Wednesday, June 2, 2021

No expeditious road

I moved through the crowded emergency room toward bed 4 where a young man lay with his leg wedged in improvised pillows made of tattered old clothes. He was disoriented and his eyes drifted in and out of focus. His young mother, similarly clothed in a torn second-hand t-shirt, wasn’t sure exactly how old he was but I guessed 11 or 12. 

For a brief moment I thought, “We should be playing soccer together with my son.” 


 But the impressively swollen leg made that impossible, and his delirium told me that the infection in his leg was rapidly progressing through his bloodstream. With a crowded emergency room and outpatient clinic still full of patients to be seen, I hastily told the mother he would need powerful medicines through a “blood-tube” in his arm and to stay in the hospital. She looked a bit lost - as though she had never seen a permanent building before – but there was an implicit (and terribly beautiful) trust in her eyes as she committed her son to my care. I grabbed a nursing student to begin the IV antibiotics, wrote orders for an X-ray and made my way back to the clinic. 


The noise of a helicopter made me pause. Time to get changed into scrubs. Our provincial health team notified us earlier that a sick mother was being transported due to delivery complications. As I went to delivery bed number 1, our Papua New Guinean medical resident Sheila was already working with the nurses on emergency stabilization. Her lifeless form was pale and her eyes she searched the room for anything familiar, but quickly rolled into the back of her head again. While she wasn’t actively bleeding now, she had been for the past 3 days when her baby was delivered at her home in one of the most remote corners of the globe. A nearby aid post attempted to deliver the placenta the next day but the cord broke, oozing blood. After another day’s journey to the health center, the nursing officer at a small Anglican clinic at Koinambe managed to radio out for a helicopter and she arrived at Kudjip clinging to life with a hemoglobin concentration of 2.8 g/dL [normal range 12-14]. 

Dr. Sheila aggressively resuscitated her with IV fluids and 2 units of emergency type “O” blood in addition to strong antibiotics. But we knew that shortly we would need to remove the decaying afterbirth and pray that she responded.

Our family of six will soon attempt the journey back to the US for a short furlough after one of the most grueling terms of service I imagine a medical missionary has faced. And once again, I am terrified. 
Due to airline-imposed restrictions, we will need to pull off 18 negative COVID tests between the six of us to actually board our planes to get home. Airports are skeletons, planes are devoid of food service (never helpful with 4 young mouths to feed) and we are praying that we don’t land ourselves in a traveler’s purgatory of hotel quarantine. But none of those are the reasons I am scared to go back to my passport country. 
During our first furlough in the US some years ago, Esther phoned me to ask if I could stop at a store on the way home to pick up a few items (milk, butter and chocolate chips if I remember correctly – it sounded promising). We had only been in the country for a day, and I was still convincing myself to drive in the right lane. I got to the store and found my purchases but thought I would pick up band-aids. One step into the pharmacy department and I quickly turned around, made my way through the self-check-out, then bustled to the car and stared through tearing eyes at my dashboard for about 10 minutes before going home. The much-anticipated cookies helped calm me down. 
Now, as I glance into the pages of news sites or Facebook, I am similarly stunned. 
Just a year ago, those pages were flooded with the gestures of sympathetic people throwing together programs and projects to help amidst this new COVID “pandemic”. Health workers were applauded, meals were delivered to them. Everyone was encouraged to “look for the helpers” as Mr. Rogers taught us. I remember feeling a strong sense of global solidarity. Finally, the affluent world is having their eyes opened to the kind of reality that affects the 2/3rds world every day. Maybe this is the moment in which those nations decide to embrace the places of the world struggling to keep children and mothers alive against the miserable odds created by their poverty. 
But the vaccine arrived and is now available to pretty much any (rich) person who will take it … so we are instead trying to decide if our pets need to get COVID vaccines while opening clubs, bars, restaurants and movie theaters. 
Don’t get me wrong. I hope to enjoy some of our old favorite stomping grounds while getting a bit of a break and seeing family. I just hope I don’t say or do anything to get myself into too much trouble. 
“I could tell you my adventures – but it’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.” -Lewis Carroll 
After two units of blood, Dr. Sheila and I addressed our now conscious mother. I explained to her and her cousin (the only relative that lived nearby) that she was incredibly sick – her placenta was rotting inside of her sending a cascade of infection throughout her body. Without removing it she would die. If we removed it, she had a chance to live. They agreed to go ahead. 
We saw the desperation melt from her face as the anesthetic took hold. Over the next grueling hour, my resident and I removed necrotic afterbirth and repaired lacerations in the birth canal as the septic smell assaulted our senses. Once finished, she returned to the ward with additional blood transfusions hanging and an anxious family member praying her through the night. 
My young patient with an infected leg looked worse the next day. His X-ray did not show infected bone, so I drained fluid from his joint and attempted to find a purulent pocket to aspirate in his leg – without success. I hoped that whatever germ was running amuck would respond to our antibiotics. 
As the on-call doctor, I drifted from the emergency room to the labor and delivery unit throughout the day. Reducing and casting limbs broken in heated tribal fights, counseling cancer patients, failing to resuscitate a newborn baby, repairing difficult birth trauma, admitting a COVID patient, completing miscarriages that threatened to take a mother’s life, balancing feeds and fluids in babies with malnutrition, and myriad other now-routine tasks that would seem quite exotic to many doctors in my home country. Lives were saved and lost. Prayers were said. Hearts were changed (including mine). 
“There is no expeditious road to pack and label men for God, and save them by the barrel-load” -Francis Thompson 
Like many young Christian physicians, I set out feeling like I had been called into this. I felt that God’s broken world could use the efforts of more doctors attempting to bring Christ’s redemptive healing and hope in the deepest dark. I have come to realize that, while I am called to be a minister of medicine, none of my patients are called to be sick. They are created to be whole – redeemed and rescued out of ferociously hostile enemy territory. While I cannot provide that, I can partner with the One who does. Not because I am a miraculous healer, but because I am not. I have not, yet, physically restored anyone with a simple touch or a word. But I have touched and spoken into some of the deepest miseries I could imagine. And each time I see that He’s already there. At times giving strength for the groaning road of restoration. At others, providing a safe haven for tears. But there in all.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

