[FRONTLINERS] Iloilo town doctor keeps clinic open: ‘Every human life is precious’

Mara Cepeda
[FRONTLINERS] Iloilo town doctor keeps clinic open: ‘Every human life is precious’
Despite her fears, Dr Judith Jimeno's clinic in Leganes town, Iloilo remains open for non-coronavirus patients. It's part of her passion to save lives.

Dr Judith Jimeno has been a family physician for over 25 years now. When the coronavirus pandemic hit the Philippines, she saw her colleagues in Leganes town, Iloilo close their clinics one by one, afraid of what the virus might bring. But Jimeno decided to stay on duty to treat her patients who do not have COVID-19 but are still in need of treatment. This is her story, told in her own words.

I practice as a family physician in my town, Leganes, in Iloilo province. But before that, I was a blood center manager for the Philippine Red Cross until 2013. I also had an experience in politics for two terms as a municipal councilor, but I lost in the last elections. So right now, I’m a full-time family physician. I’m also teaching at the College of Medicine in one of the medical schools in Iloilo.

As a medical doctor and as a frontliner, it’s really a big challenge on my part to continue attending to my patients. Even without the COVID-19 pandemic, we know there are other patients who need attending to, whether or not they are emergency cases.

Most of my fellow doctors in my town had already closed their clinics. But that didn’t stop me from keeping mine open. Otherwise, who would take care of them? Every human life is precious.  

We need to be reminded that there are patients who may not have COVID-19 but still need to see a doctor. If we do not attend to them at the early part of their infection or their disease, it might lead to something moderate or severe that would require them to be hospitalized. That was why in our province, particularly in the city, there were some complaints about non-COVID-19 emergency cases being turned down by both private and public hospitals. 

I had one experience with one patient who had an impending heart attack. I think he went to more than 5 hospitals in Iloilo City just to seek consultation, but was not accommodated until he arrived at my clinic. I also took care of another case with vaginal bleeding, a 28-year-old lady who needed to be attended to but was not accepted by the hospital. These are the situations that require me to be there in my clinic every day.

I feel fear, because we cannot see our enemy. You see your colleagues dying, and we’re really so affected by it. I have observed that my patients, almost 50% of them, are afraid, too. Even if they just have mild symptoms, maybe merely a headache or elevated blood pressure, they would immediately ask me, “What if, Doc, I have COVID-19?”

I think this is a picture of what Filipinos feel right now, what maybe every human being feels right right now. When I go home after attending to 10 or more patients and start feeling back pain or sore throat, I also cannot stop myself from thinking that I might have been exposed to the virus. 

I have 3 staff members – a secretary who assists me and helps ne tell the patients how to take their medications. I also have a nutritional microscopist. I have a medical technologist, but he is not available right now. When the lockdown was imposed, I decided to shorten the period of our clinic hours. Usually my clinic opens at 8 am and closes by 5 pm, but now I start at 10 am and end by by 2 or 3 pm.

My staff and I have to wear our personal protective equipment (PPE). But because our PPE sets are not sufficient, we have to repeatedly sterilize them and clean them. You can only buy a limited number of face masks, too. I’m just thankful for my friend who saw me still running my clinic and gave me 10 pieces of reusable face masks that his wife made out of cloth, just so they could add to my supply.  

PRECAUTIONARY MEASURE. Jimeno uses sheets of plastic around her clinic as extra protection against COVID-19. Photo courtesy of Jimeno

At the very early part of the lockdown, my two sons had to be quarantined at home. One came from Siliman University in Dumaguete, while my other son came from Japan. So when they went home, they had to be isolated.

Barangay health workers monitored them daily. My husband is also a diabetic. He took a lot of nutritional supplements before our sons came home so he would not get sick. By the grace of God, they are all well now. These days, we always talk about how to keep our body fit. They wake up early to do some exercises. Every night, we pray together as a family, but we still practice distancing at home.  

My clinic is also located in the same building where my 79-year-old parents live. And right now, my attention for them has been sacrificed. It’s even more challenging for me because their caretaker, who is 50 years old, almost a senior citizen, is not allowed to travel from her barangay to my parent’s building.

I have to change and disinfect my clothes so I could take care of my parents after I close my clinic. In the morning, I cook for them enough for the whole day. This is really a big change in my usual daily routine.  

FAMILY. Jimeno poses for a photo together with her husband and two sons, both of whom are aspiring doctors. Photo courtesy of Jimeno

As of this time, I haven’t received any support from our government yet. But this does not take away my passion to take care of my patients daily. Despite the fear of COVID-19, despite the possible risks that frontliners like me face in the field, I still have that passion, the heart, and the dedication to open my clinic every day to welcome patients whom I need to treat, whom I need to comfort and help.

I told my two sons, both of whom are aspiring doctors, too, that this is not just about getting an “MD” at the end of your name. But really, it’s about the passion to save lives. – Rappler.com 

Editor’s Note: Rappler interviewed Jimeno on April 8, 2020. Her quotations have been edited for clarity.

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.