It would be difficult for me to imagine the Botolan brass band without also hearing in my mind the melancholic strains of the Ilonggo classic, "Dandansoy", or the more contemporary achy heart dissertations of love lost expressed by the lilting melodies of "Naligaw Ako" and "Sapsapulen".
In traditional fashion, the Botolan band, a guest at my Mother’s, hired to accompany the Flores de Mayo procession held in the evening of the 12th of May 2000, played these songs splendidly upon my request on the verandah of my Mother’s Salaza house while waiting for the procession to begin that night.
The Flores de Mayo and ballroom-style dancing that followed it held at the Salaza auditorium were the only two scheduled events of the Salaza fiesta that took place uninterrupted before the rains came. Shortly after the last tango was played that night, typhoon Biring unleashed its full fury on the length and breadth of Luzon. I glanced at the clock. It was 1:30AM, Saturday, the 13th of May. I had barely arrived in the Philippines. The torrential downpour with heavy winds would continue non-stop for the next 9 days in Salaza.
The events scheduled for the remaining three days of Salaza’s fiesta were worked around Biring during the typhoon’s occasional but brief intermissions. Despite the heavy downpour, there was an air of festivity that permeated the entire barangay. The rains hardly dampened the spirits of Salazeños; in fact, Salaza’s population swelled on the main day of celebrations because of out-of-town guests.
Among the guests were Nancy and Willy Rabara Francia. These two beautiful people came to Salaza, not because of the fiesta, but to fulfill a promise that they would meet me when I arrived in Zambales. They came all the way from San Felipe in a Victory Liner during a rainstorm to meet a complete stranger because they had promised to do so. They would visit again with Ceres Busa, bearing santan flowers, mangoes, and suman, to comfort me when I fell ill. Ceres would return with Willy a weekend later to fetch me for a trip to Cleo’s high school reunion at Baybay, San Narciso.
Willy and I joined the throngs of out of towners walking the flooded streets for an abbreviated tour of a portion of Salaza. It was a soaking experience, but was fun. Indeed, it was refreshing to see how the barrio folks easily adapted to the unforgiving storm. It was party time, and the people were not to be denied. The Coronation of the Princess and the Komedya that were to be held in the auditorium were both washed out.
Other Zambales barangays like Sto. Niño and Amungan, likewise, celebrated their fiesta under heavy downpour. The Amungan die-hards deserve mention for they were determined to hold their Coronation at all costs. Motoring through Amungan to take Nancy and Willy home back to Sto. Niño (San Felipe), we were greeted by the almost comical sight of the Amungan Coronation float sheltered under a mango tree but stranded in a foot-deep pool of water. Perched atop the float, the young Princess and her court, elegant in their regal costumes, their bakla-created hairdos and make-up, tried their darnedest to maintain a semblance of dignity and composure under the most trying of circumstances. Their perseverance and determination would be rewarded. On the way back to Salaza after dropping off Nancy and Willy in Sto Niño, the heavy downpour gave way to a light drizzle. There on the side of the road in what must be the Amungan auditorium, the previously-stranded Coronation float stood in all its resplendent glory, surrounded by the band and a crowd of applauding, appreciative people who were only too happy to get the show over with before it poured again. For their part, the brave, young ladies gave their most radiant smiles and returned gestures of appreciation by blowing kisses at the delirious crowd.
Because of her medical knowledge as a registered nurse, Nancy Francia suggested that it was time to remove the medical patch placed on my chest by doctors at President Ramon Magsaysay Memorial Hospital (PRMMH). The patch was giving me headaches days after I was discharged from the hospital.
Discussing the PRMMH from my desk thousands of miles removed from Iba, it never occurred to me that I might someday be part of its history. My visit to Iba that fateful Saturday afternoon, the 13th of May, two days after my arrival in the Philippines was prompted by the temporary lull of the raging storm. I thought I could while the time away by doing some work at the Gigang Internet Café, right around the corner from PRMMH. As fate would have it, my being in the vicinity of PRMMH was not good enough. Fate would make sure that I was physically within the confines of PRMMH to contribute to its glorious history. Whether I was a willing participant or not did not matter. Leaving Gigang in haste, I checked in in the emergency room, where doctors quickly hooked up electrodes on my chest, placed a pill under my tongue, and slapped an oxygen mask on my face. The doctors later decided that I would spend the night for observation. It was 5PM, Saturday, the 13th of May 2000, when I was wheeled into to ward to spend the night. Typhoon Biring raged on outside.
