Chaos ensued on March 8—a week before the lockdown—when Peter Chan rushed his father to Cardinal Santos for a severe knee problem. At that time, the hospital had “no protocol,” he says, and the emergency room was “full of people who were mostly COVID-19 (new coronavirus disease) patients.”
Two days later, Peter was not feeling well. Because his illness appeared mild, he was denied the opportunity to be tested for the virus, and so instead, he self-quarantined at home. He was feverish for 10 days and was constantly coughing—symptoms that are commonly indicative of COVID-19.
His days of self-isolation were painfully solitary and prison-like: He was unable to see his family members, everything he touched had to be sanitized and his food was left outside the door in order to avoid human contact. Even his dog didn’t dare approach him. Luckily, after 20 days, Peter fully recovered.
His wife, Ruth, however, experienced a much more threatening encounter with the virus.
Five days after Peter’s visit to the hospital, Ruth contracted a fever, headache and felt sore throughout her body. As the days progressed, her temperature skyrocketed and her fever was unrelenting. After testing her blood, she was able to rule out typhoid and dengue. She seriously began to consider if she had contracted the virus.
After a chest X-ray, she was diagnosed with mild pneumonia and prescribed a concoction of medicine which only abated her symptoms. Ruth was desperate to address her deteriorating condition but knew that the hospitals—most at full capacity—would be unable to admit her. Her symptoms were not considered severe enough for her to be admitted for intensive care.
By this time, the Chan family was terrified and painfully helpless. Everyone at home was showing some form of COVID-19 symptom, and yet no one could be treated at the hospital.
On March 21, Ruth woke at 4 a.m. on the edge of panic. Her oxygen level was at 90. She was admitted to the hospital later that morning.
While she was relieved to finally be treated, she was also terrified to go to the hospital. She said, “In my mind there was a chance that I would never be able to come home. I was trying to be brave. I couldn’t even hug my daughter.”
In the emergency room, Ruth waited five hours until she was admitted and swabbed for COVID-19 testing. She tested positive the next day.
After nearly two restless and isolated weeks at the hospital, surviving on Milo, sardines and rice, Ruth slowly recovered and was finally able to return home. Two days later, she tested negative.
At this same time, Peter suffered the devastating loss of his father.
Losing a loved one is always a difficult experience, but when you’re unable to visit them in their last moments, your wife is in critical danger, and you’ve been isolated inside your bedroom for weeks, life becomes almost unbearably stressful.
Peter described the paranoia associated with the virus as not only a physical test, but a mental one: “You start thinking about every breath you take and you start to overanalyze yourself and minor symptoms.” He could find no solace or distraction during his bedroom confinement. He had uncontrollable thoughts of possibly dying. His late night ruminations led him to consider writing up his will.
He dealt with feelings of guilt and helplessness, too. “I was doing everything I can, but everyone else was still getting sick, and so I was under a lot of high level stress and anxiety.”
But Peter stayed busy, making calls and taking them, discussing with his siblings arrangements for their father, coordinating with doctors, trying to get prescriptions, getting Ruth’s X-ray results read.
The virus has left their family but the stigma hasn’t. Those in his home are still reluctant to be near him. Until recently, his own daughter was afraid to be physically close to him.
“It’s in times of crisis that you go to your family and God for support,” Peter said. “Being locked in the same house for so long has definitely brought us closer together. It’s times like these when you realize what the important things in life really are. You learn the people you can really rely on and depend on.” —CONTRIBUTED