Overseas Filipino Frontliners: Braving the coronavirus away from home

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“Our unit receives COVID-19 positive patients and other critically ill patients suspected of COVID that may need further observations, treatment, and the possibility of intubation.”

Unlike other crises, the novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic knows no boundaries in terms of social and geographic locations. For forefront fighters, this pandemic has made them reflect on how dangerous their field can be—losing thousands of lives of doctors, nurses, as well as essential workers worldwide.

The Philippines is one of the largest exporters of healthcare workers around the globe. Most of them have bravely faced the pandemic and remained committed to their sworn duty, no matter how unsure they are of what the outcome might be.

Check out the insights we have gathered from our fellow Filipinos braving the pandemic abroad.

 

AT THE FRONTLINE

Anna Liza Emphasis, who hails from Cagayan de Oro City, is one of the many registered nurses deployed overseas. She first worked in Cagayan de Oro Medical Centre as a Nurse Supervisor in the Intensive Care Unit before she emigrated to the United Kingdom in 2007. She got several jobs in a couple of facilities around the country before landing at University Hospital Southampton Foundation as a Staff Nurse in the General Intensive Care Unit.

With the nature of her field, Anna automatically became part of the forefront staff when the pandemic broke out in her area.

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Anna Liza

“Our unit receives COVID-19 positive patients and other critically ill patients suspected of COVID that may need further observations, treatment, and the possibility of intubation,” Anna said in an interview with WhatALife.

“We see patients being admitted to ICU [fight] for their lives and it is not very easy to manage the situation. We need to be fully geared up by wearing proper PPE and the amount of time for the preparation takes longer compared to the usual/ordinary routine,” she added.

Anna admitted how difficult it is to cope, especially having to witness firsthand the horrendous situation.

“Once a patient is admitted, we start thinking about how long will the patient stay in ICU—will the patient survive? We are always praying patients will get better, progress, and eventually transfer to the ward. There could be so many issues with patients’ condition, we never know how strong the patient fights with the disease,” she shared.

“Then I start asking myself, what if I am the patient? Am I gonna cope?”

They all care about the welfare of the patients, and on how they want them to survive and recover—especially those who she knew personally.

“One thing that affects me most is knowing that there are admitted patients whom I know as friends, where I see them struggling for breath and supported with ventilators. It pains me especially if they have children to look after, or if a friend lives alone and no other relatives can spare love and care,” she continued.

However, Anna was taken off from the ICU and advised by the hospital’s admin to stay away from COVID-exposed areas since she has an underlying medical condition, which places her as high-risk. “I received an email from our Occupational health Department that I should not be exposed [to] any COVID area in the hospital as I am at high risk because of underlying medical conditions.”

“It is good that our hospital also looks after the safety of [their] staff,” she added, grateful for her employer. Anna further said that they are one of the lucky few with sufficient supplies of PPE and other medical supplies.

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Photo courtesy CNN International

“There were concerns [about] PPE running out but I am just proud of our hospital that in the General Intensive Care Unit, PPE is not a major issue. Senior members of staff find ways to protect all of us,” Anna said.

Anna was transferred and is currently assigned under the Family Liaison Team, which assists the infected patients’ families with regard to their concerns. Her team also provides emotional support and manages some of the patients’ properties. Additionally, they regularly reach out to the patients’ families to update them on their health status.

 

SUPPLY SHORTAGE IN NY

On the other hand, Violoy Palmere, who was born and raised in the island of Camiguin and migrated to Manhattan, gave us some insights on the situation in New York City.

“Prior to my retirement on April 1, 2020, I work in one of the eleven hospitals owned by New York City as Director of Budget, which afforded me to witness and understand the struggle of the entire New York City-owned hospitals in acquiring PPEs (personal protective equipment) and ventilators during the onset and surge of COVID-19 patients in New York City,” Violoy recounted.

