Sunday, August 23, 2009

Part 7: Life at Bethany Hospital

"It may seem a strange principle to enunciate as the very first requirement in a hospital that it should do the sick no harm." ~ Florence Nightingale

"By having a reverence for life, we enter into a spiritual relation with the world By practicing reverence for life we become good, deep, and alive." ~ Albert Schweitzer

Founded by the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church and currently administered by the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, Bethany Hospital had its humble beginnings as a makeshift infirmary under the porch of missionary doctor Warren J. Miller's home in 1913. In 1918, the first hospital building was constructed. In 1925 Dr. & Mrs. J. Andrew Hall were transferred from Iloilo to Tacloban. They struggled with poor accommodations, insufficient staff, inadequate funds, as well as the ignorance and superstitions of the people. But these hardships were gradually overcome with medical skill, Christian love and patience. In 1929 Dr. Hall, through his mobile clinic, embarked on an anti-yaws campaign in the remote towns and barrios of Leyte and Samar, treating thousands of cases free of charge. Dr. Arcadio A. Ortiz, Sr. became physician in charge when Dr. Hall retired in 1936, serving until April 1941 when he resigned. Dr. Julio E. Dolorico joined the medical staff in 1936 and served as physician in charge during the Second World War. Under the Japanese occupation, the hospital was used as headquarters for a Japanese cavalry unit, an army supply depot and finally as a provincial hospital after the liberation in 1944 until 1947. In 1948, the hospital resumed operations as a church related institution, with Dr. McAnlis acting as interim Director up to 1950.In the years that followed the hospital grew steadily, improvements were made on the existing physical plant, acquisition of new facilities and equipment, opening of new services and continuation of the hospital's outreach program, taking care of indigent patients in the coastal areas of Leyte and Samar by way of the "Floating Clinic". Where there used to only one wooden building, there is now a group of six two-story buildings with a 3 story building at the center. The bed capacity increased from 25 to 125 and an additional 25 beds during emergency. The hospital is accredited by the Association of Philippine Medical Colleges as a teaching-training college for nurses and post graduate medical interns. From 1969 up to 1974, the hospital was part of a pastoral education program, training UCCP ministers as hospital chaplains.
-from a History of Bethany Hospital by Elet Superada and Romualdo C. Cabalona

When we arrived in Tacloban in 1967, we were following in the footsteps of many great dedicated missionary doctors. Dr. McAnlis, a Presbyterian physician had come to the Philippines in the early 1930's, establishing a hospital in the Albay region. He had been imprisoned with his family in the Santo Tomas and Los Banos camps during WWII, but after the war returned to Leyte to help rebuild Bethany Hospital.

Initially, I think there were high hopes from Dr. Dolorico and his staff,
we were the first missionaries sent to Tacloban by the UCCP mission board in many years. It must have been a tremendous letdown when they realized who they had got stuck with. Our family was a twisted combination of those TV families, the Munsters, the Addams and the Clampetts. My parents were loud and boisterous like Granny Clampett and Herman Munster. The shouting, the noisy racket, the menagerie of farm animals, the crazy projects really must have dismayed the refined sensibilities of the hospital director and his wife, who unfortunately lived right behind our house. Looking out from their windows I'm sure they were saying "what the hell are those Americans doing now?!"
Mom worked at the hospital as a nurse. Part of Mom's duties included working on the floating clinic which serviced remote areas not easily accessible by road. The boat would anchor off of fishing villages, they would go in to vaccinate or give check ups. Those that needed x-rays would be brought out to the clinic. When she wasn't doing that she also worked in the ER, the OR and she worked in the nursery. There they showed her how to pierce the ears of the newborn baby girls for earrings. One day she was on a roll going down a line of 12 babies piercing ears as she went. When she got to the last one she realized she had pierced the ears of 3 boy babies as well!When I wasn't traveling with Dad I would go hang out around the hospital. I had friends in the office, the laboratory, the pharmacy and I especially liked the kitchen staff who would feed me something whenever I showed up. If I close my eyes I can almost conjure up the smell of the Filipino food being served at the cafeteria. And then of course there were the nurses: little white hats, starched white dresses and white stockings and shoes. Here I am surrounded by nurses at a wedding of one of the office staff.

The hospital raised livestock and grew its own vegetables, had a calamansi orchard and many fruit trees.

The farm foreman gave me my first ride on a carabao. He always had 10 to 20 dogs under his house and they would be different ones month to month. It wasn't till one day we saw him at the meat market selling dogs that we understood why he had so many.

The one place I steered away from was the morgue, it was always very spooky after dark. Auring would tell us horror stories about the dead wandering about looking for bad children. We had a game we played at night where "someone" would have to go and knock on the Morgue door while the rest of us waited a safe distance away. One night the door burst open and an arm reached out and grabbed him! Keith let out a long, high pitched, blood curdling yell and by the time he stopped screaming I was back at home having a snack.
"Where's your brother?!"
Eaten by the Aswang... 

And that is how come I only have three brothers.

