When the Program Manager rings on Jason’s day off, it usually means he is needed for work! On Tuesday, we were having an afternoon rest when such a phone call came. There was a medevac call for a patient in Viqueque. Seeing as Jason is the only pilot currently allowed to fly into this strip, after it’s official opening just weeks before, he was needed. While Jason got ready for work, with his uniform, pilot bling (epaulettes, security pass, pen, calculator etc), phone, food etc. I felt some excitement welling inside of me. I haven’t been to this airstrip, but I feel like I have some connection to it as Jason drove there for the first inspection, then flew in to check it out and then flew there again for official opening. It’s been a place that we’ve talked a lot about and seen lots of pictures of. I was excited that after all this handwork and planning, the airstrip was to be used to transport a patient who really needed the assistance of a medical evacuation to Dili. I was excited again about how MAF planes and their pilots are able to help people in their times of greatest physical need. I eagerly reminded Jason to take some photos (Yes I am a nagging wife in this department!) as this first medevac was a great conclusion to the successful opening of a new strip.
The afternoon went by for Sam and I. We did Christmas crafts, as Sam was a little upset about Daddy having to go to work on his day off. The weather got bad here, so I watched the plane on tracker arrive in Viqueque, depart and then dodge some bad weather before landing safely in Dili.
Jason was longer than expected arriving home and i wondered why. I started dinner plans and tried to make plans to busy Sam while we spoke to some members from our church in Melbourne on Skype. It was only when Jason arrived home that I discovered things did not go as we had hoped. The patient on this flight had died in flight. It is not uncommon for patients to die while on their way to hospital in Dili. Often their ailments are so severe, or they have waited too long to seek medical attention, that their time has simply run out. The patient on this flight was a young mother who had just given birth to a child. Her husband and another family member was on board, along with the newborn baby and a nurse. After childbirth, things had not progressed normally for this young woman who passed away during transportation due to severe blood loss.
I didn’t know this family. I will probably never meet them or be able to express my grief to them. Because even from a distance this is a tragic situation. A newborn baby is now without a mother. A husband has now lost his wife.
As a pilot, Jason questioned if he could’ve done anything differently. Did he take too long to get to the airport? Did he take too long getting ready? But the answer is no. She was simply too ill to endure the flight to town.
As Jason is still getting used to flying in mountainous terrain in bad weather, Jason had asked Jonathan, the Program Manager here, if he would come with him on a flight or two in bad weather so he could glean some pearls of wisdom from someone who has been here for over four years. Jonathan accompanied Jason on this flight, and so it was helpful to have another perspective on the day.
Passengers dying is not something Jason had to deal with in Arnhem Land. Pilots there transport many deceased people for funerals, but critically ill patients are transported by Careflight planes usually. It is a hard part of the job here, something we hadn’t really considered until it happened to one of the other MAF pilots here several weeks ago.
We know the power over life and death is in God’s hands, and that He is in control over the time life begins and ends. We know as pilots the service they provide dramatically increases the chance of survival and health for the patient, as they can reach medical care so much quicker by air than by road. But as humans, we mourn with those who mourn, as lives cut short, possibly due to causes that would not be life threatening if the patient lived near a major hospital, is tragically sad.
As missionaries we like to write about the success stories (physically or spiritually) on the mission field and in our personal lives. Like the world of Facebook where 98%* of what we post is what we want people to think about us, so often we get caught in the same rut. We want to be seen as the type of missionaries that we envisioned as kids, or that you read about on other blogs or in missionary magazines. But we don’t often share the hard ships, the struggles, the failures. I think we need to be more real and honest about life on the field. What matters to people who read our blogs or newsletters is the question “are we being obedient to the call of God on our lives?”, and not “how many success stories are able to publish in our blog this month?” That’s why you are reading this. It’s gritty, it’s not emotionally uplifting, but hey, it’s part of our life here.
*78% of statistics are made up on the spot… is this one of them?