After hours of running wet like extras in a disaster movie the seven of us finally found refuge in a stranger’s house in Merville. We deserved to be in that predicament because none of us listened—we were too exhilarated to leave the hospital that nobody was even remotely sane. There were twenty-one of us in our internal medicine residency batch, each one fairly smart with impressive credentials, and yet no one had the sense to say that braving a huge storm for a beach party is not the best idea.
Once a year each batch is granted a weekend off for rest, recreation, and debauchery, and a few weeks leading to it that was all we could yak about—indeed, we have transformed into grade 4 students who could not sleep out of excitement for that upcoming trip to the Coke Factory and The Planetarium. The other residents would cover for us, we would have breakfast in full view of the sea, and our phones would be free of any referrals for dyspnea, diarrhea, and a heart rate of 103 beats per minute.
By the time we left PGH there was already a downpour, but nobody cared. The previous night others have gone ahead to the resort, and they have been sending us pictures of such fun and relaxation. I’m sure in a few minutes the rain will stop, Loreta declared as she loaded her things into the trunk. Kathy was driving the SUV, and with us were Jill, Lloydie, Fulet, and Tessie. By 9 am we were ready to leave, but the torrential downpour was getting worse. “This rain is so bad,” Kathy said. “Guys do you think… do you think we should go to Nasugbu, or La Luz?”
“La Luz!” we chorused.
For three seconds we actually thought we would get there unscathed. “Tumigil na ang ulan!” I screamed crazily, to which everyone applauded—until we realized we were only under an overpass. On the radio news were coming in that this typhoon was much more horrific than everyone has anticipated in terms of rainfall, and that many areas in Metro Manila were also starting to flood. They were calling the typhoon Ondoy. We hang our heads in shame and only admitted what total morons we were by the time water was rapidly sloshing into the SUV.
“Let’s get out na,” Kathy said with surprising calmness as she pulled up the hand break and grabbed her bag. We immediately left the car and ran through the flood along South Luzon Expressway opposite the direction of the traffic, and noted that everyone started doing the same—it was Deep Impact or Godzilla or any B-movie minus the rampaging monster. Of course we were all in summer wear—Loreta’s top was thin, flowy, and white, perfect for walking introspectively along the beaches of San Juan to the tune of From A Distance, and with a few drops of rain it turned in to a transparent magic kamison.
“Potang pekpek shorts ‘to!” Loreta screamed as we waded through the rapidly rising floodwaters. Of course no one could let that near-drowning opportunity pass—we saw an elevated area and posed for disaster photography. Misery is temporary, but photo opportunity is eternal.
The 7-11 in Merville was crowded with people clawing at each other for that last piece of hotdog in the warmer. We took shelter in a corner outside the store, teeth chattering, shivering in our wet clothes, slapping ourselves for being total idiots, imagining how comfortable the hospital must be right now. The eye of the storm seemed to have passed, and there was only a slight drizzle at this point. Tessie crossed the street for more flooding exposure and got all of us some doxycycline’s for leptospirosis prophylaxis. Everyone in 7-11 was calling everyone on their cellphones—some worried sick about their loved ones, others asking about their properties, but most importantly, everyone was trying to one-up each other on who was having a more miserable time.
“Even the clothes in my bag are wet!” Jill told Alanis Cornucopia on the phone.
“I only have one bag of chips to share with everyone!” Alanis Cornucopia said. She was in the other car, their group stuck in a parking lot in BGC.
“There’s a firetruck that just zoomed by because there’s a huge fire in the village! Right this moment!” Jill screamed.
One of our batchmates, Jondi, who was already in Batangas since the night before, informed us that he knew someone living in Merville who would let us stay the night. After a season’s worth of reality TV misadventures such as getting in the wrong house, staying under the recurrent rain for hours, getting entranced by the burning house, failing to complete a Road Block because it’s a task that only one member of the team may perform, contracting leprosy, and such, we finally found the house. We were afraid the owners would require us to declaim “alms, alms,” in the rain before letting us in, but they were extremely nice and accommodating. While dining on hotdogs and rice over candle light we were subtly trying to assess just how close Jondi was with the owners. I asked them how they knew Jondi.
“Umm, yeah, si Dondee,” super nice mom told us. “Oo, mabait na bata yang si Dondee.”
To our small contingent’s credit everyone was still funny and in high spirits despite the lingering stress, but I ran out of any punchlines by the time it was dark.
“Magpatawa ka,” Lloydie demanded.
“Wala. Naubusan na ko,” I whimpered.
At one point I was unaware that my repertoire has already turned to repeat mode. Prior to being fed, in sheer hunger I asked Fulet, “Hey Fulet, napanood mo na ba yung movie na Alive about the plane crash in the Andes?”
“Nakwento mo na yan 30 minutes ago,” she said.
Kathy’s mother came to fetch us the following morning. I went back to The Coffin and saw all kinds of trash brought in by the flood. Helliza called to say cheerily that they found catfish on the grounds outside the university library. Dad was scheduled for a transarterial chemoembolization that day, but they decided to cancel the procedure because the hospital was still flooded. We then learned of all the destruction the typhoon has brought—the seven of us had a misadventure, a mini-ordeal, a cute anecdote that we could later on laugh about, but many had heartbreaking tragedies. As we would learn in about two weeks, more tragedies were to come, as the emergency rooms would start to get swamped by patients who were jaundiced, anuric, and hemorrhaging from leptospirosis.