Frontliner Story #4: Dr. Jeffrey “Jeff” Santiago

By Phoebe de Leon and April Evangelista

On the onslaught of this pandemic, none of us really thought that we’d end up this deep in a community quarantine. Looking back at history, pandemics are nothing new, but COVID-19 is completely foreign to most of us.

Communities were scared because of this but we prayed it would eventually blow over. We didn’t think that it would force the world into a standstill, but doctors like Dr. Jeffrey “Jeff” Santiago did.

Poster by Sheen Ochavo

The decision to stay in the frontlines doesn’t come without any regrets and for Dr. Santiago who was the only doctor in a family of businessmen, his decision came with pleas for him to quit his job and stay at home instead.

“Okay, there’s COVID,” he said, recalling his oath as a doctor. “But we’re still pushing through.” He was in the middle of his training in Bulacan Medical Center when he first heard of the case in San Lazaro and in the two months that he began handling COVID cases, he knew that this fight wasn’t something he can easily abandon — even if it meant not being able to hold his child.

More than being a doctor in the middle of the pandemic, Dr. Santiago was an expectant father. With his wife being a doctor herself, the couple knew what each other’s work demanded of them.

From the get-go, their home set up wasn’t what an average family would describe as typical, either.

“My wife takes her residency in Pampanga so we rarely get to see each other. We only get to do so twice or thrice a week, unlike other families who see each other daily,” he shared.

Now, COVID only served as another obstacle keeping him away from his wife when he needed to be there the most.

His wife had been nearing the end of her pregnancy when the pandemic came but Dr. Santiago knew well that he wouldn’t be able to be there for her. With his work making him more susceptible to infection, he had to keep his distance.

“I wasn’t able to take care of her. I wasn’t able to talk to her and be with her,” he said. “Of course, as a [husband], you’d want to make her feel cared for but I missed that [chance]. We didn’t get to enjoy the pregnancy milestones and my wife had it rough because I wasn’t with her.”

The current situation with the pandemic still calls for caution on the doctor’s part but he’s thankful that he’s been able to adjust and, in one way or another, see his family.

Still, this isn’t any easier for a family person like him. Even when doing the smallest of things at home, he finds joy in simply asking his family how they are and being with them — something he won’t be able to do once his duty calls for him again.

There is no easy way to say goodbye to his family and cope with not being able to see them daily, but Dr. Jeff looks ahead at the prospect of him spending quality time with his family and catching up to give him hope.

“The time will come where the doctors can finally hug their children, when policemen can finally be with their families, when grandparents can go to the groceries and markets, and when children can go out to play with one another.”

If he sees this happening for him, he’s confident that others will get to experience the same joy soon, too.

Like many of us, Dr. Santiago saw once-in-a-blue-moon milestones slip through his fingers. He was set to be a first-time father — no doubt an important experience — but the circumstances simply refused to let him be with his family.

Though heartwrenching, he leaves a hopeful message for his son and his wife: “To my family, I am extremely lucky to have you. My wife understands and she stays strong. To my son, one day, I’ll be proud to tell you what you went through [as a baby] — that your mother and father sacrificed much — and you’ll be proud of us, too. Now that you still can’t understand what’s happening, I want you to stay strong with your mom.”

With fathers’ day fast approaching, Dr. Jeff tells fathers like him who work for their families that the greatest gift they can give to their wives and children is simply being alive and well. “COVID will end and [when it does], we can finally catch up with our families.”

Edited by Dana Eunise Cruz

Frontliner sourcing by Lara Galang

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The Frontliner Today

We exist to document the lives and stories of our frontliners, who have devoted themselves to saving the lives of Filipinos during times of crisis.