IT WAS two o’clock in the afternoon and about 106O Fahrenheit outside when Doctors Abigail Buncan, Luzcielo Roxas and Bernard Baluga exited the Armed Forces of the Philippines Reserve Command (AFPRESCOM) building with the rest of the medical mission team. Sweat trickled down their foreheads as they boarded a bus which would take them to Orani, Bataan. While summer could mean lounging in an airconditioned office or better yet, a grand vacation, these doctors are out on a mission, one of many humanitarian efforts to extend help to the country’s underprivileged.

“We have always been taught to be compassionate with our less fortunate brothers,” said Roxas, 29, who graduated four years ago from the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery and is currently an Emergency Room surgeon in the UST Hospital.

And Buncan, 31, a USTH consultant and member of the Philippine Board of Surgeons, considers medical missions as a two-way process. Doctors give their service and gain knowledge at the same time.

“Missions give us enough exposure to cases and serve as training grounds for new doctors like me,” said Baluga, 26, an operating room intern. What’s more, interacting with patients allows them to know these people’s lives and their plights, and realize the impact these missions create on the community. The communion with their patients helps relieve the tension as well. Not to mention having the chance to interact with different cultures and places.

The doctors operated on people with hernia and cysts almost nonstop for three consecutive days, with breaks only for eating and sleeping. But Buncan said seeing how grateful the people they’ve helped are worth the three-hour “standing marathon” operations, and their feelings of tiredness seemed to fade away.

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“Though it was physically stressful, we are happy and fulfilled when we see that we have helped people,” said Baluga.

The AFPRESCOM 1st Technical Service conducts medical missions every month. In this last edition, there were about 18 participating doctors and dentists from Perpetual Help College-Biñan and Centro Escolar University, including those from the USTH.

Around 100 patients were pre-screened and were asked for their laboratory exam results days before the operation. After screening them again, they were scheduled for their respective operations.

The Thomasian edge

Being “Catholic physicians,” Thomasian doctors are acclaimed for their holistic approach as well as their medical skills. Their relationships with patients do not end with the treatment but continue on an emotional and even spiritual level.

“We’re not just their doctors, but their counselors as well,” Roxas said.

Poverty forces Filipinos to let their illnesses worsen before seeking professional help. “We only have enough spare money for fare, so the doctors rendering free services are a big help to us,” said Nenita Cruz, a resident from nearby Balanga, who waited for six hours in the hot, crowded hospital hallway before her daughter Angela was put under the knife.

To show their appreciation, grateful patients gave the doctors local fare, such as seafood, as presents. Roxas, a USTH resident and consistent mission participant, was very thankful when he received a bag of oysters from the grateful mother of a kid he had operated on.

“We are very thankful that they went all the way here to help us,” said Mario Guzman, a hernia patient who was successfully operated on.

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Aside from poverty, the lack of modern instruments and equipment also contribute to the pile-up of untreated cases in remote provinces. In Orani, a pregnant woman who was about to give premature birth had to be rushed to another institution because the district hospital has no incubator.

“Being in medical missions like this made us realize that a lot of Filipinos, especially in the provinces, need help in terms of basic medical services,” Roxas said.

However, Buncan lamented that the participation of some Thomasian doctors in medical missions has been dwindling in recent years.

The medical missions serve as a “bridge” which carry across the promise of relief. Orani is located 115 kilometers northwest of Manila and is one of Bataan’s 13 towns. It has 29 barangays, all with limited medical services.

It was nightfall when they returned to the hustle and bustle of the metro, and, despite aching bodies and heavy eyelids due to lack of sleep, huge smiles were apparently painted across the doctors’ faces. For them, it was another successful medcap which helped a lot of lives. Helping the ill is, after all, their lifelong mission.

1 COMMENT

  1. I would just like to correct my email address. It’s abigail_sy@rocketmail.com. This is Jane Sy. I made a comment yesterday regarding 1 of the 3 volunteers. I am exercising my right to free expression. I am dead serious with my comment yesterday as I am also a Tomasino! Thank you!

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