On the first few days of the pandemic, I had a hard time managing my schedule. I would leave home early and come home at around 1 a.m. I was able to adjust.
Now I get up at around 6 a.m., have breakfast and leave at 7:30.
Many doctors are under quarantine because of exposure to persons under investigation (PUI) and COVID-19 confirmed cases, so it’s a higher workload than usual for me.
I have about 30 private patients, most of them PUIs/COVID-19 cases. The usual 15-minutes-per-patient visit before the pandemic has drastically changed because of the need to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) and taking more time to disinfect properly. It takes an additional two to three minutes to wear a complete PPE, another minute to take it off, and half a minute to wash my hands before going to another patient.
As the head of the infection prevention control committee (IPCC), I sometimes have to attend meetings with the hospital administration, to make sure we have the right protocols being implemented. My husband drives me to four different hospitals and we eat our snacks and dinner in the car. We go home between 7 and 9 p.m.
Having been a physician for almost 12 years and an infectious diseases specialist for three years, I find this pandemic to be the most challenging. There are times I’m physically exhausted and emotionally drained.
First, there’s the risk of exposure. I also fear for my health and my family’s health. I have two children, ages 6 and 7. But then again, I go back to the days I dreamed of becoming a doctor. If I don’t do my part to manage COVID-19 cases, who will? And if we fail to fight the pandemic, my loved ones will also be casualties eventually. This fight is not for me, it’s for my children. Second, there’s the system. Not all hospitals are equipped with good facilities for infection control and trained staff. PPEs are already being depleted, and the workforce has thinned because of a significant number of healthcare workers already under quarantine.
Also, some healthcare workers don’t want to handle infectious cases; they would rather resign. There’s also the nonavailability of testing kits and very long turnaround time for the results. It’s making it hard for us to explain to patients and their relatives. The result of COVID-19 test is essential in the management of patients.
Third, we have colleagues that are already infected, some have died. I have shed tears because of these real-life heroes, some of whom I know. They died serving the people and doing what they love most. We spent many years in education and rigorous training to become the best doctors we could be, and some died very young.
Personal risk factors
I am diabetic but with good sugar control. I never fail to take my maintenance medication because uncontrolled diabetes makes you prone to infection.
Proper hand washing is the cheapest yet the best way to prevent spread of infection.
I use PPE when attending to potentially infectious patients. I follow the principle that all patients are potentially infectious until proven otherwise.
When I get home, I change my clothes, I leave my shoes in the car, and go directly to the bathroom to take a bath and change my clothes again. I have a separate room and use disposable utensils. We strictly follow social distancing at home.
Source of strength
The hope that someday this pandemic will end, and my children and others’ children will have a world that is less harmless to live in, is what gives me strength.
Also, I endure because of the tears of joy and the gratitude of patients who recover from the illness, and the feeling that I have accomplished the mission given by God.
There’s no time to take a break. I give credit to my husband who is my shock absorber and greatest supporter, to be able to live and serve one day at a time.
Viber groups with colleagues who can relate to my situation are also a good support system.
Lastly, entrusting everything to God by daily prayer eases my fears and worries in my everyday battle as COVID-19 warrior.
I have no regrets. If I die and live again, I would choose the same profession and the same specialty, because I think I’ve made a difference.
Dr. Daisy Ilagan-Tagarda is a specialist in internal medicine and infectious diseases. She’s affiliated with Diliman Doctors Hospital, University of Santo Tomas Hospital, Hospital of Infant Jesus and San Lazaro Hospital.