The other day, my husband was scrolling down his Facebook page, and he said, “These days I send more messages of condolence, than of happy birthdays or congratulations.”
My husband recently dodged three bullets. One of them was COVID. The other two were heat stroke and dengue. Through his illnesses, we learned that the second wave of COVID is far worse than the first wave in the Philippines.
It began when he collapsed in a sari-sari store (stores within a house) three blocks away. The first bullet he dodged: A doctor who owned the store iced him over and over again, taking his temperature four times before it reached a safe level. She then called for an ambulance. The village guard went to my house, informed me and they put me in the ambulance.
The doctor recommended a CT scan. Just that. Despite this, he was turned away by three hospitals– the middle-class Paranaque Medical Center, the highly affordable Unihealth Medical, and the posh, upper-crust Asian Hospital. They didn’t ask what happened to him, they just said no room. Not even just for a CT scan. But at Alabang Medical Center he was allowed a CT scan after sound persuasion. But no admission. He waited for the scan in the air-conditioned ambulance to stay cool despite the baking heat.
Once we got the CT scan report, we returned to the doctor at the sari-sari store. She gave some prescriptions and said his scans were normal. Ed slept at home, but couldn’t walk.
In the middle of the night, he tried to go to the bathroom and landed flat on the floor. He’s a tall big guy, we managed to get him back up on the bed.
The next day our daughter, Kat, came over. She personally knew a doctor who was willing to take care of Ed at the FEU Nicanor Reyes Medical Center. Kat then drove us to the hospital, stopping over to get a lung x-ray in a clinic. Next, a radiologist’s reading of the x-rays. Then Ed would talk to the doctor at her home near the hospital.
Ed and I waited in the car while Kat proceeded to get the radiologist’s reading of his lung x-rays. While waiting, Ed said he was going to the bathroom. The minute he stepped off the car he keeled over and fell flat on the ground, on the back of his head and body. I screamed, asking for a doctor and a wheelchair. Five men came over and a guard got Ed on the wheelchair and brought him to the emergency room.
Ed had some scars and was bleeding which isn’t good if you are diabetic. I called the doctor and she said she would go to the hospital to see Ed. Once there, his wounds were sewn and she ordered some blood tests and an MRI. Ed needed to be admitted.
“Need to be admitted” meant he dodged a second bullet. My friend’s grandmother had, like Ed, been taken from hospital to hospital and was turned away. She died in the parking lot of the last hospital that refused her. In the newspaper, I read of a similar incident, of a man who quarantined himself in his car, which was parked beside a building in an army camp where he died.
Luckily Ed was admitted, and given a lot of blood tests among others. His situation was very grave. He only had 10,000 platelets. The normal level is between 150,000 to 450,000. To build up platelets, the body has to respond to rest, dextrose, medical treatment, and a good diet. Platelets could also be transfused, but on having googled platelet transfusion, it can cause side effects such as allergic reactions, including anaphylaxis, infection, and lung injury. In this time of COVID, these are not side effects worth risking, and I’m grateful to our doctor for doing it the conservative way.
Ed also needed to undergo a swab test to rule out COVID. We would have to move from our third-floor room to the sixth floor, the COVID floor. While waiting for our transfer, I heard a man crying very loudly, seemingly from above. Then a woman’s panicky voice talking about transferring to another room. I thought to myself, “Once they’re out, that’s our room”. Shortly after, our doctor told us that our room on the sixth floor was being prepared.
From the time we first logged into the hospital, the nurses and workers were all very kind, but obviously very tired, so I decided not to complain if linens weren’t changed for one day, or for other little things. We were there on a favor and felt had no right.
But I did notice that once it was known we would be transferred to the COVID floor, the nurses and staff were more careful, staying more distanced, and wearing longer hospital coats that were long-sleeved and tied at the back with a knot. I couldn’t blame them. They were warm and nice to us in spite of their obviously being very tired. The patients needed them to live.
One really felt like a pariah on the sixth floor, not because of anybody, but because everyone looked like a spaceman. In some ways maybe we really were aliens. On the upside, the testing was done on one side, and a wall separated those who would be tested, from those who had COVID.
After swabbing, Ed was told that he would get the results within 24 – 48 hours. We actually got the results within 36 hours, another fortunate instance. Recently my cousin and her family were swabbed at their home, and five days later, they still had no results.
When my husband tested positive for dengue and negative for COVID, that was the final bullet that he dodged. We were moved back down to the third floor.
Our doctor reminds me of Dr. House from the TV show. She’d notice one thing and start testing for it. That’s how she discovered that Ed also had a kidney stone and a gallbladder stone. This, she said, could be remedied by medication.
We were discharged after seven days. We are now outpatients as his platelets reached 145,000, very near the normal range. It was good to be home. We also knew that many others, far sicker than Ed could make better use of the room. And we were grateful. If Ed hadn’t been admitted into the hospital in the first place, he would definitely have died. That was happening to many people who needed urgent hospitalization although they didn’t have COVID.
“I never thought that I’d be a widow”, one of my dearest friends told me. From December 2020 to January she, her husband and one child were struggling with COVID in a hospital. Her husband didn’t make it.
This morning Ed was as usual reading to me posts from his Facebook of people who were sick and needed prayers, and people who died. “They don’t say anymore what the person died of,” Ed said. As if COVID were something to be ashamed of, like a scarlet letter.
I personally wondered what would have happened if Ed had COVID. In the hospital, I could take care of him but when you have COVID no family member can stay with you if you’re hospitalized.
My husband required help navigating the distance from his bed to the bathroom. I got to give him a shower every day. Who would do those things if he had COVID? On the 6th floor, I could understand why people, despite their spacemen clothes, still adhered to social distancing. Because they’re heroes. Our own doctor was a brave, kind, caring hero. A brilliant, true hero. When Ed was worried she prayed with us. She was sometimes called by the nurses late at night after she’d already fallen asleep, because of my husband. It’s in her DNA I suppose, the DNA of a hero.
All the doctors, the nurses, the staff, the janitors, the people who would deliver our food on time, they’re all heroes. Part of their heroism is following protocols to stay alive so that they can continue to live to do the work that heroes do.
I hope one day, here in the Philippines, the names of all frontliners who died from COVID will get a monument with their names inscribed. In fact, monuments should be built all over the world. It’s a pandemic, after all.
To slow the spread of the virus and decongest hospitals, a two-week lockdown was imposed beginning of April in the Philippine capital and four provinces. A week after, 70 percent to 80 percent of hospital beds for COVID-19 patients were full, while ICU beds were “almost 100 percent” occupied in most of the capital.
“This time is even worse than last year,” Ustare said, referring to the first few months of the pandemic. “The numbers are really worse.” At the same time, access to medical care for non-Covid cases is being severely affected. The writer’s husband was fortunate to have found a hospital to accommodate him. Unlike the many stories about people unable to find hospitals to take them in, the writer’s husband is indeed fortunate to have found a hospital to attend to his medical needs.
The country’s caseload of more than 828,000 – the second highest in Southeast Asia – is expected to top a million before the end of April