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Stories From The Frontline: Healthcare Workers Share Stories Of Passion And Compassion Amidst The Coronavirus Outbreak

"The hospital is for the patients... we love life, and we've never loved life more than now"

Not all superheroes wear capes—sometimes they're clad in scrubs and sterile gloves with surgical masks going all the way up their eyes. Not all of them wield menacing weapons or have spirits that can weather the most ruthless of battles; some of them prefer to be armed with compassion, patience, and understanding, their ultimate powers including easing pain, providing comfort, and healing bodies.


The global COVID-19 health crisis has definitely called on a different kind of superhero to emerge: the medical frontliners and healthcare workers who, in many parts of the world, with no full assurance of their safety, continue to be at the center of helping control and solve this pandemic. 


In the Philippines, we've heard story after story about medical staff working grueling days-long shifts, coming out of retirement to help, and risking their lives and their families' for the sake of others.



As of April 2, there are now 2,633 confirmed coronavirus cases in the Philippines. The death toll is now at 107, and the total number of recoveries is at 51. Some of those who have passed away due to COVID-19 were doctors, like internist and oncologist Dr. Rose Pulido


Sadly, some medical frontliners have opened up about experiencing discrimination now when people find out they work in hospitals. An administrative personnel from The Medical City in Iloilo, who was interviewed by ABS-CBN News, shared that her landlady asked her to leave her boarding house, thinking she works as a nurse in the hospital. Of this issue, the hospital's chief, Dr. Felix Ray Villa, said,  "Nakakalumo kasi instead of us getting support from our community, 'yun pa ang nangyayari sa staff namin."


Another utility staff member of St. Louis Hospital in Tacurong City, Sultan Kadarat experienced harassment when random guys he saw on the street threw bleach at him upon seeing him in his hospital uniform. This caused eye trauma to the frontliner. Dr. Vanessa Joy del Muro, the head of the Infectious Disease Control Committee of the abovementioned hospital commented on the incident, saying, "Our personnel is a breadwinner, as many of our frontliners are, who in the present pandemonium, chose to bravely continue their duties to the community... We demand justice for our healthcare personnel. He heeded the call of duty when others would not. Our healthcare workers remain unfazed by this discrimination they now face on a daily basis."


President Rodrigo Duterte warned against violence and discrimination of healthcare workers, and the Department of Health condemned acts of harassment and violence against them. 


The stigma surrounding the situation of the frontliners and the patients is the very thing that could make matters worse. At this point, we must heed World Health Organization's (WHO) advice: "generate solidarity not stigma."


This virus does not discriminate or judge and neither should we. Support and compassion are what we need now more than ever—including the commitment to do everything we can to stay healthy and safe to #flattenthecurve, buy some time and gain some ground in this battle.


Having had the opportunity to speak with four of these frontliners, we share their anecdotes with you during these trying times. Let them touch your hearts; as long as we have people like them who are committed to saving lives, there is hope.





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Patrick

  • 27 years old
  • Employed at the Research Institute of Tropical Medicine
  • Works a 24-hour shift from 8a.m. to 8a.m. the following day 
  • Passed the medical boards six months ago


"At this point in time, I’ve yet to encounter a story which I’d say is touching, not for lack of trying, since the nature of my work at the moment is fast-paced. I have seen far more of fear and misunderstanding, but there are also many who at least understand the great burden this pandemic places on us health workers," he shares.


Asked what the COVID-19 outbreak in the country has taught him, he says, "That the problems posed by an outbreak extend far beyond the disease itself. Social, political and even personal issues all contribute and confound the actual impact of the virus."





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Michelle Arville

  • Employed at St. Luke's in Bonifacio Global City, Taguig, and is the Section Manager of the Patient Experience group
  • Has worked at St. Luke's for 10 years


As the novel coronavirus outbreak continues to unfold, she says, "It's more than business as usual. We're more than ready to serve."


"Our mindset has to be we're here to serve. We're here to help," she continues.


As someone who has seen all sorts trials and triumphs involving patients, doctors, and their families in her career, she emphasizes how this virus chooses no one, hence the need for them to be operating at full force, at all times.


