By Betheena Unite
It was Christmas Eve of year 2000. An eight-year-old boy peeks from the door of a patient’s room, watching his mom, a pediatrician, examining a young girl. On the ride back to their Christmas celebration, the young boy told his mom that the girl’s illness could be measles. And it was!
Two decades later, the young boy, who used to play doctor, pretending to do hospital rounds with his mom, is a real doctor making real hospital rounds at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM). He is one of the frontliners combating the dreaded coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
Anton, 27, who became a licensed doctor only five months ago, is now beyond play and into the very real world of fighting disease to save lives. His mother remembers that Christmas Eve vividly. Little did she and her son know that those child
hood visits to the hospitals would be a preview of his future.
In the early months of being a contractual physician working at the emergency room, he would come home telling stories about cases of infectious diseases in the area like dengue, rabies, meningococcemia, and diphtheria, AIDS/HIV, and complicated TB.
But one night in January, 2020, he came home loaded with news about a mysterious infectious disease the world did not see coming.
“It was mid-January, 2020, when the nCOV (later named COVID-19) made it in the news and there were still lots of dengue and rabies cases brought to RITM,” Anton’s mother, Amanda (not her real name), told the Manila Bulletin. “He was telling us about the nCOV, hence RITM was on alert for possible cases in the country.”
“They were seeing so many Chinese patients asking to be seen and cleared. He told us a triage had been set up, PPEs are required for them to wear when examining patients,” Amanda added.
At first, Amanda and her husband, who is also a doctor, did not feel anxious, knowing their son is very careful in dealing with infectious diseases. But fear started creeping in after a text message from Anton on the afternoon of January 31, when the first confirmed case of the disease was reported.
It was the start of the difficult – yet proud – time as parents, Amanda shared.
“He called me but I failed to take his call since I was giving a lecture at Cardinal Santos Medical Center. He just dropped me a message that we had an nCOV- positive patient now in the Philippines. I called him up at 4 p.m. and asked, is the patient at
RITM? The patient is a Chinese from Wuhan on vacation and confined in San Lazaro,” Amanda vividly recalled his reply.
“Since then on, we were scared for our son since we foresee many more cases will be seen in our country and RITM is the epicenter.”
Indeed, many more turned positive and people were flocking to RITM for screening and testing, Amanda said. “We are almost tempted to tell our son to stop going to RITM due to the risks of getting one, but seeing him unfazed and very much interested, we can only pray for his safety.”
At first, Amanda said, they could still embrace him whenever he came home from duty. But with recent developments, interactions at home were reduced to him waving and smiling from a distance, while clutching his clothes wrapped in a plastic bag, careful not to bring home any virus.
“Since last week, he voluntarily distanced himself from us and would just wave and smile at us,” Amanda said.
“He was frontliner at RITM ever since he started working at RITM but with this COVID-19 cases exponentially rising, we felt we are sending off a young soldier to a battlefield to face war,” Amanda added.
Amanda could not hide her fear that despite his son wearing personal protective equipment at work, exhaustion might creep on him that could lower his immune system.
But as several patients Anton examined turned COVID-19 positive, Amanda said that instead of fear, enthusiasm to serve at RITM was what they saw in him.
“Being doctors ourselves, we understand the need. As parents, you can’t take away our fears for him succumbing to COVID-19. Scared that our son might get the COVID-19 but proud
and happy of what he has become and what he has done as a young doctor at RITM,” Amanda said as she recalled that one memorable story she had with her son while doing hospital rounds.
“He never said it then (that his dream is to be a doctor) explicitly, but I could sense his interest in his keen eyes,” she said.
“His desire to learn, to serve despite the risk is very inspiring for us. Initially, we found him to be at a loss where to go after passing the board exams, but in five months time, we saw him grow up and shine through his own efforts as a frontliner in RITM.”
Now, almost away from home, Anton tries to still bridge the distance from his family through phone calls filled with updates on the disease.
“He would explain to us the tedious process of testing that’s why it takes at least two days for the results to come out and how VIPs disrupt the line for them to be entertained at the expense of the others waiting to be seen in the triage,” Amanda bared.
Parents, Amanda furthered, could only worry for their sons and daughters working on the frontlines in this difficult time but their confidence and trust on them would never falter.
“Fear will grip us to restrict our sons and daughters as frontliners now but faith in God, and faith in our sons and daughters capacity to serve will keep our fears controlled. It is their time to shine and to serve our country no matter how imperfect and inadequate our government we may perceive it to be,” Amanda said.
“Indeed, it is our young MDs who are heroes, and who are the hope of our country. Prayers will keep away the fear for our kids’ safety,” she said.