There’s nothing more agonizing than being stuck in a hospital bed, too exhausted to move and struggling to breathe, knowing that your mom is next door, also fighting to stay alive.
On July 27, Maritess Reyes and her mom, Lolita Garcia, tested positive for COVID-19. The diagnosis was not a surprise. Reyes stalled getting swabbed long enough, dismissing that the unpredictable weather caused the onset of her fever and cough 10 days earlier.
Reyes lives with her mom and 12-year-old daughter, and all three always took extra precautions. They never leave home, and she works remotely. The only time she would go out was to take her mom to the hospital for her chemotherapy.
Garcia also thought she only caught the cough from her daughter. They did not lose their sense of smell and taste, symptoms often associated with COVID-19. If anything, their sense of taste intensified. A little salt on their breakfast eggs would taste like the ocean; a dash of coco sugar on their oatmeal tasted sickly sweet.
So, after teleconsulting with a pulmonologist and no medication could relieve them, they brought themselves to the MakatiMed emergency room. Reyes said that booking an ambulance took forever, and when they finally did, there was too much paperwork needed. So they took a Grab. In the ER, they waited 18 hours to get rooms in the COVID ward.
“More than the physical symptoms, more than catching your breath and the pain of every needle, the hardest part was the mental and emotional torture. I was stuck in my hospital room while my mom fought for her own life in the other room. And I couldn’t do anything but pray and cry,” Reyes said told Lifestyle.
Their quiet life was rudely interrupted, and an unshakeable fear took over. Reyes bargained with God and Padre Pio: “Ako na lang. ’Wag na si Mommy.”
Garcia, 65, feared for her granddaughter’s life (the little girl tested negative and was quickly transported to the province). She said COVID-19 was worse than a total hysterectomy and chemotherapy put together. The blood gas analysis alone, performed a few times each day, was painful beyond words. Getting blood samples from the artery, usually inside the wrist, is more painful than drawing blood from the vein.
But the blood oxygen level test was necessary, often done more than twice a day. Garcia was immunocompromised and had it a lot worse than her daughter. It was excruciating to breathe. COVID-19 sapped her energy. She couldn’t even move in her bed, and the tubes inserted in her, including a large breathing apparatus, made it almost impossible even to eat her meals.
“I had to wait for the nurses na sobrang busy din sa dami ng patients para tulungan ako kumain,” she said.
Garcia remained hospitalized for almost three weeks, while Reyes was discharged after five days.
“She’s young and has no comorbidities,” her mom said. “I surrendered everything to God. Pakiramdam ko throughout kasama ko si God. Parang binubulong nya sa akin na lumaban ako, kaya ko. Lalo na nung sinabi ng doctor na kapag ’di tumaas yung oxygen level ko, mai-intubate ako.”
Both were not vaccinated. Reyes said they were waiting to get jabbed until her mom finished her chemotherapy. Ironically, Reyes said they probably caught the virus on a Grab ride to her mom’s fifth chemo.
The experience was no less harrowing for Reyes.
“’Yung balik-balik yung doctors and nurses sa room ko to have me sign waivers to do this and that for Mom, like intubation and hemoperfusion, strong and expensive medications, while I couldn’t see her because I was still on oxygen support myself,” Reyes said.
Plus, she was also worried about the hospital bills. In the ER, Reyes had already maxed out her health maintenance organization coverage (HMO). Lab tests and blood screenings cost over P20,000 per. Remdesivir, a COVID-19 drug, cost P45,000 for five doses. Reyes got five, her mom seven. The nurses also injected her mom with Axera, a medicine for pneumonia, at P6,500 per vial; she received 19. The personal protective equipment alone, at around P1,700 each, totaled about P145,000.
“I said, I don’t care about the bills. Magkautang-utang na tayo basta makalabas kami nang buhay,” Reyes said. “’Yung pera kikitain ulit. Not easy but push lang. Kapit lang.”
Before COVID-19, Garcia was already paying a lot for her chemotherapy. “Hindi kami mayaman. Sakto lang; working class. I chose to go to MakatiMed because my mom’s cancer doctor was in MakatiMed.”
Even while apart, the women remained strong for each other. Reyes witnessed how her mom fought to stay alive in the ER. She held on to this image to draw strength, to survive the ordeal.
“Mom is a fighter, so I should be a fighter, too. I also thought of my daughter. I had to fight for her. I have to be alive for her,” Reyes said.
As soon as she was discharged, Reyes quickly packed her stuff and went to her mom’s side.
“I regret not getting vaccinated earlier. I also regret not getting a swab test as soon as I had a fever. Even after you are tagged ‘recovered,’ your body isn’t the same as before. Until now am having lingering symptoms like brain fog, insomnia, cough, rashes. I feel my body doesn’t function well the way it used to,” Reyes said. —CONTRIBUTED INQ
The mother and daughter’s hospital bill is over P1.4 million. Donations are welcome in the account of Maritess G. Reyes, BDO SA 005060122043, Ayala SGV branch.