BYO Water!?!

This has been a year of babies, babies, babies. For the past couple of months, I’ve had a friend deliver a baby at least once a week… and they’re not stopping anytime soon. I think I am up to 10 friends/acquaintances who are due the same week that I am early next year!

Just in the past few weeks, four of my girlfriends here have had beautiful little babies, all born in the comfort of our local hospital, with wonderful care to keep them and their mamas safe.

That’s why I was shocked when I read this as my own little one kicked around in my belly this afternoon:

“A sign at the front of the hospital in [Papua New Guinea] reads, ‘Women in labour must bring their own water.'” — Fraser Coast Chronicle

Holy. Cow. There are no words. There are absolutely no words.

And this coming from a girl who has been studying health care in PNG for the past number of years, spending this very week up late at night writing up our current strategies while Jared helps to outfit the new waiting area onboard our medical ship, knowing full well that 1 in 7 women in rural PNG will die during childbirth…

Knowing Molly’s story intimately… Molly the sweet newborn girl who didn’t live… but has inspired hundreds to take compassionate action…

Knowing that for many of these women, clean water is actually quite hard to come by in the best of circumstances, much less in the middle of contractions.

And yet, as upsetting as it seems that a woman would have to BYO water to deliver a baby in a hospital, also knowing that it is still probably the best possible place to deliver and the ones who get to go there are truly the lucky ones.

I guess some days it hits you harder. Fresher. A deeper knowing. Deeper motivation to keep on keeping on to do what we can to change it… for more to have life to the max.

Let it be…

Max visiting a remote village in PNG earlier this year.

Lumps and Bumps

I got an email today with a scanned copy of a letter from a man who leads a remote village in Papua New Guinea. In broken English, he sent a request for help from our ship, listing out about 10 health problems the village are facing, the last of them being “lumps.”

As I read that, I swallowed a lump in my own throat.

I can picture the lumps. Strange growths like the man who had a tumour so big in his mouth it has started leaking through his cheek… for the past several years.

Giant, infectious lumps like this little girl’s

Lumps and bumps that never get diagnosed… and often claim lives.

And to me, its that extra bit of sad right now because my own baby has a little lump… that still isn’t gone.

I’m so grateful to live in a country where we have had adequate health care. And not just adequate, but nurses that remember him between visits and treat us like rock stars. Surgeons who spend an unlimited amount of time answering our questions. Doctors who come in just to listen because they’re all a little puzzled about what’s been going on…

It tells me they aren’t just doing their job but they actually care about our little boy.

We’ve followed up on Max’s surgery and they’re not happy with the way his wound has healed… or about the new lumps that have emerged. That said, its not bad enough to warrant surgery yet… and they are over trying antibiotics.

So we wait and we watch and we pray.

And while we’re okay (I mean, you can’t argue with the fact that he’s an adorable almost-18-month-old who runs around giggling and cracking us up for the better part of every day), we don’t like it. We want to know he’s healthy and forget about the scary words the doctors mention as possibilities.

So while we wait… and watch… and pray… we continue on with our life. And for us, continuing on means doing our best to help other peoples’ lumps go away… Recruiting doctors and nurses, fundraising, renovating ships, writing newspaper articles, planning strategically for the future…

Because just a couple of hours away is another mother, making dinner over an open fire outside her hut, who is not only wondering what that lump is on her little boy’s neck… but also knowing that she may never find out… and may face the very real possibility that he won’t be okay.

We believed our little Max would bring life to many… and he inspires us every day to do our best to do the same.

Toothaches and Heartaches

I’ll be honest.

Hearing each night about the hundreds of teeth that the dentists pulled every day on board was starting to make me cringe… and wonder.

I love what we’re doing, but why were so many teeth being pulled? It wasn’t as though I doubted their integrity… but still, it didn’t add up in my mind. I mean, what does someone do if you pull 18 teeth from their mouth? How is that possible?

Is this really necessary?!

And then it was my turn to head up to the clinic. It has the sterile smell of any doctor’s office you’ve ever been to, mixed with the sickly sweet smell of too much beetlenut chewing. People waiting nervously… but excitedly…

I put on my mask and glasses to maintain the hygiene standards of the clinic and stepped up to our first patient.

It only took a moment to see. This was not fancy dental work. This was basic, primary and emergency care. His “teeth” were nothing but black stubs – rotted away and causing deep infection in his mouth. Sometimes when the teeth came out, they revealed giant pussy abscesses.

It was absolutely sickening. Not in the “you’re the kid no one wants to be on the playground with sort of way” but in the “oh my goodness, your life is at risk from the infection that is growing inside their mouth sort of way.”

The heartbreaking sort of way.

Oral care is something we can easily take for granted. Something we often complain about because let’s face it – its not always comfortable on our mouths… or our wallets!

But here, oral care is not only virtually unheard of, but the lack of it is causing major disease and infection in people… and they don’t even know it!

So as our dentists came down each night, rubbing their sore wrists (I now know from first hand experience the kind of muscle it takes to get those teeth out!) and sharing war stories, that not only were they helping to give brighter smiles, they were also helping to save lives in a very real way.

Some Are Better Than None

I hate this picture.

I hate it because do you see this boil on this little girls leg? It looks like a teenager’s first pimple compared to how it looked in real life.

I hate it because of the memories that come flooding back when I look at it.

I hate it because of the way my eyes sting with hot tears just like they did the night I met this little girl.

I was just getting out of the shower when I heard a heap of commotion. Would Dr Cassie please come up to the clinic? A man was bringing his granddaughter. They had been in their dingy for a few hours making their way here. It was dark. Was there anyway we could see her?

