Susan Tussey is a family nurse practitioner from Pennsylvania, who spent two weeks aboard USNS Mercy in the Philippines in late June and early July as a medical volunteer for Project HOPE as part of Pacific Partnership 2016.
I spent two weeks as a medical volunteer aboard USNS Mercy in the province of Albay in the Philippines, moored at Legaspi City. The mission met the goal of working with partner nations to exchange and share best practices in health care, disaster preparedness, dental care, optometry, nutrition and veterinary care.
I joined two family practice physicians in several in-patient units on the Mercy as well as provided medical care alongside local providers in community health exchanges (CHEs) in three different locations: Ligao City, Duraga City and Tabaco City. Aiding with patient care at each visit were translators from LDS Charities, student nurses from Bicol Regional Medical Center, Blood Donor Nurses and the Philippine Army Nurse Corps. Between patients we were able to share the differences and the similarities with each nation’s health care population and education curriculum.
The age range at the CHEs ranged from infant to elderly, and basic health care (prevention and treatment of minor conditions) were provided. Because of financial strain, health care was often the last expense for the folks attending the CHEs.
Some interesting conditions were present that are not usually seen in the United States. One that stands out was a 9-year-old girl who had been brought in with a heel condition that had been present for six months. It turned out that she had probably stepped on an object that penetrated the heel and had a massive infection that required surgical intervention. Yet, she was not complaining one bit. After several lengthy discussions with her mother and grandmother regarding the urgency of seeking care in a hospital, it wasn’t totally clear that they would eventually seek care. Just as they were leaving, they asked to have another area checked and raised the back of the girl’s dress to expose a bump on her lower back. Amazingly what it appeared to be was an unresolved 10 cm oval-shaped meningocele – a condition that is usually taken care of at birth. She did not seem to have any neurological impairments from this and advised them that this also needed evaluation by a neurosurgeon.
The children we saw were in general very stoic, polite and cooperative – somewhat different from typical child health visits in the U.S. Most everyone at the CHEs received a hygiene kit with items that included toothbrushes, toothpaste, washcloths and soap. The Dental department brought along the “tooth mascot,” which was a big hit with the children. Some glasses were available from optometry, and physical therapy was available for musculoskeletal complaints along with nutritional advice and information.
The Filipino people we treated and trained were very appreciative of the collaborative efforts. They share their typical foods such as pancit, pork adobo, banana fritters, rice and foods not readily available in the U.S. such as mangosteen, santhol, and pili nuts. Meanwhile the Mayon Volcano, the longest active volcano in the Philippines, lurked in the distance. It majestic, perfect cone and constant steam trails hover over the area.
Overall, the experience was very humbling, but rewarding. I was glad to have been able to make a small difference in the population.
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