A gasp for hope: Fighting Covid and unravelling life’s jarring twists

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By GRACE FAIGAO FELICIANO

First, she lost her job. Then her mother-in-law. She, along with her son and husband, tested positive for Covid. She had it bad, so she had to be admitted to the hospital. All of these happened within a span of two weeks. But she remained calm and positive as she had been in worse situations before: separate surgeries for brain tumor and aneurysm, and two difficult pregnancies years ago had made her stronger over the years. This woman is truly filled with grace.

 

For the nth time, I am graced yet again, and for that, I am grateful.

I settled into a clockwork routine that the 2020 pandemic forced into my life: I would take morning walks for exercise, work from home, prepare well-planned meals, take evening walks, and if time permitted, I’d binge on a drama series of any language before we get to bed.

With more optimism, I went physically to work more than once a week with projects coming in. It looked like 2021 will indeed be different from 2020.

And different it was.

By February this year, my misfortunes fell like dominoes, driving me down on bended knees. My husband’s sugar level refused to go down, my job contract ended, my fingernails were turning blue for some reason, I was getting itchy, before my small family of three all got fever and cough on the week of February 22.

We had to stop our usual weekend visits to our parents for fear that we might have Covid infection. Still, my mother-in-law, perhaps used to seeing us once a week, insisted on sending us a care pack that she delivered herself.

A mother’s heart beats for everyone else’s but hers

Lovingly called Mommy Doring, my mother-in-law was used to doing things alone for a good three decades since she lost her husband. Her routine would consist of making weekly visits to the family (or getting visited), fixing family disputes (they have a big clan on her side of the family), and providing whatever assistance she can give.

But when Mommy Doring would call for help, the entire city comes. So when she went into a fainting spell at home, she was immediately brought to NKTI (National Kidney and Transplant Institute) on Monday, March 1. Before admission, she had to be swabbed. At that time, we were arranging for our own swab tests.  

Early the next day, Mommy was deemed positive, got isolated in the ER, and later connected to life support. Her heart failed twice and was recovered.

“My husband and I were confident and took comfort in the thought that I will be in the hands of people who have saved my life twice before.”

My distressed husband, in an attempt to distract himself by preparing breakfast, got incessant calls and texts from family and friends for updates. Ultimately, he was pressured to decide on whether to continue with the life support or not. He started crying at the task at hand, wishing he could borrow some strength from his sister who is in Guam. Instead, all he could do was collapse on the nearest chair.

How do you decide on the fate of the one person who prepared you for your own future? And what can you say to someone to alleviate his pain when you know for sure that there is nothing you can say to make things better?

And just like that, Mommy Doring was gone, within three hours, alone. My husband’s quiet agony and incontrollable tears took over that moment.  I don’t remember when it started and when it stopped. All I remember was that I hugged him tight, trying to control the intense shaking of his shoulders.

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My last sunset from home before leaving for the hospital.

Healing from everywhere and everyone

March 2, 2021 was the day I was forced to accept the fact that yes, I have COVID-19: sniffles, fever, diarrhea, and constant coughing that was so deep and painful that it felt like I would throw my lungs up. With his mom lying lifeless somewhere in Quezon City, my husband frantically looked for a place for me to stay in isolation. But doctors from both sides of the family advised us to get professional help in a hospital.

He wanted to be admitted with me since he is probably positive as well, so we went from one hospital to the next, only to be rejected because they had no rooms left. We were even told that we should have stayed home and made calls first instead of having me go around, exposing myself and endangering others. Panic and distress are great mind-bogglers.

letter from Kai
My son wrote me a send-off letter, filled with hope that I’d be home in time for his Dad’s birthday.

Bless the Philippine General Hospital for being my welcoming home whenever I need rescuing. On March 3, I was wheeled into the familiar halls of the hospital without going through the ER. My husband and I were confident and took comfort in the thought that I will be in the hands of people who have saved my life twice before: from craniotomy in 2007, to aneurysm clipping in 2015 by no less than the great Dr. Gap Legaspi himself. What can a crowned virus do to my team of specialists?

My isolation room was a pleasant surprise: spacious, clean, air-conditioned with strong WiFi… except that I had three roommates, although we were safely separated from each other by wooden partitions.

Sooner than expected, we found ourselves sharing our care packs sent by family and friends: fruits, fried chicken, pizza with mojos, pasta, unopened bottles of water, and anything sent our way. Pretty soon, my steady meal deliveries from loved ones started pouring in along with the hospital supply of food and drinks.

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Not just one, but two boxes of pizza, to share.
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I felt like Hazel in ‘The Fault in Our Stars.’ I felt chills, but did not register any fever. My virus is on stealth mode!

Kain-tulog – that sums up my routine. My daily schedule consisted of breakfast deliveries at 8am, change of linen, bath before lunch, lunch at 12noon, mass with Padre Pio, dinner at 5:30pm, surprise food deliveries, a 9-day virtual novena for my mom-in-law, and phone and video calls to my loves. I binge-watched three whole seasons of a favorite Netflix show. That will be 24/7 with a six-hour rest for sleep.

