Eugene Pantangco, MD, MBA

Eugene Pantangco, MD, MBA, is married to Ruth, a registered nurse. Together with their two children, Nicolas and Celyne, they live in Colfax, California. Although Dr. Pantangco continues to live with the permanent sequelae of this near fatal diagnosis, he remains active for whatever the Lord has in store for the rest of this life.


in Spring 2023   |
Published on 07/01/2023   |
5 min | <<|>>

On an early morning in 2014, I suddenly awoke. It was about 2 o’clock on the morning. The pain felt as if an alien parasite was gnawing on my spine between by shoulder blades then sneaking its way up my neck to the base of my skull. The pain was excruciating. It must be just a muscle cramp or spasm, so I thought. I got up and rushed downstairs to the kitchen medicine drawer. I quickly gulped the NSAID gel caps as my dependable go-to remedy. It did nothing. A second later, my legs began to weaken, and I fell to the kitchen floor. I crawled on my hands and knees back up the stairs to wake my wife. The pain, the Pain, the PAIN! was all I could cry out.

In general, I can tolerate physical pain, but this was different. I was biting my t-shirt collar and my tears were flowing. I begged my wife to find someone to watch the kids and call 9-1-1! My breathing labored and I struggled to speak. The receiving ER doctor was shocked, but competent. He announced what I already knew. I was experiencing acute ascending paralysis of unknown etiology. From the waking moment of pain an hour or so before to my arrival in the ER, I became paralyzed from my neck down. The MRI revealed an epidural hematoma compressing my spine at cervical level C3-4. “I’ve never seen this before,” he remarked.

The rest of my life changed after waking up that early fall morning.

Up until that period in my life, I was a spiritually lost “church pew warmer” who was more focused on my career as a board-certified gastroenterologist than on my walk with God. All my life I had been competing to be at the top, to go to the best schools, and to land the best positions. My career pursuits consumed my life. I was commuting long distances, working long hours, and managing my own practice or department. The pace of work was insane and there was no break or reprieve in sight. While outwardly I was going through the motions of being a model son, physician, father, and so on, inside I wondered why I didn’t feel fulfilled.

Now that I was incapacitated there was plenty of time to think and reflect. The neurosurgeon performed a laminectomy evacuating the clot, but I remained quadriplegic for months. Fortunately, through God’s mercy, I was able to gradually recover. When I first regained minimal sensation in my hands, I wondered, Will I walk again? Will I ever perform another colonoscopy, endoscopy, or ERCP? Will I be able to ski or ride a bike with my kids? Will I be able to walk my daughter down the aisle on her wedding day? Will I ever hold my wife in my arms or feel the softness of her hands again?

During the months spent in the rehabilitation unit, I had to learn to do everything again—dress myself, brush my teeth, sit and stand without falling, then eventually walk with assistance; everything I took for granted had to be relearned. Although I regained those basic skills, the physical deficits necessary to perform my career, my “identity,” was irretrievable. I would never again be able to practice as a highly trained physician specialist. I eventually learned to cope and accept this role change. Now my activities center on being a husband, father and an illustration of a second chance gifted by the Lord.

Looking back, stress in its most complete sense played a role in what happened to me. The mental challenges of patient care delivery along with the physical demands of repetitive, tedious procedures delivered a cumulative toll on my body, holistically. Health care jargon would describe my stress accumulation and event as an “acute on chronic” illness. I had been an altruistic, efficient and productive human being my entire life. This was due in part to the “No Excuses! – I’ll show you” attitude I learned from a Midwest upbringing combined with an ethnic culture emphasizing hard work and education as foundational priorities.

In my early formative years, I had a self-preservation attitude that proved successful for me and got me past failures in my life. In times of success, however, instead of giving credit and glory to GOD, I congratulated myself. This cycle repeated itself for years and my self-confidence turned into arrogance, but what grew larger than my ego was my spiritual blindness.

I am truly grateful and blessed to be alive, to communicate and participate in daily normal activities I once took for granted. Today, my vulnerability is more self-evident in how I approach challenges. I see myself simply as a human who lives in a sinful world, I no longer have to try to be perfect or without fault. Humility is now part of my recovery while my ego must surrender.

Prayer is my go-to remedy these days; I consistently use it to bring my burdens and worries to someone else, my GOD.

He has always been there. Ironically, I’ve had this lesson taught to me since Adventist elementary school. Why did it take such an extraordinary experience for me to understand that prayer is valuable? After praying, my mind and body have decompressed from the stress of expectations I had placed on myself for unclear reasons. God willing, I plan to continue on a journey of physical recovery and spiritual healing.

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