#5: Philippines 2018 (Helping Children Smile Medical Mission)

First of all – I have to make an apology for taking such a long time to write this blog! There’s been a whole lot of work, and a new tiny-pawed furry addition to the family since finally landing back in Australia last month, so my hands have been kept somewhat hostage…but more on that in my next blog!

Second of all – Philippines!

I’ve been really struggling to find the right word to describe my trip to the Philippines. In reply to most people, I use the word amazing with a gushing enthusiasm and a widen-eyed conviction of the word. But even then, I know this is still an understatement. Because it was just so much more than that.

For those that have been following Life, She Wrote, you will have known that this year’s addition to Bucket List #5 came with it’s own special purpose – but for those that are new to the story, you can read about it here.

Having looked forward to trip since finding out I would be apart of it back in September, I couldn’t believe it had come round so quickly. The end of February was nearing as we all met up at a hotel near the airport in preparation for the three flights ahead of us the next morning. I had met most people prior to trip, but there were a few I hadn’t and it was nice to sit down with everyone, putting faces to names over wine, cheese and Thai.

It was still dark when our early-morning alarms sounded at 4am and we eagerly threw on our team t-shirts (bright blue and not easily missed in a crowd), making our way to the airport. With thirty-something luggage bags in tow carrying various pieces of equipment and monitors, we hustled into the group check-in and busily set about labelling and weighing bags. If I thought the amount of bags we had then and there was extravagant, I had another thing coming for me when we finally did arrive in Vigan (but that’s getting ahead of myself).

The first leg of the trip was flying into Sydney, where we met up with the two surgeons and two anaesthetists, and one other member of the team. Choosing to go it alone at the Duty Free, I managed to get myself utterly lost between terminals an hour later – but I’ll blame that on the airlines changing the terminal departure and those big electronic boards displaying way too many flights to Manilla (was there really that many people departing to Manilla?). Nevertheless, we all boarded on time and I was quite happy not to be left sitting back at terminal 34 on my lonesome.

Touching down in Manilla was a relatively smooth process. We quickly caught a bus to the hotel, with our priorities set on food, sleep and a quick 7-Eleven pitstop. I don’t remember falling asleep that night, I just figured I must have switched out as soon as my head hit that pillow and woken up 6 hours later.

After a traditional buffet breakfast we checked out and made our way back to the Manilla airport to catch our next flight to Laoag. It was a quick flight, landing beside one of the smallest airports I’ve ever seen. The little brick building, covered in pink flowering vines, could be walked end-to-end in less than five minutes.  But with a large sign welcoming Helping Children Smile to the Philippines, we felt right at home.

We collected ourselves, and our many pieces of luggage, into a large coach bus which carted us on a two hour journey to Vigan – our final stop for the trip and the location of the hospital we would be performing surgery at. We stopped midway at a small village supplier for afternoon tea where we we lucky enough to try some local food. Any food at this point was a god-send after having only had a pork bun since breakfast!

We arrived at our hotel in Vigan late that afternoon and quickly changed before heading into town to see the hospital. Having never been on a mission before, I wasn’t really sure what to expect – but the hospital appeared in relatively good condition in comparison to pictures I’d seen from previous mission trips. We toured the theatre rooms, recovery and the shed-like room that would be our ward. Everyone seemed pretty happy with it’s prospects and so we went to check on the luggage. Well in addition to the bags we had brought over, there was at least a dozen more to fill three ward rooms full. How we could have ever needed this much, I’ll never quite know – but it was our way to ensuring we never had to place any cost upon the hospital by only using our own equipment and supplies.

It was still light out when we ventured back to the hotel, so we snuck in a quick swim in the pool and laughed hysterically at those game enough to take on the waterslide that ended at least a metre above the water. There were plenty bruises and red marks all round to tell the tale of that endevour.

 

The next six days were a bit of a blur. But after setting up our recovery room on Monday, we were straight to work with two surgeries that afternoon. Back home, recovery spans across almost a whole floor catering for well over twenty patients. In Vigan, the recovery room was no more than 4 metres by 4 metres, perhaps smaller. It had two small beds either side of the room, with a cupboard in the corner and a cabinet full of drugs at the tail-end. We commandeered two small tables and set them up between each bed, tetras-packing them with our equipment. And we made-do. Theatre was much the same, simplistic, but functional – and from all accounts, better than expected.

It was such a rush to see it all play out, and then to be a part of it. Carrying the children in their hands, the anaesthetic nurse would rush out of the OT into our small recovery placing the child onto one of the beds. In a swift rush, the pulse oximeter and oxygen mask would be connected and we would intently monitor their small airways until they woke.

