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Filipino nurse in New York isolates self, lives in minivan

by Harold Clavite

At the end of a very long work shift, Filipino nurse, Jiggz Tabuclin, who works in the intensive care unit (ICU) of a Queens hospital in New York City prepares a makeshift bed in his minivan made of a sleeping bag and a comforter. He parks his car outside his home.

Jiggz is one of the hundreds of nurses left with no choice but to work extra hours, forced to self-isolate, and not being able to see their families in the midst of this global pandemic.

This outbreak had caused total panic in the medical and healthcare sectors in New York and in many cities and states with thousands of confirmed cases and fatalities caused by the highly contagious and deadly coronavirus disease (COVID-19). The virus was first detected late December 2019 in Wuhan, China registering scores of deaths in Hubei Province.

In a matter of weeks, it crossed borders into 200 countries and territories and now affecting 735,000 individuals causing more than 35,000 deaths across the globe. Approximately 140,000 of these cases are in the United States.

In the State of New York, more than 66,500 patients have tested positive for the disease. Just this week, the New York Police Department (NYPD), the biggest police force in the world, reported that 4,111 of its personnel are sick and more than 500 have tested positive for this dreaded disease.

New York City has expeditiously turned into the epicenter of the outbreak in the United States paralyzing the ‘city that never sleeps.’

In the Philippines, statistics for positive cases is steadily rising, now at 2,084 as of 31 March since its first case of local transmission was reported less than a month ago. The death toll is now at 88.

Enhanced community quarantine measures are in place within cities, municipalities and provinces restricting movements of people and locking down non-essential businesses after President Rodrigo Duterte placed the whole country under a state of calamity.

Besides the United States, Italy and Spain are taking a hard hit while China and Korea slowly recover. 11,591 people have died in Italy and 7,340 perished in Spain.

The World Health Organization (WHO) had earlier declared a global pandemic with an unprecedented number of cities and towns in many countries shutting down setting an unparalleled record in history.

For an ICU nurse like Jiggz, this outbreak has altered daily routine and work schedules. Only a few weeks ago, he was counting the days and looking forward to much-needed breaks and holidays. After each shift, he takes care of his only child with special needs. His wife, a school teacher, comes home equally consumed by the demands of New York’s public school system.

Notwithstanding heavy pressure and exhaustion in his daily tasks at work, Jiggz usually ensures he puts his daughter to bed each night.

Right now, this is no longer the case.

Personal off days are no longer allowed and holidays postponed indefinitely. Mandatory extra hours have become the new norm at work. At Jiggz’s unit, one nurse handles 3 COVID-19 cases in addition to regular patients and this number could change anytime soon. Patients pour in daily and they struggle juggling between infectious diseases patients and typical ones requiring immediate and thorough medical attention.

At the current rate, make-shift isolation units have been prepared. Within the ICU, hospital crew had set up temporary barriers to isolate non-COVID patients from positive ones. Jiggz notes that it is not totally safe but somehow helps.

Due to the volume of patients needing ventilators and intensive support, Jiggz worries that the whole telemetry unit might be converted into an ICU. Not all workers are trained in intensive care.

On top of that, personal protective equipment (PPE) have become scarce and many of them resorted into improvising. Jiggz and his colleagues had to buy their own gear while seeing others using garbage bags and other plastic materials to cover themselves. At one point, Jiggz had to use swimming goggles while handling patients as face shields were running out from stores.

Personally, Jiggz wants to be sure he leaves work clean. A few days ago, he shaved his head to ensure any virus or bacteria is easy to get rid of.

Medical frontliners are at the fore of this warfare, many of them risking their own lives. They’ve lost precious family time. With the increasing number of patients coming in each day, some of the nurses have become sick themselves. So far, one nurse has been diagnosed with the disease in Jiggz’s unit.

The decision to isolate himself from his own family abruptly came when COVID-19 cases started to grow exponentially in New York where 1,218 people have already died as reported by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

While he desires each day to be with his wife and kid, Jiggz cannot take the risk of causing a contagion at home and infecting his own family.

“I am tired. But more than that, I’m always anxious while at work. At the end of each day, you wonder if you’re infected or not,” said Jiggz.

He added that everyday, he worries that he might have the virus and it’s only a matter of time when symptoms start to manifest. He feels guilty each day that he himself had put his own family in danger all due to his commitment in the medical profession that he wishes to continue to uphold.

Having served for three years as a registered nurse in New York, Jiggz never had any medical background back home in the Philippines.

He is a bedecked and no nonsense healthcare worker. He finished his nursing degree in New York magna cum laude while working as a food attendant in a Filipino restaurant.

His motivation of understanding medicine and love for this newfound profession pushed his sense of determination and commitment to pursue a career and personally take care of his daughter’s needs at the same time.

“My only wish now is for a cure against this disease to come out soon and maybe an assurance from authorities that they know what they’re doing to end this crisis so we can all go back to our families,” said Jiggz.

Like thousands of health workers and frontliners, along with their families currently experiencing hardship and anguish, Jiggz wants to be awaken from this abominable tribulation.

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