MOTHERHOOD: When Things Go Wrong...

Posted August 22, 2011 from Papua New Guinea

I spent Sunday 8th May 2011 at the Women and Children's Ward at the Port Moresby General Hospital (the biggest hospital in Papua New Guinea). That day (according to the world's calender) was suppose to be a time of remembering and honouring the women who bring life into this world: MOTHERS. That's true, but as I sat in Ward 9 (Critical Conditions), with my sister-in-law (tambu) as she painstakingly retold her ordeal and operation, while my (usually tough) cousin hovered, everything and everyone around me screeched "tiredness," "pain," "loneliness," "fear," "hopelessness," accompanied with the unmistakeable smell of sickness, blood, medicine, and recovery. I was in the ward that dealt with everything to do with the female reproductive system, and witnessed just a tiny fraction of what life's like for the patients, loved ones, and staff, and honestly, all I wanted to do was to get my tambu out of there. It wasn't so much the staff (I'll get back to this later), but it was the atmosphere...Was it like this in the late 1980s when I was born? My mother was brave!

Maybe it's just me, but the facilities/buildings that house these women and their babies, seem like they've been here forever, and it's showing. Building new hospitals seems to be a forgotten concept since the departure of the colonial government. Furthermore, even though repairs are being carried out, and good intentions have been declared, translating these into actual long-lasting physical results have been another. Women in stitches or unattended to in pain, are lying on the floor in make-shift beds with a few of their scattered belongings; there are not enough beds nor space for the continued influx of women daily - the allocation of what is available is based on the severity of the woman's condition...but then again, how do you put one woman's plight over another when they're more/less the same? And there is absolutely no room for privacy - even as the doctor or sister gives you your diagnosis or status report. Take my tambu for example: everyone within good hearing distance, heard the doctor "tell" her and my cousin that they had just cut out her right ovary and fallopian tube (containing their six week old foetus/child), remove a growth from her left ovary, and that they now had a ten percent (10%) chance of ever having biological kids of their own. What a way to relay the news to a pair of newly-wedded twenty-seven (27) year olds...

Then came the beddings. My tambu desperately needed a change in linen, but upon enquiries with the sister, we were told that there weren't any; their washing machine broke, so the nurses handwash what they have, when they have the time - which according to the sister, they never do.

It's obvious to see that the few staff that do turn up for work are indeed over-worked and stressed; I watched as doctors, sisters, nurses, and medical students alike, brisk past, with seemingly "get-out-of-my-way, my-word-goes" faces, with some having the audesity to "speak down" to certain patients! Yeah, they may have the science of the body down, but seriously, such people need some MAJOR people/interpersonal skills training! Keep in mind though that not all of them are like this. A seasoned doctor came up to a couple - the woman had been quietly squirming in pain for some time whist I's there - and gently explained her situation and what needed to be done. It's important to note here that health care isn't just the professional's job, but it's also OUR personal responsibility - even after the doctor explained the risks of her ever having anymore children (she had just lost a baby and was there to be "cleaned"), here was her husband already announcing he wanted at least another child!

That brings into question again a whole lot of issues about family planning options and sexual and reproductive health awareness/education in the country: do we really understand/have some idea at least of what's going on in our bodies, or are we all about the "pleasure of the moment"? If this is happening in PNG's largest hospital (where the mothers of our country come), what is the situation like for the rest of the country - considering eighty-two percent (82%) live in rural areas? Is it any wonder that we have one of the highest maternal and infant mortality rates in the world?!

Do we blame our public health professionals for turning to other careers or private hospitals for better work conditions(higher pay, housing, reasonable hours)? If our members of parliament can easily agree to increases in their allowances, WHY are they so hesitant to tangibly invest into people and areas of public interests (such as the health sector)?

I could go on and on about what's wrong, but what would be the point? We know what's wrong, so WHAT ARE WE (as a people) DOING ABOUT IT? It starts with taking personal responsibility of the problem: doing what we can, where we are, with what we have - even if it seems completely insignificant. Using POMGen as an example, we can choose specific projects/areas that require attention, and fundraise or donate, either in cash or kind - a simple idea would be volunteering to beautify the grounds once a fortnight.

Social mobilisation has changed the course of history the world over - including our own: change starts with each of us.

What a way to spend MOTHERS' DAY...

Thanks and God bless.

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