The Hope You Hold

"Awake my soul to the hope You hold, Your grace is all I need."

-Mercy Mercy


As we waved another doctor off of Kudjip station I thought about the days, weeks or months ahead.  

The damage of the Coronavirus pandemic on our mission so far has been decidedly collateral.  While we have established triage protocols and increased our use of PPE in specific areas of the hospital, our entire highlands region has confirmed only 28 cases at the conclusion of 2020 - none fatal.

Meanwhile, the burden from pediatric pneumonias and diarrheas, vaccine-preventable-disease, premature newborns, trauma, difficult obstetric deliveries, HIV, tuberculosis, typhoid, cancer and myriad other ailments continues.  The workload which was previously managed by our missionary and PNG physicians and supplemental volunteer doctors has now been funneled onto a dwindling "Gideon's Army."

As part of that ongoing effort, we are adjusting the workflow so that the most demanding cases, surgeries and deliveries are reserved for the doctors.  While it empowers our nurses, it means that nearly every patient I see, every day, might be facing a life-or-death condition that I am supposed to help them with.  And I know my powers and my profession are limited in the light of such miseries.  Even my prayers are wearing thin.


"Heaven's story breathing life into my bones -

Spirit lift me, from this wasteland lead me home" 

As I scuffled from the emergency department to the clinic to the delivery rooms on Thursday morning, I was interrupted by our labor and delivery nurse still wearing bloody gloves (never a good sign) nearly running across the corridor to find me.  "Dr. Mark, mipela nidim yu!"

I entered delivery bay 1 and saw blood-soaked clothes and bedding being removed while IV lines were hung.  Unable to palpate a radial pulse to match what I heard through my stethoscope, I asked the woman her name.  A feeble voice answered, "Maria."  So she was semi-conscious and knew who she was - better than I had thought.  Her heart rate pounded out at 130 beats per minute and the blood pressure cuff could detect nothing.

Maria had delivered her seventh child in the bush of the Jimi Valley - one of the furthest habitats in the world.  Her placenta did not deliver and she bled for hours until she could manage transportation to Kudjip.

As we rushed to get unmatched type O negative blood for a transfusion I hastily scribbled some orders for antibiotics and went to retrieve the anesthesia and instruments I would need to remove the placenta and stop her bleeding.

