Since I sometimes get asked about the cause of my blindness, details of my academic background beyond the list of awards, other skills I've acquired that I think have helped me in my studies, a description of what I do professionally, and other mundane things like from which part of the country did the Ambubuyogs originate (not to mention the origin of this surname), I figured I would dedicate a section of my site to answering these questions. As you can see in the menu above, I have placed my curiculum vitae, family history, and information on my education on separate sub-sections. This page will deal with the more general stuff.
I am the fourth and youngest child of Gemme Ambubuyog and Deanna Ambubuyog (née Rodriguez), born on January 12, 1980. My two oldest brothers Glemm and Glenn are twins, nine years my senior. My third brother Garry is older than me by a little over three years. Although this sounds like pointing out the obvious, that makes me an only daughter — and you'd be surprised how many people I've met who, after being given the same information, fail to figure this out by themselves. Anyway, my birth was pretty uneventful, and I suppose the most significant detail to mention here is that I was not born blind.
My brothers and I were born and raised in Metro Manila. Although my father is from the Visayas and my mother is from the Ilocos region, their families moved to Metro Manila when they were still kids. They can speak in their respective dialects (kinaray-a for Papa and Ilocano for Mama), but at home, we only speak Tagalog – Filipino to be more accurate – and we did not learn either parent's regional language.
You can read more about my family and its roots in the Genealogy sub-section.
Cause of Blindness
According to my mother, I was a healthy child during the first five years. Compared to my brothers, I was hardly ever sick, and not being a boisterous child, I was rarely in need of medical attention. This all changed when by the start of December 1985, I took to bed with a fever which my parents first thought was just flu. I also had a terrible cough that left me short of breath, even though I had no history of asthma. Soon, I had difficulty keeping my food down. This all happened in just a day or two, so they took me to the clinic of a local general practitioner. After the consultation, the doctor did not appear to be unduly perturbed by my condition and she simply prescribed four types of over-the-counter “OTC” medication: a paracetamol for my fever, an antacid for the stomach upsets, a bronchodilator to be taken in small amounts for my asthma-like symptoms, and an antibiotic. Note that OTC drugs are medicines that may be sold directly to a consumer without prescription from a doctor as a regulatory board has ensured that they contain ingredients which are safe and effective when used even in the absence of a physician's care. Therefore, the GP's prescription did not ring any alarm bells, and sure enough, I got better in less than a week.
Twelve days later, just before Christmas day, I had a sudden rise in temperature and rashes appeared all over my body. My parents rushed me to the hospital, where the doctors initially thought that I had German measles, but my father informed them that I have been vaccinated against Rubella. Over night, my condition worsened, with my skin rash turning into confluent blisters (I.e., widespread painful swellings on the skin containing fluid). The doctors were baffled and for three days during which my fever was at a constant 42°C and my skin began to resemble that of a patient with third-degree burns, they conducted tests but reached no diagnosis. They also sent samples to the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine in Alabang, Muntinlupa, and it was through RITM that they determined I was suffering from Stevens-Johnson Syndrome. SJS is thought to be a hypersensitivity complex that affects the skin and mucus membranes, in which cell death causes the epidermis “outer layer of the skin” to separate from the dermis “the next layer of the skin). The main class of known causes for SJS cases is a disorder of the immune system resulting from adverse effects of medication, or in fewer cases, by infections or cancer.
Years later when we have read more about Stevens-Johnson Syndrome, it became apparent that what I had was a more severe form of SJS called Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis (TEN), a rare, life-threatening dermatological condition that is usually induced by a reaction to medications, characterized by a detachment of the top layer of skin from the lower layers all over the body. SJS, you see, affects less than 30% of the body's surface area, but what happened to me affected more than 90% of the epidermis, and mucus membranes in the eyes, mouth, and those lining some internal organs were severely affected. The severe findings of TEN are often preceded by 1 to 2 weeks of fever, which is what I had when I was confined at the hospital, before the burnt layer of my skin began to sag and peel off in swaths. The mortality for toxic epidermal necrolysis is 30-40 per cent. Loss of the skin leaves patients vulnerable to infections from fungi and bacteria, and can result in sepsis, the leading cause of death in the disease. Therefore, I was placed under reverse isolation to prevent contamination by other people or objects.