Waking up from the anaesthetic in the Philippines was a little rougher than at home, and so as soon as our little ones opened their eyes, we would whisk them off the trolleys and into our arms to rock and soothe. Their were plenty of wrigglers and plenty of tears, but that all got a little better as soon as mum arrived to hold there hands. After a quick dose of pain relief and a drink of water, we let them return to the ward.

Upstairs in the ward, it became a noisy collection of people after the third day. Families consisting of parents, siblings, uncles and aunties would squeeze into the same bed offering support to the children, becoming the ultimate nursing team. We would leave instructions for the parents in regards to pain relief; how much and how often, each night and return each morning to do a quick round and see how they had progressed.

The children were beautiful. And again, this too feels to be a rather large understatement. I fell in love with them the moment I met them. Their tiny faces that lit up the moment you gave them a smile, or handed them something as little as a toy car, had my heart bursting at it’s seams. These children were just so grateful for the things that many children here take for granted, and I couldn’t help but be in awe of their strength despite their circumstances.

Before each surgery we would adorn them with a little material cape made by volunteers here in Australia, and help them believe in superheroes. We would place little coins called ‘lucky money’ in their hands when they went to sleep, and would make sure they woke up with the lucky money still there. It was these little things that made surgery feel a little less frightening, and helped them feel a little more brave.

 

The differences to the their lips and palates were remarkable, and being a part of a process that changed each of their lives in the most unbelievable way has undoubtedly changed my perspective on my own world immensely.

After six days, we had performed over thirty operations. The hospital had kindly provided food each day and made every sacrifice possible to ensure our operations went smoothly. We were truly spoilt to have been able to work in Vigan, and were treated to dinner each night in the small town by different members of the Vigan Rotary Club.

On our last few days, we had enough downtime to do some exploring throughout the Provence of Vigan, a budding city on the tourist hot-spot list. From Dancing Fountain Shows to historical 17th Century walkways, monumental buildings to heritage listed sites – we were privileged to see so much in such a short time frame. And as we drunk a San Miguel (apple flavoured, for me) Beer at sunset on the beach, I think each one of us counted ourselves as lucky to have been on this trip.

After a heart wrenching clinic morning, checking up on the kids after their surgeries and waving goodbye to the children that had changed our lives perhaps even more so than we had changed theirs, we packed our bags and set off on the long journey home.

There aren’t enough words to describe the fullness of my heart, or the awe I have in the strength of these little ones and their parents. I am so proud to have been able to work alongside some of the most amazing clinicians and to have had the opportunity to utilise my own nursing career in a corner of the world that really needed it.

This trip has taught me that there is so much kindness, courage and generosity still to be shared in this world, and that it sometimes comes most from those who have far less than you.

For more information about the Helping Children Smile Organisation, or to donate to the cause for next year’s mission, click here. I cannot express how much of a difference surgery for these children makes in simple tasks such as eating and speaking, nor the happiness it brings to a part of the world who truely appreciate it.

For more details about visiting Vigan and Manilla, where to go and what to do – head over to The Travel Log!

And to have a sneak peak at the trip, the children we operated on and the places we managed to visit after-hours all in colour motion, you can head to my YouTube Channel!

This has been the most rewarding bucket list ‘check’ yet, and I really do hope to go again next year!

#5: Travel to a new place every year – check!

d x

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#68

It’s really not until you become a house owner that you understand the true beauty of a hardware store. As a child I used to dread trips there. I would drag my feet down every aisle adorned with every different kind of screw known to mankind (and yet still not the one my father would need) and grumble the entire way.

I really never understood the hype, until three days after moving into the new house when I needed to use a screw driver to attach the new 75 inch tv to its accompanying stand and realised a large gap in my inventory… tools.

Off to the local Bunnings I marched, concerned that my creativity and a knife tip in place of a screwdriver may not quite get me through the years to come. How I had gotten 22 years in and never found use for one, I’ll never quite know – but I was very aware this was now an issue.

In the midst of the large store room, inundated with every tool, contraption and adjunct I could have imagined, I realised I was well out of my depth. If the crisp white dress and beach wedges hadn’t already given that away, I was sure my overwhelmed, and slightly clueless, expression would…

And without warning, standing there in the middle of the tool section, it happened. I caught the hardware bug, my creative bones humming at the new ideas growing bigger aisle by aisle.

That was all it took. From that point, I’m sure I became Bunnings best customer, taking fondly to the ability to create an online ‘Bunnings Wishlist’.

