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It’s been seven months since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared in our country. At the start, there were reports of discrimination against medical frontliners such as booting them out of dormitories and refusing them entry in establishments.

We were all clueless about COVID-19 then and seeing images of how it can be fatal triggered so much fear.

Yet today, despite daily news about COVID-19, many are still ignorant about it, particularly on how it can spread. Instead of helping or empathizing with those who contracted the virus, they gossip about who has it and even blame the patient.

I saw a post from a friend whose son is among the six medical staff at the regional hospital that tested positive of the virus in the line of duty. More than 80 others have been isolated, including my niece who works there as a nurse. With many personnel currently indisposed, it is a wonder that the regional hospital has not declared a total shutdown.

Those that gossip and spread misinformation ought to realize how heroic these medical frontliners are, for braving the daily threat of acquiring the virus just to serve the general public, even at the expense of the welfare of their own families. They should be praised, not gossiped about.

My friend’s son has a baby. My niece has a 6-year old boy. Imagine how they are deprived of hugging their babies now. My niece has her own unit in the compound of her parents. She has been isolated and communicates with her son through FaceTime or a wave and blowing kisses to him from the window.

Imagine sleeping with your love ones one day and shutting the doors on them the next. If that image will not tear at your heart, then probably, those who continue to gossip and discriminate, especially against our medical frontliners are just callous and insensitive like the leaders we have.

Another niece, Mutya, is a doctor at the same hospital. She has been crying almost daily as she sees the situation they are in and her heart goes out to their indigent patients who also need utmost care but have to take a back seat as one department after another shuts down because of the contagion.

With five members in our family in the medical field, four of them serving at the regional hospital, I always offer prayers for them especially seeing how the regional hospital is starting to get overwhelmed by the rising cases we have.

But my niece said, “Overwhelmed are for ordinary days – it refers to the number of patients we see. But times have changed – we see less patients, but we are now engulfed by the consequences brought by this pandemic.”

Mutya is referring to their regular patients who turn to the regional hospital as their last hope for treatment. Many of them cannot even afford to buy medications, opting to put food on the table rather than prioritize their own health needs.

“When COVID came, it kills you so much more, to see them defeated and lose hope. I cannot imagine their dilemma – it was like choosing and wanting to live, but how. They had a fighting chance – but they are losing the battle. ” Mutya said.

Many of their cancer patients came back after the lockdown was lifted but most of them needed new tests and scans because of the long period in between their scheduled intervention. More so now when RT-PCR swabs are needed as part of the new protocol. Getting swabbed in private labs will cost over P5,000 and since only emergency surgery are allowed at the regional hospital at the moment, these patients will just have to pray harder that they survive until the pandemic is over.

I raised this issue in my previous column. For those afflicted with non-COVID serious ailments, where will they turn to now? My niece said she is at a loss for words but we all ought to remember that “COVID is not the only battle we are facing. We battle for all our patients, for every Filipino – who were deprived and forgotten.”

“We are only recording the COVID fatalities – and it is still rising. But we are losing count of all the others. Should we stop counting, then? We are crying and screaming, for us to be heard – not just because we are tired; not because we are heroes – but because we know we cannot help and accommodate everyone – both in private and government hospitals. That is why we are making our voices louder because every one of us deserves a chance,” she wrote.

The national government came out with yet another plan of action. I hope they take into account as well the non-COVID patients. How many of them have we lost since the pandemic started?

Lastly, I hope the next time we gossip, the next time we discriminate, especially against medical frontliners, we remember the struggle they are in and the sacrifices they’ve made. If we cannot empathize, then just shut the hell up.*

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January 2023

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