The Time I Spent Three Hours in Traffic Trying to Get My Mom to the ER

It’s another rainy night, which means that traffic is five times worse than it normally is, which is saying a lot because Manila traffic is its own special kind of hell, mind-numbing and time-wasting at best, and life-threatening at worst, as my family discovered last month.

October 13 fell on a payday Friday. If you live in Manila, this day scares you not because of the unlucky number attached to it but because of the horrendous amount of evening traffic everyone has come to expect as the Friday evening rush crowd meets the payday weekend mall sale crowd. Manila’s traffic, already horrendous on a daily basis, swells to three times its size, the roads inflamed with vehicles stuck for three, four, five hours. Restaurants and malls (particularly the ones on sale) swell with bodies eager to empty their suddenly full wallets on bargains, bargains, bargains.

I did not want to deal with the payday rush, so a friend, her sister, and I decided to meet in Serendra, which we assumed would not be as affected by the inevitable traffic jams as say, SM Megamall or any of the malls near or along EDSA. We were quite proud of ourselves for thinking that far ahead.

I got to Serendra early so that I could get massage therapy. About 30 minutes in, I get a call from my sister. My mother may have had a stroke and needs to be brought to the ER. My mother and brother were in Megamall taking advantage of the mallwide sale when my mom’s left arm suddenly went numb. This is one of the signs of a stroke.

My mom and brother were unable to get a cab or an Uber. My sister was stuck at work, also unable to get a ride. I was stuck in a different mall, and it was impossible to get an Uber, much less a cab. Needless to say, we were all trying not to freak out. Except for my mom. She was freaking out.

I cancelled dinner with my friends, who were already in the area. I explained my situation. They asked if I wanted a lift to the hospital. Thank goodness for great friends! I called my mom and told her that we would pick her up and go to the ER. Did I mention that it was raining? It was raining pretty hard, which made the already pretty bad traffic situation outright ludicrous.

What should have taken about 45 minutes to an hour took more than three hours. It didn’t help that my friends’ father had suffered from a stroke, so they knew exactly what the disease’s progression was. The first hour was the most crucial, they told me, even as we stared at the clock, which was way past an hour since my mom’s arm lost all feeling.

It was a relief when we finally reached Megamall. We bundled my mom into the car and raced to the ER. My friends dropped me, my mom, and my brother off, asking if there was anything else they could do. I assured them that we would be okay, and that we couldn’t begin to thank them enough for what they’d already done. They told me to keep them updated, then left.

A doctor came to check on my mom, said she’d need an MRI. My sister arrived about an hour after we did, but not after going through her own traffic hell. I accompanied my mom to get her MRI. “It looks like the one in Terminator,” my brother said when he saw the machine. “That’s what everyone says,” the doctor replied, chuckling. We weren’t allowed to bring anything metallic into the MRI room because magnets. This of course led us to ask all sorts of questions like, ‘Do I have to take my belt off?’ (Yes.) and ‘Will the filling in my teeth be affected?’ (No.) and ‘What about my bra clasps?’ (You’re an idiot.) My mom, who is a fidgety claustrophobic, managed to keep still in an enclosed space for 30 minutes. I was so proud of her.

We waited a couple more hours before the doctors came back with the results. They apologized for taking so long. They had to have a specialist read the results over Skype, and given thee rain and the Philippines’ already crappy internet, they were surprised that they finished at all.

The result: nothing. My mom was clear. In fact, she was healthy. “Do you carry heavy things on that shoulder?” The doctor asked. My mom looked sheepish. The doctor said that it was probably muscle strain. He advised mom to not carry heavy things in the future.

I went to pay the ER fee. It was my turn to almost suffer from a stroke. Just three hours in the ER basically cleaned me out financially. But I didn’t care. I was happy that my mom was okay and that I just happened to have enough at that time to cover the expense.

I’m glad that the whole thing was a false alarm. I shudder to think what could have happened if it was the real thing. We all curse Manila traffic for being a big everyday inconvenience. But what’s scary is that this ‘inconvenience,’ under the wrong circumstances, can be downright dangerous.

I hope the traffic problem gets solved soon. It’s a literal risk to human life.

Btw, I’m writing this while stuck in a coffee shop in Makati on another rainy, trafficky night, unable to get a ride. Better this than having to worry about getting to the hospital.

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Yvette Natalie U. Tan is a multi-awarded author of horror fiction and the Agriculture section editor of Manila Bulletin.