If there’s one thing positive about surviving the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) other than being alive, it is the renewed faith in God and in our fellowmen.

This, according to Dean Ortiz, the spokesperson of the Department of Public Works and Highways in Region 11 (DPWH-11) who, until his positive test result for Covid-19 on Oct. 27, thought he was “very careful” enough not to contract the dreaded virus.

COVID-19 FIGHTER. Dean Ortiz, the spokesperson of the Department of Public Works and Highways in Region 11 (DPWH-11), who survived the coronavirus disease 2019, poses with a front-liner inside one of Davao City’s patient care centers in this undated photo. Ortiz says the experience renewed his faith in God and in his fellowmen. (Photo from Dean Ortiz’s Facebook account)

For one, Ortiz heads the DPWH-11 Covid-19 Coordinating Group, ensuring health protocols are practiced across the organization and its linkages.

He said nothing was more terrifying when a supposedly good Tuesday morning filled with positive energy was broken by a Viber message with an attached screenshot of a document with his name on it, in a screaming red, all in capital letters: “POSITIVE”.

“I guess what happened to me was leadership-by-example personified,” Ortiz said, adding that up until he spoke to the Philippine News Agency on Sunday, his exposure had not been traced to any person or group of individuals.

“I underwent an RT-PCR test along with some colleagues on October 27. It wasn’t really required because I didn’t have any symptoms, to begin with. It was more of an act of leadership mixed with a bit of smugness and confidence, as I always thought of myself as the last person on earth to catch the virus,” he recounted.

Ortiz said he was “very careful,” especially in his line of duty, and especially because he has a family to take care of.

Hours after his diagnosis, he was picked up at home by a van with a crew clad in full Covid-19 protective equipment, he said.

Leaving his house with a blank thought, Ortiz said he felt weird sitting at the back of an unlit van where he can only hear the occasional thud, the van’s engine, and human voices of the faceless crew.

“No facial expressions to draw emotions from, as if emotions had a place in the uncertainty I was faced with. The sound of my own heartbeat was very reassuring and I found myself saying a prayer,” he said.

Filled with fear, he entered a patient care center that he described as a well-lit facility “but everything around was pitch-black.” He said the scene was straight out of a post-apocalyptic movie—dark, cold, terrifying, surreal.

“I declared that this was where God wanted me to be, where I will get the help I need, recover, and do some introspection. Whether I like it or not, I am no longer my old self. This experience has changed me already and I intend to come out of it bent in places, but definitely not broken,” Ortiz said.

Hope, resentment

As soon as he told everyone the news, he said he received a string of calls, social media posts, and private messages that were encouraging and sympathetic.

“Some told me to stay strong, to leave everything to God, and not lose hope. Others were not so kind, their words full of resentment, blame, just a tad short of “good riddance.” I felt violated and weighed down by insults,” Ortiz shared.

In his line of work, however, Ortiz said he learned to be patient and tune out negative things.

“I’m used to being called a lot of things. Name it, I’ve heard it. In from one ear, out from the other side. But in my delicate state, I couldn’t help taking offense at the vitriol that was being thrown at me from all sides,” he admitted.

“People aren’t crazy enough to get the disease intentionally. I remember my boss saying: Who wants to get it in the first place? His wisdom lingered in my mind through the whole ordeal, he added.

Coping up with newfound friends

Despite being feeling helpless, Ortiz tried to call people whom he said he never thought that he would ask moral support from. And to his surprise, he said he received no judgment from them.

“They reached out to me with genuine compassion and concern and offered to help in any way they could. I had their support and it felt like a huge load was taken off my shoulders. When you’re in distress and at your lowest, these small gestures make a world of difference,” he said.

He recalled that his first day in the facility was a thrill as the sun was up and he felt cheerful. He checked his surroundings and saw the wide and airy open spaces perfect for jogging, good landscaping, and a perfect spot for plane-spotting.

He also tried to make friends with his co-patients, whom he described as “positive with Covid-19 but at the same time positive that they will all get through of it somehow.”

“We shared stories of what happened to each of us and how we got there. In the end, we shared one story – discrimination. The hardest part perhaps of being infected is the fact that too many people know too much about the disease yet choose to be uneducated, even ignorant, on how they treat people who have the dreaded disease,” Ortiz added.

Coming from different walks of life, he said they all found friendships and saw themselves equal inside the patient care center.

“I know these guys won’t forget me for giving them a bottle of ice-cold Coke once in a while, a welcome treat given the circumstances. Good thing I have a good set of friends and relatives who never turned their back on me when I asked for help, as my family back home was under strict quarantine and were forbidden to get out,” he said.

Modern-day heroes

Ortiz said the doctors, nurses, and their support staff were attentive to their patients as they can be seen coming around the facility three to four times daily to serve their meals, check their vital signs, and clean their rooms.

“We may not see their covered faces, but their big hearts showed through and shone like sunlight. I wish I could do more than thank them profusely for their sacrifices, knowing that they too have families and loved one’s back home. Yet, they were there for us, egging us on to beat this disease and easing our suffering while they themselves suffer,” he added.

With that realization, he said he lost all reason to complain.

“It goes without saying that, during this pandemic and when this is all over, let’s honor their selfless contribution to our country,” he said.

Along with his “co-positives”, he said they were blessed to have hot meals sent to their rooms every night, and the food served by the city government was not hospital food but that the meals were well-planned, flavorful, nutritious, and satisfying, making his confinement much more bearable.

I could only imagine how much the city government spends daily on people in isolation and in hospitals. So don’t talk to me about how a minor flaw in the Davao QR system and the minor inconveniences make you curse the city government to high heavens. Who are we to judge? Wake me up when you find a perfect government,” Ortiz pointed out.

Renewed faith

On November 5, Ortiz was released from isolation after testing negative for the virus. He thanked everyone who helped him get through the toughest eight days of his life. Under the new protocols, Ortiz and his new-found friends inside the patient care center were required to spend 10 days in isolation, counting from the day they underwent the swab test.

“Looking back at the experience made me renew my faith in God for giving me another chance to savor the greatest gift I could ever ask for — my wife and two kids, my 80-year-old mom, my sister, and our working student all testing negative for the virus. Not even the news of a Spice Girls reunion or a Coldplay concert in Davao City could ever match that. God indeed is the greatest,” Ortiz said.

He also said that his experience gave him a reason to believe that being (Covid-19) positive ends when positivity begins, and when one allows hope to prevail amidst all the negativity.

“Allowing other people’s baggage to weigh you down would not help the process of healing from the disease and the stigma that comes with it. Revenge is tempting but a big waste of time. Karma is now digital, so they say,” Ortiz said. (Che Palicte, PNA)