Journal of a Lockdown No. 1
At the University of the Philippines - Philippine General Hospital Main Lobby
The train is unusually quiet on my way to work this morning. The passengers, hair still wet from the shower, scroll through Facebook on their phones. A man holds on to the handrails and sings a Tagalog rap song I don't recognize. A lady's head is on her boyfriend's shoulder; it bobs and sways with the train's movement. She is soundly asleep, oblivious to the panic. There are masked people everywhere, as in an episode of Watchmen. A man near the train door sneezes. Everyone looks at him with contempt, as if he has committed a mortal sin. There is palpable relief when he disembarks on Ayala Station.
As soon as I arrive, I head to the Cancer Institute where my patient, a 59-year old woman from Tondo, is confined for her second cycle of chemotherapy. She has stage IV rectal cancer. I tell her she can go home later tonight or early tomorrow morning. She has not heard the news last night. "We're going to be in a lockdown," I say, reassuring her it won't be a huge problem for her since she only lives nearby. I tell her to take medications for her bouts of nausea as well as for the rectal pain that keeps her awake at night. I warn her to avoid large crowds, to wash her hands regularly--careful additions to my standard you-may-go-home script.
"Mahal po ba 'yung gamot sa pain, Dok?" she asks.
"May mga generic po. Baka mas mura po kung dito niyo na bibilhin sa PGH," I say. Her pain meds cost at most Php 15, but she has no livelihood; and her daughter, the family's breadwinner, is a sidewalk vendor.
My phone is, by now, flooded by inquiries from patients. I compose a brief reply to an email: my patient with stage III colon cancer asks if his final chemo session will push through next week. He lives in Leyte. To save money, he takes the bus to the hospital on Sundays so he can make it for his Monday appointments. After his sessions, which typically end after lunch, he takes another 24-hour bus ride home. I recall him telling me, "Di nga po sila makapaniwala na nagki-chemo ako eh." I don't know what to write him, except to tell him that I don't know yet, let's see what happens. I hope to see him soon.
My Viber and Telegram groups from work are busy with activity. A friend forwards me the news that a doctor about my age is intubated and is fighting for dear life. A colleague issues a plea for honesty: tell your doctors the truth, your travel history, your contacts with individuals possibly infected with COVID-19. The doctor in critical condition did not know he was dealing with a suspected case. On Twitter, I read "frontliners" everywhere. The word refers to doctors, nurses, other paramedical staff who risk their lives to serve the sick. It makes me uncomfortable, being celebrated like that. It's our calling: we're not doing anyone a favor. We couldn't live with ourselves if we shirk from our responsibility.
I receive the news that two of my doctor-friends, practically family to me, have been advised to get tested for COVID-19. It is hard when the news hits close to home. I clasp my hands in prayer, resolved to go to work like it's just any other day.
But these are not normal times.
* * *
The pandemic is bringing out the best and worst in people all over the world.
* * *
This post is largely inspired by Jessica Zafra's resolve to blog every day during the lockdown:
I’m going to keep a journal of the lockdown. This is a small notebook, I’m being optimistic.
Me, too. By God's grace, this, too, shall pass.