Feb 4-7, 2009
Less than 48 hours after landing in Manila from San Francisco, I was back at the airport for a short 45-minute flight to Naga in the Camarines Sur province. (I didn’t know until 2 weeks later that this is also where the inaugural Philippines 70.3 triathlon is going to be held in August.) It was a very bumpy flight on a small plane but I just held my breath and pretended I was at an amusement park. Although I find some roller coasters to be terrifying so I don’t know where that logic came from.
It was my first overnight mission with Physicians for Peace (PFP) and I wasn’t sure what to expect. When I was here last September & October, I helped out with some of the one-day missions to Pampanga province (no Manny, not “Panga-panga!”). I learned that every mission is different, regarding where we stay and where we see the patients. We drove out to the small town of Tigaon and stayed in a dormitory-style government building complete with bunk beds. It was like going to summer camp! I roomed with the optometrists but there were also many American dentists from Virginia Beach and some surgeons as well.
Our first day, Wednesday, was kind of a “settling-in day” so they took us on a short boat ride to a little island, where I got in an open water swim (yay) and we all had fresh coconut juice right off the trees. There happened to be a random guy walking around the island with a wooden leg he had fashioned himself! He did not know about the mission and definitely needed something that fit better, so he was happily recruited for a new prosthetic fitting and would be our first patient the next morning.
Later that night we were taken to the outdoor sports complex, where we would be evaluating and casting our patients. It was like an outdoor gymnasium with a basketball court, bleachers, and an auditorium stage. The locals were playing a game of pick-up basketball while a mass of bats were flying around the ceiling and screeching. I found the bats to be a bit unnerving but nobody else seemed fazed! We had dinner with the mayor of Tigaon, Mayor Fuentebella, who would host us for all our dinners at his family’s swanky house. He asked how tall I was and was so impressed (I’m easily taller than the average Filipino male) that he said I should do beauty pangeants. When I stopped laughing, I realized he was actually be serious…but he’s a politician so who can be sure? I didn’t tell him about the time I entered the Miss Asian Atlanta “scholarship pageant” when I was in grad school, but that’s another story.
The next morning we headed over to the sports complex. It was divided into three sections, not unlike a three-ring circus, where about half of the space went to the dentists performing tooth extractions (I think they saw over 200 patients in 3 days), the optometrists performed eye exams and gave out eyeglasses, and we in the prosthetics section evaluated amputees and casted their limbs for new prosthetic legs. Many patients were already waiting and had filled up the bleachers.
Notable patients included:
Our friend from the beach. I didn’t get a good photo of his wooden leg unfortunately.
However there was this one fellow who made his own prosthesis out of metal (maybe part of a coffee can?), rubber, and string for suspension.
I helped cast this girl who had outgrown her previous prosthesis. She had to miss a day of school but hopefully it was well worth it!
Then there was this young woman who at 21 years of age had been born with clubfeet on both sides and has literally been walking on the tops of her feet her whole life. Since your feet aren’t designed to bear weight on this side, she had developed a pretty bad ulcer on the right foot. Physicians for Peace will be “adopting” her and sponsor her surgeries–she will mostly have both of her feet amputated and be fitted with bilateral prosthetic legs, which will allow her to actually be a much more functional and pain-free walker.
The prostheses will be fabricated in the Manila PGH clinic since there isn’t a lab in the Bicol area. The technicians will either return to deliver and fit the legs, or more likely, PFP may sponsor the patients to fly into Manila to be fit and then given physical therapy to help learn to walk with their new legs.