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A young mom’s COVID-19 diary: ‘I’m sick but I need to take care of my family’

By PHILIPPINE CENTER FOR INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM (PCIJ) Published May 06, 2021 4:31 pm

What happens when a family gets COVID-19 and the hospitals are full? Young mother Angelica Carballo Pago badgered the barangay to get assistance, ordered an oxygen concentrator on Lazada, relied on a friend to provide medical advice, but mostly counted on herself to make sure her family survived the ordeal.

The Philippines breached one million cases of COVID-19 infections on April 26. As hospitals fill up, infected residents in Metro Manila, where the country’s cases are concentrated, are forced to manage the disease at home. 

Young mother Angelica Carballo Pago, her husband Buck, and one of her kids tested positive in March despite their own precautions. 

She felt helpless and hopeless, but she gathered her strength to take care of her family.

She badgered her barangay (village) officials in Quezon City to get assistance, ordered an oxygen concentrator on Lazada, relied on a friend to provide medical advice, but mostly counted on herself to make sure her family survived the ordeal.

This is her diary. 

March 23, Tuesday

My seven-year-old son Boni approached me early in the morning to say that Auntie Liza has fever. I felt sucker-punched by the news. Is it COVID-19? 

We rely on Auntie Liza to take care of the children while my husband Buck and I work on weekdays. She arrived from Antipolo a day earlier, after spending a weekend with her son. She did look a little pale and she had a cough, but there are a million things a cough can be other than COVID-19, right? Her sense of taste and sense of smell were fine.

I started taking notes of the slightest symptoms. Our eldest, Leica, 12, has diarrhea. Boni has a cough now. Buck and I have cough, too. I’m still telling myself not to panic, but I knew we needed to be tested immediately. We found a testing center that offered home service and booked the earliest possible appointment.

March 24, Wednesday

The testing team arrived at 7 a.m. Buck and I tested negative in the antigen test. Phew! Auntie Liza had an RT-PCR test. We paid P11,900 for the tests, including an extra P1,000 to expedite Auntie Liza’s result. We told the kids to stay in their room and wear face masks. This was only a precaution because, hey, Buck and I tested negative. It’s possible Auntie Liza’s test will turn out negative, too, right?

Wrong. At 8:30 pm, the testing center called to inform us that Auntie Liza had tested positive. My vision blurred in a flash of panic. I also felt a sudden headache. I’m just thankful for the security and logistical training I received from a previous job for emergencies like this. I needed to think about our logistics, organize our resources and manpower, and activate our network outside the house.

I informed my current employer that a family member tested positive and I needed time off work. We also informed the condominium management about Auntie Liza’s result.

Buck immediately called the barangay hall. We needed help to find Auntie Liza a place to isolate. The person who received the call said the person in charge had gone home. He will relay the message in the morning. 

March 25, Thursday

Boris, my nine-year-old, now has a cough, too. Buck called the barangay at 8 a.m., but was told the person in charge wasn’t there. We pressed for someone to talk to us and tell us what we’re supposed to do now. There was no one. We called again at 11 a.m. No one could give us useful information. 

I was close to breaking down during the call. ‘We have kids here,’ I said. Buck sensed my impending implosion and took over the call and arranged for the barangay officials to get my aunt.

I was furious when I called the barangay again at 1 p.m. It had been 16 hours since we first reported our situation. I made it clear to the barangay kagawad (council member) who took the phone call that there were children in the house who, as we were speaking, were being exposed to COVID-19. Sensing my anger and desperation, the kagawad said they would go to our house with a team from the City Epidemiology and Surveillance Unit (CESU) who happened to be roving in our barangay that morning. Thirty minutes later, they finally arrived. 

We agreed to move Auntie Liza temporarily to a barangay isolation facility because the city’s “HOPE” community centers were full. They told us they would fetch Auntie Liza tomorrow to have her checked by a doctor and then bring her to the facility. We were told to get RT-PCR tests ourselves, which they said the city health officials would facilitate. I cancelled the private tests we had scheduled earlier.

We were also instructed to undergo a 14-day quarantine, which would end on April 8. By evening, Boris had diarrhea and was complaining of chest pains. 

March 26, Friday

Morning came and went. No barangay or city health officials came to fetch Auntie Liza or facilitate our tests. I called the barangay hall at 3 p.m. but the kagawad said they were waiting for instructions from the CESU, which was still looking for a hospital where they could bring my aunt for a medical checkup.

Apparently, this could take days because hospitals were full. It did not not make any sense. I was close to breaking down during the call. “We have kids here,” I said. Buck sensed my impending implosion and took over the call and arranged for the barangay officials to get my aunt. 

Finally, at 6:30 p.m., barangay personnel came to get Aunt Liza. When no one came to test us, I decided to call the private testing center again to schedule an appointment for tomorrow. 

March 27, Saturday

I woke up at 4 a.m. with a splitting headache. It could be the stress from the previous days. I popped a pain reliever and ate noodles. I couldn’t go back to sleep anymore so I watched Drag Race. I needed to lift my spirits. I needed Rupaul to tell me: “You can do this, girl!”

