Our failure as humans
What could be a more depressing sight than a long line of people pawning their valuables for money to buy food? It was long — really long, that I hesitated to pull over and take a photograph of that travesty of life.
That was weakness on my part. I became a failure as a journalist. I had failed to record that small part of history amid the COVID-19 outbreak that has sent the world into fear, hunger and despair.
I felt a sudden chill. It tingled in my bones and sent me at near breaking point. No, it broke me apart!
That was the reality of the present situation where we are trying to survive, be an inspiration to our peers, provide strength to our families, isolate them from the pain that engulfs us.
But I failed. I was weak at that point and failed them.
I only heard of such a story from a man of yesteryears. He took me to a time and places not my own. But they were from his war — the last great war nations did not attempt to repeat, but which now is sending flashbacks as the world fights an invisible enemy.
Yesterday was a time from that past. Only that it was real, the present even worse than when bullets flew above our forefathers’ heads.
They needed food. I could not even look at my source in his eyes when I asked.
The grumblings of hunger were heard from where I sat at the sight of that line. They were weak and sunburnt. They had not worked for days — only days — and they no longer have money to sustain their families. Support, in the form of relief packs from their local government, was not enough.
It is not that there is nothing we can do. All of us are doing our small part to fight this curse. But the smell of death is coming upon us. The unseen enemy is real and is here.
It has claimed lives. Even those of people we knew personally. Of people we have worked with along the course of building our careers.
The new coronavirus does not discriminate. It claimed Marie Pena-Ruiz, a veteran journalist who once radiated friendly light at the Palace.
It claimed four doctors, all frontliners in the fight that is only just starting.
Dr. Israel Bactol, a 34-year-old cardiologist from Philippine Heart Center, was first to perish due to the virus. He got infected by a patient who lied about his travel history.
Anesthesiologist Gregorio Macasaet III of the Manila Doctors Hospital and oncologist Rose Pulido of the San Juan de Dios Hospital also succumbed to the disease.
Macasaet’s wife, Eva, is also positive for the virus and is in isolation.
Dr. Raul Diaz Jara died before dawn on Tuesday due to complications after testing positive for COVID-19.
There are more Filipino health frontliners who are now COVID-19 positive patients.
Dr. Grace Caras-Torres, an OB-Gyne at the St. Luke’s Hospital in Quezon City, disclosed herself as Patient 194 of what is now about 600.
Another doctor, the one who saved my very young niece’s life when she was on the verge after her appendix ruptured due to a misdiagnosis by another doctor, is now intubated.
Like Caras-Torres, they are fighting for their lives.
I am writing this with clouds forming in front of my PC. A new report had just come in about a 56-year-old man who had claimed his life after feeling the symptoms of COVID-19. One member of his family also has the same symptoms.
He wrote a letter informing those he left that all he has is P30 in his pocket. He could not afford to go to a medical facility.
He wants his body brought straight to the cemetery. He was living as a dead man before he took his way out.
We had failed him, too.
I can’t imagine what it must be like in our hospitals these days.
I don’t want to think of how it has been in countries like Italy where the death toll has been agonizing.
To be a doctor, nurse and orderly in the time of COVID-19 is to have a stomach of steel and a spine that is just as tough and strong.
Every day must be like going to war.
You gear up for battle, as much as it has been deemed safest as possible. And even with personal protective gear fast running out, medical practitioners must still go out there and face the risks.
My father, a “doctor in the barrios,” as they call it, used to tell me how deeply frustrated they would sometimes get when the needed medical supplies ran out or were simply unavailable because health funds had not been released yet by local government.
Yet he continued to brave through the challenges and make do with the facilities and supplies the hospital he headed had, even though his heart broke for sick people they could not always give the best treatment to.
I remember those moments because, now, with this deadly virus fast infecting citizens, doctors must be so hard-pressed to treat patients so they would not end up as casualties in this war.
I imagine emergency room scenes where the air is filled with barely contained desperation as medics rush to help people so sick they can hardly breathe.
In my mind’s eye, I see tired faces, eyes watery from lack of sleep or maybe grief from being caught in the midst of a helpless situation.
Images pop in my head of the husband-and-wife doctors who got infected by the virus, the husband succumbing days later but not without spearing through our hearts the reality of COVID-19.
Today, as I write this, I read a report of a famed cardiologist who has also died from the virus.
The Philippine Heart Association confirmed the death of its former president Dr. Raul Jara, whom it described as “a great father, teacher, mentor, poet, author, singer, colleague, friend.”
I never knew Dr. Jara, but I have lived around doctors and seen medical personnel at work to know that what they are doing now is heroic.
Yes, adjectives are useless during these times, and calling them heroes may boost their spirits for a while until they are at the battlefield again, fighting to save others’ lives.
But words aren’t what they need right now — and political debates LEAST of all.
What they are most in need of, really, are a sufficient supply of protective equipment and, as another doctor’s recent demise showed, full disclosure from patients.
Last weekend, Department of Health (DoH) Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire revealed that the doctor died after getting exposed to COVID-19 when a patient lied about his medical condition and history of travel.
The video of Dr. Rowena Mangubat of the Philippine National Police Health Advocate Region III went around lately to promote the need for the people’s full cooperation in implementing the enhanced community quarantine. She said doctors and nurses are the first to get full exposure to the virus, and so need all the protection and support they can get.
We don’t have enough doctors and hospital beds and ventilators to deal with a full-scale outbreak, she said in essence. We are not prepared as no one in the world was prepared.
Yet our frontliners go out there to exercise their calling — to keep performing their duties for the welfare of their fellowmen.
We need to help them.
As Dr. Mangubat urged, the time of COVID-19 is not about social status, religion or politics. It is about us, humans, watching out for each other and doing our share, even if it just means staying put.
By implementing the quarantine seriously — and that means keeping citizens safe in their homes assured of food supply so that they won’t panic and go out to the streets again risking infection — we are helping our frontliners.
By controlling the spread, we are helping them manage the number of cases and lessening the health risk they face.
It is as simple (and also as difficult) as that.
Frontliners are heroes, but they are not invincible, their armor flimsy and possibly not enough, strengthened only by their courage and sense of humanity.