JUNE 11 ? Gabriel, 18, my grandson, has run a high fever for three days. He and three more from our household, including myself, head for the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) in Alabang, Muntinlupa, arriving there at 8:30 p.m.
Gabriel?s tests taken there two days before, show him to be positive for A(H1N1). As if that weren?t bad enough, he has dengue fever. On the promise that Gabriel will be quarantined at home, he is given Tamiflu capsules and released.
The other two are tested after the doctors looked them over and sent home, also with Tamiflu capsules. It will take another two days for their results to be released. I am detained even if I have not been tested, because I?m over 55 and considered ?high risk.?
The descent into hell starts. Barely 20 steps from the Triage area downstairs where doctors had looked us over, I am led upstairs to Isolation: Room E05. They call it a ?bubble.? An outer door leads to a glassed-in small cubicle, through another door to the room proper.
Close to midnight, a medical technician comes to swab my throat and nostrils for specimens to be sent to the laboratory. Not being prepared for the detention, I borrow hospital greens in lieu of a nightgown. The room is spare, but a bit clean. The previous occupant left a bit of paper under the spare bed for the bantay (a ?watcher,? usually a household member). What happens if at the outset of his enforced watch, the bantay manifests no symptoms, I wonder?
There is a small fridge which I can?t seem to get to work, but it has a sealed bottle of water in it.
June 12 ? Splitting headache at about 3 a.m. You?re not supposed to leave the room as you could contaminate others. I stick my head out the outer door, holler ?Nurse!? no response. I put mask on, pad up and down the area to the nurse station. No amount of yelling brings results. No patients in any of the other four isolation rooms, which are in a mild state of disarray.
I pad downstairs all the way to the front door guard to ask for a nurse. A midwife shows up 10 minutes later, saying ?they are very busy, sorry.? Busy? Where? I wonder, since there are no other patients on the isolation side and its twin nonisolation area. She returns 10 more minutes later with a paracetamol.
Time to track down a nurse at 10 a.m. to ask for another headache pill. Holler all you like, nothing. An itinerant janitor tracks someone down, finally. A real nurse! Things are looking up! They aren?t. She does bring a more effective headache pill and medicine for a bad cough, which I hadn?t asked for, but was impressed she?d noticed.
Again, the excuse: ?We?re very busy.? A lie. The two doctors on duty looking through new suspects for testing have their own nurse in attendance on the ground floor. There are no other patients anywhere else.
In the afternoon, again in search of a nurse, I bump into a young female resident who ushers me hurriedly back to my room and looks me over. No, I may not leave, she says, going through my back with a stethoscope. A nebulizer is brought in and it helps the bad cough. I?ve had nothing to eat, but miss nothing, as my taste buds have gone kaflooey.
June 13 ? About 3 a.m. Midwife Winnie plugs in the nebulizer and is gone, never to return. After an hour, I hang out the outer door to have a nurse or someone turn the machine off. No one in sight ? why am I not surprised? Nurse finally materializes. A long speech is delivered (by me) about how all the authorities will be contacted about the nurse-less hospital. From then on, someone is at the nurse station ? a nurse, a janitor, a midwife, a body.
Hell wouldn?t be so hard to take if one had a good book to read. I had brought a book along to read between tests, but had finished reading it. Went over some chapters to appreciate the prose, but read is read. Done. Kaput.
At 10 a.m., I report Winnie?s leaving me with the nebulizer on and never returning. The nurse says Winnie denies it, of course.
We?re getting desperate here ? I want to go home. ?This place sucks,? I text a physician friend; she advises me to ask that I see my attending physician. I do.
What attending physician?
The nurse does not comprehend ?attending physician.? She thinks I?m speaking in tongues. When she finally gets it, she says I have no attending physician because this is a government hospital. How?s that for a nonsequitur? Whaaaat? Raise Cain or suffer perdition! Cain is raised, Kankana-ey blood boiling to the surface.
Deliverance, thy name is Dr. John Chan, an internal medicine resident. Looks me over, fills out long, detailed sheet in an even hand. My results are out ? positive for A(H1N1). He gives meds, patiently notes my litany of complaints about RITM. I insist on going home; he allows it on condition that I am self-quarantined.
Here?s the scariest part: I could have died in E05, and maybe the janitor would have discovered me a day or so later?
RITM being open 24 hours is yet another lie. We have to go back two days later for another swabbing. Evenings there are overflowing, so we are there at 6 a.m.
Everything was totally open physically, with no nurses, no doctors, no one manning the interview desks, the anything. Scream all over the courtyard: ?Hello! You?re supposed to be open 24 hours!? I can?t believe I did that!
Never to return
Slowly, a janitor materializes, then a male nurse and finally two physicians. The pediatrician for Gabriel has her priorities straight: She first goes out to her SUV in the parking lot to load up laundry and bags; she?s obviously preparing to take a day off. Thirty minutes elapsed by the time we are finally looked over.
Upstairs for swabbing, there is no medical technician. We wait in a room with two unmade beds in the room. We are finally swabbed.
We are never returning to this hell-hole.