Every day we get bombarded with statistics of new confirmed cases of COVID-19 and deaths caused by it. Personally, I feel strong sense of helplessness and being overwhelmed listening to it all.
Then recently, despite knowing that the virus could infect anyone, I reacted with disbelief when I received the news that a nephew, son of a first degree cousin, was confirmed COVID-19 positive. I was told that Ariel was admitted in hospital with suspected pneumonia but after a day, the tests showed he had the virus. The following days were surreal, and the family prayed hard for him to recover.
The family was able to request to have a video call to him one night. Each one spoke to Ariel, assuring him he can beat the virus and get well again. At one stage, the doctor said he would be lucky to last another 24 hours but Ariel proved him wrong by showing an improvement. But in the wee hours of 5.24am on August 12, his heart stopped.
Ariel who was to turn 55 years on the 26th October, was a frontliner. He was a driver in the Department of Social Welfare & Development for more than a decade. Despite the pandemic, he was glad to still be working for DSWD.
A few years ago, he asked me to help him get a job in DSWD where I worked before I migrated to Australia. I remember him saying: "Tita, hindi ko po kayo hihiyain" [Auntie, I will not embarrass you]. He was a very skilled drive and respectful guy so I did not hesitate to recommend him for a job. My good friend, Celia Yangco, who held a senior position and became Undersecretary years later on, engaged him as her driver.
Every now and then, Ariel would send a message and made me chuckle with his feedback: "Tita, am being good. Kasi po mataas na tao ang sakay ko, sinisiguro ko na mabango ako. Pinopolbohan ko po pati kili-kili ko." [Tita, am being good. Because I drive for officials, I make sure I smell nice. I even powder my underarms.]
My friend Celia retired from DSWD a number of years ago but Ariel was retained in his position of driver. When I heard the sad news of him being seriously ill, I sent Celia a message.
She immediately replied: "Yes I know the DSWD HRM people contacted me tonight when he was rushed to hospital to ask my help for his admission to the Kidney Institute, and so I gave them numbers of hosp director and dept mgr whom I know. But I was told later that he was admitted at East Ave instead, where he was first admitted @ ER. His wife called me up too re his possible NKTI confinement. DSWD is helping them. Lets continue to pray for his recovery."
I thanked Celia for her kindness to Ariel and family, to which she commented:
" I'm also grateful for his services and glad that somehow he became a regular driver. He tried his best naman to be a good one. Yes, we lift him up to the Lord as He knows what's best for him.
As it turned out, Ariel was to pass away with no family around him as no visitors are allowed for COVID-19 cases. Celia advised that Ariel was the first COVID-19 casualty at the DSWD Central Office. One day after he passed on, he was cremated which is the standard procedure. The family would like to bury his ashes with the family members who have passed on; but they would need to wait until the restrictions allow them to travel to Nueva Ecija from Manila and not face a quarantine period of two weeks.
By sharing Ariel's story, I am hoping to give the message that COVID-19 risks are real and we need to be on the alert to keep ourselves and others safe, and to follow recommended protocols. He was a healthy middle-aged man who looked after himself but got unlucky to pick up the virus; in the space of ten days, he was gone.
Rest in peace Ariel. You have indeed made your family and me proud by doing your best in all you did. You are one of the brave frontliners, our modern day heroes.
[*Written with the family's permission.]