Carson Bold spent the past week deep in dirty water, debris and human blood, doing medical relief work in the Philippines.
He is 16 years old, but acquired the kind of knowledge that most adults will never know.
“The human body is the same, everywhere, everyone is the same on the inside,” he said.
Carson, young as he is, was no stranger to medical relief work. He did a stint with his father, Mammoth Hospital Physician Assistant Jim Bold, in Mexico two years ago when he was 14, with many of the same people who went to the Philippines with Mammoth Medical Missions.
That trip opened Carson’s eyes to the “indescribable feeling” he got helping people, which naturally made him eager for more.
The trip to the Philippines was not planned. The team initially planned to go to Mexico two weeks ago. Some members of the team already were on the airport tarmac for a long-planned, week-long, medical relief trip.
At that moment, they found out about the destruction wreaked by Typhoon Haiyan and decided right then and there to divert to the Philippines and do the work they were trained for.
The trip to one of the hardest hit parts of the Philippines, Leyte Island and the City of Tanauan, was different, though.
During the next six days, the 16 members of the Mammoth Medical Missions team operated on hundreds of injured people, all of them with infected wounds, some needing amputations.
For the first four days, Mammoth Medical Missions, led by Mammoth Hospital orthopedic surgeon Dr. Mike Karch, was the only emergency relief team of any kind in the area.
With no clean water after the island’s sewers had backed up following the storm, the team filtered hundreds of gallons of water with filters brought from Mammoth, Carson said.
With hundreds of patients and few supplies, the team cut the surgical dressing they had brought from the Eastern Sierra into tiny pieces to make it last longer.
With no food on the island, the team made do with one military ration per person per day—1,200 calories per day of packaged food.
With no roof on the City Hall building they were using as a makeshift clinic, they strung up tarps to shelter patients and doctors from the driving rain during surgery.
With not enough anesthesia for everyone, the team reverted to what Carson called “Civil War” medicine—a towel for the patient to bite down on during surgery.
It was, Carson said, a scene of immense human misery.
“It was total devastation,” he said.
“It’s what I imagined a war zone would look like. The Black Hawk helicopter that flew us in had to do a beach landing because the airport was destroyed. Everything was covered in mud, because a 17- to 20-foot tall storm surge had covered the entire island.
“Most of the bodies had been buried or swept away by the time we got there, but you could smell the death.”
In retrospect, Carson said among the more vivid experiences he had was to witness human endurance.
“The Filipino people’s tolerance for pain totally blows Americans away,” he said.
“I saw a 7-year-old boy with a deep cut that we had to debride (clean debris and infection out of) and we only had a little local anesthesia. He cried a little at first and then he stopped and leaned into his mom and didn’t move at all while we worked. That was what amazed me the most—the people’s courage.”
“I want to continue to do this work,” he said. “To know that those 400 people we helped would most likely have died of wound complications or suffered further, that gave me an incredible feeling.
“The most heartbreaking thing was that we had to leave,” he said.
Working with the team of professionals from Mammoth Medical Missions, who had taken a week off from their day jobs to do the medical mission work, was another highlight of the trip, Carson said.
“The team was unbelievable,” he said.
Carson, already interested in medicine and science, was in his element in the Philippines, said his father, Jim Bold.
He isn’t surprised when his son said that he had tried to imagine the scene in the Philippines to be “10 times worse than it could possibly be” in order to prepare himself for what he was about to see, or when Carson said he was not traumatized by the work he did there.
“He was one of the people that held it together the best in the group,” Jim Bold said. “He’s a strong individual. He has that focus that is critical to this kind of work.
“When I was his age, I couldn’t stand the sight of blood,” he said.
“Before I was a physician’s assistant, I was a paramedic for 10 years, and he was constantly hounding me about my work. When I asked him if he wanted to go on this trip, I asked him because I knew he could handle it. And he did.
“I could not be prouder of him.”
Members of the Mammoth Medical Missions team in the Philippines included: Mike Karch, MD, orthopedic surgeon and team leader, Sara B. May, MD, emergency physician and triage leader, Richard Koehler, MD, thoracic surgeon and fire team leader, Martha Kim, MD, OB/GYN surgeon, Jonathan Bourne, MD, anesthesiologist, Paul Chu, MD, anesthesiologist, Wayne Anderson, MD, anesthesiologist, Sierra Bourne, MD, emergency physician, James Bold, certified Physician’s Assistant, Katherine Dease, certified Orthopedic Technologist/EMT, Irene Graham, RN, Robert Kocher, RN, Mike McMahon, certified Orthopedic Technologist, Alan Podawiltz, field infrastructure and supply manager, David Page, C.O.O. and field logistics coordinator, Carson Bold, student.