Rural clinic and hospital placements
On our first morning on the island, we went straight from the port to the healthcare unit, where we were warmly received by one of the midwives. It surprised me to learn that midwives in these rural clinics provide first line consultation and are able to independently manage minor medical conditions. We had a tour around the clinic and learnt about the efforts put in by the staff to combat malnutrition.
There was even a bakery on-site that produced fresh buns made from fortified flour daily, and the staff treated us to some delicious warm buns fresh from the oven.
The next day we were introduced to the regional hospital. Previous students informed me that the hospital was not as busy as the government tertiary hospital in Iloilo, so I felt prepared to have quite a lot of waiting time in the ER. Nevertheless, I got to see a few patients together with the doctor from Family Medicine and perform antenatal examinations on some pregnant patients complaining of labour pains.
We joined a midwife at her prenatal and immunization clinic in another area, a short tricycle ride deeper into the village
On my third morning, we were not able to go to the healthcare unit, as the midwives were away for a seminar. Instead, we joined a midwife at her prenatal and immunization clinic in another area, a short tricycle ride deeper into the village. She raved about my basic Littmann stethoscope and showed me how to use it to pick up the foetal heart sounds. I felt somewhat ‘guilty’ that I have never thought twice about the type of stethoscope I own and how fortunate I am to even be able to own a good pair of stethoscope. It was also in this clinic that I got a chance to learn how to use the weighing scales and various techniques used to measure the height and weight of the patients (especially children).
We went back to the hospital again on Thursday and this time I did my observation in the Outpatients Department (OPD). It was packed to the brim with patients waiting to see the doctors. The number of patients built up steadily over a few hours and still, there were no doctors in sight. I then learnt that the hospital was so understaffed that the doctors rarely ever make it on time to the OPD. When a paediatrician finally came along to collect the thick pile of notes accumulating on the nurses’ station, I followed her into the consultation room. It was a simple room with three tables, one for each doctor of a different department. The parents and their children stood crowded at the door of the room waiting for their turn to be called in - all this happened in the sweltering heat of June without any air-conditioning facilities. I mused to myself, how exhausting a visit to the doctor’s must be! And yet, here they are, patiently waiting for their turn to see the doctor and to have the precious opportunity to express their health concerns and seek help.
My host family and home for the week
It was difficult to adapt to the new environment on my first day, especially with the relentless heat. Thankfully for us, it started raining on the first night and thereafter on every night (incredibly lucky!) so that cooled down the house a lot. I also learnt from Mama that ‘early to sleep, early to rise, makes a man healthy and wise’. As such, I was always pleasantly awakened at approximately 5/6am every morning by the joyful laughter and singing of the girls that would ring through the house as they prepare breakfast.
She shouted a hearty good morning to me and commented on what a beautiful morning it was and then went on to pour a bucket of water on herself
Some memorable moments with the family: on my second morning, I was brushing my teeth at the kitchen sink looking out into the clothes wash area where Mama had just finished washing some clothes. She shouted a hearty good morning to me and commented on what a beautiful morning it was and then went on to pour a bucket of water on herself. I gawked for a second until I figured that was how they have their showers, just right in the open air, and then I could not help but burst into laughter.
Another memorable moment I shared with the family was when blackouts/burnouts occurred on two consecutive nights. These go on for hours and we sat making bracelets with light from a few candles and torchlights. It was quite fun to see the end product the next day! Another burnout happened just before dinner one night and I joked that we would be sharing a romantic candlelight dinner as a family. When the lights came on, we all picked one candle each and made a wish before blowing it out and wished ourselves ‘Happy Birthday!’
These were the highlight of the weeklong stay at the village. We had the opportunity to share our knowledge of health to the little children at a short teaching session on Tuesday. The precious ones were so excited that it was a challenge to keep their attention, but nonetheless I hope they have learnt something useful about tooth brushing and hand washing to teach their families when they go home.
On Wednesday we went to the beach in the afternoon, after having prayed hard for good weather. It was raining a bit too much by then! I was not sure who was joining us for the trip but as the jeepney [most popular form of public transport in the Philippines] drove out of the village, there were more and more villagers piling on the same jeepney, much to my delight! Turns out that the visit to the beach is often a village affair that everyone looks forward to. I had a wonderful time there despite being attacked in full force by the little ones splashing salty water in my direction tirelessly. On our way back, I did not bring an extra towel with me, so I got an offer to sit atop the jeepney to dry off as we drove home! When in the village, do as the people of the village do!
On our last night in the village, a bonfire gathering was organized for us. I was so touched that the children prepared two songs to sing for us, and that the seniors in the village had also prepared speeches for us. It was a wonderful night filled with lots of laughter and dancing, and the slight drizzle could do nothing to dampen our moods. Special mention here to the lively dance moves executed by the little ones that put me to shame!
Initially, I fret a lot about life without huge electric fans and running water, but very quickly, I caught on the infectious joy and laughter of my host family and suddenly, I felt a lot more carefree and I started to really enjoy what I was experiencing rather than worry about the material comforts that I was lacking. I have come to appreciate the warmth and inclusiveness of family here, and it has filled me with a certain richness that money cannot buy. My time with my village family was short, but the memories of my time spent with them and the lessons that I have learnt from them will follow me a long way to come, and I sincerely thank them for that.