The following is a written narrative of the events that transpired during our stint as medical volunteers for Mission Tacloban some time last year..
Day 1: Getting Ready (November 21, 2013)
It’s been barely a week since our last medical mission at Ormoc City, Leyte when I was once again called to serve. The meeting place was at MedCentral HQ at BCLI in Makati, meaning I had to commute from Pampanga to Makati. Designated time was at 4 AM, but since I went early was already in the Makati area 2 hours ahead of schedule. I killed time at the nearest convenience store then at a 24 hour Jollibee store before hailing a cab to the Universal RE Building where I was instructed by the guard on duty to proceed to the 6th floor where I was greeted by the guard on duty. I was the first to arrive and I was required to log my name among the roster of other volunteers. The records showed that we were the 5th batch to be deployed, a 5 man team delegation. I scanned and noted the names of my other fellow volunteers: Dr. Vince Alimurong, Dr. Ana Javelosa, Dr. Mica Veloso and Dr. Gary Yu, who I was just with last week on the Ormoc mission. After the customary greetings and group photo, we went to the airport for our hour long flight. Upon arriving at the airport, or what was left of it at least, Vince commented that this was probably one of the few times when so many necks craned to either side of the plane at one time to see firsthand the level of destruction. We were definitely going to have our hands full. Transportation was already been arranged for us, a run-down but working and functional van brought us through what would seem to be a war torn city had we not known what happened here just the week before. We arrived at our destination, RTR or Remedios Trinidad Romualdez Hospital which was to be our base of operation. Since we came in at mid morning, most of the other teams have already been deployed and so we were tasked to take over and assist at the makeshift out-patient clinic where people were waiting patiently in line for treatment and free medicines. The lines were momentarily cut and the people were told to come back after an hour to give time for us to have some respite and eat lunch, which was a small block of meat and rice served in small plastic bags. No complaints here, knowing that every resource counted. We continued until late in the afternoon, only calling it a day when we could no longer see patients because the sun was beginning to set. After dinner, with nothing else to do, we settled into our room for the night, and having experienced sleeping in nothing but a concrete ledge outside of a birthing station before, having a mattress and a functional fan was a luxury. And so was sleep. And it was definitely savored.
Day 2: The Work Continues (November 22, 2013)
Feeling refreshed and ready to go, we were deployed in the town of Tanaoan where we were able to cover a 3 barangays and provide much needed medical assistance at first in the scorching heat and later in the afternoon, in torrential rains. But as Dr. Ana pointed out, no patient who came in was turned away or not treated. Only the setting of the sun prompted us to head back to the operations center where it was not yet the end of the day for the team as we had to collate the data that we gathered regarding what were the prevalent diseases and what the locality actually needed. We also had to replenish our stocks of medicines and supplies that we were to bring the next day. The other blessing of the day was that the other outgoing team endorsed to us their place at the CT scan room where there was a fully functional and always on air conditioning unit. Needless to say, we were asleep in no time.
Day 3: Signs of Hope (November 23, 2013)
With the influx of new teams coming in for relief and medical efforts, the team decided to cover more ground by splitting up: Gary with Mica, Vince with me and Ana with the other members of team PSN (Philippine Society of Nephrology). We originally, and ambitiously, wanted to serve 9 barangays, but breakdown in logistics caused some delay in our deployment and at the end of the day, we were only able to serve 5 barangays. All the new data gathered were then expertly encoded and made into usable data by the more than capable Vince. Along the way we have also noted small signs of recovery: electric poles being erected, lumber yards starting small operations to provide planks and beams for restoration and repair as well as the occasional makeshift sari-sari store on the roadside. The long and arduous road to recovery has definitely begun.
Day 3: Journey Home (November 24, 2013)
For the people back home, today would probably have been spent glued to the TV watching in anticipation for the Pacquiao fight which we would later learn he won of course. We would have also wanted to attend mass for the solemnity of Christ the King, but as Simon our Canadian born, white skinned Asian, as he’d like to describe himself told us: there is always a proactive way of sharing God’s work and we were at the moment, living it. Once again the people greeted us warmly when we arrived and again we were told that we were to be the first team, medical or otherwise to give them solace and a sense of renewed hope. There was a noted reluctance in setting up the makeshift tents and unloading of supplies as it dawned upon us, this would be for the moment, our last hurrah. And just when we thought we’d seen it all, right there on the roadside while Vince was taking the history of his young patient who had high grade fever for the past few days just suddenly went into seizures. Thankfully we were with a paramedical team who brought their own ambulance and we were able to send the child to the nearest functional hospital for further treatment. What a way to end this journey. But as we all know, we were but a small part of a big effort that just came in together. In the end although we were to ones who came in to help, we went home with a deeper understanding and respect for the power of the human spirit.