Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The day began at 4 am again. We caught a domestic flight from Manlia to Tacloban, a one hour ride. The flight attendands send you off with a God Bless when you disembark. That's interesting, but not surprising, given the religious makeup of the country.

We met even more people here in Tacloban, and now we number 15. We spent a couple hours in logistical meetings. At issue is how the doctors should set up a camp. The government made tentative plans for us to visit one evacuee camp per day, but the doctors are deciding whats more practical.

The idea of setting up one main base at the largest evacuee came, and dispatching several satellite teams to smaller evacuee camps, is an idea.

We have 2 dozen big boxes of medical supplies to consider when moving.

Interestingly, Tim and I have been appropriated from observers to participants. The AMM has asked us to keep our eyes open to evaluate the media resources there (there being where the evacuee towns are), and to suggest how a public awareness campaign might be launched to educate people about the symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder.

PTSD manifests at the 4 week mark (which is Friday) and will appear as a variety of symptoms like flashbacks, blunting of affect, emotionally closed, dysfunctional relationships, abuse of family members or drugs, and suicide. Untreated, it only worsens, and creates a ripple effect on the community. AMMs goal is to help people recognize this so they can get therapy for treatment. Tim and I have been drafted into the public health campaign.

This poses an interesting professional ethical dilemma. As reporters, we are to tell the story but not to affect it. After some deliberation, my sense of humanity trumps my professional obligation. I am a human being first, and at the end of the day Ill have to live with myself, and the knowledge that I could have helped someone else. I choose to help.

This is part of the reason I even wanted to make the trip- to help tell an important story. If my stories will move one person in Hawaii to help alleviate the tragedy in the Philippines, I will have considered my role a success.

Likewise, the doctors have asked us all to keep an eye out for leptospirosis symptoms, which they believe will be a big problem here. Symptoms include fever, headaches, muscle aches so debilitating they cant walk, jaundice, or red eye which- and this is key - is not itchy like conjunctivitis. Sure, I can do this, too.

One thing weve been warned about is compassion fatigue, a clinically documented problem that affects disaster workers. Weve been taught how to mentally approach situations, and basically that means keep your boundaries, dont get too emotionally involved. We have also been given a list of what to say or not to say to victims, should we find ourselves in quasi-therapy.

I've also learned that events have a life cycle, and disasters ar no different. We enter this tragedy at a difficult phase, disillusionment, in which victims realize it'll be a really long time till normalcy. Some of the anger might be displaced onto us. We have been prepped to expect this and dont take it personally.

Tonight we have a dinner with the Chinese Chamber of Commerce. People are happy to have us here to help. By us, I mean the AMM.

This is dengue region, and Im itchy on my ankles, the one place I forgot to spray with repellent. Time for me to sign off. Hopefully the next dispatch will be from a still-healthy me.

Tomorrow we drive down to the evacuee village. I might not be able to get an internet signal till we return here to Tacloban.

PS, I cant believe what Im hearing about the Kaua'i dam break.