While fighting the virus
I am writing this as I sit on my hospital bed as a COVID-19 patient. Today is my 14th day in the hospital.
These past days of confinement, I have realized so many wrong things that people do when dealing with victims of the dreaded virus. I’m not sure whether it’s just my mental health issues that must be blamed for these realizations, but I will share them just the same.
First, people’s questions can really be overwhelming sometimes. I know that friends are just concerned about your situation. But repetitive questions can be too much. Some may even call you just to ask for details, and sometimes the reason behind the questions can already be placed somewhere between concerned and just pure curious: “Ano po’ng nangyari sa inyo?” “Totoo ba si ganito raw ang carrier?” “Sabi ganito raw nangyari, totoo ba?” — I am expected to answer such malicious questions while grasping for air to breathe.
Second, when people know you to be strong and funny, the image will stay in their minds forever. Friends saying, “Kaya mo ‘yan, malakas ka naman e,” or “’Di ako sanay sa ‘yong ganyan ka, natatawa pa rin ako,” while you fight desperately to live, is not only depressing, but also downright offensive. People must accept the fact that other people, even the strongest, funniest ones, can feel hopeless, too, and that they also need support like other people.
Third, the stigma relating to COVID-19 patients is really intense. People even talk about you in group chats or private messages. This is the modern version of “kumares” talking about the lives of other people in front of someone else’s backyard early in the morning. The worst part is they spread wrong information about your details, which can further bring fear to other people. You are left wondering how these people get to have such ideas even though they’re not medical experts. “Ah, totoo, nag-positive? Aba lahat ng nakasalamuha niyan positive na!”
Fourth, the guilt of knowing that you have infected other people as well will make you stay restless at night when everyone else is already fast asleep. The feeling that you have robbed someone else’s time, gave them fears, worries, anxieties, makes you think more of them than your own health. Even though everyone around you is saying it is never your fault and you are a victim as well, you still blame yourself for all that has happened, and you just want to disappear. It is, indeed, self-shattering.
Fifth, people must understand that many COVID-19-positive patients have to deal with unstable mental health. Although everyone has their own problems to deal with, being positive means dealing with bitterness, lots of questioning of God, and depression. People must feel more compassionate toward people undergoing these challenges, and must be reminded that it might be the situation they are in that makes them feel this way. I realized this when everyone was posting about their negative status, or even when, one by one, people in my ward started going home as they had tested negative already, and I still remained there, stuck in an uncertain reality. I know for a fact that it is not my personality to feel sad about other people’s success, so I am certain it is the current situation I am in that is talking.
Sixth, health professionals really need help. It is alarming how hospital beds are being occupied every day, and how hordes of people come to seek medical treatment. “Anong araw na po ba ngayon, sir?” “Hindi ko na nga rin alam basta alam ko pumapasok lang ako.” These people are our modern-day heroes. They are like soldiers in battle—only this time, we fight something that is not visible to the naked eye. These health professionals are in the battlefront; let us give them the weapons they need for combat. They, too, just like the rest of us, deserve to see another day.
There are still so many things I want to say, especially now that I’ve just received the news that I have tested positive for the second time. But no matter how dark my realizations must seem like for other people, I cannot deny that some blessings have also popped out along my way. There is an eternal quote about creating light out of darkness, or unity out of chaos, and I think it also applies to my situation right now. I’m learning firsthand about this virus, how to deal with it, and how to tell people that this is real and that everybody must really cooperate if this pandemic is to end. All I need now is a platform to spread that awareness. I hope this is a good start.
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Bryan Jester S. Balmeo, 29, is head of a public school in Zambales.
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