'My dad died in the cold:' Father loses battle with COVID-19 while awaiting admission

Josiah Antonio, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 31 2021 04:55 PM | Updated as of Mar 31 2021 05:29 PM

'My dad died in the cold:' Father loses battle with COVID-19 while awaiting admission 1
FILE. Back in August 2020, hospital capacity in Metro Manila reached critical levels. In this photo file, nurses are seen checking on patients in a tent reserved for those with respiratory ailments. Chiara Zambrano, ABS-CBN News

MANILA — After hours of frantic search for any hospital that would accept COVID-19 patients, the Barrera family found themselves mourning their patriarch outside a hospital emergency room in Paranaque City. 

"My brother was wailing and crying outside with my mother in shock and unresponsive next to him. My dad died in the cold,” said Angelo Barrera, a 22-year old game developer in a tweet that has since gone viral on social media. 

In a series of tweets, Barrera narrated how the 61-year old pastor struggled to get proper medical care, as hospitals in the National Capital Region, the epicenter of the coronavirus disease, reported full capacity. 

Barrera said his father tested positive for COVID-19 last March 16 and was isolated at home and had a doctor monitor his vitals and prescribe medicine through text. However, the pastor started to struggle breathing at 8:40 p.m. on Saturday.

“We called an ambulance at first, but they were asking for P16,000-20,000 upfront so instead we opted for a volunteer vehicle from a close friend. We were sustaining him through oxygen but the tank was nearly out,” Barrera said.

They tried to go to every hospital in the vicinity but all of them were full, he said.

“We started shipping him to nearby hospitals and calling in advance. This was the worst part. every. single. hospital. every one of them was full. be it admission, ER, even the waitlist for the ER. every single one was full. you name it, from Asian Hospital to St. Luke’s,” the game developer said.

“None of the hospitals agreed to refill his oxygen tank. At 2 a.m. we gave up on hospitals and opted for home care. We stocked up on oxygen tanks at home and were searching for nasal oxygen delivery machines for rent online,” he added.

Unfortunately, his father stopped breathing and they rushed him to a primary hospital in Parañaque which was also in full capacity.

“At 3 a.m., he stopped breathing. We sustained him through oxygen & CPR and got him (to an ER of a primary hospital in Parañaque) ... He needed an ICU and that hospital didn't have one, the closest that did was Asian Hospital," he said. 

“At 5:20 a.m., he flatlined. They used the defibrillator and everything. He was next to the door of the ER, a few minutes away from being able to enter the (intensive care unit),” he said in a tweet last Sunday.

Barrera's story provides a glimpse into the harsh conditions at most hospitals in the metro, as cases of the respiratory illness continue to increase despite recent vaccinations and strict implementation of health protocols. 

Barrera said he it wasn’t the hospital’s fault that they cannot be accommodated immediately. 

“I called and asked about their ICU in the ER, they said that it was full. I begged and asked if we can get in line, and they agreed but let us know that 2 patients were ahead of us. At that point, we took anything we could. We moved him there,” he narrated. 

“Upon arrival, we couldn't even get in the ER. Note that they knew my dad was already in critical condition, but they couldn't do anything because the ER was full. They put him on a stretcher outside, hooked him up to a hospital-grade oxygen tank, and monitored his vitals,” he added.

The doctor on duty, Anna Victorino, confirmed to ABS-CBN News that they couldn’t admit the pastor in the ICU because they were understaffed. 

“We couldn't admit him in the ICU because we are currently understaffed. However, the staff and I tried giving our best care to him while waiting for a hospital with an ICU to accept them,” the doctor said in a tweet.

Victorino said it was painful for her to see the family suffer due to their limited workforce.

"And as a doctor, it frustrates me because we all know how to manage these patients. We're here to give you our best care ... but we can only do so much these days bc HCWs are overworked, hospitals are full and our resources are depleting," the doctor said. 

"It pains me because I saw how his family members, especially his son fought to keep him awake," she added. 

Moments before the pastor passed away, the family made sure that they were all present in order to give the head of the family the strength to recover from the respiratory disease.

“At 4:45 a.m., we started losing him. My brother, who was with him and our mom the entire time, made sure that I (stuck in another city) my sister (in the US) were present through a group call to attempt to give our dad strength so he can keep breathing and stay awake,” he said.