A single mom, after heading home to her son once after a shift, she received a call when she was already home, safe and sound. It was a request for her to go back to work, to go on yet another shift. "Before I left my place to go to work again, I had to explain it to my son why I had to leave. As a single mother, it breaks my heart to leave but I did make a commitment and I do love my patients, so I had to make a tough decision and hopefully, one day, he will understand and take comfort in knowing the value of helping people we don't know or not related to and believe that the kindness we give boomerangs back to us." 


"The hospital is for the patients... We love life, and we'd never loved life more than now," Michelle declares. 


She's also immensely touched to be showered by so much generosity by people she and her colleagues don't even know. People would send them food in the hospital. It's simple acts of kindness like this that truly means a lot during these trying times. "It gives us the heart to fight," she says.







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J.M.

  • 26 years old
  • First year resident at the Internal Medicine department 
  • Works from 7a.m. to 4 or 5p.m. the following day on weekdays, and 7a.m. to 7 or 8p.m. the next day on weekends 
  • Currently quarantined because of exposure to positive COVID-19 cases 


"As a first-year resident, you’re in the frontline, regardless if there’s an epidemic or not... All immediate concerns, big or small, are forwarded to you. You’re expected to be the first respondent, and you’re expected to know what’s going on with all the patients you’re handling," she shares. 


Having passed the boards in September 2019, and beginning her residency just this January, her very first experience in this stage of her medical career has been nothing but crazy.


"I’ve seen how some doctors have taken leaves or were reluctant to accept cases because of COVID-19, and I’ve seen how some doctors didn’t even flinch when told they’d be handling all the COVID-19 cases in the hospital... What’s touching is how, despite everything—the shortage of supplies, the lack of information regarding the virus, the fear that you could be infected, or that you could spread it to your loved ones—people, and not just healthcare workers, still answer the call. The entire hospital staff, from the security guards and janitors to the consultants and residents, still show up to work every day, still serve those who are sick and in need," she continues. 


Her biggest takeaways from this wild ride of an experience? 


"1. We’re not alone. We stand and fall together.

2. Doctors, even young ones, aren’t invincible.

3. Don’t believe everything you read on the internet." 





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King Victor Villegas

  • Nurse at the Rizal Medical Center Intermediate Care Unit
  • Usually works from 6a.m. to 6p.m. or vice versa, however 12-hour shifts have been extended to 24-hour shifts 
  • 30 years old 
  • Lives with his sister and mother, a senior citizen, but has chosen to live apart from them for the time being due to constant exposure to COVID-19 patients


King has been a nurse for 10 years. He has seen many things happen in hospitals and has witnessed some of the best and the worst things that can happen during a patient's time under his care. But even with a decade-long career, the COVID-19 outbreak has taught him new lessons, many challenging and demanding great sacrifice, but not all devastating. 


He says, "This coronavirus outbreak taught me how privileged we are and that we should not take things for granted. We are not able to perform simple things like kissing our parents and loved ones. Or even giving them a hug. But the truth is, in this current crisis, our distancing ourselves is the most painful yet sincere gesture of love that we can give."


Speaking of love, King was also set to marry his fiancée, Kathleen, last March 22—and then the President decreed the enhanced community quarantine. Since she had just finished her fellowship abroad for a year and King was continuing his work here in Manila, this couple had been looking forward to finally starting their lives together as Mr. and Mrs. Alas, the pair would have to wait a little longer (they've rescheduled their wedding to September). 


But King gives his love in more ways than one and for now. He's giving all the love he can give to his patients, especially those in critical condition or are unable to spend time with their loved ones due to the possibility of infection. But even then, an experienced nurse like him must maintain distance between those that need his care. 


"This is difficult for us because we are used to treating our patients as well as we can—meaning, they are not just sick bodies but people who also want comfort and company... We have limitations in supplies, but despite this, we are usually able to offer compassion and service, and this is unlimited. Unfortunately this time, for our own safety, we could not." 


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Lead photos from @themedicalcity / Steven Mari and @docrodney