Sunday night around 1 pm I was woken up by the sound of voices under our house. The only people who usually wake me are my kids and my cat. We’ve never been woken by anyone from Kovol. I went to see what all the commotion was about. It was an emergency. A 4-month old baby had a terrible head wound and was in shock. 10 or so people were standing
“What happened?” we asked. We’ve heard the story several times now and here’s what we can make out. A husband and wife in the village were having a fight. I guess the fight started in their house, and somehow they left their house and carried on outside. Meanwhile in another house Mum and the kids are all sleeping, with Dad away out in the bush for the night. The fighting man steps inside the door and in anger throws an iron bar, aiming for the sleeping mum. But he missed. The bar hit the sleeping baby in the back of the head instead. The mother grabbing her crying child realizes suddenly that an iron bar is stuck in the head of her baby. She has to pull it out and cries for help.
They rushed to us. The baby is frantically sucking the mother’s breast for comfort, but isn’t really drinking anything. He is in shock. My heart is about to burst. Domestic fighting is unfortunately a common occurrence, but when an innocent child is struck it is hard to bear. Even before I went out to see him, I was begging God to help me think clearly and to enable me to go out and care for them.
Looking at the wound it was hard to tell how deep the iron bar had gone in. The people were convinced that they saw brain tissue. I couldn’t tell. And here is where we see how perhaps God is at work, even in this tragic situation. There was a flight on the books for the morning.
I remember all kinds of medical stories from other missionaries where it seems God has been in control.
We can go for weeks or months between flights; and we’ve also set some requirements about using the helicopter to get emergency cases out to hospital. We decided that we would’t ever specially arrange a flight to get people out to hospital as that’s just too expensive. What we would do is check the flight schedule and check if a part of an upcoming flight could be redirected. For example if after dropping off supplies in our area the helicopter is heading empty back to base in Goroka and we can arrange for it to detour for us and stop in Madang on it’s way to Goroka, that was reasonable. Then as missionares we pay 3/4, leaving about 1/4 for the Kovol community to pay (we decided a flat fee of K200 was close enough).
That’s a number of things that need to line up. The helicopter schedule has to work out and the family have to have the money to pay. (K200 is within their means as a community. Taking the bus to town costs K30 per person as a comparison) .
We’ve had families waiting for days and days for the flight schedule to work out to get out to hospital, and here we are in this case with a flight the very next day. Not only was the flight due in just a few hours but it was also already going back empty, to Madang! That is very unusual, as usually the helicopter leaves us and heads back to Goroka.
My prayer was that God would keep controlling this situation and giving me the wisdom to help. After a brief try to clean the wound (the baby screamed and vomitted out all the paracetamol we gave) I gave up on cleaning it in the night, planning to do a better job in the morning after the shock wore off. We dressed the wound and sent them to sleep. (As if you could sleep after something like that!)
Someone hiked through the night to find the baby’s dad in the bush to get him. We had told them clearly that we wanted them to fly out to the hospital in Madang in the morning and that if they weren’t there on time the chopper would leave without them.
In the morning, it seemed like we had totally miscommunicated as the family just didn’t show up with the baby. I was planning to clean the wound, check again for a fracture and prepare a referral letter for the hospital. But God seemed to want to spare the kid the extra pain of another examination! The chopper arrived and was ready to leave again, when suddenly the family turned up, Dad with the money in hand, packed and ready to go. The dad had run to his garden house to frantically pack a little bag and get the money, hiking at super speed to make the journey in record time. They hopped on the chopper and were brought to Madang.
Friends of ours working at our Madang station drove them to the hospital where a doctor was expecting our patient, Wow. God was so in control. That’s the fastest medevac out of Kovol I can imagine.
The latest news is that the baby seems ok after an X-ray and antibiotics to guard against meningitis. He should be staying in the ward to be observed while he finishes his course. Our awesome Madang coworkers have visited them on our behalf, bringing a meal and a cheap phone so that they can communicate with us. The baby is nursing well.
If all goes well maybe we’ll see them back in Kovol soon.