A happy Valentine's Day!

I wasn't planning on going out yesterday, not at all. Traffic is terrible; restaurants are crowded; romance, if not manufactured, is contrived. But I'm not entirely anti-Valentine's Day; I'm just a practical romantic. And single.

Anyway, Valentine's Day had a surprise twist, and we ended up celebrating the day in a manner closer to the life of St. Valentine: It was a little bloody.

I was babysitting Kiara for the day, because on Thursdays, her yaya Ate Lucy, a member of Iglesia ni Kristo, goes to worship. My mother was at a meeting in San Juan, so it was just me and my four-year-old nice. We'd had a quiet day, and I'd just finally convinced her to take a nap by telling her my version of Goldilocks with a lot of "She was very, very sleepy" thrown in.

Then I got a call from her mother.

Keona, who had just arrived from school, had cut herself on the gate, she said. She didn't have all the details yet, but the wounds were very deep and they wouldn't stop bleeding. Ate Lucy was already back from worship, but could I go and check on her and bring her to a clinic, if needed?

I swallowed my panic and nudged Kiara, who was already snugly positioned next to me for a long nap (she sleeps really well after a shower, which we'd just had; my hair was still plopped up in a cotton wrap). "Get up," I whispered.

She sat up, looking confused, and said, "I thought we were sleeping." I replied that we had to go home, because her Ate Keona had "an owie" and we needed to help her.

I quickly packed all of Kiara's stuff--her school uniform and other school things were scattered all over the house--all the while thinking, "Oh my god, please, please don't let the wound be too deep. I don't want to have to do major first aid."

Once upon a time, I considered being a doctor. I was getting on that path too: even if my high school aptitude test placed me on a liberal arts track, I'd asked to be put in a medical science section in my junior year. The interest never waned, but the actionable desire did. I think I have too much of my grandfather in me--he who fainted at the sight of blood. I've never fainted, but I might. That, or I might vomit.

To steel myself, I started imagining the worst: blood, torn skin, perhaps ligaments? Muscles? Surely not internal organs? But my rational brain also said that it couldn't be that bad, if they could still wait for me to come. Besides, how much damage could the edge of a gate do?

Kiara and I took a tricycle. My house and my sister's house are in different villages, but they are connected by a thirty-peso, ten-minute tricycle ride, thanks to what's called the Friendship Route. On the way, my growing panic was staved off by ever-curious Kiara, who, remembering a conversation we'd had the other day, asked, "How are you going to go to driving school, Auntie Dat, if you don't know how to drive?"

A distraught Keona greeted us at the door. She was still wearing her school uniform, and carrying some sort of hand bag that looked like it had been packed in a rush to go to the hospital. It immediately reminded me of the night thirteen years ago when she started being born. Her father picked me and my mother up, and it surprised me to see their bags were packed, ready for confinement. "It's time!" he had said with a smile. I had panicked that time as well.

There was a very visible gash under Keona's right knee, but the bleeding had stopped. It looked deep, but it didn't seem like it needed stitches. She had washed it herself, she said, and they hadn't put anything else on it.

Her accident had been a confluence of unfortunate events. Their house had lost electricity that morning, and a Meralco technician had been called. Whitey, their black and white labrador mix, had to be moved elsewhere, unchained, so the technician could do his job.

Meanwhile, their guard, for some reason, had chosen that day to bar Keona's school bus from entering their tiny subdivision because it didn't have a sticker. Keona had walked from the gate to their house. It's a five-minute walk at my pace, but this small change meant that Keona arrived at their house relatively unannounced and was greeted by an over-excited dog who, wanting to run outside, jumped at the rusty gate and making it scratch Keona on both legs.

I snapped a picture and sent it to her mother. Her father also called and gave Keona instructions on where to find her HMO card. I tried to research nearby clinics for anti-tetanus shots, and we realized it would be easier to go to the Asian Hospital emergency room.

I told Keona, who had calmed down a little, to change her clothes. I booked a Grab Car, then asked Ate Lucy for some Betadine. They had no cotton balls, so we needed to use cotton swabs to apply the iodine solution--something I couldn't bear to do myself!

We agreed to pour the Betadine over the wounds instead, with Ate Lucy catching the drip offs with a piece of tissue paper. I flinched, Keona flinched, and Kiara kept chanting, "It won't hurt, Ate! It won't hurt! It won't hurt!" like she had waited a lifetime for her turn to finally say the small, but necessary lie to someone else.

Of course, it hurt a little. It was an open wound.

