As of June 6, the total number of COVID-19 cases has risen to almost 21,000 and the number is expected to rise as the government and the private sector ramp up mass testing across the country. In addition, the government has approved the gradual lifting of the lockdowns, which has kept Metro Manila and other heavily impacted cities under modified quarantine since March 15.
Despite the harrowing statistic and projections, the number of recoveries remains steady as well, at a high success rate. And thus every Filipino should remain hopeful and, more importantly, vigilant, never letting down our guards as we battle the highly infectious disease as a nation.
But we must also remember, this pandemic – with all its numbers – is not just about transmission rates, positive cases, and fatalities. It’s about people; it deals with people. And all of them deserve to be treated with dignity, respect, and compassion. Indeed, every life counts, and so we must protect and fight for every life that can be saved.
Here, be inspired by the stories of those who chose to fight and who have been saved not only by their own courage, but by the kindness and tireless sacrifice of their doctors, healthcare workers, and communities.
ZENY GIMENEZ An answered prayer
At 73 years old and with a history of asthma, Zeny Gimenez is deemed as one of the most vulnerable to the infectious disease. And so when she was diagnosed with COVID-19, as well as her 75-year-old husband, prayers became her only source of comfort.
I never suspected I had COVID-19. I knew I was sick, because I had been having recurrent fever since March 6, but I wasn’t coughing. I have been asthmatic for a long time, so when I started having difficulty breathing on March 14, I followed my usual asthma protocol and went to the ER immediately. At that time, COVID-19 would be suspected only if you answered “Yes” to two questions – “Did you travel recently?” and “Have you come in contact with anyone who traveled/been infected with the virus?” I answered “No” to both questions, because I had no history of travel within the past six months, and, at that time, I didn’t know anybody who had traveled or had been infected. It would only be only a week later that I would come to find out that one of my officemates had died of COVID-19.
So I was sent home because my blood tests were normal and the X-ray result showed that my lungs were clear. I was given a prescription for antibiotics and cough syrup.
Two days later, I was not feeling any better so we went back to the hospital. We got no further than the triage area because the nurse insisted that I had not completed the antibiotics course. Once again, she asked the two basic questions, and, at that time, my answer was still “No.”
I have been living with asthma for a long time, so I knew I needed help. Because the first hospital refused to even listen, I called our personal doctor and asked him if he could help me get admitted to the hospital. That same day, March 16, I was admitted to a private room.
On March 18, my officemate died after suffering severe respiratory syndrome. That same day, during the doctor’s daily rounds, I mentioned the death. His reaction was immediate – I was to be X-rayed again and transferred to the isolation wing. My husband, who had been with me the whole time at the hospital, was X-rayed as well. His X-ray showed he had pneumonia.
We were both tested for COVID-19 before the transfer. And I guess because it was standard protocol, and because of his age (75), he too was admitted to the isolation wing. It was truly isolation because while I knew he was in the room next to mine, we were not allowed to see each other.
On March 23, the result of our COVID-19 tests came out. We were both negative. However, by this time, my X-ray result had also come out and it showed that I, too, had pneumonia, or what my doctor called “shadowy streaks” in my lungs. I underwent another swab test for COVID-19, ostensibly to fulfill the DOH requirement of two successive negatives.
My husband was sent home the following day because during the six days of isolation, he had quickly recovered and his lungs were clear.
That was when I truly felt the isolation. Knowing he was just in the next room was comforting. Not having him there was distressing, to say the least.
On March 26, or even before the result of my second swab test came out, my doctor informed me that he was putting me on a mix of medicines – hydroxychloroquine, azithromycin, and zinc. I guess the pneumonia finding and my age (73) caused him to consider an aggressive approach, which proved to be beneficial because the second test, which was released on March 29, was indeed positive. By this time, I was already on the third day of the 10-day hydroxychloroquine mix. I believe this was the turning point of my disease – the aggressive treatment stopped COVID-19 in its tracks and allowed me to get healed.
But the medicine was hard to find. My husband and my two grown sons scoured the entire Las Piñas and Parañaque areas for hydroxychloroquine, and they could only come up with a few tablets. I needed 20 to complete the 10-day regimen of twice a day.
