[FIRST PERSON] When your whole family is sick at home with COVID-19

Jules Guiang

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[FIRST PERSON] When your whole family is sick at home with COVID-19

Graphic by Janina Malinis

'I encourage you to say your piece, because we are not just mere data'

It’s been a year since the start of the pandemic, and the Philippines has recorded more than one million cases, with more than 17,000 deaths. More than 17,000 families are now grieving over loved ones they’ve lost to an invisible enemy.

Throughout this time, I have been strictly following all basic health protocols: double-masking, wearing a face shield, practicing physical distancing, and, of course, washing my hands. So after testing positive with COVID-19 recently, I was more frustrated than shocked. I had done my part but still got infected. What had gone wrong?

My family resides on Maginhawa street in Quezon City – home to hole-in-the-wall restaurants and the ever-inspiring Maginhawa Community Pantry. Eight years ago, we converted our garage into a restaurant, and since then, it has become the bread and butter of my family. Eventually, I had also set up a co-working space for my business and youth organizations.

Unfortunately, our restaurant and co-working space were badly hit by the pandemic. We had to temporarily close them down during the first ECQ, and slowly re-opened them during the GCQ. For our safety, we accommodated limited customers only. We relied more on take-outs and deliveries. 

Long story short, this was our “new normal” – until my father started coughing badly and showing other COVID symptoms. In our first antigen test, Dad tested positive and the rest of us negative. The day after, just to be sure, we had our RT-PCR test, and at that time, my mom was already having severe headaches. Mom tested positive, while my sister and I tested negative. Almost a week after, my sister and I started experiencing an unfamiliar pain all over our bodies. We took another antigen test, and as expected, we tested positive. 

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We learned a lot from this ordeal, and I’d like to share with you some of the ways we dealt with COVID from home. (Quick disclaimer, though: please still consult your doctors.)

1. Check your symptoms.

When my parents tested positive, a public link from the Bayanihan E-Konsulta of the Office of the Vice President (OVP) was trending. I used that to monitor the symptoms of my parents, which included: cough, chills, fatigue/tiredness, body pain, headache, loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, diarrhea, and nausea/vomiting. 

The OVP also indicated red flags such as: shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, confusion, inability to wake or sleep, and having pale, grey, or bluish skin, lips, or nail beds.

2. List down home-service COVID test providers. 

Proactively list down DOH-accredited home-service COVID test providers. Aside from convenience, if ever you are a virus carrier already, you will have to limit your exposure to the outside world. Antigen tests are cheaper and you can get your test results in less than an hour; however, there’s a possibility of getting a false positive or false negative with this test, like what happened to my mom, who eventually tested positive with the RT-PCR. RT-PCR is still the gold standard for tests, though it is pricey and test results will only be available after 24-72 hours. 

3. Contact your barangay and initiate contact tracing.

Transparency is key. You need to immediately inform your barangay for recording and monitoring purposes. Some barangays may even provide ayuda like food during your isolation.

As for contact tracing, there may be some delays, just like in our experience. Contact tracers from the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) and Quezon City LGU arrived at our place only a week after my father tested positive.

So what should you do while waiting? Take the initiative to inform everyone you have been exposed to. Tell them to isolate, check possible symptoms, and take a test five days after their exposure to you. Experts say it takes around five days for the virus to incubate in your body.

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4. Explore telemedicine services.

We live in an unfortunate time when most hospitals, at least in the “NCR Plus” bubble, are crowded. So if you are experiencing mild symptoms, the only way to go is to isolate at home, but with doctors actively monitoring you virtually.

Fortunately, the OVP’s Bayanihan E-Konsulta was there to assist us for free. Doctors were assigned to my parents and no less than the vice president’s daughter, Dr. Tricia Robredo, was assigned to monitor my dad. Vital signs were monitored daily, and medicines were prescribed. Meanwhile, my sister and I were monitored by a volunteer doctor. Thank you, Doc Jyn Aragon, for your patience and kind heart! 

You may also explore the COVID home care services of several private hospitals. Some packages include daily monitoring, COVID tests, and even access to their emergency rooms, if needed. 

5. Purchase your basic tools: thermometer, oximeter, blood pressure monitor, etc.

Speaking of vital signs, you will need a thermometer to monitor your temperature, an oximeter to monitor your oxygen levels (below 94 is a red flag already), and a blood pressure monitor. In the case of my dad, who has comorbidities like COPD and hypertension, he needed an oxygen tank, but this must be used with strict instructions from your doctor.

6. Eat well, hydrate, and follow other good practices.

Aside from taking your vitamins, you need to boost your immune system by eating on time, even if you’ve lost your sense of taste and smell. I tell you, as a foodie, it was really the most frustrating symptom among all the COVID symptoms, but you just need to ride it out. Since Day 1 of testing positive, I’ve been drinking two to three liters of water per day.

Throughout the course of our battle against COVID, my family also followed a regular protocol: gargle water with salt at least three times a day to relieve our sore throats, do steam inhalation with ginger and lemon at least once a day (disclaimer: experts say this only offers relief, and is not a cure for COVID), and take 3 tablespoons of virgin coconut oil (VCO) at least once a day. The Department of Science and Technology (DOST) released a study saying VCO could be an adjunct supplement to lessen the symptoms of COVID.

7. Sleep and take it easy.

As a workaholic, sleeping for at least 8 hours was quite a challenge, but this is a must. You also need to take it easy and take a break from your work, even if it’s work-from-home, because any amount of stress may not be helpful for your recovery. You can go back to your usual routine slowly. Your employers must understand this.

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8. Have an optimistic mindset. 

COVID is a mischievous traitor. Apart from attacking your body physically, it also attacks your mental health. I was not even sure if my shortness of breath was brought about by COVID or because of my anxiety attacks. I needed moral support and prayers from my relatives, workmates, networks, and even strangers. Daily check-ins or kumustahans have helped me to focus on winning the battle against COVID. Fortunately, on my fifth day, most of my symptoms had diminished, so I had the strength again to monitor my parents. 

9. Isolate until Day 14.

This is a tricky one, from our experience. The contact tracers from the DILG said that on the 14th day since my dad tested positive, all of us in the family would be considered recovered, meaning we could reintegrate into the community. Mind you that my sister and I had tested positive only a week after my dad had tested positive. So even if we were all included by the DILG in the “mass recovery,” my sister and I still continued with our own 14-day isolation schedule, just to be sure. 

10. Tell your story. Humanize the figures. 

I encourage you to say your piece, because we are not just mere data. We are Filipinos in a health crisis that could have been prevented a year ago if urgent decisions had just been made by our leaders. We would not have gotten infected if mass testings had been rolled out early.

We live in a moment when it seems like it’s only a matter of time before we get infected. We should refuse this. Continue to demand for what we deserve, like mass testing, sufficient ayuda for all, and science-based policies. We must move forward to create a better normal, which we deserve as Filipinos.

Stay safe, observe health protocols, and be wiser in 2022. –

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Jules Guiang

Jules is the Head of Community of Rappler. A graduate of BA Public Administration and Master in Public Administration from the University of the Philippines-Diliman in 2014 and 2021, respectively, he started as a reporter for PTV-4 from 2012-2014, before serving as a TV Host for the same network from 2014 until 2020.