Whenever I explain SJS or TEN to people, I find that most understand it to mean that I suffered from an overdose of the medicines I took. That is definitely not the case. You've heard of people having an allergic reaction to drugs like penicillin — well, you can say that I had an extremely negative reaction to one or more of the OTC medicines prescribed to me by the GP, or possibly the combination of some of the ingredients. We never really found out. A lot of folks also ask us why we did not sue the GP afterwards. Keep in mind that what she prescribed are over-the-counter drugs which are particularly tested and proven to be safe for the general public to consume with or without consulting a physician. My having an allergic reaction to goodness knows which one of them will just be considered a rare case, will not remove any of them from the list of OTC drugs, and will most likely fail to prove malpractice in that situation. Given that my family's limited resources were being spent on hospitalization fees and my rehabilitation later on, filing a case against a general practitioner or pharmaceuticals – assuming it had crossed my parents' mind – would have been way down our list of priorities.
The doctors treated me with corticosteroids, thus weakening my immune system and its adverse reaction to whichever was the culprit drug. These days, the therapeutic success of such a treatment is considered unproven and even controversial, but in the mid-80s, the doctors were not aware of any other treatment they could use. In fact, until today, there is still no accepted treatment for SJS and TEN, beyond supportive care similar to what thermal burn patients get, as well as nutritional support via intravenous feeding and hydration. I was confined for more or less forty-five days. I was indeed fortunate to have survived that ordeal, but sadly, the doctors failed to save my eyesight. The corneas and lacrimal/tear ducts were damaged and for a couple of months after I was discharged, I could still see a little but even the slightest glimmer of light hurt my eyes. Since the mucus membranes lining the esophagus (food tube) and stomach were also damaged, I could not eat solids for several months, and even had difficulty consuming fluids. I do not know if the photosensitivity caused it, but I also had constant headaches throughout this time and was too weak to get out of bed. I could not take any medicines, not even pain relievers, since the doctors were concerned that this may trigger SJS once more. As a matter of fact, I still cannot take any medicines, both OTC and prescription drugs, without first having them tested on me by an allergologist. I remember that hwen I had an eye surgery in 1997, my ophthalmologist asked the anesthesiologist to first check via skin tests which anesthetic she could use on me. Initially, she argued that this was not necessary because she claimed the stuff she uses were already hypoalergenic, but my doctor insisted. And it was a good thing that he did. It turned out that I was allergic to four out of the six she tested, and those four included her top two ‘hypoalergenic’ choices. Anyway, to continue the story…
On March 6, 1986, I woke up and found I could no longer see anything. The following month, reconstructive surgery was performed, primarily to fix the orbit of my eyes, but this did not restore my eyesight and I do not think it was expected to do that anyway. We consulted ophthalmologists all over Metro Manila and a few in the United States, but it was all in vain. One of the American eye doctors told us after examining my case that he was not aware of any procedure at that time that could guarantee more than 5% success rate. Yes, that's the same as saying it's a hopeless case but I suppose he felt that rating my chances of seeing again would help drive home his point. My parents were advised instead to focus on helping me to recuperate and adjust to my disability,, and just pray that someday, there will be a breakthrough in the field of medicine and microsurgery that will restore my eyesight. And we're still waiting… I had two corneal transplants in 1997, but they were unsuccessful. I have not given up though. I have read that stem cell treatment successfully restored the sight of a 34-year-old man who went blind at the age of 12 due to the effects of SJS, so it's possible there's still hope and I'm following developments in stem cell research.
