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Looking back, there is one thing I now know for sure: I should never again go dragon boat training, wash laundry, and drink with friends all in the same day.
I remember it clearly. October 2, 2010, 2:10 a.m. My girlfriend (who’s now my wife) Paola and I were driving on Osmeña Highway in Manila, on our way home from a friend’s birthday party. Paola told me, “Iidlip lang ako. If there’s anything you need, just wake me up.” She reclined her seat, put her arms around her bag, and went to sleep.
I thought I wasn’t that sleepy myself. And I wasn’t drunk—I did drink some, but I have a high tolerance for alcohol. So I drove on.
The next thing I knew, Paola and I were in the hospital. She had broken glass on her face and arms, she couldn’t see out of her left eye, the left side of my face was crushed, and we were both bloody as hell.
TRAPPED IN WRECKAGE
Turns out, I did fall asleep at the wheel. That’s why I don’t remember going up the flyover on Osmeña Highway (the one right in front of Cash and Carry) and ramming our sedan under a 10-wheeler truck.
I think I was already asleep when we got on the flyover. And probably because I was dozing, my foot got heavier on the gas. Halfway up, we smashed into the truck. If I recall correctly, I was probably going 90 kph up the flyover, and my speeding and drowsiness (according to World Health Organization) just increased our risk in a fatality by 20 percent.
At first, the truck driver didn’t even know we were under his rig. He told his companion, “Pare, paki-check nga. Parang pumutok yung gulong natin sa likod.” When the guy came back, he said, “Pare, may kotse sa ilalim natin.”
We were so far under the truck that the rescue team had to lift the truck with a jack so they could pull us out. They got Paola out without much effort because her door could still be opened. But it took them 30 minutes to take me out of the wreckage.
My legs got stuck between the steering wheel and the seat. They had to cut up my door to get me out. My speeding and sleepiness were not the only factors to blame in the severity of our crash. It’s a rule of physics—the mass difference of the two vehicles involved in the crash would determine the severity of our injury, too. And for something weighing at least 15 tons—over 10 times heavier than our good ol’ sedan—our chances for survival were really slim.
Our car was a total wreck; the hood was gone, and the entire front was demolished. It seemed Paola and I smashed against the windshield several times because of the impact. According to a research by the WHO, car seatbelts decrease the risk of fatality 45 percent. Unfortunately, neither of us was wearing a seatbelt.
When Pao opened her eyes, it was all red underneath her lids. Her eyeballs were covered with blood. Her face was also, for lack of a better word, lumpy; she hit her face and head so many times on the dashboard that her face came out with huge bruises.
She says, and I agree, that it was a blessing that our seats were both reclined. (Pa-pogi kasi ako magmaneho—naka-recline nang kaunti yung upuan.) If we were both sitting straight up, we would have hit the dashboard, the windshield, and the truck head-on.
I was unconscious the entire time we were being rescued. The news team that arrived at the scene has footage of me being carried on a stretcher to the ambulance, with my face covered by a jacket, which apparently was put there by the rescue team. Everyone we showed the clip to weeks later would say, “Paano pa kayo nabuhay? Durog na durog ang kotse ninyo.” Thankfully, I don’t remember the wreck.
When I woke up, Paola and I were already in Ospital ng Makati. And to say that their care for us was substandard is an understatement. According to Paola, who was conscious, they put me on a steel bed (with no mattress or cover) and let her just sit on a chair in the ER. This, despite her bleeding profusely and with glass bits on her face. It was SOP for them to do a pregnancy test for women patients. But since they ran out of pregnancy kits, they had to run to a store outside the hospital to buy a kit, which turned out to be expired.
I was awake already by then and I remember saying sorry to Paola over and over again. She couldn’t speak straight because of the pain. She was just grunting and moaning. When our relatives arrived at Ospital ng Makati and saw the condition we were in, they moved us to Manila Sanitarium—but on two separate trips because OsMak’s ambulance wasn’t big enough to carry two patients.
Apart from my shattered face, all I had, surprisingly, were just cuts and bruises. Although even days later, I was still pulling out bits of windshield glass from the wounds on my arms. They were easy to pull out because they were thick.
Paola had it worse, probably because she didn’t have a steering wheel to stop her from hitting the dashboard and windshield. She stayed in the ICU for four days, and then stayed on in the hospital for two more weeks. She didn’t go through surgery, though. She just needed seven stitches on her scalp despite all her other injuries. But because of her eye injuries, she wouldn’t be able to work as a nurse anymore.
My doctors were actually ready to discharge me after only a few days in the hospital but I didn’t want to leave Paola. So we played house. When I woke up in the morning, I’d go to her room and spend the day there, watching TV, rummaging through the refrigerator in her room, and just being with her. Doctors and nurses soon learned that if I wasn’t in my room, they would find me in Paola’s.
Paola had her mother and best friend in her room every day. But my parents didn’t make it until later. My dad was working in Italy when the accident happened, and my mom just arrived there to visit him. At first, he didn’t tell my mother about what happened to me. He just told her, “Baka gusto mong umuwi muna, at intindihin ang mga bata.” But then my mother retorted, “Kararating ko lang, pauuwiin mo na ako kaagad?”
So they came home together. My dad told my mom what had really happened only when they were on the road to the airport.
KING OF THE ROAD
I learned how to drive when I was in Grade 4. We were living in the province then, and my cousin and I snuck out on our owner-type jeep to go to the plaza. Pauwi kami, nakasalubong namin ang kotse ng tito ko, kasama nanay ko. So when we got home, my mom started scolding me, but then, my dad said, “Hayaan mo na; nakauwi nga eh.” I taught myself how to drive from just watching where my dad put his feet, what he did with his hands while he was driving.
I guess that’s why my car became the unofficial “school bus” of the barkada—I love to drive. We once went to Tagaytay in my car—and there were 10 of us in there. I also like speed. When we’re on the expressway, I like to take a video of the odometer; especially on that trip when I drove from Sta. Rosa to Nichols in 30 minutes. Man, that was fun.
Unfortunately, it does get me into scrapes; but none have been as bad as what Pao and I went through together that early morning in 2010. A little over a year later, I got into another road accident, this time on a motorcycle. I hit the pavement and what made it so painful was the sand that stuck to my gaping wounds.
Pao and I were already married then. She tried to clean my wounds but it was hard for her. Tusino talaga ang balat ko, hanggang binti. But I didn’t go to the hospital yet. I went to work the next day, and my supervisor noticed that I was limping. He ordered me to go to a doctor, and when I went, they scraped all my wounds to get the sand and other particles out. I have tattoos, but having my wounds scraped fresh beat the pain from all my tattoos, combined.
A NEW LEASE ON LIFE
After the accident, Pao said to me, “May purpose pa siguro tayo. Kasi buhay pa tayong dalawa.” I do believe it was a mixture of grace and dumb luck that we both survived.
If the truck switched lanes before we hit it, we might have swerved to the right and fallen off the flyover. If we hit the truck on a decline, instead of an incline like what happened, we probably wouldn’t have escaped with just glass on our face, bumps, and bruises. It would have been much worse. If Mayor Binay’s convoy wasn’t trailing us on the highway that night, the rescue team wouldn’t have been called that soon, and Pao and I would have lost a lot of blood before we were rescued.
Perhaps we survived so we could tell our tale and inspire others to live life to the fullest, without any bitterness. Because Pao, who’s now legally blind, certainly isn’t bitter. She’s actually even upbeat about what happened.
And me? I’ve become an even bigger risk-taker. Because if I survived that, I can sure survive anything.
This article first appeared in FHM's April 2014 issue.