Saturday, December 23, 2023

Reflections on being a patient

I don’t like being weak or limited, 

To have my life interrupted by pain and uncertainty. 

At first, I was confident it would improve, 

But when it returned again and again, worse each time, 

I began to wonder, and to worry. 

I followed the advice of my doctors

I tried every pain med and tracked the fluids consumed, 

Liters and liters of fluids

To wash away the pain. 

But we were only left wondering and worrying

When to seek more expert care than is available here. 

I was at peace with the decision to go, but then I was left waiting

Waiting. Waiting for a flight. 

Waiting for an appointment. Waiting for results. 

Waiting and wondering and trying to wash away the pain. 


God provided places to stay and friends, dear friends like family, 

To care for me and lavish love upon me. 

God provided a wonderful doctor who understood my situation 

And fit me into his busy schedule

God provided a skilled team of medical professionals 

To walk me through my procedure and hospital stay. 

God provided peace in my heart as I entered the OR for the first time

As a patient

Everything familiar yet viewed from a different perspective.

God provided a restorative environment to recover and recuperate

Surrounded by his creation and beauty.

God provided healing in so many ways

Freedom from physical pain

A balm and solace for the soul.

God provided smooth travels home again to Kudjip

In time to celebrate Christmas with my missionary family

Oh, the joy of the thunderous welcome 

When I arrived just in time for the kids’ Christmas performance.

God continues to provide strength for each day

And bright hope for tomorrow. 

Praise be to our Lord, Creator, Designer, Provider, Healer, and Savior. 


Monday, January 2, 2023

Worth Fighting For

 In the week before Christmas: 

—I discussed terminal diagnoses with 6 patients and pointed each of them toward eternal hope. 

—I helped a grieving father usher his 9 year-old daughter into eternity after a lengthy battle with cancer.

—I couldn’t resist smiling as I watched a10-year-old girl, who has been in hospital for several months with a chronic illness, and her little sister giggling as they wore red reindeer antler headbands. 

—I saw a patient’s face light up with joy when she heard she was cured. 

—I saw a patient in clinic who would have died without immediate surgery. He recovered in time to celebrate Christmas at home. 

—I ripped a set of premature twin boys from their mother’s womb after the first twin got stuck with his leg (swollen and blue) in the birth canal. 

—We welcomed a new missionary family of 6 into this wild adventure that is overseas medical missions. 

—Several of our staff where away at two simultaneous haus krais (funerals) for family members. 

—My heart was warmed by the gaping smile and excitement of a 5-year-old who had lost his first tooth. 

—I witnessed my gardener, who was recently abandoned by her husband, sharing her work and wages with another woman who recently lost everything too. 

—I sat with a TB patient, who is only skin and bones, as we sang Christmas Carols on the hospital wards on Christmas Eve. 

—I felt the joy of many of our chronic patients as they received recognition and Christmas gifts from the missionaries. 

—I felt the awe and wonder of a church full of worshippers singing carols by candlelight. 

—My heart leapt with joy and wonder as the youth presented their stunning Christmas drama, complete with magnificent angels and dancing shepherds. 

—I heard a devotional about Jesus, the Lamb of God, born into the muck and filth of an animal hovel in order to remove our muck and filth by his perfect sacrifice. 

—I watched the new episode of The Chosen which discussed why not everyone is healed here on earth…and I thought about my six patients above. The 9-year-old's haus krai (mourning period) started on Christmas Day. 

In the week before Christmas, I reflected on the bittersweet moments, the joy mixed with sorrow, the pain of reality mixed with the hope of future glory. My heart alternated between singing with joy and crying with grief. Life and death seemed all wrapped together this Christmas season. 

Holding all of it at the same time reminded me of the journey Frodo and Sam endured in the Lord of the Rings, Two Towers: 

Frodo: I can’t do this, Sam. 

Sam: I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo, the ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end, because how could the end be happy. How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come, and when the sun shines it will shine all the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you—that meant something—even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folks in those stories had lots of chances of turning back—only they didn’t, because they were holding onto something. 

Frodo: What are we holding onto, Sam?

Sam: That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for. 

