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When hospitals burst at the seams

No one is telling us what to do if and when hospitals have become full and can no longer take in COVID-19-stricken patients, not to mention having shortage of health personnel. Where to take the patients? What to do with them, how to care for them at home or elsewhere? What treatments to apply? What medicines to take, if any? That is not even the worst-case scenario. I dread conjuring up the worst.

Tell us, please. Tell us what we can do, what the government will do.

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We are having a surfeit of instructions on preventive measures on how to keep COVID-19 (a.k.a. novel coronavirus) at bay. Columnist and anthropologist Michael L. Tan calls it

“infodemic.” It is now coming out of my pores. Add the keep-calm reminders, mini-homilies and prayer chains online, holier-than-thou admonitions, horror scenarios, even laugh-in gags that provide comic relief.

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Health Secretary Francisco Duque III has been saying it repeatedly: It is not a matter of if but when.

The when has come. COVID-19 cases in the Philippines are no longer few and far between—as few as less than 10 initially a week ago—with the virus mostly contracted abroad. Two days ago, the cases tripled in less than 24 hours, from 10 to 24 to 33. And they are the reported and tested cases. What about the unreported and untested? No deaths among Filipinos.

China has patients in the tens of thousands. And now, South Korea and Italy have thousands. What makes us Filipinos think we are immune? Because we take a bath more than once a day? Or are high in antibodies? This has nothing to do with COVID-19—or because we soap and wash our butts instead of just wiping them with toilet paper? In this COVID-19 season, people abroad are hoarding toilet paper, hence the shortage. Filipinos can teach them a thing or two on how to use “tabo” in the absence of a bidet.

I know from a firsthand source that one hospital already has all its isolation rooms filled up; it had to put up waiting tents outside for those seeking admission for various ailments while still being cleared for COVID-19, their travel histories being taken into account.

I know what this is like. In September last year, I thought I had dengue because I was feverish. Tests done in a hospital showed I had exposure to dengue, but the young resident’s interpretation was that I was positive for dengue and needed to be admitted. Too bad there was no room available.

I went to a second hospital and on to the third. All full. The hospital lobbies were like airport scenes full of stranded passengers with canceled flights. I made calls and ended up in a fourth (The Medical City) where I knew people who cared. There, I was confined and underwent more tests. I had UTI, not dengue. I was discharged the next day. I am not a hospital habitué, by the way.

So. Are we ready for a worst-case scenario? I imagine places that used to serve as evacuation centers while nature unleashed its fury serving as makeshift wards for COVID-19 patients who cannot be admitted to hospitals that are bursting at the seams. Is this not a possible, feasible, manageable operation?

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And if patients opt to remain at home, what are to be done to make them better instead of consigning them to the Grim Reaper? Nothing has been said about this scenario. Wala, waley, nada. Just ride out the storm? Wait? What medicines, if any?

At least in dengue cases where there is no cure, frequent hydration is always being emphasized.

I have yet to hear health officials tell us what exactly is being done in treating COVID-19 patients now confined in the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine and now in regular hospitals. What is the protocol? (That word, so often heard.)

For flatulence relief, a professor and poetry buff from the University of the Philippines has put together President Duterte’s stream-of-consciousness utterances (“ramblings,” he called them) at a recent press conference on the COVID-19 cases into haha-haiku-like lines. Google “The Kit” by Rodrigo Roa Duterte.

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