Thursday, May 31, 2007

Plain Housewife No More ...

Yup! That’s me – plain housewife no more! … but only for a few hours last May 25 and 26. It could not last more than that, though. I guess I’m a committed career stay-at-home (unemployed, in other words) mom who occasionally writes to while away the time that I hold in great abundance in my hands.

For a very short but highly enjoyable while, I got to live a life that I never thought I would experience first hand. Nothing spectacular though. But very briefly, I joined the press people as representative of MetroPost. I got to know how it was living the reporter’s life!

I would have been even more thrilled had my editors Alex and Irma Pal provided me with a camera crew … you know … to complete the experience. Seriously though, thanks a lot guys. It was truly enjoyable (never mind the scorching heat), particularly that sumptuous brunch from Mamia courtesy of the City Tourism Office at the Absin residence during the Kabulakan Festival press conference.

These past few days saw me encountering a lot of firsts not only for myself … there’s my editor Irma joining competitive tennis for the first time ever (Alex sounded amazed, proud and disbelieving all rolled into one as he told me this), to one of Irma’s friends joining her, again, for the first time, in her early morning biking sorties and pedaling all the way to Valencia with her! This is no ordinary feat, mind you. For a first-timer, this is an accomplishment one can be truly proud of.

Incidentally, Irma has been urging me to join them. Yeah, I told her I was very interested, as I desperately need to shed 40 lbs! But to be able to do that right away, I will have to borrow Abby’s bike … and from the size of it, I reckon I’ll be hitting my chin with my knee each time I’d pedal. And judging from my physical fitness and stamina (or lack of it) – I know I’d reach no further than Bagacay! And that’s positive thinking already!

Indeed, a lot of firsts … from sweet Carla’s first communion, to watching Abby spar with grit in Master Kim’s taekwondo class with cousins Cody, Raffy and Gabby. And oh yeah! How can I forget … running out of gas in the middle of Legazpi Street! Now that’s a winner! It took true genius on my part to achieve that!

And of course, there was my brief stint as reporter! That was truly a gem! I entered the exhibit area of the Kasalang Filipino 2007 Bridal Fair at Bethel Guest House having absolutely no idea what to do.

Thank goodness there was gracious Mrs. Macrina Fuentes who kindly introduced me around and Ms. Glynda Descuatan who patiently answered my queries. And of course, there was Irma who advised me to simply gather my impressions of the event.

Ummm … so what was this housewife’s take on that bridal fair? Firstly, it made me wish I was back ten years ago, planning my own wedding, and with all those choices available before me (assuming my husband could afford the costs, though).

It was a proud day for all us, as we saw the artistry of our own fellow DumagueteƱos laid before us in full splendor, from that profusion of elegantly arranged flowers courtesy of Expressions to the ethnic artistry of that native wedding cake created by Boom Roxas for the occasion.

It was practically a one-stop shop for anyone who’s planning a wedding, from photography and video coverage, to invitations, souvenirs, catering, wedding gowns, make-up, honeymoon packages, floral arrangements, and even a housing package!

The Kasalang Filipino offered the dream wedding every girl sighs over. But the nitty-gritty reality is this: not everyone could afford the wedding promised in that fair. You either have to place in the upper half and even higher in the socio-economic scale to afford all that or you have to be one lucky lass who has snatched up some foreigner with a thick wad of dollars in his pockets just begging to be splurged away on some high-end wedding.

My second day as reporter found me fanning my heart out under the blistering sun in the landmark Absin garden as we, the press (take note of the “we”) waited for the golden boys Fred Payawan, Gerald Anderson, John Wayne Sace, and Joaqui Mendoza to make their appearance. It wasn’t wasted time though. I got the chance to make very interesting chika with Ms. Lani of DYWC. We discovered I bested her over something she thought was already her extreme… ummm, mysterious!

The presscon went the usual way one sees on TV with all the same questions thrown into the cuties. Except for the absence of Ate Ludz, I could have sworn I was watching Eye to Eye circa mid-80’s. Am I that old already? Apparently yes …

I was never struck by that star-worship bug even as a teenager blossoming in Manila. It was an era when That’s Entertainment ruled supreme. I didn’t care a whit then, nor do I do now. Imagine my disbelief when I witnessed, for the first time and in person, teenagers screaming their heads off like crazed banshees as each float bearing the stars approached during the parade. It was simply ludicrous! Oh yes, they’re adorable. In fact, I had a favorite ... cutie-cutie cute-cute Gerald Anderson (by the way, that's also how I call the latest stray pup I adopted) … but top the fire truck siren in the wailing department at the sight of those mestizo lads? Please! But then again, they’re young … and I’m not so young anymore … that should explain it.