As a new day and a new year dawns, I pray that you may find the good in this world that’s worth fighting for this year. That it will make all the danger and darkness worthwhile so that the sun shines all the clearer on the other side. Blessed New Year. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

We’ll Call Him Lazarus

A few weeks ago, I arrived on the surgical ward to round on a Saturday morning. Right away, I noticed a new face on the ward: a happy, smiling 5-year-old sitting up in bed and looking chipper. I started seeing my usual patients while waiting for my surgical partner (who had been on-call overnight) to sign out the new patient. When he arrived and I asked about the new kid, he was shocked, “That can’t be the same kid. The kid I saw last night was almost dead!” The boy’s family quickly nodded to Dr. Ben with huge smiles on their faces. “It’s a miracle!” they declared.  This little boy had been struck by a car and brought in with a severe head injury. The back of his skull had been crushed and he arrived in a coma.  Everyone thought he would die. If he didn’t die, everyone thought he would be severely brain injured. Yet, here he was, less than 12 hours later, sitting up and acting like a completely normal 5-year-old. He had ZERO neurological impairment. In fact he went home the next day, with a new name: Lazarus. 

(Story and picture shared with permission)

Friday, September 2, 2022


         During the recent election season, we treated many patients who were injured in violent clashes due to opposing views.    Seeing so much trauma week after week was discouraging to us as caretakers as well as to our patients who were suffering. One such patient was a young man who came in with a large machete cut to his foot. His big toe wasn’t salvageable and we worried the rest of his toes would be difficult to salvage as well. He was understandably angry, upset, and discouraged by the news that we would have to amputate the forefoot in order to save his ability to walk in the future. He underwent several surgeries and a long stay in the hospital.         
          During the month which followed, I would constantly joke with him because he had a new hairstyle every week. He had a fro one week, new cornrows the next, and small braids another week. He was constantly changing things up. In fact his name was Tok Pisin for “change”. Gradually, his anger subsided and was instead replaced by a peace, a smile, a word of thanks and a hopeful attitude. On the day of his discharge home, we found a note in his clinic book. It read: “Thank God for giving my life back. God is good to me because he saves me in tribal fight.” All our discouragement melted away as we saw the joy and hope that this young man had discovered during his time at the hospital. That was truly the best change of all—a change of heart. 

Saturday, April 16, 2022

From The Brink of Death

    “I don’t expect either of them to survive,” the on-call doctor told me as I neared the hospital. Just a few minutes before, I had received a phone call: Motorcycle accident. Two injured. Both with severe head injuries. Upon entering the Emergency Room, I moved toward the first trauma bed and found a man in his thirties who only opened his eyes and moved when painful stimuli was applied. It was hard to tell if his unintelligible vocalizations were due to the trauma or inebriation. Initial workup revealed internal bleeding and a severely shattered femur. I suspected at least part of his poor mental status was due to hemorrhagic shock—something we could treat.  

    Next, I examined the patient on bed two, a 16-year-old boy struggling to breath. He was even less responsive than the first patient: intermittently responding to pain, intermittently extending his arms in a posture that denotes severe brain injury. He had several facial fractures, evidenced by the blood running from his nose and gurgling in the back of his throat. With suctioning and a device to keep his airway open, he was able to breath on his own. He also had a femur fracture, several lacerations, abrasions, and a puncture wound into the chest. We quickly placed a tube to re-expand his collapsed lung. Surveying his other injuries, I knew his poor mental status was due primarily to a traumatic brain injury. There was little that we could do. We have no CT scanner or advanced Neurological interventions. In a different setting, he would be in an Intensive Care Unit on life support. Here, the best we could do was prescribe some medications to decrease brain swelling, optimize his airway, and tell his parents to expect the worst and hope for the best. 

    After undergoing surgery overnight, we found the first patient to have significantly improved mental status in the morning. He remained pleasantly confused for the next few days, but eventually his neurological status normalized and he is recovering very well from surgery to stabilize his fracture. His companion, however, remained unchanged. We were amazed to see him still alive, but there were no signs of improvement. Every day we assessed his coma score --measured from 3 (coma) to 15 (normal exam). For the next few days, Kody (name changed for privacy) scored a 6 which denotes severe brain injury. He was teetering on the brink and we didn’t know which way he would go. The many days without improvement predicted a poor outcome, but his youth and the fact that he was still breathing on his own, gave us some reason to hope. 

