In one of the rooms at a private hospital in Puerto Princesa City, a frontliner prepared for another day of battle against an unseen and deadly enemy. Like a warrior, he donned layers of protective gear. They were uncomfortable, but necessary protection against the coronavirus.
Today, he was one of the COVID-19 patients.
“I was a member of the COVID-19 ward team. I know what to do,” he told Palawan News as he packed his go-to bag in anticipation of the long isolation.
He made several calls, first to his wife and his family, then to his administrative staff. He had to provide instructions as he will be secluded from the rest of the society.
He has hundreds of patients, some of whom required special medical attention. He needed to make sure that all gears and wheels will function perfectly. Albeit without him.
“What I can’t stand is the loneliness. Doctors and nurses visit rarely to limit exposure. I check and monitor my vital signs, and we mostly talk through intercom,” he explained how he go about his daily affairs.
Presently, and luckily, he was only categorized as a “mild symptomatic” patient. After all, he has completed his second dose of anti-COVID jab merely three days after his RT-PCR result returned positive of the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
Serving at the frontline was a challenge, but the view from the inside was somehow different, he described as how his years of practice in patient care was challenged in certain ways.
“Learning from experience, after going through all these, I will be a better medical frontliner to take care of COVID-19 patients,” he said as we concluded the phone interview.
Everybody’s crying mercy
Just last week, a 53-year-old male patient died from complications of COVID-19 while in an isolation ward at the Ospital Ng Palawan.
That week, five official and three unofficial COVID-related deaths were logged in the city, the record-high number of casualties so far in Puerto Princesa.
“Nalungkot ako na he died. Nalungkot kasi siya na aalis na ako [sa isolation ward] noong araw na ‘yon. He cried a little,” a nurse narrated to Palawan News his personal attachment to each patient he handled.
Healthcare workers have to change suits every time they do their rounds inside the COVID-19 wards. For some, it means changing twice or even more during their shift.
The government and private hospitals in the city were already at the brink of reaching capacity with COVID-19 patients, and have limited beds for non-COVID patients due to understaffing.
Many medical frontliners were affected by the recent surge as they were required to undergo antigen test every 7th and 10th day, subsequently obligated to finish quarantine before joining back the hospital rotation.
More than a year since we assembled a team of tributes fighting hard against the deadly virus, we seemed to be on the losing end.
As of Thursday morning, Puerto Princesa City had 33 active COVID-19 cases. The city’s total tally count since the pandemic stood at 273 confirmed cases, 232 recoveries and eight deaths.
The numbers were smaller compared to other cities and provinces, but the COVID-19 surge here had been unprecedented and jolted the city government into enforcing tighter quarantine restrictions. It is currently contemplating on imposing “hard bubble lockdowns” in five barangays in the city.
The key person in charge of the city government’s quarantine facilities admitted earlier this week that they have reached their capacity limit, with over 300 patients distributed in various hotels retrofitted as isolation areas, that in normal times would have been catering to inbound tourists. Among the occupants are a growing number of medical frontliners who had to be quarantined themselves after getting exposed to positive cases.
Like most healthcare workers, the isolation ward nurse hardly saw his family. He took on an 12-hour shifts for 16 straight days before going on a quick break. He got a week off, and then it’s back to work again.
In the absence of being with family and friends, he gives his patients food, medicine, and comfort, taking the time to talk with them.
Sometimes, their answers to a simple question on how they were doing would break his heart.
He remembered a conversation with an old lady last week. She was an 81-year-old female who suffers from hypertension, diabetes, and was considered a high-risk COVID-19 patient. Neither her husband nor her son was at her side.
“Nakakatuwa lang na discharge na siya,” he said as how every single victory was celebrated in a seemingly endless fight against an unseen enemy.
“If there is a health crisis on top of the pandemic in our midst, we need to admit it, stare it down and confront it. Acknowledging that a problem exists is part of the solution. The community needs to put its act together, be on the same page, and pursue set goals and objectives. If we go down further, we go down trying,” last week’s Palawan News editorial stated.
The healing process for COVID-19 or any other diseases extends beyond prescribing medicine. It is about offering kindness, compassion, and care―not just to the doctors, nurses, or other essential workers, but to everyone you meet fighting their own battles, too.