The Rosa Mystica medical mission to the Philippines visited Tacloban again this year, just over a year since the devastating typhoon of November 2013. The mission began on the 9th February and lasted till the 16th of February.
The Rosa Mystica mission was organised in the stadium that had not been destroyed during the hurricane. In the centre an altar was built so that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass could be offered every day. Spiritual as well as medical help was given throughout the day. Two priests, Father Stehlin and Father Marcille, heard confessions, blessed rosaries, clothed the faithful with the Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, taught prayers, gave lectures and spiritual advice.
Professional medical help was given by 60 doctors and several nurses who worked as volunteers and had arrived from various countries such as: France, the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore, Switzerland, Germany, Ireland, Australia, and the United States of America.
For a week internists, paediatricians, dermatologists, surgeons, opticions, laryncologists and dentists offered assistance to patients waiting their turn in queues that grew longer each morning. The doctors and nurses gave such aid as the conditions on the stadium permitted. In many cases immediate hospitalisation was necessary. Prescribed medicine was distributed by the “chemist” nearby. The chemist explained patiently how to take the pills.
The Rosa Mystica medical mission acts as part of The Catholic Association of Doctors and Medical Workers. (ACIM Asian was founded as a branch of the French Association of the ACIM).
Diary of a Volunteer: Jeanne Vencay
7th February — Manilla
Saint Augustine said: “To have faith means to sign an empty card and to return it to God so that He can fill it according to His Will”. Thus I can summarise our journey and the intentions that accompanied us. We set out in order to give help, not knowing what awaited us on our arrival. One should entrust everything to God's Providence and gladly bear the difficulties of each day. The Philippines did not spare them.
There were thirty of us volunteers that met on 7th February in Manilla. After becoming acquainted with the programme we were to fly directly to Tacloban — the destination of our mission. The head of the mission, Shery,l organised a military escort for us. The first night we spent in Manilla, awaiting the arrival of our our guides — the soldiers.
8th February — still in Manilla
The alarm woke us at 5 a.m. We got up so early not to keep the soldiers waiting. At 7am we reached the military camp and faced our first trial. The officer who greeted us informed us that our plane would not depart. The reason: “It was Sunday morning and no flight was scheduled!”.
Patrice and Sheryl negotiated with the officers while we waited. At 11am we were informed that our flight was due to leave at noon. The decision signed by the Commander of Regional flights was transmitted by fax. We felt relieved and calm.
In good spirits we made our way to the canteen for lunch. But another suprise awaited us...
We had to leave immediately. A bus drove us to the airport. We hastily began to go through the necessary formalities when it was announced that our departure is postponed till tomorrow at 6 a.m.!!! There was no possibility to appeal against that decision. Moresoever we were given an ultimatum: either we agree or we immediately leave the military camp. What was to be done other than to accept the situation and wait...
We had travelled a long distance from different corners of the world to help needy and now IDLENESS was enforced upon us. To save the situation, Sheryl found another airport and other means of transport. Five doctors and nurses could leave Manilla that afternoon.
The rest of us had to stay. Another early rise awaited us and hopefully the departure to Tacloban and further adventures once we got there.
9th February — Mission in Tacloban
We met at 4 a.m. at the military base. We felt a bit anxious, wondering whatever reason could have stopped our flight yesterday. However all went smoothly and we departed on time. Thanks be to God the weather was good.
A few words about the flight itself. Once on board we discovered that there were no seats and no storage place.We had to sit on the floor with our luggage and all the medical equipment with us .Some of us sat with our backs against the walls of the plane. The plane began to rise in the air. The machine made a dreadful noise and the whole construction shook. All conversation was impossible; the engine drowned our voices. We forgot about being uncomfortable and actually felt rather thrilled at being “real-life commandos”.
A few hours later we reached Tacloban. As we were landing the view unfolded of the work-positions prepared for us and the dozens of people already gathered around them. Before we could start to look after them some time passed. We had to unpack the medical equipment. Then at long last our mission began!
The crowd started to gather at 7.30am. People could not understand that they had to wait till we unpacked the instruments and prepared the stands. They remembered how well the last year mission had looked after them and felt impatient. Some Filipinos also volunteered to help.
