By Eric Chao
As early as January, with what we have been seeing in China, my wife and doctor Nikki and I started preparing for what was to come.
Fears of contagion
We started wearing masks to work, even though not many people were doing it. We also bought alcohol and other essentials. Nikki became familiar with all types of masks, and started helping neighbors find and buy masks, too. She became quite an expert on masks that she even produced a short explanation video on how to properly wear surgical masks and also made experiments to find out if the mask was fake or not.
By February, I’ve already stopped playing basketball due to fears of contagion. Nikki had cut down on her clinic hours, yet she was still working long hours at the hospital. She made connections with mask sellers, and alcohol and bleach manufacturers. She also became the point person when our neighbors needed anything that was related to COVID-19. At that time, it was still called nCoV.
One week before the lockdown, we were already on full alert mode. Someone from our church had formed a viber group called “Mask for Doctors” and included us. By then, Nikki was predicting that COVID-19 cases would reach 100 in a week’s time. She was increasingly worried about her colleagues. The viber group was formed with some doctors expressing their needs, but no one was doing anything. Nikki, who realized the urgency early on, decided to use her connections and experiences in procuring medical supplies to start the ball rolling. As for me, I was still juggling two jobs (heading our own company and consulting for another), so I could not help her at all. She was very active and our house was constantly receiving gallons of alcohol, hundreds of masks, and other things, which she was distributing to members of our community. She also started setting aside donations for hospitals. By asking close friends and family to help, she was able to donate to two hospitals.
The big debate
By Monday, March 16, the Mask for Doctors viber group had more members. It finally started to see some action. Since Nikki had taken the lead, we received donations from those as well as from our neighbors. When the lockdown happened, I was suddenly out of work. I saw the stress eating at Nikki—I know her capabilities as well as her weaknesses. I knew she could not do this by herself, and keep her sanity and health in check. We had a huge argument about this. I insisted that she stop and concentrate on protecting our family. I am still very fearful of the virus entering our house because plenty of people were coming in and out to pick up and deliver goods. I was envisioning this quarantine period to be a time of family bonding, watching movies, playing games, learning activities, and more.
But Nikki had other plans. She’s like a dynamo with a very strong conviction that what she is doing is God’s command. During our argument, she explained her passion to help her fellow doctors while on home quarantine. It’s the least she can do, and that God put her in this position for a reason.
In the end, since I could not change her mind, I had to change mine. So I asked for her forgiveness and pledged my 100 percent support.
So, starting last Tuesday, March 17, I became her driver and helper.
Our daily tasks involve visiting suppliers who are in Manila, Quezon City, and Tondo. Because we don’t have the luxury of time, we have to settle for what’s available right now. We sort what we’ve gathered in our house, put bible tracts inside, and personally deliver them to needy hospitals.
I reached out to my own network of friends, and many of them responded. The JCI Manila Senate was one of the first to respond. The current president Jefferson Plaza (whom I’ve known for many years) is personally helping me in terms of raising cash, as well as finding supplies for donation. We now have five main Viber groups doing the work:
- Transport group is composed of volunteers donating their own vehicles, time, and gas to pick up and transport donations to hospitals. They are risking their lives, since they can easily catch the virus.
- Face shield group is mostly housewives spearheading the making of face shields, DIY-style.
- Food group is for those who wish to donate food and how to get the food to the frontliners and the poor.
- Medical supplies group is for those who wish to donate either cash or medical supplies, including shower caps, which we asked for as an alternative to head caps.
- Masks for Doctors group which consists of several doctors as members.
As of yesterday, we already received and processed quite a lot from the donations we’ve received. Realizing the lack of masks here, as well as the inflated prices of the sellers, we were able to import around N95 masks through the help of a friend. We are still finding ways and praying that God will provide for what else is needed. Thankfully, many are still calling us and pledging their help.
The new normal
We each receive around 2,000 viber messages each day including phone calls, so that takes up a huge chunk of time. While I drive around, Nikki manages those calls and messages. Having Nikki as a doctor means we could freely go around and through any checkpoint. Hospitals have provided us with emergency medical passes, as well as to our volunteer transport group (composed of 10 guys each) in different cities. It’s not uncommon for an ambulance to come to our house to pick up medical supplies. Her friendly personality meant that she has doctor friends from different hospitals nationwide, so she gets first hand information on where the need is greatest—although, now it seems all hospitals are in great need.
Our house has become a mini-warehouse of sorts. Our children have to keep themselves entertained since our phones do not stop from the moment we wake up to around 10 p.m. Nikki makes a summary of accomplishments at night so that she can post on Facebook and thank our donors. Her main goal is not only to help her colleagues, but to also inspire others to help. She makes sure that each donated item has a gospel track inserted.
Last Sunday, I asked her to take a rest after 10 days of working non-stop and spend time with our children. I fear that she will get sick from exhaustion, so I insist on no phones after midnight and for her to get at least seven hours of sleep. I am constantly the grouchy partner, but willing to do my share to ease her burden. I feel that it’s too early to write about what we are doing, but if it will encourage, inspire, and spur others, then I’m all for it.
Life has suddenly changed for all of us. As they say, this is the war of our generation, and it’s fought not by ammunition or bombs. Our enemy is a silent, invisible killer with no fear and no agenda, except to infect as many people as it can. After all this, I pray that we are still a family and still alive.