Frontliner Story #7: Michelle Almeida

The Call of Duty: A Test of Filipino Resilience

By Lester Tamonlang and Samantha Castro

Edited by Dana Eunise Cruz and Serina Mara Alonzo

Frontliner sourcing by Samantha Castro

When you find yourself in a hospital abroad, chances are, you will find a Filipino nurse among the employees. As Filipinos, it is common for us to see our loved ones venture into foreign lands in search of greener pastures — especially our well-rounded nurses. Foreign demand for our nurses is very high and it comes as no surprise that the Philippines has become the largest exporter of nurses in the world.

Filipino nurses are widely acknowledged for their competence and attentiveness in terms of caring for patients. This recognition has gained our hard working nurses a good reputation, and their efforts deserve a cause for appreciation. However, these characteristics have now been put to the test when the COVID-19 took the world by storm earlier this year.

Meet Ms. Michelle Almeida, 32, an overseas Filipino worker who is currently living in the United Kingdom. She has been a nurse since 2011, having been employed at Vicente Gullas Memorial Hospital in her hometown of Cebu City. She is the breadwinner of her family, being the third of four siblings. Having passed the Objective Structured Clinical Exam (OSCE) she was given the opportunity to work as a Band 5 nurse at Southend University Hospital NHS Trust in Essex, United Kingdom.

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Poster by Steven Da-Anton

Almeida, or Mia, has given us an inside look on how life as a nurse has changed before and during the pandemic. Her work centers on handovers, primary interactions with patients, administrative work, and carrying out doctor’s orders. Before the pandemic, she works three to four days a week and she spends her free time with her fellow nurses in coffee shops, malls, or going to church. She would also take walks by the beach or casual strolls in the streets to clear her mind.

In a blink of an eye, everything changed. There were now new protocols to follow and new steps to add to her daily routine. According to Mia, not much has changed for her in terms of interactions with patients and colleagues, except the necessary protective gear. For Mia, the struggle lay at the beginning of the outbreak. There was a lack and a depletion of supplies, most especially face masks which nurses and doctors sorely needed. There was also a struggle to get their own PPEs (Personal Protective Equipment). Hospital regulations were uncertain and ever-changing because it was unclear at the beginning how the virus was transmitted. The problems eventually lessened as time passed and more information was gathered.

When asked how she coped with the changes, she mentioned that she would always ask questions. Whenever she did her rounds, there was always a supervising deputy ward whom she would approach should she find herself in doubt of the protocols to be followed. It was when things became routine that she was finally able to adapt to the changes. “Things are always messy in the beginning,” she said.

An added change to her duties has been working in the “cold ward” where she deals with asymptomatic COVID-19 patients. The set-up of the cold ward includes garbage disposals placed in the exit of the room. When leaving the facilities, the nurse would have to strip their outer protective gear and throw them in the trash can. Wipes are also in place for sanitation purposes. They would then wipe their exposed body part before proceeding to other parts of the hospital. Entering and exiting these quarters is a very tedious process. In order to minimize contact with various personnel, tasks carried out by other hospital staff are given to her instead like delivering food. Instead of the kitchen personnel, it is now the nurses who would be delivering the food. This conserves the protective equipment and the contact with people outside the cold ward.

Working in the cold ward frequently exposes Mia to the virus. When asked if she was afraid of contracting the virus she said, “I was very worried. To be honest, when all the changes were going on and the struggle to get the PPEs was happening I even went to lengths to have my own PPE. I ordered suits and face shields because I knew I needed it and they couldn’t provide it.” We then asked her how she coped and how she took care of her mental health. She said that she does not let the situation affect her attitude. If she lets the pandemic affect her mood, it would also affect her patients and her quality of work. “I think of how the virus affects my patients’ mental health and how I can respond to that in my own way,” she adds, “I believe it’s a matter of resilience.” For Mia, her patients always come first.

One of the heavy blows Mia had to deal with was when her friend ‘Kenneth’ passed away. This made her take a step back and see her job and what she was risking. “I felt how my parents feared me going to work every day and how they wanted me to get tested when I was in isolation, especially because they knew I lived alone.”

Mia also expressed her understanding with people who were forced to self-isolate. Recently, her manager recommended that she self-quarantine for a while as she requested for a swab test. She told us that running out of things to do can truly make one restless. She dealt with this by cleaning the house constantly and having “Netflix and chill”!

When asked about her insights regarding the pandemic, she said, “It is only until you’re restricted to do certain things that you learn to appreciate the things you can do without restrictions.” When asked about what advice she would like to give the readers of The Frontliner Today, she laughed and said, “Wash your hands!” But adding to that, she would like to tell readers to stay positive, to nurture the relationships they currently have because those are one of the best support systems at a time like this. She smiles and says, “Be grateful for the little things — find the good in bad times, no matter how small they are. Also, be a support for others. Be resilient, be helpful.”

Staying courageous in hopes of seeing better days can prove challenging, but Filipinos are much more than that. We are head-strong and cogent which makes us stand firm in times of problems. We Filipinos always know how to find the light in the darkest of times. May Mia’s story serves as a source of inspiration and an example of Filipino resilience — our unwavering faith that after every storm, comes a rainbow.

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