MANILA - On March 16, Dr. Joey Hernandez knew things were not right.
His body temperature shot up to 40.5 degrees Celsius, his breathing fast and labored. He had a headache, sore throat, and an overwhelming sense of weakness. For two nights he had trouble sleeping and was having chills.
By March 30, the 29-year-old tested positive for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and became Patient Number 1,264.
“I was utterly shocked, as I received the result 13 days after, way longer than the usual turnaround time, “ Hernandez said.
“Instinctively, I informed my parents, colleagues, bosses and close contacts. I have been in constant communication with them starting Day 1 of symptoms…We felt the need to set aside emotions and act fast.”
Though a doctor, he did not consider himself a frontliner as he currently do not work in a hospital. He did clinical practice before as doctor to the barrio, but for the past three years, he has been working either as a freelance public health consultant or in a non-government global health delivery and research organization supporting the Department of Health’s tuberculosis program.
Still, he would visit hospitals for short meetings. Occasionally, he would also see patients who are mostly relatives and friends.
As the virus continued to spread in the country, Hernandez admitted that as a doctor this got him worried that he might contract the disease, so when he started to get sick, he thought it was COVID-19 that got him.
“Despite the lack of exposure and travel history, my mindset was always expecting and preparing for the worst,” he admitted.
“Even if I am considered low-risk, young and without chronic diseases, you’ll never know how severe COVID-19 will present as it differs from person-to-person.”
Hernandez was told to quarantine himself at home. He obliged, knowing that the elderly and those with chronic diseases were in greater need of hospital space.
“My father was in denial, he thought I was joking. My mother took it more rationally and discussed with me the next steps and possible solutions, having worked in the public health scene for so long and acquainted with health emergencies. They are both in Legazpi City,” Hernandez said.
“They are also worried for themselves because we have been in close contact a week before the onset of symptoms. My sister immediately acted fast, facilitated transport arrangements and continued to take care of her sick brother.”
Hernandez’s sister traveled all the way to Metro Manila to help with his recovery. While he was thankful to have his sister on his side, it came with a high risk.
“It's a possibility she might contract it,” he admitted.
“Knowing fully that emotions can cloud judgment, we had to be more rational and action-oriented about how we deal with COVID-19.”
Strictly, they followed every various measures at home to prevent infection — utensils were separated, toilet and sink regularly disinfected, and face mask on all the time.
“It might be a difficult pill to swallow if she also turned out positive, but what is there to do? We practiced everything straight out of the book and if luck was not on our side, we had to accept it quickly and move on to getting her the proper treatment and psychological and emotional support. Luckily, she has remained asymptomatic,” Hernandez said.
Fortunately, he said the recovery process was straightforward.
After taking a seven-day prescribed course of co-amoxiclav, round-the-clock paracetamol, more-than-enough rest and healthy food, most of the symptoms resolved in four days. He noted how his diarrhea went on intermittently for a few more days, but he said it was tolerable.
“We cannot be crippled. We need more of us physically healthy, psychologically prepared and emotionally strong for the battle. Hence I tried my best to eat healthy food, get more than enough sleep, and adopt a fighting mindset,” he said.
As of writing, 4,648 people in the Philippines have been infected with COVID-19 with 297 fatalities.
TIME TO ACT
On April 2, Hernandez was found to be negative of the pathogen. He is now waiting for another swab result to be cleared.
But for the young doctor, there is work to be done. He is now looking forward to donate blood for an experimental treatment for patients with severe symptoms of the disease.
The transfusion therapy would require COVID-19 survivors like him to donate their blood or plasma, which contains antibodies against the disease.
“I am already in communication with a tertiary hospital,” he said.
“I believe that we should live our days on earth with social relevance. Wherever we can help, we do it. This is just one way to pay it forward to the Filipino people, by sparing half a liter of my plasma to those in need.”
He may be office-based with his job right now, but the doctor said he is raring to go back to work and contribute in ways he can.
“We need all the hands, minds and hearts we can possibly get. We acknowledge our fears, but it shouldn't get to us and drown our courage. We maintain level-headedness. We act fast. We condition our minds this way to save others and ourselves,” he said.