No veto for the Philippines

by Tatjana Bojarski/LKO,  2014/01/23

After a catastrophe, not only the people directly concerned by it find themselves in an unusual and straining situation, but also the first humedica relief teams. Important questions concerning the current situation in the disaster region or concerning a potential accommodation on site can often only be answered vaguely or not at all.

General practitioner Dr. Michael Brinkmann knows about this uncertainty from his own experiences – since his first field action after the earthquake in Pakistan nine years ago, he has regularly been in concerned regions for humedica.

And thus, the doctor also went to the Philippines, after the terrible typhoon “Haiyan”. humedica media coordinator Tatjana Bojarski accompanied him and learned, besides other things, what mustn’t be lacking in the luggage:

“Everything must go very fast, when humedica calls you for a disaster operation. Often, you have got only a few days or even hours to pack your luggage, inform your colleagues and to persuade your family of the project. At the same time, it is important to gather as much information as you can about the circumstances of the pending trip, in order to be prepared at your best.

On the flight to the Philippines I meet Dr. Michael Brinkmann, doctor and father of a family from Bonn. For him, this is already his sixth field operation with humedica. While we are sitting together in Manila, the Philippian capital and are waiting for our connecting flight, I ask him if this has become a habit for him.

“I’m getting better at packing, the error rate is getting lower every time”, he is joking. Then he ads seriously: “However, it has always been a journey into the unknown. Only when I am caring for injured persons on-site, some kind of familiarity appears.”

This time, it has been especially hard for him to say goodbye to his family. Meanwhile, his youngest daughter is old enough to follow the reports in the media, too. “When we saw the images of the typhoon at the TV, she immediately asked me if I would fly to the Philippines”, says Michael.

If one of his three children vetoes on an operation, he cancels it. Luckily, in this case there wasn’t any veto. He has already flown for seventeen hours now and is happy about the fresh fruit we are being offered in Manila. “Who knows when we will get a real meal the next time.”

In the catastrophe regions, the humedica on-site teams often live under the same conditions as the concerned population. Running water, electricity, warm meals and a comfortable sleeping place are most of the time luxury which cannot be guaranteed. Certain items like a torch, cereal bars or wet wipes mustn’t therefore be lacking in the luggage.

But the photos of his family, soap bubbles and a small cuddly dog are at least as important to Michael. “Until now, nothing has happened to me yet. I think, this is because of the lucky charm dog which I always carry with me”, he explains smilingly.

When I ask him about the meaning of the soap bubbles he gives a good explanation: “They are necessary because especially in those times, there is nothing more effective for getting a smile on the children’s faces.”

Michael has been working as an emergency doctor in Germany. “I wouldn’t go into crisis regions, if I hadn’t had any experience with medical emergency situations here at home in Germany”, he says. However, during his operations on-site he has often been confronted with problems for which even his longtime experience couldn’t be of any further help.

“Many patients complain about pains which are not physical. They talk about their losses and fears, but how do you react, if you don’t speak their language?” Because of the language barrier, many things remain unspoken. But a sign of compassion doesn’t need any precise words.

Listening, holding the hands and one moment of attention in midst all the chaos is at least as important as dressing wounds and alleviating pain.

Michael has stayed in Tacloban, helping the people, for nearly three weeks. Shortly before our farewell, I ask him which feeling he would like to take home with him. “I wish that my stay here will have been worth it for many people and that I can tell my family that it was good that they let me go”, is his clear answer.

Dear friends and sponsors, the decision of the humedica voluntary helpers for an operation in a catastrophe region has always been linked with challenges – challenges of a commitment which is not self-evident at all. Please, become part of this commitment and support our relief measures on the Philippines with a directed donation. Thank you very much!

      humedica e. V.
      Reference “Typhoon Philippines”
      Account 47 47
      Bank Code 734 500 00
      Sparkasse Kaufbeuren

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