Enemy occupation and a lockdown
What could be more difficult—life under enemy occupation, or life in these times of a viral disease that strikes silently, moves rapidly from one victim to another, and is so far, resistant to any form of medication?
When the Pacific War broke out in December 1941, I had just turned 7 and was having the time of my life enjoying all the pleasures that Burnham Park in Baguio City had to offer. The days may have been extra cold but it felt good to put on a sweater and walk up and down Session Road or through the pine-covered hills and slopes within the city.
Christmas was fast approaching when suddenly strange-looking soldiers with bayonets on their rifles showed up in various places and in an instant, my simple boyhood joys disappeared. We could leave the house, go to school, go to Sunday Mass, but a feeling of fear and insecurity seemed to shroud our movements. Things were never fully explained and questions were often brushed aside or remained unanswered. Why did we have to bow to these newcomers in our midst? Why did we have to learn their language, their alphabet, their songs? How long would this situation last? It was the presence of funny-looking creatures perhaps from another planet, that had turned our world upside down.
Fast forward to almost 80 years later. We are stuck at home. Books, television, the internet help to pass each day but after a while, boredom sets in. All classes have been suspended. Blockades are all over the place. Stepping outside, meeting people and touching them could mean death in 10-14 days, as there is no known cure for a disease that has brought the whole world to a virtual stop. There are no foreigners telling us what to do. The quarantine in our society is self-imposed. We do not know how long it will last. The enemy is as deadly as any occupying army.
In the Philippines, the number of cases has reached over 1,000. More than 70 lives have been lost. But just as we survived enemy occupation, this too, shall pass.
According to the experts, the most vulnerable among us are the elderly. Among the elderly, the most vulnerable are those suffering from diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and kidney problems. And among those with kidney issues, the most exposed are transplant patients. That puts me in the most vulnerable among the vulnerables category.
Five years ago, I had a kidney transplant and one of the medicines that are now part of my lifetime daily intake are immuno-suppressant tablets. They keep my immune system on the low side in order to prevent any rejection of the third kidney that was planted in my body. Unfortunately, they also lower my ability to fight infection. That in a nutshell, is my current situation and so I must be extra careful in my movements. It requires some discipline but beats enemy occupation anytime.
Five years ago, my transplant surgeon was Dr. Rose Marie Liquete, a UP College of Medicine Class of 1973 graduate, and the first woman kidney transplant surgeon in the Philippines. My nephrologist was Dr. Oscar Naidas, while Dr. Helen Ong Garcia, my cardiologist—both from St. Luke’s Medical Center. Today they are all frontliners in the battle against COVID-19.
In 1988, Dr. Liquete was part of the National Kidney and Transplant Institute (NKTI) transplant team headed by Dr. Enrique Ona, that performed the first double transplant (kidney and pancreas) in Asia. This was later followed by the first liver transplant in the country, also by the same team.
Today Dr. Liquete is executive director of the NKTI. While the NKTI deals primarily with highly immuno-compromised patients especially transplant patients, the urgent need for more COVID-19 centers to assist the lead organizations like the RITM, the PGH, and the Lung Center, has forced the creation of a “COVID field” on the grounds of the institute in tents located outside the main hospital. There are 14 tents of different sizes providing dialysis for PUIs who have renal failure. Of 65 patients, 48 are on dialysis. Should the crisis continue, the NKTI may be forced to open hospital wards but still observe strict isolation. However, under these conditions, it may be difficult to guarantee the safety of immuno-compromised patients.
The NKTI appeals to the public for donations such as personal protective equipment, N95 masks, surgical masks, alcohol, and other medical supplies. Food for frontliners and patients are welcome. Most especially, the NKTI asks for our prayers.
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