She doesn’t have a clue where she got it. She had no recent travels, or any known exposure to someone Covid-positive. In fact, she followed the necessary to-dos— constantly washed her hands with soap, applied alcohol, observed social distancing. She even religiously wore a mask outside her home. Yet on the afternoon of March 14, Carla Manas knew something wasn’t right. She began to develop a high fever and immediately sought professional help.
“I immediately messaged two doctors. They asked me to take paracetamol and observe. If the fever doesn’t go away within 36 hours and I can’t breathe, then [that’s the time] I need to go to the hospital,” she recounts.
Carla decided to immediately isolate herself from her husband and two teenage kids while observing her symptoms. This proved to be a wise decision because her condition worsened by the day. Her fever remained at 40 degrees centigrade, and was later accompanied by a dry cough and congested nose. By the fourth day, she knew it was time to pack her bag.
“I kinda knew already,” she recalls. “I woke up, and it was already hard to breathe.”
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Carla went to the hospital and was admitted for pneumonia. Unable to say goodbye to her kids or accept visitors, she was placed in a temporary ward and recalled feeling very frightened and alone.
“The fear was so overwhelming. [Before being admitted] I was reading about a lot of people dying. They were mostly doctors, our fallen heroes, and patients dying even before being confirmed for Covid,” she shares.
“I kept thinking: What if I die? There were so many things I still had to do, my kids are still young and I was just turning 50.”
In the ward and occupied with her thoughts, she recalls managing to peek out from a nearby window, and was surprised by what she saw. The line of patients had gotten much longer, and many were already sleeping in chairs while waiting for medical care. “They didn’t want to go home and were just waiting for space,” offers Carla.
She didn’t know how the hospital managed, but by some stroke of luck, a room opened up and she could finally be transferred to a private space. On her way to the room, she vividly remembered an encounter, which seemed to her to be a peek into what her life would be from then on.
“While I was being wheeled, a guy was turning the corner and he was warned. He was in full protective gear, but looked at me with fear in his eyes and he ran. I just felt so ashamed,” Carla recalls. “I remembered thinking: This is my future. They might stone my family. I will be ostracized and shooed away”.
The succeeding days were not any better. Her condition did not improve and she could feel the fear crippling her.
“The hardest part was in the evening, you imagine the worst,” she shares. “I kept praying. I would pray until I fall asleep”.
On her fourth day in the hospital, she met her infectious disease doctor for the first time.
It also happened to be her birthday, and she recalled how she tearfully begged the doctor to save her life. “I told him: Doc, it’s my 50th birthday today. Paabutin mo naman ako, kahit hanggang 60 lang, ok na. Kahit 10 more years lang, to finish everything I need to do. By that time, my children would also be old enough to be left on their own.”
Doctor Joseph Adrian Buensalido just smiled at her, and unexpectedly made a most reassuring gesture. He lightly touched her arm. “I was surprised,” says Carla, moved by the idea that the physician touched her despite her being a PUI. “He told me, ‘Alam mo ang babaw naman ng ambisyon mo.’ He said, ‘You will survive this, and more than 50 years. I promise you, you will get well.’”
Unwilling to wait for the result of her Covid-19 test, he advised her that they should just assume she was positive, and go ahead with a more radical treatment. The doctor disclosed they have been administering an off-shelf anti-malaria drug on all their COVID patients, and swore that despite some side effects, the gains were still greater than the risks. Carla agreed to take the treatment, signing a waiver.
After six days in the hospital, Carla’s test confirmed she was positive, and she was moved to the floor occupied by Covid-19 positive patients.
“It was even gloomier there,” says Carla. “Almost everyone there was on ventilator. Dito namamatay ang mga tao.”
She herself was deteriorating. Her last x-ray showed that her pneumonia had spread, and if she didn’t improve, she would have to be intubated. But this time she was no longer gripped by fear. Several days before, she says she had made her peace with God.
“There was a cross on the wall across my bed, and I started praying. I said: Jesus, I accept you as my Lord and Savior. I confess my sins to you, I leave everything up to you, and then my heart just automatically lightened. The fear was gone. It was as if He was in the room with me, telling me I am there for you.”
In the coming days, through video chats, Carla consistently prayed with friends and family. She also continued on with the anti-malaria medicine, Azithromycin, Vitamin C, and Zinc, and she maintained a routine— sunning herself through a small room window in the morning, doing a light exercise, and keeping busy coordinating a donation drive for the hospital to keep her mind off her illness.
Gradually, her condition started to improve. Her last test result came out negative, and after 14 days in the hospital, Carla was finally allowed to go home last March 31.
“I was doing an inner dance,” she shares. “It was like I won the lotto”.
Because the DOH requires two negative test results before being declared Covid-free, Carla has not yet been cleared and continues her quarantine at home, where she remains isolated from her family. But she is very encouraged by her progress, and is confident that she is on her way to victory.
“I’m just happy to be home,” she muses.
While finishing her 14-day quarantine, she keeps herself busy with a myriad of things. With her friends, she continues her donation drive for hospital workers (they have already raised hundreds of thousands), and has also set up a Covid-19 support group on Facebook called “Covid Warriors” for patients and their family members.
She says, despite all the bad news, she hopes her story would encourage patients and PUIs to stay positive and keep fighting.
“Don’t give up hope. Keep praying. Christ is bigger than Covid,” Carla says. “You can’t fight this battle alone. You need someone bigger on your side to carry you. A stronger ally”.
Photos courtesy of Carla Manas