Story and pictures by MANDY GLASS
I NEVER get tired of the beauty of Papua New Guinea.
As I lean out the aircraft window: the landscape down below gleaming and shimmering in all shades of green like crinkled velvet, divided by lines of muddy and clear waterways, and the intense blue sky filled with big and small fluffy puffs of clouds!
However, when the clouds fill the valleys and touch the tree-tops, flying gets challenging. Will we be able to find a way through this maze of clouds and safely land at the airstrip? But also will we be able to get out again to fly this woman to hospital?
Saturday morning, the two of us were in town for a shopping trip. The call came as we entered the hardware store. Medevac! Domestic violence. The local community health worker (CHW) wasn’t able to stop the bleeding and the district hospital approved and called for a medevac.
Half an hour later we were at the airport. Mathias started the preparation for the flight, checking the aircraft. Nawi Mabo, one of our ground support staff, helped with the paperwork, was to monitor the flight and would marshal us back to the parking position later in the day. We took the stretcher, just in case.
As we left Mt Hagen crossing various ridges, the clouds turned from white to grey, narrowing our sight, and giving us some rain showers as we were progressing to turn off from the main valley into the small valley of our destination. It didn’t look very good at all as there were scattered clouds everywhere – but enough space to continue into the valley. There was a woman in need, waiting for us to fly her to hospital. We can’t just turn around.
“I can see the edge of the airstrip,” said Mathias. But this was from high up, through a layer of clouds. Not the right position to attempt a landing.
“We have enough fuel to fly a waiting pattern and see how the clouds might move,” – to open up a way for us, for the woman. So we return to a more open space of the bigger valley and lose altitude. “I will try to get under the clouds, fly along the left of the valley with enough safety margin to turn-around if we can’t get any further. If we can get under the clouds, we might have a chance to land, but would need a quick turn-around to not overnight at the village.”
The community was ready as we landed. They must have heard us overhead, above the clouds. The woman, well, a fairly young girl still, was carried to the airstrip and seated on the aircraft stairs. There was no stretcher for her at the local health post. So two men carried her forming a “chair” with their arms supporting her legs and back. This must have been painful for her, as her wound was right there. No tears of pain, no squeezing of eyes or other facial expression of pain. To me, her eyes were somehow inward bound, kind of empty, sad.
A small crowd circled the plane. Mathias knelt on the ground amidst them working on the paperwork for this flight. To get the patient into the aircraft, we had her lay on the stretcher and people lifted her into the aircraft through the wide open cargo door, which was much easier, instead of having her hoisted into the plane dragging and pushing her through the small cabin door. She could sit on the back-row seat next to her caregiver, probably her mum. That way, she was better secured with the seat belt as the stretcher safety belt would have needed to be tightened right over her wound.
The clouds stayed a safe distance away from the edge of the runway giving a view to velvet green hills on the other side of the valley. Everything was set for take-off. Thank you, Lord!
The flight to Kompiam took us over a few ridges and as we got closer to Kompiam, the gaps between the clouds and the ridges became wider and wider. Kompiam valley was wide open. Clear to land!
Within five minutes after landing, the MAF agent, who was busy working on the new church building halfway down the side of the airstrip, and the hospital’s ambulance arrived at the airstrip. The aircraft stretcher came again into action to transfer the patient into the ambulance – and off they drove. The clinic staff was waiting to see her.
I was contemplating the events of the day and what I have observed over the years. Often, I hardly see any women in the crowds surrounding the aircraft with open eyes, who look happy and content. Their faces are often hard and with very little facial expression. Is this a mirror of their life in general? I guess as their life is tough with looking after the garden, which often is a long walk away, making sure there’s food on the plates, looking after the children, doing what they’ve been told by their husbands, and possibly even being sexually abused as well. They just bear the pain silently, even when obviously wounded…
I can’t imagine life in the village with all its hardships, but I do adore these women. They are strong, inside out. They are caring for their children and bear the pain, the suffering. Surely they enjoy moments of laughter, comfort and happiness, but maybe more privately and when they know they are in a safe place, alone somewhere, or maybe with a friend or two, or when singing and worshipping God in church or privately.
Help and risk
Dr Rebecca Williams, medical superintendent at the Kompiam District Hospital run by Enga Baptist Health Services, wrote:
“Thank you to MAF and Mathias for bringing her in; we really appreciate all the work you guys do to support our services out here.
“I received the call requesting the medevac on Saturday morning from one of our staff here in Kompiam who was on the VHF radio with the health worker from the village. As is often the case, it is difficult to assess the severity of illness or injury, but from what I gathered there was a young lady who had been chopped. The wound was significant and the staff was worried about the bleeding.
“Once she had arrived at the hospital, whilst her wound was large, there was no active bleeding. However, she will need repair of the wound in theatre as the cut was about 10cm by 5cm extending in a posterior-lateral direction mid-thigh and almost down to the femur bone. Fortunately, there were no nerve injuries.
“I suppose the major risk for her if we didn’t bring her in soon would have been infection. In hindsight after assessing her injuries she probably could have waited until there was a regular flight for her to be picked up; however, as I mentioned it can be very difficult to assess the severity of illness or injury over radio or phone, particularly if we have a staff who isn’t very experienced out bush. I will often err on the side of caution and ask for a medevac as the alternative to having a patient die out there after it has been called in by a health worker can have serious consequences. Better safe than sorry, I guess.
Background story and culture
“With regards to the events leading up to her injury, what the patient and her guardian told me is as follows. On Thursday she was out harvesting ‘marita’ (Pandanus Conoideus plant) with her husband. Her husband asked her to prepare a leaf which they could use to put the fruit on. For some reason there was an argument over that and he chopped her leg, she was brought to the health centre on Thursday and received treatment and dressings there.
“She has been married for about two months now, and prior to this incident there has been some verbal and physical altercations between her husband and herself.
“I asked what they as a family would do. They said once she had recovered they would return home and talk with the husband and his relatives, most likely there will be a compensation paid by the husband to his wife and that is how they will solve the problem.
“I can appreciate that it seems to be such a senseless thing to occur, particularly an argument over something so insignificant, and it must be difficult to comprehend the reasoning that goes into someone behaving like this towards his wife or any other person for that matter. But I suppose we perceive things with the collective knowledge of all that we have learnt in school or from our own cultures or from Christianity; basically from all that we have been exposed to from being in a position of privilege.
This exposure allows us to draw from examples and influences, which in turn direct our thoughts and actions.
For someone out in the bush, who probably hasn’t been educated in a school or hasn’t been exposed to a wider community, where would they draw examples from? Primarily their fathers, forefathers and other men in their community. If violence is the only way in which they have seen conflict resolved then that is what they resort to. The same applies to the women in such communities if they don’t know better; then how can they want better for themselves?
A conclusion – God
“And I suppose the lives of the women in communities like this is tough especially if apart from their daily chores they are being abused. But I wouldn’t say they aren’t happy or not content. Happiness and contentment aren’t constants in anyone’s life, and we all face hardships as a result of our actions or the actions of others. But I do think they’re only found where God is present and where we allow Him to be present in our lives.
This contentment is, I think, the understanding of God’s guidance over our lives regardless of us working and living in times and conditions/situations we may not fully understand ourselves.”
The LORD says, I have always loved you, so I continue to show you my constant love. Once again I will rebuild you. Once again you will take up your tambourines and dance joyfully. – Jeremiah 31:3
For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life. For God did not sent his Son into the world to be its judge, but to be its savour. -John 3:16-17
- The author is a communications officer with MAF PNG.