Sanchez: In the frontline and home front

Nature Speaks

I’M NO doctor. But I grew up surrounded by cousins who chose to be doctors now retired surgeons, cardiologists, and hospital administrators. That’s why I feel at home with them.

No one wants war. Yet we often hear our medical professionals speak in military war jargon such as being in the frontlines, that military line or part of an army that is closest to the enemy. And therefore, in a shooting war, the most dangerous location with highest number of casualties.

That reminds me of Tito Peping, a medic still taking up medicine when the United States Army Forces in the Far East (USAFFE) drafted him during World War II.

When the USAFFE surrendered to the invaders, the Japanese invaders forced Filipino and American prisoners of war to join the infamous death march. But he managed to escape through help of civilians.

Tito Peping escaped by hiding under the skirt of an old woman. (Talk about being under the saya! As Kuya Arthur Quito recalled. Then Tito Peping joined the guerillas.

This time, we are in a world war again. Dr. Tom Frieden, the former director of the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention, noted: “There’s a long war ahead and our Covid-19 response must adapt.”

We are at war against invisible invaders, as Dr. Christer Mari Taclobos asked me. This is what our frontliners face. A relative by affinity. Dr. Fernando Ayuyao, a pulmonologist working at several leading hospitals in Metro-Manila, was infected (but not intubated as a meme put it) when the quarantine started. Covid-19 is getting really personal.

Then a fellow cardiologist of my cousin Benjo Quito at the Philippine Heart Center, Dr. Israel Bactol died in the forefront after contracting coronavirus, allegedly from a patient who lied about her travel history.

Heavens. Benjo. It could have been you. In fact, at the UST where you studied, the hospital management said a total of 530 hospital staff including consultants, fellows, residents, nurses, and aides have been quarantined due to exposure to patients with, or suspected to have, the Covid-19.

Then another cardiologist at the PHC passed away: Dr. Raul A Jara whose roots are from Negros.

His daughter posted on Facebook that Dr. Jara died “fighting. In his eulogy, the Philippine Heart Association, said it is with profound sadness that we announce the loss of one of the great pillars of cardiology, PHA past president Dr. Raul Diaz Jara. He was a great father, teacher, mentor, poet, author, singer, colleague, great father, teacher, mentor, poet, author, singer, colleague, friend,” the PHA said in a statement.

For Dr. Bactol, the PHA noted “It is a sad day for the whole association as we have lost one of our own in the fight against Covid. He is a casualty of this war. We honor him as he lost his young life while fulfilling his duties as a doctor, a young cardiologist and a dedicated member of PHA (Philippine Heart Association).”

How do we adapt to our enemy? Dr. Jaffee Abellar, a freshman pediatrician resident gave a clue. She sent me her reflection by way as her reply. “I have come to appreciate at this time those who are our backbone.”

I think of Dr. CM and Dr. Jaffee are in the frontline as the modern Tito Pepings. I salute them for choosing to slug it out with the enemy. In this war against Covid-19, “The guards, the janitors, and the food delivery men who without them,” Doc Jaffee noted, “we won’t be secured and have something to fill in our tummies since malls, including some convenient stores had closed down too. It is ok for health workers because we know what to do to protect ourselves. But I give more credit to them because they might be given lesser appreciation at this time.”

We are the civilians in the home front. For us, we are staying at home for you. Because we want our doctors to stay in the frontlines.

I join our Holy Mother Church in prayer for our frontliners such as Doctor Greg Macasaet, an anesthesiologist and a frontliner who has passed away. May his wife Evalyn and other frontliners survive. No greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15:13). Amen.


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