Mr. Boco with his wife. “Lesson niya po sa amin talaga is maging simple lang pong tao at palagi pong tumulong sa iba,” said his daughter Zyrene.
Culture Spotlight

Her 56-year old father had a heart attack and no hospital would take him in

When Zyrene Boco’s father had a heart attack, over 30 hospitals with intensive care units – all overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients – couldn’t and wouldn’t take him in. Now, a daughter grieves alone for the father she lost. By JEFF CANOY
| Apr 02 2020

On March 25, Zyrene Boco and her two younger sisters baked a cake for their father’s birthday. It was chocolate—his favorite. They wanted to surprise him. But the surprise came out as flat as a pancake. 

“Hindi masarap. Hindi talaga.”

Their father laughed. A sort of mid-guffaw: deep, loud and hearty, short of stomping his feet. Zyrene couldn’t help but sneak in a giggle or two. The plan may have failed but it brought joy nonetheless.

That evening, over dinner, her father still blew the candles on his birthday cake. He turned 56.

Arnel Boco during his last birthday, with the cake his daughters baked.

The morning after, on March 26, another surprise came. 

At around eleven o’clock, Zyrene heard her father crying for help. She found him crouching in pain, halfway through a flight of stairs. His right hand clutched his chest. His complexion was pallid, and looked as if he might faint.  

“Malakas pa ako. Kaya ko pa ito,” he said.

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Zyrene and her family rushed him to the nearby city hospital. But it was full. 

They were directed to go to a tent right across the facility. It was a makeshift emergency room, sparse but functional. The air smelled of bleach, with an undertone of dread.

Doctors and nurses surrounded her father, attaching IVs and heart monitors. Mr. Boco had lost consciousness. 

Zyrene stepped away momentarily —glazed eyes, mouth aghast with horror —as her father was intubated. A flexible, plastic tube was all that could help her father breathe. 

“50-50,” the doctor said. 

X-Ray results revealed that her father also had pneumonia. He needed to be moved into an intensive care unit. The hospital where they went did not have the necessary equipment to keep her father alive.  

Zyrene’s family, her father’s friends and co-workers, all scrambled to call any hospital that would take him in. They managed to get hold of over thirty hospitals.

Not one of them said yes.

On March 27, just two days after his birthday, Zyrene’s father was dead. His body lay cold in a tent outside of the hospital. He was surrounded by family.

Time of death: 8:45AM. 

Barely 48 hours since his family gathered around him, singing and laughing, as he blew out the candles on his birthday cake.

****

It has been a few days since her father’s death.

Zyrene and her family are back in their home, albeit it’s a different one. One less seat at the dinner table. One less laughter inside the room.

Like many families in the Philippines, the Boco family had shuttered themselves inside their house when the government-mandated lockdown took effect on March 14. They weren’t taking any chances against the threat of the new coronavirus.

While the world was falling apart outside, it was a different story inside the Boco home. In some ways, the family had their own little world.

In the mornings, they would all gather in the living room to trade stories, watch videos on Youtube, or sing their hearts out using the videoke machine. The afternoons were reserved for playing basketball together.

Zyrene, 18, is the eldest of three daughters. All of them idolized their father, Arnel.

Her father always encouraged her to make good on her studies. “Iyong sinasabi niya po sa akin tuwing nahihirapan po ako tuwing may exams or what, palagi niya po kaming binu-boost. Sinasabi niya, ‘Iyan lang, kaya mo iyan.’"

“Iyong dad po kasi namin, super selfless man. As in lahat ng gagawin niya, para sa ibang tao,” said Zyrene.

“Lesson niya po sa amin talaga is maging simple lang pong tao at palagi pong tumulong sa iba. Sobrang contented na po siya sa kung anong mayroon siya. Kahit hindi niya po kilala, tinutulungan niya. Dito sa community namin, kilala siya na maaasahan.”

Before the lockdown, Zyrene would always treasure mornings with her father.

Mr. Boco’s dream for his eldest daughter was for her to study and graduate from the University of the Philippines. So when she got into the school’s Industrial Engineering program, her father made sure he would always drop her off at campus in the morning.

Zyrene’s father would often surprise her in UP. And father and daughter would try the different restaurants in the neighborhood. 

“Iyong sinasabi niya po sa akin tuwing nahihirapan po ako tuwing may exams or what, palagi niya po kaming binu-boost. Sinasabi niya, ‘Iyan lang, kaya mo iyan.’"

Another thing Mr. Boco loved to do was sing.

On his 56th birthday, he serenaded his family using their videoke machine. He sang Bread’s 1970s pop hit “Make It With You.”

Life can be short or long

Love can be right or wrong

And if I chose the one I'd like to help me through

I'd like to make it with you

It was a sweet moment. Zyrene never thought it would be one of her last memories of her father.

At Marina Bay Sands in Singapore. “Iyong dad po kasi namin, super selfless man. As in lahat ng gagawin niya, para sa ibang tao,” said daughter Zyrene.

“Wala nga po siya paramdam na magpapaalam na pala. Iyon nga po iyong alam naming hindi po siya handang umalis. Akala po niya siguro mabubuhay pa siya.”

Now, at home and with her father gone, the memory feels like a plaintive holdover from what seems like a distant, more innocent time — a week ago.

