Overseas Filipino healthcare warriors in the time of COVID-19: For family and humanity
MANILA, Philippines – A microscopic, invisible foe is hounding, pounding and plaguing the world.
It is in a situation like this, however, that the quintessential, larger than life role of medical professionals, frontliners, including Filipino physicians and nurses, overseas are highlighted, made more manifest amid the most trying of times.
INQUIRER.net reached out to handful of dedicated Filipino healthcare heroes serving in different corners of the globe to chronicle their sacrifices, challenges and what makes them embrace, with a willing heart, the trials, difficulties and fears and what they do to deserve being embraced back by a grateful society, a grateful world.
From Oman and Qatar in the Middle East, to Singapore in Southeast Asia to London and Southampton in the United Kingdom, a Filipino physician and an equally dedicated group of male and female nurses paint the story of passion, compassion, caring and sharing in healthcare facilities in the service of their patients with their families and kin in mind, thousands of miles away from the warm embrace and comforts of home.
Part of the (COVID-19) solution
In the social media age where almost anyone and everyone can share and voice out opinions and thoughts, views, myths and what have you on COVID-19, one kababayan frontliner is most proud of making a tangible impact.
The one that lasts. The one that matters.
“The thought that we are being a part of the solution in this once in a lifetime pandemic and actually beat this global threat at some point in time is something that is the ultimate motivation of all health workers like me.” said Dr. Frederick Limosnero, Internal Medicine Department head of an Oman hospital.
The amiable Bacolod City native pointed out that the pandemic had accorded many doctors like him the opportunity to be part of a globally significant, meaningful mission.
Other than the viral threats, longing for family half a world away is something Dr. Fred likewise has to combat.
“Being away from our family in this challenging times get us out of focus sometimes as you cannot totally concentrate on what you are doing while thinking of your family’s well being in your home country.”
Dr. Fred, however, will march on in the battle with COVID-19.
Caring never stops
A central London-based registered nurse for almost five years, nurse Jomar of Bulacan recalls the challenges and difficulties of adapting to new country and culture, but it was his natural caring attitude, his desire and willingness to serve and be valuable team player that help him make it through.
“Honestly, it is my passion to look after people. Not just the patients but also looking after my colleagues at work. If you will see how eager your colleagues are, if you will feel the strength of camaraderie at work, it will keep you driven and fueled to continue to work and offer your help,” said Jomar, who was a tireless emergency department nurse back home.
“Everyone also show their support through different means; sending food and drinks to us at work, offering discounts, etc. It is not the food itself that keeps us going, rather, the gesture of the people that tells us that they’re here to support us.”
“Last March 26 at 8pm, people across the UK stepped out on their balconies, peered outside their windows, stood by their doorsteps, stood in front of the hospitals, stopped what they’re doing; and clapped for the NHS and its people.”
“ If everyone is there to support you, why back out? Keep going. “
Family, family, famiiy
As pointed out earlier by Dr. Fred, easily the biggest baggage of overseas health workers is the longing for family and home.
And yet, family and home are likewise their biggest motivation to tackle the risks and trials overseas.
“Being away from our own families – living on our own, adds to the pain of facing the COVID-19 pandemic. Who knows if you will get the disease or not?” Nurse Jomar shared.
“Honestly, I am very afraid for my own health and safety. Should one get infected, and worst die from the disease, you will die alone – away from all your loved ones,” he added.
Still, there’s no backing out.
“Also, looking at the faces of my patients, I will always keep in mind to treat them the way I would want my family and loved ones to be treated.”
Roaring commitment to care, share in the Lion City
In the Lion City of Singapore, a young father of three and his wife are roaring out loud through overwhelming love for family, God and their patients amid the COVID-19 crisis.
“Iniisip ko kung papaano sila, lalo n di kami makauwi para alagaan or makatulong sa Pilipinas. Palagi ko dinadasal na sana huwag din pabayaan ng Diyos ang mga anak ko at mahal ko sa buhay,” mused Anthony Martin P. Acuba, a registered nurse in Singapore for six years.
“Ako na bahala sa mga tao dito, sagot ko na alaga sa kanila. Sana si Papa God na bahala sa mga mahal ko sa buhay sa Pilipinas, alam naman niya kung paano ko ginagampanan ang trabaho ko dito,” added nurse Anthony, whose equally dedicated wife, France is also a Singapore-based nurse.
