The story of the series "The Shovel"

 

During our years deep in the jungles of Papua New Guinea dispensing medical help, we imprinted life-long friendships on our hearts, endured what we would have thought impossible, and experienced joy beyond all understanding.  I am privileged to have had the opportunity to experience so much.  The following story I hope honors the people we worked with.  They have toil filled lives and joys and struggles very different from ours, but also not that different.  I have learned so much from them, and I am indebted to them, as I believe they would say they are to me.  We are all intertwined.

The Shovel

 

The flight was loud and uneventful as the pilot put down the Cessna 206 on the grass airstrip that is at least two hours flight from anything you could call a town.  We had a 10 kilometer hike ahead of us through the swamp.  A trek we had done so many times that we knew most of the vines that we would get hung up on. 

We hiked in silence picturing our two boys that we left at the boarding school, and wondering if they were thinking about us or happily playing with their friends.  Finally at our village, exhausted and drenched in sweat, we could almost feel the bone-deep rest that we needed. 

 

For the last year we had been the only non-sorcery based medical help in the area running a small thatched roof clinic.    Our year of training in jungle medicine  and a few books could never fully prepare us for the stress and helplessness we often felt.  But we were idealistic and naïve -- that combination of attributes would keep us there. 

 

At our home, a young shirtless father named Yamo, who I knew well, more of a boy than a man, was waiting for us and held out a tiny naked baby.  This child should not have been born yet, I am confident.  The baby was listless and his labored breathing was obvious.  Yamo was justifiably very concerned and vulnerable. 

 

My wife held the baby easily in one hand and listened for its tiny heart with our dirty stethoscope that covered the baby's entire chest. 

 

"I hear his heart.  Wait, I lost it.  There it is."  Long pause.  Silence.  "It's gone." 

 

A futile CPR was attempted showing some hopeless promise, but this soul was not to be. 

 

My wife looked at me in silence.  I looked at Yamo, my eyes welling up.  Yamo tried to console us,

"Don't feel bad, we have not even named the baby yet."  Looking at him silently with tears running down my face I thought, "Oh, Yamo.  Don't console me!  Your baby just died!"  But I couldn't say anything.

 

Yamo holding the lifeless body of his tiny precious baby looked at me and asked,

 

"Can I borrow your shovel?"