. It was at that instant that I first felt pain and heard the wailing of my students. One of my
students had somehow succeeded in opening the crushed door of the van and had called for help in getting
me out.  

The student seated beside me in the ambulance said I was praying in Latin all throughout the long trip to the
hospital. When I asked her; “How do you know I was praying if it was in Latin?” She replied, “It simply sounded
prayerful. Whenever you would stop, I shook you a bit because I was told to make sure you are conscious,
then, you continued to pray.” The thing is, I believe in praying without ceasing, but I do not know the Latin
language.  
At the hospital, I never shed a tear throughout my torment. I remained calm,
which got the doctors and the hospital staff talking among themselves as to
who I was.

“I was told she is a Colonel in the Army. An AFP ambulance brought her
here from Tarlac with escorts from the Philippine National Police,” I heard a
young doctor say.

His colleague argued, “She is a professor of UP that is why she is on the VIP
floor of this hospital.”

Another doctor insisted, “She is the founder of a religious organization. She
kept asking for a priest even while she was barely conscious at the accident.
That is what I heard from one of her visitors. I remember when she got here
she could hardly speak but she kept begging for a priest instead of a
doctor.”

“She is being asked to have plastic surgery to put her left cheek bone in
place. She must be a celebrity or an actress,” a medical intern interrupted.

Notwithstanding stories of my identity, what I know and vividly recall are the
many beautiful moments of love and of gratitude amidst the physical pain of
the shattered bones of my right leg which was  technically described in my
medical record as comminuted. The only alternative to amputation was fitting
my broken leg bone with an Ilizarov fixator (the mechanism on my leg
revealed by the slit in my Chinese collared gown above). The mechanism is
composed of three metal rings that held together 16 metal pins which in turn
keep the fractured bone in place. Aside from my leg, some doctors also
wanted to perform plastic surgery on my face but I refused. I told them that I was a 57-year
old professor, not a celebrity. It is what I discuss that matters and not what my face looks
like. When friends and relatives who visited me became depressed upon seeing my
condition at the hospital, a “no visitors allowed” policy was strictly enforced. Fr. Val
Darunday, SVD would visit regularly and say mass in my room making the situation a real
spiritual retreat for me. Healing was indeed an amazing grace.

When I was brought home from the hospital, I stayed in what used to be the storeroom of
our house on the first floor. I still recall my first night in that room finding myself amidst 3
broken TV sets and other dysfunctional household and office items. My son Al who drove
me home from the hospital was insistent in keeping me there and not in my master’s
bedroom on the second floor. Recalling that it took him 45 minutes to get me in the van
and another 30 minutes to bring me down to the house, he politely said, “Mama, you must
stay here because in case of an emergency, it will be faster if you are on the first floor.” I
concurred, and the room was quickly cleared and I considered myself the latest addition to
the pile of discarded and broken equipment.

A week later, when my daughter Ava visited me with her husband Jing, she was quite
impressed at how I managed, despite my bedridden condition, to fix the room with the help
of the able bodied members of the household. Each time they visited, they saw changes in
the storeroom and in me as well. One day, she told me that from a storeroom to a
sickroom but it didn’t feel like a sick room at all. The ambiance was that of a meditation
room where tranquility invited peace and serenity. My daughter visited me every week to
dress the pin sites on my Ilizarov apparatus. The Ilizarov was finally removed on July 27,
2007 at the Philippine General Hospital.   

A physical therapist taught me how to walk again. I still recall how good it felt the first time I
was able to stand up. The first few steps with the aid of the walker were truly wonderful. I
was very happy with the thought that I would be able to attend our Alumni Homecoming at
the National Defense College of the Philippines the second week of August. I have never
been absent since my graduation from NDCP in 2001.Quite unexpectedly, I had a relapse.
I never understood what really happened because I did not do anything wrong. It just came
to be that I could not move my right leg and the pain was excruciating. I was immobilized
again.

On the day of the alumni homecoming, I called a dear friend for an update on what was
happening and apologized for my absence. As Mayor of the sponsoring class for the
homecoming, it was my obligation to be there. Somehow the voice on the other line felt my
anguish and consoled me by saying, “There will be another one next year, my friend.” As I
hung up, tears inevitably rolled on my cheeks. I told myself, “yes there will be another one
next year.” I just wanted to live a “normal” life again and do the things I used to do. Going
to the alumni homecoming would have been the beginning of normalcy and the fact that I
could not go made me inconsolable. In the solitude of my room, I cried for the first time
after the accident and asked, “Lord why? Why are you stripping me of everything?”

