‘Whatever I do, I always think about my three children’
Dr. Luanne Jill ‘Twinkle’ Santos, perinatal anesthesiologist in private practice
I’m an active consultant in hospitals in Cavite and Antipolo. At the start of this crisis, it never really dawned on me that I would be an actual front-liner. Then algorithms about the management of new coronavirus disease-(COVID-19) positive patients were suddenly posted nonstop in my med Viber groups. Apparently, intubation of these kinds of patients, according to the recommendations, was to be done differently, and they all require anesthesiologists to do it. After being asked if I could be an on-call anesthesiologist for the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM), everything became real.
There is always a feeling of uncertainty while I’m at home waiting for calls from the hospital. I am not always sure if I will be giving anesthesia for a case in the operating room/delivery room or if I’m being called to help with the airway management of a person under investigation (PUI)/COVID-19-positive patient.
Whatever I do, I always think about my three children. I am a single mom. I support them solely. I always try to be safe for them but I also need to show them that we all have duties to fulfill in society. We always have to remind ourselves of why we are here: fidelity to duty.
I love spending time with my kids even if it’s just picking them up after school. We look forward to eating out and the occasional family trip. I always try my best to go to Pilates once a week. I rarely see my friends because of my unpredictable schedule, but we always keep in touch through Viber.
My sister, Icka, is collecting letters through email which she will print and give to Dr. Nicole Perreras of RITM for the front-liners and patients. She showed me a letter of a Grade 3 student named Jaime. Let me quote him: “I am proud that I am a Filipino because it proves that we have so many brave heroes. You are the new heroes of our country.”
How funny, I said to myself, that in the middle of this crisis we forget that we are all Filipinos. For the past month, it has always been front-liners, patients, politicians. This is war. And the only way we can beat this is to be supportive of one another, to be one country. This is an enemy we cannot talk to. It cannot be killed with guns.
The most unforgettable moment for me was after successfully intubating my first COVID-19-positive patient at RITM, wearing the complete personal protective equipment (PPE) with my goggles misting, and seeing the other fellows and nurses through the window giving each other high fives. And now this project Nicole started with Icka helping: reading all the letters coming in from kids and grownups we’ve never met, saying words of encouragement, words of advice about taking care of ourselves, and their promises of prayers for us.
‘This is what we’re called for’
Dr. Rodney Jimenez, cardiologist at St. Luke’s Medical Center
I remember, on the first day of the lockdown, all my colleagues (trainees) got quarantined and I had to cover for their duties the whole night, alone in the critical care unit. But, I made it through the night.
I’m honored to be on the front line serving and protecting my family and countrymen. This is what we’re called for. This is my sworn oath and our mission. I’m doing well. I am grateful I still have the strength to fight this invisible enemy, but I’m also afraid that this will take its toll on my health.
My family’s, trainees’, friends’ and colleagues’ support and their appreciation give me the strength to continue the mission and to hold on.
I isolate myself from my family to protect them and to keep me sane, I communicate with them frequently. I chat with friends on social media, too. Most of the time, I read about COVID-19 and my specialty. I also help in my hospital algorithms and pathways.
Kababayan, walang ibang paraan para mapuksa ang kalaban kung ’di ang tulungan kami sa pamamagitan ng pananatili niyo sa inyong mga tahanan. Sandali lang po ito kung kayo ay susunod sa mga payo ng health care workers and ng gubyerno. Isang araw magigising na lang po kayo na tapos na po ito, at ito ay dahil sa pagsunod niyo po sa amin.
‘There are those who cover their noses when we pass by’
Frenelle Bautista, nurse, and Dr. Maritess Lopez, Navotas City Hospital
Being at the front lines without PPE is like going to war without a gun.
We email everywhere asking for more PPE because we really don’t have enough.
It’s the doctors themselves who are trying to make sure we have masks, alcohol, gloves and shoe covers, and the doctors share them with the nurses.
