A Plethora of Pathology

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Meet the medical staff at Kudjip. Back row L to R: Susan Myers (PEDS), Andy Bennett (FP), Ted Henderson (PEDS), Katherine Radcliffe (FP), Ben Radcliffe (SURG), Scott Dooley (FP). Front row L to R: Erin Meier (FP), Jim Radcliffe (SURG), Imelda Assaigo (Rural Registrar), Bill McCoy (FP), Mark Crouch (FP).

For those expecting the usual excellent writing on this blog please be advised that this edition is written by the “other” doctor. Just consider me a much less talented guest blogger.

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Dad and I doing the first case in the new OT.

I’m usually not one for writing. Writing requires too much thought and too much time. I’m not sure which is more difficult for me, taking the time to think or just sitting down to write. Neither comes naturally to me. That being said, I wanted to share some of my experiences these first few weeks at Kudjip Nazarene Hospital.

It seems a bit surreal to be back where I grew up, with many familiar faces but also with many things that are so different.  Stepping into my role as the junior surgeon at Kudjip has been an exciting new challenge for me.  It is also a very humbling one. Daily I’m reminded of how much I don’t know and how much I have to learn.  Many things I thought I knew I’m having to re-learn in a Papua New Guinea appropriate manner.  How to diagnose and treat a surgical problem here in PNG is in some ways quite different from what I’ve been used to. For example, a lady in her mid-thirties came in with right upper abdominal pain. She had been having this pain for almost a week and it wasn’t getting any better. Her white blood cell count was elevated and she had a mass on the right side that could be felt on exam. In DSC_3793the USA she’d probably have gotten an ultrasound read by a radiologist and most likely a CAT scan. In her age group the most likely  diagnosis in the USA would be gallbladder disease. The lady had had an ultrasound done by Dr. Erin (one of the family docs here) and she had gotten a second opinion from Dr. Bill. They weren’t sure what it was but thought it might be a liver abscess.  So I saw her, did another ultrasound to see what they were talking about, and saw what looked like an abscess or a mass at the lower border of her liver (although it didn’t look quite right) and promptly called in my senior partner…Dad.  With her concerning exam, elevated WBC and fever we decided to do what any self respecting surgeon would do, get a CAT scan and consults from infectious disease and interventional radiology.  Just kidding! Here the old surgical maxim of “when in doubt cut it out” is sometimes true, not trite.  The next day we took her to surgery for exploration and found a perforated retro-cecal appendix that had formed an abscess walled off by the liver edge, gallbladder, duodenum, transverse colon and omentum.

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I am finding out very quickly that common pathology looks quite different when it presents late.  I’m learning that my ultrasound skills need some work and that the lack of diagnostic tools is achallenge, but a challenge that is not without intellectual reward.  I’ve also found that operating here has already given me a breadth and scope that makes being a surgeon so much fun.

Just for fun I’ll list a selection from the plethora of pathology I saw during my first two weeks. Two patients with thoracic stab wounds, one of which needed to go to the OT (operating theatre, yes we prefer the British naming and spelling over here.  It’s quite a step up in class compared to the operating room.) to control bleeding from an intercostal artery.We also saw two colon cancers, five appendectomies of varying sorts (three perforated, one gangrenous and one acute), two sequestrectomies for osteomyelitis (bone infection), trans-anal excision of a rectal tumor, two submandibular gland masses, three pediatric neck abscesses, two modified radical mastectomies, one facial stab wound that came in pumping blood from the temporal artery, a couple of cesarean sectionIMG_1287s, several hysterectomies, a re-implantation of a ureter with a bladder flap for a uretero-vaginal fistula, two hand incision and drainage procedures, a few upper endoscopies, several rigid sigmoidoscopies, a machete chop-chop to the scalp with an underlying fracture, a machete chop to the upper extremity with a humeral fracture, a C3-C4 cervical spine subluxation, several inguinal hernias, a hydrocele, several lymph node biopsies for suspected lymphoma…and I think I might even be missing a few!  As one can see, if you are looking for variety in your surgical practice, Papua New Guinea is the place to be.

In closing I’ll share one more story. As is often the case in medicine, “you just can’t make this stuff up.”  A couple weeks ago on a Saturday, I was called to the ER to evaluate a stab wound.
Two boys had been “playing” with knives and that play had turned into a fight. The patient, an eight year old boy, had been stabbed in the back by his cousin when he had tried to steal his cousin’s knife. He had a decent sized hemothorax (blood in the chest cavity) and as I began telling him that he would need a tube in his chest to drain the blood I asked him his name. My first stab wound patient in practice was an eight year old boy named….. wait for it…. Zoro 🙂 Yep, I laughed out loud.

