In Their Words: Filipino Frontliners in the UK Conquering the COVID pandemic
Below, I’ve connected with 5 Filipino doctors, nurses, and care workers, asked them about the most trying situation experienced in the service of their community, how they overcame it and which Filipino traits helped them “keep calm and carry on” in these trying times.
Frances Ledesma, MD
Vascular Surgery, Royal London Hospital
I was redeployed from vascular surgery to ITU and part of my job was to enact a DNAR-Do Not Attempt Resuscitation. It involved patients of significant, complex medical history and advanced age. However, I had to sign one for young patients slowly dying from COVID. It made me realize that this disease affects every age, gender, complex medical history or none. Support from the team helps me with decisions and confirm what’s best for the patient. I don’t think I’ve overcome this difficulty but ensure everyone a fighting chance.
The absolute compassion of Filipinos or ‘malasakit’ makes us memorable to patients, their relatives, and our colleagues. It encompasses more than compassion – it’s taking care of people as if they were family, evident in how we approach patients, providing what we could to remind them of home, finding ways to connect them to their families outside, holding their hand as they struggle to survive. ‘Malasakit’ is embodied by every Filipino healthcare worker, and it had made me proud to work with them during these frightening and uncertain times. They are proof that there is something to look forward to when this all ends.
Fernando Ereñeta III, MD
Locum Specialist Registrar Diabetes and Endocrine/Acute Medicine
George Eliot Hospital NHS Trust, Nuneaton, Warwickshire
Staff suddenly realized that the COVID epidemic has become so close to home - a scary time for all of us. As we arrive for work, the first question is how will Ì be able to care for my patients? Will I get the proper PPE? What support can I get? Will I catch the virus? Quality of care is suddenly at the edge of being compromised. You have the duty of care but at the back of your mind you are thinking of how to protect yourself from the “invisible enemy” that is COVID-19. And thinking of the safety and health of your family, colleagues and friends. But in the end, your duty and patients come first. You gather strength from your colleagues and family and as a Christian, your faith in the Almighty is always important.
What stood out during this pandemic are the resilience and the resolve of the Filipinos, the willingness to care for patients and support of colleagues despite the adversity. As a doctor, you are expected to lead and show determination at work, support to your colleagues and decisive in your actions. This in effect makes working on the wards more bearable.
Mary Grace Hibaler Ibardolaza Davis, Care Practitioner
Bodawen Nursing Home, North Wales
I arrived in the UK in 2013 and have worked as a care assistant in a home for the elderly.
It changed dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic. No PPE appeared in our section and wondered if anybody cared about us. We are not robots. We felt fear. We wondered if we’d get home when our shift ended. We wondered if we’d get to see our families, my new grandson in the Philippines. Despite all these, we carried on.
There was an occasion when management asked: “If found that the virus has entered and is active in our Care Home, will you be prepared to carry on?” There really wasn’t much thought to reach a conclusion: We’re professional carers with a duty to care for our residents. If we give up, who will look after them? We’re currently fit and healthy. We’re being paid (poorly) to do a job.
Filipinos are God-fearing people, loyal, and responsible. Faced with stressful or dangerous situations, we carry on and pray we survive and prosper. Our resilience has been demonstrated and proven beyond doubt. If we are tired, feel low, or feel unappreciated, we carry on. If we are asked to do extra duties, we say “Yes!” and carry on. We do the very best we can, and smile!
Roselie Alado, Registered Nurse
Royal Sussex County Hospital: Emerald Ward / Adelaide Nursing Home
I work both in the ward and the nursing home but chose to temporarily stop working in the hospital to “shield” the residents in the home. What a nightmare when COVID hit our nursing home. The virus made staff and residents fall ill unpredictably. Constant adjustment to staffing and working with limited resources was tricky. Reassuring families and members of staff who are worried about contracting the disease was also difficult.
Resilience during the crisis encouraged me to be optimistic yet realistic. Listening to staff members’ concerns on PPE and providing what they needed including testing, eased their fears. Scary times, but most were very cooperative. Thankfully, we are COVID free now.
This pandemic doesn’t change us, but reveals us, they say. The sense of “bayanihan” became second nature. Filipinos did food shopping and cooking for households in isolation. Some sent thermometer or paracetamol. When my turn came to receive help, I found it truly humbling, and felt what “looking out for each other” really was.
Carol Panday, Health Care Assistant
Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital / Brylee Care Staffing Agency
I hold multiple roles as a carer, producer, event organizer and at home, as partner, woman and friend. I was skeptical about this pandemic, thinking of a conspiracy theory and or political agenda. However, when the situation worsened, and deaths soared, I questioned. All my events got called off, potential profits put on hold, and liaised with partner-producers for postponement. I realised the only job to sustain me was to return to the nursing home as a Health Care Assistant. Pandemic or not, your support to family back home doesn’t stop.
Each time I showed up for my shift, I was loaded with ‘what ifs?’ The feeling of paranoia set in. There were times that I didn’t want to sleep for fear of not waking up. There were silent cries, endless prayers, never-ending thoughts that haunted every day.
It is faith that strengthens us. The more we feel helpless, the more we must believe. If I ask for His protection, why should I fear? If I believe in Him, why should I worry? Social media was bombarded with holy masses, prayer meetings and faith-related activities. Religious denominations got in touch with each other and gave encouragement.