Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Signing Out!

Yes, this will be our last blog on this site as we are due to leave Auki at the end of the week. Just wanted to thank you all for sharing our adventures with us. As you can see the workshop is 99% completed! We leave it in the hands of the Maintenance team who will continue to outfit the interior as funding and time permits them.

Rob and I will be continuing on with our next adventure based in Honiara (Solomon Islands) so if you are passing through pop in and say hello, we'd love to see you.

All the best

Lara & Rob

Saturday, 25 April 2009

The Biggest News of All

If you know anything about malaria, the question may have entered your mind at some stage - why was Kelly so sick, why the evacuation and the ban on returning to Solomon Islands? Yes, I was sicker than most people, and no, you wouldn't normally get evacuated to be treated for malaria. The reason was that I wasn't the only one with malaria. We found out, about a week before I got sick, that we were having a baby. We guessed it was pretty early days, and so he/she was nicknamed "Ziggy" (the zygote - google it if you haven't done biology!).

As I have learned, pregnancy depresses your immune system, meaning that illnesses are more severe than they otherwise would be. Malaria carries extra risks for the fetus as well: an increased risk of miscarriage, problems with the placenta, risk of poor growth and premature delivery. I have done enough work with infants to know that having a fever while pregnant is not a good thing for the baby. And boy did I have a fever....

I don't normally talk about God in these posts, because I suppose people have so many wrong ideas about Him that I don't want to word something clumsily and put them off more. But I can't leave Him out of this, because I believe with everything that He is responsible for getting us and Ziggy this far. So sorry if you're offended by the following talk of supernatural things, but our lives have not taken these turns so far because of "the natural order of things". So it is with this part. As we know, a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing: I have seen a lot of neurologically messed-up babies and kids through my work, and know that it is important to be healthy during pregnancy. So as I was getting sicker, and was convinced that something really was very wrong, naturally I was extremely concerned for whatever might be happening to this little guy, whose life had barely begun. My own inclination is to worry myself silly, and to think of all the catastrophic implications that this illness would be sure to have: miscarriage, severe disability, a lifetime of grief, struggle and hospital admissions, the works. But oddly enough, even in the midst of a pretty scary time, I had complete reassurance that this baby would be okay, and I didn't have to worry. That, of course, goes against everything my head knows, yet it is something I've learned to trust.

Maybe it is the wrong time to be telling this story, maybe I should have waited ten years until we had this child I could hold up and show you was completely healthy, completely normal. But everything we have heard and seen along the way has supported this seemingly irrational knowledge that this baby is okay: the early scan in Brisbane showed that everything looked well, we made it past the crucial 12 weeks without any hint of a problem, the obstetrician said I was sick too early on for the malaria to have affected the placenta and thus Ziggy's growth, the baby has been kicking like a pro-footballer since 16-and-a-bit weeks, the 20 week scan was beautiful and showed appropriate growth....

I can't tell you exactly what the future holds for Steve and Ziggy and me, but we're excited to be safely home together, all three of us, and the size of my 24-and-a-bit-week belly says things are growing well. After such a rough start to our little bubby's life, it is good to be excited about the future, and to be feeling well as we prepare for his (or her) arrival in mid-September.


Monday, 20 April 2009

Easter Flooding

Hope you all had a wonderful Easter. We had a great one with plenty of visitors to brighten our days. Just wanted to share one of the events which was the Easter floodings. Pictures will describe better than words so I'll leave you with the following. Just to say the change only took an afternoon of torrential rain!!

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Steve's been voted off the island!

I'm just writing to let everyone know that I've safely made it out of Malaita, and am in NZ waiting for Kel to arrive. I've been without her now since the start of Feb, and it hasn't been the easiest of times - but I can't wait to pick her up at the all familiar Akld airport, as she flies in from Melb...

To be honest, I've been pretty exhausted the last couple of weeks. There's been so much to do on top of our physically demanding construction work at Kilu'ufi (hospital), and I wouldn't have made it this far if it weren't for some good mates who came to help in Kel's absence.
Karl & I

Rob & Lara, of course, kept the construction going. And Karl (Kel's dad), David, Libby & Jennifer (mates from St Matt's who were in Auki earlier in the year) really rallied around me over the last few weeks to get me over the line (and help at the hospital and Dukwasi village). The team helped me with all the cooking (we ate exceptionally well despite my culinary shortcomings), and getting the house packed.David, Karl, Jennifer, Libby & Me!!

We managed to give a whole lot of stuff away, and with all the extra luggage allowance between the five of us, ended up sending only 9 boxes home - a good effort I thought...
Some of our friends at the party!