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Zoro with his chest tube finally out!

Fortunately for him, he did well and did not need major surgery. He has since gone home and I’m looking forward to seeing him in follow-up clinic next week. I’ve already instructed him that there is to be no sword play, at least not until he sees me for his follow up visit!

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Zoro and I on his day of release from the hospital.

I am incredibly grateful to the Lord for bringing our family to Kudjip.  It is quickly becoming home for all of us.  Please continue to keep us in your prayers as we live, learn and serve in this new/old incredible place.

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It sure is great to live within walking distance of the hospital so this dad can get home to see the boys at lunch time or between cases. It’s hard to believe they’ll be 1yr and 3yrs old so soon.

Home is Where the Bananas Hang!

Front of house
This is the beautiful place we call home! That’s a pecan tree in the front yard but it hasn’t produced any pecans for many years.
Garden
This is the garden (just to the right of our house) that our neighbors, Dr. Ted and Rachel Henderson, started and have so graciously allowed us to use. We have kaukau (sweet potato), broccoli, cucumbers, strawberries, bok choy, pineapple, lettuce, cabbage, mint and basil.
Back of house
The back of our house has a HUGE porch. We’ll eventually add a closed-in shed at the far end for some extra storage.
Front view
This is the view from our front porch that shows our driveway and the station road. We’re at the far north end of the station and its about a half mile to the other end. Adam and Steph Peterson and their 4 girls live across the street.
Living room, dining room, kitchen
We love our open floor plan, the vaulted ceilings and the beautiful kwila hardwood floors.
Living room
This is the living room with a view of the front door. Can you guess which chair we fight over the most?!
Kitchen
Simeon wanted to show you our kitchen! Its just perfect and someday soon we’ll have three stools at that bar (we’re having a few furniture pieces built at the nearby Swiss mission station).
Kitchen side view
I spend a whole lot of time in this corner of the house. Every meal is made from scratch (including breakfast most days, since a box of cereal costs about $10-$12) and each dish, pot and pan must be washed after each meal to prevent ants and cockroaches from invading our home!
Front entry
This is the view from the dining room and kitchen toward the front door. The dark gray cabinet on the right is our pantry.
Hallway
The pantry is on the left and next to it is our deep freezer and then another closet. The room off to the right just past the light switches is the laundry room which leads to the back porch.
Laundry
We’re grateful for a washing machine and also the gas dryer that we shipped from the States. Its especially helpful on rainy days when the cloth diapers need to be dried!
Bathroom
At the end of the hall, this bathroom is on the right. Isn’t it lovely?! We don’t feel much like missionaries sometimes…until the power goes out and we can’t flush that toilet or run a bath for the boys…or until a cockroach sneaks out from behind the mirror.
Boys' room
This is my favorite room in the house and the boys are often found playing together in here. Grandpops Jim built that new bunkbed for his Grandboys and Simeon LOVES it. Someday Simeon will be promoted to the top bunk for his little brother to take over the bottom, but for now it serves as the train table! Once we get them both sleeping through the night, we’ll move Matthias’s crib in here as well.
Boys' closet
We have a good amount of storage here and we’re taking advantage of every inch. The boys’ closet is filling up.
Matthias's room
This is currently Matthias’s room, but it will soon be an office/sewing room/guest room!
Master bedroom
The master bedroom is at the front of the house and gets LOTS of afternoon sun and warmth!
View from master door
This is the view from the master doorway.

Come and visit us.  We’ll welcome any guests with very open arms.  We won’t even make you sleep on the top bunk!  And we’ll hang some fresh bananas before you arrive!

A Week in the Bush

We arrived at Kudjip on Friday, February 20th.  The following Monday morning (after we finished unpacking our three (of ten) suitcases that had arrived) we proceeded to pack a new suitcase for our one-week adventure in a more remote village of the Highlands.  This would serve as our family IMG_1200orientation to the language, culture and customs of PNG.  We were headed to Ambang which was about a forty-five minute drive from Kudjip.  Unfortunately for Ben, one of the missing pieces of luggage was the one that held the majority of his clothes.  He resorted to borrowing a few things from his dad and just re-wearing the two outfits he DID have!  It was a true bush experience.  Ha!

