Joyce was brought into the ER my first weekend on call. She was a student at one of the nearby Bible colleges, having recently moved to PNG from the Solomon Islands. She was about 30 weeks pregnant (7 months) and was referred to our hospital because of very high blood pressure. I evaluated her and gave the diagnosis of pre-eclampsia, or "toxemia" of pregnancy for the non-medical folks out there. I admitted Joyce to B-ward for observation. Lab tests and continued blood pressure readings confirmed that this disease was in the severe stage. I did an ultrasound and there was very little water around the baby; this supported the diagnosis. The only treatment for severe pre-eclampsia is delivery.
Back home in the States this would have been a no-brainer. Let's the kid delivered and he or she will live in the NICU for a couple of months. In fact, babies as small as 1 pound and early as 24 weeks can survive. Not so here in PNG. The smallest of babies cannot survive here without the incubators, ventilators, and fancy equipment of modern day NICUs. Our nursery is a small and very toasty room where the premature babies share a couple of warming beds. Oxygen is given by a tiny tube in the nose. Mothers help to provide the care, feeding their babies expressed breast milk through another tube that goes into the stomach.
So I here I was facing a difficult decision, though I knew the answer. Do nothing and both mom and baby would become very sick and possibly die. Inducing labor would save mom's life, but Joyce's baby was right on the edge of survival in our nursery. I ordered medication that would start the contractions. The next morning, Joyce delivered a baby boy who weighed only 1.4 kilograms, or about 2.6 pounds. Baby Josh did surprisingly well for the first few days, breathing easily and tolerating feeds. Then he took a turn for the worst: pulse rate began to rise, breathing became labored, body temperature elevated. Antibiotics were able to hold down the infection for a few days, but his tiny body was unable to continue the fight. After just ten short days of life, Josh lost the battle.
Sometimes it is hard to understand God's plan in something like this. The Father was watching as little Josh was being formed. He knew that he would be born early and that he would only have ten days with his earthly family before going to heaven. His love is so great, and I will trust in that love when things don't make sense.
"For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother's womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,
your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them of them came to be.
How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!"
~ Psalm 139:13-17a