It was my sister’s birthday today. It was also April Fool’s day.
I celebrated Vagi’s birthday because she turned 34. And, I also celebrated her because she recently became a mum of a beautiful son (just over a year old) and Vagi has made one of the toughest decisions of her life. Only in the last week, she has decided to return home to Wagang, Lae, Papua New Guinea, after over 2.5 decades of living in the capital city, Port Moresby. My mother, brother and I celebrated her home-coming. My family on our land in Bowali, Wagang Village and me at the other end of the telephone in Brisbane Australia all talking and laughing and just being happy.
My sister Vagi had vouched never to go back to Lae again. Over the years we tried to pursued her to return. She would not. Last year, when she had her son, I asked if she would consider taking him home because my mother and brother could help her with her baby. So when Vagi finally made the move, we were ecstatic. My brother and I were so relieved and him being who is said, “it was all in God’s Plan.”
I was pleased because being in the big city has become so expensive. Port Moresby was also one of the scariest place to live in. Vagi’s partner was not always with her, him being part of a ship crew, Vagi would have to raise their son Ratu single-handed in a dangerous, expensive and stressful place. Everyone in the family were thrilled when we spoke after their arrival in Lae on Saturday.
Today, Vagi called. I answered my mobile in Brisbane and wished her a “Happy Birthday”. Vagi broke down and cried and I became afraid. I had no idea what had happened but I had to wait for her to finish crying to tell me her toddler was very ill and had been admitted to the hospital. I was shocked. I had only listened to the little man’s gurgles last night. I truly felt her despair.
Everyone in our family knows the status of health services in Angau and other PNG hospitals. They are mostly ‘dead ends’.
Angau, the public hospital in Lae has been deteriorating for so many years. Coupled with termites having been through the whole facility, the building and service has not been at its full capacity for a very long time for the second largest province in PNG. This issue of lack of proper health services and a good hospital has been a major set back for the people of Morobe Province, especially Lae City. I can imagined why my sister would be so upset. She did not have a lot of choices and it was daunting to go somewhere you think you could trust, but you really can’t.
Personally, I have watched in the emergency ward and other wards in Angau as many family and loved ones died due to no proper care nor basic equipment and medication. I am sure many others have gone through the same heart-breaking experience.
I was alarmed at my sister’s phone call. She assured me that they were in one of the private hospitals which was costing about $AUD300 per night. Not that my sister had such money, hence, the phone call. But even I did not have money to keep up with the such nightly expense.
The panic in Vagi’s voice said it all. It is the same panic many have when they go to Angau. Our people always made a joke that you need to make sure your health is in top shape because when you head to that hospital, you might as well be dead. Many people are afraid to be sick.
When my grandmother had her stroke a few years ago, we were told by private doctors that her lungs had already been flooded with fluid and there was nothing anyone could do. Everyone waited for her to die. After we could not get better assistance, we were directed to Angau and we spent a day waiting for a bed to become available. There was a tug-o-war over the bed between myself and the ambulance assistant that wanted to take the bed back to the private clinic. They were preparing to place my grandmother on the cold dirty and bloody concrete floor until a bed became available, who knew when.
I begged the assistance until they got sick of me and they left the bed with my grandma on it. Throughout the evening in the emergency ward, I helped to answer the phone calls which were going every second and every hand in that ward were busy. I was told by one of the staff that there were five female HEOs (Health Extension Officers), no doctors except one working across the whole hospital. As I watched, several people were admitted into the emergency ward and all were placed on the floor because there were no beds. It was a daunting experience.
And just for a background story, a few years before that, I had through Soroptimist Brisbane (South East QLD) organised 100 beds donated to be donated Angau Hospital. These were shipped from Brisbane to Lae through Lions Club. I was told these beds were used in the wards the hospital needed particular emergency beds which they could not afford. The hospital needed so much more in other areas such as skilled doctors and nurses, medicine and equipment.
I would really like to challenge the affluent, leaders and those in the know to please go to Angau and other public hospitals and take a look around. Spend a day in the emergency ward. I bet you may never want to be rushed into that emergency ward yourself. You would rather take a medivac (medical evacuation) to Cairns or Brisbane or even fly to Singapore for your emergency.