A journey of awakening

First, her temperature rose to 39.6. Then her appetite was gone. She just thought she had ordinary flu. After all, she was not exposed to anyone who had COVID-19. She was in denial. But the virus, strong and resilient, confirmed her fears.

2020 is the year that I claimed will be my year. 

All my plans were laid out — filming a movie and a mini-series, doing an ABS-CBN teleserye with a powerhouse cast, and basically just getting in the grind the whole year because come 2021, by God’s grace, my husband Ben and I would like to have a baby. I was pumped!

Yes, I was enthusiastic but also worried and anxious about how my schedule would be considering that I had been sickly the past couple of years. I was already scared that I might push myself too hard. At that point, I was taking care of myself well, even doing vitamin drips to counter my worries. I was also preparing myself physically for an upcoming project.

At the time, looking at my calendar, it said that from the end of March through May will be the most challenging months — they were going to be hectic. I did not realize how hectic and crazy those months would really be.

It was March 13 when I started coughing. Knowing that I had exposure to some people who were sick, I went to the doctor and got myself checked. My lungs were clear and I was told to observe how I feel and if symptoms persist, I was to take the prescribed medication. 

As the days progressed, so did my symptoms. My temperature rose to 39.6 and I started to lose my appetite, a very unusual occurrence for someone who loves food as much as I do. Knowing that I wasn’t exposed to anyone who tested positive with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), I told myself it was just a bad case of flu. I was in denial. I tried to fight it holistically with natural remedies and vitamin drips and, eventually even one of the medications prescribed to me. But the virus was too strong. 

It was tough — because you hear of hospitals being likened to a war zone and I fear of getting COVID-19 since my immune system was down. And also, being labelled privileged by getting a test or being prioritized for being a celebrity. I had to grapple with these thoughts while my health slowly declined. 

By March 20, I was rushed to the Asian Hospital. As the nurse put a nasal cannula up my nose, it was the first time I realized I was short of breath and that, for the past few days, I was just powering through. Initially, I thought that I would start to get better because I was finally admitted to the hospital. I was wrong. 

On my second day in the hospital, the oxygen levels in my blood went down and I was almost taken to the intensive care unit. Fortunately, I was transferred to the telemetry unit instead to be monitored closely by my amazing doctors and nurses. I remember going through plastic dividers and looking at everyone around me wearing full PPEs and thinking that it was like a scene from a movie. It was so surreal.

The next day, I felt a bit better. But just as we were getting our hopes up, they found a bacteria called acinetobacter baumannii in my lungs. The doctor said it was one of the hardest to treat and a cocktail of strong antibiotics had to be administered. All this while bargaining to be given meds for my insomnia, which apparently could cause my lungs to collapse. It was then a choice of breathing or sleeping. Add to that, having very thin and hard-to-find veins, everything felt like a battle. I had to take it one day at a time. Every day was a battle — on some days we would lose and on some we would win. 

When I say “we,” I mean Ben and I. Ben was with me the entire time. I was lucky, I know because most people were isolated from their loved ones. At this point, we were not entirely sure if I was COVID-positive yet so they let Ben stay to become my Nurse No. 1. 

In sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part. It was only a year-and-a-half ago when Ben and I vowed to stand by each other through the worst and the best of times. He never gave up on me. 

While in the hospital, he made sure that I would regain my strength and good health. He would prepare my food, sneak in a little more Vitamin C, more protein powder that my lungs needed, cheered me on after a few bites of my meal. When we first got word of signs of improvement, he was the one who cried. I knew then that it was harder for him because he was trying to be strong for me and had to push back all fear of losing me. He fought hard for and with me and it made me realize just how lucky I am that I chose the best man to be by my side through this fight. 

When things are tough and there is an uncertainty of how things are going to pan out, at some point, you would ask yourself, “why is this happening?” One day, as I felt weak, and fear started to overcome me, I asked myself “why me?” Only to be answered immediately, “why not?” I wasn’t sure if it was God in my mind but all I know is it felt like it was the Divine Energy. That was when I knew I would make it. 

A battle won

It took seven days before my test results, which came out positive, arrived. By the time those results came out, I was already out of the woods. I got tested again and the results came out negative. After 11 days, I was finally discharged from the hospital. We also had to face the social stigma from the outside world.

A battle it truly was. Physically, I was struggling to stay alive. Mentally and spiritually, I was holding on to hope that I would survive. There was another battle brewing in me — survivor’s guilt. 

When you are faced with your mortality, everything else seems so trivial. The ambition, success, material acquisitions become immaterial. You are suddenly reminded that health is truly your greatest wealth.

Hearing that someone died of COVID-19, or just learning about the statistics from the news would trigger a lot of emotions in me. I was able to work through the guilt, most especially when I was able to finally donate blood after three failed tests. The plasma will be used for those critically ill with COVID-19. Donating blood was an emotional experience and doing so healed a certain part of me, knowing that I will be able to help someone else survive his or her ordeal with the virus.

Today, I am in a much better state — physically, mentally and emotionally. Sometimes, Ben and I will have a heart-to-heart conversation, “Did that just happen? Didn’t we just battle these things a few months ago?” Thinking about it, I will be in tears but after it comes a great feeling of gratitude for the life I have been blessed with right now.

When you are faced with your mortality, everything else seems so trivial. The ambition, success, material acquisitions become immaterial. You are suddenly reminded that health is truly your greatest wealth. What comes after health is the people in your life — family, friends, loved ones. You need their energy to live and fight. 

Another set of people were sent my way and strangers they maybe but if not for them, I would not have made it. In the hospital, I was witness to the heroic efforts of these frontliners. They cared for me and fought with me. Not once did they make me feel that they were scared of me even if they knew I could possibly endanger their lives because of the virus in my body. It gives me hope and peace to know that these kinds of human beings exist. 

In search for purpose

Before COVID-19 happened, I was slowly being drawn to living a purposeful life — may it be by being a body love advocate, using my platform and my voice to make a difference in a good way, to create light and spread positivity. 

Now, I am on the path of discovering the answer to my biggest question, which is “what is my purpose beyond myself — beyond my vision, my dreams — and how aligned are they with my true purpose here on earth?”

In every painful, challenging situation that I’ve been in, I felt like it has always propelled me to the next phase of my life. Hard as they may have been, I had to go through each one to learn lessons I needed to become a better person and to live a better life.

Right now, I am letting everything unfold. I may not truly know yet all that I need to learn from my recent COVID-19 experience, but I am certain of a few things: I have one life and one body so I have to live my life to the fullest while still loving and respecting my body. Being mindful of my energy and what I spend time (and resources) on has been a great eye-opener for me. I have a lot to learn and understand about the world and turning a blind eye to injustice is no longer acceptable. I need to use my breath, my voice and platform to stand up for the things I believe in and truly matter to me. All this while keeping myself healthy, mind, body and spirit. 

This pandemic has been labelled by some as “the great pause.” For me, the pause (that included a health scare) served as the catalyst for my awakening. 

I was being awakened to realize and fulfill my purpose. By God’s grace, I was given another shot at life. With love and light in my heart, I hope I get it right.


Edited by Büm Tenorio Jr.

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