“BORN in Davao City, Philippines, Brussels and her family emigrated to the US in 2000. She has been a licensed practical nurse since 2016 and comes from a long Filipino tradition of nursing. Most of her family, including her parents, husband and sister, are also nurses. In the spring of 2020, Brussels worked at Northwell Health’s Stern Family Center for Rehabilitation when she -- and eventually almost her entire family -- contracted Covid-19. Pregnant with her second child, Brussels became gravely ill and was forced to have an emergency C-section before being put on a ventilator at Long Island Jewish Medical Center.”
This is the bio of nurse Brussels Garrote Jabon, one of five health care professionals and patients whose stories of struggle and survival were told in “The First Wave”, a documentary film by Oscar-nominated Matthew Heinemen for National Geographic on the first four months of the Covid-19 pandemic in New York City’s hardest hit hospitals system.
“I want to get better and I will get better. Just pray. Life is worth it,” Jabon wrote on a paper while bed-ridden at the medical center.
Having not held her newborn after having been induced to give birth through caesarian section at 36 weeks and three days on 23 April 2020, it was a struggle against the virus that was killing by the thousands and to come home to her newborn and a six-year-old daughter.
It’s been a year and a half now and baby Lyon is doing well even as a preemie.
“I’m so blessed because he’s so healthy, but because he’s a preemie he gets developmental (checkup) every six months, but he’s good, he’s on track,” Brussels said of her son in a Mesenger video call. Lyon had to stay in the newborn intensive care unit (Nicu) after being delivered and then live his first weeks with an aunt because his family all tested Covid positive. Brussels’ parents, who are both health care givers, her sister Athens who is also a nurse of Northwell, her husband Edrianne Naph Jabon, also a nurse in a Covid unit, and her daughter Andi were all quarantined at home while Brussels was confined. No one knew if they would survive the infection at that time, although eventually they all did.
The uncertainty, the fear that wrapped New York City and the world during the first wave of Covid can be felt in the film as you witness through an embedded lens the dying, the dead in body bags, and everyone’s struggle to survive.
“With each distinct storyline serving as a microcosm through which we can view the emotion and societal impacts of the pandemic, The First Wave is a testament to the strength of the human spirit,” the film’s website reads.
It was most apparent in a scene that saw the doctor calling the family of a patient, giving updates on the positive indicators the patient has been showing, getting more confident of his recovery and then right after, the patient died.
The sound to indicate yet another patient is in critical condition becomes a pervasive presence, you’d flinch as you hear it again while watching.
Heart-rending, too, was Naph’s first personal encounter, albeit across closed car windows of his newborn son as the aunt drove by for the family’s first look. That was the closest they could get to the baby.
You’d get goosebumps when NYC woke up to the toll of church bells and the people, all looking out from their tenement windows creating noise with whatever they could — New Year horns, spoons on steel railing, iron pots and pans.
With very little knowledge about the virus, it was “crazy” even in NYC, supposedly the most urbane of first world cities. Health care professionals were fighting against a disease they have very little knowledge of, protected only by medical grade masks they had to use over and over again until they got torn, while outside, groceries were running low on supplies.
“It was scary at that time because you didn’t imagine it would happen in a first world country and in New York,” Brussels said.
It’s better now even as the virus continues to mutate as there is more information about it, people now know better how to reduce the risk of infection, plus there are the vaccines.
But more than anything, the experience as a Covid patient made her love being a nurse more than ever as it made her more grateful, appreciative, and caring for her patients.
“I want to honor all the Filipino Nurses who fought Covid and fought for their lives, 1/3 of Nurses here in the US who died from Covid-19 were Filipinos. I am very blessed and grateful because me and my whole family have the chance to share our story to the whole world,” she wrote in a Facebook post on the film’s premier at The Beacon Theater in New York. There she proudly donned a proudly Dabawenyo creation — an emerald colored gown designed by Aztec Z. Barba.
The film is now being shown in US theaters. Worldwide release will still be announced.
TELLING HER STORY. Brussels being interviewed during the premier of The First Wave at The Beacon Theater in New York in this photo from NatGeo. (Contributed photo)
December 06, 2021
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