During my first visit to the Philippines in February 2014 following Typhoon Yolanda, I spent a considerable amount of time in emergency evacuation centre, affectionately known to locals as “the tent city”.
In western terms, “evacuation centre” doesn’t really provide an adequate description of a school oval, mudded up from rain, with no dedicated water supply, no shelter from the oppressive sun and 100 families living in thick tents manufactured for sub-zero conditions. But for a time it served a purpose.
It was during one of my visits and co-ordinating a women and children’s activity that I met a young girl of 19 with a tiny baby. One of her friends overheard me saying that after the activity I would be taking a tricycle to the Malbog Hospital to see a young boy with suspected meningitis. Her friend in her limited English and despite my sub-standard Ilongo, implored me to help her friend.
From what I learned the baby was living in the Barangay of Botongon and had a swollen abdomen; and the baby’s father had no money for medicine. The shoreline of Botongon was not only stripped and destroyed by Typhoon Yolanda but also received some 900,000 litres of bunker fuel and oil after Powerbarge 103 burst its moorings and ran aground. How this could have happened is the subject material for many more blogs but for now imagine the damage to the health of residents as they tried to clean up their homes and restore their lives. Four month old Shairy Villacote was one tiny example.
Somehow a young girl and her baby appeared, it was heartbreaking to see the little baby’s abdomen swollen to twice normal size gasping to breathe. Her mother handed me a piece of paper: a doctor’s referral dated two (2) days earlier to attend hospital. Having no money to eat, let alone medical supplies the baby’s father would not allow the child to visit the hospital. Would not? or could not?
We loaded her and the baby into a tricycle for the ten minute ride out to the Malbog Hospital. Arriving the poor baby had tubes inserted into her nose while the doctors wrote a prescription. What for? Well for a syringe, an ampoule of some type of medicine and a drip pack. Did I mention it was hot? Bloody hot! I walked back out into the heat, across the road to a pharmacy and purchased the necessary equipment. I arrived back and hand the medicine to the nurses who administer. Another prescription is written this time for ventolin (see video below). Again, I walk outside, buy the medicine and return, hand to doctor/nurse.
Ok are you wondering now about why a prescription is written for even a seemingly standard piece of equipment like a syringe? Good, you should be!
Once the baby was admitted as a patient and I had pledged to pay all medical costs, an account was opened. All future medicines could then be purchased at the hospital pharmacy and booked to the account. The baby’s mother had no way of contacting her family so she provided some directions to my Filipina companion, Ma’am Jing (a teacher from the Tanza Elementary School who had come along to help me) so we could get a message to her mother.
I bought drinking water and left that and 500 pesos with her and we all loaded into a tricycle, this time headed to the Barangay Botongon to find the baby’s grandmother.
We get out and start asking questions about where they can be found. We walk and walk and walk in what, at the time seemed like a maze of dirt tracks and polluted drains until we arrive at a small bamboo shelter. The baby’s Lola ( grandmother) is given money for a tricycle and supplies as well as my phone number.
The baby spent a week in hospital, and on my second last day in Estancia, was discharged after I paid the account. I received a number of beautiful text messages and a personal visit from the baby’s young father the night before I left, he tried to speak but in the end was too overwhelmed.
Arriving back in Estancia it was wonderful to return to her house, hug her and the baby now recovered. I was also able to tell her that it was in fact my own brother, and his family who had sent me money a few days earlier who provided the cost of the medicine, supplies and hospital visit. My brother, David Irvine is a nurse and has young children of his own.
The videos below shows some other patients I helped with medical supplies who were at the hospital at the same time. But that’s another story.