The young man was working as a casual labourer on the hospital rebuild project and had strained his back. He attended outpatients along with his mother to have it seen to and in the hope of receiving one or two paracetamol or ibuprofen tablets maybe. But there was time to consider more than just his back. Doctor moved on from his physical injury to asking about his life. The young man man had achieved Grade 10, not something to be looked down on in an area where teaches rarely continue working their hours all year round. Now he was a village one helping in the garden and generally being there, though at the moment he was doing heavy labour for just a couple of kina an hour hardly his dream job. Doctor asked him what his interests were, he looked at his feet, but she spoke directly. “You’re a smart young man. You need to think what you want to do. God loves you and he has a plan for your life and it will be a good one”. Then she asked to pray for him with the laying on of hands, for his back but also for a revelation of a good way ahead. He smiled as he looked up.
You could say the boy was tired, but this was so far beyond something that mere tiredness could explain. You could say he was angry, but it was well beyond anger as well. It was as if there were a wild animal inside, one that was scared and going on the attack. And the animal was strong. His mother could not hold him, nor could his father. The anger was turned inwards as well, as if it had a life of its own and wanted to destroy the boy. He climbed the balcony saying he was going to leap off the second story and die. He said he wanted to go to the devil who he loved.
The boy’s mother was distraught. She was used to managing childish mood swings with a firm and loving hand. She was used to emotional outbursts too, but this situation exceeded her ability to cope. The dark hopeless rage had manifest itself several times before, each time worse than the previous. Though there were months between, the ‘episodes’ were getting increasingly hard to dismiss but even harder to understand.
His parents had arranged for some elders to come to the house to pray that particular night, not for the boy but for other reasons. Their timing was impeccable. Just as the parents were beyond knowing what to do, the men arrived. Two strong, tall PNG men of great faith were there in the living room. No explanation was required, they sat down on the woven coconut leaf mat on the floor and started praying aloud, in unison, each with a clear strong voice and with authority. The parents joined them holding the boy. They laid hands on him. He continued to rage. Where before he had been desperate to join the visitors, now he was desperate to escape, though he was held in gentle arms by those who loved him most in the world. It was overwhelming. The boy’s father began to cry- what had overcome his beautiful son? The mother, on her knees, looked up. “Do we need to get more help?” she asked. “I’ll go” said the tallest visitor.
Five minutes later two elders emerged from the darkness and joined the group on the coconut mat. The father said later that they couldn’t have seemed more angelic if they had been surrounded by light. They seemed as warriors of light even without the luminescence. The fervent prayer continued, all together, interceding for the boy. And then it was over. He was still in his mother’s arms. He looked at them, wearily but his eyes focusing for the first time. He asked what had happened. She told him the men had come to pray the protection of the blood of Jesus over him. He said he was tired and she took him upstairs to bed where he slept soundly. The visitors had tea and doughnuts.
There was a change in the boy from that night on. He was aware of the spiritual battle in a new way. He understood that “the devil comes to steal, kill and destroy, but Jesus came that we might have life in it’s fullness”. He understood the choice between obedience and rebellion. And several weeks later his parents noticed that he no longer woke with nightmares or night terrors.
It was meant to be a simple operation to remove a large benign tumour. Actually, a very large but benign tumour that was impeding the man’s ability to walk. He had been to Port Morseby General to have it removed, but they had decided not to do anything as it was deemed a cosmetic rather than life threatening problem, so he returned to the bush hospital and sought treatment from there once again. Doctor is experienced she has done many varied operations out of necessity rather than preference. She felt the operation needed to be done and had the confidence to try it despite the risk of post-op infection. The man’s sister accompanied him to theatre and donned the requisite theatre. The pulse ox was connected to monitor the patient’s heart rate. All was going well. Large volumes of tissue were removed from the man’s thigh. The ketamine sedation was working and he wasn’t experiencing any major discomfort. Then, all of a sudden everything went wrong. He stop breathing. The trace on the pulse oxy was hard to read, then non-existent. The staff hurried to locate an oral airway and bag and mask for manual ventilation. Doctor could not feel his pulse. She could not hear his heart with her stethoscope either. The staff commenced CPR, rhythmically pressing down on his chest to stimulate the absent heart beat and circulate the blood. Other staff became aware of the situation and gathered outside the theatre to pray in the normal PNG way, aloud, in unison – a cacophony of sounds and yet with some deep sense of order beneath the seeming disorder. The CPR continued, long, stressful, physically exhausting, until eventually a faint pulse could be felt, then a stronger one. Finally he was breathing. 90 minutes after the surgery he still had the oral airway in. He was starting to rouse, but was groaning, agitated. Another staff came in, unaware of the drama but hearing the sounds and identifying them as abnormal. New continuous cardiac monitoring equipment was brought in. He was identified to still have dangerously low blood pressure, he was not localising pain. Was the cause of the low blood pressure a massive heart attack, or something else? He sounded like someone who had has a massive stroke but that wouldn’t account for the blood pressure. What was the right course of action? Not knowing the cause made the correct response difficult to determine. The staff prayed again in power. His blood pressure came up 20 points without any intervention, still dangerously low but going in the right direction. A fast IV was started and he was transferred to the ward for recovery. I did not expect him to live.
