by Aaron Reinke, Third Year Family Medicine Resident at Texas A&M Family Medicine Residency
My wife, Tessa, and I are third year Family Medicine Residents at Texas A&M Family Medicine Residency. We met at Dartmouth Medical School and we hope to one day become long-term medical missionaries. In fact, that’s why I studied civil engineering and medicine, so that I could focus on the public health aspect of water and sanitation in developing countries.
Leading up to our decision to go on a mission trip to Papua New Guinea, we had no connection to Southwestern Medical Clinic (SWMC) Foundation. We were simply hoping to raise support and found through an online search that SWMC Foundation’s vision of supporting medical missions aligned exactly with what we’d needed to make this trip a reality.
We chose to serve in Papua New Guinea for five weeks because of the incredible experience I had as a medical student and my strong connection to the doctors and staff at the Kudjip Nazarene Hospital.
At the hospital, there are six family medicine doctors and three surgeons. There are adult medicine, pediatric, surgical, and obstetrical wards, each with a capacity of about 30 beds. Also, there is a 24-hour emergency room, an outpatient clinic, an HIV clinic, and a separate tuberculosis ward.
We started our days by doing patient rounds in each ward and then working at the outpatient clinic. Each morning, up to 300 people line up outside the clinic, through the hospital gate, and down the street. They are first triaged by local nurses and the more complex patients are sent in to see the doctor. After they are seen, they are given orders for lab work, x-rays, or prescriptions that are filled by the hospital pharmacy. Typically, a single provider will see between 40 to 90 patients a day in addition to the 20 to 30 admitted patients we saw on our morning rounds.
The emergency room is triaged by nurses, and doctors are grabbed as needed for various procedures. The culture of Papua New Guinea is historically very violent with frequent machete wounds and there’s no shortage of sewing severed limbs back together.
On my first day in the surgical ward, I met a six-year-old girl named Debra. Her brother had accidently flicked a coal from the cooking stove onto her polyester dress and it engulfed her in flames immediately. She suffered severe third degree burns all over her body. In a place like Papua New Guinea, these types of injuries are frequently fatal.
When I met Debra, she was unable to walk. The scar tissue was so thick, it prevented her from extending her legs. Despite the numerous burn marks, she greeted us every day with her beautiful smile. How could someone suffering so much find happiness in this situation? Eventually, Dr. Ben Radcliffe was able to remove enough of the scar tissue so she could walk again. I would find her wandering the hospital hallways frequently with her walker, limping along, and just beaming with joy. I would wave to her and tell her how proud I was, hoping mostly to just see that smile again.
Thankfully, Debra is out of the woods and has been doing well. She’s had numerous skin grafting surgeries, slowly taking from what little healthy skin she had left to help her burned areas heal.
Charlie was another patient I treated. When he came to the ER, his intestines were hanging out of his abdomen. He had tripped and fell onto a stick, which impaled him in the abdomen, injuring his intestines and pancreas. Dr. Radcliffe and I operated on him late into the night. We spent hours repairing his small intestine and tracing the exact path of the stick through his body. There were times when we prayed for assistance because his surgery was so difficult. When we finally reached where the end of the stick had stopped, we realized it was only centimeters away from puncturing into his chest and hitting his heart. We thanked the Lord for His provision over Charlie’s life.
Over the next few days, despite having major abdominal surgery and part of his intestines removed, Charlie did incredibly well. He was up and moving around in only a few days and was sent home, fully expected to make a complete recovery.
His case was a great success, but not all patients were so fortunate. There are so many factors that come into play when treating the sick in Papua New Guinea including the severity of the illness, the limitations of the medical technology, or the delay in presentation to the hospital. Despite those challenges, one truth remained—it is a necessity for the doctors and patients to always lean on God and look to Him for healing.
For those considering short-term mission work—especially those who have their doubts about the effectiveness and sustainability of short-term missions—I can’t recommend it enough in a place like Kudjip Nazarene Hospital. You will be a vital source of relief for the full-time missionary doctors. It’s easy for these physicians to burn out in a place like Papua New Guinea. Your presence will ease some of that burden for them.
In addition, besides the incredible amount of medical learning there is to be had, you also develop a deeper perspective and appreciation on the complexities of life. The line between right and wrong, sick and healthy, wealthy and poor is quickly blurred. I have been doing international relief work for 13 years and I am still humbled and reminded of God’s grace every time I go on these short trips.
Yes, short-term trips have their challenges, but the love you bring with you is matched by the love these communities give back in thankfulness. It’s worth your time, it’s worth the effort, and it’s worth having faith that God has a bigger plan than we can comprehend.
Southwestern Medical Clinic Foundation is providing limited scholarships to those in the medical industry who feel called to serve on short-term medical missions across the globe. If you or someone you know is interested in short-term mission work, visit www.swmcfoundation.org to learn more about the scholarship program, read other impactful stories, and mission trip applications.