June 20, 2024

(part 2 of two series)
Kidlat Tahimik, National Artist for Film

Flatten the curve to free hospital beds
In March 2020, the term “Flatten the Covidcurve” was so abstract. Parang pang-PhD lang.
With daily health worker visits, we begin to understand that battlecry. Their goal is to try to keep Katrin and me out of the hospitals. Their marching orders is to slow down the spikes in infections by helping mild cases like us recover. This translates into more hospital beds available for truly serious Covid patients who need oxygen tanks and round-the-clock care.
Carrying out national battle plans against the virus is no easy task. The generals in Manila coldly analyze collated statistics, free of risk. But for the warm bodies at the Covid foxholes, the one-on-one personal compassion is very crucial. Frontliner’s kapwa feelings must be maintained as part and parcel of their morale.
Katrin did her doctorate on the indigenous Pinoy core value “Kapwa.” It is our cultural ability to merge the self with the other. In her PhD dissertation, Katrin singled out this compassionate quality which distinguishes Pinoy nurses abroad. Their inner warmth exhuded to their kapwa patients is a big bonus to their hospital service. With Pinoy caregivers, “kapwa-ness” envelopes the patient. Healing is hastened.
Re-charging the inner spirit of patients was the way our ancient Babaylanscured the ailing and dying. With herbs, ointments and shamanic rituals, it was their deep kapwa concern negotiating with malevolent invaders in the body. Pinoy “kapwa-ness” is the secret ingredient– more important than the protocols learned in nursing schools.
Day seven. One week of non-stop TLC. We know they’re not just doing their job as hired municipal workers. More than just following LGU protocols to contain the pandemic, our Itogon nurses are investing their total presence. Yes, enriched by their kapwa humanity– so innate in our Cordillera culture.
We were more than just a statistic for them to wrestle with. Each visit with their smiley disposition and their heartfelt concern– for this septuagenarian couple to get well– certainly fortified our antibodies. Katrin and I knew we could soon emerge as healthy recoverees, out of our Covid-19 cocoon.
Macro-shortcomings vs micro-successes
Reading daily exposes on high-level Department of Health corruption makes it easy for us to overlook how Jo Anne and Dolly (our diligent Itogon nurses) speeded-up our healing as two senior citizens, the most vulnerable sector in the pandemic.
With ugly headlines on health budget shortages, it’s easy to forget the compassionate encouragement of Dra. Jorelyn on day four: “Lilipas rin yan. Basta tulungin po natin ang immune system ninyo.” The tsunami of reports on Philhealth greed in the dailies, cannot drown out those images of our Itogon team disinfecting each other playfully beside their ambulance. Like children playing in the rain, they spray each other– before visiting their next Covid patients.
Flashback to day one, at the triage swab center nurse Shannon did not swab Kidlat Tahimik as a VIP. She didn’t know what “National Artist” means (until our second test 21 days later.) I was but one patient in our queue of 10 suspects who each got our laboratory results in 25 minutes. Ang bilis ng pila!
Even more amazing was the intra-agency teamwork. One hour after our test at the triage swab center, the health officer of Barangay Burnham-Legarda was already knocking at the door of my mother’s house to enforce the quarantine. I didn’t want to contaminate the several families living in my mother’s compound. I requested to self-isolate at my wife’s home– 30 meters outside Baguio’s city limit. This would transfer my case under the jurisdiction of another barangay. Within 24 hours, Itogon Health Clinic took over the monitoring. Even the PNP checkpoint 30 meters up our road, was informed to monitor movements in and out of our home.
Sadly, DOH scandals at the national level easily obliterate any micro-achievements at the local level. Our two carpenters returning to their mountain village outside Dumaguete were strictly isolated two weeks. Nabulok tuloy ang pasalubong na veggies nila. Yes, in remote corners of our archipelago barangay health workers are functioning— often with a heart and beyond the call of duty. Sila ang bayani. Kulang sa pansin sila sa frontpages. Palibhasa Philhealth scams make good copy. Diba?
Epilogue: A close encounter of the eyeball-to-eyeball kind
Day 14 of our quarantine. We opt for a home-service swab test. A med-tech nurse with lovely eyes shining though her shield, signals me to open my throat. “Sandali po lang ito, don’t move.” Says Horya, as she pokes my tonsils. Oops, her voice betrays her male hormones. Pero wow! Napakaswabe ng swab niya.
Patok! The final grade she got from me for the home-visit was 99 percent. As I escort Horya to the gate, nag-buntong hininga ako. Kyut talaga siya (sigh) at ma-kapwa. By evening, an email from her clinic announces “Kidlat Tahimik is negative. Katrin de Guia is still positive.” But there’s good news: the “viral load”of Katrin is low. Meaning, she may soon pass into the negative zone.
Let this National Artist be a credible witness to attest something good is happening in the Covid battlefields. I have witnessed how quickly they came as first-responders. My wife and I experienced their professional and personal caregiving focusing on our recovery. Despite meager resources of the DOH foot soldiers– their cultural compassion (todo-bigay sa kapwa-tao) magnified their impact on flattening the curve.
Day 21. Rizal Day Celebration. Katrin graduates into the negative Covid-free zone. Double victory for curve-flattening warriors. Sila Kawayan at Nona, may taglay na bonus sa veggie juice. A fruit-art collage– with a strawberry smile.
Kapwa still flows naturally from Filipinos. Especially in harsh times— our inbred compassion is summoned– to treat the suffering other as a part of our self. This never-ending Covid crisis is the real test. And this septuagenarian artist-couple encountered Kapwa angels at the frontlines of the Coronavirus World War.
For the post-Covid world, the buzz word is “the new normal.” Balik-kapwa is looming on the horizon… Yes, handog ito ng Pilipino samundo.