By Aliko Jasmine L. Garganera
My parents are both in public service. My Papa is a City Councilor while my Mama, who is a nurse by profession, is the Dean of the CCMC - College of Nursing. At the beginning of this pandemic, and even up to now, I have seen their efforts to help in every way they can.
My Papa (Cebu City Councilor Joel Garganera) is primarily a legislator, but having been a Barangay Captain for almost 30 years, he prefers working on the ground. He was assigned as the co-chairman of the Covid-19 Task Force for Sea Ports and Coastal Areas and is assigned in formulating and implementing guidelines regarding the entry and exit of passengers to and from the port of Cebu City, and even assisting LSIs when the Balik Probinsya Program was yet to be established.
He is also the North District Coordinator for the Barangay Isolation Centers (BICs) where he would link and inform the barangay of the persons found positive for Covid-19 and order their extraction. Aside from that, he performs his best to address the concerns directed to him.
My Mama, on the other hand, continued to attend meetings with the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) to discuss alternative learning arrangements. I have observed in one of her meetings that while the other schools had the resources and the capacity to adapt learning programs online, my Mama would always ask, “what can I do for my students who have less?” It was always that question. From the start, she didn’t want to burden her students and was even worried for her Clinical Instructors (CIs) when they were asked to report for duty on the ground.
Although her burdens were already heavy enough, and knowing that my Papa is doing his best to serve his people, my Mama took the initiative of making face shields with her office staff. Her team has created more than 10,000 face shields all in all and has donated them to several facilities. Of course, this was made possible through our generous friends and donors.
To put it simply, in this pandemic, I witnessed my parents go the extra mile. They focused on their work and the things within their control. They were selfless and relentless— and I watched them in awe.
But being on the ground means facing higher risks. True enough, on the third week of May, my Papa had a slight fever and was advised by our good friend, Dr. Bryan Lim, to isolate himself together with Mama. They wasted no time and went to our family friend’s place for isolation and monitoring. On May 24, they got tested in DOH Region VII and underwent swabbing. Two days later, the results were out— both of them were Covid-19 positive and both of them were symptomatic.
After finding out the results, they immediately informed the people with who they had been in close contact to immediately isolate themselves. Even in the midst of difficulties, they prioritized responsibility.
Even when they told me about their situation, they asked me to keep it from my siblings because they didn’t want them to worry. On the same night, I was told that one of our neighbors had passed away due to Covid-19 and in the next few days, 5 more people in the barangay succumbed to the disease. I was not ready to lose either of them. I was terrified out of my wits. I still had to study for an exam, attend classes, and work. I was almost at breaking point. But I held it together.
I calmly told my parents to focus on getting better. I told them I’d take care of our daily necessities and some of our bills and I asked both of them to hand some of their work to me. On some days, I would be reviewing and checking documents for Mama while the others would be spent handling Papa’s usual work. The responsibilities were heavy, but we had competent and supporting office staff that helped us through.
Although I tried my best to keep the situation to myself, I have assessed the character and mentality of my siblings and I realized that it was something that they should know about. I believed in their strength, too. Surprisingly, they took it calmly. On that night, we retreated to our own rooms and didn’t say I word. There was not much sadness, just resolve— we all knew our parents were strong. As their Ate, I could only look at them proudly.
Yet, a part of me knew it was only the beginning and the worse was yet to come. And I hated how right I was.
On the evening of May 31, 2020, my Mother experienced difficulty in breathing, and my Papa said she tried her best to hide her pain from him. But being his partner for 25 years, he knew how much she was suffering since he was always the sensitive one when it came to our needs. She also complained of fever and fatigue. Worse, she had a dry cough which prevented her from getting enough sleep.
With that, Papa immediately dropped off Mama at the emergency room of Chong Hua Hospital - Fuente (CHH - Fuente) while he could only stay in the car. Compared to other patients, Mama was admitted relatively faster compared to other patients since she was already tested positive for COVID-19. Despite that, she still had to wait for 5 hours following hospital protocol and procedure. Still, I felt relieved that she had medical professionals monitoring her.