The volunteers worked according to the following strategy: first they wrote down the names, surnames, ages etc. of the patients; next weighed them, measured their blood pressure and sometimes took blood samples. Next the patients were directed to specialists according to their need (paediatricians, laryncologists etc.) and then in the end, they went to the “chemist” to collect their prescribed medicines.
Our mission also cared for the souls of those poor people. In the very middle of the stadium there was an altar where the fathers offered Holy Mass. Father Stehlin blessed rosaries and imposed the Brown Scapular on those wishing to receive it and, together with a group of The Legion of Mary, they taught children how to pray the rosary. Some children knew how to pray the rosary already, but to some it was altogether something new and they needed to be shown how to kneel down and how to hold their hands while praying.
The situation in the “ward” was under control. Some of the cases were mild and other serious. Many patients were suffering from Post- Traumatic Stress Disorder: anxiety, severe headaches and insomnia. Some kept on waking up in the night screaming, reliving once again the dreadful scenes of storm surges, flooded houses and the tragic deaths of their next of kin and friends.
A young woman who is finishing her internship was with us for the first time. Her name was Nancy. She was deeply shocked to find and out that a 66 year old woman was suffering from almost every possible complaint: a constantly growing tumour on her neck, swallowing and breathing problems, weight loss and varicose veins. Her symptoms indicated that she had cancer. The doctors decided that immediate hospitalisation was necessary.
For the first time in the history of our mission we had amongst us volunteers from ten countries. The vast majority were from the Philippines and from France, but besides them were volunteers from Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore, Switzerland, Germany, Ireland, Australia and the United States of America.
Many doctors and nurses had closed their surgeries or taken a holiday to come and help in the Philippines. We wish to give special thanks to Doctor Jean-Pierre Dickes and his fiancée Bernadette who for the tenth time participated in the mission. Without their eagerness, practical ingenuity and dedication it would have been impossible for the mission to have functioned with such efficiency. The couple travel all year round across France promoting the mission to raise funds. They also publish books and leaflets upon the subject.
And now follows today's report!
There were no problems concerning the division of duties amongst us. Each one of us knew by now what to do.
The problem was elsewhere: the language barrier. The majority of the patients did not speak English or find it difficult to understand our French accent. The problem was especially acute at the chemist's, during the distribution of the prescribed medicine. It was absolutely necessary to explain to the patients how they should take their medicine: how often and in what doses. We succeeded in finding a translator of the Tagal language (the most commonly spoken language) who explained to the patient the given instructions.
Needless to say it was a very long process! According to the internists there are many more illnesses compared to the previous year. In some cases a full recovery was possible, but for many it was unfortunately too late. An unconscious woman, who had vomited blood, was brought to Doctor Roxanne. To save her life she was immediately taken to the hospital. There are patients with neglected, unhealed wounds and with painful cysts.
We prepared five surgery wards. The conditions were primitive. The surgical instruments were sterilised in a nearby shed over a heater for making tea.
At the same time Father Stehlin and Father Marcille were busy healing the souls of our patients.
The native people are more superstitious than religious. This is a result of the lack of a proper religious education. They cling desperately to their rosaries but don't pray the rosary!
However, our priests reaped a good harvest. Let's pray for them!
There was a bigger crowd each morning before our medical tent. Patients returned to their homes with two or three teeth less or ten packets of pills more and encouraged their neighbours to visit our hospital.
This year there were more doctors: three more paediatricians and an optician. The latter wishes to thank the benefactors whose donations enabled us to buy glasses for the poorest patients. We distributed a dozen or more glasses daily!
What happened today? Well, our young, highly professional American dermatologist succeeded in operating on a patient suffering from a growth under his mandible close to the ear. The doctor removed the 4 centimetre growth. Whether it was cancer she was unable to diagnose but at least further growth of the malicious tissues was stopped.
Two of the patients were suffering from itching and skin irritation caused by scabies. Although the applied remedy is unpleasant it is effective.
A little girl with a seven centimetre worm in her mouth was brought by her mother to the paediatrician.
