China Daily (Canada) - - CHINA -

It was 8 pm in Ta­cloban. An am­bu­lance screeched to a halt, its lights flash­ing, and a man was car­ried out on a stretcher. His face and chest were cov­ered with blood.

Chen Ruifeng, a 37-year-old emer­gency sur­geon, ran out from a tent and es­corted the man to an emer­gency room. Wa­ter dripped from the leak­ing ceil­ing as the rain be­gan again. Chen placed a plas­tic bas­ket un­der the drops and re­turned to his pa­tient.

Ta­cloban has been with­out power since Su­per Typhoon Haiyan tore through the area in early Novem­ber, with winds up to 378 kilo­me­ters an hour, rip­ping down power lines and driv­ing sea­wa­ter sev­eral kilo­me­ters in­land.

The death toll in the Philip­pines is in ex­cess of 5,700, and the fig­ure is likely to rise.

The pa­tient was a 19-year-old man. He had been driv­ing when his car col­lided with a mo­tor­bike, cat­a­pult­ing him into the wind­shield, which shat­tered and caused se­ri­ous in­juries to his face and hands.

He was one of more than a hun­dred pa­tients Chen had treated in a tem­po­rary field hos­pi­tal set up by the Chi­nese hos­pi­tal ship Peace Ark.

Be­fore ar­riv­ing at the hos­pi­tal, the young man had been sent to three lo­cal med­i­cal fa­cil­i­ties, but none of them had the sup­plies or equip­ment to treat his wounds prop­erly.

Sev­eral of his front teeth had been shat­tered in the ac­ci­dent and frag­ments had been driven into his lips. Large pieces of wind­shield glass were em­bed­ded in his face and hands.

Chen, who has worked at the PLA Navy Gen­eral Hos­pi­tal for more than 14 years, used 60 stitches to sew up the wounds in and around the pa­tient’s mouth.

“We might need to send him to the ship for fur­ther treat­ment and prob­a­bly a CT scan, as I am wor­ried the crash might have in­jured his brain,” said the sur­geon, as he used tweez­ers to ex­tract glass from the man’s left hand.

On Nov 26, the day af­ter the Peace Ark ar­rived on a dis­as­ter relief mis­sion in the Gulf of Leyte, the ship’s med­i­cal team set up a field hos­pi­tal in the grounds of Leyte Pro­vin­cial Hos­pi­tal, known lo­cally as the LPH. The tem­po­rary fa­cil­ity con­sists of seven huge tents and is staffed by more than 20 med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als equipped with a wide range of tech­nol­ogy.

The role it plays is just as im­por­tant


set up by the PeaceArk is now re­ceiv­ing more than 200 pa­tients ev­ery day and is open 24/7.

Ini­tially, the fa­cil­ity re­ceived most of its pa­tients from the sur­round­ing vil­lages, but now it treats peo­ple from as far away as 200 kilo­me­ters. as that of the Peace Ark, ac­cord­ing to Liu Di, deputy di­rec­tor of the PLA navy’s health depart­ment, who is head of the field hos­pi­tal.

“It’s lo­cated in the area that sus­tained the worst dam­age and where med­i­cal ser­vices are most needed. Be­cause of that, we’re able to give pa­tients ba­sic treat­ment be­fore they are sent to the hos­pi­tal ship, if that’s nec­es­sary,” he said. “So we have two hos­pi­tals, one on the ocean and one on land.”

The typhoon dam­aged most of the lo­cal med­i­cal fa­cil­i­ties, and those that re­mained rel­a­tively un­scathed lack ma­te­ri­als.

Joyoe Ga­dia’s right leg was crushed by fall­ing de­bris dur­ing the typhoon, but the 19-year-old didn’t re­ceive treat­ment un­til she was sent to the field hos­pi­tal.

“The peo­ple she went to see just wrapped ban­dages around her leg. She didn’t even have a X-ray checkup,” said Chen. “It has been three weeks. I can’t imag­ine how painful it is.”

An hour af­ter she ar­rived at the field hos­pi­tal, Ga­dia was trans­ferred to the Peace Ark by he­li­copter, along with eight other pa­tients, for fur­ther treat­ment.

Lea Topia’s baby was born aboard the hos­pi­tal ship. When the 31-year-old ar­rived at the field hos­pi­tal, her waters had al­ready bro­ken, ac­cord­ing to Shi Wei, one of the Chi­nese nurses. The med­i­cal staff helped Topia to calm down and set about ar­rang­ing her trans­fer to the Peace Ark.

Wil­liam, Topia’s hus­band, de­cided to call the lit­tle boy “Ark” in mem­ory of the ship. How­ever, he wasn’t the only birth on the ship that day. Another trans­ferred woman de­liv­ered a girl soon af­ter she was brought aboard.

“The point of the field hos­pi­tal is that we can pro­vide ba­sic check­ups and de­cide whether the in­jured need to go to the ship. If so, we alert the crew and by the time the pa­tient gets to the Peace Ark, the staff and equip­ment are ready,” said Liu. “It saves time for us, but most im­por­tant, for the pa­tients.”

The field hos­pi­tal has been pro­vid­ing free med­i­cal ser­vices for non-emer­gency pa­tients too, a “lux­ury” for those strug­gling with the dis­as­ter and poverty.

