I WAS woken from my afternoon slumber by a phone call.
If I knew then what I know now, I would have been tempted not to answer.
But it was my duty and I did not know it would break me later in that way a man can be broken.
Sister Philo in Matkomnai talked about a nine-year old child with neck stiffness. She was worried about meningitis and wanted to treat the patient with CMP because she didn't have any Ceftriaxone.
From the tone of her voice, I could tell she was worried.
I said she could use CMP and send the child down to Rumginae Hospital. There hade been many children with neck stiffness who improved on antibiotics.
As I hung up, I felt certain the child would improve.
A day later I came to work and was told the child had been admitted.
A lumbar puncture had been done and it seemed the child had bacterial meningitis: a dangerous inflammation of the brain found mainly in children.
The child had been unwell for two weeks at Ningerum, a remote station, before taking the 20 km journey to Sister Philo at Matkomnai.
The child was now in a serious condition. Would he make it?
During the day I saw the mother tenderly sponge-bathe the child, who was in a coma and febrile. He was also tenderly nursed in different positions to prevent bed sores.
The child remained in a coma and things looked dismal. Yet the mother continued to nurse and care for him.
I asked the nursing officer Sister Yabra to get some gauze and wrap it around a spatula so it could be soaked in water and used to rinse the child's mouth.
We did all we could and the boy continued to linger for a few days.
Saturday was my day off so, after completing the morning handover, I made my way to Kiunga town on a passing truck.
Travelling back from Kiunga on a coaster bus, we were heading into Rughaz when a man and his wife waved it down.
"Bai yu go Ningerum wai o?" This was in the opposite direction, past Kiunga. I thought they could hop on another vehicle to get there.
"Nogat yah bai mipla go back lo Kiunga," said the driver.
"Inap bai yu helpim mi? Pikinini blo mi dai na mi la kisim body go lo Ningerum".
As soon as these words were uttered, I knew that the young boy’s time on earth was up and he had moved on. I was caught by surprise at the way this news was broken to me.
I was expecting to hear from a co-worker, not from the parents on the main road next to the MAF airstrip beneath a wide expanse of sky and clouds.
I wondered if the father knew that this passenger, me, sitting in the PMV had been the attending doctor of his late child.
"Mi gat feul lo go back lo Kiunga chol yah," said the driver.
And with that we drove on to the end of the road, leaving the parents to look for other transport to take the body home.
I can't imagine what it must be like to lose a child in such circumstances and to make funeral arrangements with limited means.
Even though the child's journey had come to an end, his parents were still continuing, trying to pick up the pieces.
And here I am, writing about the effect this child's death has had on me. I'm glad I wrote this down, for if I hadn't, this story would be lost in my myriad of memories.
Surely there are only a limited number of ways in which a rural doctor can be broken.
It seems that the end of the boy’s journey on earth was another happening I was destined to encounter which would leave me just a little bit broken.
Images: (top) Wei Meri River, Rumginae, North Fly, Western Province; (lower) Sunset at Briompenai, North Fly, Western Province