Six months ago I visited Southern Leyte to visit my friend Israel’s family and celebrate Fiesta. He told me that I would fit right in because I’m a “Province girl” being from Lenox, Iowa. There were many similarities between our hometowns, and I had a ball. After preparing the SEMPER team and myself in Disaster Mental Health for the past few years, I knew that I had to respond if my Leyte friends needed help.
– The area of destruction has no epicenter and is not isolated to Tacloban and the seaside communities, the 200 mph winds destroyed homes and took lives for many miles. The best way for me to describe it . . . It is as if the entire southern half of the State of Iowa, from west to east, was destroyed by a 60 mile wide tornado with 200 mph winds. Every tree is snapped or uprooted, every roof is missing, and many slabs of cement are standing where a home once was.
– There are many medical needs with our team outside of Tacloban seeing 250+ patients a day. It is not so much acute medical problems or trauma, but conditions that quickly turn acute or life threatening after 3 weeks without treatment. A blood pressure of 240/120 for a few weeks needs treatment just as a leg may need to be amputated in the first 48 hours. Who is to say what is most important in preventing loss of life? We are also seeing compound leg fractures with homemade bamboo splints, infected wounds from wood and metal falling on people, untreated asthma, and our miracle baby Joas who was brought in with a parietal skull fracture from the roof falling on his head but he survived the previous weeks because the fracture gave his brain room to swell. He was laughing and smiling, while his Mom was crying tears of joy when Dr. Barbie & Dr. Julieta both agreed he looked to be okay.
– The mental health needs are starting to present and are critical at this time. How people are attended to 3-4 weeks in will determine their overall recovery. It is far enough in that people are no longer talking as much about their emotional, spiritual, physical, and mental devastation but wondering if they should buck up and ignore their tremendous loss. A group of women including the clinic midwife who was helping me with some translation said, “The first week was a blur, the second week we got to work and worked nonstop with sleeping when possible, but now in the third week it is all becoming real and sinking in.” Trouble sleeping, high anxiety, elderly very worried and crying, are the signs that people are having difficulty coping. We encourage that people continue talking about their anxiety with family, not isolating, using simple relaxation deep breathing techniques, attending church and praying. People are deeply touched and feel loved by our caring presence.
– The typhoon lasted seven hours. How did I not realize this fully coming in? Seven hours of terror, mothers huddled over their children ready to sacrifice their own life as long as their babies could crawl out of the rubble. Seven hours is incomparable to other natural disasters where a minute feels like forever.
– Almost every town had 1-14 residents die, and almost every person in town knew that person, yet they feel lucky that they didn’t have a greater loss of life.
Disaster response is vital in weeks three and four, just as medical teams are critical in week one. Lives are saved a month in and it would seem even more unfathomable to hear of people dying at this stage, but most importantly we have seen hope begin. Filipinos are incredibly warm, resilient, gracious, strong, peaceful, and optimistic; I’m honored and humbled to help in any way that I can.
As we have heard and seen painted on what’s left of homes, “We may be homeless but we are not hopeless.” Salamat po to our friends and family at home supporting us in our mission.