John Alex Melencio is a charge nurse and team leader at The Royal Brompton Hospital in London, UK. He is also a UP alumnus, having earned his Master of Arts in Nursing (MAN) degree from the UP Open University (UPOU).
He was one of three nurses who shared their COVID-19 experiences in “Who Takes Care of the Caregivers?”, the latest installment of the UPOU Let’s Talk it Over online lecture series that was streamed live on June 11 in UPOU Networks. It was organized by the UPOU MAN program of the Faculty of Management and Development Studies.
“It’s not easy being a patient and because of my experience, I am pushing harder to become a better nurse,” Melencio said, after having been a COVID-19 patient and eventually returning to work upon recovery.
It was March 26 and the end of a particularly long day at the COVID-19 unit where he worked. He went home, ready to face another long-day shift the next day. But he woke up in the middle of the night with chills and a high-grade fever. The lockdown in London had just started. He called in sick the following morning.
Soon, Melencio developed a dry cough. He felt nauseated. He lost his sense of taste, his sense of smell. He felt dizzy. He was aware he had COVID-19 symptoms and was struck with fear and anxiety. He called the National Health Service (NHS) hotline and after finally getting through, was instructed to self-isolate for seven days. He told his roommate, his best friend, who had to self-isolate as well. “But my best friend still took care of me,” Melencio revealed.
When his fever had not abated for around ten days, Melencio asked his roommate to bring him to the hospital where he worked to get tested for COVID-19. The Royal Brompton Hospital had just begun testing their employees. By then, Melencio was already experiencing shortness of breath. He went home after getting tested.
“I didn’t feel I was getting any better, so I called NHS again and they finally sent people to see me,” he recalled. But the result of that visit was not what he expected. He was advised to continue self-isolation. “You are a nurse. You know you can handle this. There’s no need for you to go to the hospital,” he was told.
And then he got his test result. Melencio had COVID-19. He had to tell his partner. He had to call his family back in the Philippines to break the news. He also decided he needed to go to the hospital. “I am a nurse and I knew I needed proper care.”
On April 8, he was confined to the acute care unit (ACU) of a nearby hospital, where he had previously worked. His chest x-ray revealed patches in his lungs. “It made me feel even more depressed.” His heart rate was high and when he saw his arterial blood gas result, he knew it did not look good. “For some patients, those levels meant intubation.” But the acute care doctors had faith in his ability to recover and did not recommend intubation nor a transfer to the intensive care unit (ICU).
He went from 60% to 40% to 35% oxygen support and he thought things were going great. Until his oxygen saturation level dropped. He was referred to the ICU, but it was decided that the ACU could still handle his case. Melencio said he told his loved ones to be strong for him and he just kept his faith, that he would survive COVID-19. “I never stopped praying.” He was discharged after five days and was told to rest. His heart rate was still above normal.
Over his recuperation period, Melencio did all he could to maintain good physical health by getting proper nutrition, enough rest, and exercise. As for his mental and emotional well-being, he felt the care of not only his best friend, but also of his partner and family members who, while unable to be with him, still sent messages of love and encouragement. He appreciated the support of friends who sent him food and other necessities.
“After three weeks of rest, I went back to work. I wanted to be productive again,” he said. Melencio could have stayed home and rested for alonger time. His superiors at the hospital told him as much. But he believed that he would feel much better if he was back serving as a nurse again. There was no discrimination upon his return, only compassion from his co-workers, which meant a lot to him.
His experienced has re-emphasized in him the belief that “our patients deserve the best care from us.” As a COVID-19 patient, he found that “kindness, patience, compassion, and love” made a lasting impact on his recovery. As a survivor and a nurse, Melencio returned to work guided by that realization, resolute in his goal to be the best nurse that he can be for his patients.