THERE are experiences that have built on other experiences that have changed me. I'm not the same man I was when I first arrived here at Rughaz three years ago.
Some memories push me to the edge. Try as I might to suppress them, there are occasions when they spring to life.
During the course of my duties I have seen severely malnourished children and sick children die because they couldn’t access health care in a remote location.
So, when I was called to Outpatients on the second day of this month, I was psychologically preparing myself for a traumatic experience.
Community health worker Gideon was admitting a severely malnourished child still in her caring mother’s arms but with an IV drip already up.
I had two other patients to see first so, after I had dealt with them, I gave my full attention to this ill infant.
Her reason for being sick was simply that she was born in remote Papua New Guinea.
This child was born to try.
Born to a mother who was a subsistence gardener; born to be faced with an illness that takes the lives of many children every year; born to be at risk of dying; born to try to survive in remote PNG; born to try.
This child was so ill that her eyes were sunken and so weak she did not have the strength to open and close them. She was emaciated; the only thing keeping her body of bones together was a dry covering of skin.
She was too sick to eat. It must have been at least a week, if not more, since she had ingested something.
Other ill children have been at Rughaz and I have seen them lose their struggles to stay alive. Battle scared by these experiences, I had learnt my lesson that often there is little hope for these helpless babies even though we try our best.
The previous day, community health worker Lisa had given an in-service on severe acute malnutrition in children, and Gideon was applying this knowledge practically now.
I immediately started the child on malnutrition management but an hour later, in the ward, she was febrile and looking even worse so I assisted community health worker students Mathew and Kaltex to insert an NGT (nasogastrict tube) which would be used for both her three-hourly milk feeds and also her medication.
In the meantime, I had also decided to start the child on tuberculosis treatment.
Throughout, it was difficult to remember that this was another person's child and not my own. I was overwhelmed by the need to institute measures to save life. The dire circumstances meant each moment was a life or death matter for the 14-month old infant. But I still needed to get permission from the mother to perform these procedures on the child.
After I inserted the NGT, the child pulled it out, so we splinted her arm to prevent her doing that again. Now it was a tense period for me as I had done all I could and it was up to that great healer, time, to do its work.
Only time would tell if the medication and feeding would resuscitate this small child.
As I left the ward, I wondered if the child would survive the night.
By morning, thankfully she was still alive. She was better hydrated and had the strength to blink her eyes. It seemed the feeds had helped her.
This child, previously a stranger to me, now brought back memories of the children who had died a gruesome death due to malnutrition, starving to death.
I remembered the drought of 2015-16 when there was a child who came in sick with diarrhoea. Even though I resuscitated him, he still died a few days later.
The name of the child is lost to my memory, but the situation is still vivid.
I've tried to forget it and other tragedies but it's useless. Now this new child had reignited the memory of those children who had died and my memory had become a burning flame.
Those other children died, but this one, this one was born to try. She was born to try to survive in remote Papua New Guinea.
If the child dies, then her memory is saved in this story I have now told. And if the child survives, her memory will linger with me for the rest of my days.
This child taught me that she was born to try, and I didn't realise that I was also born to try. To try to help babies survive in rural Papua New Guinea.
Photo: Wei Meri River at Rughaz, North Fly District, Western Province