We have a tradition Sunday evenings. A lot of families around here do and while most of the men grumble about it, most of the women cling to it with the tenacity of an ant on a sugar cube. In our family it’s called “mom’s night off”…which sounds more amazing than it actually is. In theory, it means I don’t cook on Sunday nights; in reality it means instead of prepping veggies and meat, I pop kernels of corn in oil and throw a bunch of frozen fruit into a blender for smoothies. “Popcown and smoovie night” is also a commonly used name for these evenings in the Haberchak home. If you ask Brent, neither of these foods qualify as real food but because he loves me and because he values my night “off,” he goes with it.
I introduce our Sunday night tradition in order to introduce you to a story about a week that happened not too long ago. In fact, it was three weeks ago, Thanksgiving week. The week prior, Brent had been in the islands doing flights for all of our missionaries who live off the mainland of PNG. He left Monday morning of that week and didn’t return until Friday afternoon which brought us into a weekend where time with Daddy was much coveted by the kids and me and where time with a pillow was much coveted by Daddy himself. Two days of Daddy and rest brought us to this particular Sunday night where I was getting ready to pop and blend our “food,” the kids were searching for a movie, and Brent was just telling me that he was going to take the second half of Monday off to get a little extra rest and time with the family. Not two minutes later his phone rings and our medical staff informs him that there is an urgent need for a medevac out of one of our bush locations the next morning. With popcorn popping in the background, he calls our missionary in the bush and begins prepping for the flight he now has first thing the next morning. He needs weights and number of passengers and weather reports to pull this missionary out. Meanwhile, I get our kids settled with their favorite meal of the week and a movie and begin to pray for this friend who is halfway through a pregnancy and in quite a bit of pain. We’re about a third of the way into Leave it to Beaver when Brent joins us and tells me, “It’s just the wife coming out, the husband and their four kids are staying in. Maybe you can send in a meal with me to help them out?”
So off I run to the kitchen to throw together a casserole and some banana bread for Brent to take in for the hubby and kids being left behind. Now, before you think I’m some kind of saint for cooking on my night “off” let me confess to you that when these medevacs get called and Brent is off flying, there is an adrenaline that flows through my veins that makes it incredibly difficult to sit still and wait for news. Granted he wasn’t flying yet, but I knew that a friend was in pain and I was worried for her and it felt better to be able to do something than to sit and watch Wally and Beaver wrestle in their huge, cowboy-themed bedroom.
Monday morning Brent takes off and successfully gets our missionary back to the clinic here on center. It pushes his flight schedule back for the day and his half-day at home becomes impossible – which is totally worth it, for the record. So he calls about noon and tells me that he’s going to take Tuesday off because the flight schedule is light and he doesn’t have anything he has to be in the office for. Sweet.
Monday night we’re eating dinner with Jon and Adie Leedahl when the CEO of our flight program drops in to let Brent and Jon know that a medevac to Cairns is most likely going to be called for this woman that Brent just pulled out of the bush that morning. Evidently, her condition was not something our clinic was set up to treat so she was going to have to leave PNG to get proper care. Fortunately, while she was in a lot of pain, it was nonlife-threatening (thank the Lord!). Dinner conversation turns to flight planning for a medevac flight to Cairns, Australia, something our guys had yet to do. The two of them had flown down to Cairns a handful of times for supplies but they had not yet flown a medevac (in fact, they had just been cleared by the authorities down there to begin doing medevacs a mere two weeks prior). Needless to say, Brent’s day off turned into an early morning in the office to begin filing paperwork for the medevac scheduled Tuesday afternoon to Cairns while Jon flew in to get her husband out of the tribe.
Tuesday morning I kissed Brent goodbye and told him to have a good time in Cairns…AGAIN (this would be his fourth trip down in five months’ time. Lucky dog.) Most governments regulate how many hours a pilot can “work” before requiring time off and PNG is no exception. Brent and Jon’s workday on Tuesday began at 7 am and would not finish until 8 pm when they arrived in Cairns. This meant they were required to take a day off in Cairns on Wednesday before being able to make the four-and-a-half hour return flight on Thursday. So I kissed him goodbye knowing that once they got our friend settled in the hospital they were in for a day of rest and good food in a first world town. Lucky. Dog.