I have a picture of Abby covering her ears. It was accompanied by bewilderment as she asked what the big deal was? Why scream daw at the sight of those boys? I hope she’d still be singing the same tune, say, five years from now?

But to be sure, I instructed everybody in the house not to talk to her about artistas and everything that has to do with them. Not that I have anything against these people, but I shiver with horror at the thought of a teenaged Abby turning into one of those mindless starstruck shrieking creatures whose sole aim in life at that point is to catch a glimpse of those pretty boys’ faces, or worse … catch some sort of used towel(?) thrown for the fans to scramble over, a la Elvis Presley (ewwwww!).

I started writing about not being a mere housewife anymore … but ended discussing a mother’s favorite topic … raising her young. Yup, I’ve come full circle and I'm now exactly where I should be.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Back to normal?

There is this one very strange thing about our being an OFW (Overseas Filipino Worker) family. It is this eerie feeling that “normal” family life resumes after Papa has left for another contract abroad.

Does that seem odd to you? It is, even for me who’s been living that life everyday for the past ten years. I don’t want to accept it as “our truth”, but there it is. There is no denying the fact that no matter how loved Papa is, and no matter how much we cherish every moment he spends with us, those times together often pass so swiftly, one is sometimes left wondering whether they had happened at all.

Having him with us is vacation time, a break from routine, time off the “normal”. Routine is Mama and Abby alone doing our usual stuff together … Normal is Mama as both mother and father … Mama being her usual boring self, the
no-fun-at-all-kind-of-boring-mom-who-always-says-NO-NO-NO that Abby always complains about to her dad … normal is Mama making all decisions and having all the burdens of everyday life falling on her shoulders alone.

Vacation time from our usual everyday life is having Papa filling our home with laughter as he takes time off banging his hammer or fixing whatever needs to be fixed around the house to do a quick dance for us, gyrating before us with all the grace of a bamboo pole.

Vacation time means endless squeals of delight coming from Abby and her friends Carla and Jeina as they played hide and seek with Tito Nonoy … or early morning trips to Palinpinon where Abby and Papa liked to make suroy … and coming home with eyes wide with excitement as they told stories of hot springs, foul-smelling steam or gigantic balete trees discovered along the way.

Vacation time is Mama taking the passenger seat and not having to worry about navigating that obstacle course we call the Dumaguete streets … it is a time when Mama figuratively hands over that mantle of responsibility she has so gotten used to wearing to its rightful owner. It is also a time of struggle, when after having gotten used to holding the reins of control for so long, one has to consciously check one’s impulses with the constant reminder: the boss is already home.

But with each departure comes the end of that vacation time. Then it’s back to … yes, our normal lives.

Sadly, this is the tragedy being lived everyday by every OFW family, where more often than not, the normal family is an incomplete family.


Carla and Abby during their swimming sessions. Carla was also hospitalized.

Sometimes, nothing could be more infuriating than having a hyperactive child during this long hot summer break. When that child would start climbing walls out of boredom, it is not uncommon for harassed parents to wish for school to start sooner. But when that child becomes ill and stays in bed with all that boisterous energy gone, every parent’s dearest wish and longing would be for the return of that hyperactive brat.

That was what happened. For a while, I lost my super active Abby when 40-degree fevers hit accompanied by vomiting and headache. I felt helpless as I watched her curled up hour after hour with high-grade fever that refused to go down despite the paracetamol that I had been giving to her. In these instances, tears crept out of her closed eyes, not because she had been crying, but because her temperature had become so high tears simply started to trickle out.

Pediatrician Dra. Idelle Yurong advised hospitalization last May 1 (Tuesday) because Abby was already dehydrated. It was on that same day that I learned of two other children at SUMC: Teo Antonio, son of Arnold and Jacqueline Antonio, a fellow MetroPost columnist; and Cheska Salcedo, daughter of my friends Gams and Pammy Salcedo. All three children shared something in common: they all attended the Learn to Swim Program in the Silliman pool.

They also exhibited similar presentations: high fever, vomiting and headache. Abby and Teo had abdominal pain and soft stools.