The Lenz Family
The Lenz Family

We knew that we would be staying in a missionary home at the New Tribes Mission station in Ambang, but really we had no idea what to expect regarding the amenities of the home.  As we drove up the mountain to the small village, nationals greeted us on the road and the yard of primary school children all dressed in their yellow uniforms waved and hollered as we passed in our Land Cruiser.  We had to ask directions once or twice and after turning around when we realized we were getting farther from civilization and not closer, we called the other missionary from New Tribes anDSC_3355d he directed us to their station.  They were right!  We were smack in the middle of the village and the smell of the open fires that cooked the morning kaukau (sweet potato staple of PNG) still lingered in the air.  The small station consisted of three fairly modern missionary homes arranged in the center of the land with a small common area between them that served as a driveway as well as the playground for the missionary and national children.  We were introduced to the Lenz and Hulley families and all of their animals.  It turned out to be a bona fide farm there at Ambang!  Levi anDSC_3354d Robyn Lenz, along with their three school-aged boys, Michael, Daniel and Matthew (and one baby on the way) are from the United States and have been working in PNG with New Tribes for a number of years now.  Levi spends his days doing Bible translation work along with a couple of faithful national helpers.  Daniel and Rachel Hulley, along with their three children Ben, Georgia and Rebekah, are from Wales and although they have many responsibilities, they primarily do translation work as well.  (I’m very sorry to not have a photo of the Hulley family all together, but they left the station before I could get one.)

Georgia and Hunter
Georgia Hulley and Hunter

And now…the animals.  There is Socks (the slow-to-warm, but very sweet dog who came running to our porch every time I emptied scraps from a plate into the food waste bucket), Hunter (the weeks-old, tiny brown puppy who was a quarter of Matthias’s size and meek as can be, but scared the boy to death!), Bouncer (the beautiful rabbit that stayed in a cage in the common area and who Simeon loved to feed each day), Stinky (the piglet runt of a liDSC_3167tter that was taken in by the Lenz family and not thought to live, but has somehow survived and will soon be returned to their national friends), Shoogie (the sugar glider that I primarily saw sleeping in the hood of Michael Lenz’s hoodie), a couIMG_1195ple of chickens, a new family of ducks with the dirtiest little ducklings you ever saw, the village pigs, some of which were worth many thousands of kina (the PNG currency) and lastly, enough flies in our home to make us mildly crazy!

We soon became well-acquainted with our home and our boys were VERY pleased to be greeted by other children as well as toys…lots of toys.  Yes, we were in the bush, but where there are children, there are also toys, and Simeon will forever be grateful!  These days, whenever we mention a new placDSC_3079e we’re going (say, for dinner one evening on the station), Simeon’s first question is ALWAYS, “Do dey have toys at deir house?”  Fortunately for him, both Ambang and Kudjip are well-stocked with toys.  In our home for the week, there DSC_3038was a train set, lots of books, a bucket of toy animals (including some rather large insects that almost got screamed at once or twice), cars, trucks and plenty of other things that go!  The six incredibly sweet children on the station helped Simeon feel right at hoDSC_3088me and when it was time for them to leave our house that first day he could hardly say goodbye (he didn’t quite understand that he could play with them all-day, every-day for the next seven days)!

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Our week was full of cultural experiences and intentional interactions with the national folks there at Ambang.  We were, afterall, their neighbors for the week, so it only seemed natural that we join in their routine daily activities.  We spent a morning washing some clothes at the nearby river with our new friend, Agnes.  She showed me the ropes while the boys and Ben played alongside the (very cold) river and Matthias chewed on a few rocks.  It was a grand time!

IMG_1154This was also a perfect opportunity for me to practice my pidgin (the trade language of PNG).  Our short hike back up to the village from the river led us through the gardens of Agnes’s family and she pointed out the kaukau, taro and kumu that are all staples in the Papua New Guinean diet.

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Another afternoon allowed me to take part in the six-month, four day a week literacy class that takes place in the small common building just next to our homes.  The building was built by Steven who is a translation helper of Daniel and Levi and whose land was given to the mission.

DSC_3304This is where the believers gather for lotu (church), Bible study as well as the literacy class.  The class is from 2-4 pm and is comprised of local villagers who wish to learn how to read and write their Tok Ples (the distinct language specific to the people group and tribe).  There are nearly 800 distinct languages in the country of  PNG and this accounts for about one fifth of the world’s languages (although most people do also speak Melanesian Pidgin). I also learned that there is a correlation between the difficulty of a language and the altitude at which the tribe lives.  Higher altitude groups generally have more complex languages. Yu Wei, the language of the area around Ambang is a moderately complex language due to the higher altitude. Although the entire class was taught by Daniel Hulley in Tok Ples, I was able to follow along pretty well given the context of the bookwork and wiDSC_3348th my new friend Agnes by my side.  There were about seventeen in the class with a good mix of men and women.  There were also varied backgrounds of education including some who’d been through primary school and others who had no previous formal education.  But as they learn to read and write, they are afforded the opportunity to read the Scripture portions that are currently being translated into their Yu Wei language.  This is an incredible gift to these people and they take it very seriously.