My medication routine was a cough tablet, Twynsta, Sinecod, multivitamins and blood thinning in the morning; Sinecod again at noon, then another Sinecod and Remdesivir sometime later in the day. To underscore that I have a severe (but controllable) problem with pneumonia, I also took Salbutamol four times a day. I had X-rays in the morning and 24-hour rounds from my neuro, IDS and pulmo doctors, shifting nurses and nurse aides.

“Of these things, I was most appreciative of the comfort cross, not because it’s something I’ve never had, but because it gave me something to hold on to whenever I needed to gasp for air.”

At one point, I lost my appetite; but the tinolang manok prepared for me from home, with more liver than the staple chicken parts (my family knows I love chicken liver!), was the one that told me I was going to win this fight.

My boys did well in entertaining me. My son gave me regular recordings of his teenaged voice (mostly his own spoken word poetry). My husband read me Tagalog poetry (which was cute because his primary language is English), Bible verses, and “Reader’s Digest” jokes. I also started writing letters. But after doing six of them, I stopped, thinking I can’t mail them anyway.

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My husband sent me the unfinished coloring book I received years ago as a post-aneurysm operation gift. I have not progressed with it until my Covid stay in PGH.

I was not just physically and emotionally attended to – I also got spiritual healing from prayer intentions coming from friends situated across the world. On the day after I checked in, the Zoom get-togethers started to overwhelm me. I could not participate because talking would make me cough after every two words.

A good friend asked Fr. Dennis to call me on day 6, and it was a call for comfort and encouragement.  I was tempted to confess right then and there, but I really found it difficult to talk. We put the phone down, giving me a scary afterthought – something I did not think about while the conversation was ongoing… what will happen, really? What if I don’t…

I prayed fervently on my own after that. After the evening routine, I slept easily that night, maybe because I prayed, and had a beautiful dream: I woke up in my own bedroom, looked out the window, and saw five rainbows glowing brightly over the nearby airport, Entertainment City, Makati and BGC. Whoa…

I jumped at the sound of velcro ripping beside me, with my usual evening nurse half-apologetic, half-smiling as she pointed at my dislodged oxygen tubes. My O2 was down to 84, and it was just 2:25am. I couldn’t go back to sleep so I stayed up and watched Netflix until sun up.

Without windows in the room, I couldn’t tell the time of day. Whenever it gets super cold, some of us would go to the restroom to get some sun streaking in from the small window.

I had other episodes of gasping for air in PGH. Sometimes when I took a bath in the morning, my chest would feel like I’m swimming in the deep ocean. The 8-10 steps from the bathroom to my bed also felt like I just came from a 54k marathon (not that I’ve run that long).

At one point, a hospital chaplain stopped by. He was in a blue PPE, with face mask and shield. He spent a few minutes with me, getting to know me, asking how I am, and prayed with me. Before he went to the next bed, he handed me a brown envelope with a Bible, a rosary, a scapular, a comfort cross, and prayer booklets inside. Of these things, I was most appreciative of the comfort cross, not because it’s something I’ve never had, but because it gave me something to hold on to whenever I needed to gasp for air.

I stayed connected to my oxygen tube for 11 days from March 3 to 11.  

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Of these things, I was most appreciative of the comfort cross, not because it’s something I’ve never had, but because it gave me something to hold on to whenever the need to gasp for air came back.
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There is an old joke passed on from generations, saying that someone who passed forgot to breathe (nakalimutan huminga). From where I was, I realized that a gasp for air is a fight for life, and you are on your own in that battle. I can only imagine the unthinkable moment for those who lost the fight as they gasped for life, alone. After this, I will not think lightly of breathing. The breath of life is God’s precious gift.

Out of isolation, into renewed hope

Life turned upside down with this pandemic. So much talk about how something so tiny left such a devastating effect everywhere: lost businesses, jobs and loved ones. Lately, our social media timelines are covered in a single lit candle against black background as profile pictures, mourning friends and family near or far.

It’s traumatic to be in the hospital, alone in a hospital bed and away from familiar faces, when you see other patients passing away one after the other.

What most people need to understand is that the victims of COVID-19 feel banished whenever they are isolated: marked as someone to avoid at all costs, or sent straight to cremation when the battle is lost.

I recovered because I was loved. I’ve never connected with more people in my life as I have until now. Caring messages from far and wide, voice and video calls, and  all kinds of help – financial, spiritual, mental – made me feel special. Really, truly loved even in my isolation.

So am I lucky to have gone through all these? No. But rather, I am GRACED again with another life so I can continue being a blessing to others.

I love seeing these brave men and women in blue. 

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These guys wheeled me down from my isolation room. To freedom!!!
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With my husband who spoils and loves me, in Covid and in health…
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One of the first things we did when I got back home was to do this selfie with my husband and son.

grace feliciano author

About the Writer
Grace Faigao-Feliciano

A happy mother and wife, Grace is a seasoned marketing and advertising professional with over two decades of experience with a variety of local and international brands. She has worked with known ad agencies such as McCann Erickson Philippines, Leo Burnett Manila, and Publicis Manila. She led successful marketing communications campaigns for GMA Network and Okada Manila, and has done a number of consultancy and speaking engagements for a variety of audiences. Grace is not one to back down on new challenges while she can, whatever the situation brings.


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