God, please don’t let the baby die

The Bakhita Centre was awarded a grant for a 4×4 w drive Ambulance that they can use to help people pick up. They are the only ambulance right now for the region which means that they’re pretty busy, most days. Yesterday’s drop off wasn’t in the ambulance. I have been looking forward to going for a ride in it.

This morning I hung out with an Australian named Donna who is doing dental work in Timor for two years. A woman with a heart of gold. We chatted a bit this morning about our journeys to Timor, faith, relationships, life, Australia, growing up in farming towns. A perfect way to start the morning..especially with two cups of strong Timor coffee and some fried sweet potato. 🙂

I followed her down to the clinic and watched local kids get their teeth sealed, pulled out, and checked. Donna is working on getting the 200 local primary school kids in for routine check-ups, dental hygiene information, teeth extraction, cavity filling, sealing, etc. Good work!

I also talked with one of the medical assistants and the midwife. Interesting. I’ll write more about it later.

I have to admit that I came up for a late lunch, hungry and feeling a bit defeated. Wow, I can’t provide really any large service to the whole of the community. I mean I can teach, but it’s been hard to get people together for English classes. I have written down recipes for the cookbook…but I want to directly give back.

And I did!

Anders, Donna and I were just about to start a late lunch when one of the Bakhita Centre Staff come running up and say that a woman has fallen and needs an ambulance pick-up. They found out this information after someone walked 5km, 3 miles, to the centre.

‘Anders, can I go?’

‘Yeah, sure if you want to.’

I was a bit hesitant..cause well I wasn’t sure if he wanted me to go. I got over it quickly, because I really wanted to experience it all. We drove to the place where we had to go and pick this woman up. All we knew is that she had fallen. That was it.

We drove through back roads and then through someone’s orchards. We get to a place where we could no longer drive and then had to walk about 200 meters to a house that you could only access via a ‘hiking trail’. In a house we find a woman, about 30 on the bed unable to move. We then go back and get the stretcher which is carried to the house. It takes bout four people to lift this woman onto the stretcher.

We drive about 40 minutes to Gleno, the nearest hospital. This is where I drove yesterday. The roads are terrible. The women was in pain. Three of her family members plus a baby were in the backseat of the vehicle. I was hoping that the roads weren’t going to be too bumpy, because I couldn’t imagine what it would have been like.

The whole time I am trying to write down information that is in Tetun on medical sheets for Bakhita…wondering what has happened to this woman. Come to find out she was climbing an orange tree and the whole tree collapsed and she went with it.

We get to the hospital and of course I am sweating. We get her into the emergency room.

Anders asks, in Tetun, ‘Where’s the doctor?’

‘Umm, he’s at lunch, we’ll have to go and get him.’ responds the hospital attendee.

Wait..what? The ER doc is at lunch.

Anders and I go and talk to Antonio who is the Head of Logistics for the District Health Service. A cool guy, however I was melting in the sun and looking forward to going back to Bakhita and taking a little nap.

That wasn’t going to happen.

When we first arrived in Gleno, there was a little baby on the other bed who looked like they were in horrible shape. The oxygen mask that was on the baby was adult sized and honestly didn’t fit. Anders went out into the ambulance and got a child sized one.

Anders goes to me ‘He is in not good condition, has a high fever.’

The baby, a 1 year old little boy, had an IV drip and oxygen mask. Sad. After an evaluation in Gleno, the doctors noted that she needed further medical attention that couldn’t be given at Gleno. Thus, the woman needed to be transferred to Dili. Aldo, little boy. In the ambulance we go. Woman, woman’s family, baby, baby’s mom, me, Anders. Nine of us.

The baby, come to find out has a horrible case of Malaria and  pneumonia to boot. He still needed oxygen while we were driving to Dili about 1 1/2 hrs. drive. Anders tries to get the oxygen tank to work, but there’s no oxygen.

‘Michelle, do you mind if the woman sits next to you in the front seat? I need you to give oxygen to the baby the whole time while we are driving’

‘Yeah that’s fine’ I reply.

Anders handed me the manual oxygen mask thingy. You know the kind the you compress with your hand..it looks like a bit bubble and it presses oxygen through an attached mask.

Here I am in the front seat with a little baby who has an IV attached to their hand, pressing an adult sized mask on it’s face pumping oxygen into it’s tired little lungs. This was for 1 1/2 hours. My shoulders burned from reaching around behind the back of the mother to hold down the oxygen mask while using my left hand to pump the bubble as best as I could.

The IV bag was swinging back and forth and at one point we all got sprayed with saline solution as the IV detached itself from the bag due to the rough conditions. These rough conditions also induced the woman who fell off the tree and one of her family members to start vomiting.

‘Michelle, do you see any plastic bags back there for them to vomit in?’

‘No. I don’t. Why don’t the use one of the latex gloves?’

‘Good idea.’

This conversation is while I am still pumping the oxygen bubble, keeping the mask on the baby and making sure I wasn’t squishing the mother too much.

As we careen down the mountain slopes navigating between slow coffee trucks full of people and coffee beans, mini buses packed like sardines and motorcycles I tried to maintain my mental state as vomit was hurling out the window and all over the back floor. Nothing like wiffs of vomit.

At one point, as we were absorbed into the beautiful drive through the mountains, I had to hold back the tears. Here is a little baby that without our help may have died in Gleno. I prayed the whole time, that every time I went to tap his head, tickle his feet, readjust his mask that he’d respond.

Please God, I beg you, don’t let this baby die on me.

We raced through town with sirens on, navigating unruly traffic and chickens to get to the hospital. I was tired. emotionally zapped.

We got out of the ambulance, the woman delivered the baby settled. I handed them paper work and followed suit in washing my hands.

‘Michelle, that was intense for your first run. Are you ok?’ Anders probed gently.

Feeling the spring of emotion bubbling up and tears in my eyes ‘I don’t want to talk about it right now.’ I said back.

‘That’s totally fine. We’ll debrief later. You did a great job, thank you for your help’.

We drove the ambulance to the back of the hospital to wash down the vomit and disinfect the ambulance. Even then the smell wasn’t gone.

We drove back to the ER in Dili to pick up the stretcher. We hopped back into the ambulance and headed over to a friend of Anders and then to the ritual of getting fresh coconuts on the water in Dili. It was gorgeous.

While driving around I said to Anders,

‘I just didn’t want that baby to die. I was so afraid that he was going to die on me. Every time he’d kick I was so thankful. Watching his eyes roll into the back of his head was too much for me at times. He just looked like he couldn’t fight anymore’.

‘Oh, and I am your left winged woman!’

We left Bakhita at 1:15pm and got back to Bakhita at 9:15pm. 8 hours.

I loved every second of it.

3 thoughts on “God, please don’t let the baby die

  1. Rosetta Venell says:

    Thanks so much for finding time in your schedule to let us know what you are doing. It is the most exciting account of an adventure I have ever read. Can you believe I witnessed you getting a similar oxygen bulb treatment minutes after you were born

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