“It’s not about the numbers.”
That was the mantra heard daily — sometimes several times a day — from Dr. Bernard Quebral and some of the other 100-plus Minnesota volunteers on a medical mission last week to Mariveles District Hospital in the Philippines.
It was heard Sunday after a “soft opening” that was meant to screen 300 patients who were there for surgeries that would be scheduled during the week. The Sunday numbers jumped to 600 patients when those in the eye clinic decided to help 300 patients who had shown up a day early.
On Monday, an expected capacity of 1,000 patients soon became history when more than 1,400 patients were treated. Ditto as the number swelled again Tuesday and Wednesday before peaking Thursday at 2,550 patients served.
In all, more than 9,000 Filipinos were treated by the Philippine Minnesotan Medical Association (PMMA) during its weeklong stay. In seven missions in previous years, Quebral said the most they have ever served was just more than 6,000.
But it wasn’t about the numbers.
The goal, said Quebral and others, was to give each patient the very best medical care they could give. It didn’t matter if they needed 10 minutes or 30 minutes and a couple of consults to get a proper diagnosis. The patients weren’t rushed through the process.
It wasn’ about the numbers.
Or was it?
As an outsider looking in, I was flabbergasted by the numbers because to me, they weren’t just numbers. Each number had a face. I didn’t know where they came from or where they would return. But they all had a spirit and telltale emotions.
- No. 610 might have been a beautiful young girl whose life forever changed because she no longer had a cleft lip.
- No. 1,522 might have been a young mother who would finally read to her children because she found a pair of free glasses that opened a whole new world to her.
- Perhaps No. 2,793 had three teeth removed and was pain free and able to eat hard food for the first time in weeks.
- No. 5,539 may have been one of those who no longer had to carry around a volleyball-sized tumor in the pit of her stomach.
- No. 7,846 may have simply been given a few packets of Advil and found temporary relief from his aches and pains for the first time in years.
I understand the matra, but I also believe it was about the numbers, mostly because patients were able to get BOTH top quality care and get it in record numbers. That happened by design.
This was a savvy group of volunteers, many of whom had traveled together on previous missions. They adjusted and adapted as they went.
- When the eyeglass clinic was overwhelmed, they opened a second station and armed it with their best and brightest students.
- When more translators were needed, they were found and distributed appropriately.
- When the pharmacy was overwhelmed, they came up with a system to get necessary approval for doctors to distribute some of the most popular drugs from their “office” desks, cutting the waiting lines.
Long days and hard work were the other factors behind the success. Each day began with breakfast available at 5 a.m. Buses were ready for loading at 6:15 and typically had made the trip over the mountain and arrived at the hospital before 7 a.m.
About 12 hours later volunteers, most of whom stayed in a dormitory-type building in the middle of nowhere about 5 kilometers from the hospital, were bused back home.
The rooms had six to eight people in each, sometimes more, with women on one end of the hall and men on the others. Each had community bathrooms.
Showering was guesswork — early morning or before bed — because one never knew when hot water would be available.
Volunteers socialized in two large rooms from 7 p.m. dinner time until most went to bed between 9 and 10 p.m. No sightseeing, no shopping, no horsing around. These folks were there to work. And aside from a governor’s dinner that included music and dancing from about 7 to 11 p.m. Thursday, that’s what they did.
“I don’t think we can top this one in terms of numbers,” said Quebral, who added with a laugh, “It’s doable, but I might have some post traumatic stress disorder after this.”
Friday morning wrapped up with some minor cases before volunteers packed up some of the equipment and medical supplies.
The hospital will now remain empty for a year while workers complete the building. Much of the donated equipment will remain behind, but anything that would expire in the year ahead was sent to other needy areas of the country.
The plan is to finish the hospital in the next year, then staff it and run it as a district hospital.
Bataan Gov. Albert “Abet” Garcia, a friendly and appreciative man, has said the hospital is a priority and he will ensure the project is completed.
One can only hope that 100 volunteers from Minnesota gave them the incentive they needed.