We made it safely...11 hour flight, 1 hour layover, 3 hour flight, 3 hour layover, 1 hour flight and a 1.5 hour drive. I have never been so happy to see a familiar face at an airport in my life as Matt Riley and his crew were there to collect us and our gear. Unfortunately, not a single box made it onto the plane after they cleared customs. (not to fret, we have everything now, thank you Eric for staying until the next flight 10hours later and thank you June for driving Kay and Pacita to the airport to collect their luggage!)
First impression: the island is beautiful. The city of Kalbo was crowded with motorcycles and taxi cycles, motorcycles with a sidecar of sorts whereupon up to six people might be sitting in/standing on. They did not dissipate once outside of the city nor did the myriad of ways into which a family might fit into/onto one. Traffic slows only for cows, water buffalos and if the vehicle that is heading towards you is bigger than what you happened to be in.
The countryside is picturesque with rice paddies stretched out across fields before being interrupted by the mountains. Houses are crammed along the roadsides and often have a small business or store in the front room or porch. They are sometimes made of stucco, others are made of wood, some sturdy, others a version of plywood.
Hurricane damage is evident in some areas, clusters of neighborhoods are rubble, other neighborhoods will have just a few homes destroyed and then there are the homes that have one side of the house knocked off the foundation but, despite the angled floor, appears inhabited. The city of Culasi where we are staying appears in good shape but a lot of work has gone into cleaning and rebuilding.
Our in-country logistics person, Matt Riley, has a niece who's home was destroyed and now her family of four are living in a one bedroom house with a single light bulb. Yet she is spending her days with us, working as hard as we are.
Not having meds or supplies to sort the day of our arrival since our supplies were a no-show, we went to the local hospital to meet with Dr. Aguirre, the head of the facility. The meeting was productive and we were able to establish referral capabilities for labs and x-rays. A CBC is $1.50, xray, if I recall correctly, just a couple of dollars. On our way out of the hospital, we met a lab technician who provided me with specific information about what labs are available: CBCs can be done but just in the mornings. Cholesterol and triglycerides panels on Wednesday mornings. I waited for her to continue but there was no continuing. That is ALL the blood work this hospital could do. I asked about specific chemistry levels, so basic in any lab in the US: Sodium? Potassium? Kidney function tests? Liver tests? She never stopped shaking her head. If someone needs those labs, the blood is drawn at the hospital then a family member drives the blood 2 hours away for it to be processed, waits for the results and brings the results back. So hard to accept.
We did go through the emergency room and sadly, there were no surprises: a couple of old beds, a curtain and a large oxygen tank. That was all.
We were also able to meet an ophthalmologist in town who works in Culasi only on Saturdays. He does cataract surgeries at no cost and is also a general surgeon. We referred two patients to him yesterday: one for cataracts which turned out to be mild but needed reading glasses and a baby with an exposed umbilical hernia. HRIMM is covering the cost of both patients for about $60 total-that includes the glasses and operation!. I think we will be keeping this new friend busy!
We saw lots of patients yesterday and not your typical head and back pain symptoms. A lot of these folks are sick/sickly or not thriving. Dr. Jeffries, our dentist is busy with patients and is extracting more than he expected. He has a student nurse working with him who is also translating. She apparently is a good fast learner and watching the two of them together you would have they had been teamed together for years!
I am hoping to get other team members to blog so you get different voices and view points. Keep us in your prayers and also ask that it continue to NOT rain on us, we have been extremely fortunate as the weather has cooled and is blustery in the afternoons.