MANILA (UPDATE) - When Nono Revilleza came down with fever in early July, he had no idea it was the beginning of a month-long ordeal with COVID-19.
The 37-year-old pastor's temperature went down after a few days in isolation, and his initial tests did not indicate the coronavirus.
But after a one-day lull, the fever came back and lingered for another 5 days. On July 19, or 10 days after experiencing his first fever, Nono was rushed to the hospital due to difficulty in breathing.
He was diagnosed with severe COVID-19.
"Tanong ko sa sarili ko, ‘Lord, bakit ako? Nagse-serve ako sa simbahan sa ‘Yo, mabuting tao naman ako, but of all people, sa akin ko pa na-experience ito'," he said.
(I asked, 'Lord, why me? I serve the church for You, I am a good person, but out of all people, I'm the one experiencing this.')
“’Dun ko talaga nakita na may plano pa talaga si Lord and purpose sa life ko. But yung mahirap talaga sa akin emotionally is, may times talaga na tinanong ko si Lord, 'Lord, kung kukunin mo na ako ngayon, paano yung wife ko, baka hindi niya kayanin'.”
(It's then that I saw that the Lord really has a plan and purpose for my life. But what I found difficult emotionally is that, there were times when I asked, 'Lord if you would claim me now, what would happen to my wife?' She might not be able to endure it'.)
For Nono and his wife Joei, 31, the rest of July was marked by anxiety and at times, loneliness.
But they said the period also made them hold on to their faith, encountering "miracles" that led to Nono's recovery from illness.
Despite being advised against coming out with their story, the couple told ABS-CBN News they decided to share their experience publicly, hoping it would give hope to others facing COVID-19.
The Quezon City-based couple said they exercised extreme caution to keep the coronavirus away from their home, such as placing disinfection stations and limiting outside movement to grocery runs.
Nono thinks he might have gotten the virus when he claimed his car registration a few days before his first fever.
“Sobrang ingat na ingat na kami. Ultimong straw ng milk tea, ini-ispray namin,” he said. “Pwedeng sa public ball pen, o door knob, o sa papel. Iyon lang yung araw na hindi ko nadala alcohol ko.”
(We were very cautious. We spray even milk tea straws with disinfectant. I could have gotten the virus from a public ball pen, door knob or paper. That was the only day I didn't bring rubbing alcohol.)
The hospital that admitted Nono was already the third one the ambulance brought him to. The first 2 had no vacancy.
Even then, Nono had to be placed in a tent outside the hospital while waiting for a room to free up.
Joie sat outside that tent for hours, seeing others losing their loved ones to COVID there.
“Pinakamahirap was the waiting time,” she said. “Nung nakita kong na-intubate ‘yung isang pasyente, sobrang hirap. Isipin mo na pwede mangyari sa asawa ko yun. Tapos, ‘yung dumaan na body bag, noong nakita ko yun, sabi ko, 'Teka, totoong-totoo na yung nakikita ko sa TV'.”
(The waiting time was the hardest. When one patient was intubated, it was really difficult. I thought this could happen to my husband, too. When a body bag passed by me, I realized that what I have been seeing on TV was true.)
She said the health care workers encouraged her to take her time talking to Nono when he eventually got a room. For others, sendoffs like that were sometimes their last interaction with the patient, Joei was told.
Severe COVID-19 cases such as Nono’s usually kept patients in the hospital for almost a month. But he was discharged for home quarantine in 10 days, after his lung function returned to normal.
Joei said they were fortunate to have gotten the right medical help at the time they needed it.
Nono was given 2 doses of a COVID-19 treatment drug which had only been available at the hospital after he was admitted. Since it was also provided as a trial drug, they were able to pay less than its full value.
Doctors also performed hemoperfusion therapy on Nono, a blood purification process similar to dialysis where new blood is pumped in to replace the cells hit by the coronavirus.
“I'm blessed with our doctors who had the foresight na coronavirus na ito (that this was coronavirus)” Joei said. "Hindi hinintay yung (they did not wait for the) swab test."
“Everything happened for 10 days. And it was something no one expected. The doctors said the medicine helped.”
The separation was nonetheless painful, especially for Nono.
“Buti na lang may picture ako ng pamilya ko. Yun na lang niyayakap ko kasi bawat usap namin sa video call, magkakahiwalay kami. Bawat sarado ng video call, alam mo, feel mo yung void, na ang tahimik, ang lungkot ulit. Napapadasal na lang ako,” he said.
(It's fortunate that I had a picture of my family that I could hug because even when we had video calls, we were apart. Every time the call ended, you feel the void, the silence. It gets sad again. So I just pray.)
“Nilu-look forward ko yung day na mayayakap ko sila. Yun ang nagbigay sa akin ng pag-asa.”
(I looked forward to the day I could hug them again. That gave me hope.)
Joei also had to stay home alone while waiting for the result of her own COVID swab test. Their 2 children had to stay with relatives.
Her COVID test came out negative.
“It was so hard kasi every decision, it's not like you can be there to decide. But there, I have to decide on the phone if this procedure would be done, if this test would be done,” she said.
“Napakahirap kasi di ko siya maalagaan, di mo alam ang nangyayari. Ang nakakatuwa naman sa ospital, naiintindihan nila kami.”
(It's so hard because I couldn't take care of him, and you didn't know what was happening. What's good about our hospital was that they understood our situation.)
This was why they looked forward to their daily virtual meeting, where they would eat meals together, pray, or listen to music.
When Nono was sent home on July 29, he still had to remain in isolation for 10 more days before he finally got to hug his wife and children.
After taking inspiration from the testimony of a friend abroad who survived critical COVID-19, the couple decided it was their time to share their story, too.
“Ang dami nang hopeless, ang dami nang discouraged. If we really share our testimony, hindi lang ito panakot na ito yung pinagdaanan namin, pero yung hope ni God na huwag mawalan ng pag-asa,” Nono said.
(Many are hopeless, discouraged. If we really share our testimony, this is not to scare others with what we went through, but to share hope from God.)
They said that their story is a warning not to take the risk of infection lightly. The country, which logged its first confirmed COVID-19 case in late January, has 68,357 active coronavirus infections, as of Aug. 27, of which 2 percent are critical and severe cases.
But they hope their experience would remind others that getting COVID-19 is not a death sentence.
“In our eyes, it's really God's hand, who made all these things possible. We don't know what would have happened if we did not have space in the tent, or that ambulance,” Joei said.
For Nono, the “miracle” they experienced goes beyond his mere recovery.
“Na-realize ko, every gising is a miracle, every gising is a blessing."
(I realized that every moment of waking up is a miracle, a blessing.)
"It's a miracle we're here sharing our story to you.”