Monday, July 26, 2021

Hard days

Some days are hard.


I stood watching the baby struggling for breath, still cyanotic hours after her birth. She had swallowed a large amount of meconium during the birth process. Despite suctioning and resuscitation, we were unable to help her breathe normally. Now she was on maximum oxygen therapy after CPAP had failed. My heart sank even further as I read the chart. She was her mom’s fourth child, but of the three before her, only one was still alive. The next morning her crib was empty.


The morning before, I learned that Dora had died. Dora had been living in the hospital for the last several months. She suffered from chronic lung disease from tuberculosis as well as heart failure. Every morning I would see her, and she somehow usually was able to give me a smile. Each day I felt a little more helpless as I saw her slowly deteriorate, the medications no longer helping. She made me a beautiful bilum (decorative bag) the week before she died. We often prayed together, although I know towards the end, she was losing hope and the will to live.



Later that night I took care of a woman who had been brought into the ER after being tortured in her village, being accused of sorcery. She had burns on her back, chest, arms and legs and a deep machete wound in one leg. She struggled to answer my simple questions, on the edge of shock.


In clinic, I pushed through, but unable to fully hide the sadness and weariness I felt. A dear friend offered me some really good advice post-call-“Take a nap and then pray for these patients.” Later, I released them to God with tears, anger and confusion giving way to shared grief.




Henri Nouwen talks of service as an encounter with God, “a joyful way of life in which our eyes are opened to the vision of the true God who chose to be revealed in servanthood. The poor are called blessed not because poverty is good, but because theirs is the kingdom of heaven; the mourners are called blessed not because mourning is good, but because they shall be comforted.”


Today I’ve had in my mind the image of Jesus calling out to Mary Magdalene from The Chosen. Christ chooses to see us amid our brokenness, pain, and suffering. He meets us there. He was working here before I came and will stay long after I leave. He is working through my incredible PNG colleagues. I don’t always understand it, but it will always be a privilege to join Him in His work.



Saturday, July 3, 2021

Wisdom from Dr Jim

It’s been a while since I have written. Sorry for the long lapse. Sometimes business makes it hard to write, but other times I find myself uncertain what to write. Life here is so varied and quick it can go from celebration to mourning to thanksgiving to frustration in a short period of time. Also, now as some of the newness has worn away it is harder to reflect on what I am experiencing.


So, I’m going to use a little bit of a structure to help me reflect. The structure was provided through the wisdom and life lessons of Dr Jim.


Dr Jim is somewhat of a legend around here. He and his family lived here for over 20 years serving as a surgeon to the hospital, and now his son Ben is our general surgeon, carrying on the legacy. All the workers who have been here long enough have a Dr Jim story, and on long runs I will run into older men and women up in the hills around station who ask me about Dr Jim.


Dr Jim was able to come help at the hospital as a volunteer as part of a Covid relief team. During one of our doctor’s meetings, he was able to share these pearls he learned from his many years here. Using each pearl (and combining a few to keep this from getting too long), I want to share a snapshot of my life here, what I’m learning and where I’m growing.


Recent staff meeting including volunteers Dr Jim and Dr Pringle


1 and 2. Know your calling and trust your God.

Some of my residency colleagues helped me to realize that having a vision and goal was a strength of mine, something that I hadn’t realized before. Prior to coming here my vision had been focused on making it through medical training to be able to serve people in a rural, underserved area just like this. Honestly, one of the big transitions in coming here for me was moving from having this big vision to living it, and thus no longer having a vision or goal for the future. I’ve had to learn to form visions again.


One of my great joys here has been running outside of station, partially because it helps me to see the big picture and think about the future. There are several different ways that I can go to get up into the hills just south of station and look back into the Waghi valley. These times help me to feel God’s presence and feel His heart for this beautiful place.


The view from one of my favorite running spots


3. Learn to laugh and have something to look forward to

A few weeks ago, I was able to go on vacation to Madang, a town on the PNG coast. It was such a blessing to have a short break and time to get to know some of the other missionaries better. We were able to go snorkeling, explore the area and have time to relax without call shifts.




Something that frequently makes me smile and laugh are the kids here. Yesterday during my shift, I met Maggie who had one of the best smiles I’ve ever seen. I couldn’t help but smile back and feel joy at getting to do the work I do.



One thing I’m looking forward to is a chance to climb the highest peak in PNG, Mt Wilhelm (14,793ft). I’m hoping to go with a few friends one weekend in August.


4. Focus on prayer

Personally, I’ve always struggled with prayer. My mind tends to wander, especially when I am tired. The last couple months I have been using a book to have fixed time prayer or “saying the offices.” It has specific prayers in the morning, noon and evening that come from the Psalms and church tradition. It has helped me to focus my heart throughout the day.


5. Bond with brothers and sisters

One blessing over the past few months has been getting to know some of my PNG brothers and sisters better. I’ve really enjoyed having my neighbors and some of the PNG doctors over to my house for dinner and occasionally watching a movie. Hosting is not the most natural thing for me, but there has been plenty of grace for my cooking


Dinner with my neighbors and coworkers

Fellow doctors and some good friends


6 and 7. Say I’m sorry/Keep saying yes

Occasionally the work as a physician here can be stressful. There are many things that are new to me, and, unfortunately, sometimes I let that stress show through frustration. I have had to apologize more than once when I haven’t been very gracious or have been too task focused instead of relational. One night when I was grumbling about being called in, God showed me how a lot of my frustration was rooted in my fear of being inadequate to deal with whatever the call was about. He then proceeded to help change my mindset to curiosity and adventure, knowing that He would help me through whatever challenge might come.


Last weekend I got to spend a night with Apa and his family again, which was special. Hugging and playing with his kids made me feel at home and to see deeper into what the lives of the people I see every day in the hospital are like. Moments like these help me to keep saying yes to my work, especially when the work is less rewarding.

Mumu and morning fire at Apa's

1 Year Update

This weekend I was able to get away up into the mountains around Mount Hagen. I had time to rest and reflect on the almost full year that I ...