[OPINION] When you're a parent of a med student during the coronavirus outbreak

Since my daughter, Lala, started going to a med school almost two years ago, I have become more empathetic towards the plight of doctors and the challenges they face due to their chosen profession.

There was this one time when, after reading a particularly heartbreaking article written by a young physician that left me weeping buckets, I ended up imagining my daughter as the writer. That prompted me to message her, “Are you sure about wanting to become a doctor? I hope that you don’t feel obligated to become one. Should you decide to not continue, you have our full support.”

You see, taking up medicine was not her idea. My husband and I “mind-conditioned” her to enroll in a med school because both sides of our family are in dire need of a doctor. Between us is a history of serious medical conditions such as diabetes, coronary heart disease, cancer, and hypertension. My father already suffered multiple strokes that left him partially paralyzed, my father-in-law died without any warning due to a brain aneurysm, and my husband, at the age of 40, underwent a kidney transplant as a result of long-standing diabetes.

Being the obedient daughter that she was, and apparently having realized the practicality and urgency behind our decision, she eventually capitulated to our express and ardent wish.

Lala has always been passionately patriotic. When the subject of the possibility of working abroad would crop up in casual family conversations, she would seriously declare that it will never be an option for her. Pinaaral ako ng gobyerno, tapos iiwan ko rin pala ang Pilipinas? (I received my education through the government, only for me to just leave the Philippines?)” she would often argue. (Lala is a product of the Philippine Science High School and the University of the Philippines, and was a recipient of the DOST academic scholarship for 8 years.)

That sense of patriotism, coupled with her inherent compassion for the less privileged, has always been a source of utmost pride for me and my husband. 

Today, however, amid all the stories surrounding the deadly novel coronavirus – and the vital and dangerous role that medical practitioners play in battling this epidemic – those same qualities are now a source of grave worry and overwhelming fear for me.

As her mother, I worry and fear that Lala will be unwittingly exposed to the dreaded virus in the course of her life as a med student. Or that she will be assigned to a hospital where patients under investigation (PUIs) have been admitted. Or I imagine that, out of sheer compassion, she will feel the need to hold the hand of a PUI to, somehow, allay the latter’s fear. (READ: [OPINION] It’s time to talk about the moral injury being done to our healthcare workers)

But when I think of what someone else’s child in Wuhan may be experiencing right now, I realize that I have every reason to be thankful.  

In Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the 2019-nCoV outbreak, Chinese doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals are on the frontlines.  

I have read about nurses who cut off their long hair or shaved their heads to save time putting on their protective gear, precious and critical time that they would rather use attending to their patients. There are those who wear adult diapers because they cannot afford to go to the bathroom, or those whose faces are full of sores and blisters due to the thick, heavy, and tight goggles they have to wear all the time. There are those who are on their feet all day, with hardly any time to spare to grab something to eat, and when severe exhaustion takes over, they end up sleeping on hospital floors and benches because all the beds are occupied. 

There are those whose hands, bleached by so much disinfectant, become white as snow, and those who are forced to face their patients without any protective gear due to lack of supplies. There are also those who find themselves physically attacked by their patients, or their patients’ relatives, due to desperation and hopelessness.

I also read about those who refuse to quit working because they know that there’s already a massive shortage of health professionals in Wuhan and that their services are badly needed: a seven-month-pregnant nurse who, later on, contracted the virus; a 28-year-old pharmacist who died of cardiac arrest after working 10 days straight; a 34-year-old ophthalmologist who died due to the virus that he warned people about; a 51-year-old doctor who succumbed to a fatal heart attack while treating his patients; and a 62-year-old retired ENT specialist who died of the virus after he went back to the hospital where he used to work to help treat patients.

Surely, there are countless others whose stories of heroism still remain untold. Hopefully, the world will get to hear them all.

In a few years, when Lala eventually becomes a full-fledged physician, and if our own country happens to come face to face with a situation akin to what China is confronting right now, I am certain that she too will not hesitate to put her own life at risk to courageously save others. She too will fearlessly work on the frontlines if that is what it takes to fulfill her sworn duty. She too will proudly wear her patriotism and compassion like a badge of honor because, well, that’s how she is.

As her mother, I will still continue to worry and fear for her safety, but I will also stand tall knowing my daughter is doing something right and kind and humane. I’m sure that that is what the parents and families of all those Wuhan heroes are feeling right now. 

Finally, in light of this virus outbreak, I have only prayers to offer. 

I pray that the sacrifices of these heroic men and women do not go in vain. I pray that people will be inspired to do whatever they can to help alleviate the impact of this global health emergency. I pray that, from the example set by these heroes in Wuhan, the world will learn a valuable lesson or two about patriotism and compassion. – Rappler.com

Lorelei Baldonado Aquino, 46, is a University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman alumna. She works as a freelance writer and an active volunteer for Team Pilipinas, a group established for those who want to do their own small share to be part of the solution to our country's myriad of problems. She is also the blogger behind Mom on a Mission.