Medical Mission in Cotmon, Albay

Have you ever read the Legend of the Mayon Volcano? It’s a wonderful legend (alamat in tagalog) depicting the theme of true love among Daragang Magayon and Panganoron. Both died of course and as all legends go, the people in the village saw the mound where the Magayon was buried slowly rising until it formed the Mt. Mayon. Legend states that Ulap, the antagonist in the story, angers Magayon in his attempts to recover his gifts to Magayon and she in turn spurts lava in retaliation to Ulap. Look for the recent pictures of the Mayon eruption and you’ll see some pictures showing Magayon and Pangaronon.

Being a first timer in Albay, it was thrilling to see the eruption first hand. For days prior to the eruption, we kept observing this red cloud forming over the top of the volcano similar to the eye of Sauron in Lord of the Rings. At around lunchtime of  Monday that week, news spread that the volcano has erupted. We rushed to the rooftop and saw this huge cloud-shaped eruption, similar to what we see in nuclear eruption pictures. Apparently, that was what PHIVOLCS call a “phreatic eruption”, an eruption due to contact of hot magma from beneath with water spurting not lava, but steam, rocks, and ash. That afternoon, it was declared unsafe for travel along  some of the roads of Camalig and Guinobatan as these were the municipalities which were severely affected by the ashfall. There was zero visibility along the roads after that eruption, but eventually, the order was lifted and travel was resumed. Citizens there were advised to wear masks and protective gear to avoid inhalation of the ashfall. Photos circulating the net that day was scary as it looked as though an ash tsunami was approaching the barangays. Everything was covered in white after, from the roofs, roads, cars, and plants. The eruption that lunchtime was not the last however, as after that eruption, several followed every 4 hours. School was suspended that entire week for the safety of the people. Citizens starting from the 6km danger zone were evacuated prior to the eruption thank God, but then it extended to 7km, 8km, and when I left Albay that week, even those from the 10km danger zone were advised to evacuate. As of today, as I’m writing this post, people from the 8km danger zone and above were allowed to return to their homes. This caused a decrease in the amount of evacuees in the evacuation centers but still, as up until now, Mayon is still erupting, although it has decreased to about once or twice a day as per NDRRMC text messages, thus, those from the 7km danger zone are still living in the evacuation centers.

The Association of Medical Doctors of Asia(AMDA) together with various partners and the BUCM-Sanggawad Organization manned the Medical Mission last Feb. 10, 2018 in Cotmon Elementary School in Camalig. Lo and behold and it was heaven sent that Cotmon was actually one of the adopted barangays of the second year community groups of BUCM. The evacuees in that school however, was from Cabangan, a barangay within the 7km danger zone. Most of the people there have been staying in the school for 1 month or more. The entire school was converted to an evacuation center. Portalets were installed near the entrance, faculty rooms were converted to make-shift clinics, and families were gathered in their assigned classrooms. Now the flow of the program was that our organization was to be the advanced party assigned to gather the needed data from the patients prior to the arrival of the doctors and their party. We left Daraga at around 9:30 am and arrived at Cotmon around 10:00 am. There was no time to rest as the AMDA people were expected to arrive by 1:30pm. Pairs were assigned as teams and given specific rooms to handle and gather data from. My partner was Irene and we were assigned Room 2. The people in the room was so friendly. While the coordinator was still explaining what was going to happen, they were already setting up a mini station by placing a folding table near the door, arranging chairs, and calling their family members. I explained to them our purpose, the program, and how we were going to proceed. Immediately, the citizens understood and allowed the people whom we considered as the priority to be interviewed first. The process went smoothly as the people were so cooperative. I asked why most of the people there were women and one replied that most of their husbands are out in the field working and that the housewives are the ones staying in the center with the children. In that particular room, there were only a few children. While we were interviewing, I saw how united the families inside the room were. Some mothers were cooking lunch outside the room as they had this gas burner and stove placed outside the room and all contributed to cook the food for the entire room. By the time we were finished interviewing however, this line of teenagers arrived, apparently they had their Saturday classes and are now returning home. It took longer than we expected as we had finished at around 11:45am yet we still had 1 more room to interview. We went to the covered court to report that we were finished and ask for the next room assignment but we were given 15 minutes of lunch break first. After lunch, we were assigned Room 14. Room 14 was located far from the main building. In the building where Room 14 was located, there were several little children outside the rooms playing. In fact, upon arriving at Room 14, I only saw 4 adults and the rest of the people in the room were children! So once again, I explained to them the process, etc. etc. There were only a few patients in that room but I was taken aback by one particular family. There was this little girl of 13 years old who had no accompanying adult who quietly took her seat in my chair and asked to be interviewed as well. I asked her where her parents were if they would also like to be interviewed but she said both her parents were working and that she was the only one left to take care of her siblings in that center. So I interviewed her, and after, she called her siblings and her cousins to be interviewed as well. She was a great “Ate” to both her siblings and cousins, setting a good example of not being afraid of us. By around 1:30pm, the doctors arrived and we went on to our next task of assisting them per room. We were assigned Room 1 & 2. Our main job was to dispense the prescribed medications, advise the patients, and health educate. It went by smoothly and by 3:30pm, the medical mission was finished. We then gathered in the stage near the covered court as the barangay officials manned the giving away of the relief goods brought by the AMDA people and their partners. Everyone was all smiles after, from the families, volunteers, doctors, and us, the medical students. The community expressed their gratitude by cooking baduya for us as our merienda. It was an awesome feeling when you see how grateful our kababayans were, from  the mothers to the elders, and even the children. They were all thanking us, and, though we did not deserve it yet, insist on calling us doktor/doktora. It was a great experience and a truly humbling one. How awesome were the volunteer doctors and health practitioners who traveled all the way from Manila and various cities just to provide unpaid service to their kababayans in Bicol. They are such an inspiration to us medical students. My hat’s off to you Sirs & Madames. Thank you for choosing my province as the place to share your blessings. I went to sleep that night with an aching body but a happy heart, thinking that at least even for just one day, we were able to provide support to our kababayans and tell them through our actions that they are not alone in this fight, that there are people who are watching them, caring and praying for them, and willing to extend a helping hand. All of which just underscores why I love this field.

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