Medical team farewell

I sat down to the computer just now to write the Ships Log, on the verge of sleep, and thought … “I’ll check first if there are any emails for me”.

And hey, presto, there was a veritable epistle from our very own Dr GD who is still in transit back to Oz, after making the Loh to Vila flight yesterday and being booked on the Vila to Melbourne flight tomorrow.

Graeme’s “Ships Log”, whilst technically not being written aboard ship, does cover all the right bases … so it’s straight to press!!

By way of background, The Ni-van manager and director of the Vanuatu prevention of Blindness Project, Richard Tatwin, is a bit of a sports star.  He played soccer for his country as a young man, now, after knee surgery many years ago, he plays cricket for Vanuatu, even playing in England last year as a guest of the ICC.  To keep his place on the team, however, he needed to do well in today’s match in Pt Vila.  (he said there are a few up-and-comer contenders so he has to satisfy the selectors that he’s still got it at 33)

As for time in the nets, preparation, or special work-outs – well Richard has been the main-stay of the medical work of the past 3 months, must be absolutely exhausted and was aboard Chimere here in Santo up until about 3:00pm yesterday … so it’s a good thing he’s just naturally … good

Graeme Duke takes up the story …

Hi Rob: here’s some notes from our end.

Teams 3 & 4 are now in downtown Port Villa, and right now (Saturday, 3pm) it is the drinks break in the local cricket match, at Independence Park, that Richard Tatwin is playing in. He made a respectable 30+ as the opening batsman but sold his wicket with a rash shot trying to push the run rate.

We may not have assisted his cause because we were the local equivalent of the ‘balmy army’ in Bay 13 supporting with cheers and whistles at every stroke and run. There being no one else watching we were the entire complement of patrons! I am not sure if Richard was more embarrassed than the opposition were surprised to hear such wild support.  “Go Richard” and “Go Coconut Crabs” were regularly audible across the field!

I left Chimere in somewhat of a hurry last Wednesday evening. Atchin’s launch was expected but we knew not what time. We had spent all day lounging, tidying up, preparing, etc and had not had a ‘formal farewell’ – probably a good thing, as it was hard to leave Rob, Mike, Jo, Chris and Terrence after spending 3 weeks with them.

As the rain and the waves were menacing it was a quick farewell to all and into the launch for the short trip to the bungalows where the other medical/optom team members were staying.

The low-tide prevented the short route through the nearby channel between two islands and so we went around the point through steep waves and in the driving rain. Chris and Jo came so that they could return with the outboard (and dinghy) Atchin had borrowed for the day for a medical retrieval from the nearby island of Tegua. They sensibly wore rain-jackets; but mine was in the bottom of my pack. So, if I was a little teary when farewelling them it went unobserved due to the combination of rain and sea drenching I had received enroute.

Th following day was a rest day – the first we had actually experienced all during the trip, since the previous planned rest days were unexpectedly taken up with travelling, sorting boxes, preparations, etc. The rain came in again but cleared late morning.

Richard, Tim and I wanted to visit Zebulon (nurse practitioner) and his wife at their clinic so we decided to paddle across the 150m wide but shallow channel between the two islands. There was a catch – we could only find one out-rigger canoe on our side of the channel and it had two holes in its base. It was hilarious to watch Richard paddling furiously and Tim bailing the water out, as if his survival depended upon it, as the rear gunwales of the canoe sank closer and closer to the water level. They only just made it before going under. Another sea-worthy canoe returned for me and the 2 boxes of medicines and dressings I was leaving behind for Zebulon to use. They have limited stocks of many basic items. The dressings, antiseptics, antibiotics and local anaesthetic’s ‘left over’ will be used for suturing and dental extractions, etc – all of which Zebulon does himself. Amazing.

We also donated school exercise books, clothing, etc. I gave Atchin one of my MSM T-shorts as he had worked so hard over the past 2 days to help us and deserved an honorary membership of the MSM crew.

Although it was Independence Day (29yrs) the celebrations were moving at a slow pace, ie no activity at all, so we returned to the bungalows for lunch.

Following lunch we walked through the jungle to Honeymoon Beach, to find none but us. We all swam and then rested on the beach. I snorkelled for 40min out near the reef and returned to find the others performing under-water hand-stands!

With Richard’s immanent cricket match 2 days away I decided catching practice was in order, and so started hurling coconuts into the water in his direction. This didn’t go down so well as they either made a great splash or travelled half the distance required. A green Narvika fruit (size of hockey ball) was found and catching practice commenced. Several spectacular catches were enjoyed by the on-lookers.

When we first arrived at the beach a lone and dead palm tree trunk in the centre had caught my eye. I now had a idea. We got to and constructed a 1/10th replica of a ship-wrecked Chimere around the trunk (mast) and made stays, sheets, and preventers out of palm frond leaves, constructed the saloon and hull out of sand, etc. Richard even fashioned the stern wind generator out of leaves.(See photos to follow at a later stage.)

That night we experienced a wonderful farewell dinner with coconut crab, lobster, island cabbage, banana and coconut, lap-lap, yam and maniok. Whitely and Elsie’s family were wonderful hosts again. They sang a song of farewell and the kids put lays around our necks. Whitely and then Zebulon spoke of their gratitude for all we had been able to do, for the friendships developed and renewed, etc. Don Macraild and Richard Tatwin responded with thanks and acknowledgement on our behalf. We were then each given a different local hand-crafted wooden gift. It was an amazing and heart-warming experience.

In all our busyness it transpired that Zebulon, himself, had missed out on a medical check-up! He had been working flat-out all day for 3 days with us and put himself last. This is indicative of his love and concern for his people above himself. He told us he had experienced a small stroke some years back so we thought a quick check up on this final patient was in order. As it transpired it was probably Bell’s palsy, and not a stroke, he had suffered and this was good news all around.

The following morning brought driving and persistent rain, threatening the delay or even cancellation of our flights. The thatched out-house that is classed as the “telephone exchange” was utilised to try and gain any message as to whether or not the plane had left Santo or was going to be able to fly this far north. Several hours later with promising news of its probable arrival we walked the 10min trek through the jungle to the grass airstrip and the small (terminal) building were we waited for another rain storm to abate, and finally the plane arrived.

The flight was largerly smooth and uneventful (no air-sickness for any of us) except that Richard had to wait in Santo for a later flight to Port Villa. He used the ‘spare’ time to catch up with a few contacts on Santo as well as a brief visit to Chimere which had docked in Santo earlier that day. (I will let Rob tell you about Richard’s visit. For those who remember the Goon Show, Little Jim can be heard to say “He’s fallen in the water!”)

Smooth seas, fair breeze, and looking forward to home.


Ed Note:  I will neither confirm, nor deny any matter in connection with Richard’s alleged “watery experience” prior to catching the Santo to Vila flight, on the grounds that I haven’t yet heard his side of the story.

2 thoughts on “Medical team farewell”

  1. Hi Gray,

    that’s a good point, I’ll have a word with Richard.

    Great to hear from you and best wishes to everyone back in the office.

    Look forward to catching up soon. In the home straight now


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