I followed Cassie into the clinic and my heart broke. The little girl was in her daddy’s arms, with her grandfather beside them. They were keen for me to watch, to hear her story, to tell it to others… because maybe others would be stirred to help.

“She’s three years old,” Cassie told me as she handed me her registration form. My eyes widened as I saw that she was also 10 kilos.

She was three years old and weighed less than my one year old who was contentedly sleeping in his air conditioned cabin two decks below us. 

She was also in pain. I could see it in her eyes, even beyond the fat crocodile eyes that sat on the edge of her lids.

I listened as Cassie explained in pidgin, “The sore is too big for any anesthetic. This will be “bikpela pain”, but we need to get it clean.”

She then said to me in English, “In Port Moresby, we would put this little girl under. This is going to be very painful, but its the only option.

And so as Cassie began to prepare the wound, the hot tears in my eyes matched my little sweethearts. I was barely containing my emotions – half way telling myself to toughen up and half way knowing that sometimes we need to allow ourselves to feel the emotion so that we remember the importance.

And then she looked at me.

She looked at me with those big eyes as if to say, “How could you let this happen to me!?”

And that’s when I knew that even though I needed to feel the emotion, I also needed to be her courage. I swallowed my tears and the lump in my throat and smiled at her the biggest smile I could. “You’re very brave,” I told her. “This hurts so much, but its helping you to be healthy.” “I’m so sorry that you’re sick. I know its not fair. But you’re going to be better.”

And I held her eyes as she screamed in absolute pain.

When it was over, I looked at her laying there. Her tiny shorts were covered in blood. And yet I knew that there was no clean set of clothes waiting for this little girl. What she was in was all she had.

Except for the suitcase full of kids clothes that was sneaked onto the ship, despite the fact that we don’t have cargo space for it. And in that little suitcase we found the perfect princess nightgown for a ride home on the dingy in daddy’s arms.

They left with antibiotics, wound care tools, instructions to care for the infection, and where we’d be anchored if it got worse.

Later that night, in the quiet of the cabin, I asked Cassie, “What would’ve happened if we weren’t here?”

“I don’t know for sure,” she said, “It may have popped and healed on its own. But with an infection that big, positioned in a high bacteria area on the body as it was, and as undernourished as she is, it is very likely she would not have survived.”

So I guess in some ways I love this photo.

I love it because of the hope that it represents.

I love it because it reminds me of a precious life that was saved.

I love it because even though not every problem in the world finds solution, some do.

And some are better than none.

Dr Cassie and the little princess

Do I Know You?

I have this awkward, awkward quality/ability/talent to remember random details about people.

How is this awkward? Well, sometimes I “meet” people and already know their name, address, spouse, and what year their family pet died. I have to politely smile and pretend I’m not the stalker I sometimes feel like I am (and remind myself God gave me this brain and this job.)

Now that I’ve been preparing so much material from the YWAM Medical Ship outreaches to the Gulf Province, I’ve started to feel as I actually know these people whose lives have been changed. I even feel as though they are my friends. I’m on first name basis with them – and they have never even met me. I refer to them like they’re the neighbour down the street… and they don’t even know that I exist.

I felt a little bit strange and silly when I realised just how dear they are to my heart. And then I realised that is the ultimate reality. Even from miles away, it is this caring about the individual that drives me to sit in an office (or home office) with my little baby playing at my feet, helping to change their lives.

So in an attempt to embrace the loveliness that is me loving them, allow me to introduce you to some of my friends

 

Finding Family in Unlikely Places

Stephanie is one of the girls on our media team. She has a hidden talent for sharing really good stories. So good, in fact, that I’m going to share one of them with you to give a bit of a picture into life in PNG… and what YOU are a part of there!

Enjoy!

As we were going to Orokolo Bay for our last week I turned to my friend and said, “Im going to make a best friend here,” and she said… “OK” ( She probably didnt believe me.)

So off I went in search for a best friend. During our welcoming kids were coming up and grabbing our hands left and right. But alas I had no buddy to walk with (Maybe it was because I was taking photos and kids were a bit frightened of me. which happened suprisingly often. I somehow made a habit out of making kids cry. Good times.)

I was a little bit defeated and decided to get on with my life and do what I came here to do. Halfway into the morning I sat outside the clinic visiting with the locals who were waiting to see the doctor and snapped a couple photos. And as I was taking photos… I saw him… I saw my new best friend! I didnt even care if he wanted to be or not. I was determined to win this kid over.

His name is Konkii and I sat with him and his mum and found out he was the one in line to see the doctor. He has been pretty sick for a while and they didn’t know what was wrong, so to tide them over until he got in to see our doctors I was determined to teach them something and decided on the peace sign because I think its funny. As you can see, my first few attempts kind of failed. Good effort anyways.

By the time he went into our clinic they were pro stars at the peace sign and even mastered the pound it handshake and he was all smiles. But dispite that we found out he was pretty sick with malaria and worms. Classic PNG child illnesses.

We were able to help him out and put him on some malaria medication and also give him some deworming pills which they never normally would have been able to afford.

They went home soon after and as they were walking away I was a little dissapointed, thinking my best friend just slipped through my fingers and I wouldn’t see him again.

BUT, it turns out that his family lived close by and came back to the clinic to say hi every day until we left. I would sometimes see him peeking through a crowd smiling shyly and holding up a peace sign in my direction. And other times he would be at my feet holding up very unripe guava for me in his hands with the biggest grin on his face. Knowing I would never eat them I just thanked him each time and put them in my billum he gave me with the rest of them.

The day we left I carried him through his village to our awaiting boat and every time we passed any of his family they would all say, “Oh look! its Konkii’s sister!”
Apparantly peace signs and pound it handshakes are ways to be adopted into a family in PNG. Yay!