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My husband looks COVID-19 in the eye

By DR. GRACE CAROLE BELTRAN, THE PHILIPPINE STAR Published Oct 13, 2020 5:00 am

When my husband and I reached our fifth decade, we often talked about death.  I told him that I prayed for a happy death even at an early age.  Jokingly, he would say that as long as a young and voluptuous nurse would take care of him, he would not mind how he left this world.

“Then I would also have a macho, handsome nurse take care of me,” I fired back.

Birth and death are the bookends of life.  Young and old people have different perspectives on the world. The young look forward to the future, dreaming of the best outcome, while the old look back, wondering what would have happened if they lived their lives differently.

During my younger days, I felt as if I was tough as steel. I was not afraid of anything because for me, death is inevitable. This changed through the years. Thinking of leaving my children behind makes me fear death now. So, I would talk to God and tell Him: “Lord, you can take me any time as long as I have fulfilled my duties.” That is when our children are ready.

If my husband and I were to choose, we’d rather die swiftly —without spending time in the hospital prolonging the physical, emotional and financial torment.  It’s the endotracheal tube that I fear most.

Perhaps the best way to die is through an airplane crash in the mountains, not in the sea.  A plane crash at sea might still leave you alive and swimming along with the sharks, who could shred you to pieces, a really agonizing way to die.

Then here comes COVID-19. A death sentence is horrible but tolerable, and more acceptable, especially if the guilt is there.  But dying due to COVID is brutal because there is nothing that can prepare you for it.

So when my husband was admitted to the hospital as a PUI, I had anxiety attacks.  We always talked about it as the most ruthless way to die.  Why? Because you do not get to see family, you spend millions of pesos, and there is really no comfort with this wicked virus once you have it.

It is like you are being suffocated slowly until you give up the fight, while there is no one to cheer you on that you can do it. 

It all started when my husband suddenly developed swelling of his face and hands, which he usually experiences after eating crabs. But this time it was after eating seaweed. This was accompanied by redness of his neck, which extended a little bit on his forearm. 

So as usual, I gave him anti-allergies.  The next day he was better, so he stopped all medicines.  After one day of being better,  a few red rashes again appeared on his forearm but soon disappeared, but on the same day he could not eat. 

I asked him why. He just told me, “I do not have the appetite to eat,” which usually happens after he takes his anti-diabetes meds.  So, no worries for me.

Then as the days passed, I noticed that he was sleeping all the time so I asked him again.  “What is happening to you?” Then he told me, “I always feel like sleeping,” which is also normal for him because sometimes he sleeps even when driving, especially after eating. 

I started to worry when he was beginning to sweat a lot while we were at the dining table and he was becoming weaker.  I also noted a distinctive smell in his urine, which is common among diabetics, so I thought he was having diabetic ketoacidosis, and that is when we decided to bring him to the hospital. 

He was tested for COVID, which turned out to be negative, then a swab was done. The results came after four days, and turned out positive.  At first, I was not so worried, but after several days, when they told me that he would be intubated, then my anxieties began, because this is what both of us feared the most. 

He was eventually intubated and restrained because he has a tendency to pull out all the tubes connected to him.  This was my worst nightmare, seeing my husband suffer.  The anguish that I went through was immeasurable at this time. I would call the ICU three to four times day to inquire about his condition, and am so happy that the nurses were really very patient with me. 

I would also text all my praying warriors almost every day, which includes the UTOPIA Fraternity, Sisters of St. Claire, Couples for Christ group (Liza Taguiam Dela Cruz and her sister Elvie), my sister Veronilyn Ocampo, all my priest friends (Fathers Jul Nuique, RJ Abada, Gary Villanueva, Sirach Thomas Balinggan; added to this now are fathers Edwin Peter Dionisio and Cielo Almazan), my media, derma and other friends as well. 

Four days before my birthday, I really thought he would leave me as he developed sepsis, cardiogenic shock, renal failure, pneumonia with no improvement of pulmonary infiltrates, and a fragile oxygen saturation that kept on changing every now and then. 

My fear was he would leave me on my birthday, which made me more upset, because if he did, every time my birthday would come it would be his death that I would remember, and not my birthday. Then, to make the story short, his condition improved on my birthday and this was the only time I was able to sleep like a baby.   

Grief is a most peculiar thing; we are so helpless in the face of it.  It’s like a window that will simply open of its own accord. But it opens a little less each time.

It is like the ocean, it comes in waves, ebbing and flowing; sometimes the water is calm, sometimes overwhelming.  All we can do is learn to swim. And one day we wonder what has become of it.

I would also like to thank all his dedicated doctors, who spent so much time trying to bring him back to me alive and kicking: the dream team of the Philippine Heart Center (doctors James Ho, Agnes Mejia, Encarnita Limpin, Myla Custodio, and Paul Salandanan).

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