By Jane Kingsu Cheng
Dry cough, sore throat, fever, and loss of appetite—these were the symptoms that celebrity Iza Calzado had for almost a week before she got whisked to the hospital. Aside from trying to cure herself with natural remedies, she was also hesitant to get tested for COVID19. “At that time, test kits were few and far between,” recounts Iza. Her doctor friends advised her that they weren’t sure if she could get tested, because there weren’t enough test kits to go around.
On her own
Upon the assurance of friends who told her she would be fine because she was young, she thought she could fight this battle on her own. “There are people who need the test kits more than me,” she adds. Not wanting to seek the extra attention, especially since she was considered a public figure, she tried to endure the pain at home.
Since her symptoms started showing on March 13, Friday, she would hold her breath for 10 seconds every morning, and she was able to do so. It was a selfcheck gauge Iza learned online, but it proved a myth because she suffered greatly in the end. “It was my mistake. I didn’t want to make a big fuss, and I tried to let them (the symptoms) pass,” says Iza.
Ask for help
Because the symptoms persisted, with her cough and loss of appetite (a first for her) getting worse, Iza and her husband Ben Wintle decided to have her admitted at Asian Hospital and Medical Center on March 20, Friday. That was the day she took her first COVID-19 test. She was still sprightly, but the first diagnosis was exactly what they feared—pneumonia.
March 22, Sunday, was a different story. The doctors were making their regular morning rounds when they visited her room, checking on the monitor that showed the oxygen level of her blood. They looked at each other and started calling the staff outside. At that time, Ben stepped out, so Iza was alone. The doctors explained the situation in a straightforward manner. “We have to transfer you,” they said. “There’s a possibility you might be intubated and your pneumonia has progressed.” She was at a loss for words.
‘Why me?’ And it was answered right away with, ‘Why not? It had to be you. You’re being used.’ Iza realized she had a platform she could use. ‘Maybe I was chosen because of all the struggles I’d had in my life. Optimism and finding hope in the darkest of times,’ she muses.
On the same day, Iza was moved to the telemetry unit, a cross between a regular room and an intensive care unit (ICU) where Ben, in full protective gear, could still go in to check on her. “That’s when it all got worse. I couldn’t breathe on my own anymore,” Iza recalls.
On the first day in the new room, the doctors gave her another alarming report. “We found a bacteria, and it’s a very nasty bacteria,” they said. Aside from COVID-19, which they had yet to confirm, Iza was found to have acinetobacter baumannii in her lungs. She had to be treated for two infections, which meant more antibiotics. She had a bad allergic reaction to one of the three antibiotics, the strongest of them all, which numbed her mouth, lips, and tongue. She tried to endure everything, but she told the doctor she couldn’t bear it. They had to settle for the other two antibiotics that were still very strong. “It felt like they (antibiotics) were eating your body from the inside,” says Iza about the medicines that were administered intravenously. She could feel her body deteriorating.
Double the fight
Fighting two infections and taking strong antibiotics can take a toll on anyone’s body. Iza experienced tremors, including hampered speech and locked jaw. Weak from battling the pain, it took every ounce of her strength to post a selfie of herself in the hospital with a short update on her condition while waiting for her COVID-19 results.
She did not let this weakness rule her life in the hospital. When she found out that she might have to stay for a total of 14 days, she soldiered on and worked on her personal target of getting better and leaving earlier. “I would have been out earlier. I was cleared by my pulmonologist from pneumonia, but I was still under antibiotics for the bacteria. That made me stay longer. The treatment also weakened my body more.”
Conversations with God
Alone in her room, she started praying and talking to God. At one point, when she couldn’t breathe and felt like she might not make it, she asked God, “Lord, is this it? Is this how it ends?” She reflected back on her life and realized “No, it can’t end this way. Not here.”
Then, “why me?” And it was answered right away with, “Why not? It had to be you. You’re being used.” Iza realized she had a platform. “Maybe I was chosen because of all the struggles I’d had in my life, and optimism and finding hope in the darkest of times,” she muses.
