Sitting on the edge of the bed in the Surgery Ward, the mattress worn and stained by who knows how many hundreds, if not thousands of patients it has provided rest and comfort for over the years, my mind drifted to those patients. What had been their reason for being in this ward, awaiting surgery. What had their outcome been? I am certain that a number of them did not get the opportunity to go home… all these thoughts made my concerns for what lay ahead seem so very insignificant and trivial.
We were not prepared for me to need to be admitted to the ward when we had gone to the consultation with the Surgeon’s assistant. I had a water bottle with me and a bag of peanuts in my bilum (purse) but that was basically all I had. When we were led into the ward, and pointed to a bed that would be mine for that night, and possibly the next three nights, they asked if I had bedding. “I am sorry but no, we had not realized I would be admitted today,” was my response. So I sat on the edge of the stained mattress, praying that God would help me through this and would help me to have the proper attitude no matter what.
A short while later, a nurse said they found a sheet for me. I was so very appreciative, as it gave some protection from the well-used mattress, and helped to absorb the sweat that dripped from my body with the heat, not only from being just south of the equator close to the sea, but inside the tin roofed, 12-bed ward were probably 30 people, with a few worn ceiling fans that tried to keep the humid air moving.
I lay back and tried to relax as Todd left to go get some water, some food, and a change of undergarments for me, as the clothes I was wearing were really the only ones I had brought that were appropriate for me to wear being in a ward with men, women and children all together in one room.
We had flown on an MAF plane earlier that day from Hagen to Madang. Being told that it would depart by 7 am, we were to check in at 6:30 – so in true Aebischer form, we arrived at 6:00am to make sure we didn’t make anyone wait for us. No one was there at the base, lines had gotten crossed and other things had taken priority and we had not been informed and it goes on and on……. At first, we were frustrated, very frustrated, but I kept saying – “God wastes nothing” and tried to keep the smile on my face matching the smile I had drawn on my mask with a Sharpie. A couple hours later, through many different misunderstandings, including our Pilot Glenys having to unload at Hagen, 500 + kilos of rice that she was to have dropped at Simbai, we boarded the plane headed for Madang.
Because we had gone to the airport so early, as the sun rose, the sky lit up and I grabbed my phone and ran out to the plane sitting on the tarmac to try and capture the beauty I was beholding. I got several shots and as I walked inside and flipped through the photos one photo stood out to me and begged to be used. It was focused on the gravel in front of the plane rather than on the plane or on the colors of the sky – but I took it and used that photo and posted it.
As you can see, I wrote in the focused strip near the bottom – “What are you focusing on? And then underneath that “Look up- and see the beauty God has created all around you” I hashtagged it #seekingtobeablessing #eveninthis #usemelordtoday #whatsinyourhand #passionandpurpose . As I felt the Lord prompting me to see the bigger picture and not focus on the possibilities with removing the basal cell carcinoma (bcc) from my nose – like would it be disfigured? How would I react to the anesthetic again after just having a general anesthetic 10 months ago in the US, and so on.
Then, once we were airborne, I pulled out my Bible to read since we had left so early I had not had time for my normally daily time in the word. With all the crazy emotions going on inside of me at traveling to have this surgery, knowing the dermatologist didn’t want to try and remove it himself but wanted me to see a plastic surgeon to do it, I opened to my bookmark for the next chapter to read. And this is what I saw.
The book of Job. My mind raced – is this what I am going to face? As I read chapter 2 vs 21…The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. I echoed these words – no matter what happens today – Blessed be the name of the Lord.
We arrived and shortly after, were picked up by a Pioneer Bible Translators (PBT) Missionary. He drove us to the flat we had reserved on one of their compounds and as we rode, he told us about the issues one of their families was facing trying to get out of Madang to go back to the US for their furlough. Their flight had been cancelled 3 times already and there was just one more possible flight that they could get on to get to the capital (Port Moresby) in time for their flight to Singapore and on to the US. But it wasn’t looking very likely that the flight would actually go.
When we got to the flat, we met the family who live in the adjoining apartment and greeted them, the looks on their faces said it all. You could see they didn’t have much hope that they were going to get out that day or make their connections on what was already very expensive tickets…… what were they to do.
