A life disrupted: Will firecracker users ever learn?
MANILA, Philippines—With a bottle of beer in hand, 53-year-old Alex Estrella has been in a celebratory mood as early as Tuesday, eager to welcome 2015 by sharing a favorite tipple with a friend just outside his house in Tondo, Manila.
For Wednesday night’s final countdown, however, he promised to play it safe and stay indoors. For behind Estrella’s zest for new beginnings is a grim story: In the last few minutes of 2012, he lost the use of his right eye and added to the statistics of firecracker-caused injuries related to the New Year’s Eve revelry.
It was not even his fault. “I was just dancing here in front of my house as we were having our annual street party to welcome the New Year. Then, boom!” he recalled. A firecracker known as “Goodbye Philippines” was set off by one his neighbors just a few feet away.
“I felt something hit my eye and all I could feel was pain. I remember feeling something hot on my face—blood,” said Estrella, who underwent a 10-hour surgery at Jose Reyes Memorial Medical Center for his injury.
The stories of Estrella and thousands of others are cited every year by government officials to dissuade revelers from using firecrackers.
Thursday’s injury count will show whether or not this scare tactic worked on Wednesday night, but the Department of Health (DOH) is already going a step further to put more science into the campaign.
Earlier this week, the DOH said it would be launching a comprehensive study into the long-term effects of firecracker injuries. The study will be conducted at Jose Reyes starting this year, with the hospital staff collecting contact information from firecracker victims in order to monitor their condition long after they had left the emergency room.
In a press briefing on Tuesday, the hospital’s medical chief, Dr. Elmer Montana, explained that while injuries and scars inflicted by firecrackers could heal within days or weeks, they could still lead to long-term damage.
“There could be many effects of firecracker injuries, depending on the degree of injury,” he said. “For eye injuries, for example, there could be a scarring of the cornea which may manifest only after a long period.”
“Many victims of firecracker injuries are children 5 to 12 years old and they still have a full life ahead of them. We want to see whether the movement of their hands, their eyesight and even their hearing will be affected by firecracker injuries in the long run, while they are studying or working,” he said.
Estrella was already a retired local government employee when Goodbye Philippines turned his New Year dance into a life-disrupting trip to the ER. Permanently shut, his damaged eye requires topical medication to this day, costing him P750 every two months.
And because his left eye has also developed a cataract, he often needs a magnifying glass to read.
Still, Estrella said he no longer bothered to find out who exactly lit and tossed the firecracker in his direction that fateful night. “I just lift it all up to God. I’m just thankful I’m alive.”
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