âPersons Giving Hopeâ
Dr. Regina Berba, MD: A doctor’s commitment drives him to ‘keep on working every day, see every next patient, find all possible health solutions.’
‘Persons Giving Hope’
PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez (The Philippine Star) - August 11, 2020 - 12:00am

 Amid COVID-19

This doctor, a mother, wakes up before dawn to do desk work at home before she leaves for the “battlefront” in her case, the Philippine General Hospital (PGH). There are times when Dr. Regina Berba, in charge of the unit called Hospital Infection Control Unit (HICU) and who rotates with other consultants, is in charge of 50 COVID-19 patients at any given time.

Also an associate professor in Infectious Diseases and Internal Medicine at the PGH, Dr. Berba, in full battle gear, goes around the COVID wards for about three hours to check on her patients. Then she does contact tracing of COVID patients and addresses the concerns of healthcare workers who have also become infected.

Last week, she was preparing PGH and three other government hospitals to start a clinical trial on a potential treatment for COVID-19 called favipiravir or brand name Avigan.

Saying she is no superwoman, Dr. Berba says, “I think lahat kaming mga doctor — may inherent commitment to serve for the greater good of all. And this commitment drives each of us to keep on working every single day, see every next patient, find all possible health solutions.”

After her duties at PGH, she drives herself to another part of town to The Medical City, to check on her other patients. “Recently we have again been getting more and more referrals for COVID-19. Many of them have severe COVID and are in the ICU on mechanical ventilators and various life-giving medicines. I finish rounds around 8:30 to 9:30 p.m.”

“So, my days are really long. I am glad the kids wait for me for dinner. I really take extra effort to be very, very clean by the time I am with them. I drop dead onto the sofa soon after.”

Frontliners grabbing a bite while working, with food sent by Rustan’s Fresh Marketplace.
Photo from PGH Medical Foundation’s Facebook page

***

Dr. Berba had her baptism of fire in the battle against COVID-19 very early on in its outbreak in the Philippines. “If you may remember, most of the first cases in the list that the Department of Health released identified them to be at The Medical City, and many of them were under my care.”

“I was initially very scared with being so close to the patients and breathing in the same air space they were in. I just needed to have full trust in the science of preventing infectious diseases, which I know so well and the full protection which the personal protective equipment (PPEs) promises and wear them properly. During those ECQ days, I would  be going home past 10 p.m. and EDSA would be empty, not another car in sight! It felt very strangely odd to be so alone.”

Then, PGH became a COVID Referral Center.

“We had to quickly transform the hospital to a safe hospital. Pre-COVID, we had about 4,000-plus employees so protecting everyone was going to be a super major task. Our estimated frontliners for a patient load of 130 COVID patients were about 1,000 doctors and nursing personnel. Since March 30, I really haven’t been out of PGH for maybe more than two full days.” She remembers working even through Good Friday, a time when she normally would take the day off in prayer. But not this year.

COVID is this millennium’s World War III. “The virus respects no borders, no titles.  COVID-19 has already eaten up five months of 2020! I feel we were robbed of our summer and soon of the entire 2020 and maybe the full schoolyear 2020-2021. Last January 2020, when we were watching from a distance the daily numbers of China rising by about 1,000 per day, we could not imagine how this was possible. Now that our country’s daily numbers are 5,000 per day (as of the first week of August), it is even harder to imagine a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Her advice as a doctor and a mother to “Juan de la Cruz” — aside from wearing masks?

“I think it is really difficult for ‘Juan’ and ‘Juana’ to fully grasp the complexities and changes that COVID-19 has imposed upon us, as individuals and as a society. Even for us healthcare workers, it requires repeated teachings, coaching and reminders to keep us abreast with the situation. But it is not lack of information that is the problem. There are economic, political, technical, socio-cultural, communication, implementation and so many other reasons, that Juan and Juana cannot comply with the health protocols.”

Still, she believes in the contagion of hope, the tenacity of the human spirit and the power of prayer.

So how does Regina Berba cope with probably the worst medical crisis in her life, knowing that in every day she goes to battle, she is saving lives while trying to save her own — for a purpose greater than herself?

“Through the months I have been able to cope, I think, quite well. The kids who wait up for me till I get home and tell me their own stories of quarantine, cooking, baking, gardening and online learning and shopping to keep me up-to-date with the world. I try to pray fervently and keep all my images of Mama Mary close by for strength and really to keep the virus from infecting me. Every morning I wake up to assess myself and thank the Lord profusely for giving me another day.”

As she said at a Zoom meeting with the Vatican, to which she was one of the few physicians invited to speak on faith in the midst of COVID-19, she goes to sleep with “a very clear image in my mind of Our Lady comforting my tired body and soul at the end of each difficult day.”

Because God works through human hands like hers, Dr. Berba is unceasing in her efforts to vanquish the deadly virus.

“I will work within my small turf at the PGH as PGH feels like a microcosm of society. If we will make it in PGH, we will make it anywhere. PGH is known to all of us as the Philippine General Hospital. But more recently people gave PGH a second name: Persons Giving Hope. Like all our countrymen who are doing their part in helping our world reach that light, I will do my best as part of an institution combatting COVID-19; so PGH can have more P. G. H. until we reach that ‘someday’ when this pandemic will end.”

(You may e-mail me at joanneraeramirez@yahoo.com. Follow me on Instagram @joanneraeramirez.)

COVID-19 PHILIPPINE GENERAL HOSPITAL
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