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  • By Phillip V. Cruz, Jr.

Bravery in the time of coronavirus: Frontliners fighting fear to confront Covid-19

Photo courtesy of the Office of the Governor/Facebook

Twenty-nine confirmed cases. One death. Guam's number keeps mounting.

“This is war,” Dr. Vincent Akimoto wrote in an email to his colleagues in the health care sector.

“Our island community has been locked down patiently this week waiting for something to happen. All eyes are on our medical community,” Akimoto said, joining the army of warriors who are out fighting the Covid-19.

“Our divisions, our pettiness, our open-mindedness, our kind-heartedness, our beneficence, our competency, our resourcefulness, our courage are all on display. Guam is counting on us. I hope you are all wearing clean underwear,” Akimoto wrote.

Akimoto, a family medicine physician at American Medical Clinic, said as a doctor he has accepted his fate to be on the frontline,“taking care of sick, scared people who are very grateful if I don't turn and run.”

It has been two weeks since the first case on Guam was detected, which has prompted the closing of schools, government agencies and most of Guam’s businesses. People have gone into panic mode, clearing most shelves at grocery stores. People have been repeatedly told to practice social distancing, practice good hygiene, wear a mask, and most importantly, stay home.

But there are many people who hold the front lines against this deadly virus. They are the ones who test and treat people, and they must also be kept in isolation away from their families, in case they happen to get infected with virus. They are our nurses, doctors and other health care professionals who are first responders. Armed with hope, they are on a mission to save the community.

A 36-year-old nurse at the Guam Memorial Hospital, who requested that he be identified only by his initials, APC, has been on the job for eight months. “When Covid-19 started in Guam, I was so scared and I even wanted to quit,” APC confessed.

APC, who lives in Mangilao, attended to the second person who was infected with Covid-19. “My heart was pounding fast when I had to wear the PPE (personal protective equipment) gloves, gown, face shield and surgical cap.”

Teeming with tourists just eight weeks ago, Tumon is now a ghost town, abandoned by tourists since the Covid-19 broke out. Photo by Mar-Vic Cagurangan

He just prayed. He knew he had to help the patient. He took a deep breath, calmed himself and reassured himself he could do it.

He wishes to be home with his family, but they understand this is part of his job. He chooses to go to work because “I made a commitment to be a nurse to help the community.”

APC was worried at first, but he soon understood that it was the whole world against this deadly virus. “We need to stand together against this medical hardship,” he said.

He also recognized that he needed to take extreme care of himself. As a nurse, he needs to stay healthy to battle the virus. The more people he helps, the more hopeful the world will be.

He confessed that he is tempted to quit when the job gets overwhelming. But then he remembers to take a step back, calm himself down and then he gets back to work.

Bay T., a 32-year-old nurse from Dededo, is tasked with testing blood samples. Lately, she has been testing blood samples from patients suspected of having Covid-19 infection. “I knew that Covid-19 was coming to Guam,” she said. “It was only a matter of time.”

Bay T. expressed disappointment in Guam leaders, who she said could have done more to prevent the spread of coronavirus. “It is here now, and it is time for us to fight against the virus as a whole community,” she added.

Bay T. is often away from her family and she worries about them. But she recognizes her duty to help the community. “That is what I signed up for,” she said.

While she is able to go home, Bay T. needs to do thorough cleansing before interacting with her family. She would remove her scrubs and spray it completely with Lysol, then she would take a thorough shower.

She worries about contracting the infection, too. But she does her job because someone has to do it.

Eriss Borja, 31, is an Emergency Room technician at GMH, where she has been employed for four years. “I know and I feel that Guam is not prepared for Covid-19,” said Borja, a resident of Dededo.

People at the hospital are working almost 24-hour shifts, Borja said. "We are exhausted, and we want the people to cooperate by practicing social distancing, clean hygiene, and to wear a face mask,” she said.

The GMH staff, Borja added, is working tirelessly to meet the needs of all patients, especially those who have been infected with Covid-19.

“Knowing the symptoms could help you battle virus, and by staying, could help prevent the disease from spreading any further,” Borja added.

As a safety precaution, Borja does not interact with her family at home, noting that their health is of utmost importance. After work, she is able to go home, take a shower and sleep. When she wakes up, she goes back to work. Social distancing begins at home.

Borja said nurses and other health care employees are prophylaxis, a medication to help prevent disease.

She also advises people that thoroughly cleaning the home is another good practice to keep the deadly virus at bay.

“I am not afraid to help treat the infected patients,” Borja said. “We practice protocol in treating them. We are well-trained to handle these situations.”

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