Doctors and nurses and other members of the PRMMH professional staff appeared to be competent and knowledgeable in their respective fields of specialization. I found them extremely courteous, and polite. They were very attentive and responsive to a patient’s needs just like in the States. However, standard patient care that we take for granted in industrialized countries where many of us live was sorely lacking at PRMMH. The situation was not necessarily due to the incompetency of the medical/professional staff. It was more, I believe, due to staff shortages and lack of critical modern equipment.
The ward I was assigned in had two prominent rules. The rules, in handwritten signs scotch-taped on the wall, were never enforced, however. "Isang pasyente, isang bantay" said one rule. The other dealt with the hours of visitation.
The room was auditorium-large, crammed with about 40 beds arranged haphazardly to take advantage of available space. Private rooms with air-conditioning were still under construction in the upper floors, I was told. Glaring fluorescent lamps overhead were too bright for comfort. As it was relatively cool because of the steady rain, the windows were open. Patients and visitors alike were hacking and spitting out of the windows. To my unaccustomed eyes, the ward was chaotic – a beehive of activity of people milling about all night long, performing chores normally associated with nursing. These folks were the "bantays". They numbered between 3 to 6 family members and friends for each patient in an obvious disregard for the rule that said, "Isang pasyente, isang bantay". These "bantays" visit with the patients to provide psychological support and nursing assistance, or to sleep in a relatively soft bed. They came in shifts, carrying with them their pots and pans, coffee makers, and kalderos of cooked rice. Here you see a "bantay" changing clothes in the middle of the ward; there you see another "bantay" cooking supper. The scene was reminiscent of a school gym and a cafeteria.
Around midnight, the racket subsided a bit. I looked around to see 3 or 4 people zonked out on the bed with each patient. Patients and their "bantays" slept on the bed with their street clothes. When the duty nurse came around to dispense medication or to take temperature, she had to wake all 4 sleeping bodies to find out who the patient was.
I woke up from a semi-stupor around 5AM to see vendors carrying food-laden baskets, weaving their way around the tight spaces between the beds, softly murmuring, "Suman, suman po kayo diyan", in a duet with the crowing roosters outside. A neatly-uniformed orderly kept busy sweeping the floors with a "walis-tambo".
Unbelievingly, one of the food vendors came toward my bed. I soon realized that because we made eye contact, though unintentionally, she thought I wanted to buy. I had suman for breakfast that morning.
The hospital provided a sheet to cover the bare vinyl-covered mattress. Patients brought their own linen, pillows, eating utensils and just everything else they needed for their stay. Hospital gowns, towels, soap, shampoo, and toothpaste were not standard issues. Lavatories did not have toilet papers. If you went to the bathroom and did not bring toilet paper with you, you’re in for one of the greatest cultural shock of your life. There were no photocopiers in the building; there were no telephones, no televisions, and there were no flower shops.
The constant noise of cars and tricycles backfiring provided an inducement for a long, sleepless night. At each explosion, I looked around the room to find a face that registered annoyance or displeasure, but found none. People accepted it unquestioningly as a way of life.
I bade farewell to PRMMH at 7:30AM that still-rainy Sunday morning, full of cultural memories of the hospital. The good part was that I was given a clean bill of health and was well enough to be discharged after an overnight stay. I also had a competent doctor who gave me the readouts for my EKG tests to show my Stateside doctors. He was also willing to provide me with a photocopy of the diagnosis that I asked for, but there wasn’t a photocopier in the entire building.
The bad part was that I was discharged too soon to have experienced longer a slice of Philippine life at the President Ramon Magsaysay Memorial Hospital.
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