With the assistance of our midwifery student I removed the afterbirth and gave strong medications to contract the weakened uterus.  A unit of blood infused during the procedure.  The cuff read out a systolic blood pressure of 80 millimeters of mercury ... my heart nearly sang.  As I left to attend to the outpatient department patients, I hoped that we did enough to prevent seven new PNG orphans.

Our senior clinic nurse said that they had already used up their quota of doctor clinic visits for the day but people were upset.  I looked at the line of patients and charts still awaiting me and said that I would work as quickly as possible, but if they were truly emergencies to send them to the ER and I could see them when I finished in the outpatient clinic.


An hour or so later I picked up the record book of a man named Gideon.  He had paid no physician fees.  He had not been entered in the list of patients to see the doctor.  But his wasted frame sat on bed 7 of the ER and I immediately knew his diagnosis.  After sedating a pediatric patient for our nursing student to repair a laceration and setting a fractured bone, I walked Gideon to the now-closed outpatient ultrasound room.  A quick scan confirmed my suspicions - a massive hepatoma, a slowly growing liver tumor, now consuming his body and impeding his ability to eat.

We took some time to discuss his illness.  I answered his questions.  I reassured them that our medicines could help his pain, but would do nothing to cure him.  

What was his faith like?  Gideon and his watchman, Glen, had been baptized in the church as kids, but walked away.  Gideon engaged when I shared that we would all face a burial in this ground ... but that a new life awaited those who trusted in Christ's redemptive sacrifice at Calvary.  His misty eyes told me that he wanted and needed to hear that. 

They both prayed to receive Christ in that moment.  

And we all agreed to place whatever the next steps were in His hands.


"Now I find my life in Yours -

My eyes on Your name."

Friday, November 20, 2020

Eyes to serve

"Keep my eyes to serve, my hands to learn."

-Below my feet, Mumford & Sons

My colleague, Dr. Dave, approached me as I concluded my rounds on medical ward to get some guidance on a lady who had just come from the Jimi valley.  After just a few words I knew we were in trouble.  I wrapped up seeing my patients, made a few notes for the nurses, and prayed with our team before going down to the maternity unit.

In Labor Bed 6, a pale and nearly lifeless woman breathed fast while Dr. Dave oversaw nurses placing IV lines and starting antibiotics and then went to notify our surgical team that we needed the theatre ready urgently.  Her unborn baby had become obstructed in the uterus.  After strong contractions for a day, a hand and the umbilical cord presented through the birth canal and the baby asphyxiated.  


"And all I knew was steeped in blackened holes." 

As a blood transfusion was prepared and nurses placed a foley catheter, I asked where the woman's husband was.  They had just arrived - having traversed some of the most hazardous roads on the planet - and he sat nervously on bed D-5, the only man in a sea of young women and speaking only a little of the lingua franca, Tok Pijin.  

I explained, as best I could, that his child had died inside his wife's womb and that she was also in significant danger of dying as well.  "Mi laik karim i go katim na givim chance we em bai inap laip yet" - "I want to do an operation on her to give her a chance to live."  He agreed and the team prepared for surgery.  I went back to her bed and uttered a hasty prayer - "Papa, giv stea long mipela inap ken sevim laip long dispela mama" - "Lord, guide us so that we can save this mother's life."



Our hospital has been operating with a "skeleton crew" of doctors for nearly a year.  The usual supply of volunteers has dried up thanks to  COVID restrictions on travel, and our dwindling physician work-force has been stretched.  We have poured sweat and tears into this work and wearied ourselves.  Thankfully, God's grace has continued, and our doors have remained open to the sick and hurting in our highland jungle - whose daily miseries continue.  I have asked myself where the ongoing strength will come from.


"I was still, but I was under Your spell.

When I was told by Jesus all was well - so all must be well.

Just give me time.  You know Your desires and mine.

So wrap my flesh in ivy and in twine - for I must be well."

Dr. Sheryl opened the abdomen and a large haematoma presented itself to us.  The uterine artery on the right had dissected creating massive blood loss.  We quickly removed the deceased baby and set to work stopping the bleeding and removing the severely damaged uterus.  Each clamp and stitch needed to be placed quickly but appropriately while blood was being squeezed in by our anesthetic officer.  After a diligent operation, the monitors showed the heart rate lowering and the blood pressure rising.  She returned to the ward to recover - while her deceased baby was wrapped up by our nursing staff to await one of Papua New Guinea's many under-sized graves.

