Yen’s Blog | Month 3 | September 2018
The quiet child
On this last patrol, my heart went out to the children from villages’ inland, brought to the aid post/clinic by their school teacher. They had chronic leg sores and were less well fed than their coastal neighbours. This is presumably due to the lack of fish in their diet, living off their garden plot produce. In addition, it is a few hours walk to the nearest health facility. So on that fateful mid-morning, a group of pregnant women, children and infants arrived hot and bothered to us. They were not immunised nor receiving routine care as the local aid post (one we were working from) had lost their health worker due to funding issues. The mothers were getting on with it and giving birth unaided in thevillages. There was no family planning and it was not uncommon to see a mum of 8 with slightly unkempt and under nourished children. One quiet little boy around the age of 6 (they commonly do not know their true ages as dates are deemed irrelevant when there are no seasons) stole my heart. He presented with malaria and was feverish with signs of malnutrition. His teacher said he frequently turned up to school with no lunch as mum was too busy with the younger kids. He did not cry during malaria testing which involves a needle prick to the finger. I gave instructions to his teacher regarding his treatment along with some vitamin supplementation and she agreed to supervise this. I quietly hoped and prayed he received the attention he so needed.
On a brighter note, I also encountered happier and healthier children during my last patrol and it is such a joy to see. I love blowing up glove balloons for them, though the reception is somewhat variable from big smiles to extreme fear and tears. I derived great pleasure from seeing the children’s reaction with the glove ballooning up with air. I do however suspect it did more for me than the kids, and their parents kindly indulged by getting their kids to say thank you.
Death of a laptop
On our last patrol, we happened to station at Lavongaihealth centre which had access to safe charging equipment for the laptop. ADI provides a laptop for ease of report writing and documentation whilst on patrol while the memories are still fresh (hence I am sitting under a mosquito net and a solar light typing thiswhilst the team slumbers). I would like to emphasise the safety or rather the perils of charging a laptop with a fuel generator. My previous laptop died after a petrol generator charging session caused it to suddenly cease working (local laptop pathologist Brendan thinks the motherboard fried). This was despite connecting it to an extension cable with a surge protector. My primary frustration during that last patrol, which was deemed the most challenging of the year, stemmed neither from the perilous seas nor basic living conditions we faced, but from technology failure. I found this rather ironic, coupled with the fact that on return to town, the mobile company decided to bar my SIM card without warning. I completed that patrol celebrating that we did rather well on a challenging patrol but also downed by the dreaded task of having to somehow sort out the laptop and phone. Part of me quietly wished they would stay dead forever (no laptop, no reports; no phone, no place to be). Anyway, my half written reports were salvaged by local legend Brendan on return to town and my SIM card restored after some pleading and smiles with the local mobile company. So goodbye laptop and safe journey back to Sydney for your cremation.
Saving the world one plastic bag at a time
I thought it would be a nice treat for the team to have a movie session seeing that we successfully charged the laptop without frying the motherboard this time. I decided to play The Martian thinking it would cater for both the women and men (not too much action, not too much drama or romance, with some comedy thrown in). Before the movie commenced, half the team were ready and I decided to play Blue Planet 2 as a preview. I was not anticipating the glee and discussions that soon ensued. They absolutely loved it, understandably as most grew up and are living by the coast and enjoy a spot of fishing. Most have never swum in deep ocean let alone scuba-dived. So to be able to see rays, dolphins, tuna and shark from beneath the surface wasnew and fascinating to them. I was glad to see them appreciating the marine life on offer, though a few mentioned it would help improve their fishing. The best part was at the end when Sir David Attenborough mentions the atrocity that is the ridiculous amount of plastic we dump into the ocean each day. To be told is one thing, but to see a baby turtle dead due to being tangled up in some plastic, or a baby whale dying due to drinking its mother’s contaminated milk, is another. Thank you Sir David! I gently encouraged the team to think twice about throwing rubbish into the ocean and decline a plastic bag when they are back in towngrocery shopping. Maybe then they can join me looking rather awkward at the checkout counter as the standout tourist who refuses a plastic bag. I am ready for some support and company in my no-plastic-bag solidarity to combat the confused looks I get from the locals. PS The Martian was received well but not as well as Blue Planet 2, which was played again the next day, twice!
Hey there moments
There was a scene at the end of The Martian where Matt Damon, after safely returning to earth having survived living on Mars for an extended period of time, says “hey there” to a little seedling plant at his feet. He was likely reminiscing about his trials and tribulations on Mars where he said the same thing to his potato plant seedling he had managed to grow for food. Similar moments of gratefulness on patrol do occur on patrol too. It is all too easy to get caught up prioritising the priorities. The food rations for breakfast needs sorted. Can you speak to the womenfolk tomorrow about cervical cancer? Where are the boys sleeping? Where is that 5th solar lamp? The boat has not arrived – how are we going to get there? The boat safety bag has no spark plug socket (which is a vital component for a repairing a common boat engine problem). How much fuel are we going to need? The list goes on. The trouble with getting too engrossed in sorting priority things is that you miss the little things. Life is then always urgent and I find that kind of living unlivable. This is partly the reason I came out to PNG in the first place, to escape the everything-is-urgent Sydney life. Little did I know priorities here too were stressful, albeit of a different flavour. So when it all gets a bit too much, I stop to smell the flowers and enjoy the sunsets.
Pic: Lovely views when I went to smell the flowers – a local euphemism here for when nature calls (mind the pun)
South Lavongai Case Studies – Sept 2018
Teamwork for an atypical family
On my last patrol, I was called to see a head injury case on one of the evenings after dinner. A deaf and mute woman presented with a swollen forehead and was lying on the outpatient bench very upset. With the help of the local community health worker who knew her well and the patient’s elderly mother, we elicited that her 12 year old niece had hit her with a large piece of wood earlier that evening. I assessed her, cleaned and dressed her wound whilst the nurse cannulated her and set up an IV drip. We admitted her overnight for neurological observation. I checked on her the next morning and encouraged grandma to bring the little girl in for a chat. Lucy, the gender equity and domestic violence educator kindly agreed to help me out with this family counselling session. It turns out that the little girl’s father died some years ago and her mother was not living with them. She was therefore under the care of her disabled aunty and elderly grandmother. We realised that this was probably a cry for help from her. Lucy gently counselled all three of them to talk their troubles over and not resort to violence. The patient who was visibly upset and crying when she first saw her niece, ended up relaxed and smiling by the end of our little chat. With consent, we shared their story with the local health worker and asked her to keep an eye on them. They also agreed for their story to be shared on my reports to demonstrate the teamwork that goes on during an ADI patrol. In this case, her care involved the local health worker, the doctor and the gender equity counsellor. In other cases, other members of the team are involved e.g. physiotherapist, dental therapist and eye officer. The logistics officers also often help out with tooth extractions and eye checks. Some cases are more sensitive than others and in this case, discretion and kindness went a long way.