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Stories in the time of COVID

By MILLET M. MANANQUIL, The Philippine STAR Published Apr 04, 2021 5:00 am

We are waiting to see the future stories, books, plays and movies that will come out with COVID as the theme. And yes, artworks too, after artists emerge from what BenCab and Annie Sarthou describe on Instagram as being in a relationship, better described as “isolationship.”

Surely, there will be tears. Plenty of pain. And prayers. There will be epiphanies. Even miracles.

I was aching for a miracle myself before my brother Edgar Martinez died of COVID-19 after a week at the ICU in Los Angeles. It was a death that came so fast. It was cruel, it was devastating. Not a day passes that I don’t shed a tear when I remember him. When people nearest and dearest to you are struggling and dying, you know COVID is a reality.

How about you? What’s your COVID story? We asked several people and here are their stories on how COVID changed their lives.

George Pua, restaurateur-businessman

‘I was asleep in the ICU for 21 days.’

Last July 14, 2020, I was rushed to UST emergency room, unconscious.

I was not feeling well the week before that. I was tired and my eyes felt they were burning so I took some paracetamol. I never lost my sense of taste and smell but had a bout of hiccups that lasted a week. I also had LBM for two days but that was about it. I can’t remember how, on July 14, I was picked up at my condo and brought to the hospital. 

Upon admittance, the doctors told my nephew Mighty Ramirez and my niece Edeleen Ramirez — both doctors, too — that I had only less than a 10 percent chance to make it and needed to be intubated immediately. 

I was put under sedation as I was struggling and resisting the intubation. They did all sorts of treatments, blood transfusions. I needed so many types of meds but not all were available at once.

There were days that my system would drop, as though I were a goner, so my sister started crying. On the 19th day, the doctors and my family agreed to “trach” my throat (perform a tracheotomy) as it was too dangerous to keep my intubation in for too long.

On the 19th day, I began to pull all my tubes while I was still under sedation. When the doctor saw that I was breathing well on my own, they didn’t pursue the procedure anymore.

I woke up on Aug. 3, 2020, and I asked the nurse where I was. I felt like I was in an outerspace movie because all the nurses were dressed in what looked like spacesuits.

As there was no mirror, I couldn’t see myself, so I was wondering why the nurse didn’t allow me to go to the bathroom by myself.

Once, I went down from the bed by myself, and I fell to the floor. I was trying to walk but couldn’t walk because I had lost 40 pounds and all my muscles were gone. At that time, I looked like I was in a war movie, a prisoner of war, with only bone and skin. 

I was discharged on Aug. 17, 2020. My weight gradually became 128 pounds, down from my original 168. After eight months, I reached 160 pounds, but now, I have physical therapy three times a week to rehabilitate my muscles. I still have shortness of breath, which is experienced by severe COVID patients. They called it the “long haul.” 

My near-death experience makes me ask why God gave me another chance to live. It also makes me feel more grateful for life’s blessings.

Margie Moran-Floirendo, Cultural Center of the Philippines chairman

‘Still haunted by the memory of losing two brothers, I undergo rehab and exercise to regain my wellness.’

I  had my share of personal crises during this period that gave me so much sadness. I lost two brothers in three and a half months.

Ignacio, who was born exactly a year after me, suddenly passed on in California of cardiopulmonary arrest. Francis, who resides in my neighborhood, expired due to complications from COVID-19.

His sick wife, Alexandra, drove him to the emergency room at an oxygen saturation level of 50 percent when normal levels are 95 percent. That was the last time he was seen alive. He was in ICU, intubated, and attached to the ECMO life support machine for two weeks. It was excruciating.

We solicited blood and platelets from friends and the Red Cross. Our families were together when the infection happened, and the memory of that incident still haunts me until now.

I already lost two younger brothers due to illness a few years ago, and being the eldest, I witnessed the sudden reduction of my family to half.

It was equally painful to break the news to my 93-year-old mother that she had lost another child. No mother should ever bear that pain. But I am comforted by the truth that everyone is God’s children, and we are just stewards of those we love. 

Our families and the household members were all stricken with COVID at the time of Francis’s demise on Aug. 13, 2020. I was the exception even if I sat with him less than six feet away and without a mask over a weekend. I had antibodies to protect me from contamination from a previous COVID infection shortly before the lockdown in March 2020.

However protected I was, I was not entirely well. I had pulmonary issues that made breathing shallow. Test results at St. Luke’s Pulmonary Institute of Medicine showed that my oxygen saturation dropped to 88 percent after a six-minute walk.

Diagnosed as a long hauler, I underwent a 16-day pulmonary rehabilitation over two months last December. I walk to exercise my lungs, but I cannot yet acknowledge that I am at my pre-COVID level of wellness. 

On a positive note, in times of crisis, we at CCP want to do everything possible to minimize the impact of our stakeholders’ loss of livelihood. Through the CCP Board’s initiative and implemented by the CCP management, we can give temporary employment to displaced artists of the CCP by way of continuing training and produce performances using digital platforms.

These artists include dancers, ballet masters, choreographers, musicians, singers, filmmakers, scriptwriters, actors, stage directors, and videographers. I feel I am in the right place at the right time, and working with the right people at this time of the pandemic to contribute to saving lives and livelihoods.

I have become more spiritual with a deeper relationship with our Lord, so that I now have the intention to be kinder and more compassionate to people who depend on us at the CCP.

Camille Villar, Deputy Speaker and Representative of Las Piñas City

‘The best thing is finding out what is truly important in life.’