The city known for never sleeping remains to seize its movement as they continue to fight against the pandemic. In fact, as of writing, the state has nearly 200,000 confirmed cases alone, with around 28,000 deaths and 61,000 recoveries.

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Photo courtesy Business Mirror

“Around the 2nd week of February 2020, all New York City-owned hospitals were gearing up for surges of patients with COVID-19 symptoms by having daily discussions of confirmed cases admitted through the Emergency Department and hospital need of necessary supplies and equipment,” he continued.

The surge of COVID-19 cases eventually came into the city, unfortunately, infecting thousands of people which overwhelmed hospitals and its frontline staff with severe symptoms patients and shortage of PPEs.

Aside from the shortage of PPEs, hospitals in the city were grappling for ventilators and isolation beds or patient rooms. “Many patients that visited through the Emergency Department were treated in the area and remained in the Emergency Room areas until other patient rooms/hospital areas were converted as COVID-19 locations,” Violoy added.

Compounding the shortage of supplies, COVID-19 testing is also a huge problem, which pushes back healthcare workers to only test those with severe symptoms. Moreover, purchasing household supplies is also a struggle. As seen in the news, people were running after supplies such as disinfectants, toilet papers, paper towels, and napkins—hoarding and leaving shelves empty.

“At the end of March, my wife who is a nurse was exposed to a patient that turned positive with COVID-19 from her workplace, in which she subsequently experienced COVID-19 symptoms and was forced to self-quarantine as required by her workplace,” he said, adding that they have isolated her at home for more than 21 days.

His wife shared that her worst experience as a health worker in the pandemic was “watching patients’ condition deteriorate rapidly from needing 2L of oxygen to 6L then to non-rebreather and finally intubation”.

“Patients are prioritized for intubations depending on ICU bed availability,” she added. Violoy and his wife continue to isolate, with both of their children working at home.

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The Empire State Building lit up in bright red and white on March 31, 2020, honoring the medical workers in the city. Photo courtesy from Free North Carolina

“Covid-19 is a terrible disease, which already sickened millions of people and killed thousands around the world with no age discrimination,” Violoy said. He reiterated the heeds from health officials to maintain social distancing, frequent handwashing, wear a mask to protect himself, and stay at home.

 

ALONE & AWAY FROM HOME

“They didn’t let me use the washroom, and instead gave me a small Tupperware where I can urinate. No one assisted me…”

While medical workers play a crucial role in defeating the pandemic, essential workers are also recognized across the globe. And like the former, essential workers are exposed as well to the threats of the deadly virus—just like *Cath who contracted the virus but was fortunately blessed to have recovered.

Cath, a 23-year-old Kagay-anon, was on her normal work routine as a cashier in one of the supermarkets in Abu Dhabi when she, unfortunately, contracted the COVID-19. Her initial symptoms were chills and shortness of breathing, which prompted her to rush to the hospital for a check-up. She was then advised for a five-day leave to take the COVID-19 test. Six days later, she received the news that she tested positive.

“On the day I received the news that I tested positive [for COVID-19], I felt my world shattered around me,” Cath shared in Cebuano.

She experienced discrimination by some fellow Kababayans in her place as soon as they heard the news. “They didn’t let me use the washroom, and instead gave me a small Tupperware where I can urinate. No one assisted me… but I understand because I’m the one who has the infection,” Cath recalled.

Nevertheless, she informed her employer about the unfortunate news before leaving to stay in an isolation facility in Icad Mussafah. There, other positive patients were also isolated in the facility. All of her information was gathered, including her emirates identification card. And by the next day, she was submitted for further tests including three bottles of blood samples and another swab test.

Cath stayed in isolation for 17 days, from April 8 to 25, 2020. All items were provided including hygiene kits, three times a day meals, as well as fruit snacks.

For the first five days, she didn’t take any medications apart from steam inhalation (hot water with salt and ginger) which her father advised her to try. Another five days passed and she started receiving medications depending on her test results and symptoms since the vaccine for COVID-19 is not yet available.