By Sunday, six more children were hospitalized in SUMC. Two other girls were taken to Holy Child. They were also in the Learn to Swim Program. Again, most of them had high fever, vomiting and soft stools.

From Sunday until today, Wednesday, May 9, 2007, I know of four other children who were admitted at SUMC.

Abby’s CBC showed bacterial infection. She tested negative for typhoid fever and amoebiasis and her blood culture was likewise negative. Her fever persisted despite three days of ampicillin. She had to be given Rocephin, a third generation antibiotic, to which she finally responded.

Her hospitalization lasted for seven days. Up to her last day at SUMC, we never knew what made Abby and all those other children ill.

Now let’s get down to the questions and answers:

(1) Am I zeroing in on the Silliman pool as the source of the infection?

No. I am not pointing any fingers at anything or anybody. Rather, I just want to point out one very obvious fact: that the Silliman pool and its surroundings is the only common denominator among all these sick children.

(2) What do I want to achieve from writing about this?

Although the pool water tested negative for e-coli bacteria and even 0% of all other bacteria, and was declared safe for drinking, still this question must be asked: What made all these children sick? Their number is quite considerable. This occurrence therefore should not be dismissed or brushed aside as a mere coincidence.

We asked Silliman University to get to the bottom of this matter and try to determine, if it could still be determined, the whats, hows, wheres and whens of this very unfortunate occurrence. I want this looked into and I want one particular question to be answered: Why did my baby become sick?

As of this writing, I am happy that Pres. Ben Malayang had already undertaken the necessary steps to address this “incident”. For instance, he had ordered the pool closed pending determination as to whether the water is safe for swimmers or not. He had also convened investigating panels, and from what I heard, had hired the services of an independent group of investigators.

(3) Did I want to create trouble for Silliman or cause panic among the public?

Another NO! I do not want any trouble contrary to what one doctor I had an altercation with kept insisting! I just want Silliman and everyone concerned to do something and to do it fast!

Jackie Antonio and I decided to take matters into our own hands because we were frustrated by the apathy that we saw around us! Our babies (yes!!! babies!!! – and they will always be our babies no matter what their age) became sick and we wanted Silliman to do something and we want to know how and why they became sick!

Did we overact? Was it a matter of too much, too soon? Well, sue us! We are worried mothers and fathers who acted on our instincts to secure the welfare of our young no matter what! If that is a crime, then there isn’t going to be enough jail space for us all!

How about causing panic? What panic??? Only about 160 children were part of the Learn to Swim Program of the PE Dept. That number could hardly cause widespread pandemonium in Dumaguete, could it?

(4) Why did I give my consent to that interview with ABS-CBN? Because there might still be other sick children out there! I want their parents to know that several others have already become ill, and that they should immediately have their children seen by doctors.

Yes indeed, Jackie and I have taken matters in our own hands. We had to. Just because Teo and Abby have fully recovered doesn’t mean that we can forget what had happened to them!

This afternoon, several parents were interviewed by members of the Regional Epidemiology and Surveillance Unit of the Department of Health. They will be taking water samples and will be sending those to the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine in Manila.

I’ll be one happy Mama if a culprit, other than the swimming pool, could be found. My husband and I still harbor hopes that Abby could return next summer for more swimming lessons.

Final question: Why are we doing these? After all, our children have already been discharged from the hospital. They are already well, so why keep stirring up all these?

Simple. We want answers. WHAT MADE OUR BABIES SICK? Until now, there is no conclusive determination as to the kind of bacteria or microorganism that have infected our children.

I am troubled by the thought that unless our doctors knew exactly what microorganisms have infected our children, we could never be assured that the treatment applied to our children had been sufficient. So many what ifs … what if it had not been totally eliminated and is simply lying dormant within the children’s bodies? What if they would become ill years from now because of that dormant bacteria? What if they have become carriers themselves and will infect other children they come in contact with? (The Norovirus is known for this).

Unless the microorganism is identified, we can never be fully certain that its threat was properly and thoroughly addressed through the antibiotics that were applied to our children. Nor would we know if they needed after-hospitalization care or not.

I was almost disappointed when Abby did not have amoebiasis. How I wished that it was only amoeba … then I would know what made her ill. And that would have been the end of the story.

But right now, I need answers to my questions. Only then will my mind be at peace knowing that all the children are really and truly well.