Several mornings over the past two weeks I wake up in a confused panic wondering, “WHERE AM I?” Until my eyes communicate with my brain and I remember. Oh, yeah. That’s right. I’m in________.
At first that blank was filled with Brisbane, Australia. We were in the home of gracious sister in Christ who provided us with shelter in a time of desperate need. Now it is my in-laws’ house in Mississippi. That’s right. M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I.
A month ago, my husband and I were filled with anxious excitement. Our moms were coming to visit Hewa. It was the first time for both of them (or anyone in our families, friends, or from our “world” in America for that matter) to see and experience our life in Hewa. We were so excited to see them and for our kids to get to spend time with their grandmothers of course, but we were also very excited to have them witness our world. To see, smell, taste, hear, and touch life in our remote village. To have other people validate our experience and would reduce our feelings of isolation by two.
We decided to keep it a surprise from our kids because we had long experienced the disappointment of plans gone wrong and honestly it just seemed too good to be true. The thought of having both of our moms in Hewa with us seemed surreal and neither of us could really believe that it would actually happen.
They arrived in country during some political unrest with talks of airlines strikes and protests. We were on pins and needles as their first flight was cancelled which made their window of getting into the tribe very small. After a lot of nail biting close calls, they made it into the tribe just a few hours after they were originally supposed to, and it was such an amazing blessing. I was never more glad about the decision to make it a surprise to our children than when I was hearing over the short-wave radio that their flight might not make it in, and they may be stuck in the city for 3 of the 10 short days with us. I could handle my own disappointment and heartache, but not my children’s at that point.
But they made it, so we spent the next week in the tribe having lots of fun family time and showing them what life is like in a remote jungle village. They met all of our friends, attended a Hewa church service and got to eat their food out of a ground oven or “mumu” just like true Hewans. John Michael even got to take his mom on a hike to the waterfall behind our house. (My mom has some back problems that made hiking dangerous for her, so we decided it was better for her to stay around the village).
Their departing flight out of Papua New Guinea was on a Monday and because there were some scheduling conflicts with our aviation department, we all left the tribe and spent three days together on the missionary center in Goroka. It was during this three day time in town that we discovered that John Michael’s mom had some infected cuts on her leg. We gave her some band-aids and a strong antibiotic cream to treat them and told her we needed to keep an eye on them as bacteria in PNG is stronger and more aggressive as it is fed by the constant heat and humidity of the tropical climate.
This particular week on the mission center, there was a visiting doctor offering her services to the missionaries there as both of our doctors were away in America at the time. She came and looked at my mother in law’s legs one evening and said that she would start her on antibiotics the next day since they didn’t look too bad, but could get bad if not treated properly.
The next day was Sunday. Her legs still didn’t really look that bad. They appeared to have small spots of cellulitis but not the huge widespread areas that we had experienced in the past. She was running a fever, though, and that sent off alarm bells in our heads, so JM took her directly to the medical clinic on center to get treated while the kids and I along with my mom went to church. The doctor decided to go ahead and treat her through an IV to get the medicine in her faster since she and my mom were supposed to be getting on a plane back to America the next day.
After several hours her condition deteriorated and we realized that she would not be well enough to fly. John Michael cancelled all her flights and planned on rescheduling them in a couple of days when she was feeling better.
A few hours after that her condition deteriorated more and we were told by the doctor that she had sepsis and was going into septic shock. The medical staff began the process of having her medically evacuated from PNG to Australia since medical treatment in the country was not adequate to take care of such a serious illness. At this point she was pretty stable, so we weren’t really worried, but we knew that she would get the best care in Australia and were happy that she could get there.
I left the medical clinic to go pack bags for her and John Michael and to tell my mom what was happening. After this the timeline gets a little fuzzy for me, because after several hours of running around trying to get little things done that needed to be done with all of this, my mother-in-law was still there and getting worse by the hour. The medical clinic had been in communication with the airline that handles all of our organization’s emergency medical evacuations and things were in motion for our pilots to fly her to Port Morseby, the capital of PNG, and meet the medevac plane to fly her the rest of the way to Australia. But at some point, they could no longer get the medevac company on the phone and no one knew why or what to do. This went on for hours. Hours of her conditioning deteriorating with no idea if we would be able to get her out of the country and to the help she needed. Hours that extended deep into the night, resulting in much of the missionary staff on center working, praying, pacing, and wondering with us.
