The frontliners: Above & beyond the call of duty
Dr. Rebecca Singson.
The frontliners: Above & beyond the call of duty
PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez (The Philippine Star) - March 27, 2020 - 12:00am

In his book The Greatest Generation, Tom Brokaw, referring to those born approximately between 1901 and 1927, wrote: “It is, I believe, the greatest generation any society has ever produced. At a time in their lives when their days and nights should have been filled with innocent adventure, love, and the lessons of the workaday world, they were fighting in the most primitive conditions possible across the bloodied landscape of France, Belgium, Italy, Austria, and the coral islands of the Pacific.”

Molded and branded in the furnace of duty, sacrifice and a purpose higher than themselves, the “Greatest Generation” was responsible for the rebuilding of the world from the ashes of a devastating world war that claimed the lives of millions (including victims of genocide, non-combatants who perished in the gas chamber).

***

Who would have thought that Gen X, Y (the so-called millennials, who many have branded fairly or unfairly as “self-entitled,”) and Z will now be facing a war with a lethal unseen enemy, many of them called to the frontlines instead of frolicking in the summer sun, going to Poblacion or Bora or Bali.

They are doctors, nurses, lab technicians, policemen, grocery baggers, government workers, garbage truck sanitary workers, and many more.

Since the enemy is a virus, the generals and their troops in the life-or-death battle vs. COVID-19 are medical workers.

A family friend, Dr. Patrick Lopez Moral, a senior pulmonologist of a leading Metro Manila hospital, was called to the frontlines as many of his fellow doctors were being sidelined and quarantined.

“I volunteered with the first group to start the ball rolling,” says Patrick. He volunteered on his birthday, which, he said, “made it more meaningful.”

When praised for his storming into the battlefield, he said the security guards and janitors are heroes, too.

Whether doctor or janitor, and even when clothed in protective personal equipment, there is always the risk of stepping into a minefield when these frontliners go to work. “There will always be a risk,” Patrick says, “A risk that you can take home.”

In his essay “Dying in the time of corona,” Dr. Patrick wrote:

This will eventually pass and things will go back as they were. But dying now has changed. And the ones left behind will be changed in a way that may take much longer to recover. It is ironic that for our society a crown, for which this virus was named, may symbolize triumph as royalty or winners wear it, or death, as a circular arrangement of flowers to send to a wake, representing the sympathies of the sender. Hopefully we emerge as the former and the virus as the latter.

***

Dr. Kevin Reyes, a 34-year-old surgeon in another major hospital, had to skip his young son’s sixth birthday because he has been on duty for the past three weeks. There are some COVID-positive patients and PUIs in his hospital. “It’s scary because you don’t know who is already infected. In a battle, at least you can see the enemy and make adjustments, but with the virus, it’s like fighting an invisible enemy and that is what is scary.”

The biggest sacrifice for him is “not being able to see the family. That is one of the hardest things we have to go through every day.”

Like Dr. Kevin, Dr. Marko Parungo, 30,  is one of the busiest soldiers in the battle vs. COVID-19. He works in a government hospital, and he says that what keeps him going is his mindset.

“It actually starts with the attitude of the doctor of wanting to help his fellowmen; wanting to serve. Working in a government hospital with scarce resources in protective personal equipment, we still strive to serve the people no matter what even if we know we are at risk.”

***

Dr. Rodney Jimenez is another dedicated frontliner.

“On entering the profession, a physician, or any healthcare personnel, assumes the obligation of maintaining the honorable tradition that confers (to doctors) the well-deserved title of ‘a friend of mankind’,” says Dr. Rodney. “The primary objective of the practice of medicine is service to mankind. Reward or financial gain should be a subordinate consideration.”

What keeps him going? “My sworn oath as a doctor and my love for my family. I want to do what I can to keep them safe. I posted that photo (Stay Home)  because I want to help my trainees, my fellow doctors, medical technicians and other healthcare workers, I want to spread the word. Pag labas nang labas ang tao, dadami  ang magkakasakit and ma-overwhelm ang hospitals. So, the best way to help us is for them to stay home.”

My colleague Marichu Villanueva’s 30-year-old twin sons are both frontliners, Dr. GianPaulo Flores and Philippine Airlines pilot Capt. GianCarlo Flores. While Captain Carlo flies mercy flights, Doc Paulo reports to the frontlines in a major hospital in Metro Manila now unable to accept new COVID-19 patients except in the ER because it is bursting at the seams.

Dr. Paulo does not consider his being a doctor, “work.”

“I love what I am doing,” he told his mother, who naturally worries about him.

“Serving patients and our goal to make them feel better and well are what give me strength and purpose,” he adds.

OB-gynecologist Rebecca Singson is not strictly a frontliner, but she reports for duty at the hospital despite the risks because she brings life into this world — literally. This week, she is due to attend to the delivery of babies from two mothers with high-risk pregnancies. Dr. Becky doesn’t want to delegate this to other doctors because she has been monitoring these difficult pregnancies from the start. “I feel duty-bound to see these mothers through this,” she shares. “They have been walking a tightrope throughout their pregnancy.”

“I feel it would be a disservice not to be attending to the delivery of their babies at their most vulnerable. It is during delivery where all the danger can happen.”

***

I was just watching The Darkest Hour, portraying British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s handling of the challenges posed by the onslaught of World War II in Europe, when British forces were trapped in Dunkirk.

For many of those who have lost loved ones, colleagues, neighbors, friends during the time of COVID-19, this month could be their darkest hour yet. The lockdowns in many places of the globe, the deaths, the stoppage of virtually all non-essential activities, are unprecedented. And since we haven’t been through this before, it is unnerving, frightful, like plunging into an ocean of uncertainty, not knowing what lies beneath.

And yet, as a colleague has mentioned, this, too, could be “our finest hour.”

I believe the best and brightest and kindest in us will rise to the fore and all those who make themselves count at this grave hour — regardless from which generation they come —  could be the best generation yet.

Ever.

 

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