My family is Roman Catholic, a bit on the traditional side, but I personally have drifted towards a theologically liberal/progressive attitude in my adult years. I often hear people say that a person who hears mass regularly is a “devout Christian”. Well, ever since my Confirmation in 1992, I have been attending mass every single Sunday, only missing two as far as I can remember and on both occasions, I was sick and too weak even to sit up in bed. However, I don't think I can be described as being devout, in any sense. Don't get me wrong: I don't think my faith in God has faltered, nor am I among those who feel ashamed to talk about my faith when appropriate, and despite having good friends who are atheists, I remain firm in my beliefs. Yet, my faith is more spiritual than religious, if you see what I mean. For instance, I hear Sunday mass because I need to… my spirit needs to… hear the Word of God as part of my ecclesiastical community and to share in the Eucharist — not because the Church says so or for the reason that seems to be the favorite of many Catholics I've met: it's one of the Ten Commandments of God. In other words, I do things as a Catholic not as a religious practice or in obedience to God's laws, but because doing them strengthens and shares my faith. I am not saying this is the right way to profess one's faith, because I cannot really be 100% certain of that, I suppose. It's simply how I have grown and continue to grow in my faith. This is not to say either that I dislike joining church groups and activities: I am a lector at our parish and have been so since May 2, 1993, but I volunteered not for the sake of joining, or so that people can gawp at a blind woman reading the Scriptures.
My birth certificate shows my name to be ‘Roselle Rodriguez Ambubuyog’, but I was Christened ‘Maria Gennett Roselle Rodriguez Ambubuyog’. Throughout my childhood, I remember that my family called me ‘Gennett’, while my teachers and classmates knew me as ‘Roselle’ since school registrations do not refer to the baptismal certificate. However, when I started high school and began receiving several phone calls each day from friends asking to speak with ‘Roselle’, my family soon got used to this name and ‘Gennett’ disappeared into oblivion. Well, not quite: We had a talking myna bird for eight years and he called me ‘Gennett’ up until his death from a heart attack “serious!” in 1998. But I digress…
I'm mentioning my names here because when my story was published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer on my high school graduation day, the article referred to me as ‘Gennett’, even though practically everyone outside my family knew me as ‘Roselle’, and until today, I still get asked occasionally which name I prefer. For the sake of simplicity and consistency (considering that I sign all official documents with the name appearing on my birth certificate), please just use ‘Roselle’. Besides, I tend to feel there should be some intimacy involved when people call me ‘Gennett’ because for several years, only my closest and dearest knew that name.
Whilst we're still on the subject of names, I think an important point I should discuss here is how to properly pronounce my name. I have heard all sorts of messed up pronunciations of ‘Roselle’ that if I had a penny every time someone mispronounced it, I'd be a millionaire by now. In the following list, stress is on the syllables written in uppercase letters.
Please note, my name is NOT pronounced this way:
- ro-SHEL (as if my name has a letter ‘h’ in it; this is what I hear quite frequently, I'm afraid)
- ro-CHEL (as in, a ‘ch’ sound like in ‘chair’, so not only does my name have an imaginary ‘h’ but a consonant cluster to boot)
- RUH-sel (like the male name Russell)
- RAY-chel (yep, not only a consonant cluster but a vowel change as well)
- ra-KEL (I think the ‘s’ in my name is cursed or something)
- ROSE-lee (umm, my name has double ‘l’ followed by an ‘e’, not an ‘l’ followed by a double ‘e’)
- ro-SEH-lee (usually spoken with a sort of Italian accent that when I first heard it, I thought the person was just joking, but apparently not)
- ro-SEL-ya (uh, no, that's an ‘e’ at the end of my name, not an ‘a’)
- MA-ree-sel (I kid you not: someone called me ‘Mariselle‘, even though she had seen my name written and heard it spoken by others for some time)
- ar-LEEN (which really takes the biscuit, especially from someone who was reading my name off a piece of paper in her hand)
Some of you may suggest that these people are dyslexic, but I'm not so sure, because everyone I've met who really are diagnosed to have dyslexia were able to read my name correctly.