Near the tail end of clinic that day a young woman walked toward my clinic room.  Her gait and girth told me we needed to stop short of my exam room and we detoured to the ultrasound machine.  As she lay on the table I glanced through her record book.  An astute nursing officer in a health center at one of the corners of our province felt that this first-time expectant mother might have a baby lying sideways.  With the potential ramifications of such a dangerous condition fresh in my mind, I scanned through her abdomen and discovered that she was, in fact, in breech presentation - also a dangerous condition, especially for a woman who has never given birth before.

We went to the maternity unit - to the same bed on which my dying patient lay so recently - and I gave some intravenous fluids and an injection of medicine to relax the muscles in her uterus.  Using the ultrasound machine to guide me and check on the baby, I was able to turn her little one into the cephalic or "head-down" position.  After thirty minutes of monitoring they both appeared well and I sent them home with instructions to come back and check the position of the baby again in a few days.


"Keep the earth below my feet.

From my sweat my blood runs weak.

Let me learn from where I have been.  

Keep my eyes to serve, my hands to learn"

We don't know when our world will open up again.  News about vaccines emerge and it seems life may get "back to normal" soon.  But "back to normal" for the majority world doesn't mean family gatherings, the Olympics and movie theaters.  It often means a continued struggle against the majority killers.  Please pray for the health workers of the world - that we might continue to learn and serve and be well.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

For the love

"Brighter than the sun, more beautiful than words could ever say."

-Nothing Like Your Love


I got the call from our PNG medical student late at night on a Friday.  "Dokta - we have a young girl here with an open fracture of her arm."  Though our eager student wasn't on call that night, he was working in the ER in an effort to get some additional experience.  I made my way up to the hospital to help administer sedation and attempt a reduction.  When I got there, the 10-year-old girl thrashed about on the trauma bed.  Her ulna protruded at a disheartening angle through a break in her left forearm.  But her chaotic demeanor concerned me more at present.

She and some friends were walking across the roof of a large building near one of the coffee factories in our area.  I didn't stop to ponder what they might have been doing up there ... perhaps they had been promised some much-needed cash if they kept the roof clean.  In any case - she suffered a fall from the roof onto the cement floor some 8-10 meters below.

While the obvious fracture created a bit of a squeamish upset in my stomach, the bruising around her eyes and her altered mental status worried me most.  She had suffered a significant closed head injury.  I put her to sleep and our nurses established IV access, got suction available for her airway and brought the ultrasound machine over.  Over the next 30 minutes we stabilized her neck, ruled out significant internal hemorrhage, and ferociously reduced her open fracture and applied a splint.  But then came the hard part.

I took her mother aside and explained that her daughter likely had a significant head injury.  She was resting now, but if the damage was severe, there was a chance she would never wake up.  As the fear grew in her eyes, our little patient - her child - was taken to the pediatrics ward.  We prayed together and as I made my way home I wondered what would happen to this little girl - scared that she would breathe her last before I could come back for morning rounds.

On March 11th, about a month after our return to PNG for our 4th term of service at Kudjip, the WHO declared a pandemic of COVID19 - the illness caused by a novel Coronavirus which first emerged in China at the end of last year.  Shortly after that, a case was detected in Papua New Guinea in a traveler from overseas.  A state of emergency was declared, travel was halted, the health system made every effort to prepare for this infection which seemed to be ravaging Italy and parts of Europe at the time.  And my spirit entered a season of fear I hadn't known previously.  What would happen to our facility?  Our patients?  My family?

I went to my usual service in the hospital - performing C-sections, delivering babies, handling emergencies, stabilizing AIDS patients, hunting out Tuberculosis and caring for malnourished infants.  I washed my hands until my fingers were raw, put on my medical mask, and kept my "Peter Parker" glasses on in case of getting coughed on.  But something was different.  I wasn't grabbing my patient's hands to pray with them much.  I was "efficient" in my exam - trying to minimize my exposure.  I was keeping my distance because I was afraid.