DSC_3245One of our most memorable experiences during our week in the bush was the afternoon we spent with Janet (wife of Steven), Maria, Elis, Marip and Agnes (as well as a handful of kids and animals that came and went as they pleased).  We had planned to prepare a typical PNG meal together. We provided some money ahead of time to get the produce needed at the market and the ladies also used some kaukau from their gardens.  We also provided the rice and tDSC_3225in fish.  I arrived around 3 pm to help start the preparation, and since we had a larger group, they decided to do the preparation and meal in the church building.  Our first task was to peel the huge pile of kaukau and then we sorted and prepared the various greens that would be boileDSC_3200d with green onion, carrots, pumpkin (squash), Maggi noodles (like Ramen) and tin fish and then poured over rice and served alongside the kaukau.  It was a feast and after the two hours of preparation, we had worked up quite an appetite.  Ben and the boys joined us after their naps and the ladies got a big kick out of Matthias chewing on kaukau peels and Simeon holding his plate with great expectation.  As we peeled potatoes, laughed andDSC_3206 talked I realized how this very mundane-seeming activity of food preparation had created such community among us.  We were so different in so many ways, but for that afternoon, we were just friends enjoying a meal together.  It was really beautiful anDSC_3335d spoke to the generosity and warmth of the Papua New Guinean people.  Simeon and Matthias even gave compliments to the chefs by eating (literally) everything that had been prepared for us, including various boiled greens and tin fish!

Our week ended with a worship service on Sunday morning and the children’s Sunday school class that was held on our back porch! What a treat to hear those kids answer trivia questions, sing Bible songs and laugh together.

New playmates
Rebekah Hulley, Matthew Lenz, Simeon and Ben
The boys on the porch
Ben Hulley, Matthias, Ben, Michael and Daniel Lenz

DSC_3108We had a very blessed week with a lot of new friends.  We so enjoyed fellowship and meals with the missionary families and certainly the boys loved their new playmates.  We were so proud of Simeon and Matthias, who despite getting diarrheal illnesses for a portion of our time, were very friendly and really embraced their village experience.  Well, perhaps all but the time Simeon looked down to see the first large streak of mud on his leg and shorts and exclaimed (disturbedly), “What is that?!  I need a na-kin to wipe it.  Mama, I need new pants!” Perhaps he’ll need a slightly longer orientation!

The Long, Long Journey

As journeys go, ours had its share of highs and lows.  DSC_3744DSC_3805Our departure from Columbus, Ohio on Valentine’s Day was anything but lovely, but what would a good world traveling story be without at least a few snafus?!  We were to depart at 1:15 pm and although we watched the forecast carefully and knew there was a chance of snow that afternoon, we had little concern that it would cause any trouble for our take-off.  With the help of our family from Mount Vernon we successfully loaded, unloaded and checked all ten of our bags without a hitch.  We had a leisurely lunch together at the airport food court and then said our (sad) goodbyes.  We were set to get through security with a good 45 minutes to spare and aside from Katherine’s pat-down because of the child’s apple juice that exceeded the 3 ounce limit, all was well and we made it to our gate in plenty of time.

We watched out the huge windows that looked DSC_3817directly onto the runway and our hearts sank as our previously on-time flight was just now being delayed due to the sudden closure of the airport.  The fiercely blowing snow made visibility poor and no flights could take off.  We were discouraged, but still maintained hope as we knew we had a couple of hours in Minneapolis before our flight to Anchorage.  We waited and waited.  With two well-behaved (but soon to be very antsy) boys.  After what became a two-hour IMG_0178delay, we knew that we most certainly would not make our connection and Ben stood in line to find out our options.  The desk attendant made it a point to mention that if we could not be re-booked on another flight that day, then we’d be sleeping in the Minneapolis airport as there were no hotel rooms available.  This seemed odd to me at the time.  Really?  There were no vacant hotel rooms in the entire city of Minneapolis? Anyway, perhaps it put a fire under us to get our plans worked out quickly.  As Katherine was texting back and forth to her Mom and through the power of social networking we discovered that if we needed it, we would have an empty condo to stay in just 15 minutes from the Minneapolis airport!  Our dear friend Johanna has a brother who lives there and his in-laws have a condo that they only use when they’re in town.  Amazing!  At this point we knew that we WOULD in fact need a place to stay as the next flight available to Alaska was the next morning at 9 am.  And although it wasn’t a direct flight as we’d anticipated, the flight times and the layover in Seattle seemed perfect.  So, we were re-booked with those tickets and then we waited.  At one point, they called for boarding of families and we were literally handing our boarding passes to the agent when they scurried about discussing where in the line-up our flight would take off. They then decided since we were third in line for de-icing and take-off that perhaps we should wait to board.  We waited another hour.  Finally, our time came.

