Friday, September 29, 2017

From Death to Life

Inside the Medical Ward
The sidewalk outside the Medical Ward,
 where our patient spent the night.
       The stench of decay was overwhelming. It was so unbearable that we found our patient outside the medical ward, lying on a gurney on the sidewalk because all the other patients couldn’t stand being in the same building as him. A motor vehicle accident had caused a small, perianal puncture wound that had been neglected for three days prior to him arriving at our hospital. Now, infection had set in and was rapidly extending through his skin and soft tissues. As we debrided the dead tissue, we could see the necrotizing fasciitis (AKA flesh-eating bacteria) spreading before our very eyes. We removed extensive amounts of skin and soft tissue down to the muscle on his buttock, groin and side of the leg almost to the knee.  The resulting wound was enormous and difficult to manage as it wrapped almost circumferentially around his thigh.  We were out of stock of Clindamycin, the standard antibiotic that is crucial in stopping the spread of this type of infection. Instead, we tried a related medication and prayed it would work. We knew that his body’s response to treatment over the next 24 hours would determine his prognosis, and it looked rather grim. Amazingly, he stabilized overnight. With a glimmer of hope, we began the grueling, 2-month-long process of closing his wounds. He underwent daily debridement and dressing changes under anesthesia until the wound was ready for a special vacuum dressing. Eventually, the wound was closed with serial skin grafting.
         Early in his hospital stay, Benson asked Dr. Ben to pray with him. After his close brush with death, he spent a lot of time examining his life. Now, he had decided to place his faith in the God who had saved his life and he wanted to follow Jesus.
As I reflect on Benson’s story, I realize it is a strong metaphor for our spiritual lives. Inevitably, we will receive wounds from other people, circumstances, or events in our lives: disappointments, betrayal, or loss of loved ones to name a few. Even a small wound in our hearts left untreated allows sin to enter and take root. Before we know it, the festering resentment, irritability, bitterness, or discontent spreads until we become offensive to those closest to us. Without intervention, our decaying hearts will become dead: devoid of feeling and unable to fulfill the good purpose God intended for our lives. In order to rid ourselves of this spreading disease, we must submit ourselves to the Great Healer and allow him to cut away every part of our hearts that reeks of decay. The process can be long and painful as he whittles away every ounce of sinful flesh, exposes raw wounds, and gradually patches healthy tissue together again. But the joy of complete healing is worth the struggle, and the new life that He brings is beyond compare.

Benson, excited to go home soon and start his new life.

(Patient name and picture shared with permission)

Saturday, September 23, 2017

The Dark Side

       Since moving to Papua New Guinea, I’ve witnessed many fascinating customs, met many wonderful people, and enjoyed breath-taking beauty that I have never experienced anywhere else before. Unfortunately, I’ve also witnessed some of the darkest atrocities and heart-breaking sorrows that I never could have imagined before coming to PNG.  This past week seemed full to the brim with tragedy. It is difficult to write about and I’m sure it will be difficult to read. If you can’t bear to hear one more heart-wrenching story this week, then please do not read any further. But if you are willing to travel with me into the heart of the very prevalent darkness, then please read on.

Photo Credit:
         In many traditional PNG tribes there is a very real fear of evil spirits. Any time there is an unexpected death or tragedy, someone must be found responsible and punished. Many times, a woman is singled out and accused of “sanguma” or witchcraft and subsequently killed. This was the unfortunate case of a patient who came to us this week. A child died after choking on food. Two women were accused of sanguma and were subsequently tortured with burning sticks and red-hot bush knives for 36 hours before police rescued them. One lady died; the other was brought by a Lutheran missionary to our hospital. She had severe burns covering 70% of her body and had endured unspeakable abusive trauma. Despite our best efforts, she also succumbed to her injuries. I can’t even comprehend the depth of fear and evil that drives people to mistreat other human beings in this way. It is unfathomable that atrocities like this are still occurring in our modern world today.

         Unfortunately, the tragedies don’t end there. On Friday, we cared for a high school student who presented very ill from complications of a village abortion. Abortions are illegal in PNG, but there are a few people in the villages that will perform abortions using very crude and unclean methods. Not infrequently, we see the infections that result from these illegal procedures. This young student presented in fulminant septic shock from a perforated uterus. Surgery was not enough to control her infection and the ensuing multi-organ failure. I can still hear her mother (who had encouraged her daughter to get the abortion) wailing uncontrollably at her daughter’s bedside as we prepared the body for the morgue. 

       These are just two stories from the many sad cases we saw this week. There were also domestic disputes resulting in stabbings and shootings, family disputes resulting in chops that will likely leave people permanently disabled, and a whole family inadvertently poisoned by wild beans which contain cyanide. 

       In the midst of so much darkness, where can we turn? Jesus claimed, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).  The light of Christ has been shining in this dark land for many decades and some change is taking place, but much darkness still remains.  Jesus has commanded us, his followers to carry his light into this darkness: “You are the light of the world….let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt 5:14,16). Lord, help us to shine your light in this very dark place. Bring healing to the brokenness, drive out the fear and hatred and violence. May your love transform this land. Amen.

Photo credit:

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Independence Day

       Today Papua New Guinea celebrates it's 42nd Independence Day. Here at Kudjip the festivities started at sunrise and are still going. The festivities included a sunrise service and flag-raising ceremony followed by a day of games. Everyone came with the whole family in PNG colors and regalia. Here are a few glimpses of a fun-filled day celebrating Papua New Guinea:

Flag-raising celebration. Credit: David Wan

Miriam and I sporting our colors

OT Staff representing....

...and crushing it in the volleyball tourney

Kickboxing demonstration drew quite the crowd
Surgical ward staff playing in the basketball tourney
Future basketball stars learning to pass the ball

The future here looks very bright.

Happy Independence Day!

Friday, September 8, 2017

Going Home

A few months ago, I shared a story about a crazy day when we had many procedures and sick patients. One of those patients, known as trauma guy “T”, is going home today!

Thomas was one of three pedestrians struck by a truck almost 2 months ago. One of his companions died before reaching the hospital. Thomas had femur fractures in both legs, a pelvic fracture, and severe internal bleeding that required emergency surgery. His course was rocky over the first few days and we weren’t sure if he would survive. He really needed intensive care that we don’t have here. By God’s grace, he turned a corner. After several surgeries for his legs, he started the long road to recovery. Without a physical therapist or a rehab center where we can send him, he has remained in the hospital making slow but steady progress towards regaining mobility. I am happy to report that he is now walking (with assistance) and ready to head home. 
Please continue to pray for Thomas as he recuperates and transitions back to home life. Pray that this experience will increase his faith. He recognizes that God spared his life and he had many opportunities to hear the good news during his 2 months at the hospital. Please continue to pray that we, the hospital staff, may shine the light of Christ to each patient we treat. 

(Patient name and picture shared with permission)