I am the ambulance siren awakening you in the afternoons.
I am the bruises on both cheeks; remove the mask and you lose this battle.
I am the cough cracking the air into droplets of chaos.
I am the doctor who died because a patient denied their symptoms.
I am every emergency room that overflows with all the fears you cannot name.
I am the fever that rises as your breath falters, the gloved fist that will pound on your chest.
I am a government pointing all its guns to God.
I am the healthcare worker hosed down with hydrogen peroxide while heading to the hospital.
I am each infected patient – identities classified but never invisible.
I am jade eggs and juice mixes joining forces to administer cure and joy for this joke of a disease.
I am the knots tying themselves in the intestines of a child who has never known shelter.
I am the lies that cost billions in blood and islands to uphold.
I am the monitor that will beep one final moment.
I am norepinephrine, dobutamine, dopamine – everything the world has concocted: not enough.
I am the oxygen you breathe through layers of filters.
I am the politico who tested positive but refused to disclose their result in time.
I am the one question this quarantine has led you to consider.
I am a recovered statistic – a ray of stubborn light in this regime.
I am the streets – vacuous as a dictator’s heart.
I am a test that confirms the diagnosis days after the patient has expired.
I am the underbelly of the slums, upturned palms that know all the words for hunger.
I am the virus. Or am I the vaccine?
I am the wailing of all those wives and mothers who were disallowed to weep those this war took.
I am the x-ray that gives you away.
I am your conscience, or what remains.
I am the zoom and buzz of a busy workday: everything you yearn for of what has passed.
From the Early Days of the Plague, 21st Century
And the sky will come for you once. Just sit tight until it’s done. - Whiteout Conditions, The New Pornographers Zero drugs exist to treat this disease. You’re unsure if you’ll last this year of your training, considering you’re young but eat nothing healthy. X no longer stands for places on a map, rather as constant variable for amount of afflicted, recovered, or dead as the days pass into months. What remains of the world? Vacant streets. No one veers out into the open without hearing the words virus or vaccine, and they repeat this to themselves, as though in prayer. Unseen, it persists and grows like a tiny god. Underneath all those layers of protective clothing, you continue to feel ill- equipped, radioactive. This is the best your government has offered you; this is the most your friends can provide. Take all the vitamins you can and hope for a negative result. The skin of your hands crack as you run it through soap and water again and again. Wash away the sins of the world - You rest a good seven days before returning to the hospital once more. Questions exceed all answers you are permitted to utter, and some days you curse yourself into a quiet penance for treating a patient less like a person and more as a source of infection. Over and over this repeats. Who is to blame that the oxygen you now breathe could be laced with poison? Numbers pile on lists pile on graphs pile on unclaimed bodies disregarded by those in power. You continue to plough on like a machine, move your body against all misgivings. You've seen their lungs, rigid and pale like glass, and you wonder how long it will take before something plants itself inside you until you break. You keep the mask on like a talisman, until all but a knife is needed to inscribe new grooves into your face. Your jaws ache each time you operate: the scalpel shakes as your goggles fog from sweat. Your incisions run smooth even if you can barely inhale the room air. You follow all instructions intended to keep you alive. You make haste as you work. The hospital is host to hordes of pathogens. You change gowns and gloves after you change rooms, go over this ritual to prevent yourself from going mad. They praise you for fighting in the frontlines of this alleged war yet the fogs fail to lift. The figures rise: Fallen friends, people reduced to pixels on a screen. You run empty after every shift but feign the energy of a child. The world encourages you to risk your life, daily. It’s your duty as a doctor now. Never mind your dreams, or fears of dying. You cleanse your body every time you arrive home, call the ones you love, despite the cities and hemispheres between. You breathe, bless the corners of your small apartment with alcohol and bleach, beseech what remains of heaven for a miracle. You remember all those patients promptly placed in bags, transported away, elsewhere to burn: their final moments alone, all ablaze.
Alyza May Timbol Taguilaso a resident doctor training in General Surgery at Ospital ng Muntinlupa. She is a graduate of the University of the East Ramon Magsaysay Memorial Medical Center, Inc. and the Ateneo de Manila University. Her poems have appeared in High Chair, Stone Telling Magazine, Philippines Free Press, and Kritika Kultura, to name a few. She was a fellow for English Poetry in the 10th Iyas, 10th Ateneo, and 50th Silliman University National Writers workshops. Last 2019, she presented papers discussing reexpansion pulmonary edema in the CHEST Congress in Bangkok, Thailand and American Thoracic Society in Dallas, Texas.