Weeks went on.  Our hospital physician staff dwindled - overwork and travel restrictions taking their toll on us.  It felt like this new illness would push us past a tipping point ... not because we were overrun with its victims, but because of so much collateral damage.


In the garden of Gethsemene, Jesus' soul was grieved to the point of death - he was sweating blood.  He was afraid of His coming execution - with a fear that could easily have crippled Him and left Him incapable of fulfilling His mission to endure and defeat sin on the cross.  What could move Him past that and give him the strength to pursue a shameful death?  

As I sat on my porch swing looking out over the mountains as the sun rose, it hit me.  "Perfect love casts out fear" (1 John 4:18).  

His love.

And I was free.

The next day, my little patient showed no sign of change.  She was completely unresponsive.  Her mother's fear gave way to a couple hours sleep, but the emotional toll was evident in her entire countenance.  I set a few things in order regarding her fluids and medications and again prayed for her life to be spared - but more convinced that we would soon see an empty bed there.  But the next morning, a little girl sat in that bed with a bulky splint covering her arm, two significant bruises around her eyes and a small smile that her doctor and her mother had nearly given up hope of ever seeing.



I still put on my mask.  I still wash my hands.  I still wear my ugly glasses and come home with a checkered face for a couple hours.  But I can, once again, embrace the mission.  Not because it is free from risk or fear, but because there is a way to drive that out - replacing it with the Love that put me here in the first place.

"Your Love amazing - fills my heart and I sing out.

There is none like you.  There is nothing like your Love."

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Going viral

It's been nearly 3 months since my last blog post and the world seems a completely different place.  The daily case and fatality count of COVID-19 fills every space of my laptop screen, mobile phone, hours of meetings and even my dreams.  I wake up each morning unable to turn off the gears that make me contemplate each possible action I can take to protect my family, prepare our community for an outbreak and somehow continue to bring much-needed essential care to over 300,000 Jiwakans in the highlands of Papua New Guinea.

10 days ago, Papua New Guinea reported its index case of novel Coronavirus in an expatriate mining worker recently arrived via Europe.  I was asked to join the Jiwaka government's COVID-19 Preparedness and Response Committee.  This is a multi-sector task force currently working under a State of Emergency order by the Prime Minister.  Police, Justice, Health, Administrative and Education sectors are involved as well as representatives from UN and disaster agencies.

The Jiwaka COVID-19 Response Committee

Day 1

What happened next has been a surreal "trial by fire" into the field of Public Health that I never anticipated going through.

For the first two days, the effort was to enforce the State of Emergency directives from the Prime Minister which included limited mobility of persons.  I went with the police patrols to the various market areas clustered around the highway and gave a brief 10-minute overview of Coronavirus infection and the basics of how to contain the spread of the virus (Pasim Kus, Wasim Han, Noken Bung - "Cover your cough, wash your hands, do not gather in crowds").  Within a day, this basic message was codified by the various players in PNG health into leaflets and information that could be disseminated quickly.  We need this information to go more viral than Corona.

Briefing the patrol officers on COVID-19 basics - there is a lot of fear and misinformation which has preceded the arrival of the virus.

Riding in the police cruiser - it felt important to me that basic health information should be conveyed alongside the orders for limited mobility
Atop the Toyota Land Cruiser preparing to conduct some basic awareness teaching

The next step was to identify centres in our province that could accommodate patients, oxygen therapy, and isolation.  Our Jiwaka Health team had already identified three and I was asked to consult on making preparations for the facilities and the staff in the event of a surge of patients.  While I understand the need for ventilators in places like the US and Europe (and re-tooling manufacturers to create them), in our setting we need to do as much as we can to get the basics right.  Until a specific treatment or therapy is available for Coronavirus, we will need to mitigate its severity the best that we can, given our limited resources.

As a "triage" option, patients can be maintained on cylinder oxygen while awaiting admission to an isolation facility

Powered by solar and properly divided, this unit could provide 2 liters of oxygen per minute via nasal cannula to a maximum of 4 patients in need, who will be spaced 2 meters apart in an isolation unit.
Preparing an isolation unit

There needs to be a way to protect the workers at those facilities that both screen and treat patients.  The use of separate triage / staging areas for patients with fever and cough can minimize the number of personnel potentially exposed to the virus and can maximize the efficient use of the VERY limited supply of personal protective equipment (PPE).  I developed algorithms based on the current WHO case definitions to risk stratify potential patients and allow workers to identify those that might be a "suspect case" or "person of interest" - which includes travel history, severity of illness and the lack of other explanatory reasons for their acute infection.