This is where our community sprang into action and this is where I truly thanked the Lord that we belong to a caring community. Within two days, tablets came from as far as Nueva Ecija as members of the community went from drugstore to drugstore in their respective localities and contacted friends in the medical industry. My son was able to order two boxes from a friend who owned a hospital. The final tally – two boxes of 60 tablets each and 25 tablets sourced from the individual forays of friends.
By March 29, the third, I began to show improvement in my breathing and I was taken off oxygen. That same day I was tested again. The result of this third swab was released on April 5 – negative. However, I could not be released because DOH was firm in its guideline; I needed to get a second negative result. It would not be until Good Friday, April 9, at exactly 3pm, that my nurse would tell me that I got the much-awaited second negative.
It is difficult to describe the feeling I got when I heard the good news of the second negative. First was extreme gratitude that the Lord had put me through the difficult situation. Next was relief because the days of stressful waiting and praying and coping with negative thoughts were beginning to take its toll on me.
By this time, three other friends from our community had also died, a total of four. All of them were male. Two of them were in their 50s and one of them still had children in school. The other two were senior citizens like me, but younger.
So my question was, why did you spare me Lord? Why did I survive and my friends did not? In all the 27 days of isolation, I knew people were dying in the same isolation ward. In my moments of darkness, during those 27 days, I wondered whether I would get out of there alive. I feared my life would end in that very same room, alone, with only my nurse for company. I dreaded the thought that I would come home to my husband and children in a box, in ashes. I was what the doctors call “immuno-compromised” – a long time asthmatic, in my 70s, and not in perfect health.
I will never know why I walked out of that hospital alive. Some said that perhaps my mission here on earth is not yet finished, and that the Lord still has a task for me.
All I know is that I was healed through God’s goodness and mercy. I had never prayed as hard as I did throughout those 27 days. My routine was anchored on prayer. The TV in the room was small and the images grainy. And there were only about a dozen channels, but fortunately one of those channels featured a daily Mass at 10am. I prayed on the hour and each prayer was a plea for healing, not just for me but for my family and friends, and for the world.
The most difficult part of my whole experience was the feeling of aloneness. I came to regard the nurse as my best friend, even though he was allowed to enter my room just to get my vital signs. The doctors – and I had many – would stand about three meters away, just to explain any changes in medication and to ask how I was doing. I understood their caution. And I pray that none of them came down with illness.
But truly the most difficult part would come later – when I came home to find out that my husband, daughter, and househelp had experienced the kind of discrimination TV newscasters would discuss. The village association officers forbade the help from even stepping into our garden, never mind that our garden and the neighbors’ front gates were more than the physical distancing allowed – about 8 meters. The association president even threatened to have my daughter picked up by the police for not entertaining his questions, questions my daughter felt he had no right to ask because we had already provided all the necessary information to the right authorities – the barangay and the City Health Office.
So when I came home, we were practically prisoners inside our home. For me, it was to be expected because DOH prescribed a 14-day quarantine for all recovered patients. But for the rest of the household, it was a nightmare. All the help had to do was try to water our plants, and the neighbor would immediately report us to the association.
The barangay officials and the City Health Officer were most efficient, however. Knowing my husband was confined to our home, they sent food supplies and even a month’s supply of his maintenance medicines. The city doctor called every day to ask how we were, and if we needed anything.
So this COVID crisis really did bring out the best and the worst in people. What kept us going was our faith in the Lord and the certainty that there were more good people out there who truly cared. If I could talk to other COVID patients now, there is only one thing I would like to tell them – pray. The Lord listens. I know He does because I am here now, a perfect example of His goodness and mercy.
FEONA DIMARANAN REYES A frontliner and mother’s greatest hope and fear
A 36-year-old emergency room nurse working at the Fujairah Hospital in the United Arab Emirates, Feona Dimaranan Reyes had spent years saving lives and facing death and sickness at work. It is a calling she had fully embraced. Her husband, Hadji, is also a frontliner at the same hospital. As experienced healthcare workers, they had learned to face high-pressure situations at the hospital with both cool and calm. But nothing could prepare them when sickness would finally hit too close to home, with Feona contracting the deadly disease and unknowingly passing it on to their six-year-old son, Eohan.
