Sunday, 27 May 2012

Surgery by torchlight

It was Sunday morning and I was on call.  I began at about 8:00 AM by rounding on medical and OB wards.  (Dr. Andy was post-call and covering pediatrics ward.  The surgery folks always cover their own patients.)  I finished up two hours later and stopped by the ER.  Just one patient for me to see... SWEET.  I quickly saw the one patient and headed out the door toward home.

I was half way there when my phone rang.  It was D-ward.  "Dr. Steph, we have a mother who has just arrived.  She is breech and fully dilated."  Oh, shucks.  So much for an easy morning!  I rushed back to the maternity ward and checked on the patient.  A footling breech and fully dilated.  That means that the baby's feet were coming first.  When the feet try to come first, the baby's head is at risk of getting stuck.  I had that happen not so long ago, and I was not about to let it happen again.  I started barking orders:  "Give salbutamol, start an IV, put in a foley, and call the OT.  We need to do a STAT c-section!"

Well, things don't usually happen very STAT-ly around here... especially on a weekend.  I paced back and forth while my orders were carried out, watching the minutes ticking by and praying that the baby would not try to come before we could do the c-section.  After what seemed like an eternity, the patient was rolled over to the operating theater.  A few minutes later she was on the table and being prepped for surgery.  I scrubbed and gowned, and prayed.  I was about to pick up the scalpel when the room went black.

I stood there dumbfounded for a minute or so.  What in the world do we do now?  The OT guys suggested that we call maintenance on call to come start the generator.  Who knew how long that was going to take.  I felt that we could not continue to delay the surgery.  "Do we have any torches?" I asked.  Two flashlights appeared from somewhere; they were turned on and the beams directed toward the patient's abdomen.  I added to my prayer that the batteries would hold out until we had power again!  I picked up the scalpel and began to cut.  A few minutes later, a beautiful baby boy was delivered.  The power and  lights returned as I was sewing the patient back together.  Both mama and baby did well... praise be to the Light of the World!

(The above is a picture of Dr. Andy and his son Sam doing a c-section by the light of a headlamp.  Unfortunately I didn't have a headlamp or a camera on the day of my story.)

Many of you are already aware of our ongoing power issues.  Our hydroelectric dam was washed out in 2009.  Since that time we have been using national power--which is expensive, unstable, and often unreliable.  Outages have been increasingly frequent over the past few months.  In fact, I am not the only doc who has had to do surgery in the dark in recent weeks.  We do have a big ole diesel generator that is supposed to automatically kick on when we lose power.  Apparently it is in need of a new battery, so it has to be started manually.  NOT very helpful when you are in the middle of surgery.

Through an amazing series of mountain moving miracles, God is providing a way for us to rebuild the hydroelectric dam!!!  The PNG Incentive Fund, a branch of AusAID, has awarded our hospital a grant to pay for the new dam.  And we are on our way!  Workers will start digging the canal in the next couple of weeks.  We are just waiting on work permits and visas for our missionary engineer and his family.  Please continue to keep this project in your prayers!

P.S.  Now I feel like a REAL bush doctor.

"When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, 'I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.'"
~ John 8:12


  1. Praise the Lord for answers to prayer...and for wisdom.... AND for torches!

  2. I'm thinking Loma Linda needs to add a course to their International Health track.....Healthcare without Electricity! I am so glad that it all turned out okay, and amazing to see how God provided a way even in the darkness (he always does, even when it's not literal darkness, but figurative darkness!)