Survivors in Philippines scarred by the typhoon

by Thin Lei Win | @thinink | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Monday, 18 November 2013 10:33 GMT

Aljun Moreno clenches his teeth in pain as a doctor treats an infected wound on his knee at the Cebu air base military hospital on Nov. 18, 2013. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Thin Lei Win

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Some 18,000 people have been physically injured by the storm, but the psychological scars - and the anxiety of rebuilding their broken homes and lives - are equally painful

CEBU, Philippines (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - As a doctor gingerly shifted Aljun Moreno’s right leg just an inch to dress an infected wound on his knee, Moreno’s face contorted in pain, his right hand frantically searching for something solid to hold onto while his left hand squeezed a laminated image of the Virgin Mary with baby Jesus that was on his chest. He hissed in anguish.

A corrugated iron sheet had cut him in three places on his leg when Super Typhoon Haiyan’s ferocious winds and tsunami-like waves slammed into Moreno’s hometown, Tacloban city, in the central Philippines on Nov 8.

“The pain has actually improved a lot,” he said later on Monday, lying on the bed of a military hospital at the Cebu air base with his wife by his side. “It used to be so bad my hands would go numb, too.”

The doctor, a civilian orthopedic specialist who is volunteering, remained worried. He said the clear liquid coming out of the wound at the knee, even though it was stitched up, meant the wound was not superficial.

“It’s probably joint fluid, which is not good because then if bacteria starts to breed inside it could affect his whole body,” said Henry Dimaano, recommending an operation for Moreno as soon as possible and warning that the longer the infection stays, the more dangerous it gets.

“This is highly treatable. We just need to get the resources up and running.”

TRAUMATISED AND WORRIED

Moreno is one of more than 18,000 people who have been injured by Haiyan, locally known as Yolanda. One of the strongest storms on record, it cut a massive path of destruction, leaving 4 million people displaced.

Thousands who have evacuated by plane and ship from storm-hit areas face an uncertain future.

While undergoing treatment for injuries and struggling to heal, people like Moreno also have psychological scars to contend with, as well as the overwhelming anxiety about earning a living again and rebuilding their lives from scratch.

After the storm, Moreno’s neighbours carried him 5 km to the local hospital, where nurses stitched up his wounds without any anesthetics. The wound at the knee did not heal, and Moreno - who lost two uncles, an aunt and a young niece - was airlifted from Tacloban to Cebu on Nov 13. His wife joined him two days later.

With his home and tarpaulin-printing business gone, he is anxious, pondering what to do next.

“I have friends in Cebu, so I will stay here. I can drive, so maybe I can look for a job as a driver,” he said, adding that he would go back to Tacloban after three years. “I’m afraid to go back immediately because I’m traumatised.”

A quick operation may save his leg, but it also means a longer stay in the hospital. Moreno is apprehensive about his lack of income in the foreseeable future.

LONGING FOR HOME

That’s the same worry plaguing Rene Orquestra, a father of three, though he yearns to return home.

The 37-year-old government employee was one of the first injured storm survivors to be airlifted to safety. He arrived at the hospital a day after the storm, with both feet badly swollen and an inch-deep hole at the back of his left leg.

He was trying to carry his neighbour’s children to safety when a sharp piece of wood lodged itself in his leg after the roof of his house collapsed. Then a corrugated iron sheet cut his other leg and another piece of wood hit his head, leaving him barely conscious.

Yet he considers himself lucky, with his family safe and finally arriving in Cebu on a navy ship on Sunday. They have not yet thought of what to do or where to stay.

On Monday, Orquestra put on a brave face, despite his injury, saying the swelling has actually subsided. Yet his feet remain swollen, with what looks like boils that have burst. As the doctor dressed his wound, he winced in pain, his head softly banging the wall.

He just wants to go home and get back to work, he said. “That’s the only way I can make a living to feed my family because we now have to start from scratch again.”

He then held this journalist’s hand and poured forth his gratitude: “We are very thankful to you and everyone. Many countries and people are helping Tacloban.”

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