Now, just to clarify, these mispronunciations bother me not because of vanity or I place too much importance on my name. However, since I am blind and cannot see if a person is looking directly at me, addressing me with a screwed up rendering of my name, without tapping me on the shoulder or the back of my hand, it is difficult for me sometimes to realize that I am being spoken to already. This is also the reason why it's not wise to use unofficial nicknames like ‘Rose’, ‘Selle’ and ‘Rosie’ when talking to me. That, and the fact that I do not have a nickname. Besides, it's not easy refraining myself from cringing each time my name gets mutilated.
‘Roselle’ is pronounced as: roh-ZEL. There are a couple of things to note here. First, observe that I wrote ‘roh’, not just ‘ro’. Ideally, the name is spoken with the long vowel sound ‘o’ like in ‘boat’, ‘hope’ and ‘rose’, not the short ‘o’ sound like in ‘odd’ and ‘moss’. However, since this vowel sound is not really present in Filipino, using the short ‘o’ like in ‘dog’ as pronounced by the British rather than the Americans, which is more like the Filipino ‘o’, is acceptable. Second, just as the root of my name is ‘Rose’ where the ‘s’ should be pronounced with a ‘z’ sound because it appears between vowels, ‘roselle’ also uses the ‘z’ sound, not ‘sh’, or ‘ch’, and definitely not the ‘k’ sound. Again, since ‘z’ was not in the original Tagalog alphabet, using an ‘s’ sound instead is also fine. Therefore, a satisfactory alternative pronunciation is ro-SEL, where ‘o’ is the Filipino or British short ‘o’.
For the curious, ‘Gennett’ can be pronounced as ‘jə-NET’ like the US-based record label (Gennett Records) from the 1920s, or as ‘JE-net’ like ‘Bennett (as in Tony Bennett) but with a soft ‘g’ sound replacing the ‘b’. My family used the latter pronunciation.
Of course my last name also poses a challenge to my friends in other countries — who says life is simple with me around? ‘Ambubuyog’ is read as UM-boo-BOO-yog. The primary stress is on the third syllable, and a secondary stress is on the first. As mentioned already, the ‘o’ in the last syllable sounds more like the British short ‘o’. I guess you could say it is midway between the short and long American ‘o’ sound, the way you would say the ‘o’ in ‘order’, but without the ‘r’ sound attached to it.
There will be a link here added later pointing to an audio file of how my full Christian name is spoken.
Hobbies and Preferences
As you will see in the ‘Eclectic Taste’ section of this website, I love reading. Mostly, I listen to audiobooks, but I also read e-books sometimes, preferably using a refreshable Braille display attached to my computer, or for shorter texts, using speech output from my screen reader. My preferred genres include horror fiction, crime mysteries, psychological thrillers, science fiction, epic and urban fantasies, historicals, adventures, Westerns, satire, children or young adults literature, creative non-fiction, and classic poetry to name a few. Practically everything, to be honest, except for erotic literature and self-help books. My genre preferences for films are similar.
I suppose another hobby of mine is cubing, specifically with the Rubik's cube. There's nothing special about the ones I use, just that I ask my father to stick Braille labels to help me differentiate the colored squares. I'm not really into computer games, and the ones I like playing are puzzles, board games like Scrabble and Boggle, some trivia games, and a few card games.
As for collecting, my interests are obviously in audio or tactile form. I have a huge stack of audiobooks, mainly as digital media nowadays but I used to buy audio tapes and CDs. I also like to collect rosaries and small religious figures, keychains “those that are actually shaped as something, as opposed to just having a picture or some writing on a round or rectangular frame”, and although I am not as keen on them as before (mainly because I've run out of space to keep them in), I still like cuddly/plush toys.
