The doctor is (temporarily) out: The story of PH 45

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 30) — It was just a normal day at the hospital. But that Friday was a bit extra special for Dr. Jose Luis Sollano III. In just a few hours, he’ll be home to spend the weekend with his family and friends. Something that only happens once every three weeks.

And just before the end of his day at the hospital — a patient complaining of general body weakness came his way. The patient was then admitted for cardiac problem.

After attending to the man, he went back doing his rounds.

Then the much-awaited weekend came.

Dr. Sollano made the most out of it. He attended a family gathering and went out to see some friends.

Sunday night, Dr. Sollano came down with a cold.

“I was about to have chills so I took paracetamol and multivitamins cause I was afraid something like this would happen,” Dr. Sollano said in an online video interview with CNN Philippines.

The following day, bad news greeted the young doctor. The patient who complained of general body weakness and cardiac problem tested positive for COVID-19.

Contact tracing began. Dr. Sollano was among them, of course. But unlike many other contacts of the patients, the young doctor easily had a cold and itchy throat, so the hospital asked him to take the COVID-19 test.

As soon as the testing kits were available, samples of the patient’s contacts were collected including those of Dr. Sollano’s.

Results came out after 48 hours.

Dr. Sollano recalled, “As soon as I was swabbed, I was sent home, quarantined right away, strict quarantine, then after two days I found out that I was positive on March 12 and I am DOH PH45”

In a very quick turn of events Dr. Sollano has been an addition to the number of confirmed COVID 19 cases in the country.

He is now DOH PH 45.

“I was exposed to the patient, maybe less than 3-5 mins, he came in, asked me to explain the ECG tracing… very minimal exposure,” Dr. Sollano said.

He got a call from the hospital and the Health Department’s officer in Quezon City.

Back then, there were still some rooms that can accommodate them, so he was asked to get ready for admission.

Dr. Sollano shares “the moment I found out I was okay like any doctor. We just take the necessary precautions. But the time it sunk in, I cried but just because I was causing hassle already, I never want to be the person to be causing stress. Everything’s so fast and everyone involved is close to me… that’s friends, family, they’re going to be quarantined, they’re going to be out of work and then more importantly I did my rounds”

Patients, colleagues, nurses, consultants and family who came in contact with Dr. Sollano were placed in quarantine.

Beyond symptoms

And so the quarantine began. Alone in his hospital room, Dr. Sollano wasn’t only battling the disease, he was also battling with his mind.

He remembered the people he saw over the weekend aside from his family and friends.

“The patients because I put everyone at risk and these people are people who have comorbidities or other diseases and I put them at risk for having the severe type of Covid. The reason I wasn’t nervous about my self — I’m young, I don’t have comorbidities, so based on statistics, I have a very low chance to be a severe case, but everyone else, especially the patients that I exposed, were at risk for having severe cases," he said.

His thoughts were equally difficult to fight with.

“The guilt there actually set in when we had a Viber group where we had all the people under quarantine updating ourselves to the doctors and infectious control specialists… Most of the people’s exposures was me. I was kind of emotional, it got me depressed that time because — like you see all of these posts on FB, Instagram, social media na hospitals are being overwhelmed, people are undermanned and — I was the cause as much as I know no one wanted this, I’m their initial exposure and I caused a lot of stress," he said.

But Dr. Sollano added it wasn’t something he can’t conquer. For him, it was just a matter of seeing the positive in every situation.

“If there’s anything I’d like people to take from this actually, it’s this one huge massive opportunity. It’s an opportunity for everyone in all senses," he said. "First, to educate yourselves on what’s happening with the world; executing what is being told especially right now, we have protocols we need to follow, we need to be disciplined, we need to be responsible about certain things, and lastly, we need to encourage people to do what is being told of us right now, we are part of a bigger purpose right now.”

Treating the disease

From a cold to itchy throat, Dr. Sollano also felt something quite different, but he didn’t have fever.

“When I went to the hospital something that’s peculiar to me was my senses of taste and sense of smell, I didn’t think it was anything, it was very benign,” Dr. Sollano recalls.

Upon reading several medical journals and articles, he later found out that it’s something common to some COVID-19 patients.

Dr. Sollano said the treatment for patients depend on their symptoms.

The World Health Organization said there’s still no drug specific for treating COVID 19 and that it will take at least 12 months to produce a vaccine against the viral disease.

In Dr. Sollano’s case, he was given Oseltamivir, an antiviral drug.

According to medical websites, it’s used to treat influenza.

Aside from Oseltamivir, Dr. Sollano also took zinc sulfate for his immune system consistently.

Four days later, he no longer exhibited any symptom.

But he can’t go home just yet.

Pending results

Initially, the hospital didn’t want to discharge him until he tests negative. But since the medical institution needed the facility for more severe cases, he was allowed to return home, but still under strict isolation.

Dr. Sollano says the delays in the release of results cause concern not just for himself, but many others who have been waiting.

“My swabs were taken March which is a positive one, I have pending results from swabs of March 12, 14 and 24. To be discharged kasi before since it was early stages, I need to be taken two swabs which are two days apart, then strict quarantine for 14 days then I can go back to work. “

However, until now, results of his tests have not been released.

As of March 30, Dr. Sollano has been in quarantine for 21 days.

During the Laging Handa Briefing held on March 26, Health spokesperson Undersecretary Ma. Rosario Vergeire says there are delays in releasing of results due to backlogs.

“Sa ngayon po ang standard processing time natin is really 24-48 hours pero sa nagyon po dito po sa Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, tumatagal po tayo ng 5-7 araw dahil nga po sa nangyayaring backlog pero ang kanilang commitment, nakausap po natin sila kanina, matatapos na po lahat ng backlog in 2-3 day, and pagkatapos po no’n, we’ll have our realtime results already na sinasabi nating 24-48 hours,” she said.

Light in the time of COVID

Instead of focusing on the negative, Dr. Sollano said he got by the days alone in his room seeing the bright side amid these dark times.

“At the end of the day it’s also an opportunity for yourself — talk to that friend you’ve always wanted to talk to, that you haven’t talked in so lang. Dance, sing, make a video, cook, do Tiktok. These are things na you can do for yourself (that) you’ve always wanted. It’s a break, yes, it’s also an opportunity to do more good, but ‘yon nga, do something you can do for yourself," he said.

He believes it’s not something Filipinos can’t beat.

"We may not be the most equipped country but we are more capable in fighting this. We have shown this time and time again. Together we can get through this — a little bit of discipline, sacrifice and patience definitely, we’ll go a long way,” he added.

Once sure that he’s negative of COVID 19, PH 45 will return to the hospital, no longer as a patient, but as a doctor joining the front line once again.

“I want to go back to work right…people have been stressed out, they’re tired especially right now, since everyone’s down so people are on the brink of getting burned out. If I can do my part in helping, I want to go back to work as soon as I can,” Solano said.