The hardest thing about all the goodbyes was that Kel couldn't be part of it...
We had a big party (with lots of Aussie party food!) and over 150 people showed up. Our good friend Silas' band (called Traditional Roots) played until the power went off at 8pm! We fired up the generator and kept going for a while - eating and showing off photos to all the pikinini. We called Kel, and many of our friends got to talk to her (they were very surprised that she could still remember Pijin!). People were still showing up at 1am the night before we sailed out of Auki, just to spend time with us, which was really sweet.
Rob & I

We're going to miss our good Auki mates Silas, Willie, Frank, Goretti, and especially everyone at the Auki AOG and Dukwasi village. It was really sad to say "bye" to Rob & Lara after all the good and bad we've been through together over the last couple of years, but the net and power situation should be a little more stable when they move to Honiara in a couple of months - which means some good skype sessions will be in order...
Frank & Willie & Me!

Finally, we've decided to re-settle back in Melbourne for family reasons, so we're shipping all the stuff we stored under Ben's house (thanks mate) from Auckland to Melb. Auckland feels more like home than Aussie because we've never lived in Melbourne together since we got married in 2003. Many thanks also to Allan, Kay and the Life crew for all you've done for us! We have nothing against NZ - we would've loved to have been able to settle there - but 7years away from family is enough for me...

So I've got work organised at St Vincent's Hospital Melb, and Kel's already back at work. We'll be living in Berwick, and we expect many Kiwi visitors over the years to make use of our spare bedroom (we insist!)

Stay in touch everyone!

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Stimulating blog?!

Yes it has been awhile since we have sent a stimulating blog to fly around in cyberspace. . . so we’d better attempt to amend the situation.
Well as Steve alluded to in his blog (congratulations are in order Steve – your first blog!!!! Well done, wasn’t that hard was it!) we had a wonderful whirlwind of a time in NZ, including attending a wedding, Parachute music festival (Rob’s highlight but we won’t rub it in (see picture)), catching up with family and a few friends. Back in the Sols we had the sad experience of saying goodbye to our Kiwi wantok the Harries but we wish them all the best in their next adventure and hope to share future holidays together.

Back to the workshop and it’s starting to look like a building!!! Big thanks to the St Matt’s team who got the bulk of the walls done. With funding provided by the Sol Ministry of Health we have been able to employ a few extra hands to speed up the process. So now all the walls have been completed. It was a great spectacle to see the manatou (mobile fork hoist) come in for an afternoon to assist with getting the roof beams up. Lots of excitement – no wonder it attracted a crowd of spectators! You will be pleased that no one was hurt, not even the manatou who just managed to scrap under the doorway.

Rob managed to catch malaria, however unlike the dramatic stories Kelly and Steve can share, all we can say is – Rob got tested for malaria quickly at Kilu’ufi hospital, took the medication and was back at work the following week. Not so exciting aay?

To make up for that I will post a dramatic (well it is dramatic in real life) photo of the waterfalls we visited. There were five awesome waterfalls in a row. We could have stayed for hours trying to capture their magnificent beauty. Anyway, there it is . . . a blog, can’t really categories it as stimulating but at least now you know that we are alive and well, haven’t been eaten by crocodiles, a coconut hit us on the head or been squashed by an overpopulated truck crabbing sideways!

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Part 3 of the Medivac - The Palace

After a couple of months of being back in Australia and working in our embattled public health system, I have plenty to complain about. My experience as a patient in that system, however, was one we are eternally grateful for, and every aspect of care I received was exceptional.

We arrived in the emergency department and were greeted by my panicked parents, who flew up the same evening on hearing of my plight. The wait in the ED was not long, but still uncomfortable thanks to my distended tummy and painful sacrum (traumatised by its sudden and abrupt meeting with the bathroom tiles when I passed out in the shower two and a half days prior). I was considerably relieved to be wheeled into a cubicle and then seen quite promptly by one of the doctors for another recount of the history, plus an explanation that no, I was not contagious! My poor parents and Steve sat out a couple of hours in the waiting room before being brought in to see me, now newly punctured and hydrated with another IV and bag of fluids. At some time after 1am, however, it was not a long visit, although we were all pleased that I would be admitted overnight, and that they could check in to their respective hotels to sleep.

It was a long five hours on my little trolley, punctuated by several trips to the toilet (the fluids were getting in fine now, but clearly they had to get out, too) and a few outbursts from aggravated psychiatric patients. Early that morning, though, there was a bed for me on a ward, all pillowy soft, well-blanketed and with the crispest, almost glowing white sheets I had seen in.....I don't know how long.