My Mama told me that the ER was full and she had to wait in a wheelchair from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. the next day. Yet, the first thing she told me was that she was worried about the medical staff in that hospital because she could see how overwhelmed they were.
In her stay at the hospital, she was given a lot of antibiotics and medicines but even after 5 days in the hospital, her condition wasn’t getting better. My Auntie Janice called me up and told me about our running balance because I, at least, felt a slight responsibility to ease the burden of my parents, and then told me about Mama’s condition. You see, my Mama is asthmatic and just had pneumonia last December 2019 and so my Auntie believed that there was a possibility that she may no longer respond to the medicines.
This time, I broke down.
When they said God will never give you trials you can’t handle, I thought that He must have thought highly of me. When they told me He gave me all these trials because He knew my strength best, I silently begged, “Can I be weak this time?”
At first, I was more worried about Papa being left alone knowing that he is completely dependent on Mama and would constantly need her beside him to be his strength and I felt secure enough now that my Mama had nurses and doctors to watch over her. Still, after hearing the news, I felt more helpless than ever. I would just send her messages every night telling her that God won’t abandon her but somehow, it still felt like the fear of losing my parents are getting closer. I knew enough about Covid-19 to understand that it's not a completely known enemy and I knew my Mama’s conditions best. At that moment, I knew there was nothing else I could do but pray.
In her journal (which I secretly read through), she wrote her experience in the hospital:
“The first few days in the hospital is like hell for me. I kept on crying, I really wanted to give up. The pain, anxiety, loneliness, and fear made my body want to surrender. Almost every 30 minutes I [would] hear CODE ORANGE— that’s [indicates emergency] for COVID patients. Everyone on that floor was fighting for our lives. I really wanted to give up.
But how can I? I told myself, I need to fight you Covid-19, my husband and my three adorable children are waiting for me. I need to be strong. And so I prayed and prayed, asking God to give me strength and enough courage. I cannot do it alone.
Every time my family would call, I never told them that I’m suffering, I didn’t want them to worry. I would hear the Divine Mercy Chaplet, do the rosary, hear online mass, watch movies, and do my laundry using one hand.”
In the entire time when our parents were isolated and fighting for their lives, I was the one who cried the most, being the most emotional child. I only saw Angela cry once on our parents’ anniversary last June 8, 2020, when she heard our Papa’s voice in the morning, giving his message to Mama in our family group chat. She quietly went into my parents’ room where I was staying and cried. She said she missed our parents. Angela was the logical one in the family, but she gets emotional, too. I could only hug her and reassure her that all will be well. It was the first time I hugged someone in this pandemic.
Fed, on the other hand, is a tough nut— although we all knew how much of a softie he is. He doesn’t speak much but would reveal his emotion in everything he does. When he found out about my parents’ situation, he cooked us spicy food. It must show his anxiety, too. But he cooked our meals every day and would constantly ask us what we wanted for dinner. He used to just lounge around playing his games but this time, he took care of us, too.
Throughout this experience, I can say I take pride in my siblings. They just carried on with their daily activities and would talk to my parents about the most trivial things— not showing them how worried they were. It was their own way of telling my parents, we’re not going to say or do anything unusual, we’ll carry on until you come home. Because you have to come home.
While Mama was fighting her own battle, I prayed hard. The first prayer I made was to ask for His forgiveness that from the beginning of the lockdown, I was never intentional with my time with Him. Instead, it felt like a habit— until I stopped praying completely. Everything that was going around me, I tried my best to solve and control. But at that moment, I realized that I have reached my limit once more. He asked me to surrender once again. So I did. Then I prayed for healing and strength. And despite not being faithful to him, He remained faithful to me.
I was aware that everything is out of my control and so I prayed, and prayed, and prayed. Then I cried silently in my room, wrote in my journal, and took a video diary, one of which was of me crying. At first, I couldn’t even bring myself to talk to my parents, or else I would just cry. But God has always been merciful. In this entire experience, He has been my comfort, my refuge, and my strength. In my weakness, I found His strength.
