“In Omnibus Amare et Servire.”
It was a gloomy morning and the rain slowly trickled down the car’s windshield. I checked my phone and the signal was dead. I glanced at the left side of the road and there was a torn out sign of “Welcome – prov.” It was an eerie moment.
We were entering the province of Capiz. My eyes were fixed on the array of tilted electrical posts. They were like thrown spears left there on purpose. Dangerous wirings were dangling a few feet from the ground. A local public school was deserted. Chunks of colored armchairs were lying there in broken pieces. Gymnasiums were still roofless.
Those were the remnants of the wrath of Supertyphoon Haiyan/Yolanda last November 2013 – and that was just two months ago.
“Where are you working?” asked Doc Banggi, spearhead of the Medical Mission.
An awkward silence filled the atmosphere.
“I am nursing my grandmother at home.” I whispered. (Read related story: Lessons Learned from a Life on Pause)
Right after I said those words to her, my heart was pounding. I don’t know what to say and I was extremely anxious. I began questioning my presence there in the first place. Why was I participating in a Medical Mission that I am not even prepared for? My mind was blurting out normal values of vital signs, proper nursing management, steps on how to give intramuscular injections – it was crazy!
I remained quiet and composed.
A part of me wants to jump out of the car because I don’t want to be a burden to a bunch of medical professionals who are extending their expertise to the people of Capiz beyond their pay grade. I don’t want to be a useless volunteer because I happen to choose a different path – obviously away from the medical field. I don’t want to let the team down because of a forseeable mistake that I might cause.
“I am assigning you to distribute the medications.” Doc Banggi mentioned.
“Sure!” With confidence, I quickly exclaimed.
No. I was not really confident with that bold statement I gave. It made me feel even worse reassuring that I could handle basic pharmacology. That moment transported me back to the memory I had in college when I was struggling with brand names, generic names, actions, indications, dosages, contraindications, side effects, adverse effects, and management among others. I just planted a bullet in my brain.
We were drawing near the municipality of Mambusao, our first stop. My anxiety was gradually building I could hear my heart throb. I was praying and asking for God’s intervention as I put myself responsible for the lives of the people that I am about to meet. I asked for spiritual guidance, wisdom, and peace of mind. My knees were shaking.
The rain had no plans of ceasing. We arrived at Brgy. Pangpang Sur’s small open basketball court. There were tents set up and a cluster of people are already waiting in line. Momentarily, we set up our medications booth, arranging the syrups, tablets, ointments and capsules in an organized manner. The doctors and nurses were setting up their areas and a couple more people, drenching wet, arrived to fall in.
When the first patient arrived to claim his medications, I was hesitant to take a look at his prescription. I took in a deep breath and exhaled all my worries away.
“It’s time.” I told myself.
Hundreds of people were there. Senior citizens, adults, teenagers, children, and babies, yes, they were all there – swarming under the loose, improvised overhead tents, the only barrier shielding them from the harsh storm.
Boxes of various medications were cut open and antibiotics were carefully counted and recounted. Patient after patient approached us waving their prescription pads like little banners of hope. We were reading the doctors orders, reviewing the stock on hand, educating the people about the timing of their meds and simultaneously stuffing the syrup packages and other drugs inside the relief shirts. Yes, there was a shortage of plastic bags.
The feeling was very familiar. I haven’t felt like this in a very long time – a stranger to a remote community. Yet the ambiance, despite the cold winds that day, wrapped me with warmth every single time I see a local smile. Those are not merely smiles you would usually see in the city – sometimes fake, sometimes being too sarcastic. Those are authentic smiles exuded by the people who are grateful for their blessings – grateful for the hands that were able to touch them in a multitude of ways. Hands like these.
A little girl came up to me and politely asked “Ma’am, where are the school supplies?” (We were giving away school supplies to the kids instead of large shirts that could not fit them.) Then, I just pointed her to Doc Banggi who was kind enough to supervise us that day. The child slowly walked towards her and extended her arms like an eager girl on a Christmas morning. When she was handed with a set of pencils and erasers, she instantly lit up with joy.
I could not even begin to imagine how the super typhoon hit them. I instantly stopped myself from thinking about it. Yet, the newspaper headlines, the radio broadcasts, and the TV coverage from the previous months played on my mind continuously that I just forcefully shook it off from my system. Capiz is one of the areas that was severely damaged by the strongest typhoon that hit the country. Capiz – this very place and the people in it.
“Take a break.” Ms. Jean, our host, suggested.
Our friends there were so nice that they even prepared lunch for us. It was around two in the afternoon when we realized that we haven’t eaten our lunch yet.
We ate and continued working.
Three o’clock came. We packed our stuff and loaded them all in the van. Last minute patients hurried to get their vitals checked. A few more last minute patients and the line was finally cut. The tents were spewing out rain water as the wind pushed it up from the bottom. Almost everybody got wet. Nevertheless, we continued loading everything up.
After which, we were off to Casanayan, Pilar, Capiz, to spend the night.
* * *
This very experience taught me to be confident – to believe in myself that I am still capable of practicing the profession that I worked hard for even though I buried it deep within me to pursue a different career. I recalled the prayer that was taught to us during my years in college – the prayer that bonded us together, to give our utmost care to our patients, and to always see the Lord in them.
“Dearest Lord, may I see you today and everyday in the person of your sick, and, while nursing them, minister unto you. Though you hide yourself behind the irritable, the exacting, and the unreasonable, may I still recognize you and say ‘Jesus, my patient, how sweet it is to serve you.’ Lord, give me that seeing faith, that my work may never become monotonous, and that I may find new joy in humoring the fancies, and gratifying the wishes of thy poor sufferers. Lord, make me appreciate the dignity of my high vocation, and its many responsibilities, and never permit me to disgrace it by giving way into coldness, unkindness, or impatience. God, since you are Jesus, my patient, deign also to be patient. Jesus patient with my many faults, look only into my intention, which is to love you and serve you in the person of each and everyone of your sick. Lord, increase my faith, bless my effort, and sanctify my work, now and forever. Amen.”
The day after, we were stationed in an open court in Pilar, Capiz. The weather was still bad but despite that being a hindrance to our mission, we were still able to help more than 800 people. The rain did not stop us and more so, it did not stop the people coming from afar.
It would not be a success without the help of the other volunteers from Pilar and Roxas City, and most especially to our warm hosts, the Castillo Family.
Honestly, I am very thankful to be part of Doc Banggi’s team, #teambanggi – to introspect, to give meaning to the life that I am living, and to make a change in the lives of the people that walk on the same soil that each and everyone of us is on. And although I might not work in a hospital setting practicing as a nurse, I will still continue to extend my hand to those that need them more – to people in the most remote areas that are hungry for health teachings and seeking for help, to victims of calamities, to the poor.
There’s always a sun after a storm. How lovely it is to give love to complete strangers…
* All photos belong to Dr. Evangeline Cua “Doc Banggi” of The Travelling Lens