REALITY CHECK

Recounting everything that happened that day might be painful but it was vital for Barrera to show people the situation of the country, more than a year into the pandemic.

“I wanted to show people that haven’t experienced this pain just how bad it is at the moment because we spent hours and hours trying to find a hospital that had a vacancy because we didn’t know any better i wish we knew that it was this bad early on so that we could’ve done something earlier,” he told ABS-CBN News in an interview on Monday.

Barrera said he felt validated with all the support that he got from random people on social media.

“These people don’t know my dad, they don’t even know me, and yet they cry with me and they support me because of their emotions from simply reading my story parang na-validate ‘yung feelings ko (like my feelings were validated),” he added.

He added that some have also reached out to him saying that they had a similar story noting that what is happening is systemic in nature.

“It angers me. If it was once or twice every now and then, I would understand but to hear it from so many people, and learning of similar stories, really shows me that this is a systematic problem. it's proof that this isn't just one or two families' fault for not following protocol. This is a systematic failure by the government in their COVID-19 response,” the game developer said. 

'My dad died in the cold:' Father loses battle with COVID-19 while awaiting admission 2
President Rodrigo Duterte presides over a meeting with the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) core members prior to his talk to the people at the Arcadia Active Lifestyle Center in Matina, Davao City on March 8, 2021. Robinson Ninal, Presidential Photo

“The worst part is hearing that other people have read my story and are now worried about their own loved ones and are asking me what they should do because honestly, I don’t know what to tell them. When the people themselves don’t know who to turn to or where to go or what to do, then you know that the government has failed to enact a proper response to the pandemic. The people have no one to rely on other than healthcare workers (who are understaffed and overworked) or the internet,” he added. 

Barrera said that the government should not be blaming the Filipino people but rather give a concrete solution to address the crisis. 

“There's literally nothing more than a citizen can do we did everything we could and we're middle class … (but) what about those less fortunate than us who probably have a higher risk of getting exposed to the virus as well?” he added.

He noted that the government is responsible for taking care of the well-being of its constituents.

“In the end, the citizens are following and doing all they can in their power to stay alive the healthcare workers are doing all they can to accommodate us but if the government itself doesn’t have a clear plan of action with dealing with the pandemic and are not telling us where all the funding is going then why should we, the citizens, simply "trust" them?” Barrera said. 

“That's not how this works the government is accountable for the well being of its people every death is another that could have been spared if they had better countermeasures against the pandemic and they have so many loans, donations, etc from international interests and yet I didn’t feel any of it when my dad was dying,” he added.

Victorino echoed Barrera, noting that the people deserve better and that death could've been avoided.

"I don't even know him personally, but witnessing how his family struggled to save him & reading how it ended brings me to tears," the doctor said.

"We deserve better. Please hold this government accountable for the deaths that could've been avoided this pandemic," he added.

'My dad died in the cold:' Father loses battle with COVID-19 while awaiting admission 3
Catholics hear mass outside of San Roque Cathedral in Caloocan City on Palm Sunday, March 28, 2021, as churches close a day before "NCR plus" or the Greater Manila Area is placed under enhanced community quarantine. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

Barrera also reminded the public of safety protocols and to help each other as the country battles the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Stay strong, and keep following health protocols. If you can, get tested regularly. Contact a doctor as soon as there are symptoms. start looking for ways to treat cases at home - isolation, oxygen tanks, nasal respirators, etc. (I know these aren’t accessible all the time but please try). If the patient is in critical condition, bring them to a large/well-known hospital ER even if they're full, they will find a way.

“The government has failed us, and our only option is to depend on ourselves," she added. 

The inter-agency task force leading the country's pandemic response will meet this weekend to discuss whether or not to extend the toughest lockdown level in Metro Manila and nearby provinces, Malacañang said on Tuesday, a day after the Philippines passed the 10,000-mark for new daily coronavirus infections for the first time. 

Manila and surrounding provinces were put back under ECQ for the first time since May 2020 to try to quell the surge in cases, despite inroads late last year towards controlling the virus spread.

Experts have repeatedly lamented Philippines' 'militaristic' approach to tackle the pandemic, saying the government must listen to health experts instead of former military officials.

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