This was an article I wrote for MAF as Communications Officer about a day at work for MAF pilots, Jason and Daniel. I thought you might like to read it too!
On Thursday, the 28th of July, I arrived at the airport for a short visit, before farewelling my childhood friend on her flight to Darwin. My husband Jason, was rostered on to be flying, but with no bookings i was hoping that he would be able to show us around and give us the tour of the MAF facilities. My friend, a nurse from Australia, has recently started doing some work with the Royal Flying Doctors Service and so was interested to see what MAF does in Timor-Leste and how it differed from what she does in Australia.
On the way to the airport, Daniel Moser, MAF Timor-Leste pilot messaged us to let us know he had a medical evacuation flight and was getting ready to leave. Jason assured him, that he was on the way there and would help him get ready to go. So we arrived at the airport, looked around and watched Daniel fly off towards the east to Baucau in VH-MTX. Ten miles out from Dili, a miscommunication about who the supervising medical staff on the flight would be, was resolved and Daniel needed to return to Dili to pick up a paramedic trained mid wife to accompany him on the flight. The patient was a young mother whose baby had died before birth, and the mother was now experiencing life threatening complications herself. Jon Moores, an Australian paramedic working with the Timor-Leste ambulance service, would also assist on the flight. So we watched Daniel take off for the second time and my friend headed over to the international terminal for her Airnorth flight to Darwin.
In all the preparation for this flight, a phone call was received for a second medical evacuation that was needed from Oecusse, to the west of Dili. Another lady was experiencing complications in childbirth and she needed the extra care of a larger hospital. Jason readied his plane, VH-MQO, for the fifty minute flight, and I realised my short visit to the airport was going to be a little longer than I planned. Jason got ready to fly, with an ambulance staff member accompanying him, but then had to sit and wait, as the Airnorth plane from Darwin was making it’s final approach. This was the plane my friend would take home. Airnorth landed, Jason took off, flying to Oecusse in blustery conditions.
I sat for awhile in the MAF office, doing some of my Communications jobs, listening to Jason make his radio calls as he headed west. I don’t often hear him on the radio, so it was quite a novelty for me. But before long Daniel’s voice was on the radio too. He was nearly back from Baucau with his patient.
As a MAF pilot wife for almost five years now, i know what my husband does each day. I love hearing his stories and rejoicing and grieving with him on the joys and struggles of his day. But i usually don’t see what he does first hand, I am usually at home or in town and not physically there when patients arrive. So as the plane arrived and the MAF and ambulance staff busily rushed around doing their jobs, i began to cry. The urgency of their movements showed me that all was not well with the patient they were transporting. I cried when i saw a young man, fling himself from the front seat of the plane to the nearby grass, vomiting from the turbulence in the air during the flight. This young man, dressed in a black shirt was the husband of the patient. The father of the deceased unborn child, who was now facing the possibility of losing his wife also from uncontrolled bleeding, and was at this moment so very air sick. Daniel checked he was okay, gave him a bottle of water and continued to help relocate the young woman from the plane to the ambulance. The stretcher, some possessions, oxygen and medical notes were all moved from place to place, as they readied themselves for the journey to hospital.
As the ambulance sirens got fainter, i cried for this young woman and her family. This was her first pregnancy. Her baby had died. She is so very young and is now very ill. The fear and sadness was evident on the faces of everyone, her mother, her husband, the ambulance staff, and the MAF staff. But everyone was busy helping to do whatever they could to help save this young woman’s life. And so the tears turned from sad tears to happy ones, as i rejoiced in the privilege it is to be part of an organisation that helps in such a practical way.
But as i watched Aldo, our Timorese MAF staff member washing down the stretcher and Daniel had the spray bottle and cloth out cleaning the plane, i realised again that this is a normal day for them. Something i realised again a few minutes later as Jason’s voice began to speak on the radio, he was getting closer to Dili. A look outside to the international terminal showed me that my friend was still sitting in the plane, they had been delayed, to wait for the MAF plane from Baucau. If they waited too much longer, they would have to wait for Jason to land too.
Just a short while later, i heard the Airnorth plane start to move and it took off towards Darwin carrying my friend back to her family. Not long after that Jason landed his plane and the busyness started all over again. The ambulance officer this time leaped from the plane, looking very ill. She uncomfortably waited for the bathroom to become free, as someone else had beaten her there. She had unfortunately been very air sick on the return journey from Oecusse. Jason, Daniel and Aldo, helped the doctor and the family remove belongings and the stretcher from plane. No details were given about this woman’s condition, other than she too was experiencing complications with her pregnancy. Staff busily worked to load her into the waiting ambulance, so she too could be transported to hospital for more medical care. And again we heard the ambulance sirens in the distance, heading for the hospital on the other side of town.
I tried to express all the emotions of what i was thinking and feeling to my husband when he finally had a chance to stop, and drive me home, from my ‘short visit to the airport’. But it was such an incoherent swirl of feelings and thoughts. Hopefully i am doing a better job of explaining myself in writing now than i did in that moment. My heart ached for these young women whose experience of pregnancy and child birth was surrounded with so much pain and trauma. My heart ached for their families who watched on, helpless and fearful of all that was happening around them. But i was so thankful for nurses, doctors, midwives, ambulance staff and our own MAF staff who were able to do their jobs in these situations to dramatically increase these women’s chance of survival. I know I couldn’t do what my husband does each day, but i am so glad God created him with the skills and abilities to this job!