ONE OF THE FIRST THINGS I DID when I was posted to Olsobip Patrol Post in late 1969 was replace the dilapidated aid post.
We dug a sawpit in the nearby forest and cut roughly squared timber for the frame and boards for the walls. Elsewhere, I managed to ‘acquire’ enough corrugated iron to roof it.
The finished building was a sight to behold. We despatched the old sideways-leaning, sacsac-roofed aid post with a splash of kerosene and the flick of a match.
The aid post orderly was a local Faiwol man who had only received basic training at Telefomin. He was due to go to Daru for a further intensive course the following week but not before our new building had entertained its first significant patient.
Part of the kiap’s course at ASOPA was training to obtain a first aid certificate. It was an interesting course modified for the remote tropics and conducted by a jovial Englishman who showed us some interesting things.
As an impressionable 19-year old I was particularly impressed by the graphic footage in a training film produced by the Canadian air force. It showed a mocked-up but vividly realistic scenario involving a crashed Caribou aircraft. There were realistically floppy broken legs and arms and torsos with big lumps of metal sticking out of them galore.
Later, the Englishman explained and showed us what to do in the event of having to attend a child birth. It was equally graphic and I was mesmerised like the rest of the blokes but I didn’t pay particular attention because I reasoned that it was something I was unlikely to encounter in the flesh.
I was thinking about the Englishman as I walked down from my house to the aid post late one evening after the orderly had knocked on the door to inform me that a policeman’s wife who was in labour was having difficulty and could I please come down and lend him a hand. When I asked him for the technical details he replied that the baby was stuck and wouldn’t come out.
There were a couple of other policemen’s wives in the aid post when I arrived but an older wife who generally acted as a midwife was away for some reason. Dad was nowhere to be seen.
The strained young woman in difficulty put her hand over her face in embarrassment when I peered at the point of everyone’s focus. Then she had another contraction and what looked like a tiny foot popped into view.
That’s not right I thought.
Between us, the aid post orderly and I felt around and deduced that we had a breech birth complicated by an umbilical cord wrapped around the baby’s body and leg.
With a bit of jiggling and appropriate encouragement from everyone I managed to bend its leg and slip the cord free. As soon as I did that the poor woman yelped and out popped a baby boy.
Walking back up to my house with my bloodied shirt I felt strangely elated.
And it is here that I’m supposed to tell you they named the little tacker after me. Well, they didn’t; the poor little blighter was called Albert.