The COVID-19 virus was initially reported to the WHO on December 21, 2019. On January 30, 2020, WHO declared it as an outbreak and on March 11, 2020, declared it as a global pandemic.
It has since then continued to grip the world, sparing no one in its path, no country remained untouched; some suffered more deaths than others especially the Third World countries who couldn’t afford the medical assistance that most affluent countries have taken advantage of.
It continued to feel as a distant occurrence even when the town of Miagao where I live experienced a spike in February 2021. The LGU decided to hold the annual Salakayan Festival observing IATF protocols, but the festival by nature, attracts a crowd.
I continue to have that feeling of “that it is happening to them” and not to me; not even when two families in the staff house area where I lived tested positive for COVID-19. At that time, I guess I was stupidly feeling invincible; having spent the last 10 years of my life as a runner and pursuing a healthy lifestyle.
And then it hit home.
Sore throat only
It started as a sore throat on a late Friday afternoon on May 7. I blamed it on the ice-cold beverages that I have been drinking because of the scorching heat. I gargled Bactidol, brought some Strepsils hoping that it will just go away. It usually does. I monitored my daily temperature and was thankful for no signs of fever.
I called the UP Visayas Health Service Unit (HSU) on Sunday (May 9) for an online check-up and was advised to continue gargling, drink lots of water and get enough rest. I was told not to go to work. I informed my office and continued to work from home.
On May 13, I experienced my first fever and was prescribed medications for seven days by HSU. When I had fever again the next day, HSU recommended that I undergo a swab test which will be done by the Miagao Rural Health Unit (RHU).
The phone call
The next day (May 15), Dr. Jessel Gellada, Municipal Health Officer of the Miagao RHU called me to say that my test was positive. She interviewed me for contact tracing protocols. I immediately informed my Director, Prof. Julie Prescott as well as my officemates. Dr. Gellada told me that I have to be moved to a Miagao quarantine facility (QF) in Brgy. Guibongan.
Initially, I was hesitant to go to the quarantine facility as I was leaving behind my husband, Sonny and other family members. The horror stories that I have heard about the quarantine facilities made it even worse. I packed the things that I would need for my two-week stay at the QF. I was told I will be discharged on May 27. Amusingly, the next day would be my 54th birthday. Dr. Gellada jokingly told me that I should see this as some sort of vacation from work but that was far from the truth as I planned to continue working at the quarantine facility.
That morning was a blur and felt surreal. I felt like I was watching a movie of someone else’s life unfolding before my eyes. Fortunately, I had a very strong support group. Via chat group, I told people who needed to know about my condition. My female friends at the Miagao Fundamental Baptist Church where we go, my brothers and sisters, the UPV Staff Housing group since I lived inside the Miagao campus, the staff at the Auxiliary Services Office where I am Head, and Vice-Chancellor for Administration, John Lorenz Belanio. I was flooded with calls and messages from friends and loved ones and was overwhelmed by endless offers to do errands for anything that I might need. Mid-afternoon of that day, the MDRRM personnel picked me up and I was overcome with the sense of “unrealness” while riding the ambulance to the facility.
At the quarantine facility
The QF was a very spartan-looking building and unfinished. The floor had a rough cement finish covered with white linoleum showing signs of wear and tear. A folding bed with thin foam, a very small table, and an electric fan were the amenities that welcomed me in my room. I was, however, very thankful that it had its own clean bathroom. Manong, the utility worker, was kind enough to provide me with curtains to afford me some privacy. A nurse from DOH also interviewed me and took all my vitals.
Back in my room, I arranged my life for the next 14 days. The next two days in the facility were uneventful. I read my Bible in the morning, made my bed, and got my food from the chair outside. The afternoon routine was the nurse’s visit for daily monitoring. There are moments of loneliness and terror, terror at what the virus might do to my body; the downside of reading too much on it. I took comfort in the thought that the Lord will not forsake me. I was also hopeful that the last 10 years that I have invested in a healthy lifestyle will serve we well.
