It is a long trip to the South Pacific Ocean. I met my son in California, and we then flew to Australia to meet our team. After a night of organizing our medical supplies, we flew from Australia to Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands, which is near Papua New Guinea.
The city of Guadalcanal has an interesting history, as the United States occupied this area during World War II. We were surprised to find ourselves there with so many older American men, many visiting with their sons. It turns out they had served during WWII and had come back for a reunion.
After chatting with a fellow American who thanked us for coming, we went to the only clinic in town. We understood all too well how needed we were, as we saw kids with rheumatic fever dying of heart disease, hepatitis B, malaria, tuberculosis, malnutrition, and HIV.
When I walked into the clinic, they asked me to take my shoes off. Yes, off. You cannot wear any shoes in the hospital, as they thought bare feet were cleaner than shoes, and maybe they were right. I did notice there was no trash collection system and there was trash everywhere; the streets were dirty. People did not appear to have toilets or running water.
We decided to leave our ENT team at the city clinic all week, since this was the only place with a generator, which they needed. The rest of our team (which consisted of a dentist, internist, pediatrician, and several nurses) headed to the next island. My son, who is an engineer, came with us and helped out in any way he could.
We took a small plane to an island with no roads to visit a remote “clinic.” We landed in a banana field strip and took a tractor to our lodging. The locals made bed frames and put up mosquito netting for us. When we walked up the hill to the clinic, we were greeted by “dancing warriors.” We were told they were having a celebration for our arrival. They danced, sang, and gave us sea shell necklaces and orchid leis. It was the most amazing music I have ever heard.
Many bush people came to our welcome ceremony and to see us. They had walked two hours from the hills to get there. They slept outside the clinic and waited for us to start our clinics the next morning. You could tell which women were from the bush because they painted their teeth black and put tattoos on their faces.
On this island there is no money exchange system. Since You can’t buy anything with money and there are no stores or places to buy anything, anyway, the . Instead, they use seashells as their exchange currency for goods.
At this clinic, services and supplies are basic or even non-existent. If a person is hospitalized, family members have to bring them food and provide basic care like bathing. There are no refrigerators. The nurses at the clinic are fed three bowls of rice per day for food and sleep in dark quarters in the back of the hospital. One doctor ran the clinic and worked 7 days a week 24 hours a day.
Medical supplies and resources are terribly limited. We saw patients dying of TB, HIV, skin infections, and cancer. They would put the babies with jaundice in the sun and premature babies in boxes together. They put sugar in wounds instead of antibiotics. They put vinegar on gangrenous wounds. In one village a woman with cancer was dying of dehydration. The local medical team that came with us stated they put coconut milk in the IV if they can’t find saline solution.
The welcome of the local people here was heartwarming. Each day we could travel in dugout canoes to even more remote villages. The locals would invite us into their grass huts and cook us rice and veggies for lunch. If we were still hungry they would climb a tree and get you a banana. (It’s funny what you notice or remember, but one of the things I noticed the most about the natives is the size of their feet – they’re very large! They could climb trees, run over rocks, and use their feet as tools, an adaptation that serves them well.)
The people here have so little to give but were so giving – our experience here was simply amazing, and one of many I will always hold dear in my heart.