by Vanessa G. Martinez
There was a time when the those whom we call ‘heroes’ were those who wore capes and had superpowers and whom we idolized as kids like Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman.
These heroes use their superhuman abilities to save other people’s lives and to bring justice to society by going after the bad guys.
In the time of pandemic, the coronavirus is the bad guy and the pandemic it has caused is our war. And donned in Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) are the unsung heroes — the healthcare workers (HCWs) — who have a sworn duty to keep society healthy and safe.
But just like any other superhero, these HCWs take off their costumes at the end of the day and return to the community as ordinary citizens after a tireless battle against the pandemic. And just like superheroes in the movies, the HCWs also face discrimination and cruelty just like ordinary citizens.
Ms. Maritess Pangan and Mr. Jan Erlo Lorenzo, who are HCWs in San Pablo City (SPC), are just some of these unsung heroes facing discrimination by their own communities.
As the country wrestles with an invisible villain, Ms. Pangan and Mr. Lorenzo, together with millions of other front liners out there, heroically combat the dangers brought about by the pandemic to save the lives of many and to continue serving the Filipino people, not only because of their sworn duty, but also for their compassion and humanitarianism.
However, behind their face masks is a looming sadness.
Mr. Jan Erlo Lorenzo, 29, is a radiologic technologist at San Pablo Colleges Medical Center.
Prior to the pandemic, his daily routine consisted of going to work, hanging out with his co-workers and girlfriend, and playing video games. The pandemic has drastically changed his work-life balance.
Mr. Lorenzo explained that he now has to take a shower before seeing his family to ensure that he is disinfected and not bringing home the virus from the hospital jam packed with COVID-19 cases. Aside from that, he also added that he keeps his distance from the vulnerable members of his family to keep them safe.
He practices self-isolation in his own home as a preventive measure for his family by locking himself up in his room while playing his favorite video games. He feels so near, yet so far from his own family, but he has no choice but to self-isolate to keep him and his family safe.
Aside from the heartache of distancing himself from his own family when inside his own home, Mr. Lorenzo, like Ms. Pangan, has also experienced being spewed at with offensive words from other people after duty.
“Kaya kailangan dala ko lagi ‘yong swab test result ko na latest para patunayan na wala akong sakit,” Mr. Lorenzo said. (I always have to carry my latest swab test result to prove that I’m not infected.)
He also admitted that there was a time that tricycle drivers around his neighborhood had refused to give him a ride upon seeing that he is an HCW. From then on, he had made sure that he would always bring his car to his work.
In his workplace, he also experienced being labelled as lazy by the patients who have not received healthcare services on time. He feels as if those people do not understand the challenges of taking care of dozens of people for 12, 36, and even for 48 hours straight.
Mr. Lorenzo is burnt out. Everyday at work, he dreads having to count how many of his colleagues have contracted the virus.
He wishes that the public would be more understanding of HWCs. In one of his social networking sites, he often shares cases of HCWs from other places in the country who have experienced discrimination to open the minds of the public to the hardships that he and his fellow HCWs are facing. He also wants the public to stop HCW shaming and stigma.
The posts he shares revolve around the topics of HCWs being cursed at by people on the internet and people putting the blame on the HCWs for the surge of COVID-19 in the country.
On the other hand, had she not been in the Philippines, Ms. Pangan, a 47-year-old registered nurse at San Pablo City General Hospital, would now be a nurse in the United States. Her passion for helping her sick compatriots had made her an exemplar nurse of our country.
Ms. Pangan never sits in a corner, neither thought of her salary despite her workload. She moves about with unrelenting determination and enthusiasm, partnered with her overflowing empathy in saving lives. She also believes that healthcare should be accessible to everyone.
Yet, despite her dedication for her work and the grueling hours she spends in the hospital, never did she imagine that she would be shunned in public because of her immaculate white uniform, which ironically has become the symbol of her filth that is the coronavirus, as anyone wearing an HCW uniform is seen as a possible carrier of the virus.
To be avoided was one thing, but to be judged every single day is just too much. Everyday, after, a long day of work at the hospital, she would endure an exhausting journey home because of the judging faces of every passerby.
Aside from that, she stated that there was a time when people whom she does not know have approached her in public and told her not to go out frequently, especially in crowded places, fearing that she would spread the virus.
Her solution to these dilemmas is to change her uniform before embarking on her journey home. It may be a hassle, but Ms. Pangan assures that it was better than receiving judging gazes from people.
“Wala akong magawa. Iniisip ko na lang na ginagawa ko ‘yon para makaiwas na rin sa gulo,” she uttered with her gloomy eyes and silently crying voice. (I cannot do anything. I just think I’m doing it to avoid trouble.)
Ms. Pangan draws her motivation from her loving and supporting family. She thrives every hardship brought by the virus because her family supports her in every way.
She also added that her grit comes from not wanting to let her patients down. The image of her patients taking their last breaths is too much to bear. She endures this almost every day. Despite the odds, she works extra hours to care for the sick.
Hospitals are overloaded with COVID-19 cases on top of non-COVID-19 cases. HCWs are burnt out. For Ms. Pangan, binge watching Korean dramas is her escape from her stressful situation. It is her moment of solitude.
Despite the agonizing discrimination from society, the HWC heroes of today are still committed and dedicated to fighting COVID-19 pandemic. And this is what is more important to them.
They are the modern-day heroes who wear not capes, but PPE: Passion, Perseverance, and Empathy.
They care and save lives — that is their superpower!