Life lessons in a Philippines ER
As a high school student in Jasper, Carly Charlebois dreamed about someday getting a job helping people all over the world.
And now her dreams have started to unfold.
Back from a five-week nursing practicum in the south pacific, the 24-year-old was thankful to the people who helped her help patients in a make-shift yet innovative hospital in Cebu City, Philippines. Through the crowd-funding website Indiegogo, Charlebois raised $760 to help pay for the overseas posting.
“Most of the money came from Jasper,” she said. “I’m so grateful for the support.”
Charlebois was posted to Cebu City, a port city and gateway to thousands of beautiful islands to which SCUBA divers and holidayers flock. In 2013, when the country was hit by a 7.2 magnitude earthquake, Cebu City’s main hospital was destroyed. Today, the city’s poorest patients are treated in a care centre which has been set up in the cavity of a former fire station; that’s where Charlebois and her fellow Victoria nursing students were posted.
“It was really basic,” Charlebois said. “It was an open warehouse, there were cats and dogs running around.”
Despite the rudimentary facilities, Charlebois said the level of care that doctors and nurses gave their patients was inspiring. She learned to work quickly alongside surgical doctors and to innovate when she discovered resources were slim.
“They get really smart with their resources,” she said about her Filipino colleagues.
Charlebois enjoyed the fast-paced ER, but she also had valuable exposure to other parts of the health system in the Philippines. During her work with Filipino elderly patients, she had her eyes opened to the degree to which the health care system is supported by those patients’ family members.
“We would see someone from the family 24 hours a day at a senior’s side,” she said. “I worked in a seniors home in Victoria for six weeks and in some cases never saw patients’ family members.”
Cultural connections were important for her to make. She dropped her strict vegetarian diet in order to better assimilate into the homes where she was fed. Nightly Hail Marys at the nunnery where the students stayed reminded her how important religion is in many Filipinos’ lives.
Most days, the students worked long hours and were inundated with homework during the evening. But the group had two days each week to explore. Charlebois went SCUBA diving and island hopping.
“It’s a destination that’s off the radar for most western travellers, but it’s an absolutely beautiful country,” she said.
Some of her hardest days were when she was working in paediatrics. Working with children was extremely rewarding, but in some cases, heartbreaking. Often parents couldn’t afford the same pain medication that Canadian families get as a matter of course.
“You have to be an amazingly strong person to work with kids,” she said.
Charlebois said motorcycle accidents were a common reason for hospital admittance. With no ultrasound machine or other hi-tech diagnostic tools to work with, the students learned how to make patient assessments manually.
“Our skills improved, we became more aware of our patients rather than relying on the beep of a machine,” she said.
Charlebois, who graduated from Ecolé Desrochers in 2009, is heading back to Victoria to complete her nursing education, but before she leaves she wants to share her trip with Jasper. She will present a slideshow to the public about her experiences working in the Philipinnes’ health care system on September 1 at the Alpine Summit Seniors Lodge, at 7 p.m.