30 November 2005

Pakistan Day 5

Holy communion in chapel service. How definitive of the work here – a people blessed by God, broken to be given freely to the people of Bannu.

Taken on a trip to the Mission School of Bannu. Astounding setup and education provided. Students I met speak impeccable English in this illiterate Pashtun community. What a stark contradistinction – computer labs (funded by Finnish government) within the walls, and donkey carts outside. A place that will produce many visionaries and leaders, doubtless.

Giggly girls at recess

Students range from preschool to mustached young men

Performed a polypectomy for one lady whose nose was completely packed with massive nasal polyposis. Anesthetic technician gasses her with Halothane, tubed, no monitors, no capnograph. Just a hand on the pulse and another squeezing the bag while I operated!

Went on an escorted trip around Bannu town, finally. We are not allowed outside the hospital without escorts – in fear of Taliban or Al-Qaeda kidnappers. A trip back in time by a few centuries. Total chaos and confusion. A wonderful mess indeed..

At night – Joan has to transfer a child to the military hospital for respiratory distress. A child with congenital heart disease, pneumonia, and plummeting oxygen sats. We arrive at the military hospital only to learn that they have no ventilators as well. Not there, not in the whole of Bannu!! Amazingly, on hearing that, the child decides to get better and start playing with us cheekily. These Pashtun are made of steel.

The rascal!

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29 November 2005

Pakistan Day 4

Chapel service – Faith preaches about God providing all our needs.

OPD is even busier today. Word has spread in Bannu town that there is visiting ENT and Paediatrician, so they are all coming in. Every man looks like a Taliban or Mujahideen who could run me down with a camel or riddle me with bullets. The women look like walking fortresses in their Burqas. What false preconceptions we harbour. Instead they are humble, beautiful and loving people as vulnerable and needful as any other people in the world. I am greatly humbled to be able to perform a myringotomy for one such man who is afflicted by a sleep-depriving tinnitus. What a thrill that was.

I can hear!

Sister Alice

Had tea with Sister Alice. She is the prayer woman of the hospital. Story is she was once a nurse as a young girl in the old mission hospital. Recently she was admitted in the new hospital with status asthmaticus. When she got better she was called by the nurses who recognized her to pray with them and soon she was invited to join the staff as a prayer woman. Now she goes around the hospital daily praying for all the patients and staff. It’s amazing when she comes into the OPD and starts praying there in Pashtun in full view of the patients (who, also amazingly, do not find it offensive but will bow humbly in prayer also.)

Some facts I learnt about Pennel Memorial Christian Hospital:
- first setup by Dr. Pennel 150yrs ago, a British missionary who walked among the people in Pashtun garb, and spoke fluent Pashtun. Story is after he died, a man blinded by cataracts asked to be operated by Dr Pennel. But upon learning that Pennel had departed, he said, ‘If Dr Pennel is alive, I want to be operated on by him, but if he is no longer with us, I have no need for vision.’
- The mission hospital has been defunct for 50 years
- Reconstructed over the old hospital 2 years ago with funds from Diocese of Peshawar (Anglican), government grant and Finnish support
- Now self-supported, patients are charged minimal sum for consultation/drugs/surgery
- 600,000 rupees monthly expenses, in gross deficit every month
- 4 doctors, 67 ancillary staff consisting nurses, lab technicians, translators and other workers. Visiting dentist (Reginald’s wife) and ophthalmologist (Reginald’s brother.)
- 50 bedder
- Active outreach work to remote villages in Bannu to provide vaccination and to ‘collect’ patients in need of hospitalization
- Many services not available have to be ‘contracted’ out to private labs, or to Peshawar
- 2 other hospitals in Bannu: one military hospital not accessible to civilians, and one government hospital which is in even worse shape

Doctors at work - Reginald, Faith, Joan, Julia (from Kazakhstan)

The 2 o'clock Lord's prayer in the foyer

The guard who keeps us safe from unwanted intruders, and keeps us from going out without permission!

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28 November 2005

Pakistan Day 3

Day starts with chapel service in basement of hospital. 8am sharp, music of tabla and harmonium and voices in Urdu praise wafts through the hospital like a sweet fragrance.

Faith, who is pastor of a church in Nigeria, preaches the prayer of Jabez.

Did our rounds after breakfast of Prathas and eggs and the traditional Chay (milk-tea). Lots of TB and Malaria and an assortment of Reginald’s surgical cases.
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Profile: Dr Reginald is a surgeon who had worked some 15 years in Tank Mission Hospital. He has a reputation of performing 15-20 surgeries a day, and a record holder of 31 a day! (We have witnessed him finishing a vaginal hysterectomy in 30 minutes!). He had been in private practice in Hyderabad for some years before the Diocese of Peshawar called him to setup the Bannu Mission Hospital 2 years ago. He left the lucrative practice to startup this work.

Met Rev Altaf – priest of the Anglican church in Bannu. Tells us there are 300 Christian families in whole of Bannu. Very oppressed and restricted work in this Muslim fundamentalist state ruled by MMA (our version of PAS).

Ran our OPDs – Joan saw all the children, and I saw ENT patients. My self-designed portable endoscope light source gave trouble at first but once working, worked full steam. OPD is 9am to 2pm, then 5pm to 8pm. 2-5pm is surgery time.