My dry cough started on May 14 but got worse at the QF. My cough has become incessant. Despite the antihistamine, I cannot sleep. When I managed to doze off at dawn, barangay mix music would blare nearby, driving away whatever sleep I might have had. Maybe it was because of almost zero sleep that my resistance plummeted. On May 19 my fever was at 38.9. By this time my coughing was almost non-stop. There was discomfort in my stomach muscles from the coughing. I also had diarrhea and had no appetite. I saw alarm in the nurse’s eye when she made her rounds that afternoon. I was not my usual energetic self. Dr. Gellada came to give me a physical check-up in the afternoon and recommended that I should be taken to the hospital.
No room was available in any of the hospitals in the city. Dr. Villaruz, our UPV HSU Chief said that there was a spike of COVID-19 positive cases in the city. I ended up in Guimbal Hospital which I first did not want to go to, recalling horror stories about public hospitals. I was thankful though for the news that Sonny, Ate Riza and Jun2’s tests were negative and that Sonny will be allowed to stay with me at the hospital.
At the hospital
During admission Sonny was told, “Sir in case mapatay si Ma’am, dapat e-pa cremate nyo dayon or diretso lubong ang bangkay.” (Sir, in case she dies, you have to have her cremated or have her buried immediately.) It took some effort for Sonny not to lose his cool but instead replied, “Can we first just focus on getting my wife well?”
I experienced my worst fever on my first night at the hospital. I told the Lord that if it is my time, let it be swift and quick. I do not want Sonny to go through a prolonged hospitalization duty. I entered the hospital on Wednesday night (May 19) and I was given the IV before dawn of the next day. My veins were too collapsed and several attempts were done to collect blood samples from me. Each time that needle was inserted, I reminded myself “one day at a time” which echoed the same thoughts I had when I was still in the quarantine facility.
Things started to turn around for me when I was given medicine for asthma at the hospital.
My x-ray showed that I do not have pneumonia although my heart was enlarged. When my ECG results came back normal, I assumed that the enlargement was due to the excessive coughing.
The days rolled after each other. Sonny attending to all my needs. He urged me to walk on the corridor in front of our room, going back and forth as he holds my IV. Just like in my quarantine, my hospital stay was brightened by lovely surprises from friends and UPV folks who sent fruits, food and care packs.
I was elated when told on my 3rd day that the IV on my right hand will be removed the next day. Although there was a bit of swelling and some rashes, I still told myself that small triumphs like this should make me look forward to when I could actually be discharged from the hospital. However, my ordeal was far from over. I so wanted to go home but had to finish my meds for seven days. I marked May 26 on my head, the day I will be discharged at the hospital. I was also praying fervently that there will be no more complications.
There was one complication, however, and that was that we couldn’t go straight back home as my brother Jun2 and Ate Riza were still finishing their quarantine until May 31. Not wanting to go back at the quarantine facility in Guibongan, I requested the UPV admin to allow me and Sonny to stay at one of the newly constructed bamboo houses at the Miagao campus. A request that was graciously granted with logistical support from the Campus Maintenance Development Office to prepare the place.
The ride from the hospital back to the Miagao campus was filled with joy and gratitude.
If I could embrace the sky, I would. That’s what went through my mind as I stood at the porch of the bamboo house the next morning. I soaked in the bird songs, the fresh air, the trees and at the greenery around. They were truly balms to my soul.
The four days at the bamboo house passed pleasantly. I had my birthday there. I was just happy to be out of the hospital and recovering. I had two cakes and two pies sent by my friends and a lovely flower bouquet from my IPO family. Fruits and other food stuff continued to pour in. My cup “runneth” over.
The first thing that I did when I got home was stand in the middle of living room and imagined embracing the entire house. The first thing that I did after my quarantine over was walk under the trees of Miagao campus.
Insights and thankfulness
This experience taught me that anyone of us could be infected, even the most fit and the healthy. Not that I am most healthy and fit. It has always been a continuing process for me. But I am thankful to have invested 10 years of trying to pursue a healthy lifestyle and wellness. I have been classified as having a mild to moderate symptoms despite getting hospitalized. To be fit and healthy are still our best defense against COVID-19 and even if we get infected, our body is able to withstand its assault.
Always, always be mindful of safety protocols, for your sake, your family and your community. We help stop spread the virus by doing this. Be compassionate to persons infected with the COVID-19 virus. So many of them did not make it out alive.
Get vaccinated. You are protecting not only yourself but your family, relatives, friends and members of your community. It is the responsible thing to do.
I am thankful to have gone through this experience for it has strengthened my faith.