IT was 2 in the afternoon. It didn’t take much trouble explaining to then-toddler Kukudyu that I had to leave him for a few hours in that hospital ward he shared with five other dengue-stricken patients. A week earlier, two dengue-stricken kids brought to the same hospital ran out of luck. They succumbed.
Kukudyu would be left to whatever mercies strangers could offer—an indifferent glance from the parents of the kid on the sick bed near his, probably a token question how he feels with a bag of blood platelets trickling into him through a needle. It’s mostly a tug at his quiet endurance, maybe that tough tendril of courage in his unflinching arms.
He’d be alone for a few hours to fend off stares and prying questions of the curious. About 15 minutes past 5 p.m., his mother would come from work and be assuredly at his side.
In succession, three of our four kids got dengue—and the hemorrhagic fever that can bleed the child to death. Thank God only our pockets and savings were bled dry.
The missus was quick to discern the first few symptoms before these got any worse; each kid was duly rushed to the hospital and went through the discomforts of treatment and missed schoolwork that had to be caught up on.
Too, a so-called “Salisi” hoodlum struck while the missus was on watch—work fatigue got the better of her and she woke up poorer by P20,000 that could have nearly covered the doctor’s fees and hospital service costs for one child. Ah, hoodlums—may the heaping of curses and diatribes for them increase.
Dengue made it a month of whacked out work schedules for me and the missus—we had no housemaid then to hold the home-fort while we tended to (1) the youngest Puwit took ill first and was bedridden for a week, (2) Podying fell next and spent the next week, and (3) Kukudyu got the last week for the unplanned budget-bashing vacation.
After that ordeal, Podying wrote a “thank you” letter to then Rep. Manuel Bamba Villar, Jr. for digging P20,000 out of his own pocket to pay for the hospital bills we racked up. The letter was personally handed to the lawmaker’s missus Cynthia Ampaya Aguilar—she read the letter with a gleaming hint of a tear in her eyes. She was thankful for the “thank you” missive.
The missus blamed our tree planting forays into Sierra Madre for the children’s bouts with dengue—it turned out, as gleaned from the kid’s case history, they got bitten by dengue carrier Aedes egypti mosquitoes (lamok na bulik) that hung out in the subdivision neighborhood in Camarin, Caloocan City. In the next few days, other kids in the subdivision also fell ill to the dreaded kid-killer.
The missus wouldn’t hear any explanation why the children couldn’t have contracted dengue up in the Sierra Madre. The explanations were lamely proffered. The missus found them unacceptable— ah, these are not-to-easy to see lessons in biology and natural history.
Remember: those tiger-striped mosquitoes would only lay eggs in clean water—and there was this shallow rill of pure spring water nearby our usual Sierra Madre work site. That’s where culprit mosquitoes likely dumped eggs that hatched into wrigglers (kiti-kiti)—indeed, the kids and I have seen a number of times two or three striped mosquitoes dumping their eggs there.
But the rill had other denizens in it. We’ve caught sight of guppies making a go at the mother mosquitoes and wrigglers, slurping ‘em whole in a sucking gulp. We’ve espied the hatched nymphs of dragonflies (tutubi) and damselflies (tutubing karayom)—ah, their voracious, rapacious, capricious hatchlings can only thrive in clean water—turn mosquito wrigglers and guppies into instant lunch or snack.
Woe unto Aedes egypti mosquito moms so used to daylight flying schedules—the same dragonflies and damselflies plus a stray praying mantis or two feast on ‘em while on the wing.
That makes ‘em mosquitoes of whatever stripe and ilk as deadly dangerous as appetizing fast-food where dragonflies, damselflies, praying mantises, and guppies thrive.
Call that a joyful, playful see-sawing of nature’s balance. And we’re there to stand and witness all that mundane glory, goading unlikely predators in a familiar litany—“Prey for us! Prey for us!”
Or for the most part, we can ply out something like this old-fangled doggerel: “Tutubi, tutubi h’wag kang magpahuli sa batang mapanghi!”
We also found for ourselves where the hordes of tiger-striped female mosquitoes hang out up there in the Sierra Madre—they fatten themselves on juices of young banana suckers! We just stumbled into a clump of banana plants in our any which way search for fighting spiders (hey, dengue outbreaks happen during the season of fighting spiders)-- and accidentally shooed a horde of ‘em females. Most of them just plopped on the ground, each weighted down by so much banana juice bulging in their bellies they could hardly fly.
Uh, we also scuttled off two or three palakang saging in roosting ambush position on the young banana fronds. The banana frogs were obviously having a feast on ‘em poor dengue carriers…
To this day after that discovery, we keep a stand of banana plants in our home garden that lure ‘em frogs who feast on mosquitoes. Honest.