ECQ Day 1: A trek in my nurse uniform | Inquirer Opinion
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ECQ Day 1: A trek in my nurse uniform

It was March 17, first day of the “new normal.” I just capped off my 12-hour night shift in a tertiary hospital in Quezon City where I work as an intensive care unit nurse.

I was on my feet all night caring for my critically ill patients, grinding through and keeping up with the toxicity of the shift, so much so that I forgot to pee and did not have the chance to grab a bite of my midnight snack, just to make sure that every patient assigned to me had a fighting chance to see the light of day. In the past four years that I had been doing this, one of the lessons I learned was to keep complaints to myself and hope that the tension and stress would be miraculously gone once I got home. Dwelling on them is not good for my mental health, and also, what can I do? I swore an oath I dare not break.

I was worn out. I couldn’t even lift my swollen arms to remove my germ-laden scrub suit from constantly doing CPR, suctioning, feeding and turning my bedridden patients who were sometimes twice my size. I was suffering from hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) because I skipped meals and my hands were slightly shaking. I couldn’t even walk straight. All I could think about was having my bed to myself and catching up on sleep.

Meanwhile, the coronavirus had successfully penetrated the country and infected a good number of people, including locals who did not travel abroad. The President had declared an enhanced community quarantine, but because of fatigue, I could not care less about the situation. I grabbed my bag, checked my phone, and started to book a Grab ride. To my dismay, all rides were disabled. I stayed in the lobby of the hospital and waited for a taxi. None came. I walked outside the hospital compound to check for PUVs. All I could see was the ray of sunshine striking the empty pavement that was usually filled with people and vehicles. There was only one option left: to cry.

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Just kidding. With stress and frustration crippling my already resigned body, I started walking.

It was about 7 a.m., and the sun was already warm. I furiously started brisk walking, and even thought of running just like what I do when I join marathons. My legs and stamina were used to this, I told myself. At the start of the walk I was still brimming with pride; I took out my headset and played my running playlist on Spotify to pump me up. My bag was so heavy and my back was bearing the brunt, and sweat was starting to trickle down my white uniform, later to soak my undergarments.

For the first few minutes, I was doing fine. I was eager to go home so I kept my spirits up. I was still hoping to catch a ride halfway through the route, but I could not find anything. That was the only time I realized how serious this lockdown was. It was past 8 a.m. and I was beginning to feel my legs cramping and my eyes closing. I was still 3 kilometers away from home. Lest I pass out and hit the ground, I decided to stop at a drug store to buy a chocolate bar and a bottle of water. I munched and gulped everything in a matter of seconds, and it dawned on me—it was my first meal in almost 14 hours.

I knew that I was dehydrated and was unsure if I could make it home alive, but I needed to power through, so I continued. I saw a lot of people walking on the sidewalk with me — workers who were desperate to make it on time to keep their employment and salaries intact for the day, mothers and fathers carrying their kids while sharing an umbrella, the elderly and homeless in search of shelter from the extreme heat. I had company in misery; it was all the motivation I needed to continue.

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I walked slowly to conserve my remaining energy. After more than an hour of walking along Commonwealth Avenue, I finally reached my house. Drenched in sweat and my face stinging with sunburn, I sat down for an hour to catch my breath, staring blankly into space, while processing what had just happened. To my surprise, I found mine was not an isolated case. Several nurses and doctors were also caught off-guard that day and had no other recourse but to walk several kilometers to get home because of lack of transportation. From there, everything else was history.

Countless questions and a sense of self-loathing crossed my mind as I entered my room to sleep. Are my sacrifices in my 12-hour shift not enough that I had to walk 6.6 kilometers just to prove my dedication and sincerity as a health care worker? Is it still worth it? Do I have to start doing this on a daily basis, and hence enter the battlefield already incapacitated? Were we even at the back of the government’s mind when it decided to put the whole nation on lockdown?

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Now that we have entered the “new normal” while being preyed upon, placed on the forefront of combating the deadly virus, will the government start to hear us out instead of lauding and applauding us from afar, thinking that would be enough to keep us alive? See us in a new light and provide tangible support rather than the bare minimum? Or are we expected to painstakingly stand by our oath — by walking 6.6 kilometers (or more) of shame?

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Ma. Korina Trixia L. Molina, 29, is an intensive care unit nurse at a government hospital in Quezon City.

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TAGS: coronavirus pandemic, coronavirus philippines, COVID-19, frontliners, Nurses, Young Blood

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