I stayed in the hospital for five days, over which time I was looked after by the head of the infectious diseases department (the kind and the wonderful Prof Patterson) and his juniors, wonderful nurses - everyone from the clinical staff to the cleaners and tea ladies were just delightful. And the food was excellent! Steve could probably tell you more about it than me, though, as he cleaned up most of my meals due to my very poor appetite.

Interestingly, the malaria parasites they found in my blood in Brisbane were different to the strain I had been disagnosed with in Solomons. The debate then arose about whether I had both, or whether the initial diagnosis was wrong. I guess we will never know. Either way, I was sick enough that the prof recommended I stay in Australia, and not return to Solomon Islands. By the end of my stay, only my spleen was still enlarged, and so I was a good guinea pig for the registrar to teach a few medical students about examination. They did quite well with some feedback, and were a little excited to palpate a big spleen for the first time. With a few not-so-subtle dropped hints, they deduced that I had malaria.

At the end of the week, I was discharged, having lost my tropical tan, and looking rather scrawny in my now very loose clothing. I stayed with Steve in his hotel, but a couple of days later, we had to part ways: him back to Malaita, and me to Melbourne with Mum. I managed to walk the whole way through the airports, which was the furthest I had moved on foot in about two weeks!

It was another two months before I actually felt healthy again, as the fatigue and malaise persisted for all that time. I caught a couple of gastro bugs while I recovered too, which was pretty demoralising. At last, at last, I feel good, but still just thinking about Solomon Island food is enough to turn my stomach, as I felt so terrible when I left. Yeeeuch.

Saturday, 28 February 2009

Part 2 of the Medivac - Arriving at The Palace [yes, very belated]

I was prompted to action partly by Steve, and partly by seeing Rob and Lara's final entry on the blog: I never finished my hospital saga, and it is a story that needs to be recorded for posterity. (note: datestamp altered to be closer to part 1 - Steve)

When last I left you, Steve and I were preparing to leave the "comforts" of National Referral Hospital in Honiara so I could receive some First World medical care as recommended by the insurance company. We advised them the next flight departing Honiara would be that evening, a Sunday. With about six hours before the flight, a company consultant rang to inform me that yes, I had been approved to fly to Brisbane and was booked on the flight. But how would I fly by myself, I asked in horror? I needed assistance to get to the toilet twenty metres away, had blood pressure of 80/50 (normal is about 120/80), had collapsed a couple of days ago, couldn't sit up for more than a few minutes at a time - how would I carry a bag, check myself in, walk through the airport, get a taxi to the hospital? "Oh," the consultant replied helpfully. A long pause ensued. I explained to her, with minimal hysteria, that I was better qualified than most to assess my own safety to travel - AND I WAS DEFINITELY NOT SAFE! With that, she promised to try to get Steve on the flight as well.

The hours oozed by, the stress levels rose (Steve called our parents, so they were anxious along with us), and I probably vomited at some stage during all of that too. With about 2 1/2 hours before the flight was due to depart, the insurance company called back: yes, Steve could accompany me. Phew.

A nurse came with us to the airport, so that I could have fluids running through my IV until the last possible moment. Steve held me and our scant luggage, and looked for a place for me to sit, or preferably lie, but most seats were full. As we have learned, getting by in Solomons is all about who you know: as we looked, we made eye contact and exchanged eyebrow raises (see previous blogs) with an air hostess we had met on two previous flights! She immediately cleared a couch for me to lie on, and hurried off to sort out a wheelchair and helped Steve get us checked in with minimal hassle. We were waved through, rushed through even, despite carrying about six litres of water, and me and the wheelchair setting off the scanner alarm.

We don't normally have a lot of kind words for Solomon Airlines (none for their domestic services), but the staff were lovely and helpful, and I think we even departed on time. They found me blankets and pillows, and a wheelchair as quickly as they could at the other end. It was an uncomfortable flight, however, as my belly begun to expand very uncomfortably due to my enormous liver and spleen. I now have so much more sympathy for the babies I used to see with liver problems - it is impossible to sit up straight, or lie on your left side with an enlarged liver, it really feels like your organs are being pulled out of you with tongs. But we made it, and must have got through immigration and customs very quickly, as I barely remember it.

A friendly taxi driver drove us (very carefully over the speed bumps, as I didn't want to lose my liver) to the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital, hereafter referred to as The Palace. Just being in an Australian city was reassurring, even though we don't know Brisbane well. One way or another, it had to be better than where we had come from. A brief wheechair ride up into the clean, new emergency department, and we entered another world....

