This survivor turned her ‘corona’ into a crown

PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez - The Philippine Star
This survivor turned her âcoronaâ into a crown
COVID survivors Cynthia and Ed Santiago: The ‘poster couple’ for the trials and the triumphs that come from surviving the virus.

Cynthia U. Santiago or “Chay,” editor of several publications, former editor of MOD magazine and my “classmate” at the Bulong Pulungan Press forum at the Sofitel Philippine Plaza before the pandemic, is a COVID-19 survivor. So is her husband Ed, a professional photographer. And she wears her coronavirus experience — the agony, the recovery, the gratitude — like a crown.

In fact, she has written about her experience in a series of online posts entitled “CORONA: COVID as My Crown of Life,” each chapter a jewel in insight and reflection.

Looking back, this survivor says COVID wasn’t “painful” as she knew “painful” to be.

“Without me noticing, COVID-19 just crept into my lungs. I felt no pain,” she recalls. She also addressed what is usually uppermost in many minds, even the minds of well-meaning friends.

“So how did we get it? God knows from Day 1, Ed and I followed protocols — wash hands, wear face mask and face shield, observe distancing.”

But she had a confession: “We didn’t stay home 100 percent.” They weren’t familiar with online transactions, for one. They also regularly bought stuff from street vendors, whom they called “Mamang Kariton,” plying their street.

The first symptom was a cough. “Early January up to March 2021, I was already coughing — a COVID symptom. But I thought I was just coughing because of the cold weather during that time. Then, Ed and I suffered diarrhea, another COVID symptom. But we thought this was due to our irregular diet. And we had no sense of smell.”

Finally, upon the advice of their doctor, she took a swab test. “Four days after my swab, I got the chilling sentence: I was COVID-positive. And yes, later tests showed Ed had it, too.”

Why us?

Chay is one of the most spiritual persons I know, a dedicated servant of God.  So, people truly wonder, why them?

“We needed to be horrified,” she said. “At the outset, I guess like a hundred dozen, I did not pay attention to COVID. Not that I was not aware of its horror. It’s all the daily news harped about. But I was busy beating deadlines for publications I serve. Ed was also busy with his own tasks. So, I guess we had to experience COVID to be really afraid?of it.”

Chay knows that because she is in media, with the gift to communicate the horrors of the virus, she could help save lives and prevent more people from catching it.

“So, I guess if someone like us would encounter COVID — lungs-to-lungs — imperfect as we are, we could be the ‘poster couple’ about its horror. And maybe, someone, even just one, would also be afraid and listen.”

Not a punishment

Chay doesn’t think her corona was a crown of thorns, a punishment.

“No, God did not punish me for my transgressions by giving me COVID. Instead, He healed me. Why?”

“Some people tell me, ‘You have been serving God for so long. Why did you get COVID and suffer this horrible disease’?”

Chay admits the question also crossed her mind.

“So, I Googled the cause of suffering, and I came upon Jesus’ own suffering. Since COVID is about a ‘crown’ I focused on Jesus’ ‘Crown of Thorns.’ Why such a crown?”

She was rewarded with this quote from James 1:12 “Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the Crown of Life, which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.”

“So, humbly, I claim this promise, looking at the coronavirus as simply part of my Crown of Life.”

The thorns

Chay was told that during her confinement, she inadvertently dislodged her oxygen mask. A nurse saw her already turning blue, and her attending physician ordered her transfer to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).

“At the time, Ed didn’t have COVID anymore, but he was suffering its complication — pneumonia. So, he had to still stay in the hospital — while I was taken to the ICU of another hospital. Speaking of pain, being separated from Ed — that hurt. I thought I’d be isolated, imprisoned in a cold, dark, lonely room, left to die alone — as news sensationalized COVID would do.”?

Much to her relief, “The frontliners now and then kindly attended to me, fighting with me the fight of my life, never leaving me alone.”

Chay discloses, “ My COVID was so bad, if not the worst, that — I was told — I was given the strongest medicine ever.”

“I was so weak that I could not inhale-exhale enough oxygen coming from a ventilator. So, I had to undergo intubation. The way I heard it on television, intubation was like your death sentence already.”

Much to her surprise, intubation was like a godsend. “Intubation means that from an oxygen ventilator, a tube — it did not feel like hard metal, more like flexible rubber or plastic — is inserted in your mouth, down your throat, down your windpipe, right directly to your lungs, so you get the oxygen right away. No pain, because I guess I was under anesthesia. Actually, I was happy about it.”

The virus was vanquished.

“All the frontliners’ heroic attacks against the virus were so menacing, all right, that COVID left me in a hurry — I guess grudgingly. So, finally, they took me back for a reunion with Ed. And after what seemed like endless therapy days, we were discharged!”

“There’s a time to get sick, there’s a time to get healed. Be patient.”


Chay once prayed to God to send her a rainbow to let her feel His presence. She would look out her window, but it was all sky.

Then, to help her and Ed in deep breathing, their doctor gave them this toy bubble maker.

“You know, a straw that you dip into a bottle of liquid soap, and then blow to make bubbles, making you inhale-exhale. Ed and I happily blew bubbles. And soon, our room was filled with these bubbles, which reflected multiple colors — as in the colors of the rainbow — from the rays of the sun illuminating our room!”

“And so, I realized, to my delight and amazement, that God’s presence has always been with us! I just couldn’t see Him! So, He must have sent bubbles that I might see!”

Now both home and recovering, Chay shares, “When you think God is missing, blow bubbles, using liquid soap which cleans off dirt — and the soap serves as well as God’s cleansing soap — His love that removes cobwebs in your doubting mind and heart.”

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

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