When asked what she missed the most, she said it was being under the sun. Living in a condominium gives her and Ben very little sunshine to enjoy. When she started standing up on her own, she would sit down and try to get some sun every day. Perhaps, it was a reassurance that God was with her, touching her through the rays of the sun and giving her strength to keep on fighting.
Two days after her post, on March 27, Iza tested positive for COVID-19. But by that time, she was feeling better and didn’t have to use the oxygen tank, which meant her immune system was getting better from the time she had her first test. She took her second test on the same day to check how she was doing.
Iza credits her fast recovery to three things: a positive mindset that she would pull through, strong faith and prayers, and extra immunity boosters such as vitamin C, protein shake, and a mix of red and green juices. The doctors were surprised to find Iza improving within seven days versus the projection of 10 to 14 days. “It’s really different when you have that fighting spirit,” says Iza about her doctors’ sentiments.
Iza received her second test results on March 31, rejoicing over the news that she was finally negative for COVID-19. It was also her last and seventh day of antibiotics. That was when she was cleared to go home. Wanting to make sure she was free from the deadly disease, she took another test and the results came in negative again. This time, results were faster. “Initially, it was only RITM processing everything, and by the time I did my second test, my doctor told me it would be faster because they’d caught up with all the backlog. We now have four facilities that are processing everything,” explains Iza.
Light and love
Getting a double negative from the COVID-19 tests, Iza is now recuperating back home. The first few days were still a blur—tired as she was from the fight but rewarded by her sense that she was feeling better every day.
Iza is just so grateful to be home, but she doesn’t deny looking forward to stepping out of their house. Earlier today (as of this writing), Ben accompanied her to their barangay health center to get her checked by the doctor from whom they got their clearance. “It was such a nice moment. Feeling the sun on your face. Ben was just saying how crazy it was to hear the birds, so beautiful to listen to,” beams Iza.
She has been reassessing her life, and she hopes that everyone will follow suit, “We’re all on lockdown anyway. Now is the time to build healthier habits like getting enough sleep,” she says. “The first defense is to have a healthy immune system. That’s what happened to me. My immune system was down. I could do it like a machine when I was younger. I could sleep three hours. Now, I have three projects simultaneously: teleserye, mini series, and a movie. Every non-taping day, I was working out hard at the gym to look good [for my acting roles], so my body was run down. That was how I got infected. I became susceptible.”
Aside from taking care of one’s health, Iza believes this crisis is a chance to press the restart button. “It’s reassessing how I should live my life: less material stuff, building relationships, and helping others,” says Iza. She’s also rediscovering simple joys, such as savoring every movement as she danced at home.
She also has dreams she wants to pursue in the very near future. “I’ve pushed this back consciously, because I wanted to be ready. When you’re faced with a life-and-death situation, you want one (a child). I want my own child to pray for me,” she admits.
Hopes and dreams
With the many realizations and conversations she’s had with God back in the hospital, she is fulfilling her mission to share her story and to raise awareness: to get help if you’re positive for COVID-19, to protect our invaluable frontliners, and to lessen the stigma felt by those stricken by the deadly disease. “Everyone is having a hard time. We are all going through different levels of challenges. Some have been laid off, some do not have a salary, others have nothing to eat. Let’s practice respect, kindness, and compassion toward one another,” adds Iza.
She also gives thanks to all the frontliners and to all those who are risking their lives every day. “Nothing is forgotten. Every single person went above and beyond the call of duty to take care of me,” she says about the medical staff who helped her get through this. “They’re tired. You can see it in their eyes and hear it in their voice.”
She also prays that every Filipino will have good access to healthcare services real soon. But while we wait for this, Iza reminds everyone to practice safety precautions. “It’s really for us and for them,” she adds.
Iza is just grateful to be alive. She continues to pray for everyone’s protection and health, and for this to be over soon. “Perhaps, when this is all over, I like what Kuya Martin (Nievera) said and I found it beautiful: ‘We can begin again.’ It’s so timely for Easter—the rebirth and to restart. It’s a second chance at life. It’s being more mindful, not just for ourselves, but for Mother Nature. We are the ones blessed to run this world. The question is, how do we become better people and better stewards of what God has given us?” she ends on a hopeful note.