Finally, through the work of our administrative staff we got a plan in motion to take her to the capital city and admit her to the ICU there, and wait until the medevac plane could come and take her to Australia. It was 2 am. The pilots and aviation staff had been sleeping in shifts at the NTMA hangar waiting on the word that she could be evacuated. The flight out was risky, but we are so thankful for the aviation staff and their families who are willing to serve in this way and take these risks that end in saving lives. You can read this amazing testimony from the wife of the pilot who flew my mother in law out that night here.
At 4:10 am, Monday morning, they arrived in Port Moresby and she was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit in a hospital there. Although she was in a bigger hospital, the care was still inadequate for her needs and she continued to deteriorate. At 9:00 am the medical emergency plane and staff arrived there and took over her care. They intubated and sedated her but had to wait to for an ICU bed to open up in a hospital in Australia. At 3:00 pm they heard from Mater Public Hospital in Brisbane, Australia. They had a bed open for her and a doctor reviewed her case, gave the emergency medical team orders to switch her antibiotic (one that we could not get in PNG, but the emergency medical staff had) and at 4:00 pm they took off for Brisbane. They landed around 7:00 pm and she was admitted to the hospital. John Michael was able to be with her the entire time and on both flights. The staff at the hospital arranged a meal and shower for him and let him stay the night in the ICU waiting room even though it was not usually their procedure to allow family members to stay the night.
At this point we had been up for 36 hours- John Michael with his mom- and me still in PNG with the girls. Even though I had lots of offers of help with the girls that day so I could nap, I couldn’t sleep until I knew my husband and mother in law were in Australia where they needed to be.
After many ups and downs, she began to improve. After a couple of days they transferred her out of the ICU and into a regular ward. A week later, she was released from the hospital and the girls and I joined John Michael in Australia as we waited for his mom to recover and become strong enough to fly home. We realized early on that she would not be able to fly by herself, so after a lot of praying, thinking, and weighing our options we realized that the best option for our family would be to all fly home with her. John Michael and I both had some medicals needs that needed to be treated in America anyway, and after what we just experienced, we just felt like our family needed time to process and breathe.
After two weeks in Australia, John Michael’s mom was recovered enough to endure a long haul flight so we boarded a flight to America and arrived in Mississippi at 4 am on August 8th.
We are currently at his parent’s house, but are looking for a place to rent for what we estimate to be about 6 months here in the States. We do plan on getting around to speak to our wonderful supporting churches and friends, but right now we are trying to just get some rest, schedule doctor appointments, and give our kids time to process the shock of this transition. (We had months to prepare them for our last furlough- this time they were just kind of thrown into it).
We are praising the Lord for sparing John Michael’s mom’s life and for so graciously providing for us throughout this whole experience through the Body of Christ. Honestly, in the darkest moments I felt nothing but desperate terror. I felt no faith, no hope, I was crying out to God not knowing if He was listening. But there was always someone there. Holding my hand, praying out loud, reading scripture, providing the hope and the faith that my soul needed to anchor it to Christ. This is why God wants us to live in relationship. We need each other. We need to be part of One Body because there are moments in this life, in this world of sin and suffering that we won’t be able to make it on our own. When the eyes don’t work blinded by fear and panic, so the voice speaks truth, and the hands stroke peace, and the arms encircle with comfort.
We experienced God’s love through the Body of believers in PNG with our friends and co-workers and even in Brisbane, Australia where we didn’t know anyone. God sent strangers- yet brothers and sisters to help us during our time there. They gave us a place to stay, groceries, warm clothes (it is cold in Brisbane in August and we had come from the tropics), and even blessed our family with some fun outings.
The good news now, is that we are in America. Land of the internet, so we can hopefully communicate more frequently with all of you while we are here. Once again, thank you so much for what has to be thousands of hours of prayers you have lifted up on behalf of our family. As you can see (read) they are never ever in vain.