A young woman seven months pregnant had very high blood pressure. She was obviously suffering from preeclampsia and taken to a hospital. On the way in the car her waters burst. The doctor in the hospital recommended a caesarean delivery. However the price was unacceptable: 60 000 pessos! So Sheryl drove her to a state hospital where the baby could be delivered and the mother treated for a smaller amount of money.
The last heavy case was a woman who fainted while standing in the queue. At first a heart problem was suspected but on arrival to the emergency ward pneumonia was diagnosed caused by tubercolosis.
The above described cases show the poor condition of health of this community. The health system is unable to cope with the situation: there are so many sick and not enough staff. The high costs of treatment presents an additional problem. The lucky ones survive, the majority die prematurely.
After consulting a doctor, patients queued for their medicine. You have no idea; the working conditions here resembled an assembly line in a factory! Each dose was carefully counted, sometimes pills were cut in quarters or halves, so humble were our supplies. It was then explained to each person how to apply the received medicine. Two soldiers worked today as our Tagal language translators.
Outside the medical tent, Father Marcille clothed people with the Brown Scapular and blessed them with holy water. He visited the most devastated parts of the city which are still full of ruins but upon which provisional homes have been built from whatever material people could get hold of: makeshift huts with walls built of plywood that have already been penetrated by dampness.
Father Marcille was at first looked upon with curiosity, but soon was regarded as a Messiah figure. Father is impressed how these people trust in God's Providence albeit so severely experienced.
Once Father had blessed all the houses, it was time to pray the rosary together. After this, he taught them the three rules of spiritual life: regular prayer, the avoidance of sin and the spirit of mortification. The three rules are necessary to be grateful to Almighty God and to unite oneself in spirit with the sacrifice of the Cross. They listen with humility and open hearts. Although Father cannot free them from their suffering, he can prepare their souls to accept with peace and love the Will of God and, that way, to remain in a state of grace.
“It is a greater joy to give than to take”.
Our group of fifty people worked together for over a week. Beautiful friendships were born, founded upon Christian principles. The foundations are strong through good deeds. The service rendered to that Catholic nation strengthened us as Roman Catholics.
The first patients would arrive at quarter to seven and leave sometimes at 10pm. Nobody ever complained. In spite of the spartan conditions of their lives, the Filipinos have remained a very gentle people. Indeed a charming simplicity of heart is their distinguishing characteristic.
Malaysian Knights In Shining Armour
The Malaysian volunteers were like guardian-angels to us. It was because of their help that we never lacked anything. They supplied us with water and, though it was not far to walk, drove us for our meals. The men were very gallant and never allowed a lady to carry anything heavy. I could give many more such examples of their chivalry(albeit sometimes a bit stubborn), they always dealt with the occurring problems: a water leak or any other defect would soon be put right. Nothing was impossible for them!
A few words about the twelve Filipino soldiers who helped us in every possible way! When the situation demanded it they would become drivers, translators, dentists(!), nurses and of course protected us from danger.
As for every army, the major duty of the Philippine Armed Forces is to defend the homeland but the recent calamities have increased their involvement in humanitarian aid.
As to the volunteers arrived from the four corners of the world, they managed to survive during that week without a single hot shower, a comfortable sofa or even a glass of Bordeaux! Detachment from the comforts of life enables one to focus on what is truly important in this life and in the next.
In his sermon on the last day father Stehlin gave us two subjects to meditate on:
1. If we entrust our worldly and material matters to God, our deeds, by the grace of God, will gain a supernatural value; they will become a source of conversion and grace for those whom we help.
2. Even our best deeds are but a drop of water in the ocean of God's Mercy.
And finally some figures: during six days we treated more than 3000 people.
Doctor Dickes drew our attention to the fact that a large number of the sick underwent numerous treatments and consultations. Upon the first visit the patient would be directed for an X-ray or USG and next return with the result for the diagnosis.
Not including the radiological and ambulatorium tests a 100 patients had 215 visits.
We know the number of distributed pills. On average 4 pills to one patient which makes 12 000 all together.
All this was made possible thanks to your generosity. We thank you once again for being there with us but also those who helped us from a distance.
Mystical Rose pray for us!
“You will find happiness helping others”.