Of timeouts, volunteerism, and lighting a tree
Since March this year, we are inundated with information about a deadly virus: What it is, how it is spread, how it initially seemed to cause a deadly pneumonia or lung disease then eventually turn out to primarily cause inflammation and clotting in the body. We watch how it infects the young and the old, people from all walks of life. We witness how the world is polarized on issues as to what drugs really work.
We see footages of trucks carrying bodies, of families separated and affected by the disease. We watched and still see deserted places, cringed as we saw nobody in city squares or streets of large cities and even in our own. Until now, we watch as small and big businesses close.
We were bombarded with information on how to prevent the spread of the deadly virus: Proper handwashing, the proper way as you hum a birthday tune twice; sanitizing with alcohol and what percentage of alcohol should it be; disinfecting our homes, what is the best and the safest, not necessarily the most expensive. We were taught to wear the right kind of face mask. We learned that wearing face shields and head covers provide added protection. We have learned to use pedals to dispense alcohol. Healthworkers taking care of Covid-19 patients and frontliners handling contaminated items have to wear personal protective equipment that are so uncomfortable you could almost choke even as you perspire.
We painstakingly queue everywhere to write our name, address, contact number, put a tick to those boxes of “No” answers, or bear with a guard who points a thermometer gun on our forehead to take our temperature.
We endured lockdowns and we attend hours of virtual meetings and make do with virtual conventions while we miss the socialization and bonding with colleagues face-to-face. We spend on couriers to deliver our goods and food. And we were jolted out of our comfort zones and relatively stable existence into the reality that we have all so suddenly lost our old “normal” world.
We deal with coronaphobia – what some experts collectively call the fear of the virus, the anxiety, acute depression, fear, and other reactions elicited by our stressful situation. Have we read about people – even medical workers – taking their own lives? Suicide cases among teenagers?
We all have gone through a lot of sacrifice and challenges since the start of the pandemic; and until now, we are scared as we read about second or more waves of the disease here and in other countries and hope that we will not have more cases in our communities. When the pandemic started, healthworkers worked and learned fast to cope with the demands of their work. Trainings were done on how to properly put on and remove a PPE. Trainings were done on disposal of PPEs as hazardous wastes. Most frontliners were able to cope;but at this point in time when we await surges of Covid-19 cases, we already talk about our own burnout, fatigue, and our own ordeal in dealing with the pandemic.
Recently, we enjoyed watching the videos showing a happy event – lighting a tree on top of our most popular road. Yet watching the crowd and the lack of social distancing sent confusing signals not only to us healthcare workers and other frontliners who are on standby, ready to help those in need. Shall we now ditch all those preventive measures, the sacrifice and the trials we went through?
The reopening of the night market means crowds and shoppers can now freely go out at night, expose themselves to other people, eat street food, maybe brave the cold and reduce their immune systems.
Volunteerism and generosity live in the heart of all medical and non-medical people, but looking at those crowds and the disregard for physical distancing would make everyone reconsider or have second thoughts. The question arises:Is it worth risking one’s own life in volunteering to serve others, when activities that promote crowding are now back, as though we never dreaded a virus at all?
Should a doctor or nurse risk his life so that others will enjoy? Should anybody risk his or her own life for the sake of people who want to shop at night? Do those night shoppers really need those things they buy at night? Or can it wait tomorrow so that no one gets infected and no one spreads the virus?
We have seen our colleagues lose their loved ones and get back ashes in an urn. They did not have the chance to say final goodbyes, or even attend the cremation or funeral. We empathized with their families, cried with them. Should we now just forget those lost precious lives?
As we join a crowd to light a tree, jostle with crowds in night markets, or attend parties because it is the season to gather and to have fun – the season calls for it – we rely on certain groups of our community to be there for us – ready, healthy, prepared, and committed; dedicated to their duties as usual; and are assumed to be unaffected by the pandemic – our doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers. Continuing to observe self-restraint and maintaining physical distancing no matter what events there may be, will save the precious lives of frontliners who have always been willing to sacrifice their own safety and their family’s safety to help others. Forgetting phy-sical distancing may further drain the supply of skilled and trained workers who can do a great deal to treat and heal sick people.
Doctors will not do time out as a group and abandon their tasks and their patients. But they do need personal and individual timeouts to recharge, to reflect, to reinvigorate themselves like other human beings would do. A doctor, while fearing for his or her own life, should still be brave and go out to discharge his duties. We also agonize and experience fear;constantly torn between call of duty and our own need for physical and mental rest, our own obligations, and families.
The late Sen. Benigno Aquino Sr. popular quote “The Filipino is worth dying for” holds true until today. Anybody is worth dying for. But then in the midst of this pandemic when medical frontliners already feel our own burnout, deal with our own fears and worry about our own families, we healthworkers, face some dilemma: Is it worth risking our safety so that others might enjoy a night market, tour a beautiful city, or jostle with others in a crowd gathered to witness the lighting of a tall, beautiful Christmas tree?
We now live in an extraordinary time in which each of us seriously has to our priorities. Situations where crowds gather to enjoy social activities and tend to forget about social distancing and the restrictions of disease prevention can create vicious cycles of spreading the disease. Medical and non-medical frontliners will always be there to help until they themselves become ill and unavailable to help patients in need.
We hinge our hopes on vaccines that will eventually be made available to us. Yet we need to be realistic and cautious. Read about the efficacy of the vaccine, the dose that will give us adequate response. Then another question to be answered is: What are its possible side effects? Will these side effects be seen immediately and managed immediately? Or will it manifest as a serious debilitating complication that will develop slowly, manifest at a later time, and last even after the pandemic is gone?
These questions do not serve to discourage us or kill our hopes, but to put us in the perspective that will make us act accordingly: Continue the physical distancing and continue the restraints, continue avoiding parties, small or big; even if we read that we need to go out and socialize, to spend to make the economy recover. Let us continue those personal preventive measures we have already perfected since March. Because the virus is real – it exists, it spreads, and it can kill.