Dr. Gay Marjorie Obrado has not seen her family in more than a week. Her only child, Kateri Vivienne, will turn 7 April 16. Yet, from the looks of it, Obrado might have to content herself celebrating her daughter’s big day with a virtual birthday party.
As one of the specialists who volunteered at the front lines, Obrado is in isolation, following hospital regulation.
For 12 hours each day, the cardiologist is on the COVID-19 floor of Manila Doctors Hospital, an area exclusively serving COVID-19 patients. For 12 hours each day, she’s in full personal protective equipment (PPE)—a hazmat suit, tight-fitting N95 mask, goggles. She endures the discomforts of her “uniform” that gets unbearably hot even in a fully air-conditioned room (“There have been many times I felt like I would pass out”).
“I would be soaked in sweat inside; some would get into my eyes. My body would start to itch, but I could not even scratch it,” Obrado told Lifestyle.
And yet each time she checks on her patients, she is reminded why she volunteered, and the discomfort eases a little. Obrado feels it is her duty not only to check on the patients’ vitals, but also to boost their morale. She also makes sure to keep their spirits high, even if their vitals suggest a bleak future.
“As doctor’s, we all took an oath. But, really, at the end of the day, it’s about human compassion. We all have families, but we heed the higher calling. We will sacrifice and risk our lives to benefit others,” Obrado said.
More than a week ago, Obrado volunteered to become a front-liner when many of the hospital’s crew fell ill of COVID-19. The first line of front-liners included residents (doctors in training), pulmonology fellows, nurses, medical technicians, respiratory technicians. When the hospital’s first line of defense had to be quarantined, the specialists stepped up.
“We still need to know more about this virus. As of today, there’s more that we don’t know about it. So when the first batch of front-liners showed atypical presentations of the disease—abdominal discomfort, diarrhea—they were allowed to work,” Obrado said.
Test of character
“It’s very painful to witness. Doctors are dying to save the lives of many, and yet we cannot do anything to save their lives. You get depressed, but you can’t allow yourself to wallow in that because you know everyone depends on you,” Obrado said.
Many of their patients on the COVID-19 floor are over 60 years old, Obrado said. Some have underlying diseases, like cancer, diabetes and heart conditions. The younger patients, in their 30s, improve faster, she said.
The clinical course of COVID-19 patients is quick. Patients progress to full-blown in three to four days from the time of admission in the hospital. So to avoid further complications, the hospital treats persons under investigation as COVID-19 patients, she said.
“The fear and anxiety is always there. The fear of losing our lives,” Obrado said. “But in these trying times, our character is being tested the most.”
At the end of her 12-hour shift, Obrado is physically and emotionally drained. She goes home to her hotel room near the hospital and checks in on her daughter and husband. Then she prays.
“As a doctor, I am trained in evidence-based medicine. But I have practised long enough to know that miracles do happen, that there is Someone up there looking out for us. COVID-19 is overwhelming, but I’m trusting God is always on top of things,” Obrado said.