We got ourselves settled into the rather small commuter plane.  It took a bit to push back from the gate, but as we started the 45 minute de-icing process, we were starting to feel encouraged that at least we were leaving shortly and we had a place to lay our heads in Minneapolis.  We finally moved out to the runway and we sat.  And sat.  And sat.  Now, mind you, at this point our boys are much more squirmy and hungry and irritable.  As were we.  FINALLY, the pilot could be heard over the crackly intercom.  We were informed that although wIMG_1081e were next for departure, we’d have to return to the gate because a computer message could not be cleared from their system and this had to be completed before take-off.  There might have been tears at this point.  That small plane felt tiny and we were sweating bullets (although Ben and Matthias did manage to escape the madness with a brief nap).  [On a side note, how is it that its possible to use a 3D printer to build a functioning vehicle but there is yet to be invented an effective system of heating and cooling an airplane?]  We taxied back to the gate and were miraculously told that we could exit the airplane if we wished.  Katherine and Simeon began to make the walk to the front of the aircraft (was it mentioned that we were seated in the very. last. row?) when Simeon did exactly what the rest of us would have liked to do had it been more socially acceptable.  DSC_3689He had a meltdown.  We couldn’t blame him, so instead of leaving the plane, we took that moment to pull out one of the presents that Grandma Betsy had stashed in his backpack for each flight of the long, long journey.  He opened his finger puppets and was appeased for awhile.  After another 40 minutes at the gate we finally taxied BACK to the de-icing area where we waited another 30 minutes for our turn.  Another crackly message from the cockpit, “Well folks, when it rains, it pours.  We’ve been informed that the truck that was due to de-ice our plane has just broken and we’ll have to wait for it to be fixed or to be sent another truck, whichever come first.” Its almost laughable to re-live this whole experience through writing, but at the time, it was anything but amusing.  Although we received MANY compliments about the good behavior of our young boys, we were very aware that we had approximately 31 hours of flight time ahead of us and we had not even taken off yet!  This was a discouraging thought at the time, but we were grateful for how well Simeon and Matthias had done so far.  By the grace of God (oh, there were prayers involved), another truck came very quickly and we were FINALLY making our way to the runway.

When the day was done, we had spent three hours waiting at the gate and fivIMG_0286e hours on that airplane for a two hour flight to Minneapolis.  We were tired already, but SO grateful for a timely pick-up by our new friend and a short drive to our beds.  We had texted our friend’s brother and asked about carseats, informing him that we have a two-and-a-half-year-old and a 10-month-old.  We were willing to hold them on our laps if we needed to!  We were desperate.  He texted back to say that he and his wife have a two-and-half year-old and a 10-month-old as well!  Amazing.  We slept well and were thankful for the pack-n-play that was already at the condo for Matthias.  They even brought kid-friendly snacks and breakfast food for the morning before our flight.  God knew exactly what we needed that night.

IMG_0285We made it to Anchorage the following afternoon and we were SO glad to see Joel, our brother-in-law, who picked us up and helped man-handle all of our luggage.  Fortunately some very kind folks from their church offered to bring their van and DSC_2847get our luggage to the home where we stayed for a short 2.5 day visit.  Our time was blessed with newborn baby Rosie snuggles, a trip to the windy and beautiful lookout over Anchorage, a lunch of Moose’s Tooth Pizza, lots of cousin playtime with 5-year-olds Dora and Sylvia and a wonderful visit with Bekah, Joel and Grandma Kathy.  Ben even got the chance DSC_2973to speak at Joel and Bekah’s church during our brief stay.  It was a blessing to get to know the people who have taken such good care of them during their time so far in that beautiful city.  We were sad to say goodbye, but so very grateful for our unexpected detour!

The remainder of our travels, including stops in Seattle, Los Angeles, Brisbane, Port Moresby and then our final destination of Mount Hagen, were surprisingly unremarkable.  Oh sure, there were the fIMG_0316ew scream-offs between Matthias and the 4-month-old little girl in the seats next to us on the 13-hour flight, but this was to be expected, of course.  The most challenging time was the 2 hour wait for the long-haul flight out of Los Angeles, which left at 11 pm (although our bodies were still telling us it was 2 am).  The last 20 minutes of that wait and the first 30 minutes on the plane before take-off was a mild form of torture for all of us, but we emerged unscathed and the boys ended up doing amazingly well on the long journey (but not so well that we’re signing up to do it again anytime soon).  Throughout the flightsDSC_3652 we received many nice comments regarding our boys’ behavior and it did make us proud (and hopeful, seeing as this whole missionary thing will likely be a career for us).  After each flight Simeon’s favorite thing to do was strap on his backpack and barrel through the terminal.  It was an added bonus if the long hallways included those “people mover” conveyor belts.  He was mesmerized by them and actually got the knack of entering and exiting them without any major mishaps.

