It started with an email chain he received from fellow doctors last month.
Within a week, State Senator Steve Dickerson of Nashville was in the Philippines helping people whose lives and limbs had been ravaged by the one of the worst typhoons the world has ever seen.
“We went out and treated whoever walked up, several hundred patients a day,” Dr. Dickerson told News 2 on Tuesday. “I walked in thinking I was going to be doing surgery and maybe some fractures, cleaning up wounds and I turned into a primary care doctor.”
Dickerson, who is normally an anesthesiologist and pain management physician, spent four days in what amounted to mobile, makeshift clinics in the devastated neighborhoods of a Philippine city called Tacloban City.
“We would say we were here with a medical group, and they [neighborhood leaders] would get us a couple of tables and chairs, and we would have a couple of the local Filipino nurses translate for us,” the state senator said. “And patients would line up and we would treat them.”
Dr. Dickerson, who is in his first term as a State Senator, said he saw a lot of “chronic folks who could not get to a doctor or a hospital because of the typhoon, so we treated some things like hypertension and diabetes.”
From the storm, Dickerson told News 2 he saw what he called “penetrating injuries to the foot.”
“People would be walking around in one, two, three feet of water barefoot and they would step on a nail, step on corrugated metal or a piece of glass, so we would end up treating infection from that,” he said.
Dickerson said many children with upper respiratory issues, which he blamed on the constant burning of debris that permeated the Philippine city.
“There was just this kind of toxic smoke through out the city. As a result everyone was getting this kind of upper respiratory infection,” he explained.
Despite their illnesses, Dickerson said the kids were oblivious to the destruction around them.
“Kids in the face of utter despair were just going on with their lives,” he recalled.
Dickerson added the most incredible injury he saw was a woman who was given antibiotic cream for abrasions on both arms.
“She had literally interlocked her fingers and was holding onto a coconut tree to keep from getting washed out into the ocean, so she rode the storm out holding onto a coconut tree,” Dickerson said in amazement. “And remarkably, her injuries were healing up well.”
In his role as a Senator, we asked what the Philippine experience will mean for him on Tennessee's Capitol Hill.
“If you were to go to a place like the Philippines where people were fighting for their lives, and don't know where their next meal is coming from, and don't have access to health care or water, I think it will put things in a little different perspective when I am debating things in the senate. Dr Dickerson told News 2. “I mean how can it not?”
Dr. Dickerson's trip was part of a group called “Acts World Relief,” which specializes in disaster response and emergency training.