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Frontliners Talk About the Emotional Toll From the COVID-19 Crisis


Bayani and family

Bayani and family

On midnight of March 17, Malacañang placed the entire island of Luzon on “enhanced community quarantine,” one of the measures to contain the spread of COVID-19. This goes to show, as many of us have already recognized, that this health crisis goes beyond Metro Manila. While confirmed patients are being cared for within the National Capital Region (NCR), there are frontline health workers in the provinces who have been exposed and that will continue to be exposed to the virus, risking their health and safety amid uncertainty.

On March 14, a patient was reported to have tested positive for COVID-19 in Batangas and was isolated at Mary Mediatrix Medical Center. The patient was later transferred to a Department of Health (DOH) hospital in Metro Manila, but the unease still remains.

“I was not shocked at all given the rising number of confirmed cases in the country and the rising number of people under investigation (PUIs) tested in our hospital.” Dr. Antonio Faltado is an internal medicine endocrinology, diabetes, and metabolism specialist at Mary Mediatrix. Like many professionals in the field of medicine, he looks at facts and figures, evidence and trends to arrive at logical conclusions.

Dr. Faltado

Dr. Faltado

It seemed inevitable that a case would be found in Batangas, so close to Metro Manila, given how it was spreading and the lack, at the time, of appropriate measures to contain it.

That does not mean, however, just because the figures pointed toward that conclusion, that any professional could be prepared for the anxiety that the case would present.

“Did I feel scared? Yes, of course,” he continued. “The problem is, as it is to you, COVID-19 is new to us. We are also scared for ourselves and for our families. Some of the doctors have cancelled their clinics and just stayed home. A lot of doctors continue to see patients. Those who continue to see patients opted to isolate themselves from their families in an apartment or a hotel room.”

Dr. Deo Bayani is one such doctor at Mary Mediatrix who took the lonely option of securing for himself accommodation so as not to put his family at risk. A cardiologist, he still sees a lot of general medicine patients, and encountered one of the more tense moments of his professional career.

“A patient was referred to me for cardio co-management,” Dr. Bayani recounted his first situation with a potential COVID-19 patient. “I was already cautious at that time but due to the lack of travel history or exposure to sick contacts, COVID-19 was not high in our differentials. The patient, however, deteriorated despite best treatments and, due to the lack of response, and the recent change in guidance that patients with severe acute respiratory illness, even without travel or exposure, should be considered a PUI, we reclassified her, isolated her, and had her tested. At the back of my mind, of course, was that for a few days we weren’t wearing personal protective equipment. Luckily, the patient eventually turned out negative. But the psychological stress it brought upon me was quite heavy.”

Although counting himself lucky at that moment, Dr. Bayani knew that it was a sign of what was to come. In the current state of things, every patient could potentially carry the virus, each encounter potential exposure that may bring with him, endangering the weak and elderly around him. At war with this epidemic, the hospital staff realized they were now on the front lines, fighting this head on, protecting the public that included their loved ones.

“The past week has been full of anxiety and uncertainty,” Dr. Bayani continued. “Yes, I was guilty of somehow downplaying the threat, as I’m quite confident with my health. But every time I think about my parents, both well into their 70s, both with considerable comorbidities, and my aunt who is in her 80s with a lung condition, I can’t bear the possibility of bringing the virus back to our home should I unknowingly catch it while at work. I have accepted the risk as a frontliner myself, but that worry for my family is something I can’t deal with.”

While there are still many unknowns regarding COVID-19, it is generally acknowledged that the highest rate of fatalities is among the elderly population, particularly those who have an underlying medical condition. Although younger people may test positive, they are less likely to have severe, life-threatening complications arising from COVID-19. But that does not mean that they cannot spread it to someone, a loved one, who can get seriously ill from it.

“To remove that anxiety and focus more on work, I decided to rent out an apartment where I can live by myself for the time being. I have my other siblings to look after them, and I’m just a phone call away.” He knew it was the logical conclusion to come to, recognizing that he was privileged enough to have that option. Separating oneself from family, however, is never an easy decision. “Seeing the way things are going, I might continue to isolate myself for two months or until the threat has somehow died down. I will be continuously exposed as a frontliner, so better to keep the distance from my family members who are at a higher risk of severe disease.”

The general public is encouraged to practice social distancing, to stay at home if they can, so that they can avoid getting the virus and passing it on to someone who may experience severe complications. Our frontliners do not have that option. They put themselves at risk and some re-arrange their lives for the public’s sake, for our sake. It is no easy task, and nothing could have prepared them, physically and mentally.

As they become weary from their long shifts, sleepless nights, and reasonable anxiety, they ask very simple things from the public.

“We, the frontliners, need [the public’s] cooperation,” added Dr. Faltado. “All our efforts will be wasted without it. Stay updated, watch the news, stop spreading ‘fake news,’ practice frequent and proper handwashing and social distancing.”

Source: Manila Bulletin

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