Nurse Rainier Puig walks to the entrance of COVID Ward 3-A, and steps inside wearing only a collared shirt and a mask.
“Safe tayo dito. Wala pang pasyente kasi ina-ayos pa lang namin. Pasok po kayo,” he said, disappearing through the plastic curtain.
3-A was just a regular hospital ward before the time of COVID-19. But now that the Lung Center has been tasked to care for moderate to severe COVID-19 patients, Ward 3-A and many other wards like it have been converted into Intensive Care Units.
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“Tingnan niyo po, yung bed, nahaharangan ng plastic,” said Rainier, pointing to layers of thick plastic sheets that hung like curtains between the patient’s bed and the door. “Para po sa pintuan pa lang, makikita na ng nurse kung okay lang yung pasyente. Hindi niya kailangang laging lumalapit.”
They were doing this in every room across the hall. Rainier chuckled at how much his surroundings were changing. “Para kaming gumagawa ng bagong ospital.”
For the most part, it was true.
Rainier exited 3-A, and reached the entry of 3-B. He stopped short of going through the door. “Nandito na po yung mga COVID-19 patients. Kailangan naka-PPE na tayo pagpasok doon.”
This is a RED ZONE, said a sign at the door. Again, a thick layer of plastic hung like curtains by the entrance. Another wall of plastic ran the length of the hallway, separating the patient’s rooms on the left side from the staff rooms on the right. Doctors and nurses were there, putting on their multi-colored PPEs, signs that they came from different donors.
From here they push apart the curtain, and start their shift at the Red Zone.
Inside one staff room was a widescreen TV that showed every single COVID-19 patient inside Ward 3-B, captured by individual CCTV cameras that they only just installed during the pandemic. Two other monitors flashed all of their individual heart rates. COVID-19 moves too quick and too hard to be taken lightly — the moment any of the patients showed signs of pain or any of their vitals changed in the slightest, the nurses in the control room would radio the nurses in the Red Zone, who would immediately rush to their side.
From the screen, the nurses would watch as their colleagues went to their patients’ side, check what was wrong, and tuck them back under their blankets. The different ways by which the virus affects people is apparent — some are lying casually in bed, minding their cellphones. Others are unconscious with their respirators. One patient started to convulse as a health worker stayed by their side.
“Nagsi-seizure. Sina-suction siya,” said a nurse watching the screen closely.
It is gruelling work, made even more unbearable by the layers of PPEs that keep the health workers safe. What’s worse, Rainier says they have been compelled to work for much longer hours like this because there just aren’t enough nurses to go around.
“Ang problema po, ini-stretch na po namin yung hours ng mga nurses po namin,” said Rainier. “Supposedly dapat 8 hours lang, lalo na may mga critical beds po kami. Ang mga pasyente, toxic. Pero umaabot po ng 12 hours.”
Rainier tried to describe how difficult it was to stand alert for half a day, wrapped head to foot, while still trying to make sound, life-saving decisions.
“Yung 12 hours na non-COVID pa lang, mahirap na po. Wala pang PPE yon, normal na uniform lang. Tapos nagkaroon pa ng COVID. Mas mahirap po yung 12-hour shift, walang kain, walang ihi, walang CR. Sobrang nakakapagod po. Mga tao lang po itong mga nurses natin na napapagod.”
Dr. Tony Ramos, the hospital’s Administrative Service Department Manager, realized none of the plastic walls, CCTV cameras, and other protective measures would be enough if the nurses themselves would be too exhausted to even properly handle their own PPEs.
“Pag pagod at puyat ka, may tendency na maging careless ka,” Ramos said. “Kasi may protocols yan eh, ano yung unang tatanggalin mo, ano yung unang ikakabit mo, ano yung pwede mong gawin, hindi mo pwedeng gawin. Pag napapagod ka na, mas malaki yung chance na magshoshortcut ka na. Pag nag-shortcut ka na, mas malaki yung chance na ma-expose ka. Pag na-expose ka, mas malaki yung chance na ma-infect. Kaya mayrong epekto ang kapaguran at kapuyatan sa safety ng personnel.”
In yet another out-of-the-box move, the Lung Center decided to sound off an announcement: the hospital is hiring 260 additional nurses – those who are registered as nurses but have been working a different job, or those who have not been hired by any other hospital yet.
“Meron tayong mga nurses na nagtatrabaho sa mga salon, nagtatrabaho sa mga department stores, meron dyang Grab driver,” said Ramos. “Marami pa tayong nurses na nandyan sa paligid lang. They may not be working as nurses, or they may be working as nurses or are unemployed. So we need to get them and bring them to Lung Center.”
The Lung Center will offer them a three-month contract, a monthly salary of 32,000 pesos, and a daily hazard pay of 500 pesos. Those who will have difficulty with transportation and lodging may consult with the hospital for options. The message is clear, they are needed, and they are needed now.
The first 200 new nurses will be utilized to augment the presently understaffed workforce. This will enable the Lung Center to provide ICU-level attention to patients by assigning less patients per nurse. This will also give nurses much-needed time to rest and recover.
The last 60 nurses will be on call in case Metro Manila experiences another surge of infections, and more patients start pouring in.
“Para po sa mga kasama naming nurse na gustong mag-serbisyo sa kapwa Pilipino, pwede po kayong mag-apply sa amin,” Rainier said.
“Kailangan namin ng commitment,” said Doctor Ramos. “Hindi pa ito tapos.”