By Ned Ketyer, M.D., F.A.A.P. — Pediatric Alliance, Chartiers/McMurray Division
I’ve been watching the news coming out of the Philippines this week with dismay and sadness. The Philippines, you see, is part of my story. Its history is so closely attached to American history. Its culture, while uniquely Filipino, is really an amalgam of eastern and western (especially American) cultures. Its tropical beauty — paradise, really — is probably what you would expect from an archipelago nation situated smack dab in the South Pacific. Its people…
I watch the images on my TV and I see the unimaginable damage. Tacloban looks just like the Thai and Indonesian and Sri Lankan towns devastated by the earthquake and tsunami in 2004. It looks like the eastern coastline of Japan after its earthquake and tsunami in 2011. It looks like Seaside Heights after Superstorm Sandy in 2012.* I wonder: how do the people who survive cope? The young woman who has lost her children. The man my age who lost his wife, half his kids, his home. The older woman who has lost the family that helps her get along. The children…
I see these people sitting by the side of a road, or standing at an airport waiting hopefully for a plane out of there, or lying under a random piece of corrugated metal to protect them from the rain, while they try to rest despite the horrendous stench of death all around them. No food, no water. How do they manage? How do they stay hopeful that one day, they will have the energy and the help to clean up and rebuild their towns and their lives? These people — so many of them poor monetarily, but so wealthy with close families, devout faith, and a strong national identity — in the heart of paradise. All gone now. Again we see despair in their faces, like we saw in Phuket and Port-au-Prince and Fukushima. Where does one who survives such a disaster begin the process of surviving again, into the future?
In 1982, three weeks after graduating from college, I boarded a plane to Manila. That flight took me from the undergraduate life in peaceful, white-bread Vermont to medical school at Far Eastern University in Manila. To say that my three years in the Philippines was transformative would be a great understatement. My experiences, my friendships, my education (regarding medicine, regarding human nature, regarding life) deeply influenced the man I became, profoundly informed my world-view, and ultimately led me to pediatrics.
The Philippines. The people. The children. I can’t begin to imagine how hard it must be for the survivors of Typhoon Haiyan. But I can imagine that they will endure. They will rebuild. And they will do so with their courage and pride, and their humility and humor — Filipino traits I remember so well — firmly intact.
It seems each year I open up my checkbook to help a relief cause somewhere in the world. Unfortunately, this year is no different. Here is one way you can help.
* A tsunami is a tidal wave, caused most commonly by an off-shore earthquake. But a storm surge from a hurricane, typhoon, or tropical “superstorm” also results in a tidal wave, and the damage looks practically identical from the air. Typhoon Haiyan’s storm surge was estimated in some areas to be more than 20 feet! It was that wave of water (and not the high winds and rain) that caused the most damage and loss of life in this case. With Haiyan (and Sandy and Katrina before), nature is telling us — and science is confirming — something we must not ignore: The planet is warming (stronger storms) and sea levels are rising (unprecedented storm surges). If most of us adults don’t live long enough to see the consequences of what’s happening now, our children and grandchildren surely will. And they will surely ask of us: “You learned science in school. You saw this coming. Why didn’t you do anything to prevent this?”