I had so many big ideas! But the first of many, was a hanging vegetable garden – earning a spot on the bucket list at #68. My first industrial project for the little white house.

With a old palette collected from the skip bin down the road where another house was being built at the time, a little Tarzan SuperGlue, screws and my newly acquired drill (possibly my favourite purchase since becoming somewhat of my own builder’s apprentice), I managed to construct a hanging garden shelf. Pulling every second wooden paling from the palette skeleton, I cut and glued it to the base of the existing palings. And with little tightening of a few screws, a whole lot of youtube instruction and some creative ingenuity, it was finished.

A true tradie would have laughed hysterically at me. But everyone has to start somewhere right? And I hadn’t sawed off a finger or glued myself to the wood – so I viewed that as being rather successful in my books.

A week later it was secured to the fence just outside the door to my butlers pantry and I filled it with a dozen herbs, a little bit of lavender (out of Igloo’s reach) and a couple of succulents for show. And I oddly had never been more proud of anything else as watched my little herbs grow to overflow their pots.

Now, even two years later, every time I eat my famous spaghetti bolognaise infused with fresh basil, oregano and chive, I feel just that little bit more accomplished and that little bit more in love with creating something of own.

And if that has you inspired for dinner tonight, I’ll leave the recipe below 😉

#68: Build a hanging vegetable garden – check!

d x

Spaghetti Bolognaise
Ingredients:
– 500g Pork Mince (somehow just better than beef..)
– 425g Tomato Soup
– 140g Tomato Paste w/ Garlic and Herb
– Basil, Oregano + Chive (fresh is better, but from a jar will do too!)
– Pasta

Method:
1) Heat saucepan and cook pork mince on high until brown, removing excess water from pan if necessary.
2) Reduce heat + add in tomato soup, tomato paste and herbs
3) Leave to simmer + add Basil, Oregano and Chive to taste (I prefer a good pinch of all three!)
4) Serve with pasta

Servings:
4 people (or 2 + a delicious lunch for you both the next day!)

Happy cooking!

Helping abroad

Well, it’s official – I’m going to the Philippines next year!

For those that have been following, you might remember me mentioning becoming the newest member of the Helping Children Smile Organisation about two months ago (if not, read about it here). You might also remember me applying for next year’s mission trip in February to perform free surgery for the children over there with cleft palates – and lo and behold, one phone call last week confirmed I was successful!

In all honesty, being so new to the team, I wasn’t really sure whether I was in with much of a chance of being selected in the first place. It’s a huge trip with so many applicants each round, and I had only been there for all of five minutes. But encouraged by a couple of the girls at last month’s meeting, and with the CN application ordeal fresh in my memory – I figured there was no harm in showing my interest. This is my year of conquering fear, after all.

I’d originally put in an expression of interest for the ‘admin’ position – similar to a being a go-for. Someone who would help with the admissions, file paperwork and run errands. While it wasn’t exactly a position that would utilise my nursing skills as such, it would have been the perfect position to get a taste for the trip, in the hope to return the following year in a more surgical position.

So when I received a cryptic phone call asking whether I would have any interest in being a recovery nurse for the trip, I couldn’t help but feel the excitement bubble. Apparently, my experience in surgical nursing and airway management in neonates in my nursing internship made me a little more eligible than a go-for. One week later, I was officially asked to accompany the 2018 Mission Trip as the newest recovery nurse to the team.

I had to use every ounce of self-control to not squeal  down the line, but the smile that breached ear to ear said enough. It was as if it had all been falling in place since the moment I spotted the infamous post of Facebook. If there was ever a moment where I have felt like something was just meant to be – this was it, this was that moment.

I now have a lot to organise, including applying for a temporary permit to work in the Philippines – which is a whole other level of paperwork in itself. But I’m no way complaining. This is certainly going to be one amazing experience. And at the risk of sounding a little too much like my Father, there really is no substitute for doing something like this.

I’m so excited to use my nursing career for something so meaningful, in a place that really needs it. It’s been on the Bucket List for a long time, and finally #52 has found it’s promising ‘check’ – so stay tuned for that one. I’m already looking for forward to blogging this amazing adventure next February!

d x

#65

Whilst away on my tropical getaway, I finally had the chance to do something I’ve embarrassingly enough, never done before…. I snorkelled!

Yes, I can tell you now that it is entirely possible to live 24 years and not don the ol’ flippers and snorkel to investigate what lays beneath the oceans skin. I am the very proof. So upon visiting the picturesque Mystery Island last month, I decided to change that small life fact of mine.

