An Ophthalmologist as an Anti-COVID Warrior
Vaccination volunteer pic. Credits: Dr. Irwin Cua
Last year, a Chinese ophthalmologist sounded the alarm regarding COVID, and he later died after contracting this dreadful disease. Friends in the medical specialties risk their lives to take care of COVID patients in the hospital.
It got me thinking — Was I, an ophthalmologist practicing in the Philippines, doing enough in the fight against COVID? How could I help?
The Central Visayas Society of Ophthalmology and the local UP Medical Alumni Society in Cebu were very helpful to our community at the beginning of the pandemic. They helped source and distributed PPEs for many healthcare workers (not just members of the organizations). The local UPMAS even put up the first isolation center and helped with the organization of vaccination centers in Cebu, but I wasn’t part of any of that. Other members of the mentioned organizations were much more talented in networking, handling logistics, and managing personnel.
Thankfully, UPMAS-Cebu and my alma mater UP-PGH later provided venues where I could contribute meaningfully to the anti-COVID effort.
UPMAS-Cebu organized volunteers for local vaccination centers and for lay fora explaining COVID vaccination first to Barangay Health Workers and later to the general public. UPMAS-Cebu translated the DOH information to the local dialect, and I along with other UPMAS members (who are actually more fluent in Tagalog) practiced our Bisaya so that we could explain about COVID and the vaccines better.
UP-PGH set up the PGH COVID TeleGabay Program in March 2021 when the healthcare system in NCR was overwhelmed with consults and admissions. Its initial goal was to decongest the emergency rooms and hospitals from asymptomatic and mild patients by providing this venue for licensed doctors to guide or “gabay” patients and their families to manage their infections at home, if possible. UPCM Class 1991 provided the algorithm and guidelines. I volunteered, along with other ophthalmologists, some dermatologists, surgeons, ENT and orthopedic doctors, etc. While I did start with Telegabay a little apprehensive that I would do more harm than good, the guidance provided to us was comprehensive enough, and if we needed help we could easily send an SOS through Viber or call on our own circle of MD friends.
I was inspired and motivated by the other Telegabay volunteers, as the vast majority were not internists, and some were even already retired from practice. The UP College of Medicine and PGH alumni came from different specialties, different batches, and different parts of the country. We shared stories especially if they were good, like the grateful patient of Dr. Alma Valdez setting up a community pantry to show appreciation for Dr. Alma’s care.
I realized how big an impact we made on patients who were sick, scared, and didn’t know what to do. I will never forget hearing the shaking voice of a caller who was afraid of losing her mother after having already lost her father the previous week.
The PGH Telegabay experience actually gave me energy to keep doing the vaccination lectures in different parts of Metro Cebu and helped us set up a spin-off, a similar system for our provincial hospital (Cebu Telegabai).
While giving vaccination lectures or doing teleconsult for COVID may not be for everyone, there are other ways we ophthalmologists can contribute to the anti-COVID effort:
- Provide correct information when asked by our patients, friends, and relatives.
- Combat misinformation about COVID and the vaccines.
- In the clinic, ask about COVID symptoms and the vaccination status of our patients and their families. Often this provides an opening for us to educate our patients.
- Get vaccinated, and don’t show up to work when sick or with close contact with a COVID patient or suspect. We can’t expect our staff and our patients to follow health protocols if we don’t follow them ourselves.
Volunteer in the community in some way. Don’t just stay in the comfort zone of your clinic or in your base hospital. Things need to get better for us all, and for that to happen, we all have to do our part.
Dr. Myra Ocubillo is a Cornea and External Disease specialist practicing in Cebu. She currently serves in the PAO Executive Council.