The longing to see her family is almost unbearable, but Carmencita Salonga Collins, a head nurse at the 112-year-old Philippine General Hospital would not risk going home to protect her diabetic husband and their two children from exposure to the coronavirus disease 2019.
"I keep on checking my husband who stays alone at home. He is diabetic and very high risk. This is why I resist not going home. I am afraid of exposing him to the virus. Meanwhile, our children are staying with my parents in Bulacan and they always call me, telling me how much they love and miss me. I really wanted to be with them," says Collins.
Collins is one of the medical personnel at PGH who are in the frontline in the battle against Covid-19—a pandemic that has confined more than half of the world's population in their homes.
Globally, Covid-19 has infected more than 2.7 million people, resulting in the death of 190,000 individuals as of April 23. These included 6,981 cases and 462 deaths in the Philippines.
PGH, the country's largest medical facility, has been designated as one of the referral hospitals for Covid-19 cases. This means that it accepts Covid-19 positive patients, including moderate to severely ill cases that cannot be managed elsewhere. The hospital, which has endured the wrath of World War 2, is again a battleground—but this time in the fight against an unseen and treacherous enemy.
PGH medical director Dr. Gerardo Legaspi, in his message to the hospital staff posted on Facebook, describes the new meaning of PGH as "people giving hope".
"Let us do this for the patients. Let us do this because, though urgently needed, not everyone would want or will be capable to. Let us do this for the students, for our senior staff who have opted to remain in PGH and continue to serve despite the clear and present danger. Let us do this for our comrades who have fallen, taking to heart the oath we all took. Let us do this because deep in our hearts—devoid of fear and anger—it is the right thing to do. May God bless us all," Legaspi says.
Collins knows the danger that comes with the job. The hospital has already lost esteemed medical professionals such as pediatrict transplant surgeon Dr. Leandro Resurreccion III who died of complications from Covid-19 on March 31 and 5RCB1 ward head nurse Faye Marie Luna Palafox who died on April 16.
Despite the fear of contracting the virus, PGH nurses continue to do their duty every day. "Honestly, Covid-19 anxiety disorder is real. I have had sleepless nights since this Covid-19 crisis began," says Collins.
Of the tertiary hospital's Covid-19 workforce of 900, 37 tested positive of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2—the virus responsible for Covid-19, including 12 at Covid-19 wards and 25 in other units. Data from the Department of Health show that across the Philippines, more than 750 healthcare workers, including over 300 doctors and over 200 nurses were infected. More than 20 of them died of complications from the disease. This is because healthcare workers are the most exposed to the virus from infected patients.
Since Feb. 3, PGH has admitted 191 Covid cases, 35 of whom succumbed to the disease. About 141 patients recovered from the disease, including 39 who were discharged from the hospital and 102 who were awaiting swab test results.
The hospital at present has 140 patients, including 114 who were confirmed to have the virus. Of the total patients, 13 were in critical condition, 39 had severe condition, 66 had moderate symptoms and 22 had mild symptoms.
A copy of a report by Dr. Henry Echiverri based on interview with Dr. Legaspi which was posted on social media describes how prepared and organized PGH was in battling the "surprise attack from an unseen enemy".
The hospital has two wards which were converted into Covid-19 enclave and "compartmentalized with effective barriers for the healthcare workers and the patients", according to the report. It also adopted a “personnel reduction scheme” where doctors, nurses and other essential healthcare workers were assigned into three 1-week work shift teams. This means that a team will work for one week and then rest for two weeks in nearby hotels during the quarantine period.
"We are housed in a hotel near PGH. We report for duty for seven days straight and we undergo 14 days of quarantine, then seven days of duty again," says Collins.
For nearly two months now, this is the routine of Collins and other PGH medical staff. When she was asked to undertake a Covid-19 test on April 18, she prayed for good results. "When I received my results, my first reaction—I shouted 'Yes! God is good'. The first thing that came to my mind, I wanted to go home to my family. But how will I go home to Bulacan and hug my children?" she says.
Both Metro Manila and Bulacan are under the Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine which prohibits people from crossing towns and cities. President Rodrigo Duterte recently extended the quarantine period to May 15.
PGH which is based in Manila is on emergency hiring of more physicians, nurses, nurse attendants, medical technologists, respiratory therapists, radiologic technologists, mechanical equipment technicians, ambulance drivers and administrative assistants to reinforce its medical response to Covid-19.
The Department of Health reports that nationwide, it will need 15,000 doctors, nurses and other health workers to help fight the pandemic. The Private Hospitals Association of the Philippines Inc. says the country is short of 23,000 nurses nationwide despite the fact that it exports nearly 20,000 nurses a year to other countries.
More than 18,000 Filipino nurses work in the United Kingdom and more than 20 of them fell ill and died from coronavirus. Television host Piers Morgan lauded Filipino nurses for "saving people’s lives" and for "coming here and actually enriching our country and doing an amazing job.”
Filipino medical professionals are also in the frontline against Covid-19 in other parts of Europe, the US, Canada, Australia, the Middle East, Singapore and Japan. Filipinos are the largest group of migrant nurses working in US hospitals.
On what makes her come to work every day, Collins says: "I am a frontliner. I need to do this because the patients need me."
Collins says to prevent herself from being infected by the virus, she makes sure she follows the standard protocol spelled out by PGH. "We keep ourselves as frontliners updated and educated, because every day we learn something new to fight this virus," she says.
For now, she fights boredom and isolation during quarantine by constantly communicating with her family through social media and video chat. She cries when her children remind her of how much they miss her.
Her message to the public is now a familiar one. "We stay away from home for you, please stay at home for us. That will help us a lot. Thank you for continuous support and prayers for frontliners. These simple acts of caring keep us going," she says.