(Keith in the meantime made friends with the morgue attendant and soon hung out there all the time)

Mom began helping teenagers go to nursing school and college. Eventually my parents would put over 30 students through college. They would pay the tuition and provide money for textbooks, uniforms and an allowance. Some of these college kids lived with us while others lived with their relatives in Tacloban, the nursing students lived in a dorm on the compound of Bethany Hospital. At our house we had Zenaida, Concepcion, Hermelinda, Tony, Ric and Eddie. There usually were a few more floaters who would stay with us for a while and then move in with other relatives.

All these students needed everyday clothing too, so we acquired a full time seamstress, Mrs. Hinakay. She would show up early Monday morning and stay with us through Friday afternoon, then take the ferry back to Samar for the weekend. She would usually bring one or two of her kids with her for the week, so our working household numbered 14! Mrs. Hinakay would be busy making dresses and blouses, shirts and pants all week long. Mom had relinquished, one by one, the duties and responsibilities of running a household that were typical of an American housewife. Cooking, cleaning, shopping, raising the kids and now she had her own seamstress! Finding clothes that fit Americans was hard in the Philippines, especially so in Tacloban. Mrs. Hinakay provided her with a wide assortment of clothing for every occasion.
(Dad went through a lot of clothes as he was always wearing his dress clothes to work in the garden. Auring would yell at him to change his clothes and make one of the students take out work clothes for him to wear)
All of the funding for these students came out of my parents pockets and at times was a real financial burden. Often the needs of the students came before the needs of us kids. So we lived very simply, few luxuries, no TV, no AC. We kids slept on mats on the floor while the students occupied our beds. This was an utang na lo-ob, a debt of obligation the students were keenly aware of and caused them a lot of emotional discomfort, binding them to us tightly. They loved us, comforted us, protected us. They would help us get dressed in the morning, played with us in the afternoons, bathed us and read to us at night.
We gradually settled into a routine, every Sunday after church we would cram inner-tubes, food and the entire household into our little jeep and go to the hospital's Beach house. In the early days it was just the six of us, but as our household grew this proved to be more difficult. Sometimes Dad or Mom would make two trips, sometimes some of us took a jeepney out to the beach.

The doctors and their families and a bevy of nurses that were not on duty would all be there too, unwinding after a weeks work. There always would be lots of music, food, drinks and dancing. The nurses adored and fawned over us kids, setting us on their laps and feeding us. They would practice their English on us and we would correct them as best we could. I reveled in the attention they showered on us.
Week in, week out, White Beach was our mini retreat. We had the beach and the ocean to ourselves, our own private tropical isle. I soon learned the hard way that for a sanitary swim I would need to walk down the beach a ways and get in the water just past a river that emptied in to the sea. This way I avoided any unpleasant encounters with floating sewage. There I was stung by jelly fish, caught in the undertow and nearly drowned. There after typhoons we would go look at the horseshoe crabs and jelly fish washed up on the beach and collect sea shells. There I saw my first dead person, a man who drowned. He was lying on the beach, buffeted by the waves. One of the doctors ran up to him and began performing CPR. I can remember the water coming out of his mouth and the smell of tuba, the strong alcohol made from palm sap. I remember his lips were so purple, his face so gray.

Every year the hospital hosted a picnic at sea for the for the Floating Clinic staff, crew and their families. One year we went out in to the Surigao Straits and dropped anchor near a sand bar. We just jumped overboard and swam over to the little beach. The water was crystal clear and on one end of the sand bar was the wreck of a landing craft. It was very strange to be on a little spit of sand in the middle of the ocean. It was like being marooned!

Leyte was littered with the detritus of WWII. Everywhere you went were the reminders that a war had been fought here not too long ago. Behind my elementary school along a creek was the wreckage of a Japanese Zero fighter plane. Jeeps and 6x6 trucks converted to civilian use were very common, the faded white stars still visible on the hoods. Sometimes on our trips we would see a shot up tank in the jungle. After every typhoon sunken wrecks would be washed ashore.

The beach house was very close to Red Beach, the site where MacArthur landed. There rusting landing craft and amphibious tanks still rested in the surf. At low tide the pilings of a bombed jetty would appear and start to smoke as the phosphorus from the incendiary bombs would dry out. Soon the water would be covered with a cloud of thick smoke. Then the tide would rise up and the fires would go out. One day Dad waded out with a 5 gallon pail and pried the chunks of phosphorus out of the pilings and placed them in the pail with water. Then one night he arranged the chunks on the concrete wall of our house and we watched as they began to smoke and then burn. Happy New Year! It was fun and exciting! At least it was until the hospital director's wife came over with the fire department to lecture Dad on fire safety!


  1. Thanks -- always look forward to reading another installment -- what a treasure!

    It sure takes unusual dedication for people to go on foreign missions/ assignments -- your parents sound a tad more eccentric than mine...

  2. another lovely account - amazes me how good your memory is Mark. Wish I could meet your parents!!

  3. I was a listner and an observer as a child. The Philippine experience was burned in to my hard drive. I used to call it my 10 year vacation. The Philippines was on the cusp of big change, straddling the past and the present. It was so exciting, neon lights and carratellas, ocean liners and bancas... remember the big neon "animated" Jai Alai sign in Manila? Do you remember Erehwon Bookstore?