Alone and helpless, I wiped my tears, blew my nose, and as I reached out for the garbage
bin, my arm brushed the book my daughter Ava found for me. Like a child seeking
consolation in the love of my daughter reflected in that book, I held it close to my heart and
cried again.

This time I was beginning to be consoled by the thought of a loving daughter. As I opened
the book by St. Alphonsus de Liguori, on the page where the marker was, I thought of the
love of my son, Alphonsus who was born on the feast day of this saint... how he drove to
Tarlac to be with his mother as soon as he heard of the accident…and how he immediately
called my Commanding Officer at the AFP for help.  The day I spoke to Ava about me
going to the next life and turned over important documents and keys three weeks before
the accident, she told me that if I die it is Alphonsus who will not be able to accept it. I
simply explained to her that “it is not for me to decide because if I am called I will just obey."

Barely able to see the page of the book, I wiped my eyes dry and begun to read the first
paragraph on page 359:

“O Saviour of the world! O my only hope! By the merits of Thy passion, deliver me
from every impure desire which may hinder me from loving Thee as I ought. May I be
stripped of all desires that savor of the world; grant that the only object of my
desires may be Thyself, who art the sovereign good, and the only good that is worthy
of love. By Thy sacred wounds heal my infirmities, give me grace to keep far from my
heart every love which is not for Thee who deservest all my love. O Jesus, my love!
Thou art my hope. O sweet words! Sweet consolation! Jesus, my love, Thou art my
hope!"
NOTHING CAN TROUBLE
NOTHING CAN FRIGTHEN
THOSE WHO SEEK GOD
SHALL NEVER GO WANTING

NOTHING CAN TROUBLE
NOTHING CAN FRIGHTEN
GOD ALONE FILLS US.
Some people thought my “recovery” was rather very fast. Jokingly, I would say, “I was never ‘off-
line’ in the first place”. Being bedridden enabled me to do many important things I would have not
done. To begin with, the storeroom would have not been transformed. I would have not been
able to read the books that enriched me spiritually nor would have my aging body be at rest.
Most important of all I would not have been utterly still to know God. Stripped of the noise within
myself and that of the world  listening to God came naturally as silence filled the room.

The inspiring nine months of being “grounded” led to the conceptualization of STET-VIP Season
2: Synergia. Hence, the first thing I did when I was up and about with the aid of a cane was to
hold the 46th STET-VIP NSTP CAT Qualifying Course and the 5th Annual National Convention,
Kabalikat Awards, Alumni Homecoming and Launching of STET-VIP Season 2: Synergia.

Beautiful moments and joyful discoveries amidst pain brought about by the accident are too
many to be contained in these limited pages. They are all wrapped in the mystical package that
even I cannot fully disclose in words. It is for certain though that faith and complete submission to
God’s will served as my “crutches”…the hope that God makes things beautiful in His time kept
the smile on my face all throughout what others perceive to be an ordeal… and the love that
surrounded me when I was disabled kept me “on-line”. The three rings on my Ilizarov Fixator
holding together the 16 metal pins inside my right leg led to many good things that completely
brought into oblivion the physical pains and the professional implications of being grounded.

The day my former boss, the Vice-Chancellor for Instruction saw me in a rehabilitation clinic, he
stood up and told everyone in the room, “This is the indestructible Dr. Gonzales!” It may be
because news of my fatal accident and terrible condition was all over the campus. A national
broadsheet, I was told, erroneously reported that I had died in the accident.

As I share my renovatio and some photos of a thousand words, it is my desire that those who find
themselves in a painful and devastating situation remain “indestructible” because they have the
joy of discovering and living the truth that lies beneath the taize prayer:
by Vivian A. Gonzales
I was in awe! Confessing my moments of weakness, I asked for forgiveness and thanked God for His mercy and grace. It was as though a ray of lightning struck me
from heaven, a mystical experience that left me at peace within. Many times during my younger days I stumbled and fell. God in His mercy and faithfulness lifted me up
bringing my faith to a greater height…a testament of His love.