A busy day ashore

Sola, Vanua Lava

Thursday 21 September 2017

[more new photos in 2017 Mission 4 Gallery]

I do sometimes go ashore. But generally my focus is on the ship and the overall planning of the mission and so I’m mostly dropping others ashore to do their good work

Today was different. With two crew members feeling a bit poorly … OK you forced it out of me, it’s Annette and Matt (the younger) but they are fine, on the mend and just needed a day’s rest – remember we have two doctors aboard, and everything will be fine – and with nurse Cathy staying aboard to provide care, love and attention, it meant I was needed onshore.

My duties centered around the Sola hospital, about 1km out of town, and the activities of the clinic we’d set up there for the day.

It was valuable to observe close-up the medical, dental and eye folk in action, not to mention the Oral Health Survey exploits, and to hear some of the stories that lay behind each case that presented … a total of 60 medical patients, the same number of dental cases, 40 eyecare cases and nearly 30 Oral Health Survey participants.

There was the lady who was treated by an overseas aid group 4 months ago and in the course of having a couple of teeth extracted they’d dislocated her jaw and despite attempts to fix the problem at the time she has remained that way since. To imagine the implications of this, try pushing your lower jaw forward an inch or so, then try talking, eating, being taken seriously by people you meet and generally functioning normally.

After four months, you can imagine that with inflammation and other complications, the jaw is not going to just pop back into place. And don’t think big strong Pakon and Wellan didn’t try; after ensuring sufficient pain killers were administered.

In the end the lady was just over-joyed at being able to simply chew a biscuit for the first time in 4 months and with a range of medications including anti-inflammatories, pain killers and relaxants it is hoped that by Sunday afternoon when we once again return to Sola that her jaw will be pliable enough to complete the “manipulation”. If not we will either take the woman south to the hospital in Santo, or arrange referrals and flights etc.

Jeremy made a couple of kids scream uncontrollably for a short time today, despite the repeated … “you’re a good girl” reassurances from the mothers concerned. I was just sitting nearby and heard it all play out as Jeremy lanced some boils from the kid’s legs. Within ten minutes it was all over and I saw one of the girls being lifted onto her mum’s shoulders for the walk home, quietly crying as she clung to her mum’s generous curly locks; seemingly well over it all

Of a non-medical nature, I acted as Matt’s (the older) apprentice in assessing the solar system and whilst it could produce power to run the lights it could not produce 240 volts to run things like the microscope and other equipment. Diagnosis … dead invertor

“Do you think you could put a light bulb in the pharmacy room?” came the request from the hospital pharmacist, Micah, via Graeme Duke.

In a short time Matt and I had made our assessment and it seemed feasible to use the box of bits already in the hospital storeroom to run a wire from the bulb in one room, up through the roof cavity and down into the pharmacy room, to which another bulb could be added. No separate light switch, but a light is a light.

Either the roof seemed a lot higher than normal, or the ladder was just too short, but in the end it took Jay’s athletic ability to get up through the man hole into the roof – and safety back down again – so as to thread the wires through the right holes. Matt did the technical bit, wiring up each end and before long there was LIGHT !!

Now you might think it’s just a simple light bulb, but if you can imagine a room with no windows, other than a small dispensary-shelf through which medicines are passed then you have an idea of just how dark the room is. Up until now, when a patient was prescribed medicine, they would appear at the little dispensing hole in the wall – about eye-height, and Micah would then turn on his mobile phone light-app. to both read the script and then find the appropriate medication on his rough set of shelves that line the walls.

So you can imagine just how happy Micah was with his new light when he exclaimed … “This is the first time in 7 years I have had a light in this room!!” SEVEN YEARS in the darkness, unbelievable.

Whilst Matt took the lead with the lights and the wiring, I had a look at the new water reticulation system that had been fitted to the hospital, and much of the town in the past few months, compliments of Red Cross and a range of donors which varied depending on who I spoke with.

It’s a great system that brings fresh water from a long way away, except the tap, or gate-valve, that supplied the hospital off a big-diameter main line – possibly 75mm, was leaking, creating an ever boggy region around the back of the hospital.

“Can you fixim?” asked nurse Sandy, the man who seemed to be in charge of this sort of thing. “I’ll give it a go … where’s the shut off valve?” I asked.

“What do you mean, shut-off valve?” replied Sandy

“You know, so I can fix the tap, we need to shut the water off. Otherwise the water will go everywhere when I disconnect the small pipe from the big pipe. Is there a plan of the system so we can find the cut-off valves?”

After a lot of searching and walking, it seemed no cut-off valve could be found, so my mind then turned to a plug, or stopper to poke in the pipe when it was disconnected from the mains to somehow stem the flow. As it turned out the broken end of a broomstick was just the thing.

From a distance, unscrewing the hospital supply pipe from the main-line must have looked comical. Up close it was very wet and exhausting as getting the broom handle into the pipe and then held there against the pressure took every ounce of strength. Realising my dilemma, nurse Douglas dived in to render assistance, putting his muscles to good use. I was then able to unscrew the in-line valve and re-attach it using Teflon tape and sealant; as should have happened when it was first installed. All the while Douglas is using his strength to continue forcing the broom stick into the “live” pipe at my side. Then came the time to re-connect, with water once again going everywhere at high pressure as we maneuvered the two ends together with cries of “NOW, screw the fitting while I hold it, quick !!”

Once the drama was over, in a typical Ni-Van way, there was laughter, whooping and handshakes all round as the success of the exercise was enjoyed and appreciated. One of those classic bloke-bonding moments

It was then time to wash off all the mud and while I was doing this nurse Douglas asked … “do you think you could have a look at the leaking tap at the staff houses?”

What can you say? After fixing that, I returned with the men to the hospital and it was at this stage nurse Sandy sheepishly volunteered … “just one more pipe if you could maybe have a look at him…?”

This leaking pipe was in a room, next to the pharmacy that had the title “SURGERY” written above the door. Not sure if surgery was ever conducted in this room, but currently it is used to store building materials including concrete reinforcing mesh. As for the leak, sure enough, the disconnected and bent-over pipe from the sink in the corner was leaking and had formed a large, deep puddle in the room. By now I was on a roll and having located the supply line outside on the back wall and turning the in-line hospital gate-valve off (fixed by me an hour earlier) it was a simple case of fitting a stop-value which was in the hospital’s box of tricks.

In other news, there was a 6.4 earthquake today in Vanuatu and a big thank you to everyone who has inquired after our welfare. All good up where we are.

The clinic finally finished around 4:00pm and it was then a case of re-loading everything back aboard Chimere, plus her complement of crew and medicos

We re-anchored closer to the shore in order to reduce the persistent roll from the swell and around this time Deb, Matt and Martin appeared on the beach for pick-up with arms-full of freshly baked bread, including coconut bread, just out of a local oven; a very low-tech, wood fired oven.

Tomorrow it’s off north again, this time to the amazing island of Ureparapara where we actually sail into the middle of was once an active volcano – cool.

Smooth seas, fair breeze and a busy day ashore

Rob Latimer

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