We landed in Brisbane, Australia with the blessed knowledge that the wIMG_1112orst of the flights was behind us and only a 3-hour and 1-hour flight remained.  We were able to shower in Brisbane (and change into our OSU gear) and  fortunately for us, there were only 50 passengers on the 3-hour flight to Port Moresby so we had empty rows all around us.  This allowed Simeon to move around a good bit and play peek-a-boo with his brother between seats when he wasn’t coloring on the iPad or watching a video.  We were gearing up for our arrival in the capital of PNG, knoIMG_1080wing we’d have to gather all 12 pieces of luggage (if we included Mom’s) and get them through customs as well as get our boarding passes for the last flight.  We quickly found Mom’s two bags and three of ours, however it didn’t take long to realize that the remaining SEVEN bags were not coming off that conveyor belt.  After asking several personnel standing around, we discovered that our bags were in fact NOT in Port Moresby, although nobody could tell us where they were.  We quickly filled out the required paperwork that might allow them to get transferred to another airline and flown on to Mount Hagen.  Did I mention it was obscenely hot in Port Moresby?  Its always hot there.  And humid.  But after being in the cold and snow for so long in Ohio and Alaska, the heat was especially breathtaking.  A sweet Papua New Guinean man must have taken pity on the sweaty, red-faced toddler in the terminal and offered to buy him a Sprite out of the soda machine.  In fact, he seemed almost privileged to do so!  Simeon was grateful.  Many troubles and potential outbursts can easily be diminished with the promise of a sparkling, sugary drink!  Just don’t tell his dentist.  [On another side note, during a trip to the other side of the world is NOT the time to worry about being judged for the things that you feed your children and allow them to do in order to keep from losing your own mind.  “Yes, I AM in fact feeding my toddler his fourth package of fruit snacks in a row.  And you would too if you knew what this moment would look like without them.”]

IMG_1117Despite the delay with the luggage, we made it to the large open room which serves as the domestic terminal. When our flight was called, we handed over our final set of boarding passes and stepped outside into the heat of the afternoon to make the trek to our plane.  We quickly settled into our seats and Matthias quickly made friends with the PapuIMG_0337a New Guinean ladies next to him.  He’s hardly met a stranger on this trip!  Simeon was asleep within 30 minutes of the flight and missed the most beautiful views of the highlands as we descended into the valley. We were moments away from landing in a place that already felt like home and we couldn’t have been happier.

Despite the news in Port Moresby that Jim and the operating room staff couldn’t come to the airport as expected because of an emergency surgery, they were there waiting for us as we de-planed!  Apparently they did the fastest surgery in the history of time in order to make it and we were SO glad.  Aunt LydIMG_0371ia, Uncle Cilla (yes, that’s what Simeon has called her for months now), Uncle Bill and Aunt Marsha McCoy and some other hospital staff were waiting too.  We loaded up the vehicles with our fewer-than-expected pieces of luggage and drove the hour to Kudjip.  Home was waiting for us.  As we pulled onto the station we were greeted by a beautiful sign and flowers woven through the gate.  We were preparing Simeon for “our new house” as we’d been referring to it for months.  We’d say, “We’re almost to our new house Simeon.  Its just around this corner.”  He had a look of anticipation on his face.  As we neared our home, we saw IMG_0385what seemed like the entire missionary family on our front lawn!  We drove by a few of the kids playing in a yard nearby and Simeon chirped, “Are those my new friends?”  Yes, yes they are!  If there are friends and toys, that boy is happy.  There were many hugs, some new faces and lots of “good to see you agains”!  Simeon had his mind and heart set on finding his beloved “orange juice truck” which was a purchase at a next door garage sale in Mount Vernon and ended up making the trip to PNG via our first crate six months earlier.  Simeon had literally been talking about that truck everyday as he was just itching to get his little hands on it.  And that he did.  He took it back outside to show off to his new friends (who didn’t seem nearly as impressed as he was)!

IMG_0389We were home and never before had the word HOME meant so much to us.  It seemed that all of our homes up until now had been a sort of transition.  Sure, we settled into them and made them comfortable and a place of refuge, but this felt different.  We knew that THIS home would welcome not only us, but also many of these beautiful people whom we have come to serve.  We had completed our long, long journey.  And that journey led us home.

