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Senator Sonny Angara Shares His COVID-19 Journey From Diagnosis to Recovery

He is back in self-quarantine at home.
IMAGE KAI HUANG
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Senator Sonny Angara is back home with his family after spending over a week in the hospital battling the COVID-19 virus. He shares the story of his journey:

On March 15, I woke up slightly feverish with a lot of the reported symptoms of COVID-19—body pain, sore throat, cough, diarrhea, shortness of breath. I immediately assumed I had the virus and self-quarantined in a separate room away from my wife Tootsy and the kids. 

The next day I took the swab test. Later that day, we found out our colleague Senate Majority Leader Miguel Zubiri had tested positive for the virus. This further convinced me of the big chance I had also contracted it because Senator Zubiri and I had been together in the senate and at the same functions the week before.

So after many days of feeling bad, it was no surprise to get the official test results on March 26 that I was COVID positive. Not surprising but still quite a stunner when you are told you are positive for the virus. Thoughts go racing through one's head—of mortality, of having young children and wishing to see them pass through life's milestones down the road. There was an activation of one's fight-or-flight response for sure.

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That day I tested positive some doctor friends recommended I go the hospital to have X-rays taken of my chest and lungs.

Results were not good as they showed pneumonia, and my lungs also showed a lot of white spots indicating the virus's presence. That's when it sunk in that this could be a lot worse than I had anticipated or felt. Thoughts of intubation and being on a ventilator flashed through my head.

For 36 hours after my results were released,  my family pleaded with me to enter the hospital and check in pursuant to doctors' advice. I was initially reluctant, but eventually relented after I was told the virus is a treacherous one—'traydor' in the vernacular—one day you feel well and are breathing normally; the next day you are short of breath and need oxygen.

Thus began my hospital journey. We were told there were no rooms available at St Luke's BGC but that I could stay in the emergency room and wait for a room. So I was placed in a makeshift corner of the ER where I stayed for four days waiting for a regular room.

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The room had hardly any natural light and had grey concrete walls which partly dictated the mood for those four days of testing my heart, lungs, and everything else. Doctors prescribed a battery of drugs which in retrospect I realize were quite strong, perhaps indicating I had underestimated the depth and strength of the virus. The much bandied hydroxychloroquine ( a known treatment for malaria and lupus) was prescribed with its attendant risks to heart health; as was lopinavir and ritonavir, a known medicine for HIV patients.

The drugs prescribed proved effective, and every day, the doctors said I was showing improvement. I had been in reasonable health playing basketball in various leagues for recreation and health, and I had also embarked on a healthy diet in the beginning of the year, losing ten pounds. This no doubt helped me fight off the virus.

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My spirits were buoyed by the show of support from friends and family through thousands of messages by phone or social media, home-cooked meals and gifts of food (no disrespect to hospital food); letters from my wife and kids and people saying I was in their prayers.

When you are down there is nothing like hundreds of your friends and school co-parents praying for your recovery. I thank the Lord for I felt his intervention through friends' and strangers' acts of kindness. Those many hours in the hospital initially spent on social media platforms and Netflix gave way to more silent and meditative moments when I would ask God what he wanted me to do, and ask him to point me in the right direction.

This episode has definitely strengthened and regenerated my faith and my conviction. I am thankful to my love and rock, my wife Tootsy who was there with me on the phone every day to cheer me up along with our kids, with daily care packages with food and handwritten letters from our kids. Their love I leaned on every single day, it was perpetual and unwavering.

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I spent another five days in a regular hospital room which was a welcome change. I had a window with natural light, a television, a warm shower which were absent in the ER. Again the treatments prescribed were all effective and I improved every day. Doctors told me it was just a matter of time before they sent me home; they just needed to have negative results from the latest COVID swab tests.

A few days later, I finally got that result and my doctors sent me home.

Going home was pure joy although again I am in self-quarantine for 14 days to protect my family and our  kasambahay/househelpers.  

I now appreciate the simple things I used to take for granted, such as sipping calamansi juice or homemade hot chocolate and eating warm pandesal while looking at the sunset.

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All throughout my hospital stay I received the best and most professional assistance from my doctors and nurses, and I am eternally grateful to these brave, courageous men and women. In my daily conversations with them I learned that theirs is not an easy life: one nurse told me that his colleagues are being discriminated against in their localities and being kicked out of their boarding homes; some no longer go home and stay in the hospital or nearby housing. Some do double duty at other hospitals because they are short of qualified staff.

These are just some of the stories which make up the human tapestry of our health professionals. I knew I would eventually go home and celebrate our youngest child's birthday with him, whereas they continue to face an uncertain future with the risk of coronavirus staring them in the face EVERY SINGLE DAY.

I know now how brave and undervalued these people are in our society. As a public servant, I know now how we need to invest even more in our health system, as we see how different health systems all over the world cope with varying degrees of success with the virus. Imagine, a city like New York with the most number of billionaires in the world has a hospital and health system stretched to the limit with people being turned away from hospitals and crucial equipment like PPEs or protective equipment and respirators in short supply. The irony of it all. The realization that the choices made by leaders matter so much in times like these.

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This is our generation’s war. But unlike past wars we are not being called upon to bear arms and confront death every day like our grandparents' generation. We are simply being called upon to stay home with our families.

A few days after leaving the hospital, I am now back working from home and looking for solutions to the problems ahead: preparing our health system for the peak of the virus; ensuring our citizens manage to eat and exist day to day under the lockdown in Luzon; ensuring the sustainability of businesses and jobs and industries amidst all the uncertainty.

With hope, sacrifice, and unity of effort, we shall overcome.

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Yvette Fernandez
Yvette Fernandez is the editor in chief of Esquire Philippines.
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