Meanwhile on the home front, Tuesday night fades away into Wednesday morning and inaugurates what I have come to think of as the Day of Puke. Kimi began throwing up early Wednesday morning and by Wednesday afternoon Luke had joined her in the fun. I don’t know why but it’s become a rule for Haberchak kids to only get this kind of sick when Daddy is gone. I called my neighbor and best friend, Jenny, the next morning (Brent is unreachable down in the Australian beach-town getting well-deserved and undisturbed sleep) to whine about the smell that has started to permeate my house. Like a good friend, she pretends to feel sorry for me and tells me that her youngest son (they have five!) threw up Tuesday afternoon and was now lying in bed and complaining of stomach pain. We commiserate together and chalk up all the kids’ symptoms to a flu that must be going around. After all, her five and three-year-old and my four and three-year-old are still learning the important lesson of sharing but lack the discretion to know that sharing toys and sharing the spoon with which they eat their homemade “mud-soup” is quite different on principle. Principle means nothing to these little people…which also explains why they think mud-soup is digestible.
So Wednesday I was a home all day with little going on besides Clorox, movies, and texts like “Kimi’s been sick twice more…” and “Luke just threw up EVERYWHERE…” being shot off to Brent’s phone. I went to bed Wednesday night praying that we would all sleep through the night and that Beau and I would not come down with whatever was plaguing Kimi and Luke. Despite my fears to the contrary, the Lord granted us ALL a night of rest and by 8am Thursday morning Brent had texted to say that they were taxiing for the three hour, over-ocean flight to Port Moresby (PNG’s capital) and would be back in Goroka (our airport) around 2pm. This was good news as I had plans to cook all day for a small Thanksgiving dinner with Leedahls that evening. (Our main feast was going to happen Saturday afternoon since the birth of America is not a recognized PNG holiday but we were going to do a little something that evening to recognize the occasion anyways.) I checked in with Jenny that morning too, to see how her son, Gabe, was doing. My kids seemed to be on the mend and I was hoping hers would be as well. She told me he still hadn’t taken food or fluids and was still in so much pain he didn’t want to be touched. She and her husband, Mitch, were starting to worry and had called the clinic – a decision that was a bit difficult to make because the clinic had decided to close for the holiday and it meant pulling everyone in on their day off. Plus, with a three year old, it’s always hard to tell what’s legitimate pain, what’s discomfort, and what’s attitude because they don’t feel well.
So Jenny and Gabe went off around eleven in the morning and shortly after she texted to tell me they were trying to get IVs in him because until they got him hydrated, they were not able to determine for sure what was going on. Evidently his bloodwork showed concerning numbers that could have indicated a serious problem or could just be the result of dehydration and until they got fluids in and ran the numbers again, they wouldn’t know how serious his condition was. Unfortunately, they were having trouble getting the IV in because he’s so little and was so dried up. It was going to be a long day. So I added to my list of Thanksgiving food, a casserole for my friend and her family so that she wouldn’t have to worry about dinner when they finally got out of the clinic.
About 1pm Brent texted me from Port Morseby and told me that they were on standby for another medevac and to be prepared for him to not make it home. My heartrate immediately skyrocketed because as far as I knew, my friend’s son was the only one in the clinic. Then he texted, “it’s a kid but we don’t know who yet.” I started to cry. I called my friend who told me that as of yet, nothing had been mentioned to them about a medevac, they were still trying to get him hydrated. By this point, Mitch was with her in the clinic and I was keeping track of her other four boys. I was confused between what Brent was saying and what she was saying but I took her calmness and ran with it. I ran with it to the point that when Brent flew over an hour and a half later, rocking his wings to say hi, I texted to let him know that the chance of another medevac was a far off possibility and our Thanksgiving dinner with Leedahls was ready and waiting.
