Frontline medical workers are bearing the impact of the pandemic as Metro Manila hospitals are in full capacity following an alarming upward trend in the number of COVID-19 cases in the past weeks.
Official count by the Department of Health shows there were 72,269 COVID-19 cases in the Philippines as of July 22, with figures starting to rise and almost doubling from 38,805 on July 2.
There were 1,843 COVID-related deaths also of July 22 from 1,270 on July 2, with the number peaking at 162 on July 12.
On July 5, the Philippines logged a record 2,424 single-day jump in COVID-19 infections.
Pampilo Sanosa Catapang Jr., emergency room nurse at The Medical City (TMC) in Ortigas City, said he has not been home to their place in Guiguinto, Bulacan since March when the hospital announced it was on full capacity and he was assigned at the COVID Response Unit (CRU).
“May time na hindi ako nakauwi sa family ko for almost four months kasi walang transportation since may lockdown, and para ma-protect ko rin sila na huwag ma-expose sa 'kin kahit wala naman akong symptoms ng COVID,” Catapang said.
Catapang, a surgical room nurse before he was detailed to CRU, said life in a hospital emergency room (ER) during these times of COVID-19 can be both fulfilling and horrifying because it made him feel like a soldier on his first combat duty.
“Nakakatakot, kasi super dami ng cases and you’d worry na baka ma-infect ka rin. Kapag napupuno na ang Intensive Care Unit (ICU), yung ER nako-convert na parang ICU setup to accommodate critical patients.
“Sobrang nakakatakot. Yung abut-abot ang dasal mo na hindi ka ma-infect ng hindi nakikitang virus. Yung kada pagtulog mo na parang nakaka-paranoid, asking yourself: ‘May COVID na ba ako?’ Yung ‘pag gising sa umaga ay dasal na lang talaga,” Catapang said.
He said it’s tough when a patient dies. “Masakit na part minsan yung nawawalan sila ng hininga without their family by their side,” he said.
On the other hand, it feels rewarding when they get a “Code Joy.”
“Walang kasing saya ‘pag may naririnig kaming ‘Code Joy.’ Ito yung mga pasyente na na-discharged na. Ito na lang yung isa sa nagpapasaya sa aming lahat: May gamagaling kahit wala pa tayong natutuklasan na bakuna para sa CoOVID-19,” Catapang said.
Catapang said they work eight-hour shifts in full battle gear – PPEs, that is.
He said it’s doubly hard when members of the medical staff, themselves, test positive.
“Meron rin pong mga doctors, nurses and other health workers na nagko-COVID positive. Sometimes, ito yung hard time para sa amin, kasi pag nagiging kulang ang staff. Pero wala kaming choice but to continue the battle against COVID,” Catapang said.
The hospital, on July 14, 2020, announced it was on full capacity for COVID-19 cases for the second time; the first being around March 23. According to Catapang, 30% of TMC’s 521 beds are currently occupied by COVID patients.
For her part, Liezel Gillyn Cabatuando, medtech at the National Kidney Transplant Institute (NKTI) who’s six-month pregnant and is now on leave, said she had handled blood and body fluids of COVID-19 patients, but under strict protocols to ensure her safety.
“Nakakatakot. Nakaka-paranoid and karamihan sa 'min may anxieties na rin,” Cabatuando said, adding that some hospital staff had tested positive. “Thank God,” she said, “dalawang swab tests ko po ay negative naman.”
The bright side of it, she said, is that NKTI gives high priority to the facility’s cleanliness and its staff’s safety.
“Nagdi-disinfect po lagi. May UV machine din po kami para mas malinis yung area. Kumpleto rin sa PPEs na binibigay ‘pag haharap sa patients,” she said.
As medtech, it is Cabatuando’s job to run tests on blood, urine and other body fluids test through machines.
Cabatuando, who has been a medtech for the past six years, has a three-year-old son. Going home to him and his father would always entail the necessary safety procedure.
“Ligo agad pag-uwi. Mahirap po iwasan ang anak, pero I make sure na naglinis na po ako and ‘pag masama pakiramdam ko, like sinisipon ako, hiwalay muna ng room ang son namin and naka-mask lang ako sa bahay,” she said.
Dr. Rose Marie R. Liquete, NKTI Executive Director, in a recent open letter posted on the medical facility’s Facebook page, has called for help from authorities so that they could continue providing unhampered dialysis treatments to their patients.
“The hospital ‘hot zone’ is already like a petri dish steaming with COVID-19. The emergency room remains congested. This is a call for your help to solve the problem,” she said.
“We have a lot of health workers who have tested positive for the virus, currently averaging at four to six healthcare workers a day; from yesterday’s 164 workers to today’s 174,” Dr. Liquete said in the letter posted on Monday, July 20, 2020.
She said most of these workers are the hospital’s nursing fleet, nephrologists, internists and medtechs. On Sunday, July 19, she said, four anesthesiologists tested positive.
“The reality now is that our manpower is dwindling. For many weeks now our COVID-19 facility has had 100% occupancy. We could have threatened to close down our facility like other government offices, but we could not, as almost all patients who come to the institute are dialysis patients. And a day or two of missed dialysis would mean death,” Dr. Liquete said.
She also said it was not possible to convert NKTI’s non-COVID-19 rooms to COVID-19 isolation rooms.
“We already closed down three non-COVID wards because we already lack nurses,” Dr. Liquete said. --KBK, GMA News