We Don’t Travel Light

There’s an old proverb that says, “He who would travel happily must travel light.”  But I get the sense that the wise writer of that proverb was not moving 8,672 miles to a remote part of Papua New Guinea where many conveniences of life are…well, not so convenient.  That being said, we are also making this big move with the hopes of living in PNG for a good while.  We know our first assignment with World Medical Mission will last two years, but it is our hope that the Church of the Nazarene will appoint us as career missionaries at the end of this assignment.  So, when it came time to pack up our things and sell our home last summer, we decided we’d keep and ship to PNG those things that would make our house feel most like home (and might make life slightly more convenient).  After all, we had accumulated some nice things during our ten years of marriage and it seemed a pity to put all of our artwork and that leather La-Z-Boy recliner in storage.  So we didn’t!

Our packing journey began 8 months ago when we decided we would build, pack and ship a IMG_18894-foot wooden crate.  That seems simple, right?  We were rookies in the crate-building department, so we consulted with our good friend Steve Doenges who had built a similar crate for his daughter Steph when she moved to PNG where she served as a family doctor.  Steve gave us lots of good advice and offered to help, but we were off and building before he knew it! Katherine’s Dad even drove 40 minutes out of town to purchase the special heat-treated plywood necessary for the crate.  There IMG_1892were, of course, the usual mishaps of a small building project.  But within a few days, the crate was ready for its large plastic liner and then we got to start the huge puzzle that is filling a 4-foot cube with NO room to spare.  We certainly didn’t want to waste any of that precious space so we even created small pallets with gallon-sized ziploc bags and our favorite Target brand diapers that filled every single crack between Rubbermaids and boxes.  We made the final arrangements, put on the side wall, wrapped up and taped down that black plastic like a huge Christmas present and screwed on the lid.  It was done.  We breathed a sigh of relief and left for our Stevens family beach vacation knowing that Ben’s brother Tim would be there when the shipping company arrived to pick up the crate a few days later.  I remember the phone call from Tim as we sat relaxed in our beach house.  “Ben, did you leave keys for the Camry parked in front of the garage?”  Right.  So we built and filled our 900-pound crate just inside the garage door for the convenience of pick-up, but we failed to move the vehicle sitting directly outside the garage.  Nor did we leave keys for someone ELSE to move said vehicle.  Well, Tim still had a bit of time before the truck arrived for pick-up, so he carefully put the car into neutral and backed iIMG_2361t down the drive and off to the side just enough for the crate to be moved past.  Success!  Until…the gentleman arrived with his pallet-lift which was about two inches too wide to fit around the 4×4’s at the base of our crate.  This was the news we received in Tim’s NEXT phone call to us in North Carolina.  We couldn’t believe it.  Our crate could not be picked up because of two inches.  Tim thanked the gentleman and we decided to sort it all out when we got home a few days later.  But, unfortunately for us, “sorting it out” meant discovering that there was no shippingIMG_2044 company that would be able to pick up our crate as built because of the space allowed for at the base of the crate.  Well, it was a good thing we thought ourselves to be pretty good crate-packers, because we were going to get to do it all over again.  That’s right.  We were forced to unpack the ENTIRE crate, flip it over, remove one of the 4×4’s, re-pack the ENTIRE crate and find a new shipping company to pick it up within 24 hours to get it to Oregon in time and on the container to PNG.  If that sounds exhausting, well, it was.  We even took pictures on our phones of each stage of the unpacking so that we’d remember exactly how Crate in PNG
to put it back together.  But, to make this story short, we did it!  And about 3 months later we received word that the container with our crate on it had arrived at the mission station and it was being unloaded into our new home.  We breathed a sigh of relief and said more than once, “Glad we don’t have to do THAT again anytime soon!”

DSC_2371Fast-forward to the end of November.  Ben received confirmation that he was having an entire set of laparoscopic equipment as well as other OR equipment donated to the hospital in PNG.  We were doing it again.  All over again.  But this time, we got smart.  A simple google search found a pre-fab 4-foot crate ready to snap together.  That thing was on our door-step four days later!  Fortunately, we knew the routine and filled the SECOND crate with esIMG_0151sentially no snafus.  The equipment did not fill the entire space, so we were “forced” to add a few extras, like a Rubbermaid of books, a stove-top waffle maker and heavy-duty “we live in the tropics” door mats (just to name a few).  We packed it full.  Maybe too full.  But, last Friday, with a little help from our brothers again, it was sealed and the pick-up was successfully done the next day! I love it when that whole “live and learn” thing actually works out.   That crate has arrived in Oregon where it will be loaded into a container in April and then shipped to PNG.  If it makes good time, we’ll receive it in Kudjip mid-summer.

