Volunteer: Erin Fender

Volunteer
  • During:

    2008

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Bicol Clinic Foundation, Inc.
Philippines, 2008

Traveling to the Philippines was an incredible experience for several reasons. First, I had the opportunity to see a beautiful country full of some of the kindest people that I have ever met. Second, working in the clinic allowed me to develop my skills in treating and diagnosing patients while simultaneous providing needed health care to an underserved area. Finally, I was able to tour the public and private hospitals and observe the disparities that exist in access to health care for most Filipinos.

The Philippines is one of the most beautiful countries that I have ever seen. It is lush and green with beautiful beaches and towering volcanoes. We had the opportunity to swim in the Philippines Sea, hike around a mountain lake, swim in mountain fresh cold springs and in hot springs at the base of a volcano. It was amazing! We also had the chance to get to know some of the people of the Philippines. I was impressed by their kindness, humor and pride. People that lived in the most humble of homes take the time to decorate their yards by planting flowers in old coffee cans. While most Filipinos have very few material goods, they scrupulously maintain their homes and take immense pride in beautifying their neighborhoods.

Working in the clinic was extremely educational. We worked 5-6 days a week from 9-6pm. We saw between 80 and 100 patients a day. About 1/3 of the patients that we saw were children under the age of 10. Many of these children were acutely ill with bacterial pneumonia, impetigo, TB and other illnesses. Some children had traumatic injuries. I took care of 2 little girls that suffered from burn injuries while my classmates helped to set a little boy's broken arm and treated a little girl with head trauma from a seizure. I was able to work with the doctors to diagnose and treat at least a dozen children with bacterial pneumonia, which if untreated can result in lung and kidney failure, and ultimately death. We also had the opportunity to learn how to do small surgical procedures. One of the patients that I treated was a rice farmer who had amputated his toe 3 months ago when he tripped over a rock. Because he couldn't afford to see a doctor, the wound was left open and the bone became horribly infected. We treated him with intensive antibiotics, cleaned the wound and removed the infected bone fragments. Finally, after a week of antibiotic therapy, were able to sew the wound closed. I am sure that the antibiotics and wound closure saved this man from having his foot amputated, or even dying from blood poisoning.

We also treated many patients that suffered from the same chronic conditions that plague many Americans such as diabetes, hypertension, and arthritis. Most American's are able to effectively manage these conditions with medications, however many Filipinos suffer from complications that are rarely seen in the US. I saw a patients whose blood pressure was 224/136. She knew that she had high blood pressure but was not able to afford her medications and so stopped taking them. It was sad to see so many people suffer complications from treatable conditions. We gave these patient's several months worth of medication and counseled them to follow up with the clinic's nurse practitioner when they ran out.

Touring the public hospital was an eye opening experience. The facilities are old, dirty and run down. Many of the ceilings show obvious signs of water damage and mold. There is no glass in the windows, air conditioning, sheets on the beds, or food for the patients. The public hospital lacks many of the medications required to treat even common illnesses. Patient's families are often charged with the responsibility of locating the needed drugs and equipment for the doctors to use in treating their loved one. They did not even have an ultra sound machine. We frequently had family members of hospitalized patients show up at the clinic aksing for prescriptions for their husband or wife in the hospital. The private hospital was better equipped than the public hospital; however it was still far below American standards. They had an ultrasound machine, a CT, and access to more medications, but still lacked much of the equipment that is found in American hospitals.

I am so glad that I was able to go on this trip. It was truly the experience of a lifetime! I learned so much about medicine and about the Philippines, and I was inspired by our ability to touch the lives of others. Thank you to all the board members of the Bicol Clinic Foundation for giving me the opportunity to touch the lives of others.

Erin A. Fender
University of Miami
Medical Student

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