By Franciss Nikole Elli | January 19, 2021
“nearness in space, time, or relationship.”
Definition from Oxford Languages
The string that holds the opposite ends for Filipinos and their loved ones abroad is the indispensable Facebook messenger. The gap between conflicting time zones becomes closer once the laptop pings for a new chat or call.
This time, the message was dreadful. It read, “Murag COVID man ni” (This seems to be COVID), referring to the symptoms that the virus brings.
Fatigue is normal after the day-long shift of Linda in a nearby nursing home. But today, with the fear of the global pandemic looming into the smallest of communities, she feels the fear running cold down her back. Her limbs are weak. Her temperature is rising. When she sips the hot soup, she tastes nothing but paper—hot and rough against her tongue.
At this moment, nostalgia hits. She misses the wooden house, the company, and the boisterous laughs she shared with her siblings back in Negros.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, her routine in the nursing home changed. She wears layers upon layers of protection from the unseen virus. On a normal day, she enters the nursing home’s doors, greeting her colleagues that she meets along the corridor and enters a room to sanitize herself.
She opens the tap and as she thoroughly washes her hands, she reaches for the PPE and armors herself with a glove. With a surgical mask already covering her nose and mouth, she picks up another and wears it for layered protection, for personal safety. In the next eight hours, she busies herself visiting the wards and updating charts.
At each end of her daily shift, she goes home. Before entering, near the doorstep, she frees herself of her uniform and takes a bath. The next day, she repeats the whole process. Until, Linda gets sick.
On normal days, one may mistake her symptoms for the typical flu. It is only on the second day when her fear materializes. Perhaps, she caught the virus.
It was no surprise to her when the news broke out in the hospital of an elderly man who was infected by COVID-19. She did not think she would succumb to the virus this fast.
Immediately, her family informs the authorities and her colleagues that she will be taking a few days off. She sets out a tent in her garage where she decided to stay by herself, fearing that she may transmit it to her other family members. For the next few days, she will be stuck alone with her symptoms.
On the first day, she feels her body slowly crumble in pain while her temperature rises. As she closes the lid of her eyes to rest, her mind dances restlessly. She worries how her relatives may feel back at home, especially when the news reaches her ninety-year-old father. So, she keeps silent.
The family group chat remains lively, yet her absence makes everyone suspicious. The last they heard, an old man in the nursing home fell victim of COVID-19. Since then, the green button beside Linda’s name remained unlit.
Soon enough, news reached the family group chat about Linda’s struggle. Everyone fell silent. The days seem longer back in the Philippines with everyone wanting to ease her pain through the kind words or long video calls. But when one battles the deadly COVID 19, one is left alone to wiggle as they use all their effort just to breathe in.
Meanwhile Linda was asked by the nursing home to work again despite her situation. When advised by her siblings to rest or take a few more days off, she shrugs and tells everyone she must face the realities of working overseas and becoming a slave to the hands that feed her and her family. In just a week, she goes back to work— like nothing happened.
The news alienated Linda’s family in the Philippines. Everyone felt the gap and difference of being employed locally, as opposed to working abroad.
But that did not last long. The group chat returns to a lively chorus of siblings in a festive mood as Linda triumphed over perils of COVID 19. The group chat seems closer again this time as the green button beside Linda’s name lights everytime the phone vibrates and rings. The three dots dance beside the siblings’ pictures, all clamoring to chat in glee.
Today, numerous months after her struggle, Linda sends a picture of a little badge pinned unto her blue uniform, declaring “I got my COVID 19 vaccine”. Such a feat may have been small when compared to the struggles of the whole world, but to Linda it was a sign—the light near the end of the tunnel.