Mommy Chat: Split seconds

By Dr. Daisy Joy A. Espejo-Torina


It’s amazing and sad that things can change in a split second. A car speeding along C-5 last Tuesday crashes into a pole, the driver dies. A 5 year old child with an existing heart condition dies while straining to poop. A 6.3 magnitude earthquake sends buildings crashing down in Christchurch, New Zealand and claims more than a hundred lives. An 8.9 magnitude earthquake shakes Japan and creates a tsunami in its wake. My baby trips and falls on her mouth, the impact displaces her upper front tooth and her tooth dies. Not to trivialize the enormity of the problems of the world right now, but this last statement is my personal tragedy.

A few Saturdays ago, while I was saying my good mornings to my baby, she excitedly told me she tripped. I instantly noticed something was off with 2 of her front teeth. The left upper tooth was pushed in, which made the right upper tooth seem deviated outward. There was still a little blood on her gums. That both teeth weren’t wobbly offered me little comfort. I was so distraught I brought her to the dentist Tuesday. She said since the teeth weren’t wobbly, the only way we could tell there was trauma to her teeth is when they start to darken when they die. Now I’m sure because her left front tooth has darkened. When she flashes her perfect smile at me, my eyes get easily diverted towards the not so perfect tooth. My resentment against being away from her to earn a living is again reinforced. I’m not saying it wouldn’t have happened if I was with my baby, I’m just saying I should have been with her when it happened. I just hope the worst case scenario that the dentist painted for me – the gums might get infected and if it does, the permanent tooth bud will get affected – will not come true.

Speaking of earthquakes, I was in Baguio during the 1990 earthquake. Incidentally, I was a freshman that time at the University of Baguio. I was going to be a dentist. But as early as July, I was already unhappy, the curriculum didn’t quite challenge me and I found my classmates a bit (I’m sorry!) obtuse. So it was these unhappy thoughts that occupied my mind as I left the gym after my PE class. Three boys in school uniform across the street caught my attention as I was walking down Assumption Road. They suddenly stopped in their tracks and one of them shushed the others to listen. As I was wondering why, the pavement started to move much like the waves in the sea. Before I could realize what was happening, a huge crack slashed across the street and split it in two. A lot of people by then were coming out of the buildings and running towards open spaces. By the time I reached Session Road, it was filled with throngs of panicky people. With each aftershock came screaming and pushing. The buildings wobbled with each aftershock. Then the unthinkable happened, the building at the street corner (then Skyworld condominium) started to collapse. Up until then I thought it was safe to be on the street. The people around me said we had to be in an open area where no buildings could collapse on us. Where they went, I followed. I was a newbie in a new city and the incident made me feel all the more alone even as I was surrounded by people. My brother was then a sophomore at Saint Louis University and I think it was fortunate that he was home in our province that time because their classes have been suspended owing to some strike over tuition fee hike if I remember right.

The people current led right to Malcolm Square which was a stretch of open field along Harrison Road right next to the Burnham Park. There a lot of people have already gathered. Again, perhaps it’s selective amnesia that makes me forget what happened from the time I sat on the grass to the time my older cousin found me the following morning. I don’t remember getting hungry. Perhaps there was enough  food and water that went around. I remember having small talks with many people whose names I instantly forgot. I remember seeing a couple of my brother’s classmates, one held a basketball in his hand.  But I remember being too shy to introduce myself, after all I only knew them from photographs. I remember there was singing. A group of friends had with them a guitar and they played and sang throughout the night. I don’t remember sleeping because the aftershocks came in succession. I remember not knowing there was such a word as “aftershock” until someone from one of the groups that surrounded me kept saying the aftershocks were so strong.

At the first glimmer of light, amid a throng of people, my cousin found me. That was how I got home. Alone, I would never have braved walking across fallen buildings and cracked streets.

Baguio was cut off from the rest of the country. Kennon Road, Naguilian Road and Marcos Highway were all blocked by landslides. As my family – my mother, father and brother – had no way of knowing if I was all right, they braved the landslides in Naguilian Road (As in they hiked across the landslides!) to get to Baguio. My aunt who lived overseas was so worried she had to take valium to calm her nerves until she found out we were all right. It was for this story that we finally got a telephone!

After weeks of rebuilding, the city tried to carry on with life with some semblance of normalcy. Since one of the main buildings of UB collapsed, our class was displaced. We had to hold classes in open parks and most of our lessons were “take home.” After one semester in UB, after one semester of discontent, I transferred to Saint Louis University which was one significant step to becoming what I am today. There is a reason for everything.

In a split second, a life could change, the world could change. We really have no way of knowing when and how a tragedy might happen. Not even with the kind of technology we have now. We only have to keep faith that the Lord will keep us safe.#