Or not. The flight time between our center and the airport is approximately three minutes. Ten minutes after I waved up at him and texted the “everything will be fine” message, he called and told me, “Erica, we’re not coming home. We have to get this kid down to Cairns tonight and we have to start filing the paperwork now.” I’d received no word from Jenny yet but at this point knew that they were the only possibility. Sure enough, fifteen minutes after Brent’s call, she came home to pack for a medevac to Australia. “They think it’s appendicitis,” she told me. “They can’t be sure because they still can’t get him hydrated enough. But a doc down in Australia told our doctor they need to get him to a pediatric surgeon ASAP. So Gabe and I are off.” I told her I’d hang on to her boys and she and Mitch could just focus on their little one until they had to leave.
The details involved in getting a medevac squared away are numerous, even when it’s considered life-threatening. We have a medevac team that works tirelessly to get all the paperwork in order before our flights depart because a hospital on the other end needs to agree to take the patient under their care before a flight is allowed to leave. Jenny’s family got rejected from two hospitals in two different cities in Australia before one “had space” and a pediatric surgeon for her son. It took a long time. So our clinic staff worked all day to diagnose and treat, our field office worked all day to get paperwork done, and our flight staff worked all day to prepare for their first direct flight to Cairns (because the medevac on Tuesday had been “nonlife-threatening, they’d stopped in the capital on the way out. Gabe’s condition was more serious and they didn’t have the time to stop and “check-out” of PNG; they would have to go straight down). It takes a team to save a life here in PNG.
Shortly after Jenny returned to the clinic, while I was pacing around like a madwoman outside and trying to pay attention to seven children under my care while my mind and heart were with a special little guy in our clinic, Adie called me and asked if I would be willing to give our Thanksgiving meal to the clinic staff because they were tired and hungry. Our guesthouse was going to be making food for everyone in the field office and packing meals for our hubbies to eat while they flew so I said of course, grateful to have some way to contribute. Furthermore, it was coming up to five in the evening and I knew I would probably have Mitch and Jenny’s other boys for dinner and I had that casserole I had made for them earlier ready to go. So in a beautiful dance, the Body of Christ cared for each other as food was passed around from one family to the next, one department to the next, to make sure all of our people were fed and cared for. My favorite thing in these medevac situations had become witnessing how everyone comes together and loves on one another. It’s simply beautiful.
Gabe didn’t get cleared to leave until around 8pm that night. Brent and Jon took off, in what would be our team’s second night flight in PNG, at 8:45 for Cairns. While they flew south, several mutual friends came over and we prayed for my friend, her son, and the rest of their family who had been left behind. I was so thankful for friends as sleep was not to be had until I knew they landed safely – which they did at ten minutes to 1 in the morning.
Jenny and Gabe were scheduled to depart on another medevac flight to another city in Australia because we had been told Cairns Hospital had no pediatric surgeon on hand to remove a three year old’s appendix. But before they could get on another flight, they had to be seen by the hospital in Cairns and get accepted as a “medevac patient” for their medevac company. The red tape is crazy, folks. Anyways, by the grace of God, a doctor in the pediatric ward at Cairns looked at Gabe and determined he was not well enough to be medevaced again and that they needed to operate immediately…oh and by the way, he just happened to have experience as a pediatric surgeon. So little Gabe went into the OR early that morning and by midmorning Friday, Jenny learned that his appendix had indeed ruptured and it was imperative that they had gotten him to the hospital when they did. Praise God!
Meanwhile, Brent and Jon found themselves sleeping off a 19 hour work day that involved a flight home from Cairns and a flight back down to Cairns. They stayed until Saturday and Brent was welcomed home that afternoon by the 26 people we’d invited over to celebrate Thanksgiving. Jenny and Gabe remained in Cairns for about two weeks, while Mitch played Super Dad and held down the fort with their other four boys. They are back now with the addition of an enormous teddy bear Brent bought for Gabe (aptly named Brent-bear) while he was in the hospital and Gabe is back to making mud-soup with my kids – what joy there is to be found in the mundane!
As the NTM-PNG team, we rejoice that the Lord has sustained our people in such miraculous ways. He has allowed our medical needs to be only as great as our ability to handle them. A month ago, Brent and Jon would not have been able to go direct to Cairns and a life might have been lost because of it. Praise Him for the protection he’s granted our people as we’ve worked to get our aviation program off the ground (quite literally) and able to meet the needs of our team!