Prayer meeting at 8pm in the home of one of the staff. Heavenly Urdu singing accompanied by Dr Reginald on the harmonium. Faith shares about spiritual warfare.

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27 November 2005

Pakistan Day 2

Depart for Peshawar at 6am. 3 hour drive, past Indus river. First glimpse of rural Pakistan – horse-carts, markets, etc.

Drop off Siva (CREST full-time worker) at Peshawar Mission Hospital. Siva will do logistics coordinating work for Peshawar-Balakot operations. Dr. David – UNICEF worker and Paediatrician tells us Balakot is overloaded with doctors, patients are few, clinical work lacking. Good idea for us to go to Bannu where the hardcore poor are and hospital in great need of help.

Bannu is 80km from the Afghan border, populated by some 3 million, mostly Pashtun tribes. Hardcore poor. Severely neglected, marginalized peoples.

Faith, Joan & I proceed to Bannu in another car. Drove across the Northwest Frontier Province, through the China-Pakistan Kohat Friendship Tunnel to Bannu. Another 3hr drive, through rocky mountains, ravines, and arid, pebbly roads. Drove past a township (?name) where illegal arms/ammunition is manufactured.

Car breaks down in the middle of nowhere – ran out of petrol. Stranded for a half hour while driver hitched a ride in a truck to get more diesel. Kept getting questioned by passer-bys but once people are told we are headed for Mission Hospital, no more questions asked.

Arrived in Pennel Christian Memorial Hospital, Bannnu – to be welcome by some other foreign mission workers and Dr. Reginald (director of hospital) himself. More about hospital later.

To our joy – we have private rooms, hot water, and super meals every day.

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26 November 2005

Pakistan Day 1

CREST Team Malaysia leaves for Karachi 755am. Courtesy of Pakistan International Airlines, all our relief supplies accommodated except for 12kgs. In total 14 cartons of blankets, winter clothing and children’s toys.

In-flight service by full-grown bearded male stewards! Great service, abundant food.

Team tired and slept most of the way.

Towards end of flight, all team members seen to be doing planning, writing notes on tasks, learning essential Urdu, brushing up medical skills, and meditating on the Word.

Joan and I read Psalm 23 to each other – especially struck by ‘valley of the shadow of death’ as we pictured Balakot in all its destruction.

Arrived Karachi, harassed a little bit by airport officials and touts, but finally cleared to Islamabad. Lost one piece of luggage there – mostly our medical supplies and equipment!

Received by Chaman Nadeem, national coordinator of HCF (Hospital Christian Fellowship) who is our guide for the next few days.

Unloaded all our supplies at a house in Islamabad and caught 4 hrs sleep in Skyway hotel in Rawalpindi (twin city of Islamabad).

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12 November 2005

Pakistan calls

Newsflash: Joan and I have signed up to join CREST in a medical mission trip to Balakot, Pakistan for the earthquake relief efforts. We are going from 26 November till 10 December 2005.

Since the earthquake in October, many communities in the mountain ranges around Balakot have been left homeless to fend for themselves against the cold. The death-toll stands above 80,000 and threatens to rise in the winter. Water-borne diseases, skin infection, and psychological trauma are the commonest medical problems apart from the need for shelter and warmth.

We have been informed that we will fly into Islamabad or Peshawar, and proceed to our base camp at Mushafarrabad at the foothills. We will make daily trips into the mountains, part by road and part on foothills to go into villages where we setup medical camps. After our ‘virgin entry’ into these villages, most of which have not had any aid, much less encounters with Christians, other teams may follow up with shelter and reconstruction work. From reports of a team gone before us, the needs are overwhelming but the people are highly receptive. Apart from landslides and the occasional aftershock, our safety seems to be quite assured as the Pakistani have high regard for Chinese and the military is very protective of aid workers. Praise God for that.

We ask for your prayer support for the entire mission team, our safety and wisdom in interacting with the people. Please pray also for our parents, who we know will be very anxious. If you would like to commit yourself to being a prayer partner for this mission trip, please do reply to us as we will be much encouraged to know of the people praying for us while we are up there.

I hope to bring back lots of photos/videos, and information on how we can contribute if you are interested. There is an adoption program also where sponsors can adopt families and sponsor their rehabilitation.

08 November 2005

Addicted to work?

I hadn't realised how addicted I am to my job until this long Deepa-Raya break. It was a week of celebration for me - of NO TRAFFIC, GOOD FOOD and all the TV I could watch without my eyes popping out.

Let me see - I watched 3 episodes of HOUSE (the TV series), House of Wax, Guess Who, and The Longest Yard. All were fun. In fact HOUSE has made me want to study medicine all over again; this time not to pass exams but for the sheer pleasure of grappling with the mysteries of human life and disease. House of Wax was,...well, overrated and under-horrored. Guess Who was surprisingly more interesting and engaging than most romantic comedies of late. And The Longest Yard was simply hilarious. By the end of the week, I was going out of my mind, rearranging furniture and making my own cables!

Anyway, I was only too glad to get back to work yesterday and be in operating theatre again. The north-pole chill of OT and the musical beeps and hums of machines makes for a second home. Am I addicted to work? Is this a good thing or a bad thing? I'm sure it's a bit of both. Tomorrow the students will be back in class for more torture and my clinic should be in full swing on Thursday...

Sigh... The joys of work.