"Red, can you please spare me a box of face masks?"
I frowned at this message from a friend as I opened my messenger app. I crossed my leg over the other as I slumped over the couch in our physician's lounge as soon as I finished writing orders. I was already exhausted from those non-stop admissions. It was already past three in the morning when I returned to the quarters, and yet, all the ER beds were still full. Others were even helping themselves into the chairs while waiting for vacancies in the medical-surgical ward.
"Why can't she just go to the nearest pharmacy or medical supplies outlet?" I grumbled to myself as I opened another message, shaking my head for this nonsense stuff. Having scanned my other unread messages, I shifted to YouTube Channel to watch my favorite music videos.
Just as I was halfway through my first video, a message notification popped in, and in a few seconds, another came in, so I hurriedly opened it. To my dismay, it was another annoying asking-for-help messages to facilitate their mask procurement.
"Dr. Red, is your hospital still selling masks?"
"If you don't mind, please spare me even just one box."
Soon, the succession of similar messages alarmed me. I reached over the phone and connected myself to the Central Supply Room.
"Sir, good morning. Dr. Red here. Can you please charge to my account twenty boxes of masks?"
I heard him gasped and giggled before he replied, "Doc, I'm sorry. We are no longer giving out masks except for staff on duty. All companies are not accepting orders anymore, so if we continue selling out, we wouldn't have enough for our needs."
"What?" I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I then began to understand why I received those many desperate messages asking me to spare them a box. The people must have gone frantic in buying masks.
True enough, I opened my Google browser, and the alarming newsfeeds about people's panic buying of masks, Vitamin C, hand sanitizers, and bottles of alcohol greeted me. As a person who doesn't care about reading news, even if news portals were buzzing loudly about the same headlines that went around for almost a month already, I was shocked to see posts from social media that masks were no longer available anywhere. Posts about long lines of people queuing up in pharmacies to buy masks had gone viral and online sellers of N95 or plain earloop masks were enjoying their price hike.
I made another cup of coffee as I browsed through the headlines about the Bronc X virus. I opened one and learned that at that moment, the death toll from the outbreak in Sama island increased to hundreds, causing a worldwide threat.
Bronc X virus had originated in late 2019 in Sama, an island in the southwest region of Philippine territory. The source of the virus was still unknown but the epidemic started in this place.Being a famous destination swarmed by tourists from all over the world, the status in this place had caused the fast spread of the virus to more than 300 countries worldwide. It then led to more than a thousand deaths in the Philippines alone, forcing retailers and travel operators to close stores, cancel flights, cruises, and warn investors about the inevitable financial crisis. To prevent the spread of the virus, thousands of people across the world had been placed in quarantine, especially those tourists coming from Sama Islands, and those people they were having close contact with.
My thoughts were still on those infected children and those quarantined travelers when a friend of mine, who was also a resident physician, appeared in the doorway.
"Red, have you saved a box for your family?" she asked, and through her worried looks, I could tell that she was also concerned about the shortage of masks.
I shrugged my shoulders off and stretched out my palms open. "Duh! Our existing infectious diseases here are more threatening than that. We don't even wear masks all the time even if we know that 70% of the air we breathe contains Mycobacterium tuberculosis."
Mycobacterium tuberculosis is one of the species of pathogenic bacteria that also appeared as a serious worldwide health problem. It is an airborne bacteria, causing an infectious disease that primarily affects the lung.
"Yes, it's true. Our measles outbreak was also deadly, but since this infection is a worldwide threat now, we should also take precautions, especially if we have children and elderlies in the house. School administrators even require children to wear masks."
As soon as my friend left, I leaned my head on the backrest and closed my eyes. The caffeine in my third cup of coffee no longer did its task in keeping me awake. I still had a few hours to complete before I could finally leave and spend the rest of my day off.
Just when I drifted into sleep, having vivid dreams about the earlier events in my duty, a frightened voice, and a hand that shook my shoulders vigorously, woke me up. I opened my eyes but gathered my brows right away, hoping to show her that a simple tap could wake me up. I was sure I did not sleep well because I just had a boost of caffeine in my system.
"Doc, wake up!" "What is it, this time?' I asked in a lazy tone.
"Doc, I'm sorry to wake you up soon. I know you're already exhausted, but we have a Bronc X virus suspect here."
I sprang to my feet at the mention of the virus. My eyes flew wide, and all my grogginess slipped away. I reached for my white coat and instructed the nurse to hand me the PPE. It stands for Personal Protective Equipment like gloves, goggles and glasses, gowns, head covers, masks, respirators, and shoe covers to protect one against the transmission of germs through contact and droplet routes.
"Give me the history," I asked while slipping into the set of protective gear; and she, assisting me in donning my gloves and in wearing my gown.
"A 30-year-old businessman, single, and on his vacation leave."
I didn't know why, but I got amused when she stated the word 'single'. It should have meant nothing because we always take notes on the history and personal details of every patient.
"What else," I proceeded, concealing the tickling sensation I foolishly felt inside. It was so silly of me.
"He went to Sama a month ago, four weeks after the declaration of the outbreak."
"Was he quarantined?"
"I wonder how he escaped from it," I thought hard. As far as I knew, the government is strictly imposing the rules of quarantine.
"He is a wealthy businessman, doc. When he dropped on one of the destinations, he came here via his private chopper."
Before I entered to check him up, I looked at him first through the glass that separated the isolation room from the central ER. Dear skies, his tall and lean built captured my eyes. I stared at him to get more of his features, but for what seemed like mental telepathy, he turned in my direction and noticed me. I stepped back when he also stared at me, and for a moment, our eyes locked.