Always ready, always there
Once more, caring as a second nature to Filipinos comes to fore in Singapore, as essayed by Nurse Anthony, who grew up playing hoops in Pasig City and neighboring communities.
“What keeps me motivated is my calling, trabaho ko ito so need ko gampanan ang tungkulin ko, hindi para magpasikat pero dahil gusto ko makatulong sa kahit na anong paraan. Hindi rin kasi ako mahilig umatras sa mga challenge.”
“Yung iiwas ka para isipin lang sarili mo, medyo di ko kayang isipin na gawin yun. Pag tinawag ka ng pagkakataon gusto ko handa ako para harapin yun. Masarap sa pakiramdam na may nagagawa ka para sa ibang tao.”
“Handling Covid here in Singpore is not as bad. May gamit kasi at ready plan kung paano ihahandle yung mga case.”
“Mahirap lang kasi yung stigma at yung takot ng mga tao. Kaya medyo nung una takot ang mga tao na tumabi pag nalaman nila na nurse ka, pero dahil sa tulong ng goverment at public awareness medyo natigil na ang ganung pananaw.”
Strength in numbers
A Filipino registered nurse in Qatar is also proudly part of a team of medical professionals combating the viral pandemic, with the hope of eventually defeating the global scourge.
“I take pride in being a Filipino nurse and being part of a team working together to fight the pandemic and eventually conquer COVID-19 in the future, said RJ Cabauatan, PhRN, QCHP-RN.
He, however, is not about to let his guard down in battle.
“Amid the COVID -19 battle, it’s a great challenge to keep oneself safe as we are blinded by the enemy. Safety is an utmost concern, staying focused is a challenge every time I go on duty”, added Nurse RJ, a proud son of Enrile, Cagayan.
Southampton, UK diaries
A group of Filipino nurses in Southampton also hooked up with INQUIRER.net and essayed the difficulties and fears they faced and the people and mentality that fuel their drive to practice their professional, healing expertise to Europe, a major COVID-19 battleground.
“I’ve heard that some Filipinos are harassed outside the workplace because of the fact that we are Asians and racially abused because the virus originated in Asia, hence the discrimination,” Nurse Anna shared.
“The support of our family and appreciation from the government and patients, however, keeps us going and motivated to carry on with our work and sacrifices,” added Anna, originally from Makati City back home.
Once a nurse…
Nurse Anna’s colleague, Herjohn, pointed out that a nurse will always be a nurse.
“I am a nurse, I stand by my profession, that keeps me going and standing.”
Of risks and rewards
For nurse Juliza, she makes it point to deliver quality and compassionate patient care, the health risks notwithstanding.
“As a registered nurse, I risk my own health to make sure that patients receive the kind of care they deserve”.
“Our work here is made more worthwhile when we see a patient transform from needing constant care to regaining independence and health, it validates the fact that I’m in the right profession.”
Nurse Joy, too, fears contracting the viral respiratory illness and spreading it out, but finds solace in her fulfilling occupation and the support of her family back home.
“We find fulfilment that our hard work is appreciated and seeing ourselves helping out with the current situation instead of doing nothing,”
Nurse Gee, meantime, also recounts the challenges of adapting to a new , foreign workplace and the outpouring of support for health workers during the pandemic from patients, relatives, government and local businesses.
“Some coffee shops provide us with free coffee while some grocery stores grant us special perks and privileges.”
For society’s sake
“Being a nurse here fulfills my need to be someone needed in society,” said Nurse Marielle, also working in Southampton.
“Other than the shopping perks and discounts, nothing compares to a simple, heartfelt thank you from patients and family. And I am at peace knowing that I’ve been able to make a prson feel better in a strange and unfamiliar place,” said Nurse Marielle.
The next time you meet a medical frontliner, here or overseas, do not hesitate to openly, or even silently offer words of appreciation, coronavirus or no coronavirus.
Filipino healthcare workers, here and overseas will never hesitate to touch your lives in the best way they can, today, and even after the world returns to regular programming.
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The author, who is also a Registered Nurse, was a pre-med classmate of Dr. Limosnero. Nurses Anthony, Anna, Jomar and RJ were former colleagues at a tertiary government hospital in Metro Manila, who served at the Ophthalmology – Otorhinolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery Ward, ER, and ICU.
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