The next morning he was awake, sitting up, talking in local Baimuru language to his sister. The night staff reported that he had told this story overnight:
“While I was in the theatre I came up out of my body. I was above the hospital and I was looking down at lots and lots of people all dressed in white around my body. Then I heard a voice from heaven telling me to go back down into my body, so I did”
The man was sick. He’d had a terrible run with sickness for several months and so had the children. It was one thing after another after another. Now it was influenza. Not a bad cold that people like to call ‘the flu’ but rather a contagious viral illness that left him exhausted, feverish, unable to eat and in pain. He could not walk down the stairs without becoming short of breath, and the psychological burden was a massive added weight. The women came in the afternoon, again sitting on the woven mat, singing praise songs while he was upstairs in bed. The men came the next day, a chair was placed in the middle of the room. The men surrounded it laying on hands and praying powerfully again. He sat helplessly, humbled in the presence of the body of Christ, surrounded by a strong arms of spiritual brothers extending a tangible expression of the love of the Father.
The woman woke early one morning and was shocked to find she was bleeding and in pain. She was only in her 31st week and it was far too early to have the baby. Even the big hospital in Port Moresby is not equipped to offer intensive care to neonates at such a early gestation and in the remote rural area premature labour almost certainly results in the death of the infant, if not the mother as well. The man went straight to the office to organise a medivac. It took all morning, despite the help of half of the office staff. The rest could not concentrate and went over to the woman’s house to pray with her. Several people climbed the stairs and sat with her and held her. She sat very still trying to cope with the intense pain made worse every time the baby kicked. Her face showed her raw grief and her fear. The several more visitors remained downstairs beneath the balcony where the woman sat. They began to sing and the visitors began to pray. Prayer and singing of quiet worship songs continued for an hour. More people gathered. The singing and prayer continued. The man returned and announced that the medivac had been organised. They had been planning to return to their homeland the next week, but they would now be leaving in 2 hours. Their passports were still in the immigration office and the friend in charge of their visas was on a boat several hours north of Port Moresby.
The rest of the village arrived. The woman was too sick to go down for the impromptu blessing and farewell, but remained upstairs as blessings were given, hymns sung and tears were cried. An hour later the helicopter arrived. Loaded up with medicines for a ‘worst case scenario’ the chopper ascended into the sky. The people continued to commit them to prayer. Would they make it to Australia and to medical safety or would a premature birth take place in the sky, in the capital or enroute to developed-world medical care? The friend in charge of immigration issues got off the boat and and the local health centre agreed to driver her the hour down the highway to the capital in the ambulance! The passports were retrieved, but the ticket office was due to close at 4.15, the last flight out of the country left at 5pm. Would the woman receive the all clear from the Obstetric Specialist at POM to fly on this last commercial flight or would she have to stay longer arranging an international medivac? At 4.15 the all clear was given and the tickets were purchased and boarding passes printed. But would the woman make it back from the hospital in time to board the flight with her family? She made it, with only a few minutes to spare.
An hour later she arrived in Australia and an hour after that she was admitted to the well equipped and well staffed hospital. She was in a lot of pain, but all tests showed baby to be well and mother to be improving. It remained a serious situation however. The community rejoiced at her safe arrival and continued to pray. The pain continued, intense at times. Medical staff ruled out an immediate return to the woman’s home country. Would the baby be born prematurely in a developed but still foreign country? The Australian church community gathered around them. At the Sunday service they discovered friends of friends and unexpected support. Over the next two weeks the pain gradually subsided and eventually the family were cleared to make the final leg of the journey home. The baby boy remains safely ensconced in his mothers ‘baby bilum’ while we pray for a full-term delivery.