When it comes to food, I especially love Italian cuisine. For the past year, I've been following a pescetarian diet, and my appreciation for fish and seafood has also grown significantly. Oh yes, and I worship chocolate. All right, I'm exaggerating a bit, but I really cannot go a day without chocolate. My favorites include Lindt & Sprüngli (all types, including Lindor and Ghirardelli), Guylian Belgian seashell chocolates, Godiva, Le Nôtre, Ritter Sport, and Green & Black's. Cadbury is a bit too sweet for my taste (although I'm told only the ones sold outside the UK are like that, so I plan to get some directly from England one of these days), but I do like their chocolate biscuits and cookies. I also like all Japanese-brand chocolates I've tried so far. I don't drink alcoholic beverages, and I'm not into coffee either. Not surprisingly, when I go out with friends, I always make it a point to drop by target="_blank">Max Brenner, a chocolate drinks bar.
Every now and then, people ask me what sort of gifts I love receiving, as presents for occasions or as a token of appreciation when I am a guest speaker at certain events. It's not always easy to answer that question when I am asked directly, because I often get too embarrassed to mention anything specific. So, let me write down some gift ideas here for anyone's reference. You will never go wrong with any of the following: chocolates and sweets, computer gadgets and accessories, perfume/fragrances, jewelry (ahem, size 8 for rings, please), and any of the aforementioned things I like to collect, although it may be difficult to find an audiobook that I don't have yet.
For Those Interested in or Amused by Astrology
Personally, I am not into astrology, but I am acquainted with a number of people who are, and I think horoscopes can be entertaining to read sometimes, particularly when read after the time period it forecasts, if only to see how grossly mistaken or uncannily close the astrologer had been. Not being an expert in these things, I do not know if the following information (drawn from different websites) is correct, but here are my astrological details anyway. I am including just one or two sentences from the description, since I do not wish to run pages and pages of this. I'm sure that if you're curious enough, you can look up further information from what's listed below.
January 12, 1980, 10:20 AM GMT +08:00 — Quezon City, Philippines, 121° 03′ E, 14° 38′ N
Chinese horoscope: Earth Lamb (Jan 28, 1979 to Feb 15, 1980)
Lamb people have good taste and are quite charming and elegant. They are often shy and at times, they prefer complete anonymity, the quiet life at home. Sometimes, they tend to be pessimistic and question the meaning of life, wondering "why they dwell among green mountains." They are often deeply religious or spiritual, and very passionate about their work and their belief. Earth Lambs are wonderful to socialize with, you just can't help loving their friendly ways and enthusiasm for living. They are honorable in all their dealings; they roll up their sleeves and do whatever it is that must be done. They know true contentment because they can think of yesterday without regret and tomorrow without fear. Earth Lambs love good books. This serious nature also applies to their college years and careers, which they pursue with utmost dedication, hard work, and diligence. At some point in later life, they are rewarded with unexpected financial fortune.
Sun Sign: 21° Capricorn
Capricorn is, above all, determined. You are known for being totally persistent, tenacious and tireless in reaching your goals. Extremely serious and mature, you are capable of accepting responsibilities and do so willingly. You are goal-oriented and an achiever by nature. You're a hard worker and are justifiably proud of the tangible results of your efforts. Status and material reward are very important. You tend to block out extraneous matters that might distract, and to concentrate totally on the matter at hand. As such, you are the ideal one to manage or administrate any ongoing project, and to be practical and efficient at it. You are not a fast worker, but you are quite thorough. Deliberate and painstaking, sometimes to the point of austerity.
Moon Sign: 08° Scorpio
Yours is a passionate emotional life. Intense feelings and strong attachments make for hot times. You are fiercely loyal. Your moods are deep, extreme and not always completely understood by yourself or by those with whom you have to deal. Moon in Scorpio is not at all superficial. When displaying how you feel about a particular person or situation, its really 'all or nothing' with you.
Ascendant or Rising Sign: 19° Pisces
This sign is understanding, patient and compassionate. Super-sensitive, you tend to absorb your surroundings like a sponge, so that other people's feelings become your feelings. An idealist, you must believe in something beyond your normal everyday existence. Very self-sacrificial by nature, beware of others becoming overly dependent on you or vice versa. Your gentle charity and true humility are indeed wonderful gifts.
