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Editorial

At the frontlines

/ 04:08 AM March 25, 2020

Spare a thought for the fallen. They fought the good fight, but ultimately lost to this modern-day plague now just beginning to ravage this unhappy archipelago. Did they, confronted by a disease frightening because yet unknown, consider shirking the lifelong duty they took on when they first swore as physicians to do no harm? We think not. Else they would have behaved like politicians pompously making of themselves the avatars of sacrifice.

Spare a thought for the fallen. They waged war in the medical battlefield with less than the most effective arms, in a grim effort to snatch patients from the crushing finality of death and, in so doing, learn the necessary lessons and find the way clear to saving others. All without the noise and the fanfare so coveted by politicians who believe it is they that the planet needs to keep turning.

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How grievous it is that the physicians at the frontlines in the war against the novel coronavirus could not heal themselves. Exhausted beyond their physical limits, the anaesthesiologists Dr. Greg and Evalyn Macasaet tested positive for the infection, he in worse shape than she and requiring confinement in ICU. Shortly, but not before he bade goodbye in a text message to friends and family and sought their love and care for his wife and their special-needs son, he succumbed to the plague’s fatal embrace, with Evalyn unable to comfort him in his dying moments.

The first to fall was Dr. Israel Bactol, who at 34 had his whole life ahead of him. His may be an unjust death by the reckoning of those who loved and admired this young cardiologist who went through school and the rigors of medical training on scholarships, but in the cosmic balance it is a blazing passage into the light, to be remembered fondly in the medical field.

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Yesterday was marked by even more sad news: the demise of Dr. Raul Jara, another cardiologist who reportedly tended to poor and ailing NGO workers and their families. Only lately was there news that he had been put on a ventilator and pelted with prayers for his survival. Let not his passing serve to dim hope.

And let not this tribute to these men and women of uncommon valor be a death watch. The list of stricken physicians and other health workers at the frontlines is like a wave, lengthening and then poignantly cut short, as can be gleaned from online messages pleading for prayers for their healing. Last Sunday, Caloocan Bishop Pablo David’s stirring post called for “a web of prayer warriors” for Jara, then still intubated; Dr. Sally Gatchalian, president of the Philippine Pediatric Society; Dr. Francis Dimalanta, also a pediatrician; Dr. Marie Valbuena, in ICU;

Dr. Kiko Lukban; Dr. Tess Castro; Dr. Relito Saquilayan, “happily now improving”; Dr. Gerard Goco, specialist in nuclear medicine: and pulmonologist Dr. Fernando Ayuyao.

Bishop David noted the “desperate plea of doctors for prayers, for spiritual and moral support.” That men and women of science are seeking succor from the Divine reflects the knife-edge quality of our days; it touches also on the not incongruous link between considered polarities that in fact meet at certain times when no one is looking—or even when everyone is.

But spare a thought as well for the others who continue to toil at the frontlines: the nurses, technicians, lab personnel, orderlies, hospital aides and other health workers without whose efforts the creaking Philippine health system would crumble to the dust. That the quarantine was dramatically imposed by the Duterte administration without so much as a thought to their convenience and well-

being constituted a crime; that they were left to fend for themselves in terms of transportation to and from their workplaces in the early chaotic days, forcing them to walk incredibly long distances, once more demonstrated the shortsightedness, indeed the disdain for the working class, that animate the movers and shakers at the top.

Who is keeping a list of those stricken among their ranks, and what is being done to ensure their safety and good health in the midst of the plague?

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On TV, Dr. Rustico Jimenez, president of the Private Hospitals Association of the Philippines, Inc., lamented the snail’s pace in the distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE) to the staffs of various medical institutions. Why, he demanded to know, is there such a “bureaucracy” in the distribution system? He warned of hospital personnel dying in the absence of PPEs. If you choose which hospital you will give the PPEs to, he said, logically, “there will be a problem.” And so we have.

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