Postcards from the Field - Papua New Guinea

Postmark: July 19, 2015 - A Royal Welcome

PostmarkJuly192015 Edited

Early start this morning, we left extra early from the hotel to ensure that our overweight luggage makes it on the little puddle jumper plane that we need to take to Goroka, our first stop in the Highlands. I sat next to a very nice woman, Lydia, who patiently helped me learn some medical phrases we would need later today. “Opim eye bloyu”, “Pasim...” there are no phrases for “raise your eyebrows” - a critical phrase for us to figure out if we could help the patients with droopy eyelids we are about to meet. I find Pidgin very self explanatory and logical: “Christmas bloyu hamas?” - “how old are you?” literally how many Christmases have you experienced?

As we arrived in Goroka Airport, Michael swept us up in a truck with all our luggage and we met as a team for the first time at the hospital. We had Ata, Damien and Terryleen for our nurses, Dr. Ben joined us from Tilganga. We will meet our students at Mingende, which was still 4 hours drive away. After packing up the ambulances, we set off in time to arrive before sunset, as it is not safe to travel this road at night.

At the end of our bumpy ride, we were greeted by the patients and villagers in an amazing procession to the resource center (Callan services for people with disabilities). An interesting thing that happened is we found out that the hospital has actually been closed due to 6 weeks of drought and water shortage and they were rationing in order to save up enough for our surgeries. As we pulled into the driveway, the skies opened up and it poured. The poor ladies quickly ran indoors to save their feathers, but the singing and dancing continued!

There wasn't a dry eye in the room at the touching welcoming ceremony. Angela (from Callan), welcomed each of us personally. She talked about how Dr. Michae had been to Mingende many times to help hundreds of patients with cataracts, but each time there was a small huddle of patients that they had to send away, telling them there is nothing that could be done with their droopy lids. This time around, Dr. Michael had returned with surgeons who could do something about it, and they were beyond thrilled! We were each presented with a bilum (a hand woven bag that is an essential item for carrying things in the jungle). Ours were made in the traditional beautiful colorations of the Simbu (or Chimbu) province. After a few moments to find our rooms and unpack the essentials, we started to see patients in clinic. Since it was late in the day when we got to the hospital, we ended up seeing the first 10 patients in order to schedule the first cases for tomorrow. We would have to see the other 80 the next day. Callan graciously found housing and provided food for all the patients for the duration of the camp! Every single patient that we saw had some degree of ptosis (droopy lid) and the first 4-5 patients were in their teens. It was quickly obvious that we need to come up with a way to prioritize which of the patients have a high severity requiring immediate surgery, and those who are compensating or are very young and the risks outweigh the benefits. That night at dinner we brainstormed how to do this more efficiently and I spent the night drafting our “intake” form that I hoped would make things easier.


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