Graham arrived in Munda on Wednesday. Soraya, the hospital secretary, left on Monday to take up her new post at Gizo Hospital, creating a big gap here at Helena Goldie Hospital. As yet there is no suitable replacement for her. The internet continues to cause everyone much frustration but happily Graham will now be able to relieve me of that task, trying to communicate with the outside world when we can catch a moment of signal.
We have had a rather tragic time recently with 3 deaths in young women with family. One was in end-stage rheumatic heart disease where life-saving heart surgery is out of reach of most people here. The two other deaths were caused by delayed presentation to the clinics: one lady arrived unconscious and had been fitting for the week prior to her arrival here. The other with advanced Tuberculosis arrived yesterday from Seghe after a 6 hour journey on rough seas. The canoe diverted here on its way to Gizo Hospital as she was increasingly breathless. She slipped away a few hours later. Both families had put their trust in Kustom medicine, only presenting when it was clearly failing to work, but sadly too late for us also.
It is 3am, and I have finally got internet access. Telecom has not been able to re-establish reliable phone or internet signal since the cyclone, causing much frustration here. I can’t sleep due to competing noise from opposite sides of my house. Loud amplified music form beside the airstrip is symbolic of the new, whilst unaccompanied singing from Lodumaho village behind me is part of the custom, as the recently deceased person awaits burial tomorrow.
In the hospital we are experiencing the same contrasts. A young newly diagnosed diabetic from an island in Roviana lagoon arrived yesterday with a horribly infected foot she had ignored for 2 weeks and may need amputation. Outside, Burnside rotary are working to improve our sanitation whilst other rotary teams are installing generators to supply power to local schools.
Graham will be joining me here in 2 weeks and already has a list of jobs to do in Honiara en route. We are still hoping to install solar power with the money received from Taiwan, but everything here takes time and patience.
We are finally emerging from a difficult period where we have felt cut off from the world. I amputated a gangrenous toe, but the lady needed more radical surgery. Transport out was not possible for a few days, so great was my relief when it was safe enough to send the canoe to Gizo. Extra flights were put on to catch up, but there was some frustration amongst the overseas visitors who had lost their connections. It is now calm, but the sea remains deliciously cool as I resume my afternoon swims. Yesterday, a lady who had paddled a considerable distance with her market produce, decided to seek an opinion regarding her painful abdominal swelling, present from the previous day. Within 3 hours she was on the flight to Honiara with an obstructed abdominal hernia.
Communication with the West Province has been poor over the last 10 days due to a cyclone affecting Isabel Province to the north east. As a result flights to and from Munda have been cancelled intermittently over this period and canoe travel restricted, though apparently a canoe did leave the hospital for Gizo 4 days ago with 5 patients, one of them very ill. The weather is now beginning to improve, but Solomon Telekom is still having problems with their satellite dish, so internet is not available. Some text messages are being received here but telephone calls are not possible. Hopefully travel will get back to normal soon to allow patient transfer as required.
HGH has certainly seen some activity this week. The eye team arrived from Honiara and Gizo to restore sight to the people of the villages with cataract surgery in our operating theatre. Monday was spent screening those who came and over 50 operations were performed. On Tuesday, their remit widened as they operated on a torn Achilles tendon in a 9year old, whilst I gave her ketamine to make her sleep. Her irate little sister had thrown a bush knife in a temper and managed to completely sever the tendon. She is now recovering with her foot immobilized in plaster. On Wednesday morning, a local 13 year old fell from a tree and was carried in unconscious and bleeding from his ear. Fortunately he is recovering, though still drowsy and irritable.
The weather has remained wet, dull and windy, keeping temperatures amazingly comfortable and the sea wonderfully refreshing when I manage to escape for a late afternoon swim.
We have seen a bit more action at the hospital this week. 2 deaths, one in a child and another in a young adult was a bad start, Both from different places came in unconscious and fitting after several hours. The child had a high fever and cellulitis of it’s leg; the adult, a weeks history of diarrhoea. Sadly we were unable to save them.