In walks Todd, and within 20 minutes, he had coordinated for them to fly back to Hagen on the MAF flight that Glenys would be returning for due to the issue of having to have offloaded all that rice for Simbai and many other “issues” that had caused our delay which ended up being God’s perfect timing! He was also able to personally call PNG Airlines and discuss getting them out on the last flight to POM – had his executive assistant meet them at the airplane, transfer them and their luggage to the Terminal and even stop to get them some lunch and a coffee before they checked in. As we prayed with them before they left the house headed to the MAF hangar, I would say, they were fairly shocked at all of this and how God’s timing was so accurate, for us to have met them and understood the story and had the connections to make it all happen.
Todd and I marvelled as we drove to the hospital to meet the surgeon for consultation, how perfect God’s timing was, how God had given Todd the opportunity to meet the person (just three weeks earlier) in PNG Airlines that he was able to call and coordinate them getting on that flight along with their luggage! We were on a spiritual high as we walked up to the hospital, and met the doctor. Which was another miracle in how Rickson Poki’s father, Dr. Poki had coordinated for us to go to Madang to the only Certified Plastic Surgeon in PNG to have this rapidly growing basal cell carcinoma (most likely) removed from the end of my nose. After he had coordinated for us to meet with a Dermatologist in Port Moresby the Week before who strongly urged us to have it removed by a plastic surgeon because of its location and the scarring that would most likely result.
Within just a few short minutes of our arrival at the hospital consultation room, I was close to tears, as the doctor stepped out to get a chart to start for me as he had told me that I had to be admitted to the hospital right then so that they could do blood work and to prep for surgery with a general anaesthesia and most likely a skin graft the next day. I had felt such a peace about the whole thing since the beginning, I had felt like God had orchestrated it all and that it was going to be such a simple thing, with a consultation on Wednesday and then back for surgery on Thursday morning. I was not prepared to be admitted and not within the next 10 minutes.
Todd took my hand while the doctor was out of the room and prayed, for wisdom, for peace and for direction. I opened my eyes and said OK. When the doctor came back and apologized saying there were no semiprivate rooms available due to covid and overcrowding in the hospital, and that I would be placed in the ward with the rest of the surgery patients, I said OK.
As we walked what felt like a mile down covered sidewalks winding around so many buildings, obstetrics, pediatrics, general wards and so on. The nurse pointed out the beautiful new operating theater and pointed out the old operating theater and told how blessed they were with the new facility. We arrived at Surgical Ward 3 and knocked, the door was opened and we entered and walked down through the center of the ward with nearly every bed full and people laying on the mats on the floor beside each bed. Men, women, children, babies. All eyes were on us as we walked past, I am sure they were wondering why the foreigners were there in their ward. The nurse had us sit on a bench while she spoke with the nurse in charge of the ward. A few minutes later we were led to the bed in the far corner. I sat down on the edge of the bed looking up at the quizzical looks on each and every face. I tried to smile at them, I waved at a sweet little boy about 3 or 4 years old with an untreated severe cleft palate who was awaiting the surgery to repair it to make eating and drinking less difficult. He just stared up at me wide eyed.
Todd and I sat there for a few minutes in silence, each deep in our own thoughts. Then Todd said he knew that faith is my #1 strength, but that he really would like to take me and put me on a plane back to the US and get this done there. And then he said that he realized that my having our youngest daughter on the island without him or my doctor, in the storm, was really a significant faith stepping stone for me and although he didn’t want me to have to go through this, he didn’t want to take away an opportunity for our faith to grow. We then discussed what I would need from the few items we had brought with us and a list was made for what he would need to purchase, and he was off. I laid back on the sheet the nurse had brought and prayed, I prayed for those patients around me that I would somehow be able to encourage them, that God would somehow bridge the gap in language and culture and allow us to be a blessing. After an hour or so, of me sitting up and smiling and trying to greet those around me, and laying back for a bit and praying that the breeze from the ceiling fan 3 beds away would somehow reach me too, a nurse came with a plastic covered pillow she said she found for me to be more comfortable.
I decided that I would ask if I could go for a walk around the walkways inside the hospital compound. They were puzzled at my request, but said yes. I have been doing at least a 30 min workout every day, closing all the rings on my watch for the past 179 days and I was not about to stop! Several people outside asked if I was lost as I walked around and around. It was amusing but I just told them I needed surgery the next day and wanted my body to be strong for the procedure.
