By Henrylito D. Tacio
Photos taken from Dr. Rafael Castillo’s Facebook
Dr. Rafael R. Castillo, 67, is a well-respected cardiologist at the Manila Doctor’s Hospital (MDH). He is also a well-known columnist for Philippine Daily Inquirer and editor-in-chief of the monthly Health and Lifestyle magazine. He is also one of the doctors who conducted a study on melatonin as supplementary treatment for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
Although he is a medical frontliner, he never thought of being infected with SARS-CoV-2, the microorganism that causes COVID-19. He has met COVID-19 patients and even treated some of them.
Then, last January 11, as he was preparing for bed, he experienced severe throat itchiness. He thought his allergic rhinitis was acting up and so he merely gargled with an oral antiseptic and took an over-the-counter tablet.
The following day, symptoms appeared: fever, chills, muscle and joint pains, profound weakness, nausea, and loss of appetite. “The rapidly progressive symptoms were unmistakable: the virus had caught up with me,” he wrote in his column, “Medical Files.”
He promptly commenced the regimen he had been advocating for COVID-19. “But for the next four hours, the symptoms became worse,” he recalled. “I felt too weak even to reach for the glass of water that was less than a foot away from my side of the bed.”
His mind was very active, but he had no energy whatsoever. When the family cook asked him – through the bedroom door – if he wanted to eat his favorite bulalo (boiled beef highlighted by bone marrow), just the thought of it made him feel like vomiting. He never thought of eating, although it had been 21 hours since he last ate.
“In the darkness of my bedroom, I felt I was in a jungle, and the aches, chills and other symptoms seemed to transform into a cacophony of discordant sounds rising and falling,” he wrote.
It was during moments of decrescendo that he’d doze off. At times, he’d been awakened by some pain or spasm, and he’d contort himself to find a position of relief.
“Probably due to high fever, and as a side effect of the high-dose melatonin I was taking, I seemed to be in a constant dream state, as though I were slipping it and out of The Matrix film,” he wrote. “Much of my dreams I cannot now remember; I just knew I dreamed something.”
But there were some details that came back to him vividly as when he was dreaming them. One such dream was when he found himself in a big place as dark as Space Mountain. “Instead of riding in a roller-coaster, I was sliding down a huge, labyrinthine slide and trying to slow my fall by grasping at its sides,” he wrote. “I was yelling to God that I couldn’t hold on any longer. ‘Lord, hindi ko na kayang humawak!’”
All he could hear was a telepathic reply: “Just let go, and let Me!”
Dr. Castillo must have slept for more than two hours. “It was dark outside when I woke up,” he recalled. “I was perspiring profusely, probably from the two soft gels of ibuprofen that I took a few hours earlier.”
He stood up and changed his undershirt. “I realized that I now had the energy to get up,” he said. “I was also feeling hungry. So, I texted our cook to ask if she had some bulalo left.”
She answered affirmatively. “I didn’t eat much, but I was able to finish a small portion of what she served me without throwing up,” he said.
The good thing was that the fever was gone and never recurred. The other symptoms were still present, but they were now more tolerable. He slept well that night and felt even better the next day.
Although his wife, Becky, thought it might be just the flu that struck him since it was completely gone in six hours, he believed otherwise. To clear all doubts, they decided that he should be tested.
Two days after he experienced the severe symptoms, he went to MDH. “By that time, I was already symptom-free,” he admitted. But the throat and nasopharyngeal swab yielded a positive result.
“The blood test suggested that my immune system had taken a big hit – hence the significantly low level of my white blood cells (WBCs),” he wrote. “I imagined the thousands of my WBCs that died vanquishing the virus.”
There was also residual inflammation in his body, as evidenced by increased serum ferritin.
Ten days after his bout with the dreaded disease, “God has healed me completely, and with a miraculous rate of recovery,” he pointed out. “Also to my relief, my wife and the rest of our household have tested negative for COVID-19.”
If you’re wondering what medicines and supplements he took, Dr. Castillo shared them in his Facebook account. “Start as soon as possible if with suspicious symptom(s),” he wrote. “Every minute counts in COVID-19. Once it breaches a certain threshold, all hell breaks loose and it might be too late already. Start the regimen while waiting for results of confirmatory lab tests.”
· High dose of melatonin 100 milligrams (mg) initially as a loading dose then 200 mg/day in 4 divided doses per day. (“In my case, I increased my dose to 300 mgs/day because of my elevated serum ferritin, high-sensitivity C-reactive Protein. I’ve given up to 600 mgs/day in our severe/critically ill patients with still good results.”)
· Vitamin C 1000 mg 3x daily
· Vitamin D 5000 u daily
· Zinc 50 mg 3x daily
· Virgin coconut oil two tablespoons 3x daily mixed with black coffee in the morning, beetroot juice extract at lunch, carrot juice extract at supper
· Coenzyme Q10 180 mg 3x daily
· Curcumin turmeric 500 mg 3x daily
· Aspilet 1 tablet once daily (“I wasn’t taking it before, but took it due to my high hs CRP.”)
· Ibuprofen (Advil) – took two soft gels once for the fever
· Plus usual maintenance doses: Amlodipine 5 mg OD, Carvedilol 12.5 mg BID; increased Atorvastatin to 40 mg OD hs (with elevated hs CRP). Metformin 500 mg OD for prediabetes
· Sunshine 30 minutes/day
· Light exercise as tolerated
· Deep breathing exercises every waking hour with pulse oximeter monitoring
“If no improvement after 48 hours especially if with shortness of breath, decreasing oxygen saturation to 93% or less (always keep a pulse oximeter at home – costs P600-800), you may need to be confined,” Dr. Castillo suggested. “But so far, with the many patients with mild hypoxemia we’ve used it, none required confinement.”
But the most important of them all: prayer. “During my illness, I realized that we can actually talk with God and get answers,” he wrote. “Not that I saw His image or any bright light, nor did I hear His voice—nothing of that sort.
“It was like receiving a telepathic reply to my question,” he continued. “Sometimes it came immediately, sometimes not. But once I received it, I just knew it was God’s message. Could it have been just an effect of my delirious state when I had high fever? Possibly, but the fever was completely gone in six hours. And I still got answers to my questions afterward.”
Again for the recommended regimen, Dr. Castillo said, “For elderly and high-risk patients, it’s better to initiate treatment early with natural immune-system boosters than wait for the results two or three days later. Like they say, it’s better to err on the side of caution than on the side of tragic error.”