Friday, 27 February 2009

The Medi-vac

Some, if not most of you by now, will have heard that Kel is no longer here with me in Auki (she’s been home in Melbourne since the start of Feb). I’ll try describe the circumstances surrounding Kel’s medi-vac, and then we’ll wait to see how long it takes her to correct me, and fully depict just how awful it was to have a bad dose of malaria…

Well, it was during the second week of the St. Matt’s visit that Kel started having migraines that progressively worsened. She was also really tired, but soldiered on as much as she could so we could achieve as much as possible while our friends were in town.

After an agonising week spent in bed, trying to minimize noise and daylight intrusions (if you’ve been here you’d understand just how hard a task that is with paper-thin walls, louvre windows, and mesh curtains… and the dogs, kids, wood-chopping etc) we managed to find a thermometer which confirmed her temp was pretty high. So 10 days into a migraine, and only a small hint of a fever – and no other obvious signs of malaria – we called the health insurance mob.

The health insurance guys make their own jobs a whole lot harder by not listening to the local advice you give them – they really had no idea how things happen in our third-world country – but they managed to get Kel on the afternoon flight to Honiara, nursing a sore sacrum after she collapsed in the shower that morning. They failed to book me a flight, saying it was all booked up (we knew it wouldn’t be – and it wasn’t). So Kel, only barely safe to walk by herself (she was lucid enough to self-assess) escaped Auki by herself, the plane taking the long-way-round to Honiara. The National Referral Hospital (called No.9, a name earned during WWII) sent a vehicle, and Kel made it to the emergency department between about 5 and 6pm.

Our good friend, and (we think) the best doctor from our hospital, Dr Jack, had been transferred to No.9 only a week earlier. Luckily for Kel, he spotted her waiting in E.D. as he was heading home, so he returned to take care of her that night. Dr Jack was able to get her processed really fast, and also organised a single room on his ward (which was fantastic, because whilst we’re used to being stared at, you don’t want to be stared at by 30 other sick women when you’re also not well…). Grace (Dr Jack’s wife), and our volunteer buddy Mike came to visit and bring food – which was lucky as the nurses didn’t offer her any, expecting that she wouldn’t like Solomon food… Despite her illness, Kel was able to launch into a tirade (in Pijin, of course) about how long she had lived in the Solomons and even though she has white skin, she is black on the inside and certainly not afraid of Solomons food!

After assessing Kel, the doctors weren't certain that she was suffering from malaria, but the test was ordered as a precaution. Since it was the weekend, Mike came in to take her to a private clinic for the test, where it was confirmed that she had “PF 4+” – which translates to be the potentially fatal kind of malaria you really don’t want (later in Brisbane we discovered she also had PV malaria: the jury is out on whether she actually had both or the initial diagnosis was incorrect), and a severe case at that.

Here I (Kel) will take over to garner some sympathy as I tell you a little about what hospital is like in Solomons. I spent two days and two nights in No.9, and I had one sheet that followed me from a bed in the resus room, to a bed in another waiting room before finally sharing my ward bed with me: there was no other clean linen. In some wards, there are mosquito nets, but there was not on mine, and so in the evenings, I watched fat black mozzies looping their way around my room. Maybe they were males, as I don't remember being bitten. Steve did plenty of hunting and killing for me, though.

I was put on intravenous fluids when I got to No.9 after they measured my blood pressure at about 80 over 55. None of those fancy pumps, though, just gravity, and waiting for my wrist to swell up to know that the line wasn't in the vein anymore, or me anxiously prompting the nurses about the last bag taking 24 hours to run through rather than the two that the first had taken. Monitoring is occasional and low-tech - a mercury thermometer under the arm, a manual blood pressure cuff, taking the pulse the old-fashioned way. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but somehow it is more comforting to know that multiple machines are checking on your wellbeing.

Even though the nursing staff insisted I use their staff facilities, I am unconvinced of the benefits - the shower walls were as green and slimy as any other cubicle, the toilet comparable in cleanliness. Not that it was such a bother, all I wanted to do was get back to bed, with Steve holding me up, and my IV fluid bag in tow.

The thing I found the hardest, and I didn't even realise this until afterwards, was keeping on talking in my second language whilst I felt so bad that death seemed an attractive option. It takes effort, even though Pijin is not a difficult language and I am very comfortable with it, this was the sickest I have ever been, and even talking was a draining exercise.

But....there was another chapter still to come in my hospital adventures, and that will come next...

Friday, 20 February 2009

St. Matt's visit

January was jam-packed for all of us, with lots of travel and work to do. Kel & I spent a fabulous week home in Melbourne for my little bro’s wedding, and R&L managed a couple of weeks back in NZ, also for a family wedding – we were particularly ticked-off that they got to see the David Crowder Band at Parachute (watch out for a pic – I’m sure Rob won’t last too long before getting one on the site!)