I wasn't supposed to take Kiara with me, but she bawled when the car arrived. "I don't want to be alone!" she screamed. I thought of all the disease outbreaks I'd read about and the risk of exposure in the ER, and then I weighed this against my knowledge that the girls were updated on their vaccines, plus the possibility of Kiara having unarticulated anxiety over her hospital-bound sister. I gave in and instructed Ate Lucy to get Kiara a jacket.

As we got in the car, the driver noted the destination and asked if we were having an emergency. I said, "Not really, you can drive normally," and Keona asked if she could borrow his charger. Then, the two girls asked if they could have waffles at Pancake House after.

"I'm trying not to think of my sugat," Keona said when she saw my face. "It smells so bad, like iron. Blood smells like iron."

On the way to the hospital, I made phone calls to their parents, who were already on their way, and my mother, who was already done with her meeting. My mother didn't need to come to the hospital, but I had accidentally brought her key to the house with me. I was planning to put it someplace secret in the garden so she could enter the house, but that someplace secret turned out to be my hastily-put-together bag of first aid stuff and Kiara's dirty socks.

I texted my younger brother, who works in Laguna, in case he could come to us faster.

At the ER triage desk, a nurse took a look at Keona's wound. She pressed the skin together to see if it would close. I felt faint, again imagining stitches, and she said she didn't think they were necessary, but the doctor would confirm.

"What happened?" the nurse asked Keona, in Filipino. Keona's fluent by now, but there's still some difficulty that comes with switching between two languages.

"The dog..." she started. I cut in and explained what happened, making it clear that the dog didn't exactly do anything to Keona, but the gate he jumped at that cut her legs was rusty, so we were there also for anti-tetanus shots.

The nurse brought out a wheelchair for Keona, and Kiara started pushing her big sister into the ER. We were given a bed in the hallway.

The doctor's surname was also Pioquinto, but they weren't related. She wiped off the Betadine and used hydrogen peroxide on the wounds, digging deeper into them to clean the inside and saying sorry to Keona the entire time because it absolutely stung worse than the iodine did. Kiara watched intently, telling her Ate it was okay. Then, the doctor put some ointment and applied some surgical tape strips, covered the cut with gauze, and told us to wait for the anti-tetanus shots to be prepared.

While we waited, Kiara touched everything she could get her hands on, including the CR walls and yellow trash bin, because I told her she shouldn't. It was a small war between us in the making, each battle ending with me fiercely washing her hands.

After about 20 minutes, a nice male nurse arrived to administer the shots. Yes, plural: one on each arm. All three of us are scared of needles, especially Kiara, who'd had to have an anti-rabies shot injected in her face one Christmas Day, but being that I was the only adult present, I had to put on a brave face and look.

The nurse warned us that Keona's arms would feel heavy. After the shots, I asked if we could wait there until her arms felt normal again. He looked confused by my question, but he said yes, since we needed to wait for the doctor to discharge us anyway.

Dr. Pioquinto came again, gave us a prescription for an ointment and painkillers (paracetamol) that Keona asked for. Then she gave us some final instructions to care for the wound. Again, I asked if we could wait a little for Keona's arms to be okay, as she couldn't lift them, and she said yes.

I got a text from my mother that she was outside the ER. Kiara and I stepped out to meet her, and when we got back to Keona, her arms were still heavy. I called the nurse and asked when exactly they would feel okay again, and he replied, "Tomorrow, they should be completely back to normal."

"We can't wait until tomorrow," I told Keona. She promptly got off the bed.

Everyone else was already in the Alabang area when I was settling the bill. Thankfully, everything was covered by the HMO.

There was a cool wind blowing (and the stars were out) when we walked to Festival Mall. It was dinner time, so we decided to have dinner with all the world's lovers.

While waiting for our food, I showed the picture of Keona's wound to her uncle and her father. They both said it was nothing, and that they'd imagined worse. We'd had deeper wounds almost every week, my brother reminded me, every time we'd ride standing behind someone else on a bike.

Keona took the group selfie of us below, having dinner at Teriyaki Boy. Her arms were still heavy, but she managed to eat all her chicken teriyaki and some of her sister's cabbage salad, and take this one picture.

Now that everyone's home and safe, I find it almost hilarious how I ended up being out for dinner on Valentine's Day. But it was also a reminder of how love shows up in the most unexpected of times and demands to be felt in the most surprising of ways. You can't always be ready for it, I guess. Sometimes, you just have to step up, even when you're scared.

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