Typhoon Yolanda: The Move to Tacloban


Yesterday, I did laundry by hand and hung it up. Today it is still wet. We were packing up today to go to Tacloban. By the way, if you are travelling, the best way to pack is to roll your clothes and put them in baggies. You never know when you might be crossing a river or if your laundry won't dry.

While we waited for the truck to come back and transport us, we played "bocce" with marbles in the parking area. I really enjoy the guys that I'm deployed with. I couldn't ask for a better team. They are eager to serve and they put others first. I felt a little bad beating them in marble bocce, but not much.

When we arrive in Tacloban we went directly to EVMRC Hospital where the Department of Health is based. Since we are supporting the existing DOH infrastructure, we got supplies from them for the Municipalities south of Tacloban where we have been working. The halls were busy with patients and staff. People were waiting in lines to receive care. There was no power on so the halls were dim and some of the rooms were dark. We were led to the supply room where we met a doctor and his two assistants. With my little 9-volt flashlight we went from box to box pulling out various medications and putting them into a couple of dilapidated cardboard boxes. We were happy to get antibiotics. We've seen several cases of severe scabies with secondary cellulitis so I was happy to be able to get some of the creams that we needed to treat the scabies and the antibiotics to treat the infections. We also grabbed quite a few packets of ORS (oral rehydration solution) packets in case the number of cases of vomiting and diarrhea increases. Despite the challenging conditions, the doctor and his staff were doing an amazing job of distribution. We signed out our supplies and were on our way.

Next stop, Philip's RTR Hospital where we planned to spend the night. The moment we walked in the door, we were met by Ginggay Hontiveros, the President of Med Central (the organization that runs RTR Hospital and many free standing clinics throughout the Philippines). Her leadership and organization skills were apparent as was her friendly and welcoming heart. She immediately deployed us. We dropped our personal bags in the tile lobby of the hospital where their command post was located. There were several white boards up displaying Ginggay's very methodical system to deploy teams throughout the region. There were also messages for the teams as they were going out. They said things like, "Tetanus shot vials - available at the pharmacy at storage (back) 1 vial per team going out." or "Pls be informed that water is available only in the following schedule, this is to avoid damage to our water facilities. Sorry for the inconvenience. Morning: 6-9 am, Afternoon: 5-9PM."

They paired us with some of their staff including a woman from the Congressman's office and a medical intern. We grabbed some supplies and piled onto the full sized, white bus. It is amazing where one of those buses can go! We traveled for about 45 minutes but it wasn't long before there weren't any roads. As we bumped and trashed along, eventually we were blocked by several coconut trees across the path (and I do mean path). We were several miles away from a place where we could turn the bus around. Now, you have to understand that Dan and Rob are both firemen and they drive firetrucks. They started thinking, "Well, It might take a while but I can back this baby up and get us out of here." After offering to "help" our driver, they were a bit humbled as he backed it up into the bushes and actually turned the beast around! I must admit, even my jaw dropped. I was certain that he would get stuck and we would be stranded for days.

A 27 year old woman that spoke English as well as I did came over and introduced herself. Maryann carrying a machete that looked more like a long ninja sword. She explained that she had been out whacking coconut trees trying to clear the path and help her village. She told me that she "needed to get some exercise". She looked more like 17 than 27. She not only spoke English but she told us that she could also speak fluent Arabic because she lived there as a caregiver for a while. Needless to say, she was my interpreter for the day. (Of course, we felt compelled to sing the song from Gillighan's island for her.) With the bus still perpendicular to the path, we unloaded, set up a couple of tents and held clinic. It seemed that most of the barangay turned out for the big event. The barangay captain got out his machete and cut the branches off one of the coconut trees that was partially blocking the area where we were about to set up. Patients lined up for a several hours and we didn't stop until all that wanted to be seen received care. The most sick were carried across the river by others to come and see us. I saw several patients that were struggling with severe anxiety since the typhoon. They were so gracious and kind. Dr. Carl, Rob, Dan and I saw 214 patients all together. As we drove off, it was so rewarding to see the smiles on their faces as they waved goodbye. This was the first medical care that they had received since the storm 16 days ago.

The driver fired up the engine and, without any difficulty whatsoever, was able to get back on the path and get us safely back to base at RTR Hospital. As we arrived, there was a delegation from a Chinese hospital ship that drove up with a formal welcome and media attention. We checked in and were assigned a room with two doors. Actually, there was only one door left. The other had been broken off at the hinges, presumably from the high winds. The windows were all broken out but the room had been swept clean. Hospitality abounds in this place. We were given some rice and chicken and then we set up our room. We strung up some ropes across the room and tried, once again, to dry out laundry. We also put up mosquito netting to try to decrease the risk of Malaria. Once again we had toilets with flushing water but they didn't have any lids to sit on. No big deal. I'll take a flush toilet over one with a lid any day.

We all felt like we were able to make a difference today. We touched some people and brought them hope.