Sa time nga gi quarantine ko mahadlok ko matulog basin di nako kamata,” Cath said voicing out her fears during her time in isolation.

(During my quarantine, I was afraid to sleep because I was worried I might not wake up again.)

A doctor checks up on her daily, as well as the other patients. As she went through isolation, her symptoms were added with backache, headache, clogged nose, cough, and frequent chest pains. She was advised to do deep breathing as much as possible and gargling warm water. Luckily, Cath had nothing to worry about the expenses as her employer supported everything for her.

She was swabbed five times before she finally tested negative on April 25. When she completed her quarantine, she was transferred to another room with other negative patients for additional 14-days quarantine. It was a good opportunity for her to fully recover as well.

“I’m grateful for my [employer] because they supported expenses during my recovery. Then to the doctors and health workers who daily check-up on us,” Cath said.

“Let’s boost our immune system [by] eating healthy foods and drink hot water with ginger always. Let’s fight COVID-19 and continue to pray to heal our land. God Bless.”

Last May 8, the 23-year-old had already completed her quarantine and also went to the nearest blood bank to donate her plasma. Despite completing her quarantine, she said she will continue isolating herself for a couple more days before going back to work. By then, she’ll be back at the frontline as an essential worker.

 

FALLEN MODERN HEROES

Like hundreds of victims to COVID-19, a 33-year-old Kagayan-anon nurse succumbed to the virus.

One of the many health workers who recently passed away was Kenneth Lambatan, a 33-year-old Kagay-anon nurse who flew to London.

Ken first practiced his profession at the Northern Mindanao Medical Center (NMMC) for eight years. In an essay written by his brother Ezel, Ken was known for his dedication and passion for his profession. He migrated to London three years ago and worked as a cardiology research nurse at St. George’s Hospital.

Despite being assigned at a research laboratory, Ken and his friends were assigned at the forefront when the pandemic started due to staff shortage.

While at the front line, Ken told her mother he had a hard cough and a sore throat during one of their online conversations. “Mama got anxious and was badly asking for Kuya Ken to seek medical attention right away,” Ezel recalled.

But instead, Ken asked his Mom not to worry and to pray for him.

“Ma, this is my sworn duty. Under any circumstance, kailangan kong tumugon sa pangangailangan,” his brother recalled when her mother tried to convince him to back out. The next thing the family knew was that Ken was already in the intensive care unit and was in critical condition.

His condition deteriorated, however, and soon he was intubated and on life support. Days after fighting, and as per advised by the hospital, the family decided to turn off his life support and let him go from his sufferings.

On April 27, the family said their last goodbye to Ken over a video call, which was especially difficult for their mother.

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Photo Courtesy: GoFundMe

“My son Ken died so that others may live,” Ludy, Ken’s mother, said. (Source: XU News)

~

As of May 20, 2020, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) recorded 2,455 confirmed COVID-19 cases among Filipinos abroad, with 24 new confirmed cases, in the Americas, Europe, and the Middle East.

DFA also reports nine new recoveries and four new deaths, the total number now at 858 and 284, respectively.


 

We may have reiterated this phrase a thousand times already, but it is absolutely important to remember again and again how important social distancing, combined with frequent handwashing, is. Although wearing masks can reduce the chance of infection, practicing proper hygiene remains most crucial.

It is also important to keep yourself educated and updated since the pandemic is a developing story and things change every day. Above all else, if you don’t really necessarily have to go out, please choose to stay at home. Don’t let the sacrifices of our fallen heroes be in vain.

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Photo Courtesy: CDO Information Office

 

*Name is changed per request of anonymity

Blayce Malaya

Content and Media Specialist at WhatALife! Born under the star sign Gemini, Blayce first discovered her love for writing through journal writing. Then, she stumbled upon fiction writing in 2016 and explored student journalism in 2018. Despite an amateur, Blayce continues to thrive and deliver quality content to her readers.