We gave it a good go

Friday 30 June 2017

Aniwa Island

Our 40 mile journey from Port Resolution Bay to Futuna Island started well.

All were aboard in the morning darkness, but I’m sure new coral heads had grown overnight because the dinghy seemed to find itself in a minefield of them, all new and totally unfamiliar and nothing to do with the operator of course.

After lifting the medical team’s personal gear aboard (the clinic gear was lifted aboard late yesterday) along with the dinghy, we hoisted a reefed main and about 50% of the jib then made a cautious exit of the bay around 7:00am, taking special note of the rocks nearby on which the Germans had most likely had their “encounter” just 5 nights earlier.

Wind was from the East South East (ESE) at around 20-30 knots, with our destination- Futuna Island, pretty in the same direction. None of this would generally be a problem except the seas had built to around 2-4 metres and so within a short period of time it was clear this was not going to be a fun day out on the water.

At one point the sun came out to bath the growing wetness (and cold it must be said) in a warm, soft light and there was even a whale breaching some distance astern quite obviously enjoying the conditions more than us. It was around this time that a series of questions were considered in my mind … do we really have to go to Futuna Island today, couldn’t we perhaps swap with nearby (downwind) Aniwa Island where we plan to be on Sunday? Will the medical volunteers and others aboard still love me at the end of the day if we keep this bashing to windward up for the next 8 hours? Ignoring the passengers and crew for a minute, isn’t this putting extra unnecessary strain on the gear and rig?

So it was that after consulting with Ni-Van health workers Bob and Morinda it was decided to change plans and go first to Aniwa (less than 10 miles away) and if the weather improves still sail down to Futuna on Sunday. We were outside phone range, but it was agreed that they would all understand and that plans could be rearranged in this way.

It’s amazing the difference a 160 degree turn to port can make to the motion of a yacht … and it must be said the mood onboard – talk about instant-calmer … and the other sort too possibly. Within 90 minutes we were in the lee of the island, anchor down, beginning to lay out lunch with Bob phoning the island elders, church leaders and health worker to organise a vehicle to cart our substantial pile of medical, dental and optical gear from the dinghy up to the island clinic.

Aniwa is a small island with a population estimated at around 300 a short distance off the NE coats of Tanna. Futuna is a bit further away with a population of 600 and while Aniwa is flat and long, like an aircraft carrier, Futuna is roundish and high – rising to a central plateau of around 650 metres (and covered in jungle) – as close to Jurassic Park as you are likely to find.

After a few dinghy rides delivering gear and people to a small concrete landing on shore, through a gap in the coral and behind a reasonable surf break when the tide was in, we had completed Step 1 in preparing for the next day’s mission. Word will pass quickly around and so we should expect a big turnout tomorrow.

Back on board Chimere … the generator parts arrived from Port Vila yesterday and mid afternoon today Gerry fitted them and wacko !… we were back in business producing 240 volts along with freshwater from the indigo coloured sea around us.

Dinner tonight was mostly a spag bol creation from Daniel and it should be mentioned that both Peter and Daniel have just returned from a couple of hours in the darkness watching a Jon Frum cult singing and dancing “performance”. (Maybe do a websearch of Jon Frum)

Our communications are limited to the satellite email, so unfortunately there are no new photos

We are fortunate in having a written contribution from nurse Annette, which you can read below.

Smooth seas, fair breeze and we gave it a good go…

Rob Latimer


Report from the field

There is a particularly persistent skipper sitting beside me, ‘encouraging’ me to write about the health services provided thus far! To be fair, I have been procrastinating for a few days and I did volunteer to do this given that I am the nurse and I have been working alongside Dr David and Dr Doug. So, now while we sit at a beautiful anchorage at Aniwa Island, I shall put pen to paper.

You may ask why we are anchored at Aniwa Island and not Futuna Island this evening (just in case you are closely following the itinerary). Unfortunately, the weather was not too kind today with a strong easterly wind and squalls which made for some uncomfortable sailing and a few ‘green’ passengers/crew. Rob made the wise decision to alter course for Aniwa Island with the hope that when the wind settles we will be able to sail back to Futuna. We will keep our fingers crossed. Despite the wild weather, we still had a beautiful sail with the sighting of a breaching Humpback whale, flying fish and the stunning indigo coloured sea set against a backdrop of the mountainous, volcanic Tanna Island. There certainly are a few perks to nursing amongst the Pacific Islands.