The next day, Mama called me up and told me that she was finally feeling lighter and that she’s slowly responding to her medicines. Isn’t that amazing? I am forever grateful to God for healing my Mama and for providing competent and compassionate doctors, especially to Dr. Bryan Lim, and her nurse, Sir Roland Lumo, Jr., who took special care of her in the hospital.
I then prayed for provision to sustain us, and up to this moment, He continues to provide. After 10 days in the hospital, she was discharged and returned to my Papa’s side where they were isolated together.
The spirits of both of my parents were higher then. We got through the worst. It's amazing how strong they become when they’re together. A few days after, they started asking for food that they’ve been craving— from beefsteak to avocado toast to sausage and cheese and everything else they could think of. They then started asking for yoga mat and workout clothes, and I knew they were feeling better. They became more active in our group chat and would call us every night to ask us what we did that day.
So if you ask me how they ultimately got through it, it was their resolve and desperation to come home.
On the 2nd week of June, they were tested once more, but they were still found positive. My Papa then called me up and said, “We have a slight setback. We’re still Covid-19 positive.” That’s what he called it— a setback. It takes strength to call a virus a setback.
And so on June 28, 2020, they were finally found negative for Covid-19. The next day, they finally came home. And two days later, my parents returned to working full load— they really take public service seriously.
If there is a lesson that we have learned in this pandemic, it is the fact that this is a problem we can’t solve on our own. We are responsible for each other. This is no time to be selfish.
I have also thought about those who do not have the same privilege that we have— having been able to get immediate medical attention and to afford the luxury of home isolation without having to worry about the food we have to put on the table every day. Throughout this journey, I have constantly stepped out of my shoes— as a daughter of public servants, a government employee, and a law student. I have not, even for a second, looked away from the injustices that surround us and the realities we have to face.
There is only so much that I can do right now. But even then, I will push my limits to at least become better than who I was. Become better than those who turn a blind eye to the realities we face. Now, I can only dream for most of us, if not all, to have the same security that we had. For while we were “lucky” enough, some just couldn’t afford the same luck.
With this, I encourage everyone to remain vigilant and mindful, not only for yourself but also for your family. I swear Covid is never easy. It made a strong independent woman weak to her bones. Stay at home, wear your masks, observe social distancing, wash your hands, and of course— demand transparency and accountability!
Our government can do better. And I only have 5 important things we must focus on: prioritize, organize, coordinate, cooperate, and evaluate.
Last but never the least, we would like to thank Dr. Bryan Albert Lim who, despite his busy schedule and having gone through his own personal battles, took care of my parents patiently and selflessly. A huge thanks also to the nurse who took care of Mama while she was admitted, Sir Roland Lumo, Jr., who used to be a student of CCMC - CN.
To all our frontliners and volunteers in the community, I acknowledge your sacrifice and your support. You don’t just deserve praises and posts, but the benefits and protection to keep you safe through this pandemic. We are doing the best that we can, even in our private capacity, to continue our support.
A special thanks to our Auntie Janice Garganera Dacaldacal who took care of us when our parents were not around and to our sissy Van Brandon for taking care of my parents.
Thank you also to our family and friends for the support, especially to our close family friends who stayed with my parents (virtually) while they were isolated.
To Anne Margarette Florita and Vhlademeir Marl Genete, and the rest of our office staff, thank you for your understanding and continued support.
To my prayer warriors, Shaira Marie, Memai Avila, Eunice Soriano Baliong, and Mai Cojuangco who prayed with me and silently lent their prayer powers, thank you for helping me through.
Thank you also to Team EZ and Shaira for listening to my regular emotional breakdowns.
To God, I owe You my life.
You never really know the silent battle each of us is facing. So in the midst of everything, I hope we remember to be kind to each other and continue to help each other out. For when a few may have abandoned us, we have a bigger chance of fighting this out when we help each other out.