Among poor Filipino families, medical needs tend to take the backseat as they struggle every day to bring food on their table.
In San Mateo, Rizal there are no government hospitals to cater to the town’s more than 250,000 people. Only private hospitals and clinics attend to the medical needs of the populace. Those who cannot afford to pay the expenses have the public health centers, where health care facilities are often inadequate, to run to.
In 2016, Tzu Chi Foundation partnered with the San Mateo local government for a large-scale medical mission in the said town. Over 2,000 patients were served during the mission.
On November 30, 2017 the second year of the project took place, benefiting 2,184 patients across seven departments: General Medicine, Pediatrics, Ophthalmology, Minor Surgery, Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT), Dental, and Traditional Chinese Medicine and Origin Point Therapy. The event, dubbed as Tzu Chi’s 229th Medical and Surgical Mission, was held at the San Mateo National High School, gathering 120 volunteer doctors and nurses and 330 Tzu Chi volunteers.
Ma. Elena Carcamo, 42, of Barangay Guitnang Bayan Ii, had her throat checked during the mission.
For seven years, she had been experiencing discomfort on her throat, which often leads to a hoarse voice later. She and her husband are raising their five children by selling a Filipino street food called kwek-kwek, or fried orange quail eggs. With the meager amount they earn, a medical consultation seemed a luxury they cannot afford. Hence, Carcamo left her condition at that.
From the volunteer doctor during Tzu Chi’s medical mission, Carcamo found out the possibility of her condition growing into a tumor on the throat if not treated early enough. She was prescribed with medicines to ease her discomfort.
“This means a lot. If I had gone to the hospital for a consultation about my condition, I might have to spend Php3,000 to Php4,000 but here, I received it for free. That’s why whenever there’s a medical mission like this, we really come here for consultation since we don’t have the financial capabilities to go to the hospital,” said Carcamo.
Also at the Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) Department, Jose Sy had his 2-year-old son checked. For two weeks, Ian has been complaining of pain in his ears. Apart from that, liquid also oozes out of his ears.
“As a father, I was scared it might get infected,” said Sy, 50.
The volunteer doctor assured Sy there was nothing to worry yet as the rupture on his son’s eardrums would eventually heal itself up. Ian was given medicines to ease his pain.
“I don’t have the means to bring my children to the hospital since I earn barely enough for our family’s needs,” Sy said. He is a construction worker. “That’s why I am thankful that Tzu Chi is here and there are medical missions like this. I get to bring my children for medical consultations.”
Finally freed from suffering
At the Minor Surgery Department, patients grow emotional after being relieved of their suffering.
Lorenza Elevenson, 63, carried a mass behind her left leg since 1982. Under the hands of volunteer surgeons, her long-time misery came to an end in just a few minutes.
“I am really happy that this [tumor] has been removed,” Elevenson said, crying. “I’ve long dreamed to have this removed. It finally happened now.”
Willbert Estoya, 28, was also comforted that the 3-year-old mass on his back had been removed. He has been his parents and a younger sister’s breadwinner for seven years now. But the noticeable mass on his shoulder kept him from earning well since every time he applies for a job post, he always fails the physical exams.
As a result, he only gets part-time jobs as an auto mechanic.
“It’s important for me to have this tumor removed because I want to find a better job and work abroad to help my family and parents,” he said.
With the mass now gone, Estoya can finally look forward to a better future for his family.
In the same way, Imee Ramos, 50, is hopeful for her cousin Guadalupe Santos’s future.
The 70-year-old Santos was born with dwarfism. This year, she also began losing her hearing and vision.
Because Santos never married, she lives with Ramos and Ramos’ mother. When Ramos heard about Tzu Chi’s medical mission, she took Santos and travelled early from their home in Binangonan, Rizal to arrive at 5:00 a.m. in the venue.
“With her poor eye and hearing condition, she’s almost disabled. Aside from that are her physical features. She was born unlike most normal people so all of this makes us really feel sorry for her,” said Ramos.
The volunteer ophthalmologist who checked Santos’s eyes advised for a cataract surgery. Tzu Chi will shoulder the expenses for the operation – a piece of new that Ramos, a sales lady, appreciated very much.
“We are hoping that this will be her New Year’s gift – that she will get treated of her illnesses,” said Ramos.
Arrived last but not least loved
Riza Ramos, 47, initially thought Tzu Chi’s medical mission got cancelled only to find later in the day that it had pushed through. She hurriedly went to San Mateo National High School, hoping she will still make the cut. But the registration and most of the clinics were already closed when she arrived.
A month ago, Ramos accidentally cut her finger with a knife. Her diabetes made things worse. The wound had spread to her other finger.
When Dr. Minette Yap saw her condition, she felt deeply for Ramos so she accommodated the patient.
“I gave her antibiotic because of her infection. She has cellulitis and she has been taking the medicines for a week and the problem has not yet resolved so she has to continue the medication,” Dr. Yap said.
Ramos was full of gratitude for the doctor’s kindness. Before coming to the mission, she only had two capsules of antibiotics left. Each capsule costs Php28. Buying a week’s worth would have been very expensive, especially for a single mother like her who relies on her income from working as a house helper.
“I am sending two of my children to school so these free medicines I received means a lot,” Ramos said.
On Dr. Yap’s part, the volunteer doctors and nurses’ service does not end until there are no patients left to serve.
“As long as there are medicines and doctors are still here, we continue to serve. You are blessed that’s why you’re here not as a patient but as a volunteer, so you pay it forward by helping others,” Dr. Yap ended.
Early this year, Guadalupe Santos, 70, began to lose her vision. Apart from that, she is already hard at hearing. A volunteer ophthalmologist advised that she undergo a cataract surgery to save her vision.【Photo by Jamaica Digo】
Apart from consultations, the Ophthalmology Department also dispensed free reading glasses to patients who needed it.【Photo by Jamaica Digo】
Jose Sy brings his 2-year-old son Ian to the Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) Department for a consultation. It has been two weeks since his son began complaining of pain in his ears.【Photo by Jamaica Digo】
Ma. Elena Carcamo, 42, is grateful for the free medical services at the mission. She has her throat checked for the first time since she began feeling discomfort seven years ago.【Photo by Jamaica Digo】
Every table at the Minor Surgery Department is occupied throughout the medical mission. Volunteer surgeons performed operations after operations until every patient has been treated.【Photo by Jamaica Digo】
Willbert Estoya, 28, smiles as the volunteer surgeons remove the 3-year-old mass on his back. The noticeable lump has kept him from landing a job as he always fails the physical exam, a requirement of most employers. 【Photo by Jamaica Digo】
Tzu Chi International Medical Association (TIMA) Dr. Minette Yap attends to a patient during the mission. For Dr. Yap, the volunteer doctors and nurses’ service does not end until there are no patients left to serve.【Photo by Jamaica Digo】
Riza Ramos, 47, (right) receives medicines for her wounds. Although she arrived late in the mission venue, Dr. Minette Yap (left) accommodated her and prescribed her with medicines.【Photo by Jamaica Digo】