We take vitamin C as added protection, and to take breaks from work, we exercise and cook.
While there are people who treat us nicely for being front-liners, like some people at checkpoints who salute when they see us, there are those who cover their noses when we pass by. There are many stories about nurses na pinandidirihan when people see them in uniform because people know they came from hospitals.
One of us has been a PUI and the other a person under monitoring (PUM) so we were quarantined, but we’ve now gone back to work.
We hope this would be over soon. We’re exhausted every day and we really want to sleep in our own beds soon.
‘We do not have breaks in the military. Is taking a bath considered one?’
Capt. Sherwin Joseph P. Sarmiento, MC, military doctor/internal medicine consultant, Chief Public Information Officer, Victoriano Luna Medical Center, AFP Health Service Command
Lately, we have been working outside our normal daily routines. We usually do daily rounds with patients, do clinics and attend to referrals from other military treatment facilities. After the declaration of the enhanced community quarantine, we in the Armed Forces of the Philippines were placed under red alert. We lived in the hospital. Some of our comrades are deployed in the fields and checkpoints. We work double time not only as doctors, but also as military men.
Being at the front line of this crisis tests our endurance, commitment and patience. We are placed where the AFP deems we are needed, be it in the clinical side or administrative side. As the chief public information officer of the command, I am in constant coordination with general headquarters on our data and census of PUIs, PUMs and COVID-19-positive patients in our institution, and subsequently answer the queries of media. As IM consultant, I also see patients who are brought to our hospital, assess them and give appropriate care and management. It is tiring but at the same time satisfying. We sometimes skip meals and are not able to change clothes, but as you see your patients improve, everything is worth it.
I always tell myself that being a doctor and soldier are both profession and vocation. That idea gives me strength. It is how you look at your participation in averting the crisis, be it big or small.
We do not have breaks in the military. Is taking a bath considered one?
I always believe that Filipinos are the most resilient citizens in the world. In one of my social media posts, I wrote, “Big or small, we can contribute. After all, we are Filipinos. Time is a witness that we always overcome crisis, even the hardest ones. This is just one of them. Kapit, Pinoy!”
I will always be open to help para sa mga kababayan natin, in any form.
‘The best way to shore up courage is to study the disease. Knowledge is power’
Dr. Sue Ann Locnen, cardiologist at St Luke’s Medical Center Global City and Quezon City
I am doing fine. Initially, fear resided in my heart but I realized we have to face the problem head-on because it will not go away any time soon. The best way to shore up courage is to study the disease. Knowledge is power.
Being at the front lines is very difficult because it is changing me as a physician. We needed to modify our impulses. We are so used to running toward a patient’s bedside at the slightest sign of trouble. Now, we need to stop and make certain that we are well protected first. Sometimes, you just feel powerless and frustrated.
During my duty, a young doctor called me once from the COVID-19 intensive care unit. She was updating me about a cardiac patient. She is an intensivist, and as such spends the whole day taking care of the sickest of the sick. Despite all the bad news we had been getting that day, she remained upbeat and very encouraging. She held on to the smallest of victories—a patient opening her eyes and another needing less oxygen. She reminded me that hope springs eternal, that we just need to persevere and that there is light ahead of this very dark tunnel.
I pray a lot these days. I am fortunate to be working in a hospital which prioritizes our well-being. Our admin makes sure that everybody has what they need to perform their tasks well. My colleagues are also heroes in my eyes, especially those who take care of the critically ill and those in the emergency room. There are so many unsung heroes in this fight—the nurses, ancillary staff, even the maintenance crew. They are beside us every time we need their assistance. All the well-wishers and prayer warriors never fail to warm our hearts.
To take breaks, I used to sleep and read nonmedical books, two luxuries most doctors do not have much of. Right now, I just watch Netflix.
Stay at home, please. Being bored is way better than being sick in the hospital. And help those who need daily wages for sustenance so they may stay home also. We cannot do this alone.