A women , who failed to progress in labour, had to be transferred to Gizo by canoe and had an emergency C. Section. I have done my first lot of stitching again; a child with a facial injury after falling on some timber, was very nasty, but so far she is recovering well. An assault victim with a broken jaw went to Honiara for wiring and a 1kg preterm baby is just holding her own at 5 days with support.
The nurses continue to do a fantastic job, so it is good to be here to support them. I value your prayers as we work together.
My first full week has passed with a public holiday on Friday for the Queen’s birthday. The weather has been very kind to me with lots of cloud, wind and rain, so it has not been too hot to wash the walls in the house to keep them mould free. There is a surprising lack of insects, perhaps the empty house and lack of food. I have been well looked after by the Bible translator couple, Jim getting my bike road worthy again and Carolyn feeding me and getting some shopping.
The hospital has been generally quiet, with no infectious epidemics at present, so there has been time to meet people and we had the first management meeting for 4 months. It was a joy to see everyone engaged with a contribution to make. The main priority at present is to find a replacement for Soraya, the hospital secretary, who is moving to Gizo
It is really lovely to be back in Munda. I have received a warm welcome from everyone I meet. After 6 months with no doctor in residence, they are just relieved to have help. The staff of H.G.H. have, however, done a brilliant job in my absence, the Director of Nursing, Andrew, stepping in to the Medical Superintendent role and leading the ward rounds. It was a challenge after many years in nursing administration. Our very competent midwife, Irene, looked after maternity. I praise God for what they have done. At Andrew’s request, I will relieve him of the clinical work, so he can have some rest and catch up on his other duties.
Without Dr Graham for now, who usually does all the IT and communication, I will do my best to keep in touch.
We are sitting in Manchester Airport waiting for Jenny’s flight to return to Helena Goldie Hospital after six months at home. Sadly the hospital has been without a resident doctor since we left at the end of November. Fortunately the Methodist Church in Britain has agreed to send us back as short-term mission partners to help out. Jenny is going ahead and Graham will follow in early August. It is with some apprehension that we return, but we have felt encouraged by the support and prayer at the Methodist for World Mission conference which was held at Swanwick this weekend. This year it was entitled Voice still small? and focused on the Pacific region. We led one of the eight workshops, giving information on the situation in the Solomon Islands and the work that we have done at the hospital & college of nursing there. Issues of climate change impact were explored as well as the sharing of stories from different Pacific nations. We look forward to renewing old friendships and serving the people of the West Province again.
Christmas greetings to all those who read our blog. Advent is a time of anticipation and hope as we look forward to the birth of the baby Jesus. As our time in Munda draws to a close it is also a time of anticipation and hoe at Helena Goldie Hospital. With no new “missionary doctors” to continue the tradition, responsibility for health care at the hospital will pass into the hands of the Solomon Islanders themselves. We feel very proud of the nursing staff who already do most of the work in the nurse-led health care system, but they do need the support of medical staff.
A few months ago an older lady was admitted to the hospital with a stroke. She never regained consciousness and died after a few days. “The problem is doctor, that her children are all educated and work overseas so there is no one to care for her” was the indignant comment from the nurse in charge. “Like me”, I replied. So when we heard that Mum was in hospital, being transfused and on oxygen, I knew that it was our call to return home sooner rather than later.
So we are now back in Britain, six weeks earlier than planned, there being no time for farewells which are so much part of their tradition. Fortunately Mum is improving and we hope to visit Munda next year. Thank you to all who have been interested to read our blog. The needs remain, but we have been privileged to be part of the work in Munda. We now seek God’s guidance for the next chapter of our lives. As John tells us at the opening of his gospel, Jesus came to be the light of the world. Whether it is us, the people of the Solomon Islands or the readers of this blog, the light will shine in the darkness if we let it, and give us hope for the future.