It may not be a huge leap and bound in the big scheme of things, but it was something I have always wanted to do given my intrigue with the ocean. And so it found a worthy home at #65 on the bucket list.

Having never snorkelled before, and being mostly a nose-breather (it’s a thing, just ask any nurse), I must admit that I found it a little hard to do at first. Training your brain to suddenly only breathe through your mouth in an almost dire circumstance given that you are under the sea and water in your lungs is not exactly compatible with life; wasn’t exactly easy.

I resembled something close to a struggling baby seahorse at first, trying to coordinate breathing and swimming simultaneously. Throw in a subtle wave or two to supersede the end of my snorkel, and you could have easily found enormous entertainment in my personal underwater wrangle.

But for the sake of the rainbow fish, I persevered.

Eventually I grew accustomed to having a little less air in my lungs, and slowed down my breathing enough to find a slow rhythm with my stride. I was able to navigate the oceans movement and anticipated the waves. I almost instinctively learnt how to blow any water that dared to enter my sacred breathing tube right back out into the air above.

After an hour, I decided I was brave enough to attempt a dive under the surface. After two seconds of deciding this, I was convinced being brave was a death warrant. Cue struggling baby seahorse performance number two. How people did this so naturally was beyond me. It was like the moment the water travelled down the snorkel and touched my lips, my body spontaneously thought, ‘Oh sure, come on in!’.

But for the sake of the blue starfish, I persevered.

Spitting out the salty ocean water my body had executively decided to harbour, I tried again. This time concentrating on blowing the air in my lungs out slowly enough to combat the water. By day two of snorkelling, I had this manoeuvre down pat enough to venture through tunnels in the reef at Paradise Cove in Port Vila.

This baby seahorse had found her wings… or scales? Either way, I had become a little less entertaining to the observers onshore.

It was worth every moment of frantic underwater fear, and salty-ocean-water-swallowing just to swim with the multitudes of tiny fish who call these beautiful reefs home. From clown fish (totally found Nemo), to vibrant coloured starfish; giant sea slugs, to vicious eels; curious reef sharks, to bright coral – it was an experience I enjoyed whole-heartedly and plan to do a lot more of in the future.

I’ll call it my warm up for scuba-diving – which also makes the list, and I just know that when I get to it I’m going to love it just as much, if not more!

Oh, just as a side note for anyone else who, just like me, may have not yet snorkelled – here’s a prominent tip above all else… try only to smile internally at the beauty of it all. As it turns out, smiling externally breaks the seal of your snorkel mask causing a great deal of salt water to flood your eyeballs. And take it from me, it’s not a pleasant experience.

#65 – Go Snorkelling: Check!

d x

#5: Vanuatu & New Caledonia 2017

We arrived at the port of Brisbane right on time for our early check-in, and excitedly kissed our Mr.’s goodbye as we stared up the giant cruise liner titled Pacific Dawn.

Celebrating 10 years of friendship, my best friend, J, and I couldn’t think of a better way to commemorate the occasion than to set sail upon the high seas on a Pacific Island Cruise! Additionally, this made the perfect excuse to tick #5 off of the Bucket List nice and early this year.

Grabbing our luggage – which were impressively very compact and surprisingly not very heavy despite our indecision over what clothes to bring (if in doubt, bring it all, right?), we stumbled into the line up outside the port’s centre doors. First in the queue, we made our way to the check-in desk quickly.

Boarding was an easy process, and we found ourselves excitedly galavanting up the gangway in a little under an hours time. ‘Bon Voyage‘ they happily wished us as we stepped over the ship’s threshold and into the spacious liner’s atrium. We quickly found our room, and dumped the excess carry-on straight onto our beds, before making a beeline for the back of the cruise ship.

One ‘Tropical Passion’ and ‘Martini’ later, we found ourselves completely at home on the decadent lounges overlooking the Port. I always seem to forget how easy it is to settle into holiday mode, and in that moment aboard the cruise liner… oh boy, was I on holidays. I couldn’t help but secretly burst with a unparalleled anticipation for what lay ahead.

We spent 10 days sailing across the Pacific Ocean, visiting four islands and two countries in total. It seemed that each destination was even better than the one before, and we thoroughly enjoyed immersing ourselves in the cultures of each. From traditional Noumea and scenic Lifou in New Calendonia, to the untouched Mystery Island and popular Port Vila in Vanuatu – we managed to fill two camera phones, one GoPro and one Canon DLSR worth of pictures between us both.