Mercury: 15 Degrees Capricorn
You have a very clear and analytical mind and are able to grasp ideas and put them to work at once. You have good management and supervisory ability. You use cold reason, are not much moved by emotions, and are always pragmatic. You can be manipulative, too. You prefer concrete subjects to "grand ideas" and flights of fancy. With your tendency to be highly focused and very goal-oriented, you have a good head for business.
Venus: 25 Degrees Aquarius
Marriage for convention's sake is your motto, and Venus here often prefers affection to be expressed in words. A friend's friend, you love what is fair and democratic, and are happiest when you can spread your affection among peers. Venus in Aquarius tends toward detachment, and avoids involvements which might curtail independence. You love to work for a great cause or purpose, and toward making the world a better place. You attract friends and associates who are exciting, different and sometimes a bit odd.
Mars: 15 Degrees Virgo
Very careful and systematic, you pay great attention to details. You are always seeking perfection and sometimes get bogged down searching for the ultimate when adequacy would have been sufficient. You are a careful technician, good at finding practical solutions to problems. You always want to help and to be of service - to have your talents fully utilised. You hate waste and are very thorough and precise. For the most part, you are understanding and accepting, but this can sometimes be perceived by others as criticism.
Jupiter: 09 Degrees Virgo
Your philosophy is one of service, for you want very much to feel useful. You have a fantastic appetite for detailed work, and can take it all in and still look for more. In any endeavor, you have the ability to see how the parts fit together to make up the whole. Even when others become daunted or overwhelmed by the task at hand, you can remain optimistic and upbeat. Luck comes into your life through your willingness to do the small things well.
Saturn: 26 Degrees Virgo
Your life must be orderly, practical, and full of known and familiar routines in order for you to feel comfortable with yourself. Abstract concepts and reasoning seem frivolous and a waste of time to you. You are very critical of yourself (and others), indeed at times quite self-deprecating. Try to relax a bit and allow yourself the freedom to fail once in a while. However, you probably won't fail very often because you are such a perfectionist.
Uranus: 24 Degrees Scorpio
You demand to confront life at its deepest and most meaningful levels. Very compulsive and obsessive in your approach to everything, you will avoid anything that is casual or superficial, especially when it comes to relationships. You will seek out and explore new methods of healing as well as different ways to deal with deep-seated emotional problems.
Neptune: 21 Degrees Sagittarius
You will be at the forefront of humanitarian attempts to improve the lot of those who are in need of assistance. You enjoy the company of fair, just, frank and broad-minded people. You dare to dream big, and the most extreme ideals will be pursued with gusto.
Pluto: 21 Degrees Libra For your entire generation, this is a time of radical changes in society's attitude toward marriage and interpersonal relationships. There is a general fear and awe at the power inherent in making emotional or contractual commitments — they will not be entered into lightly. Marriage or union will be very intense and not at all superficial. You get to the heart of a relationship every time.
Tarot card: The Emperor
- Keywords: stability, discipline, leadership
- Motto: May you be master of your realm.
- Prime Number: 4 &ndash the number of material reality and rational thinking
- Power Planet: Mars – strife, physical energy, tools
Celtic Tree Astrology: Birch tree – The Achiever
- Keywords: growth, renewal, stability, initiation, adaptability
- Color: White
- Gemstone: Rock Crystal
- Flower: Daisy
- Animal: Golden Eagle, White Stag
- Celestial Body: The Sun
If you were born under the energy of the Birch, you can be highly driven, and often motivate others. They become easily caught in your zeal, drive and ambition. You are always reaching for more, seeking better horizons and obtaining higher aspirations. Birch signs (just like the tree) are tolerant, tough, and resilient. You are cool-headed and are natural-born rulers, often taking command when a situation calls for leadership. When in touch with your softer side, you also bring beauty in otherwise barren spaces – brightening up a room with your guile, and charming crowds with your quick wit.