It was an early start to the day and we had already found ourselves stuck in the overwhelming traffic of the city of Manila. For those of you that don’t know about Manila, it’s about the 2/3 the size of Manhattan but about double the population. And so its not unusual for traffic to be so congested that one can be stuck in traffic for over 2 hours on a normal days commute. Nonetheless we made it to our first destination, the quiapo Church of the Black Nazarene. It was quite the spectacle to witness as the church was packed wall to wall with Filipinos standing and participating in the quiapo tradition of attending mass on a the same day of the week for 9 weeks straight in hopes to obtain whatever it is that they were praying for. There had to have been close to 1000 people crammed into this city church, but Filipinos don’t really seem to have a sense for personal space so it was not out the ordinary.
We then embarked for the Philippines General Hospital (PGH) which was a the biggest government ran hospital in the Philippines. Most Philippines are covered under “Philhealth” which is the national free health insurance, but it does not cover most of the care needed by many Filipinos. The hospital was quite large and had many doctors and medical students, but it was still inundated with excessive patients of which the infrastructure could simply not support. There were so many cars that many parking slots were blocked by other cars which were required to be left in neutral in order to be pushed out when patients needed to leave. What was most amazing about the hospital was the shear grace and generosity provided by many of the doctors that worked at the hospital. About 50% of the doctors worked for no pay for part time positions in order to give back to the community since PGH was extremely underfunded. It was not uncommon for a doctor to donate money to their patients for medication in order for some patients to be able to afford the necessary care required, while many could only afford a few days worth of antibiotics.
While at the hospital we were able to tour the various units and sectors of the hospital under Dr. D Rizzario, a Pediatric Cardiologist that worked part time at PGH and at the private hospital St. Luke’s. He was very inspirational to listen to for he had given so much of his time to caring for the patients at St. Luke’s and training various medical students. As we toured the hospital we viewed the pediatric ward, ER (also known as the “war room,”) the oncology ward, and the cardiac OR. It was a bit uneasy to see the overcrowded conditions of the hospital as patients were all crammed in rooms with little to no dividers for privacy other then some curtains. It was sad to see the conditions patients were in and the limited resources that were available, but family members were everywhere, helping the nurses and doctors as much as possible. The overcrowded ER was very similar to what one might expect see in a military hospital during a war, and many of the doctors and nurses were hard to identify since they did not wear typical uniforms. At times I wanted to hold my breath in fear of catching some disease or infection as I saw some of the patients in horrific conditions.
It was a little unsettling walking amongst all of the patients, watching and talking about them with the doctor. It was almost like a zoo and felt like we were violating the patient’s privacy at times, yet through the pain and suffering many patients and families greeted us with smiles and friendly gestures. It was definitely an experience that we would never have gotten in the US. We even got to see Dr. Rizzario operate on 4 year old’s heart through the glass of the ER and later see the same patient in “recovery room” where the child was reunited with the parents and the catheter was removed from the patient’s leg right in front of us.
After we got our fill of how the public hospital operated we headed to lunch to the Filipino equivalent of McDonald’s. Strangely enough we would later meet the owner of the famous restaurant chain, since he essentially built the world famous private hospital, St. Luke’s, that we were later visiting. St. Luke’s was a stark difference compared to PGH since it was a private hospital in the middle of the wealthy district of Manila called Makati. To oversimplify it, St. Luke’s was similar to Roswell, but on steroids and much more then just an oncology center. The hospital has been renowned as one of the best hospitals in the world and is a center for medical tourism.
On our tour of the hospital many of our jaws dropped at the caliber and quality of services provided. For example, on the 16th floor the patients could stay in suites comprised of many rooms, dining tables, and lavish furniture. The presidential suite even had a hot tub! It was very similar to a Ritz Carlton like hotel. The newest technologies were offered and patients could receive comprehensive evaluations, similar to what one might receive at the mayo clinic for a complete health analysis. Only the best doctors were able to work there as well since the owner created a cut throat hiring system to provide the highest quality care. We got to interview the owner/directors of the hospital, Mr. Kuan, who was a very ambitious man that had an incredible vision for health care.
The whole day in retrospect was a lot to reflect upon, especially seeing the upscale services provided at St. Luke’s compared to PGH. Many of us felt that the funds put into the lavish and extraneous services provided at St. Luke’s could’ve been better put to use at PGH to help the many lacking services. But that is the world we live in and we can only pray and hope that more good people in this world can make changes to fix such things. Nonetheless it is reassuring to know that there are many good people out there volunteering their time to make a difference in the community, such as those at PGH.
Until next time,