It was Annie’s “rest day”.
A rare one in a time of unrest.
Whenever she’s off duty from her hospital work in the province, Annie (who agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity) mostly spends her time tinkering with her phone.
A day that was supposed to be no different.
She read up on the COVID-19 crisis that has gripped the whole world. Scrolling on social media timelines, browsing news articles and clicking on memes her friends have posted.
Then, all of a sudden, she stopped.
A photo of a candle with a black backdrop. Then another one. One after the other.
“Ang daming black profiles. Black na may kandila. Tapos may sinabi doon na a 'doctor has fallen'. Parang hindi na maganda 'yung pakiramdam ko kasi may colleague ako na alam kong mino-monitor,” she says.
News quickly spread that morning.
Turns out, March 21 would forever be different for her.
The flashing headlines screamed at her with fury: PH200 has died from COVID-19. The youngest fatality so far in the Philippines at age 34.
PH200 was the name given by the health department to a patient infected by the coronavirus. The 200th case.
Annie knew PH200 by a different name: “gentle giant”.
Annie and her gentle giant have known each other since 2007, back when they were medical students full of idealism and aspirations in a state-run university.
PH200 wanted to become a doctor not because it pays well, but because it was his “calling”.
“After med school, hindi muna siya nag-start mag-work. Nag-apply siya as a doctor to the barrio. Isa siya sa mga doctors na dine-deploy doon sa mga very rural areas of the country,” Annie recounts.
“We both planned na babalik kami sa kani-kaniya naming probinsiya to serve. Ako pupunta ng Olongapo, siya pupunta ng Nueva Ecija. Babalik siya para mag-serve."
They parted ways after med school. But their friendship was never lost. Annie and PH200 would still cross paths in medical conventions, and even quiz bees. They would keep exchanging messages even as simple as to say hello.
Notifications of “Hi! Kumusta na?” would often pop up on her screen.
In 2018, they reunited during their pre-fellowship in one of the government specialty hospitals in Quezon City. For two weeks, they were almost inseparable and bonded over their shared dream of becoming cardiologists.
“We have the same journey. In the future, sabi namin sa isa't isa, we’ll both be cardiologists. We'll help the people,” she says.
PH200 was one who never gave up easily. Coming from a middle-class family, he supported his own education and earned his medical degree from scholarships.
He was always at the top of his class.
While they didn’t end up spending their fellowship in the same hospital, Annie and PH200 remained in touch. As incoming juniors, they were just one step closer to their dreams.
Then, the virus happened and those dreams were dashed.
Annie is graduating from her fellowship next year. Alone.
The death of a close friend is gut-wrenching enough. But a death from COVID-19 is even more unbearable. There aren’t any bodies to say goodbye to. Those who die from the disease are cremated immediately to kill the virus that can still potentially infect others.
For Annie, all she can hold onto is the image of her friend: kind-hearted, calm and approachable. Her gentle giant.
“Kanina, I saw the pictures posted by my batchmates na parang nu'ng nakita ko siya, it seems as if he's not yet gone,” she says.
PH200’s journey may have been cut short. Annie says she is extremely blessed to have been part of it.
He was like her brother. And now, he can rest.
“May isang araw na sobrang pagod kami. We went to a mall to buy comfortable shoes. Sabi ko, 'Hiwalay muna tayo, but then sabi niya, 'Naku, kailangan mo akong tulungan maghanap ng magandang shoes ko.' Ako iyong namili ng shoes sa kanya. Kasi sabi niya gusto niya magkaroon ako ng opinion. Parang mas feel niya na ibang tao ‘yong titingin na maganda ang suot niya,” she recalls.
“He would say, mag-buffet kami. Pagkain ‘yong pinag-uusapan din namin kasi sa sobrang pagod namin, we feel we both deserve na kumain ng masarap. Pero siya kasi natanggap sa hospital sa Quezon City. Ako, bumalik sa hospital sa Pampanga. Hindi na natuloy 'yung plan namin to eat together.”
As many health workers continue to risk their lives to save others, they pin their hopes on the likes of PH200. Annie, a frontliner herself, was praying PH200 would be the “poster boy” of a successful battle against COVID-19.