“Feelings are real. But they aren’t reality,” said Dan Harmon, the creator for Rick and Morty.
Separation from family or friends, to the loss of freedom along with the uncertainty of one’s health status could easily put a person in such a desolate feeling. Much more so when subjected to isolation. This is the experience of no longer a few people – a lot of people I personally know – during the 4th COVID-19 surge in the country due to local transmission of the Delta variant.
And my isolation experience had given me bad feelings.
To be isolated is different from being put to quarantine. While both have commonalities intending to separate, in the context of COVID-19, quarantine is for the asymptomatic or those individuals with no symptoms who may have been exposed to someone who has the disease and or potential to transmit it. Once the individual becomes symptomatic, quarantine no longer applies, hence the person must be isolated.
On August 19, Philippines logged 14,895 new COVID-19 cases which was also then the second largest daily infections ever recorded since the onset of pandemic. On that day, not only I learned about this information, but also the fact that I was among those who tested positive for the virus.
It was not surprising. However, I first thought it to be a bad asthma attack and I had experienced such since I was seven. It was not surprising as I thought I had symptoms. But I have been finished with two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine more than a month ago. Without the vaccine, my symptoms and experience could have been worse. Still, I felt bad physically and also mentally with the idea of being brought to an isolation facility.
Five days prior to being swabbed, I experienced general weakness and my fever peaked at 38.4 degree Celsius. I also found difficulty breathing due to nasal congestion and inflammation. The following day came with the loss of smell and taste—a hint that I may have the virus. And I was not wrong.
The rest of those I was staying with got themselves tested the same time I did, but their antigen tests turned out to be negative. They were scheduled then for a swab test. I was the only one who tested positive in the antigen test and was scheduled to be taken to a local government facility should my current premises fail to meet the requirements of isolation—separate room and comfort room. Many people, including me, including even those living in one-bedroom condo units, would find it hard to comply with such requirements.
An ambulance picked me up on August 21 and was transported to a local hospital for medical examination.
The contract tracer assisted by a health staff then took my blood pressure and oxygen levels. I was sweating, nervous, and almost catching my breath. But it was due to the 10-minute ambulance ride for a 13.4-kilometer destination from where I was picked up to the hospital. Not to mention that I had to balance myself while inside an accelerating vehicle that also put up a loud siren. It almost felt like I had been in the adventure theme park rides.
And then, the chest x-ray and doctor’s interview were conducted. The radiologist who performed the x-ray said it was needed for them to assess whether I have complications of pneumonia or not. Afterwards, I was headed to the isolation facility.
The isolation facilities all over the city were developed by the local government to nurse residents who tested positive COVID-19. This can be a hospital, school, or hotel establishment. They were converted to makeshift isolation units to cater the growing number of individuals who caught the infectious disease and manifested its symptoms.
I was brought from one isolation facility to another—why the transfer, I was not informed. I was then still longing for information as regards my health status since I was not oriented about it after I left the hospital.
At the isolation facility, I was admitted at Room 5. House rules, hygiene essentials, and a pillow were given to me at the lobby before I found my way towards the designated room. The room was a nine-square metered room partitioned with Hardiflex walls. A hospital bed, an electricity and light source, an electric fan, along with two monobloc chairs served as its fixtures. A plastic curtain served as the door.
Once outside my room, I realized it was a school gymnasium with over 60 makeshift isolation rooms for COVID-19 patients just in the ground floor alone. The bathroom was located outside the gym to the left and there were four functional wash basins and nine cubicles, but only five have shower and water faucets. While there is a large drum for us to fill our pail, I learned that some patients unplugged the bidets from the hose in order to get water supply whenever they shower in cubicles that have no faucets.
Food packs were made available to be picked up at the lobby every 7:00AM, 11AM or 12:00NN, and 7:00PM daily. For drinking water, there were two water stations at each side of the gym.
During the first three days, I still had no sense of smell. However, I could taste sweet, salty, or spicy but not savor the food. What seemed like ‘lutong bahay’ (home-cooked meals) were on the lunch and supper menu, such as afritada, tinola, and bistek. Rice meals or sandwiches were provided for breakfast.
The food packs were delivered in reusable plastic containers. I witnessed how many plastic wares were disposed right after the meals were consumed. But I have also seen several individuals reusing these plastic ware as alternative soap dishes.
Being at the facility twenty-four seven, I told myself I need only wait for 10 days. However, there were instances when I would experience sudden weakness and fatigue. It was such a distressing feeling that fed on my lows especially when I could not do anything proactive other than to take naps in the middle of the day.
Then they told me I could be released on my eighth day. I was then brought to the quarantine facility of the local village council to complete the 10 days there.
I was relieved when I heard that I would be released soon, but I wondered why there were no consultations or assessments on the progress of my recovery. There was only Tanod Kontra COVID by Department of Health (DOH) to self-check and evaluate my health status. Every morning, the Tanod Kontra COVID daily check was a series of DOH text messages that would keep my inbox full, aside from my mom’s daily texts. It indicated a link for us to report should any complications arise.
Perhaps it had to be because of the lack of healthcare workers or there being too many active cases. This is how we isolate patients with mild symptoms or mitigate COVID-19 spread for now.
In the Philippines, there are about “on the average scale” of 3.7 doctors per 10,000 population. That is even below the World Health Organization (WHO) prescribed ratio of 1 doctor for 1000 persons. One intensivist, one pulmonologist, and one infectious disease specialist are needed for every five patients of COVID-19.
Many healthcare workers have been separated from their loved ones since the onset of a pandemic. My isolation was too small an experience compared to how they had to serve and risk their lives in order to serve and save their patients.
On the day I got out, the Philippines logged record-high 22,366 COVID-19 cases. Things seemed to be getting worse—or a cycle of bad to worse—and this was not comforting especially after having to undergo isolation. Can my body handle another reinfection? Can my mind handle another isolation or even hospital confinement? How long and how much more can all of us—healthcare workers, local government workers, ordinary citizens—bear this out?
Can we not have sufficient testing and tracing so those who tested positive and were exposed may be quarantined as quickly as possible and so that broad, militaristic lockdowns need not be funded over medical solutions? Can those affected—infected with COVID-19 or lost their livelihood during the lockdown and pandemic—be provided with all their needs so they can fully cooperate with isolation, quarantine or staying at home? Can healthcare workers be compensated fairly, if not handsomely, so they can be motivated to work (at most times at their own peril or long-term risks) as the pandemic goes on? Can we have a better government?
The reality of isolation and separation today is that we may still be thinking that our current woes are our own, different or not experienced by others. But the government’s lack of compassion to criminal negligence and pandemic response fund mismanagement and anomalies could only tell us that we are all affected adversely by this. And we will continue to suffer should we deal with trying to change our situation isolated and separated from one another.