Flight attendant becomes COVID-19 frontliner after layoff


(Note: Pilipino Star Ngayon’s Bituin Ng Pag-Asa series looks back and celebrates viral stories of hope and inspiration this 2020.)

The COVID-19 pandemic has left many businesses and workers, especially in the country’s travel and tourism industry, struggling to survive. Palawan-based Madel Lucena, 23, went viral after posting about her unplanned career change after losing the job that she loves.  

In July 2019, she was hired as a flight attendant. By July 2020, she joined her home province’s COVID-19 response team as a medical technologist.  

Madel was close to being regularized at the airline company she has been working in for almost a year when management decided to reduce its workforce to mitigate the impact of the health crisis.

Madel Lucena as a flight attendant pre-pandemic. — Photos courtesy of the subject

While this happened a few days after the ECQ was implemented, Madel said they already had a feeling that it was “inevitable” as early 2020, flights, one by one, were cancelled due to COVID threats. 

In an interview with The STAR, Madel said her employment loss was a big blow because she had enjoyed her time working as a flight attendant.

“Masaya. Before nun madami kaming plans. Plans to travel more because one of the perks (of being an FA) is to travel for free. Ang dami naming plans with my family kasi kasama sila sa benefits nun,” she said.

“Kaya grabe ‘yung struggle ko. I have my days talaga na — not depressed pero I’m sad about it kasi nga there were plans that were stopped because of it.”

Madel Lucena as a flight attendant pre-pandemic. — Photos courtesy of the subject

When she was retrenched, she said she somehow felt lucky to be in her hometown in El Nido, Palawan, locked-down with her family. 

Madel recalled to The STAR that fateful day: “Naka-quarantine pa ako nun and my parents were very cautious about it. So iyak ako ng iyak nung nalaman ko yun. Siempre di nga nila ako mahawakan. I have a separate room, separate utensils, so ang ginawa lang ng nanay ko, binalutan lang niya ako ng kumot and then she hugged me.

“Sabi nila na, it’s OK… na parang, it’s not your fault na na-lay off ka. Maybe it’s a blessing in disguise na merong mas better opportunity for you. Hindi naman matatapos ang buhay because of it.

“Sabi ng tatay ko, if one door closes, another window will open. Kaya lumakas din yung loob ko dahil di nila ako sinisi about it. At least may core ako, may backbone, to live through that day of layoff and siempre every day na iniisip ko.”

Madel is now a medical technologist for the COVID-19 response team at the Ospital ng Palawan in Puerto Princesa.

After a couple of months of spending time with her family, she decided to move forward and look for work. 

Prior to being an FA, Madel briefly worked as medical technologist and drug analyst at a small clinic in Palawan after graduating with a Medical Laboratory Science degree from the Central Philippine University in Iloilo City. 

She told The STAR, “At the back of my mind, lagi kong iniisip na pwede pa rin akong bumalik to being a medtech (professional). Kasi nung una, siempre meron pa akong denial stage na layoff na ang sakit!

“At first, nag-try pa kami mag online selling ng mom ko kasi nag-iba talaga, lalo na sa El Nido, yung tourism namin nawala. Yun yung main na pinagkakakitaan ng mga tao kaya pinush na rin ako ng mom and I pushed myself to work as a medtech.” 

Madel tried applying for Manila jobs and she would do virtual interviews, but employers would drop her after knowing she was still in Palawan and flights were put on hold at that time.

One day, she decided to try her luck at a local hospital. “Triny ko lang talaga i-message ‘yung HR, ‘yung medical technologist dito sa Ospital ng Palawan, the main provincial hospital in Palawan. This is the only testing center here in Palawan ng COVID. 

Madel is now a medical technologist for the COVID-19 response team at the Ospital ng Palawan in Puerto Princesa.

“I pushed my luck again. Sabi ko lang, ‘Good morning po, hiring po ba kayo diyan?’ Normally, they would say wala kasi always silang puno dito. Siguro, right time and right moment. Sabi nila, ‘Hiring kami right now’ as in that day talaga nag-post sila na hiring. I immediately passed my resume via email. After two days, OK na kaagad.”

Madel immediately got deployed at the swabbing station.

“Ang trabaho namin is… para mag-sure ang doctor na tama ang presumption niya. So, kung mali kami, magmamali ang lahat. Kung mali yung resulta na ibinigay namin, kung ma-mishandle namin yung specimen, kung hindi namin maayos ang trabaho namin, mag-iiba, altered lahat ang trabaho ng doctor. So dapat accurate kami. Sabi nga nila, as a medical technologist, there is no room for errors.” 

Madel is now a medical technologist for the COVID-19 response team at the Ospital ng Palawan in Puerto Princesa.

It’s a very different life from being a flight attendant, she readily acknowledged.

“Ngayon nga hindi na ako nag-aayos. I mean nandito lang naman ako sa laboratory, I wear a mask. Naka-goggles ka naman, naka-face shield ka. Bakit pa ako mag-aayos?” she admitted. 

Although she deals with patients and not passengers this time, one thing she found in common between the two jobs is that both require special care.

Madel admitted to having that fear of getting infected but she’s trying to use that fear to her advantage.

“‘Yung feeling na, pwede kang makatulong ta’s hindi ka tumulong? Profession mo ‘yun eh. Parang may oath ka. Sabi ko nga, may oath ako. Hindi ka tutulong? Bakit? Kasi takot ka?

“Everybody’s scared. Lahat naman takot eh. Nasa sarili mo naman yan, paano mo iha-handle ang sarili mo. So yun din naisip ko. Takot ako pero mas okay nga takot kami para mas extra cautious kami. Gagamitin ko yun as a strength. Takot man ako pero nakatulong naman ako. Hindi yung takot lang ako.”

To be in the frontlines of the country’s fight against COVID-19, she’s sure that even if she changes career again in the future, she will look back at this moment again and “I’d definitely be happy. And I’m gonna be… ‘yung magiging proud din ako.”

Watch the inspiring #BituinNgPagAsa video below:

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