After the torrents, they came – in torrents.
Storms and typhoons have become a rather inconvenient norm for us Filipinos. And every year, we brace ourselves for the storm of all storms: Last time, it was Milenyo whipping up a tumult; the other time, it was Ondoy, swamping up everything in its path; and for the past two years (this year included), we buckled under the torrential rains of the not-so-puny habagat.
But storm or not, all of them carried a similar denominator in their aftermath – swarms and swarms of leptospirosis patients.
They came – burning fevers, yellow eyes, failing kidneys, and all – to the gates of the hospital, oftentimes armed with nothing but stories in their heads and telltale cuts on their feet. And like the old times, we doctors were there to promptly answer the call of duty – but only just.
I regret nothing in the way we handle our leptospirosis patients in PGH. Having been stationed in the ER the past month and rotating with Infectious Diseases this month, I only have praises for the selfless medical teams who work overtime – from the fellows and staff manning the dialysis unit to the pharmacists dispensing boxes of antibiotics, to the administrators formulating workable guidelines all the way to the unnamed benefactors of the PGH Leptospirosis Fund.
What I – and most of us – wholeheartedly regret is the fact that every year, we hear the same old stories. We see the same old faces, and face the same old frustrations. The root of these endless leptospirosis epidemics obviously stretches far beyond the confines of murky, rat-infested waters and life-altering storms. It seeps its way into the shameless pork barrels of lawmakers who’d rather guzzle up taxpayers’ cash abroad rather than invest on preventive health programs. It finds its way into the shanties of the abject poor, devoid of any access to basic education or information, oblivious to the fact that potential deaths from complications such as kidney failure or pulmonary hemorrhage can be averted with timely doses of an inexpensive pill. It knocks on the doors of Mother Nature herself, collateral victim of haphazard and oftentimes senseless urbanization.
Sadly, our role as doctors can only do so much. We see a case, work our asses off, heave a sigh of relief upon the patient’s discharge, or mope in silence after signing yet another death certificate. We know that each leptospirosis patient will always be part of a far bigger problem – one that will take a huge amount of national resolve, environmental advocacy, and political will to address.
Then, and until then, we shall always remain a nation of torrents – and regrets.