Making House Calls: Using Mobile Medicine to Help Tinian Residents in the Wake of Super Typhoon Yutu

DJ Sprenger

It’s 730 in the morning on Saturday, November 3. The humidity is at 90 percent, so the ICS 211 daily sign-in form feels wet. Morning briefing outside the Forward Operating Base (FOB) just wrapped up – the heat is high, but the enthusiasm is higher. Today is the first day of mobile medical operations.

From day one, we’ve been told by our local contacts that there are many residents on the island that cannot or do not leave their homes or go to the Tinian Health Center, for one reason or another. So, instead of setting up mobile field clinics in specific locations – as Team Rubicon did in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria – our mobile Emergency Medical Team (EMT) decided we need to bring help and aid directly to these residents.

With their mobile medical backpack ready to go, and their last cup of coffee finished, the three-person mobile EMT set out into the surrounding communities. Using a list of names of homebound residents provided by the Tinian Senior Center, the team charted a course and spent the day working their way around Southwest Tinian. The terrain varied from paved and smooth urban roads, to winding and steep gravel paths, to a literal goat trail that had to be traversed by foot.

The first homebound Tinian resident they saw was a passionate, 83 year-old woman that lived in a hilly area of the island called Carolina Heights. On the journey to Carolina Heights, you experience the full spectrum of devastation that Super Typhoon Yutu left in its path. Some homes are completely demolished. Others seemingly untouched. Tin roofs were ripped from their structures and wrapped around palm trees, telephone poles, and what’s left of some buildings. Almost every tree left standing has been stripped of its lush, green leaves. Power lines are down and littered across the roads. Tinian is still very much an active disaster zone.

After finally arriving at her home, the mobile EMT checked her vitals, asked about her medical history and, most importantly, asked about how she was doing and feeling in the wake of the devastating Super Typhoon Yutu. Like nearly all of the Tinian residents we’ve met, or our teams have cared for in the shelter or at the Tinian Health Center, she was in relatively high spirits. The Tinian people are a very strong, proud, and resilient group.

“Nobody cries. Everybody smiles. The Tinian people are very resilient,” said Paul Scott, paramedic and Team Rubicon mobile EMT leader from Key West, Florida. “It’s very heart-warming because everywhere we go to provide help and aid, the Tinian people are consistently more worried about our comfort, and being sure they thank us for being here for them.”

Unfortunately, this woman is terminally ill. As our team took her vitals, cared for her, and took a genuine interest in how she was doing, she started to tear up. She thanked God for bringing our team into her life at this moment. As the home visit came to an end and our team made their way out of the house, the woman called Bob Toth, the Physician Assistant that had been caring for her, back into the home. At this point, she looked up, smiled, and handed him several strands of prayer beads that she wanted the team to have. She understands that she is terminally ill and was so thankful that our team took time to check-in on her and provide her with aid and care.

“These medical operations and deployments can be a bit tougher emotionally at times for the medical providers,” said Bob Toth, Physician Assistant and Team Rubicon mobile EMT member from Salt Lake City, Utah. “We see these patients in hard places, we understand the severity of what they’re dealing with and that they may not have much time left, in some cases. This hardship comes with the territory of our chosen profession and we’re all good at dealing with it in our own way, but it certainly can take a toll at times. Being handed these prayer beads was a powerful moment – this strong woman has been through so much and all she was concerned with was giving us something to show her thankfulness and appreciation.”

While mobile medical operations can be exhausting and taxing, our team has been making progress as well as a significant impact in communities across Tinian. So far, the Team Rubicon mobile EMT has seen and treated 24 residents on the island.

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