“Heal me, O Lord, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved, for you are the one I praise.”
I am Feona Dimaranan Reyes, an ER Nurse, and I had tested positive for COVID-19. Ako po ay nagtatrabaho dito sa isang malaking ospital ng gobyerno ng UAE bilang isang ER nurse. More than 12 hours ang duty ko kada araw. Dumating ang time na kaliwa’t kanan na ang pasyente namin—COVID positive, PUIs, PUMs. Puno kami ng takot at kaba pero di kami nag-aalinlangan na harapin ang mga ito.
On May 10, 2020, nagsimula ang dry cough ko, akala ko dahil asthmatic ako at medyo mainit na ang panahon kaya umatake na naman ang asthma ko. Tinawagan ko ang aking asawa na si Hadji at sinabi ko sa kanya yung lumalala kong sintomas. Around 7:30 p.m. pumasok na ako sa work, at dahil nagwo-work ako sa ER, nagsabi ako sa mga doctors namin na magpapakuha ako ng blood test at X-ray. Lahat naman ay normal. Umuwi akong pagod na pagod. Then on May 11, I lost my sense of smell and taste, zero percent. Naisip ko na dahil siguro sa allergic rhinitis ko. Di ko ito masyadong pinansin at inisip kong babalik din naman, I even told my friends and co-staff about it. Pero naisip ko din na isa sya sa mga symptoms ng COVID.
I got the following two days off. Mabuting makakapahinga na ako dahil I have body aches, no appetite, and still no sense of smell and taste. The next day, I woke up still with the same symptoms. That was the time na nag-decide na ako’ng magpunta sa ER, because I will be having my two night shifts. And based sa assessment ko sa sarili ko, mukhang COVID na ito. The swab was taken and they gave me two days sick leave or until ma-release ang results. Since kasama ko sa bahay ang pamilya ko since the first day na nagka-symptoms ako, in-isolate ko na yung sarili ko.
This is what I had always feared. On May 15, Eohan is exhibiting a mild cough and fever. He just turned six years old last March. Dinala sya ni Hadji sa clinic, and they did nasopharyngeal swab. Hadji wasn’t swabbed because even if we live in the same household, he was asymptomatic. The hours seemed too long and it was all a waiting game as we looked forward to the medical result of Eohan.
On May 17, 2020, ang aga kong nagising. Masaya ako kasi wala na akong fever, medyo masigla na ang katawan ko. Magkausap kami ni Haj, nagtatawanan at nagbibiruan pa kami. After 30 minutes, results are up. I am POSITIVE to COVID-19.
Wala ng oras para makapag-isip, kailangan na din ni Haj magpa-swab test kasi exposed na siya sa akin. Tinawagan ko kaagad ang in-charge (supervisor) namin at infection control nurse. Walang available beds at the hotel for quarantine. I had to stay at home. Pero around 6 pm. bigla akong nakaramdam ng chest discomfort. Tinawagan namin ang infection control nurse, kasi di ko na kaya i-manage ang sarili ko sa bahay, sabi ko. Kahit nurse ako, di ko kaya gamutin ang sarili ko sa bahay. The ER doctors called me and I was informed by my supervisors that they already had a bed prepared for me.
On May 18, 2029, they put me on treatment, a mix of medications, vitamins, and oral fluids. When treatment started, I vomited and felt dizzy. But it was most likely due to the meds. And the biggest heartbreak of my life—on May 19, 2020, Eohan tested positive also for COVID-19. Sa kanya ako naiyak. Kasi six years old pa lang siya, nasa bahay siya at ako ay nasa hospital. Ano ang gagawin ko?
They kept Eohan for home quarantine with Hadji, and thanks be to God masigla ang katawan nya, no fever and may cough paminsan-minsan. Early in the morning, around 4:30am on May 22, the doctors transferred me to a hotel-turned-health facility. May mga nurses and doctors din. Wala na din akong fever, dry cough na lang. We’ve been very lucky here, the UAE government has been taking good care of us. I don’t have to pay for the hotel stay and even the hospital bills; I didn’t pay anything.