While it was a challenging year, I found that the best thing that happened to me was a chance to reevaluate and find what is truly important: that is health, family, and joy in the simplest things, which we may have taken for granted in the past.

Ķwas given the gift of time with my loved ones at home. I cherish all the time I've been able to spend with my son, Tristan, especially. This year has shown me that even with all the difficulties, there is still so much to be grateful for.

Trina Yujuico-Kalaw, president, First Orient Securities

‘I fought anxiety and depression by cooking.’

As most of us know, the stock market is the “mirror” of the Philippine economy. Early 2018, there was a gradual pullout of foreign funds. Why? The US stock market was doing very well during the Trump administration.

Both our political and economic outlook was bleak because this present government didn’t show any light at the end of the tunnel. There was no substantial economic good news. Corruption and drugs were not truly addressed as promised.

The lockdown came to prevent COVID spreading. Hence, more economic downturn.

Two days after the lockdown in March 2020, we at Philippine Stock Exchange-BGC (Capital Market) were asked to open for the Philippine economy to go on. Since then, the only time I was absent was a few days last December when I went to Balesin.

In the past 12 months, I have been very thankful for all the prayers and concerns of my siblings and “nagging” friends. We have physically survived with the stern health protocol of wearing face masks and face shields with daily cleaning of the office and bottles of alcohol.

Lately, these past three months, that circle of people getting sick, surviving and passing away due to COVID is getting nearer and more familiar to me.

There are times I catch myself crying and sad I have been praying harder and sometimes I even get depressed.

My going to work every day, cooking and sending food to some people and watching Netflix at home have helped me fight the anxiety and depression. There is no other place for me but here.

I love my country and I am proud to be a Filipino. But dear Lord, please help me to sustain my hope and faith that we will recover for the sake of the next generation. No matter how slow it will be, I believe that God will not abandon us.

Monina Arnaldo-Lacson, former retail industry executive

‘In these times, we can’t help but look beyond ourselves.’

Because I am immuno-compromised, the forced isolation starting in March 2020 stressed me out. I felt the world stopped.

Many realizations and lessons came the hard way.

I embraced a life with more meaning: daily online Mass (which used to be just once a week); daily meditation and Lectio Divina with a Contemplative Group; occasional inspirational/religious talks with Divine Will Cenacle; joint daily Rosary and Divine Mercy with my husband which used to be KKD (Kanya Kanyang Dasal).

Because of the pandemic, I became more mindful of the value of family and friends and good health over the selfish compulsions of amassing more possessions.

One can’t help looking beyond oneself, and instead look at the plight of others. One small gesture can light up other people’s lives, such as tips to Grab drivers, tokens to delivery men, help to poorer segments of the community, buying from farmers, to name a few.

One also realizes that life is but fleeting with no assurance of a tomorrow so make the best of the present moment and be grateful for what we have now. Faith, hope and God’s mercy are all we can cling on to.

In summary, I hope, at the end of all this, I can strive to emerge as a better person.

Caroline Tanchay, industrialist

 ‘I found a new life purpose during the pandemic.’

In the past 25 years I have been focused on building businesses from mining, power, oil refinery services and real estate.

 When you reach a point in life when making money seems easy, you look for your life’s purpose. I have been praying over the past decade for a strong sign and asking myself: What is God’s purpose for me?

Searching for ways to cure the illness among my loved ones, I become passionate and studied German and Swiss functional medicine, better known to us as natural alternative medicine.

Helping people with their auto-immune disorders has given me a sense of fulfillment.

I started a compounding pharmacy to provide personalized natural prescription treatment for patients.

Then COVID came, and all 2,000-plus workers were panicking just like everyone when we were placed under quarantine last March 2020. 

I feel that God showed me a great miracle when we started compounding supplements for our own workforce and their families. We have been helping COVID patients that seek our help for free. To date, 99 percent of our workers and friends that take our supplements are COVID-free and one percent is asymptomatic.

I  feel thankful that I have found a new life purpose.

Cathy Bonavitacola, entrepreneur and restaurateur

‘Testing positive can be like a curse, a plague.’

I  used to think that living and breathing fresh air in the countryside was a safer choice during the pandemic. Until I got the dreaded COVID virus.

Following all the protocols, I have been swabbed five times during the past year. I have traveled to Manila twice, and coming back home to Tacloban I would quarantine for 10 days and get swabbed. 

Unluckily, I was exposed to a political figure who turned out positive. Sadly, the whole town talked about him in a very negative way, and we, who were with him, were also bashed. They made a big issue out of it, as if we were purposely spreading the virus.

Being in a small town, news travels fast. Testing positive for COVID or even being in close contact with a patient reaches hungry ears at warp speed.

Testing positive for COVID is a curse, a plague. The harsh reality is that most people think it will be the end of you, instead of wishing you to recover quickly.

You will never know when and how you will get it… no matter how careful you are in your own bubble. I used to think that I was secure. One day this illusion was shattered as I was exposed and tested positive for COVID.

With regular exercise, and a healthy, balanced diet, I thought my immunity was strong enough.Getting infected with the virus was a very different experience. I had to isolate myself in my room, with only Netflix to keep me busy.

Being sick equates to enduring a lot of stress and anxiety. I was also worried about all the people who work for me because I did not want to be the carrier that infected my team. With God’s grace, everyone tested negative.

Surviving COVID made me realize that we are all here in this world on borrowed time. As such, we have to treasure what matters most in life — it’s the people we care about and love the most.

We are all blessed that we have been given life and that we have to live with respect — to take care of our body, to be healthy physically, mentally, body and soul. I feel grateful for every single day that I wake up. I lift everything up, especially my worries, to God.