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2 health workers in a war vs a dreaded virus: ’The country needs us now’

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By Analou De Vera

Today’s heroes do not wear capes.

They are the health workers in the front lines who put their lives at risk to save the lives of those infected by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

The virus, which originated in Wuhan, China, has claimed thousands of lives around and world and infected some 258, 000, has caused what only last December was unimaginable — travel restrictions, the closing of borders, lockdowns that have made millions of people stay indoors, and economic down trend.

On March 17, President Duterte placed the entire Luzon under an “enhanced community quarantine,” which ordered the public to stay at home, suspended public transport, and closed all schools

While many Filipinos stay in the comfort and security of their homes, some of them publicly declaring boredom, health workers every day don personal protective equipment (PPEs) to face another day to take care of the sick, the near-sick, and the feeling-sick patients.

There is no place for boredom in their daily routine. One thing that is always present is the risk that they may get infected by the COVID-19.In fact, there have been many reports of health workers infected by COVID-19 around the world.

“How I wish I can also stay home like the rest of the people in Luzon. I would like to eat what my mother cooked; I’d like to talk to my family face to face. But that’s not possible at this time,” Michelle Abby Maranan, 24, a nurse at the Philippine General Hospital in Ermita, Manila, said.

Not only do health workers have to go to work every day, they also now have to work beyond eight hours.

“It seems that my life now revolves around work. We have longer working hours from 8 to 16 hours on a skeletal force,” said Jessica Cheng, a 24-year-old medical technologist at the San Lazaro Hospital in Sta. Cruz, Manila.

“I can say these have been the longest working hours in my life,” she added.

The families of the two health workers have expressed concern for the health workers.

“They’re constantly messaging me — ‘mag ingat ka,’ ‘take your vitamins,’ ‘don’t go out of the apartment if unnecessary,’ ‘eat healthy food.’ And those are the times that I really felt how important I am to them,” said Maranan.

She tells her family that she remains healthy and “I’m doing my best not to be susceptible to the disease.”

But the work load is heavy. Many times they have to skip meals during their shift. Sometimes they can’t even go to the restroom, or just sit for a while.

“It’s when you get home when I feel the hunger, tiredness, and body aches,” she said in Pilipino.

Coffee is one of the solutions to ease their hunger. “Nagkakape na lang kami [We just drink coffee] just to fill in our stomach at the same time to keep us awake,” said Cheng.

Aside from their patients, Cheng said that they also worry about their family’s condition. “I fear not for myself but for my family. My mom is 58 years old, she has hypertension. I have young nieces and nephews,” she said.

Cheng also sometimes worries and thinks that perhaps she already contracted the dreaded disease. “I don’t know kung carrier na ako or dahil ito sa fatigue from work. As a medical technologist, I work with the actual virus. Blood, urine, secretions, sputum ng COVID patients,” Cheng said.

In order to boost her spirit, Cheng always reminds herself of her oath as a medical technologist.

“I know that the country needs me. Hearing news na may patients kami na naka recover na [that we have already patients who have recovered] is enough to uplift us,” she said.

“Honestly, it’s not just about the money, but the self-fulfillment. We might not be well known as the nurses and doctors– but we play a big role in a patient’s battle against this dreadful disease and that’s more than enough,” Cheng added.

Maranan also encouraged the public to follow the government’s measures to curb the spread of COVID-19.

“To all those people who can stay at home, please do your part. It’s only for one month. This will be a long battle to stop the spread of coronavirus and will take even longer if you will not cooperate,” Maranan appealed.

She is only too aware of the risks of her job. “Pumapasok kami sa ospital na di namin alam baka sa mga susunod na araw, isa na kami sa infected ng virus. Yan ang sinumpaan naming tungkulin. Sana lang maappreciate niyo yun (We go to our jobs in the hospital not knowing that we might be the next infected with the virus. But we have taken an oath to do our jobs. I hope you appreciate what we do),” she said.

Amid the ongoing health scare due to COVID-19, it shows how important the health workers are, said Cheng.

Maranan said that she will continue to do her duties— just like the rest of the health workers in the country— to put an end to this health scare.

“We will not stop giving service to the public. It is our duty to our nation. It’s like a war which we don’t know when it will end. But we will keep on fighting until the end — until we can smile again because the virus is not here anymore,” she said.

When this is over, Cheng plans to spend more time with her family. “I’d like to travel and spend time with my family. I’ll celebrate each day that we’re alive and be thankful for it. Most of all, thank God for making us stronger,” she said

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