The Day I Witnessed Bayanihan: Villamor Air Base Medical Mission

November 15, 2013 is the day when I was able to spend my entire day and every ounce of my energy for the survivors of the super typhoon Yolanda. Together with the DOH-HEMS (Health Emergency Management Staff) team of the hospital I’m working, headed by Dr. Hao, I was able to help in the provision of medical relief to the survivors of Yolanda coming from Leyte.

Using the hospital ambulance, equipped with various medical supplies for emergency operations, we arrived at Villamor Air Base before 12 noon. It is where the survivors of the typhoon were being brought from the devastated provinces of Leyte.

There were 8 of us in the team: 4 nurses, 2 doctors (one of whom is a surgeon), an aide, and the driver. From the 4 nurses, 2 (including me) were not really official members of the HEMS team but since more nurses were needed, I immediately said yes when I was asked to join.

When an opportunity to help the afflicted comes your way, you cannot just ignore and miss it, especially in this kind of situation. More than my desire to help, it is also my duty and my moral obligation to help the survivors not only as a nurse, but as a Filipino.

some photos taken by Marla and Sir Quiel
from top photo clockwise: (1) Villamor Air Base (2) Medical teams inside the tent (3) 3 nurses of LPGH and the medical staff from another team (3) Another picture inside the tent (4) yours truly, with a tiny survivor in my arms, a blessed baby.
(some photos taken by Marla and Sir Quiel)

Many were injured and in need of minor surgeries, cleaning of wounds, medicines, and vitamins. All they needed, we tried to provide. With a medical staff who are experienced and equipped with admirable skills, I guess I can say we were able to give them what they needed. Also, medical teams coming from private organizations and other government health offices were there as well to aid the people. The nurses and doctors from AFP were there, doctors from Makati Med and St. Luke’s were there as well. The SM provided medications and their booth was our primary ‘pharmacy’ in the tent.

From what I understood while I was there, the flow was like this: a C-130 plane (either American or AFP c-130) departs Villamor with the packs of relief goods to be distributed in Leyte, then it comes back with the survivors as its passengers. The survivors then are given a pack of relief goods. If they need no medical assistance, they are then ushered to the grandstand where they can rest and where volunteers assist them with the things they need. If they do need medical assistance, they are ushered to our tent where they are to be given medical aid. Another tent for debriefing sessions for the victims, especially for the children, was also in the scene.

The first booth in the medical tent was the registration area, then the vital signs area, then the consultation area, and then the provision of medicines, just like how regular medical missions are always facilitated. We took their vital signs, cleaned their wounds, assisted in minor surgeries, referred them to the doctors, and gave health instructions.

There were various cases. Although most were minor injuries such as punctured wounds, lacerations and skin abrasions, some have severe conditions and needed to be confined in the hospital such as the one with the GI bleeding, the severe anemia, and another who had just undergone a heart surgery from Leyte. There were even twins just delivered by their mother. The newborns were pale and I heard they were taken to Air Force Hospital. One time when I was just finished with a tetanus vaccination, a certain woman came up to me and asked me: “Nandito ba yung buntis na kinagat ng ahas?” I told her I still hadn’t assisted a case like that so I pointed her to the registration where the staff might know better as to where the certain patient might have been taken to. There were others too who I found disoriented and obviously with mental illness that may be due to trauma.

Every kind of human aid was there. Aside from the medical assistance, there were volunteers who provided food not only for the survivors but also for the medical teams. It was a mixture of races in there, there were Americans, Australians, Chinese, Koreans, etc. and all were providing help. The American soldiers were there as well, providing relief packs, helping in the delivery of goods, and fetching survivors from the hellish Leyte to Manila.

Even the candidates of Miss Earth were there, and passing up a picture with them wasn’t really an option for us. People from media were there too and they were interviewing those who needed to contact their relatives in other cities or countries to tell them that they’re safe and had arrived in Villamor.

The DSWD staff are also there, facilitating help needed by the survivors. There’s this ‘Oplan Hatid‘ where volunteer drivers with their vehicles pick up survivors to their relatives in the different cities/provinces inside and outside Metro Manila. Announcements of buses, vans, and cars leaving for Baguio, Quezon, Caloocan, Cavite, Muntinlupa, Las Pinas, etc. were ongoing until late at night. And announcements of names of missing people are also continuous. There was this one name, a certain Mr. Daa, that the ‘announcer’ kept on calling and calling from afternoon until almost midnight. Apparently he and his wife got separated and the wife has an Alzheimer’s disease and couldn’t seem to find her husband. It was I think a few minutes after 11 PM when the ‘announcer’ told the good news from the microphone. The husband and wife finally found each other after so many hours of waiting. All of us in the tent (at least all those who were left in the tent by that time) applauded for them because it was a single moment worth celebrating.

As I did my nursing tasks, I talked to the patients and they were more than willing to tell how they got their wounds. Most got their injuries from a galvanized iron sheet (yero), many others got their numerous wounds from broken glass, and another got her pinky finger amputated and skin and muscles torn out from the bones of her hand because she had to pull her hand out from being caught under a fallen cemented wall.

Hearing from them saying all these terrible accidents are heart-crushing. Some shared that they lost family members. What was really heartrending there is that some of these people who shared to me that a loved one died did so with blank, unreadable faces. Some even managed to give us a polite smile.

Most survivors that we attended to verbalized their gratefulness that they’re able to get out of Tacloban, as well as their frustration and sadness at how the remaining people from where they came from do not have enough food, shelter, and medical help. I can still remember what their words are:

Walang ganito doon. Yung mga tao dun wala talagang pagkain”

Ngayon lang ako nakakain. Tatlong araw, wala akong kinain doon. Kape lang.”

Buti andito na kami. Maayos dito. Doon ang gulo”

They also told us how scared they were while they wait in Tacloban, because the criminals from jail had gotten out and they’re running around the devastated homes, doing criminal acts such as murder and rape. They were very afraid and all I could do aside from the medical assistance is to calm them down and tell them that they’re safe now that they’re in Manila and that many people will be there to help them. Most of the survivors we attended to are from Tacloban, Palo, and Tanauan, Leyte.

I think there were 4 to 6 waves of survivors who came to the tent directly after their arrival via the C-130 planes. We finished a few minutes before 12 midnight when we packed up and returned to the hospital. The exhaustion only came upon each of us in the team when we were sitting inside the ambulance.

What I witnessed there is a clear scene of Bayanihan. The whole place is packed with volunteers who are more than willing to provide for those who are in need. However, it’s a bit sad, annoying, and somewhat shameful maybe, that other hospitals are not very welcoming to accept patients we’re transferring. Our nurse said that the resident in duty at the ER of a certain hospital in Manila was even angry and irritable when a typhoon survivor was brought to them in a wheelchair. It’s a usual scene in the emergency rooms of many public hospitals but I think in times like this, such behavior should be lessened.

Anyway, what’s important here is to know that the survivors are continuously being helped and assisted. The scene in Manila may be satisfactory in terms of providing for those in need, but those left in their provinces are still lacking food, clothes, and shelter. 

The Filipinos are truly grateful for all the countries in the world generously giving the Philippines help. Although Bayanihan is a mark of the Filipinos, in times like this, I could say the same thing to the whole world.

(I will post photos in a later entry)


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