We’ve come back at least three shades darker in skin colour thanks to the Pacific Ocean sunshine, and holding close to our hearts some very special memories. I could not have wished upon a better way to celebrate friendship than with this tropical adventure to some of the world’s most beautiful islands. You can count on the fact that this is only the very beginning of my tropical holiday obsession.

You can check out the details and destinations out a little more in depth here at my Polarsteps profile (an absolute god-send when it comes to documenting any overseas holiday I promise you!).

And with nothing else to say, Vanuatu and New Caledonia – you have been a dream!

#5 – Travel somewhere new every year: 2017 – Check!

d x

#55

A couple of years ago, I bought a proper camera for my Mr. for his birthday. It cost just short of a small fortune, but he loved it so thoroughly that eating cucumber as a staple meal for the subsequent month became almost justifiable.

I would readily find him photographing everything from the couch pillows to the carpet – though it was always beyond me as to understand what kind of artistic flare he was going for exactly. He was enthralled with it, and so it came to be an essential item to pack on any venture out of the house.

I remember on one outing I asked if I could have a go, just to see what all the fuss was about. I aimed the lens toward to the pink horizon and pressed the shutter capturing the last fleeting moment of sunshine before it vanished behind the earths edge. 

I quickly found the replay button, and examined the picture I had taken. And it was in that moment that I truly realised just how well my money had been spent. It was the beginning of an addiction, a yearning to capture even more of the earths beauty in a frame to last eternity. 

I was hooked. Only a photographer could perhaps know the feeling. 

There was just something about photography that entangled itself immediately with my creative side that day. I couldn’t help but suddenly feel inspired by the world around me. It was like a thirst to portray the beauty I was seeing with my own eyes in the pictures I could take. 

So I made it #55 on the bucket list to start my own photography page. 

I had always promised myself that in this lifetime I would do my best to illuminate the most wonderful parts of life for others to see. 

And I couldn’t help but hope that the creation of a photography page would become a perfect definition of that. 

It’s been about four months since I’ve thrown ‘Wild Hearted Photography‘ into existence in the every-growing world of Instagram. And while I’m still very much an ametuar, the page is starting to gain a little interest. 

It’s become not only a place to quietly display my collection of photos, but almost a guide to some of the most beautiful parts of the earth I’ve travelled so far – including Bali, Japan and certain roadtrip ventures down south. 

My goal is to keep adding to the collection, with many more pictures from the places I have every intention of exploring. I hope to inspire people not only with the places I photograph, but with the challenge I’m posing for myself in starting something I know nothing about, and making it my own. 

I haven’t nearly nailed photography on the head. I’ve got a long way to go. But when I look back to some of my first shots, I can see I’m improving and that’s okay with me! I’ve picked up a new hobbie, and I’m loving it. 

If you feel like joining the journey, head over to @wildheartedphotography and click follow! I promise to be the wings and the adventurer for us all. 

Now just to convince my Mr. that his GoPro is way cooler than the Canon – wish me luck!

#55 – Start my own photography page: check!

d x 

#4

Well, it’s official! I did it! I got the job! You are now looking at the newest CN to join the ranks in the surgical unit heading for the new hospital at the end of next month. If the ear-to-ear smile doesn’t give it away, then I’m not sure what would.

I couldn’t be more thrilled.

Admittedly it took me a lot to even apply for the position (read 2017: The Fear), but the whole process has made me realise just how important it is, and has always been, to never stop pursuing your goals  – even when they may prove difficult.

Truthfully, I have my father and my Mr. to entirely thank for pushing me to the brink of frustration. I had never doubted myself more than in the weeks leading up to the application deadline, and could not have fathomed the possibility that I would be successful.

Since finding out the inverted of that, I haven’t stopped thinking about just how lucky I was to have the two greatest men in my life believe in me strongly enough to [lovingly] peer-pressure me into clicking the ‘submit’ button. If it had not been for them, I may have  thrown away this opportunity altogether.

I’ve come to recognise that while we can be strong on our own, true strength is found in numbers. Only in the sense that in your weakness someone else will be there to loan the strength you need. It’s not that you couldn’t fight your battle alone, it’s that there’s comfort in knowing you don’t have to. To have someone else believe you can is sometimes the only ammunition we need.

I am more than humbled to be given such an amazing opportunity at the age of 23, and am knowingly entering a new chapter of my life with more gratefulness than I thought was possible.

Finally, I get to wear my shiny new CN shoes…and keep them. I am ready.

#4 – Make Clinical Nurse at work: Check!

d x

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