Separate "cough tent" screening area at Kudjip where health workers screen patients using algorithms to identify any potential "suspect case"

In an ideal world, potential cases would be tested to confirm infection, trace contacts and recommend self-isolation during treatment for those that can be managed at home.  With limited testing supplies, we are over-aggressive on patient education and recommendations for self-isolation in order to create an environment where the restrictions on mobility can be upheld in an effort to contain spread.

So you think these are rare in the U.S.?

Infection Prevention & Control will, I think, be a significant weapon against any potential COVID outbreak in settings like ours.  Patients wearing masks / covering their cough is the first step to reduce transmission to others - including health workers.  Health workers with PPE (ideally mask, goggles, gloves and a gown) can also reduce risk to them.  There are not enough.  I get that.  There is a shortage of PPE supplies in the US, but it breaks my heart to see what truly limited supplies are like in the current environment around here.

3 boxes of basic PPE made available for our provincial health workers attending a population of 300,000 - praying for more to come!
In light of those limitations, hand-washing becomes very important for the community, the patients and the health workers.  Alcohol-based sanitizer?  Not so much.  Running water?  Sometimes.  What can we do?  We create basic wash-stations and use them ALL - THE - TIME.  There are a variety of options and thankfully, Papua New Guinea receives plenty of rain.  The difficult part is catching it, storing it and distributing it with sporadic electricity.  But I had time to bring a basic wash-station to one of our nearby facilities, instruct the personnel on using it and we plan for the provincial health leaders to create and distribute these things around the other centres.

Getting ready to see a patient in one isolation unit

So the rapid response to an outbreak in our setting follows the same basic principles in any other place: awareness, infection prevention and control (including PPE for healthworkers), surveillance and testing, isolation and treatment - recovery.  Unfortunately the challenges will be felt on an exponential scale if there is a significant surge in ill patients.  Praise the Lord there haven't been other confirmed cases - but with limited surveillance capabilities it is possible they are coming and we are taking an active and precautionary approach.

While this happens, the essential services that were provided before the outbreak need to be provided during it and be continued afterward.

The only place in Jiwaka that a patient can receive surgery, advanced maternal care or a blood transfusion continues to be Nazarene General Hospital at Kudjip.  We need to provide this care because we are the ONLY facility that can do it.  We can help other centres establish screening, work on hand-washing and protection, advise isolation and even, in some cases, administer oxygen.  But we cannot create operating theatres or blood banks rapidly.

This was brought home to me last night on call.  One of the other doctors and I were covering the Emergency Department and Maternity units.  I triaged a cough/fever patient in our screening area (donning and doffing one of our limited sets of PPE) before returning to the Emergency Room to perform a lumbar puncture on a patient with meningitis.  

Just after getting home, I received the call from Maternity ward, "Doctor, there is a patient here who has a breech baby stuck.  The baby has already died."  Patient X felt contractions at home during her 4th pregnancy and before she could get to her local health centre the baby was born, feet first, to the belly-button.  At the facility, the baby delivered up to the entrapped head, which couldn't be relieved there.  During transport to Kudjip, the baby died.

On arrival, the mom was in distress from a hyper-stimulated uterus which was contracting without pause in an effort to relieve the obstruction.  After establishing IV access and giving her some fluids and antibiotics, I performed a special maneuver to flex the deceased baby's head through the birth canal.  After the delivery, I examined the mother and realized that there was extensive damage that needed repairing in the operating room.  An hour later, cutting the last stitch, I was summoned to the Emergency Room again to attend a child with a diffuse infection in the leg threatening to penetrate into the bone.  After days of making preparedness plans for a potential outbreak of a deadly virus, I was reminded of the very real and equally deadly challenges facing my Melanesian neighbors in the here and now.

I pray that we do not see a significant outbreak of Coronavirus.  If we don't, we have made preparations and improved the resiliency of our health system for today's needs and future difficulties.  If we do, we will continue to provide the care that we can, for those that we can, in the ways that we can, for as long as we can.

