Updated: Oct 20, 2020
Perhaps the closest thing I could get to being a hero is to leave the mainstream and volunteer myself as a doctor to the barrios. Maybe I could for just two years. Sounds like a very minute fraction of time, but two years outside one’s comfort zone, can be a long long time. Trust me, I tried two months away from that well- delineated comfort zone, and there wasn’t a single night that I did not pray for time to pass by faster.
Ever since I had the dream of becoming a medical doctor, I had always thought of a linear path towards being a consultant. I have always planned to chase my dreams right away just like most of us would. Pass the board exam, go through residency... For many aspiring doctors like me, the path is a straight line from point A to point B. Just how many would want to be like Dr. Peters? Surely, the name doesn’t ring a bell does it?
Dr. Lionel Peters should I say is one of the 10% of the health professionals that chose to serve the outskirts of the country. He was one of the few who took the unpopular path — to be a doctor to the barrios. From a very prestigious school, he went to Agutaya, an isolated island in Palawan. He brought with him nothing, but the core value of his alma mater: to serve the underserved. He was the only medical doctor in the island of Agutaya — not to mention the 13,000 population of the island. Normally people would go to the hospital to get treated, but through Dr. Peters, it was like the hospital was the one going to the patients for he would ride on his motorcycle, go house-to-house to monitor his patients especially the ones who were critically ill.
Dr. Lionel Peters. Photo from I-Witness Facebook Page.
One of Dr. Peter’s patient was David who had hydrocephalus. David’s mother once went to the city with the hopes of the treating her son. When the doctors informed her that David’s operation would cost 100,000 pesos, she went home broken. The only thing she could possibly do is to take care of David for as long as she’s alive with the truth lurking in silence that David would die if not treated. However, in a place like Agutaya, there was no bargaining with death — even with premature death. No amount of visits from Dr. Peter’s would prolong David’s life as with many other people in Agutaya with cancer, cerebral palsy, and tuberculosis to name a few. It is sad that there’s nothing that can be done for people like David in a place like Agutaya. Even more frustrating is that people there succumb to infectious diseases in which there are effective treatment. Apparently, those treatment do not cross the waters separating the rural areas from the city.
I can’t help but question. What’s the point of serving the people in the rural areas if I would be limited by the resources that are available? What’s the point of being a doctor if I cannot treat people like David? Dr. Peters sure foster alot of strength to see through the limitations poverty has imposed in these places. There must be something that made him want to stay there for more than he was asked to. What could be that something that makes it unimaginable for him to leave Agutaya? I could only surmise unless I take that brave decision to pause from the mainstream and explore the path less chosen.
Undeniably, being a doctor to the barrios is the antithesis of the life many of us have envisioned. With a little influence of the series I’ve been watching, I also imagined myself to be in a modern setting as I practice my future profession. At the same time, that dream I have concretized in my mind would still be possible even if I pause for awhile to serve the ones in dire need. However, it’s easier said than done. Only those who are called can embark on such a humbling experience. But I’m glad to say that I have an open door when the calling to be part of the 10% occurs to me.
It may not be the most sustainable job, but If ever that day comes, I will take on the journey humble enough to accept that I am not enough to be able to change a community, yet open for the priceless gift serving an underserved community can give to me.