Friday, January 31, 2014

Two sparrows

My office door

Many doctors delight in their first "office" - which typically has a plaque with their name and specialty posted on their door somewhere in their clinic.  I suppose I'm no different, though my door may not look like those dreamed of by medical students and residents in the States.

In our OPD (out-patient department), patients come one-by-one to each of the different doctors.  No appointments, no insurance forms, minimal paperwork, two to four dollars per visit - but plenty of broken and hurting people.  In my few hours in the OPD this week I've seen everything from deafness caused by untreated ear infections to Tuberculosis.  

 Yesterday I saw a child in the office and once the parents laid the baby on my exam table I knew we would have a fight on our hands for him.  Steward had been sick several times the past few months though he just recently celebrated his first birthday.  He barely cried as I examined him and he reflexively raised his entire body off the table when I held his head up.  I believe Steward contracted pneumonia which progressed to meningitis.  He is now receiving IV fluids and antibiotics in our pediatric ward but will need a miracle to thrive after this illness.

Pleased to get Steward's spinal fluid

 I've been working in the Operating Theatre this week with Dr. Jim Radcliffe.  My first experience in the OR last week for a C-section felt like a train wreck to me.  Dr Erin was very gracious.  I worried about how I would cope with the procedural medicine I need to be able to practice here.  I received a lot of OR and procedural exposure during my Family Practice training.  Some of the skills I learned then are returning thanks to this extra time with Dr. Jim.

Please pray for Haddie, who needs a miracle
 One of my patients on Surgery ward needs a miracle.  Haddie suffered from a bowel infection unique to PNG called Pigbel.  Dr. Jim performed surgery to remove the infected and dead tissue and now she struggles to recover her ability to eat.  Each day she suffers while we give her fluids and antibiotics and pray that God will touch her.  Healing for Haddie will have to be supernatural at this point.

 Last night I was on call and treated a lady in our Emergency Room.  She suffered from obstruction of her lungs (COPD) and needed oxygen and breathing treatments.  While preparing her to stay in the hospital, the ER staff nurse told me about another child who came and left just prior to my arrival.  Apparently the child experienced diarrhea for a few days and then developed dysentery.  The family brought the little four year old girl to Kudjip, but when they arrived she had died en route.

My first reaction to this news was, "Why wasn't I called?  Someone, a child no less, came to our hospital dead and then the family left and the doctor on call wasn't even notified?!"  I am ashamed to admit I thought this, because I now see that it is selfish.  In this place, the loss of a child is no less tragic than if I lost my own Anna - but it is tragically more common.  Now I struggle knowing that despite the years of school, months of preparation and all of the hardships that went into our moving here I still could do nothing for this particular little one.  In fact, I will never see her face or know her name.

In Matthew 10 Jesus says "Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?  And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father."

I take comfort knowing that those I can't help or don't even know are not lost to God.  I may not get notified of every patient that comes here, whether they leave healed or to their eternal home.  But God sees each of them.  He will not part from them.  And their lives are not lost, nameless or faceless to Him.

Saturday, January 18, 2014


Hold on to me as we go.  
As we roll down this unfamiliar road.  
Although this wave is stringing us along, 
just know you're not alone - 
'cause I'm gonna make this place your home.

On October 1st, 2013 Esther and I moved away from our home in West Tulsa.  In the 97 days that followed, our family of four changed houses five times!  At long last, we are home in Kudjip, Papua New Guinea.


The first six days of our new lives in PNG we spent in a nearby village called Ambang.  The Lenzs working with New Tribes Mission looked out for us and helped us to learn the local language and customs.  During our six days, three of the local villagers died from various causes. 
What follows a death in this culture is the "house-cry" - a multiple day event in which people from the community express their grief by wailing and crying out loud multiple hours at a time.  A couple years ago I treated a young woman at the hospital for profound dehydration from a "house-cry".  Unfortunately, the wailing for some serves as a way of expressing enough remorse to convince the deceased's family that they didn't practice any sorcery to cause their death, or to keep the ghost of the dead from haunting them.

 Looking out from our house in Ambang at the sunrise.