Our kids’ symptoms were gone but we decided to get everyone tested. We spent another P32,500.

Throughout the day, there were rumors that Metro Manila would be placed under Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) anew. I needed to make sure we had enough supplies. 

We received our results at 11 pm. Buck, myself, and our youngest child Boni tested positive. Leica and Boris tested negative.

March 28, Sunday

I heard Boni talking to his friend Jaida*, whose family was also struck by COVID-19 a week earlier. “Hey, I tested positive, wanna play Roblox?” 

How sick is this that young children are talking about their COVID-19 results? 

Buck now has fever. I am worried about him because of his autoimmune condition. 

At this point, both adults are symptomatic but the kids are all asymptomatic. We thought it was possible Leica and Boris got the disease, too, because they were exposed to us. We decided against bringing them to my mom’s house. 

I am very tired, but I need to keep moving, physically and mentally, to keep my family together during this ordeal. My kids are smart and helpful, but they can only do so much

We asked them to wear masks at home, but Leica was hesitant. I know she must be thinking it’s a violation of whatever little semblance of normalcy she had at home. They’ve been locked up in our house for over a year now. I pity my children. 

(*Names were changed to protect their identities.)

March 29, Holy Monday

Our cough is getting worse. Buck’s temperature is going crazy. We felt so fatigued that it was difficult to move and get any work done. 

We decided to have all our meals delivered. I also ordered pizza for our security and maintenance personnel, who have been receiving our deliveries and leaving them at our doorstep. I make sure I get them only when they’re gone. Thank God for these heroes.

I have been updating a friend, who is a doctor, about our situation on Facebook Messenger. We knew hospitalization was out of the question. Hospitals are full, and we’re seeing reports of patients going to hospitals as far as Pampanga to get admitted. 

A friend got us oximeters. So far, we’re both above 90.

March 30, Holy Tuesday

I wasn’t able to sleep. Buck’s cough is getting worse. His temperature isn’t going down and his oxygen level dipped to a low of 82. Our doctor told us to get an oxygen concentrator.

March 31, Holy Wednesday

I found an oxygen concentrator on Lazada but it would take a few days to have it delivered. Buck’s oxygen level has dipped to 70 so I called the seller directly. Thankfully, she understood our urgent need and had it delivered on the same day. We spent P11,000 for the unit. 

The kids are doing fine, thankfully, and are doing their fair share of household chores. I said a little prayer of thanks for my children. 

April 1, Maundy Thursday

Buck’s oxygen level dipped to 60.

I was furious today. I am COVID-positive and I have symptoms, but I still need to manage our home. Buck needs medical attention, but there are no hospitals. I am very tired, but I need to keep moving, physically and mentally, to keep my family together during this ordeal. 

My kids are smart and helpful, but they can only do so much. It makes me more angry that I cannot express my anger. I am angry that I cannot hug my children. I feel helpless. I hate feeling helpless. 

I posted on Facebook about our family’s situation. There should be no shame in being COVID-positive. Friends and family sent me messages of support. Some of them shared their own COVID experiences. Help came in the form of food, groceries, books, and prayers. I ended the day with a feeling of immense gratefulness. 

April 2, Black Friday

I’ve been crying the whole day. Buck is almost permanently hooked to the oxygen concentrator today. His coughing fits have been relentless. I don’t know what to do except to pray and to cry. I am not a religious person and I seldom go to church, but right now I need God to help us. 

April 4, Easter Sunday

Buck’s oxygen levels are picking up. For the first time in a while, it’s 90. It’s our Easter miracle. I whispered a prayer of thanks. It’s a good sign, according to our doctor. But we were warned that Buck’s autoimmune condition could make the recovery longer. It’s okay as long as he will get better. Slowly but surely, our doctor said. Slowly but surely.

April 11, Sunday

It’s been a good week. Our doctor said we can stop taking our medications because most of our symptoms are gone. Buck has recorded normal temperature for five days straight now and his oxygen levels are stable at 94. Our target is to get it back to above 97. We’re getting there. 

Auntie Liza was due for release from isolation on April 8, but she continued to have a faint cough so barangay officials told her to stay in isolation for three more days. 

April 12, Monday

Barangay officials said we needed to be checked by a doctor from the health center in order for our quarantine to officially end. All doctors in barangay health centers were reassigned to vaccination centers, however. In short, we’re on extended quarantine until our paperwork—our “certificate of completion”—are signed. It’s okay. We can’t go anywhere, anyway. 

April 14, Wednesday

Auntie Liza is finally home. Our symptoms are all gone, too. Auntie Liza said no doctor or health official ever went to the isolation facility to check on her during the 20 days that she was there. Thankfully, barangay officials attended to her needs and were very helpful. She made a few friends during her stay there. 

The barangay kagawad also called to say that a doctor was finally available. We should go there soon while there are no other patients. Buck, myself, and the kids hurriedly went there to get our papers signed. Officially, our two-week ordeal has ended.

This story first appeared on Philippine Center of Investigative Journalism’s website PCIJ.org. Follow PCIJ on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.