It was a Sunday evening. I was down at the soccer field like I normally am on a Sunday evening. I was watching a bunch of teenagers play soccer and a bunch of adults trying to play soccer, wishing I could be out there trying too. The sun was getting close to the mountains, although it was still a couple hours until the real sunset happened and night actually fell. The kids were running around doing who knows what but staying in their predetermined boundaries. You see, I’ve realized that when something really serious happens, blood curdling screams loud enough to wake the dead are involved – like an instant alert system. So the kids were running around doing something within the proper alerting distance when Brent walked up and waved me over. I jumped down from the bleachers and went to him. I noticed he looked a bit worried and shortly realized why when he said that he would possibly be medevac’ing a woman that evening.
This was really unusual and I wasn’t sure I liked it. I didn’t like it because our planes don’t usually take off at night, seeing as there are no lighted airstrips to fly to in PNG, and I especially didn’t like it because if the doctor was considering a medevac this late in the day, it meant that the patient was sick enough to warrant that risk. Brent told me he’d be at the clinic and that he’d let me know as soon as possible what was going on. I found that I couldn’t concentrate any longer on the soccer game and took the kids home to begin our weekly, Sunday night movie with popcorn and smoothies routine. I was really distracted though and began cleaning the house instead. And, I can’t lie, I made the kids clean the house too; I told them the movie couldn’t start until the toys were picked up.
Sure enough, Brent came home at about 6 o’clock and said that they had to get the patient out. He packed his bag, I packed his dinner and made him some coffee and off he went. As I watched him drive away I felt a rock sink into my stomach. Again, both because I was worried about him flying at night and because I was worried about the patient (the mom of a good friend of ours who had been visiting her kids here in PNG). The patient had what was believed to be sepsis, a condition where there is a significant drop in blood pressure and vital organs, in her case, the lungs begin to fail. Now in a first world country, this can be dealt with quickly and efficiently and usually sepsis won’t develop to a life-threatening stage. However, our small clinic here in PNG, though it can handle a lot, simply cannot maintain care for a woman whose body is being overrun by toxins. Thus, Brent’s departure meant that the doctor had decided the patient would not last until morning without more adequate healthcare.
So Brent went to the hangar and readied the plane for a night flight to Port Moresby. It is worth mentioning that until we got these Kodiaks with their ability to fly by instrument, our current team had never before done a night flight in PNG (the team here used to have a plane that was capable of flying at night but it’s not been operational in several years). We were running a VFR (visual flight rules) program until these Kodiaks came along. A year ago, medevac’ing in the middle of the night would not have even been an option. Yet another reason to praise the Lord for the provision of these aircraft.
Anyways, somehow over the next two hours the kids ate and watched their movie and got to bed. I think I was involved in that process. I think. But by nine o’clock I decided Brent should have completed the hour and a half flight to Port Moresby and I texted him. The text back shocked me, “we haven’t left yet.” Here I’d been pacing and praying for two hours for a safe flight and he hadn’t even gotten off the ground. This made my worry jump to a whole new level because I had been able to justify a dusk departure where a little light was still present but in my mind it would be a whole new level of risk after darkness set in. He did tell me, however, that they had confirmed there were lights on the runway at Port Moresby (probably the only airstrip in the entire country) but then he continued to say that once they took off there was no turning back – as there were no lights on the runway he was about to take off on – and once they got airborne there was nowhere to go but all the way to the capital.
The problem was that at nine o’clock at night, the time when I thought the flight would be complete, our staff was in the middle of dealing with an administrative nightmare. Due to faulty internet connections in the capital, our staff could not communicate with the medevac company on the other end to set up medical care once our patient arrived. We certainly could not remove the patient from the clinic here and put her on a plane for an hour and a half with no one to receive her on the other end. We needed a medical team, an ambulance, and security to get her from the airport to the hospital and none of it was able to be arranged because communication was down. For hours.
So began the longest night of many people’s lives. I was on the fringe, merely the wife of the pilot, but our team of nurses, our doctor, and our administrators worked well into the night to sustain the life of the patient as well as arrange care for her after she got out. Ultimately, she needed to get to Australia, so they were really working toward that end but having to figure out the few hours she’d spend in the capital first.
So I laid in bed from nine o’clock until ten o’clock until one o’clock and finally at one thirty I got word that the patient was on the way to the airport. I texted Brent and told him I hoped he had been able to rest and he replied “a little.” I think the coffee I gave him was a little premature. By two, the patient was at the airport and I sat outside my house waiting to see the blinking lights of the only aircraft in the sky on this moonlit, star-studded night. Two o’clock slipped away to two thirty and finally at two forty five, I heard the whine of the Kodiak. I saw a green light moving steadily through the sky over the top of the house and my heart caught in my throat. Pride mixed with fear and I felt the uneasiness of conflicting emotion. I was so happy, so proud, to know my husband was able to play a part of saving a life but I was so fearful, so worried, about what the next hour and a half would look like for him and for the patient.
I didn’t find out until later but because the patient was on oxygen, Brent was not able to ascend to the ideal altitude for an instrument flight. The higher he went the worse off her stats and so he had to settle for a much lower altitude than he would have preferred – still safe, but low. He said the lights in the cabin, where the doctor and nurse tended the patient, were on and made it difficult to see out and so he was leaned forward with his nose on the dash for a good portion of the flight. You know, just to make sure the mountains stayed out of the way. All these were details I was happy to learn about later but glad I was not aware of in the moment.
They landed in the capital at 4:10am. Despite the many hours of waiting, the Lord was good and preserved the life of our friend’s mom. She got down to Brisbane and is now well on the way to recovery. It was a long night for many people here on our center but it was incredible to see God’s people come together to work on behalf of another’s life.
And now for the second time in less than two years, I found myself in the middle of a trauma in which I was unable to do anything but pray and encourage a friend at a time when words seemed so weak and powerless. Evidently, while Brent will be busy about a ministry of flying, the Lord is showing me that I need to get busy about a ministry of prayer. Perhaps one day I’ll be aware of how powerful that role really is – I know it in my head, I even believe it in my heart, but when it’s literally all you can do in a situation it’s hard to “feel” the effectiveness. That night I felt like I was sitting on a spinning chair watching a drama unfold before me, watching people I knew and loved with roles and responsibilities and work. But there I sat. There I sat and watched and shouted “good job” to this person and “I’m so sorry” to another. Well, that’s not true, my house got really clean and I made coffee for my pilot but compared to all the things that really needed to be done, that’s pretty insignificant. The thing is, all that sitting provided a pretty sweet opportunity to beseech the One who could really do something about the situation. As I’ve reflected on that night, now two weeks past, I’m convinced that this will not be the last time something like this happens and I’d do well to expect that my place will be on the fringe and my duty that of prayer. But would that my heart be humbled and joyful to have such a duty.