Sa ngayon nagpapalakas ako at nagpapahinga. Kailangan, dahil I’m a mother and a wife. I am waiting for my swab test results and praying na negative na. Dapat kasi magkaroon ako ng two negatives bago ma-fully discharge. My son, too, has been admitted into the Isolation Facility.
On June 1, after 17 days, I was officially home with my son. We are now both well and in high spirits. And we thank everyone who sent heartwarming messages, phone calls, and prayers. We are overwhelmed by your love and support.
I have had a lot of realizations during this difficult time. I have been discriminated against, but a lot of people continue to uplift my spirit. Stop the stigma. Virus is the enemy, not the person suffering from it. In a few weeks, I hope to be back on the battlefield, fighting not as a patient anymore, but as a survivor.
Arvin Amaro A community of caring
A student in good health, Arvin Amaro thought that getting sick from COVID-19 was a far probability, especially after believing that the elderly, the immuno-compromised, and those with existing medical pre-conditions are the only ones susceptible to the virus. But as the disease does not discriminate, Arvin soon found himself fighting for his own life, too.
I live in San Juan and that made me feel very safe and secure, even when I was yet to be confirmed for COVID-19.
It was a few days into the ECQ when I started seeing rashes around my wrists. Then, my dad started complaining about body aches. That’s when we were ordered to go for immediate swabbing.
The entire process of testing was made very comfortable for us San Juaneños. My first test was performed at the San Juan Medical Hospital. It was done in less than five minutes, and I was allowed to go home immediately. Afterwards, I received a call from San Juan’s Response Head to undergo home quarantine while waiting for the results. In less than five days, I received my first COVID test results and it was positive. My dad, too, was diagnosed. But while I was recommended to recover at home, he was taken to San Juan Medical Hospital as he was 63 years old.
The first thought that came to my mind was I have to survive, for my dad and for my family.
When I was diagnosed, I didn’t inform a lot of people as I wasn’t sure if I had the energy to respond to everyone. But my closest friends who knew regularly checked up on me and assured me that I would be able to get everything that I needed.
Thankfully, unlike the other stories we often hear, I didn’t experience discrimination even while I was under home quarantine and healing. Our neighborhood was well aware of my situation and they were incredibly supportive.
I thank one of my titas, Ofel Villanueva, who helped us a lot in relaying the information from the ward to me, since we were asked to buy medicines for my dad, at least two to three times a week. It was challenging to buy medicines due to the scarcity, and due to me being stuck at home.
But thankfully, I was able to focus on my recovery because my friends and family, the community, and my city offered so much support. Even as a patient, and even if my father was sick, I didn’t feel afraid, because I knew that the city would take care of us. Anyone can deal with crises positively if you have a system in place that you know will take care of you.
I’d like to personally thank our City Mayor Francis Zamora for his intelligent handling of the entire situation, Mr. Vincent Pacheco for immediately attending to my personal requirements, and Kagawad Lalie Aguinaldo-de Oca for her support since Day 1.
KOBE MANJARES An angel in heaven
Baby Kobe was born during a difficult time with hospitals operating at maximum capacity. To address the growing pandemic, the medical staff’s focus was on treating and diagnosing the severe cases of suspected COVID-19. This made it difficult for new parents, Ronnel and Tricia.
“Noong iaanak po, dinala sa ospital kaso tinanggihan po ng mga ospital sa Alabang, kasi nga po dahil may COVID-19. Inuwi na lang po ang mag-ina tapos sa bahay na lang po siya nanganak (When the mother was about to give birth, hospitals in Alabang declined them because of COVID-19. So, they just went home and the mother gave birth to him there),” Kobe’s aunt, Rosalyn Manjares shared with Rappler.
Three days after he was born, Kobe was rushed to the hospital because of high-grade fever. After 11 days of confinement at the National Children’s Hospital (NCH) in Quezon City, Kobe survived COVID-19 and was discharged last April 28.