    About the fifth day, he started opening his eyes spontaneously. It may seem like a small thing, but it was a big sign of improvement.  Over the next week, we started feeding him through a tube into his stomach and he slowly started moving his arms and legs — another huge relief for us. By the third week, he gradually become more aware of his surroundings and could focus his attention on those around him. His parents noted that he would respond to commands and squeeze his mother’s hand in response to her questions. The day that he raised his hand in a wave to return my morning greeting, I knew he would be okay. The only question was the extent to which he would recover.  His ability to swallow returned and he was able to eat without a feeding tube. However, his speech remained impaired. He would moan and groan but was unable to speak or make intelligible vocalizations. I could tell this frustrated him as he struggled to communicate his needs. A family member who works at our nursing college asked me about his prognosis. It is always hard to tell how much function will return with brain injuries. Often it takes months to see improvement and determine a patient’s new baseline function. I told her that his recovery so far was miraculous but I didn’t know whether he would recover his ability to speak or if he would have to relearn some skills. She assured me that from the moment of his injury his family had been fervently praying. His grandfather was one of the first pastors in the area and despite the initially grim prognosis, they had not given up hope. 

    At prayer meeting that Thursday, I asked our missionary community to pray for this young man and for restoration of his speech. That night, I researched communication boards and other adaptive equipment for patients with aphasia.  The very next day, his mother proclaimed he was speaking. I didn’t believe her. I thought she was misinterpreting his groans as words. Try as we might, we couldn’t get him to say anything. The following morning, as I walked up to his bed, I greeted him as I had every morning, “Morning, Kody.” “Morning” he prompted replied. I was shocked, amazed, and very excited. That was definitely intelligible speech! Since then, we haven’t been able to get him to stop talking. He rambles on in full sentences, mostly asking for his favorite food: donuts. 

    Kody is now a month out from the accident and still has a long road of recovery ahead. However, looking at where he started a month ago—on the brink of death, struggling to breath, minimally responsive, with a very poor prognosis—I would say his recovery is nothing short of a miracle. We praise God for his hand of healing and the renewed life he brings. At Easter we celebrate that God can bring life from death and hope from despair. I pray that you may experience a taste of new life and hope this Easter. 

Easter Sunrise 

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

The Long Way Back


Desert places painted by my grandmother

It has been a long time since I posted anything here. It’s been an equally long time since I’ve felt like putting words to my thoughts. Perhaps someday I’ll delve into the full story of what it’s like to walk the wilderness road of burnout: to feel completely shattered and empty, to spend a year and a half resting, healing, and allowing God to restore the broken pieces and imbue new life where there was none. Something tells me that many of you know what I’m talking about or have experiences that echo the tales I might tell. Suffice it to say, it has been a long journey to recovery. 

Beauty from ashes
But God is faithful. This phrase has stuck with me and carried me through many dark times. There were times when I was tempted to despair. But God was faithful. There were times when I felt I was taking more steps back than forwards. But God was faithful. There were times I never thought I would experience true joy again. But God was faithful. He brings beauty out of ashes like wildflowers growing in a burn scar. 

"Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy." (Psalm 126:5)

Truly, God has turned mourning into dancing. In the places where tears have fallen, new life has sprung forth. A new day is dawning: 

"Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland." (Isaiah 43:18-19)

Sunrise. New Years Day 2022

As I prepare for the long journey back to Papua New Guinea—physically, mentally, and emotionally— I am filled with a new hope for what tomorrow will bring. Because God is faithful. 

Please join me in praying for smooth travels Jan 8-11, and a smooth transition back into work and ministry. I know the Lord goes before me and behind me and surrounds me with his promises like this cloud-bow around the shadow of our airplane. 

Grace and Peace to you all. 

Thursday, July 9, 2020

The New Theatre is Operational

     Twenty months after breaking ground on our new Operating Theatre expansion project, we have finally moved in and started operating in the new building!

The new building houses two new operating rooms, a larger and improved central supply/ sterilization department with a new autoclave to sterilize instruments, and a new centrally located sterile stock room.

We have transitioned to working out of this space temporarily while our old building is renovated. Once all the construction is complete. We will have a total of 4 operating rooms as well as a new minor procedure room, pre-op and recovery rooms, and a conference room for teaching.

This week we performed our first cases in the new theatre. We are still adjusting to the new, temporary arrangement, but we are thankful for God's provision.  A huge thank you to AusAid Incentive Fund and all the many individuals who have helped make this dream a reality.

Below is a video of the move-in and first day operating.