CALLING FOR A WHOLE WEB OF PRAYER WARRIORS
Yesterday, I received a text message from a friend of the family of Dr. Greg Macasaet, an anesthesiologist and a dedicated frontliner in the fight against COVID19. Apparently, as they attended to patients in the emergency room of a hospital, Dr. Greg and his wife (who is also an anesthesiologist) both got infected by the virus they were fighting. They submitted themselves to a COVID19 testing and both came out positive. But between the two of them, Dr. Greg appeared to have been more severely affected by the disease. Soon he had to be put in the ICU because he developed a pneumonia and was beginning to have a shortness of breath.
Dr. Greg continued to communicate with his family and friends using his cellphone, making calls and text messages. When he started to realize how serious his condition was, he sent the following text message yesterday:
“Good evening, my beloved brethren ! The turn of events is just no longer going in my favor. The feeling you get, aside from extreme pains all over, difficulty of breathing and as if all life is being sucked from your body ! They will be putting cutdown lines and central tubes on me anytime soon ! If they intubate me and place me on ventilator, then the game is almost over ! If Ateng (referring to his wife) survives, then my wish for her and Raymond (his son who is with autism) for a long and happy life will bear fruition ! Raymond however needs financial and emotional care for the rest of his life ! Something I may no longer be able to fulfill! It Is my fervent hope that all of you may assist the rest of my Family in our most difficult times!”
Dr. Greg’s text message made me realize that the greater pain he was suffering was the thought that, if he and his wife do not survive this virus, nobody might look after their son. But what gave me greater pain as a bishop was that part in the message of the family’s friend that said, “Dr. Macasaet wants to receive the last rites but doctors won’t allow anyone go near him. The family requests for words of encouragement, Bishop. Thank you po.” Then he gave me the cell phone number of Dr. Greg.
I immediately tried dialing Dr. Greg’s phone, to no avail. Soon, the friend sent a follow up message saying that Dr. Greg could not reply to his cell phone anymore because he had to be intubated already. But he gave me the cell phone number of Dr. Greg’s wife, Dr. Evalyn, also an anesthesiologist. Apparently, she had been isolated in another room because she was also infected but continued to monitor her husband by communicating with the doctors through her cell phone. I was able to get Dr. Eva on the line.
She spoke like a regular doctor when I asked how her husband was doing, using medical terms I did not quite understand. She spoke the same way when I asked how she herself was doing. She managed to get me to understand that the extent of the infection on her was at least not as serious yet as with her husband. When I said, “Would you like me to bless the two of you? I understand that even priests are not allowed in the ICU… I can give you a pray-over right now over the telephone.” Without waiting for me to finish my sentence, she answered, “Yes, yes, please do that, Father.” She was silent as I prayed over her and her husband. And she said a loud “Amen” when I concluded with a blessing. But I could sense that she was disoriented. She just kept saying “Thank you, thank you, please continue to pray for him.”
Dr. Greg died this morning at 4:00am. He was the second casualty among our frontliners. Just a day before Dr. Greg was intubated I read on FB the requests for prayers for the eternal repose of a young and promising cardiologist, Dr. Israel Bactol MD. Dr. Bactol also got exposed to an infected patient and quickly developed the same symptoms, was eventually intubated and… died. He was just 34 years old.
After I read the prayer request for Dr. Bactol, I had the idea of typing in the search engine of FB “frontliner doctors infected with COVID19”. The search led me to several posts, giving me a fuller list of frontliner doctors who have also been infected by COVID19, and for whom urgent requests for prayer are being passed around by their fellow frontliners.
Aside from Dr. Bactol and Dr. Macasaet, there were ten others in the list—names of very well known doctors, who are presently putting their own lives on the line as frontliners in the fight against COVID19: Dr. Raul Jara, also cardiologist, who is now intubated and hooked to ventilator, Dr. Sally Gatchalian, President of PPS (I googled the acronym and found out that it means Philippine Pediatricians’ Society), Dr. Francis Dimalanta, pediatrician, Dr. Marie Valbuena, with progressing pneumonia and now intubated in the ICU, Dr. Kiko Lukban, Dr. Tess Castro, Dr. Relito Saquilayan who was also COVID positive but happily now improving, Dr. Gerard Goco, specialized in Nuclear Medicine, also presently intubated, the well known Dr. Ayuyao, pulmonologist, who is being prepared for intubation, and of course, Dr. Greg’s own wife, Dr. Evalyn, who, along with her son Raymond, are now grieving the untimely demise of Dr. Greg.
In more normal times, doctors are usually more discreet about disclosing the medical conditions of people, considering data privacy and all that. But we are not living in normal times. You could sense panic in the desperate plea of doctors for prayers, for spiritual and moral support. You could sense that they themselves are afraid for their own families that they could also get infected and not survive this nightmare.
There is another thing that they are not saying and I wish to say it myself, “Could it be that our own doctors and nurses and other health workers in the frontline are not adequately protected from infection?” We see online what sort of protective gears doctors and nurses are made to wear in China, in Italy, in the United States. I wonder if our doctors even have decent accommodations while attending to their patients and are unable to come home because of the lockdown, or because they are afraid to infect their own family members. If even our best doctors in well-equipped private hospitals are vulnerable, I wonder what it is like in the public hospitals.
Whoever you are, if you are reading this at this very moment, would you kindly join our invisible web of prayer warriors who are at the frontline of another aspect of this fight against the COVID19–namely, the spiritual battle? No matter if you’re Muslim, or Buddhist, or Catholic, or Protestant… can you please join in praying fervently that God protect our frontliners who put their lives on the line to protect us from this devastating plague? (Further reinforcement to prayer, as recommended by Jewish, Muslim & Christian traditions, are fasting and sharing food with the hungry.)