Doctor gets infected with COVID-19—’I was losing hope’

Published August 16, 2021, 11:45 PM

by Jane Kingsu-Cheng

But she didn’t give up and gathered the courage to fight the virus

An OB-Gyne for more than a decade, 40-year-old Christine Therese Enriquez Macaraeg was preparing for her diplomate examination when COVID-19 infected her. “I don’t have any idea where I got it. I’ve been at home for almost two months,” she tells Manila Bulletin Lifestyle. Her family, consisting of her two brothers and their families, two sisters, herself, and her daughter, went out to visit their late parents in Manila Memorial Park in Sta. Rita, Bulacan and grabbed a bite on their way home. “When we got home, I already felt on-and-off fever until the day of my Diplomate Exam part one. It started July 6 until July 11, so on the day of my exam and during my examination, I had fever. I just took paracetamol,” she remembers, connecting it to a lower immune systems from preparing for her exam that consisted of late night sleeps.

WITH MENTORS AND CONSULTANTS: Top row: Residents Dr. Uil, Dr. Genova, Dr. Lontok, Dr. Montibon, Dr. Ramchandani, and Dr. Macaraeg. Second row: Consultants Dr. Arenas, Dr. Recio, Dr. Venturina, Dr. Valencia, Dr. Ngo-yu. Front row: Consultants Dr. Agujo, Dr. Rigor, Dr. Duran, Dr. Bondoc, and Dr. Rodriguez. Taken in 2016.

Dr. Macaraeg knew COVID-19 had hit her the most. By the seventh day, she started drinking a lot of medicines to combat her cough. She also remembers not having the appetite to eat. On the 10th day, she had ageusia (loss of taste) and anosmia (loss of sense of smell) the following day. Thankfully, she got both her taste and sense of smell back on the 15th day. But little did she know that things were going to get worse.

“I noticed that I already had shortness of breath and asked my brothers to refill the oxygen tank.” She had shortness of breath just by walking from her bed to the bathroom. “I asked for pan to pee in and returned to prone position to catch my breath,” she remembers. Prone position when when the person lies down with his abdomen flat on the bed and his face sidewards. This helps provide better ventilation, according to Penn Medicine.

She also asked her brother to buy her another oxygen tank, because she has been consuming oxygen faster. On day 16, she was already catching her breath. “I also had difficulty of breathing and dry cough. I already texted my former co-resident Dr. John Patrick Pablico if I could be admitted in Mary Johnston Hospital,” says Dr. Macaraeg.

As soon as she got there, the emergency room staff didn’t recognize her. “I got thin—five to 10 kilograms lost, I think.”

She was brought to the airconditioned triage tent where they had her lie down on a stretcher. They changed her oxygen tank with a 10-liter-per-minute oxygen intake, administer dextrose on her, and gave her medications. She also had blood work done on her with X-ray results that showed her lungs almost covered. “It was almost white all over. I can still see my lungs—half of the left and 1/3 of the right. I started with Piptaz and Remdesivir.” She was went through RT-PCR test but it came negative which surprised everyone. Nevertheless, she was treated as a COVID-19 patient.

By the time she was got checked into the hospital, she was given the hi-flow nasal cannula machine that helped with breathe significantly better. She still had difficulty breathing with her shoulders going up and down, so she was advised to buy Tocilizumab, a type of drug that helps to reduce swelling in blood vessels so blood can flow more easily

“Kaya mo iyan. Kapit lang. Laban lang. Always pray. Pray Hard. Pray. Pray. Pray,” these were the words that kept Dr. Macaraeg strong. She gathered strength and hope from her family and friends.

On her third day in the hospital, she underwent another RT-PCR test again. This time, it came out positive. “I just don’t know what variant it was.” With all the medications administered to her, Dr. Batan told her that the nothing happened—no regression or progression of her health status. This has led them to buy more medicines to get her better, which they did with the help of her loved ones who even raised the money to pay for the bills. “Imagine P28,000 worth of immunosuppressive drug?!” And that’s just one of many medications that were needed. She thought of those patients who couldn’t afford to pay this big an amount. What would happen to them?

On hospital day five, there was still no progress. “I was losing hope,” she says but she kept on fighting. On her next chest X-ray on day seven, the results revealed that she was improving. On day eight, they were confident to slowly wean her off from using the oxygen tank by lowering the intake. “Some of my IV medicines were shifted to oral medicines,” she adds. On the 10th day, which was July 31, she was able to shift from breathing through the hi-flow nasal cannula machine to the regular facial mask with oxygen tank.

Clockwise from bottom right: Dr. Christine Macaraeg with her sister Cathleen, daughter Crystal, and sister Jacqueline.

In those challenging days, she tells Manila Bulletin Lifestyle that she was grateful for technology. “My cellfone is with me. We can talk to each other anytime. I love my family so much! Thank you also to my relatives and friends. I didn’t feel any boredom during my stay here in the hospital,” says Dr. Macaraeg. “Thank you to all the hospital staff, and to Dr. Alex Tan, Dr. Menorca, Dr. Duran, Dr. Agujo, Dr. Urriquia for my second life.”

She was discharged last week, Monday, Aug. 9, four days after being tested negative from COVID-19. “I’m in my recovery phase,” she says reassuringly. Gathering her strength to share in detail what happened since day one, she hopes that “It can help innocent people to understand the danger of having COVID-19.”

Dr. Macaraeg, like some other healthcare workers admitted to not getting their vaccines yet due to their workload. “Because my blood pressure shot up and I slept late. I operated on someone via CS the night before so they asked me to come back again. But I didn’t go back because I have patients who need me. No time for vaccination,” she reveals, prioritizing her patients.

She is grateful for her second lease in life, “I thank God that we are still alive. Always pray and keep the faith. Be good to others so that you can see how many good friends are praying for you.” And for those who are going through what she went through, “Don’t lose hope. Have faith. God is good all the time.”

Now that she’s also a COVID-19 patient and has experienced what we all dread the most, “I want to tell the world that COVID-19 is not only a virus, it is a KILLER VIRUS! Once u have it, you wouldn’t know if you would still be alive for the next days. So let’s be responsible—always wear a mask and face shield.”