Anyway, Kel & I were accompanied back to Auki by 8 mates from our St. Matt’s community in Endeavour Hills, Melb. The team deserve to be named because of the incredible work done over 2weeks – Roy & Jennifer B, Gay B, Peter B, Clair B, David & Libby E, and Andy E. Even though they were unable to join the team because of personal circumstances, Mark & Rose B made the trip possible with their vision, coordination, and particularly their enthusiasm to maintain St. Matt’s long term relationship with the Sols. All along, the people of St. Matt’s have been our greatest supporters – they provided the initial inspiraion for Kelly & I deciding to volunteer here, after we toured with them in 2005 (even though we were still in NZ at the time) – but that’s another story…

Back to the team’s visit:
We had two main goals – literacy and a little health training at Dukwasi village, and; continuing construction of the workshop at Kilu’ufi Hospital.

The training at Dukwasi village was for their women – many of whom are/were totally illiterate. This village is close to our heart as they’ve welcomed us like one of their own. We can’t begin to describe how excited they were in the lead up to the trip! The anticipation was not without a big spoonful of apprehension, as they told us of a white lady from AusAID who had come once to speak to them, but her intended audience was so fearful they fled, and she never did the talk. (See previous blogs on what a big deal it is to be white over here!)

Our ladies ran workshops at the village each morning for a week (if the village ladies don’t go to the garden each day, the family does not eat). The first day and a bit were focused on basic health issues (e.g. sanitation, nutrition, wound and back-care). The remaining time was devoted to language training. If villagers have some education they can often read English, but they struggle to read Pijin. Additionally, they don’t completely comprehend English, but they “get” everything when it’s in Pijin – it’s all a little backwards really…

The Dukwasi women were very keen to learn to read Pijin because of the publishing of the Pijin Bible mid-2008. Understandably, without really being able to understand Pijin, our ladies were up against it – luckily their skills and experience with teaching, other languages, and creativity allowed them a lot of flexibility to adapt to the challenges.

At the end of the week we all gathered together for a feast hosted by the whole village. There were speeches, little skits practiced by the women’s groups, songs, and gift presentations. St. Matt’s bought 20 Pijin Bibles for the village, which were given to family groups to encourage them to read and practice together. My sources at the village happily report to me that the Bibles are looking a little worn when they take them to church each week – that’s gotta be a good sign!!

Now, the men got down and dirty amongst the workshop at Kilu’ufi Hospital – laying the first 6 layers of bricks around the building, and making the window frames. We started early every day, trying to make as much progress as possible before the mandatory afternoon rains. The conditions got the better of the boys from time to time, but I was really proud of their workmanship and how they gave their all in really demanding conditions.

St. Matt’s, being as generous as ever, donated so much money that we were able to purchase some decent tools and other bits and pieces that we were able to spread throughout the team (thanks to the logistics master, Mark!).

We achieved about a month’s work of work with the team here, and even more significant to us was the phenomenal encouragement of having our friends selflessly come and contribute to our work over here.

The team also managed a few cultural experiences while in Auki – traditional pan-pipe band, man-made islands and shell-money demonstrations in LangaLanga Lagoon – as well as snorkeling, church, and our Solo-style cooking!

I’m also very excited that Karl (Kel’s dad), David and Libby E, and Jennifer B are returning at the end of March to continue helping us in our last month over here (can’t wait to come home!!!)


Saturday, 10 January 2009

Samerai's Demise

Previously rumoured to be Auki’s favourite car, with 5 potential buyers (prior to giving any indications of selling!) the samurai has lost it’s podium in one foul swoop. This intrepid adventurer surviving river crossings, overloading with wantoks and negotiating our perilous drive with the ease of a pikinni climbing a coconut tree, would not have believed it’s demise would occur as a result of a stuck 4x4 transfer gear lever. There it was, last night . . . alone outside the government buildings. Some have tried to argue in a thrill seeking attempt the samurai independently rolled across the level carpark, raced down the slope colliding with the tree. We believe it was pushed.

What could be more riskier for a car with 5 good tyres than being isolated outside its secure compound facing a Friday night alone in Auki township. The samurai knew Rob was going to restore it in the morning ready for further adventures.

Alas, wrangling about the cause does not change the outcome. Although vital parts are intact, the samurai has been bent beyond rectification. The end of the samurai has come. And with it the end of freedom of exploration and the ushering in of hardship with the completion of the Kilu’ufi workshop.

Asta la vista Samurai!


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