Life as a frontliner father

Published October 1, 2020, 3:46 PM

by Henrison Yap Lim

The risks I’m taking, the challenges I’m facing, and the dangers I’m exposing myself and my family to

A batchmate’s daughter recently asked me what it was like to be a frontliner which led me to share how my life had been since the Covid-19 took over the world. So I’m a general surgeon by profession. That’s what I used to do exclusively do in both private and government hospitals I work in. When the pandemic started, the fear of the unknown was what immediately set in. So I read whatever resources I could find about the disease—know thy enemy—in order to protect myself and, ultimately, my family.

Gear up for Covid-19
Instantly, albeit halfheartedly, I became a “frontliner.” Our private hospital closed down our clinics until further notice. This took a blow on my major source of income and I couldn’t leave behind my secretary even if she wasn’t reporting for work, so I had to find a way to sustain her as well. To add to the stress, it was announced that our government hospital was designated to be one of our city’s Covid centers. We had to prepare. We had to gear up. We suddenly found ourselves doing “unscheduled spendings” to protect and, with hope, prevent ourselves from getting infected.

So my typical day begins the night before my duty. I load up my alcohol dispensers and refill my disinfectant mist sprayers. At night, I also prepare my “battle gear” and make sure all of them are in good condition. So that when morning comes, after eating my first and possibly only meal for the day, I get to bring all of them with me to the hospital only to bring them back home for either discarding (disposables) or disinfecting (reusables).

On ground zero
Holding your post sucks. Weather is hot. PPEs are hot with most made of unbreathable material. Patients are aplenty. And you have your own internal mechanisms to monitor. There’s thirst, hunger, call of nature, being drenched in sweat, palpitations, and dizziness to deal with.

Getting home is another story. Lucky for me, I have a car. I disinfect everything I touch inside before closing the door. Upon entering the house, I disinfect my shoes, empty my pockets in a designated container (I will need to disinfect one by one later), remove all my clothes, and immediately place them in a bucket of water and detergent, and head straight to the shower to thoroughly clean myself. Regarding bath time, just a food for thought: Imagine washing your hands for 20 seconds. Annoying, right? Now imagine doing 20 seconds to each and every part of your body.

Home but not home
All these without touching my loved ones. Not a kiss, an embrace, not even a simple peck on the cheeks. During the first few months of the pandemic, there was completely no physical contact with any of the family members, especially every time I arrived home from anywhere else. It felt lonely and depressing. I didn’t have a spare domicile to go to, so I had to make adjustments at home. I designated one room and bathroom should the need arise if I get infected or become a suspect. It was only during the last few months that my strict “no contact policy” was lifted. Getting three negative swab results after months of repeated exposure is quite an achievement. It sort of validated that my routine was somewhat “effective” in preventing me from getting infected. It’s not perfect, but it’ll do. So lately, after going on duty, I normally observe myself for three to five days for symptoms to develop. If none arise, then that’s the time I start mingling with my family. Being away from them even if they’re just close by has been very difficult.

Pre-Covid with the family

Angels among us
This pandemic brought out the worst and the best in people. You get to see people manifest nothing but greed and selfishness. But there are also those people whom I was blessed to witness, (both of whom I know and don’t know) who stepped up without being asked and did whatever they could, in their own way, to contribute. I was fortunate enough to have been both the recipient and the channel through which blessings from these “angels” spread. It was, and is, through them that we saw hope. It is through them that we gather the strength to continue.

*Henrison Yap Lim is a general surgeon practicing at Chinese General Hospital and Medical Center and Santa Ana Hospital. He is married to Khristine Lim, guidance counselor at University of Santo Tomas, and a father to three children, Sean Gabriel, 13, Shannon Rei, 12, and Sage Lucas, 4.

 
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