When I reflect upon the past week I feel so privileged to be a member of the MSM team and to have supported the outreach health clinics in the villages of Port Resolution, Sulphur Bay and Ierke. I feel so privileged to have been welcomed by each community; each members generosity of spirit, inclusiveness and warmth. We have all been embraced with unconditional regard and given so much from those with so little. If only, the villages knew how much we take away from our experiences. We have been provided with beautifully prepared breakfasts, lunches and dinners, decorated with flowers, tablecloths and sounds of village life surrounding us: children laughing, playing and crying, cows mooing, the chatter of the women as they prepare our food. We have provided clinics with the distant rumble of Mt Yasur serenading our health assessments.

Our clinics have been visited by young and old, healthy and frail, dogs, pigs and kittens and community members whose bodies are pleading for rest to relieve the back and knee pain from years of hard work.
In each of the villages back pain, knee pain and respiratory tract infections have been recurring themes for many adults presenting to the clinic. Thankfully, high blood sugars were infrequent. However, it was confronting to hear of some incidents of domestic violence leading to ongoing physical and emotional distress for many women and no doubt children. On a more positive note, there were also impromptu consultations where both Dr Doug and Dr David were able to provide support. This included providing education and medication to a man whose 34 year old brother had recently suffered a Stroke.

For the pikinini’s, recurring themes included ear infections (many as a result from diving), skin infections and respiratory complaints. One little patient who caught our eye and touched our hearts was a young boy who had been playing outside the ‘window’ of the clinic at Sulphur Bay (by the way, the clinic was an old concrete structure with holes for windows and sticks across the door to prevent pigs entering. It resembled more an old abandoned farm shed than health/dental clinic. Given its unwilling status, the space proved to be a humble but effective clinic for the day). This little boy was observed with a piece of material wrapped around his wrist. Hmmm I thought. What could be under this? A quick game of ‘cat and mouse’ and I plucked the little boy up and over the sticks (remember the pigs?). What met us under the cloth was of grave concern. The little boy had fallen out of a tree and broken his arm (Collie’s Fracture) one month ago. The village had practiced Kastom medicine and cut the boys wrist in two places to assist with healing. Unfortunately, the wrist was distorted with swelling and infection. From a Western medicine perspective, the arm required immediate treatment. Whilst Dr David was able to give an immediate dose of oral antibiotics, apply a backslab (a cardboard box lid) and dressing, a cultural dilemma became apparent. All attempts were made to encourage the boys guardians to take the boy to the hospital however this went against the villages traditional healing Kastom. The following day, Dr David and Bob, our Ni-Van Team Leader, went back to Sulphur Bay to check on the little boy. Dr David was able to provide further oral antibiotics however a hospital stay remained uncertain.

It is without doubt that we would not be able to run these outreach clinics without the support of our local village volunteers to assist with communication and cultural understanding. Alice was our ‘angel’ who worked tirelessly in this role. Alice became one of the team and wore her blue PCV health shirt with pride. I smile as I write this thinking of how Alice enlisted (at short notice with an ear piercing whistle) some young men to assist with carrying all of the medical boxes back down to the beach. The young men were ten 10 years olds who bounded over with great enthusiasm, picked up the boxes and randomly plonked them on the beach as if they had been blown ashore in the last storm!! It was such a privilege working with Alice.

There are many more experiences which come to mind on reflection of this extraordinary week of assisting with the health outreach clinic. Stay tuned for the next installment. There is also a whole story regarding the National Oral Health Survey and all of the tremendous work of the dental team on this mission. I think the skipper may need to ‘encourage’ Deb to write about this. I do hope my story has provided a little insight of Medical Sailing Ministries mission.

Annette Hesselmans
Registered Nurse

2 thoughts on “We gave it a good go”

  1. Thanks Annette for your report from the field. It helped paint a picture of what you’re doing. You are so right about having the local assistance and I imagine they are learning a lot which they can put to future use, to help their communities.

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