Heroes in white robes – the sacrifice of the Filipino health worker

If she could just be like others, quarantined inside their homes, and be with her family. If she could just have her mom’s cooking for her meals every day. And if only she could talk to her family members – face-to-face at least.

These are just among the simple pleasures in life that Michelle Abby Maranan, a young nurse at the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) in Manila, have had to forego since the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak that has gripped the world in tension and fear.

“They’re constantly messaging me na mag ingat ka (take care), ‘take your vitamins,’ ‘don’t go out of the apartment if unnecessary,’ ‘eat healthy food.’ And these are the times that you’ll really feel how important you are to them,” said the 24-year-old Maranan.

And to comfort her family, she would regularly reply to them that she’s perfectly fine, and that “I’m doing my best not to be susceptible to the disease.”

But Maranan also admitted that that’s not entirely true.

She said there were times when they could even find time to take decent meals during shifts.

Worse, there were even times when they couldn’t even find the chance to go to the restroom, or just stop and sit down to rest because of the constant surge of patients needing attention.

And it’s when you finally get to the end of the shift that everything starts to rush in like an avalanche.

“Pag-uwi mo na lang mararamdaman yung gutom, yung pagod, yung sakit ng paa, ng buong katawan (It’s only when you get home that you start to feel the hunger, the tiredness, the aching feet, your whole body), Maranan said.

The long hours at work are also taking their toll on 24-year-old medical technologist Jessica Cheng of the San Lazaro Hospital in Sta. Cruz, Manila.

“It seems that my whole life now evolves around my work now. Longer working hours – from eight hours to 16 hours skeletal duty,” said Cheng.

“I can say that these have been the longest hours of life I have to endure,” she added.

And to keep them going, Cheng said they’ve always turned to coffee.

“Nagkakape na lang kami (We just drink coffee) just to fill our stomach with something hot and, at the same time, keep us awake,” she said.

But what makes her work more challenging is that she also has to worry her family condition, while tending to the patients at the hospital.

“My mom is 58 years old, she has hypertension. I have young nephews and nieces,” she said.

And she, too, worries about her condition.

Being a medical technologist, she has had to handle the actual virus, through the number specimen that she tests every day.

“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.

But when in doubt, Cheng has always turned to the oath she took as a medical technologist, a profession she cherished since she was a child.

“I know that the country needs me. Hearing news na may patients kami na naka recover na is enough to uplift us and be strong, to keep fighting,” 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.

An appeal for fair testing; public should cooperate

As a medical personnel working on the ground, Maranan said many patients wanted to be tested for COVID-19, but were not allowed due to the new criteria set by the Department of Health (DOH).

“Sana bigyan ng chance ang mga tao. Hindi lang yung mga privileged na tao na asymptomatic nga pero napayagan magpa-test. Alam ko limited lang ang stocks ng testing kits, kaya sana kung may papayagan man kayong itest, sana yung kailangan talaga,” she said.

(I hope we give everyone a chance. Not only the privileged who are asymptomatic and yet are given tests. I know that the stock of testing kits it limited, so I hope we should test those that really need to be tested.)

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

“Sa mga tao na puwedeng mag stay sa bahay, please do your part. One month lang naman. Matagal-tagal na laban ang gagawin natin para tuluyan nang matapos yung pagkalat ng coronavirus, mas tatagal pa pag hindi tayo lahat nakipag cooperate,” she said.

Maranan also has an appeal to the public to appreciate the sacrifices of all health workers.

“Sana wag niyo kami pandirihan, tignan mula ulo hanggang paa, paringgan ng kung anu-ano pag nakita niyong galing kaming ospital. Ginagawa lang namin ang trabaho namin.” she said.

(Please don’t look at us from head to foot like you despise us for what we’re doing. You even have harsh words about those who work in the hospital. We are doing everything do our jobs.)

“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,” she added.

(We go to work in the hospital not knowing that, maybe in the next few days, we’d be among those infected with the virus. That’s what we took our oath for. We just hope we’re appreciated for that.)