I worked with a man called Gabriel on learning the language.  In the shade of our patio, looking out over the mountains covered in mist, I stumbled through narrating Anna's picture book Bible to him.  It felt agonizing, but as Levi Lenz pointed out, this is how our children learn language and it was easier than just writing / copying / parroting phrases.  I now command maybe 5% of Tok Pijin.

 Gabriel, my language helper.  He wasn't sure if the Canada shirt had a marijuana leaf on it.  We straightened that right out.

We've had very generous hosts at Kudjip thus far and have enjoyed home-made meals from neighbors the past couple days.  This allowed Esther and I to unpack some as well as make grocery / supply lists for our trips to town this week.  While we need a few things to make our home, the house here is everything that we need and then some!

Anna has struggled a little while here.  She does well during the day, but she frequently wakes up in the nights crying, without any real specific reason or complaint.  I think that she realizes now that we have moved away from cousins and friends she cares for.  There are plenty of play-mates around though and she is getting close to a girl named Reegan.

 Anna in Ambang

Levi seems content as long as he can run around in the mud outside and occasionally play with an airplane or "choo-choo".

 Levi gets a ride with the boys

This Thursday I start orientation to the hospital and will begin work next week.  I take call on the 30th with another physician as well.  Please pray for my medical skills to return!  I worked an urgent care office for the past year but haven't done much medicine the past couple months as we transitioned.  I know there will be trying times and difficult days ahead, but trust that God will provide the reserves of strength, skills and knowledge I will need as I need them.

Thank you for thinking of us, praying for us, caring for us and supporting us!

Settle down, it'll all be clear.
Don't pay no mind to the demons, they fill you with fear.
The trouble it might drag you down,
If you are lost you can always be found.
Just know you're not alone,
'cause I'm gonna make this place your home.

-Phil Phillips, "Home"

Friday, January 10, 2014

... and back again

About 20 hours ago we arrived at our new home in Papua New Guinea.  Though it seems this journey stalled frustratingly along the way, I look back at the past season of preparation and see God's hand at work in it.

After spending Christmas at home with my parents, we began our earnest preparations for moving to Kudjip.  Packing and repacking, confirming baggage allowances, buying or replacing items to take with us and, most difficult, saying goodbye to our familiar haunts as well as our loving family and friends.

 12 pieces - which all eventually made it into our new home

 Our send-off at my parent's home before leaving

Esther and I have both felt somewhat overwhelmed these past couple weeks.  I remember approaching our wedding and feeling that we lost track of the marriage ahead of us in the logistics and details of the wedding plans.  Our move to PNG feels that way to me.  While we've been in various stage of preparing for this the better part of 8 years, I feel that getting luggage sorted, paperwork in order, tickets purchased, etc has affected the amount of time I would have wanted to prepare my heart.  Esther said it more poetically - "The burden of the urgent crowds out the important"

Now that the journey is behind us, the real adventure begins, and I covet prayers that I would approach this time with a focus on what God wants for me, my family and our work and ministry here.

On our arrival, the kids quickly bonded with several other children on the station.  We got a very warm welcome, with banners, flowers, visits, groceries in our home and a wonderful meal with Bill and Marsha McCoy. 

Anna spent a good chunk of the morning with Reegan, another 4 year old girl here.  They pulled fruit from the trees and then snuck under her bed to eat chocolate Maltesers. 

 Anna and Reegan pulling down lemons.  Fresh bananas hanging on our back porch.

They have both adapted well, but Anna woke up from her nap yesterday to say that she wanted to go "home."  I'm sure I should have taught her that his is our home now, but we were both so tired that I just curled up into her bed alongside her until she fell back to sleep, and has since been enjoying the time.

 Our living room.  About 500 pounds of luggage are just outside the frame of this picture.

Today we leave for a mission station about 45 minutes away from Kudjip to begin an immersion experience for language / culture acquisition.  We feel at peace about this now after some initial reservations given Esther's pregnancy and Levi's recent illnesses, but things have worked out that we can study our language in safe setting.  We will be gone for six days and then return to our house to finish settling in while I orient at the hospital and we set up bank accounts and get driver's licenses.

Pray that our family transitions well and that we can teach the kids the importance of following God's call even if it means we are far from "home"