EDITORIAL: Over a Cup of Tea

Thoughts on Getting Sick during the Pandemic

I was vaccinated against COVID-19 three weeks ago, but had an asthma attack thereafter, perhaps due to the intermittent very hot and cold weather in the Philippines. The good news: I am much better now and believe being vaccinated helped strengthen my immune system.

By Heidi M. Pascual

Asthma. I had an attack just a few days ago, and I was a bit scared to get out and see a doctor because my residence has been classified under MECQ (Moderate Enhanced Community Quarantine) which bars senior citizens to get out of their homes except on emergencies. That was the operative word for me -- emergencies -- and I felt it was.

My first boss in Madison, Betty Franklin Hammonds, died of it in 1999, and the whole community grieved for so long… for the loss of a great social activist that simply had asthma! Hers was an emergency that was not acted on right away because she was alone driving her car when the attack happened.

So, since then, I have been trying very hard to control my asthma with the help of my pulmonologist, my discipline (which I must admit, is mediocre, because I still do much more than I should at my age), healthy diet and some exercise. I used to do ballroom dancing, zumba, and lighter exercises with people in town, but when the pandemic hit, everything had to stop.

But asthma hasn’t stopped, as if it’s here to stay with me, regardless of COVID-19 and its variants. I know that this virus kills many older people, especially those with chronic respiratory ailments.

I am grateful to God that here in my town and province, I can still see a doctor or any specialist any time (though, of course, there’s some waiting time because of the number of patients who arrived earlier than I did). Many of our doctors maintain a clinic in their own homes! That has been a tradition that I am glad hasn’t changed a bit.

While many doctors prefer to hold clinics at hospitals’ doctors’ offices, the pandemic actually threatens them and puts such practice on hold. In Metro Manila and other big cities, that’s the case. But they found a way to hold consultations and issue prescriptions via the Internet and get paid through GCash or Paypal. What a very convenient process that benefits the doctors and patients alike. My concern, though, is the fact that there is no face to face interaction between the doctor and the patient, and there’s a chance for misdiagnosis if outward symptoms do not really reflect what’s wrong inside the body. However, I guess this is better than getting the virus in the hospital where a lot of sick people are.

Going back to my asthma attack, I had sore throat and bad cough the night before. I wasn’t feverish, but I felt weak, so I decided (as always) to see my doctor first thing in the morning. The bad thing here is when you’re coughing, people presume that is COVID-related, so after using my inhaler and nebulizer, I took one anti-tussive tablet and placed lots of lozenges in my pocket and a bottle of water in my bag. That measure actually helped me “get rid” of the cough at least for a while.

When I arrived at the doctor’s clinic at exactly 9 a.m., there were already 9 patients in line, so I was listed as no. 10. I decided to go back home and come back later when my number was about to be called. It was actually my way of avoiding contact with other sick patients at the doctor’s clinic. With the pandemic still raging everywhere, this was one precaution I could take. I have been “anti-covid” vaccinated, but I still have to be careful and follow strict health protocols.

Perhaps if my doctor had a virtual consultation schedule, it would have been easier for patients with minor ailments. I felt that at that moment I was in this category. Anyway, when I went back to the doctor’s clinic at around noon (I already ate lunch to make sure I’d be okay for a few hours), I saw that my name has been called and that patient no. 14 was already inside the doctor’s office. I told the doctor’s assistant I was back and she acknowledged my presence with a smile and asked me to wait a while, as she’d let me in after the 14th patient’s consultation was over. There were still more than 20 patients in that room, so I sensed that my doctor must be hungry and tired after all the consultations were done. Doctors (and health workers) are truly our modern heroes today.

My doctor is a 75 yr-old woman, Dra. Precy (not her real name), who followed the footsteps of her late father, one of the better family doctors in my hometown. Her office cum clinic has lost that “personal touch” because there was a thick plastic cover from the ceiling down to the floor separating the doctor from the patient’s chair. There were two holes near the patient’s chair, one for blood pressure intake, and the other, where the doctor examined the patient with gloved hands.

As I came in and saw my doctor, I was so happy to see her after so many months. I remember that I was sick earlier this year and it was her assistant attending to patients while she stayed upstairs just writing prescriptions. She was apologetic and said, “Heidi, I was hospitalized for COVID and pneumonia for two weeks at the Asian Hospital (near Metro Manila) in December, and I thought I would die!” I could hardly speak but recovered and responded, “No, you wouldn’t leave us we need you on earth you’re the angel that God sent to us!” Dra. Precy wanted to hug me but the plastic barrier was there definitely to restrain any of those emotional outbursts. She said prayers kept her alive and the good team of doctors who attended to her case was the best, she thought, though very “pricey,” too. We both laughed and I managed to say, “Well, many popular and wealthy people spent millions in the ICUs yet they didn’t make it, right?” “Oh yes, so I thank God I am still here,” Dra. Precy said in earnest.

The assistant took my blood pressure with an old sphygmomanometer, and reported 130/80 as her reading. My doctor nodded with a smile and proceeded to check my back using her stethoscope. She said, “Oh my, your asthma is bad you got belabored breathing … do you have phlegm?” “No,” I said, “but I barked like a dog last night until early this morning! My right back ached so I placed hot compress to cure it a bit.” “That’s good,” Dra. Precy said, and then talked to her assistant to prepare my medications: five big antibiotic capsules (once a day for five days) four different kinds of tablets to be taken 3 times a day for 7 days and one white tablet before going to sleep (for 7 days). The meds were placed separately in little brown bags with their names hardly readable, but I didn’t care. I’ve been so used to Dra. Precy’s assistant’s style, that I simply ignored not knowing the drugs, as long as I get better. The doctor then asked me to swallow four different tablets right there and got a plastic cup with water from a closed container to push the meds down. The truth? I felt better already just knowing that Dra. Precy was fine and still the caring doctor that she has always been.

Here’s an extra advantage of living in the province of the Philippines -- aside from the senior citizens’ discount of 20% in prescribed meds, our doctors usually have a small pharmacy of generic drugs. And Dra. Precy has that, too, so I needed not go to a drug store to buy meds, except when she didn’t have any of those. And the cost? I was charged $25 total (meds and doctor’s fee included). Hence, I could safely say that majority of Filipinos here do not need health insurance at all! Well, maybe for those who can afford health insurance for the whole family, having one is still advisable. While we have PhilHealth (a government-sponsored health insurance) that subsidizes a member-patient’s hospitalization, the discount isn’t enough to cover all hospital bills which most times are too expensive for an ordinary working man.

Anyway, I am one of those without a comprehensive health insurance policy in the country because I, like most Filipinos consider it a luxury that could take away resources better spent on basic necessities such as food and shelter.

All right, after the doctor’s visit, I went home feeling much more better than ever. I removed my face mask, face shield, and changed everything worn outside, which were placed in a separate basin for laundry. I stepped inside the bathroom, washed my face and limbs with warm water, but left my back dry, because it’s a tradition for us Filipinos that when we have respiratory ailments, we don’t wash our backs to protect the lungs from getting worse. Today is my third day of taking Dra. Precy’s medications, and now I am “back to normal,” but with a little more time to say a prayer.