A rusty nail had gone straight through Nigel Padrick’s left foot as the 13-year-old ran bare­foot through the de­bris.

“We don’t have the money to go to the hos­pi­tal, so I pulled out the nail my­self,” said his mother, Lorna No­gal. “But peo­ple said the wound might be­come in­fected, so I car­ried him to the Chi­nese hos­pi­tal. I’m very grate­ful to the doc­tors who helped us.”

Lili­beth Pada, the head of a nearby vil­lage with a pop­u­la­tion of 2,500, said 90 per­cent of the houses in the vil­lage were dam­aged in the typhoon. Along with food and clean wa­ter, med­i­cal ser­vices are the most ur­gent re­quire­ment for the lo­cals liv­ing in un­san­i­tary makeshift shel­ters.

“Skin dis­eases and di­ar­rhea are com­mon com­plaints in the evac­u­a­tion cen­ters,” said Pada. “The field hos­pi­tal can pro­vide ba­sic treat­ment for the in­jured and help peo­ple with com­mon ail­ments, thus sav­ing the ship’s re­sources for those with acute ill­nesses or in­juries.”

On the day it opened, the field hos­pi­tal treated 65 pa­tients. The sec­ond day brought 85, and there were 131 on the third, ac­cord­ing to Lu Jing, the head nurse. The fa­cil­ity is now re­ceiv­ing more than 200 pa­tients ev­ery day and is open 24/7 so treat­ment can be pro­vided for as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble, she said, adding that the “pa­tient ra­dius” has widened. .

“Ini­tially, most of the pa­tients came from the sur­round­ing vil­lages, but as word spread, peo­ple started to ar­rive from a city 200 kilo­me­ters away.”

Leyte Pro­vin­cial Hos­pi­tal was badly dam­aged dur­ing the typhoon, forc­ing the im­me­di­ate sus­pen­sion of ser­vices. Stand­ing just 2 kilo­me­ters in­land, the hos­pi­tal was en­gulfed by surg­ing wa­ter, and some of its roofs were washed away.

As the largest hos­pi­tal in the re­gion, the LPH usu­ally re­ceives an av­er­age of 100 pa­tients a day, ac­cord­ing to Ros­alle Uy, the su­per­vis­ing nurse. Haiyan not only dam­aged the build­ings, but some of the med­i­cal staff also lost their lives.

“If it were not for the Chi­nese doc­tors, it would have taken a long time to re­open the LPH,” said Uy, who, along with five other Filipino med­i­cal staff, is work­ing with the Chi­nese doc­tors and nurses to help the lo­cal pop­u­la­tion.

Guan Bailin, head of the PLA navy’s health depart­ment, said, “We chose this lo­ca­tion be­cause some of the build­ings are us­able, and ev­ery one knows the LPH, so it’s easy for peo­ple to find us.”

Work­ing along­side lo­cal peo­ple and dis­as­ter relief teams from other coun­tries, in­clud­ing France, the Peace Ark’s crew helped re­pair some of the hos­pi­tal’s roofs and cleaned up the de­bris and mud in some rooms. They also erected tents to be used as stor­age fa­cil­i­ties and staff dor­mi­to­ries and built a he­li­copter pad, plus a jetty for wa­ter trans­fers.

Stand­ing at the jetty, which bears a painted red cross and the name “Peace Ark”, the ves­sel was eas­ily vis­i­ble as it rode at an­chor in the gulf, gleam­ing in the trop­i­cal sun.

The jour­ney from the field hos­pi­tal to the ship takes less than 10 min­utes by he­li­copter and around 30 by speed­boat.

“Un­for­tu­nately, trans­port is still a big prob­lem for us, es­pe­cially in bad weather,” said Chen.

He re­called an hour he spent wait­ing at the jetty in a down­pour with a pa­tient. The pa­tient was los­ing blood and Chen was des­per­ate to get him aboard the Peace Ark. “The weather was too bad for the he­li­copter. I was very anx­ious as I watched the boat slowly draw closer in the choppy wa­ter. In emer­gen­cies, de­lays can some­times prove fatal,” he said.

Trans­port dif­fi­cul­ties aside, Chen said the field hos­pi­tal needs more staff and equip­ment to pro­vide fur­ther treat­ment.

“As the only emer­gency sur­geon, I’ve only had six hours sleep in the past two days, but pa­tients with acute in­juries still need to be sent to the hos­pi­tal ship.”

Chen is no strange to dis­as­ter relief. He par­tic­i­pated in a twom­onth mis­sion af­ter the 2008 earth­quake that dev­as­tated Sichuan prov­ince in south­west­ern China. He said the con­di­tions then were much worse than in the field hos­pi­tal. “I didn’t brush my teeth for 10 days in Sichuan be­cause of the lack of wa­ter,” he said. “But here and now, we have suf­fi­cient sup­plies and have even set up a shower room.”

Many of his col­leagues at the field hos­pi­tal have gained vast ex­pe­ri­ence through their work in other dis­as­ter ar­eas.

“Chi­nese med­i­cal staff have learned a lot from work­ing af­ter pre­vi­ous in­ci­dents,” he said. “I’m sure our ex­pe­ri­ence and the fa­cil­i­ties we’re pro­vid­ing mean we can re­ally make a dif­fer­ence here in the Philip­pines.” Con­tact the writer at pengyin­ing@ chi­

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