OUR COVID-19 JOURNEY: Surviving the ordeal at home

QUEZON CITY (MindaNews / 09 June) — This is an essay I promised many of my friends who journeyed with my family through COVID-19 and asked me how we survived the ordeal while managing it at home despite the difficulties. I write about presence of mind, common sense, hygiene, Western medicine, and Indigenous Knowledge (IKSP). I am sharing this experience as cases surge in Mindanao. It was in April 2021, at the height of the second wave in Metro Manila when COVID-19 struck our home and infected my husband, Bj.

Onset of symptoms. Bj’s first symptom was dizzyness and a high blood pressure (BP). We did not suspect it was COVID-19 because he had been hypertensive since the start of the lockdowns last year. His BP was uncontrolled (i.e., no medication) so to lower it we got prescription medicine via e-consultation with a doctor. That was on a Sunday night, April 4. The next day he developed a fever and felt a shortness of breath. We assumed it was COVID-19 until proven otherwise. We immediately isolated him in the room we were staying in because we knew it was already contaminated. Pablo, our 10-year old son, and I moved to his bedroom. We started wearing masks at home.

Getting tested. We were afraid of the high rates of infection outside so we decided to go for home-based testing. We were lucky because Metro Manila, unlike most places beyond the National Capital Region (NCR), had several home-servicing testing centers. We availed of the service of a reputable testing facility that used the COVID-19 test kit developed by Dr. Raul Destura with funding support from the Department of Science and Technology (DOST). The three of us decided to get tested at the same time because: 1) we were a co-sleeping family, and 2) most of the time, Bj and I shared drinking glasses and dessert plates. Later on, we learned that we should have waited until Bj’s tests came out and did additional tests only if he tested positive. We were all going on quarantine, anyway.

Home care. We got excellent guidance from the webinar, When COVID Hits Your Home, by Dr. Anna Lim Ong sponsored by Santuario de San Antonio, and the COVID Care Tips developed by the Office of the Vice President (OVP) of Leni Robredo and made available online. The infographics from the University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital (UP-PGH) Class ‘91 was also helpful. We supplied ourselves with a thermometer, an oximeter, a BP monitor, medicines, vitamins to boost immunity, masks, and disinfectant.

In an ideal setting, the patient should undergo laboratory tests to determine their exact condition. But since we could no longer leave the house given Bj’s infection (we don’t own a car), all diagnosis will be based on our honest, accurate, and rigorous observation and reporting of symptoms. Aside from consulting with a cardiologist on managing his BP, we sought the help of an internist in monitoring and managing Bj’s symptoms. Both were done remotely via private messaging. I asked Bj to be honest with the doctor and me about all the symptoms he felt so we, the doctor included, would know how to manage the sickness. We monitored and recorded his BP, oxygen level, and temperature at least two times a day, and observed the onset of other symptoms and reported them to the internist daily. For this, the COVID-19 Monitoring Sheet prepared by the OVP was very helpful.

We never second-guessed our doctors and instead followed their advice to the letter. We politely turned down offers of access to Lianhua Qingwen and Ivermectin.

Pablo and I also had our own thermometer and oximeter and monitored our temperatures and waited for the onset of COVID-19 symptoms each day. We boosted our immunity by eating well, drinking lots of fluids and taking vitamins.

Was I worried? When Bj’s BP was still unmanaged and spiking, I was. We never self-medicated or used another person’s prescription to buy our own supply. The BP had to go down gradually because a sudden drop could be dangerous. We focused on the best course of action to get advice and a prescription from a doctor. We could not reach our cardiologist immediately (he was on COVID-19 duty). We insisted on arranging a consultation despite advice from family to change doctors. We didn’t want to gamble on someone who had no knowledge of Bj’s medical history. Thankfully, the doctor’s secretary put him on the priority list when we disclosed that he was positive.

When the BP was finally managed and his vitals were okay, I just chilled. I did not dwell on the what if’s and refused to be brought there. I took it one day at a time. The government’s pandemic response has been an epic failure. Hospital bed availability was hit-and-miss—you just couldn’t rely on it or include it in any planning. All the same, I made sure to have the numbers of the One Hospital Command Center, our Barangay Health Emergency Response Team (BHERT), ambulance services, as well as a PPE provider in case Bj had to be driven to a hospital by a family member.

We knew the critical oxygen level number by heart. At that time, WHO’s protocol pegged it at 94, while the UP PGH Class ‘91 infographic suggested 92. If it reached either of those numbers, we knew we had to arrange for hospitalization.

Bj’s reached 94 on our 8th day. We were still on Day 3 of the second phase of the virus’ evolution (Days 5 to 10). The internist gave him antibiotics that were for the treatment of pneumonia. That was when I asked for help from the family to download the One Hospital Command Center app just in case the infection progresses. Bj felt assured when he was prescribed antibiotics to address the bacterial co-infection. However, he developed nausea as a side effect. This had to be addressed again with medication because it affected his eating. When we finally reached Day 10 and his oxygen saturation did not go down, I knew we were going to make it.

He had a fever throughout the 10-day critical period plus another two days prior to when we had our swab tests (doctors count as day 1 the time when one gets tested). His highest temperature was 38 degrees centigrade, and he managed this by hydrating, taking paracetamol, and bathing. To ease his breathing, he got relief from a prone position when sleeping and deep-breathing exercises.

Challenges, bloopers and blessings. We are a nuclear family of three living in a condominium. As soon as Bj developed a fever, I called the manager of the condominium that we are getting tested. He instructed us not to go out anymore, made arrangements for our deliveries and garbage disposal, initiated contact tracing, and coordinated with BHERT. We also discussed the experience of other positive households in the condo. The Manager emphasized that he would not allow me and my son to leave our patient alone. Instead, we needed to isolate Bj in a room while we all quarantined in our unit. He told me of a neighbor’s case where the patient, who was left by his family to isolate alone, fell unconscious because his oxygen level dipped too low. The condo’s Property Management Office (PMO) had to rush him to the hospital. The presence and capacity of a caregiver is one of the WHO requirements for home care. Otherwise, isolation in a well-equipped facility needs to be arranged. Bj validated this protocol when he said there were moments when he felt he would collapse in the bathroom because it was so difficult to breathe.

We could not trace with certainty Bj’s source of infection. Bj has been on ECQ (Enhanced Community Quarantine) mode for the whole duration of the (ongoing) pandemic — the only times he regularly went out of the house was to pick up deliveries dropped off at the condominium gate. Two weeks before he got sick, he went to a diagnostics center for a quick blood extraction for some laboratory tests. Our doctors considered both of these activities as low risk especially since he always double-masked and wore a face shield. Recent findings…

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