Pray for our hospital, its staff, the community around us, our leaders - and for the financial provisions needed to support the ongoing work here - which will likely be significantly impacted by this global race to stem the pandemic.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Freed from optimism

A couple months ago, during my on-call night, a young woman came to the labor and delivery room at Kudjip.  The feet and legs of a baby presented through her birth canal, but the unborn head had been trapped in her uterus for several hours.  Sister Theresia, a dedicated nurse working at Kudjip, assisted in delivering a deceased baby boy.  Lo and behold, another baby quickly presented, head-first, and delivered – kicking and screaming – into Theresia’s waiting arms.  After addressing this healthy girl’s immediate needs, our nursing students, alongside the grandmother, turned their attention to her baby brother’s preparation for burial.  The bittersweet blend of joy and sadness, so pervasive in the highlands of Papua New Guinea, weighed down the room.

            Our family has been in Tulsa the past few months on furlough, giving me a little breathing room from the daily grind.  I have reflected on an important spiritual lesson that my mentor, IHI alumni Dr. Bill McCoy, taught me as we shared heartaches in the crowded hospital halls at Kudjip.  Hope is not the same thing as optimism.  Optimism posits that something good is going to happen, regardless of circumstances.  While something good may happen from any situation, I do not believe that, as Christians, we have any guarantee of good outcomes in this world.  Conversely, hope is a persevering belief that anything can be redeemed for good.  God can take difficult, even devastating, situations and redeem them for His purposes – not because those times are good, but because He is. 

Hope is one of the three abiding virtues (I Cor 13:13).  It is also an anchor for the soul (Hebrews 6:19).  The suffering of this world, that we battle daily, is not a piece of some optimistic jigsaw puzzle – it is a field of hopeful opportunity.  If I can appreciate this and leave the outcomes and results to God, my faith may be pressed – but it will not be crushed.  This faith, as David Bentley Hart says, “has set us free from optimism, and taught us Hope instead”. 

Some weeks ago, another young lady arrived into the labor and delivery ward at Kudjip with a referral note hastily scribbled onto scrap paper by a nursing officer working in a remote corner of our province.  This mother was barely conscious, having been struggling to deliver her baby for almost two days.  As the nurses scrambled to establish IV access and begin administering medications, I hastily performed a bedside ultrasound – with saddening results.  The baby was lodged in the uterus with its face presenting at the cervix, unable to deliver.  There was no heartbeat.  I mobilized our operating team, but knew that we were only performing surgery for this mother’s sake, since her little baby had already died.

In the operating room I worked quickly.  As I removed the lifeless form of this little one, I told the receiving nurse not to attempt any resuscitation – the baby was dead.  On her way to the basinet, she exclaimed – “Dokta Mark, em pulim win!”  “Dr. Mark, he took a breath!”  She got to work bagging the baby and, in a few moments, we heard cries of new life.  I repaired the uterus and finished mom’s surgery.  Over the next week, mom and baby recovered nicely and that fizzled spark of hope was fanned for me again.  This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life” (Ezekiel 37:5).  

            Now entering our seventh year working in Papua New Guinea, we see the challenges through hopeful lenses.  Our hospital has recently expanded to accommodate our growing maternity care services and surgical disease burden.  We have entered into a working relationship with the government to provide referral services for our entire province.  We are taking UPNG medical students and have taken our first surgical trainee.  Our recent Rural Health graduate has been elected President of the PNG Society for Rural & Remote Health.  Through it all, patients are being ministered to, both physically and spiritually – to the tune of about 70,000 each year!

            Our family prays to continue in God’s calling for us – in the ways that He plans.  Please consider joining us in prayers for perseverance, guidance, provision and continued Hope as we serve in the highlands of Papua New Guinea.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

PNG Crouch Family on Mission - Open House Dates 1 & 2

Our first two PNG Crouch Family Open Houses are confirmed in Tulsa! 

Monday, November 4th at 5:30pm at the Crouch home

Thursday, November 21st at 5:30pm at Believers Church

Dinner and childcare will be provided. 

Please RSVP by email or phone so we know how much dinner to have and how many babysitters.

 Come see our family and hear some stories about what God is doing in the Melanesian highlands! Message me if you need contact information.

[We plan future open houses in December and January as well if you cannot make the above dates]