****

When doctors told them that her father needed to be moved immediately into a hospital that had an intensive care unit, Zyrene and her family rallied everyone they knew to call up any hospital that would accept.

In a country where there’s a law against turning down patients, it was disheartening for Zyrene to hear rejection after rejection. Zyrene says they asked over thirty hospitals in the metro.

“They all said po that, number one, the ICU is full. Wala na pong available talaga. Tapos second thing they say po is they don't accept pneumonia patients, and third, they don't have ventilators po.”

It also felt strange for Zyrene that her father was suspected to have the coronavirus. He had no travel history, he barely went out of the house during lockdown, and he exhibited no symptoms. No fever, no body aches, no dry coughs.

“Natakot po sila na coronavirus but then my dad didn't exhibit any symptoms before tapos sobrang lakas pa po niya. Wala pong sign na may sakit,” Zyrene said.

“Mahirap daw pong maka-transfer sa ibang hospital kung wala kang connection doon. Iyong doctor po iyong tumatawag pero wala pa rin po. Hindi pa rin po siya tinanggap at the end.”

Personnel from the health department tested her father for COVID-19 – the disease caused by the coronavirus. But the results would take days.

All Zyrene and her family could do that night was to stay by her father’s bedside – powerless and helpless.

“My dad's a super strong man po. Like you wouldn't expect him to just be lying there and be unable to do anything. And it's super heartbreaking po kasi hindi man lang po siya nabigyan ng treatment. Like nakahiga lang po siya roon sa tent setup na iyon tapos the whole night po, hindi kami natulog kasi binabantyan lang po namin siya,” she said.

“It’s like no one was accepting him so we were just waiting and waiting hanggang sa bumaba na po iyong blood pressure niya, hanggang sa ma-cardiac arrest na po siya. Pero wala po kaming nagawa. Sobrang sakit po.”

When her father flat-lined, there was barely any time to say goodbye. 

Not even after. There was no wake. No services, no caskets, no body to grieve over. No ceremonies to properly say farewell to a loved one. 

Per government protocol, as he was suspected to have COVID-19, his body was immediately cremated. 

“Hindi ko po nasabi sa kanya na mahal ko siya kasi biglaan po talaga. Hindi ko po nasabi rin na aalagaan ko po iyong mga kapatid ko pati si mommy. Gusto ko rin sabihin sa kanya na magtatapos po ako sa pag-aaral and tutuparin ko po lahat ng mga pangarap niya para sa aming tatlo at para rin po kay Mommy.”

****

Family often shares the trauma of losing a loved one.

And it’s the same for Zyrene’s. But the Bocos have to do it away from each other. Together at home but alone in mourning.

While they wait for their father’s test results, authorities advised them to keep physical distance from each other to control the spread of the virus in case he tested positive.

That means Zyrene can’t even hug her 12-year-old sister in grief.

“Sobrang hirap. Panganay po ako. Kailangan ko pong maging strong para sa kanila. Tapos hindi ko man  lang po sila ma-console o masabi na kailangan nating maging strong. Hindi ko po sila mayakap pati po iyong mommy ko kaya sobrang hirap po talaga na ganito iyong situation namin,” she said. 

The Bocos loved to spend time together.

“Minsan po nagkikita rin po kami pero sobrang magkakalayo. Bale po iyong isa po nasa sala, iyong isa po nasa hagdan, iyong isa po nasa dining tapos nagdadasal po kami ng rosary. Hindi po kami puwedeng magyakapan, kasi nga may chance po na positive si daddy at delikado rin po if may magkaroon ng virus dito. Ganoon po araw-araw. We're just trying to be there for each other po right now.”

Zyrene meanwhile took her family’s experience to social media in hopes that others share their experience during this crisis so they can affect change. Her post on Facebook drew almost 150,000 reactions and 71,000 shares.

“I don’t want my dad to die a senseless death. Gusto ko pong malaman ng mga tao na hindi lang po ako iyong may ganoong pinagdaanan kasi ang dami rin pong nag-reach out sa amin na ganoon din po iyong nangyari pero hindi po sila nakapag-voice out.”

Zyrene hopes that the health department can help hospitals deal with the influx of patients and the dwindling resources because of the pandemic so that other patients like her father don’t fall into the cracks.

“Pero sana po mag-pay attention na po at naiintindihan na po nila iyong urgency kasi ang dami na pong namamatay. Ang dami rin pong nag-message sa akin po regarding that post na they had similar situation po. They were helpless, wala rin po silang nagawa.”

For now, Zyrene is uncertain how life will be without her father. She’s not even sure how to deal with the next day. Except she knows now, at 18, how worlds can suddenly turn upside down in a matter of a morning. 

“As of now, hindi nga rin po namin alam kung paano po kami magsisimula ulit. But right now po, we're just trying to cope the best we can.”

All Zyrene could do now is to find solace in the memories. She often sits and thinks about her father’s laughter. Their basketball games. The impromptu meals at school. The way he blew out his candles on his last birthday. And his voice serenading them.

Life can be short or long

Love can be right or wrong

And if I chose the one I'd like to help me through

I'd like to make it with you

 

Jeff Canoy is a Correspondent of the ABS-CBN Integrated News & Current Affairs