When our house started shaking violently at 3:45 a.m., my first goal was to get my family out before it collapsed. According to my wife, I should have done something else before I ran outside.
During the past two weeks, I have been learning a lot: how to navigate hospital relations during a tribal fight, how to wash dishes without power or running water, and how much a hospital depends on an autoclave (a sterilizer for medical instruments). But I also learned that while grabbing your kids to run outside during an earthquake in the middle of the night, you should probably grab some pants to put on as well.
Papua New Guinea is a fantastic place, but just like any other country, there are disputes. Family and tribal loyalties run deep and when violence erupts, it can quickly involve the whole tribe. At those times, our hospital must make quick decisions about who to treat. If we allowed everyone involved in the fighting to be treated, there would be disputes extending into the hospital itself, jeopardizing our staff and other patients. I happened to be on call when tribal fighting broke out recently and I was grateful for the involvement of our leadership team. This was a good learning experience about the difficulty of staying neutral and not being able to treat every patient, despite what my prior training as an ER doctor has taught me.
Additionally, I have been learning that a hospital is not very effective without clean instruments—a fact that has been very apparent over the past week without a functioning autoclave. We have two large and two small autoclaves. When both of the big autoclaves broke within a short time period, our hospital was forced to shut down all of our surgical and OB services except for true emergencies. When some patients have to travel days to get medical care, it’s agonizing to tell them that we cannot help them. Thankfully, our maintenance team has been able to get our autoclaves running again. Please pray that they continue to function properly.
Finally, I have been learning a lot about earthquakes. I have diagnosed Tammy and I with what sounds like a fake disease—earthquake sickness. With aftershocks occurring every few hours, earthquake sickness occurs when you think you are having an aftershock, yet nothing is actually happening. We are regularly asking each other if the house is swaying or not. More seriously, there was significant loss of life and property just to the west of us, but we are thankful that there wasn’t more damage, especially in light of the quake’s magnitude. Prayer is needed for those closer to the epicenter who experienced the initial 7.6 magnitude quake and subsequent landslides.
No medical or missions training can fully prepare you for the unexpected that will occur. But wherever you may live, life is full of unanticipated events. While we may feel inadequate to face the unknown events of this life; thankfully, we have a God who loves us and will guide us—even if we forget to put our pants on.
As Corrie Ten Boom said, “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”
If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. – James 1:5