I was so overwhelmed by the kindness of the nurses even though they were not very comfortable having a foreigner under their care. I tried to reassure them and let them know how appreciative I was of their kindness. They warmed up little by little and became more comfortable, but with each shift change I had to work hard to reassure the new nurses and they too warmed up after the initial shock of seeing a “white mary” (any foreign woman) in their ward under their care.
Todd returned a couple hours later, making several trips from the car to the ward. His first trip included a wooden folding chair he borrowed from one of the PBT missionaries – so he had something to sit on all night to watch over me and care for me, along with two boxes of Snax Crackers. He dropped those off and out the door he went. He returned with his backpack filled to capacity and a large bag with everything he could think of that I would need. And let me tell you- he thought of everything! What a guy! I am truly blessed.
Once he was settled and set up – we walked around the ward handing out the crackers to each patient that was able to eat and all of those that were there to help/watch over them, along with all the nursing staff. They enjoyed that and it helped to break the ice a bit and to open up a little more conversation with them. Then we returned to my bed in the corner and he brought out a container of warmed up Chicken Curry that I had made in Hagen for our trip to eat that night. He also bought me a lot of water, some peanuts to snack on, a large bed sheet that would wrap around the mattress well, my toothbrush and Bible as well as several other items he thought I might need.
With so many patients, the lights stay on all night and different patients had to have their vitals taken every so often, and with all the others in the ward, it was hot and sticky and noisy and sleep was not something that came easily. Todd, sat up all night working on his computer answering emails, in that hard wooden chair. I dozed off and on, waking from time to time to find him walking around or working from a standing position next to the nurses station with his computer on a tall shelf.
About 3:30 I convinced him to trade me places for a little bit so he could take a nap and lay flat. He didn’t stay there long and after we traded back, I was blessed with about 3 hours of solid sleep – right up till they came to take my vitals and prep me for surgery.
Todd went with me as they wheeled me down the covered walkways to the Operating Theater building and we were able to talk with the surgeon before the procedure and we discussed what he would be doing and the need for the skin graft and how we had hoped we wouldn’t need to do that but we left it to his expert judgement. He thanked us for having confidence in him and his team. We also discussed me being discharged after the procedure once I was awake and up and around, so I could recover at the flat that was just about a mile down the road. With Todd’s medical school training, he could care for me well at the flat and we would come back to the ward for any check-ups that they wanted. They agreed and I was taken back, IV started, O2 mask in place and I drifted off to sleep.
After the procedure, they wheeled me back down to the ward, where I was warmly welcomed by nurses and patients alike. They put me in a bed closer to the nursing station and on the little table next to the bed was a water bottle vase of flowers from the hospital gardens. I can’t explain how that brightened things up – and they had taken my bed-sheet and tied all the corners so that it hung on to the mattress and didn’t slip off so fast. As I woke up more from the general anesthesia, they brought me food, chicken with veggies over rice (it tasted like Panda Express) and a coconut to drink, along with a large knife wrapped in a red and white towel that Todd could use to open it. If you know Todd’s history with big knives, you will understand why he took it outside and had one of the guys sitting outside open it for him. J It was so refreshing in the heat.
After a few hours, I was released to go back to the flat – Christina the head nurse seemed bummed that I was leaving – but we told her we would be back the next day for a check-up – and asked when she came on shift – not till later in the day so we said we would come back during her time and we did with more crackers to hand out. We stopped at the store on the way and picked up a box and a couple packs as we hadn’t used two boxes the first round. We handed one to every nurse, patient and family member there to watch over them and we had exactly enough! A God thing for sure.
The day of surgery, later in the afternoon and the next afternoon, I was so thankful to be able to go for a walk with Todd next to the ocean, to see the beauty and feel the breeze – and to get all my rings closed! 181 days and counting!
Sitting here in the flat, looking out the window past the rooftops and gently blowing palm fronds, I can see little glimpses of the gorgeous blue water of the ocean, I feel the breeze off the water and all I can say is thank you Lord – for this opportunity. The opportunity not just to be here in Madang by the ocean, but to be used as an agent of blessing for others, for helping me to look up and see the beauty God has created all around me in the people He has placed around me, and not to focus on my pain, my fears, myself, but to be open to what He has for me each step of the way.