Few years ago, I was on my residency training in Pediatrics. Being a male resident, and single at that, we were the easy choice to be sent to distant outreach missions to represent the department. One place where I went to: CONNER, APAYAO.
The travel was as follows: 12 hours bus ride from Baguio to Tuguegarao, Cagayan. From there, a land travel from Tuguegarao to Apayao, of about 3 to 4 hours (can’t remember exactly how long, that was about 10 years ago). In between, our bus/rover would ride a barge crossing the Chico River. Then upon arrival, I thought we would take a rest, but no. We were instructed to divide our cargos, take what we need for 2 nights travel and leave some at the main station, as we will be back in the said place for the final league of our mission. So off we went for a hiking mission. Aside from the medical doctor delegates, we had civilian escorts who would carry our supplies. A strict head count is done upon departure and arrival at the mission site. (I didn’t knew, until I was back in Baguio that insurgents, yes, NPAs, were watching over us and doing head count, to check if there will be additional member of the team, whom they would suspect as soldiers. Yes, nobody of us were informed at that time, perhaps not to scare us.)
We reached our first mission site after about half-day mountain trail hike (as in we reached the peak, then down again until a valley). We set up stations, then did our consultations after our lunch. We were suspicious that some of the male patients and spectators were NPAs, we just proceeded with our work as though we were innocent of their presence; I think they wanted to make sure that there were no military men joining us. Each medical outreach mission seems like fiesta, with people even from far places coming to the venue as there were prior announcements by community leaders of our arrival. We stayed there overnight, and had an early morning rise. By 6am, we already had our breakfast, and in 30 minutes, we were already on our foot to the next mission.
We arrived at our 2nd mission site by about 8 am, had our set-up then consulted patients until lunch time. We had our lunch quite late, and whether we like it or not, we had to watch a traditional dance that the community prepared for us, as a sign of courtesy. Failure to would mean disrespect and a grave consequence. After the mini-fiesta, we again started hiking, this time to the most remote part of the municipality. I heard, it will be the first time that doctors will set foot in their community. The trail was along a ravine. One slip, and then you’ll fall down into a river, about 70-100 meters below. It rained, so the trail was slippery. But we were hikers and mission-oriented, so that didn’t stop us.
We reached the venue by about 4 pm. I was told by the mission master that I am the first pediatrician (even if I was still a sophomore resident that time) to have reached that place so far. After few minutes rest, we started working. I was able to see a few months infant who badly needed to be hospitalized, that was about 6 pm. (Thing is, it will take about 6 hours hike from that community to the town proper, where they can take a ride going to Tuguegarao, Cagayan, which is the nearest hospital to them, another 4 hours ride. But the earliest ride would already be morning. It’s as if they’re in an Amazing Race episode!) I did advise them but I am not sure if they heeded. There was no electricity in the community at that time yet, so some of our civilian escorts carried generator that we will use during the mission. During dinner, which was already 8 pm, they served us their delicacies, – wild deer, freshwater eel, wild pig! Yummy! We stopped after we have seen all patients. We rested for the night. Gladly, we started our way back home quite late.
We began our 8-hour hike back to the town proper. Midway, we passed by a river. We took the liberty of taking a few minutes deep before resuming our hike back. We arrived at the venue by 5 pm already. Glad there was no consultation that night, so we had our rest. Early in the morning, we woke up, had a quick breakfast, and started consulting. We had to end our mission by lunch as our service will bring us back to Cagayan before 6 pm. After reaching Tuguegarao, we boarded our bus that will bring us back to Baguio via 12-hours land trip.
What was extraordinary about this mission? Well, I came to learn that not all people in the Philippines have easy access to health care facilities, health services. Progress may be difficult due to these mountainous trails and by some resistant forces.