Unfortunately, Kobe had to return to the NCH because of a swollen abdomen and constipation. Doctors revealed that his organs had not fully developed yet. “Ngayon po, naka-incubator siya. Dinadaan po muna sa gamot at pag hindi raw po nakuha sa gamot, maaring ma-operahan po anak ko. (Now he is incubated and they are giving him medicine. If he doesn’t get better with medicine, the doctors said my son might need surgery),” Kobe’s father, Ronnel Manjares shared with LEAGUE.
Kobe’s hospital bills were shouldered by PhilHealth. But because he was confined again at NCH and his parents are currently unemployed due to the lockdown, they are humbly asking for donations. “Wala talaga, kasi si Ronnel naman ay walang trabaho ngayon dahil tigil ang construction. Wala rin trabaho si Tricia,” Rosalyn said.
Editor’s Note: Baby Kobe passed away on June 3, 2020, due to complications in his intestines. Kobe is survived by his parents and elder sister. Kobe’s father has not been able to return to his work in construction since the beginning of quarantine and the mother is unemployed. They do not have enough money for burial expenses. For those who would like to help baby Kobe and family, interested donors may contact Ronnel Manjares at 0938-480-4426. Donations can also be sent to Rosalyn Lascano Manjares (0907-565-9016).
ALYSSA LUNGCA Not the last goodbye
An ICU nurse from the Asian Hospital & Medical Center, Alyssa Lungca recalls her experience as a patient and survivor.
I handled a COVID positive patient. She was a nurse, too, who had worked abroad. She was in her 80s and we took care of her. Unfortunately, she didn’t make it, but her kind words were comforting, and they helped me endure the overtime, dealing with the volume of patients. [At the height of the pandemic], some of us had to leave home and stay in the hospital for days/ weeks at a time, because of fear that we might transmit the disease.
On March 27, after a 3-day workload, I came home feeling tired with mild backaches. That night, my body malaise was not relieved by analgesics. On March 28, I consulted a doctor and was categorized as a low-risk PUI. I had my COVID swab test, CBC, and X-ray done, and 14 days of quarantine was advised while awaiting results.
I informed my family right away. I decided to undergo home quarantine, since I had my own separate room. I didn’t inform anyone that I was a PUI, because I knew back then that I was asymptomatic. [Along with experiencing other common COVID-19 symptoms], I had nights when I was having difficulty in breathing, but [this] was eased. I didn’t disclose this because I knew it would make my family anxious.
On April 1, I got a call that my test results came back positive. Time stopped before me. I was hyperventilating; the person on the other line was trying to calm me down. I was crying; in fear that I won’t be able to see my family again, fear that I might acquire pneumonia and be intubated. Beforehand, I told my mom that I didn’t want to be intubated if my prognosis was already poor. It was something I had to tell her again, because I’ve seen how the disease deteriorates patients fast within 24-48 hours. I’ve seen patients who weren’t able to see their family and who have died alone because of this disease.
I was a COVID positive patient. I was advised for admission, for close monitoring. I packed my bags, good for 2 weeks, with an uncertain of the fate ahead. I saw my mom cry. It was the most heartbreaking cry. I didn’t want to show her that I, too, was anxious and afraid. I kept assuring her that I was okay.
My first night was full of tears. I was alone in my room, fearing the worst. I had to tell a few of my fellow nurses of my case so that they would be more aware and cautious. Only my family and a few friends knew. I didn’t want to worry them. I didn’t want them to see that I, too, was fearing for my own life.
It really took a big blow on my mental health. I prayed fervently. I asked my Sr. Lola to include me in her prayers. I prayed one night, surrendering all my fears, anxieties, and doubts to Him. “Lord, Ikaw na po bahala.”
My confinement made me realize how I was taking life for granted. It made me appreciate life from a different perspective. I love yous became more precious. I was by myself, but I had my prayer warriors who were constantly reassuring me that it would be okay.
All the statistics were geared toward deaths, all I had was faith and hope. Faith that there is a God ever so loving and merciful, and hope that I would recover. I defied the odds. I am a survivor