Faith & miracles in the time of COVID-19
In full battle gear versus an unseen enemy: (From left) Dr. Melfred Hernandez, Dr. Angel Dealino, Dr. Kevin Jer David and Dr. Abigail Sarmiento.
Faith & miracles in the time of COVID-19
PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez (The Philippine Star) - August 14, 2020 - 12:00am

This week, Time magazine paid tribute to the essential frontliners in the fight against COVID-19 — from a doctor to a cafeteria employee.

In the Philippines, the Department of  Health announced last Aug. 3  that the number of health workers who have tested positive for the coronavirus rose to 5,008, mostly nurses and physicians. According to online sources quoting the DOH, 4,576 of the 5,008 cases had recovered, as of Aug. 1, while 38 died due to the disease.

Everywhere in the world, people are rightfully honoring the essential workers during the time of COVID-19. As Winston Churchill said during the Battle of Britain, “Never has so much been owed by so many to so few.”


The Time magazine edition with five covers featuring ‘essential workers’ in the time of coronavirus, including a physician, a pharmacist and a cafeteria employee.

Among the frontliners is Dr. Melfred L. Hernandez, otorhinolaryngologist-head and neck surgeon (an ENT specialist), who is usually among the first to be consulted when patients think they may have COVID-19. (But he humbly says there are the “super frontliners,” those who man the ER and the intensive care unit in hospitals.)

ENTs are frontliners in the detection of COVID-19 since “most of the presenting symptoms of COVID lead to the upper airway — colds, sore throat, loss of smell and taste, etc.,” says Melfred, who is also an associate professor at UP Manila College of Medicine-Philippine General Hospital.

Dr. Melfred L. Hernandez: ‘MECQ gave the medical community time to pause, not to rest — because the work continues.’

Specialists like him are also called in when patients have been on prolonged intubation and there is a need to perform a tracheostomy (an opening in the neck where a breathing tube is placed).

It’s been more than a week since Metro Manila has been put on modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ), as a response to the medical community’s pleas.

But Melfred admits that though MECQ brought some relief, it also invited in a lot of misperceptions.

“Yes, I am relieved because this gives the medical community time to pause, not to rest because the work continues — but to recalibrate, re-strategize, help implement measures to help fight the war, and emphasize that the health care workers are, in fact, the last line of defense. So, we need the public, the real first line of defense, to reintensify the urgency for use of face masks and shields, handwashing and social distancing now more than ever,” says Melfred.

“No, because it (MECQ) came at a price,” he stresses.

He believes it came at “the price of health care workers being thought of as shirking from their duties in order to ‘rest.’ The price of the medical community being accused of falling into a malevolent trap set up by critics of the administration to hurt the economy and use this to inspire a public uprising.”

The last two weeks have seen one of the toughest periods in the practice of Melfred, who is assistant head of the donations arm of UP Manila-PGH Bayanihan Na! Operations Center.

“They definitely rank as two of the toughest, and may I venture to say that perhaps this goes the same for many of us. The country has experienced the strongest surge of COVID cases yet, and the grim scenario of an overwhelmed health care system, which is not sophisticated and fully equipped in the first place, is dawning on us. Tough because there is that delicate balancing act of doing your job and keeping yourself and your loved ones protected. Tough because the first few weeks of the crisis saw many of our colleagues and personal friends succumbing to the disease, and after being lulled into a relative calm and false sense of complacency, we see another infectious surge seemingly more infectious and virulent as ever.”

But Melfred, who is married to another doctor, the former Arlene Jimeno, was sustained, and continues to be sustained, by “miracles.” Not for himself, but for those around him on the brink.

“Miracles, both big and small. The miracle that is ‘A,’ a friend from way back during my university choir days, who holds the Australian record that nobody wanted — the longest time spent in a hospital without dying. She walked out of the hospital 107 days after being admitted, including 81 days in the intensive care unit, 41 days hooked to a bypass machine, and 12 minutes when she was clinically dead. Now, I have complete faith that she will be able to perform again with that beautiful soprano of hers, and sing Him praises,” says Melfred, who is also known as the “singing doctor” because of his baritone as well as the doctor to the singers because most of the top singers in the country are his patients.

He talks proudly of another miracle, his friend, “J.”

Despite losing several fingers due to compromised peripheral circulation and witnessing most of her ICU “classmates” bid their terminal goodbyes, J was able to go home to her loved ones after one of the longest battles in a hospital south of Manila, “with her spirit, resolve and verve intact and unwavering.”

“Or the miracle of seeing everyone pitching in,” continues Melfred,  “from the act of someone contributing coins collected from her piggy bank to help purchase protective equipment for health care workers, to singers and artists offering their talents to bring hope amid the chaos, to big organizations and businesses flexing their muscles and mobilizing their resources to help ease the burden on the sick and those left most vulnerable in the pandemic’s wake, to everyone volunteering to bake a cake, share a joke, conduct a free online mental wellness class, or just flash smiling and hopeful eyes behind those layers and upon layers of masks and shields and other protective gear and clothing.”

Most of all, he has witnessed “the miracle of prayer. And of faith in humanity.”

Helping save lives is not only Dr. Melfred Hernadez’s calling. It is his song of praise to the One who gave him the rhythm to perform his best — in and out of the operating room.

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