DSC_2367The remainder of our packing, including 10 suitcases and 5 carry-ons, has felt like a breeze after two crates!  We’re glad to say that the 10 bags are now packed (with 3 days to spare, I might add) and we’re making the final touches on the carry-ons before our departure on Saturday.  And, apparently all the packing has made quite an impression on Simeon (age 2.5) who walked by the counter after my quick grocery trip for dinner.  He noticed a new box of trash bags on the counter and inquired, “ADSC_2599re we taking those to Papua New Guinea?”  No, sweet child, we just need a place to put our trash!   We may not travel light, but at the end of a long day, we’ll be really glad to kick off our muddy shoes on a heavy-duty door mat before relaxing with a good-read and a warm-crispy waffle.

Rerouted!

If you’ve spent any amount of time with us in the last 6 weeks you will know that we have been hoping, waiting, delayed, frustrated, set-back…..and maybe just a teensy bit frustrated with bureaucracy.  We started the process of applying for our PNG medical licenses, work permits and visas about six months ago.  And even though we should have known better, I remember sending off that stack of paperwork in early summer and thinking, “Six months should be PLENTY of time to get all this in order.”  Like I said, we should have known better.

It was mid-November when we realized that our plans to leave with Ben’s family at the end of December were probably not going to work out.  Rerouted.

FOUR passports, ready and waiting!

We had to change our frame of mind and work toward our next goal.  We had gotten good news that our work permits had actually been approved in the PNG Immigration office before the holidays.  So, we had very high (and misguided) hopes that those could be faxed to the PNG Embassy in Washington D.C. in the first week of January.  It seemed reasonable that we could leave in the 3rd or 4th week of January if we got them quickly.  The PNG Embassy had our passports and would need to stamp them with our visas before sending them back to us.  And THEN we could purchase our tickets. Well, that week came and went without a sign of our visas.  Rerouted.

So, we hoped and prayed some more, not understanding why these delays were happening. You see, all this time we had been planning to travel with Ben’s sister, Cilla, who will be the volunteer high school teacher at Kudjip for the next year and a half.  In fact, Cilla had even delayed leaving in order to travel with us and help with the boys on the long flights.  She had gotten her visa weeks ago and could have left at any time.  We could not make sense of the delays.  It was on January 16th that we heard our approvals were FINALLY complete in PNG and they might even be faxed to D.C. over the weekend!  We were so encouraged.  Although we checked on Monday, we could not seem to reach anyone in D.C. to confirm our approvals’ arrival.  On Tuesday we received an email from the PNG Embassy (after several inquiries from us) stating that they HAD in fact received an approval for the Radcliffe family.  They had received ONE approval for Benjamin Radcliffe ONLY.  The visa officer even stated in his email that it was quite unusual since a family’s approvals are usually sent together.  Rerouted.

Bekah (Ben’s sister), Sylvia, Dora and Joel

We were frustrated beyond belief, but we also understood that our frustration would not make this process move along any more efficiently.  So, we waited and prayed.  We were especially feeling the pull to PNG so that Ben could begin to share the surgery work-load with his dad who is still in the late stages of recovering from open-heart surgery.  The delays were discouraging.  The next morning we received an e-mail from Ben’s mom in PNG.  She encouraged us to consider another option.  Perhaps we should consider meeting up with her in Los Angeles on February 18th when she returns from Alaska where she’ll be with Ben’s sister, Bekah, who is due to have their third child at the beginning of February.  This felt like quite a long delay, but maybe it should be considered.  Then it was Ben who made a rather exciting suggestion in the midst of all the frustration.  What if we routed our trip through Anchorage so that we could meet the new baby girl and spend three days with family there before flying on to PNG with Mom on the 18th?  This had never been in our thoughts or plans because we pictured being in PNG long before February.  But now we’re within a few weeks of the baby’s due date and we’re delayed anyway, so why not consider it?  I did a cursory search of ticket prices through Anchorage and we realized there was a good route that would cost just minimally more than our original itinerary. Although we desperately wanted to be in PNG, we both got excited about this possibility, especially considering we were delayed considerably anyway.  We also felt encouraged by the fact that Cilla could fly sooner with another missionary returning to Kudjip.  We decided to take a day to pray about this possibility and get a real quote from our travel agent.  Rerouted?

Simeon was pretty fascinated by these little blue books that give us the power to fly!

The next night we heard that our pastor contact who had been corresponding in the capital city of Port Moresby went to the immigration office to inquire about the three missing approvals.  The official asked him where our marriage license and the boys’ birth certificates were (despite this NEVER being a requirement in the past).  He was told our paperwork was being reviewed by the supervisor.  Ben scanned and faxed those document as soon as we heard (which happened to be at 11 pm).  And then we waited.  The next afternoon we received a very unexpected e-mail informing us that ALL FOUR of our approvals were received in D.C. and our passports would be mailed to us that day!  Amazing.  And almost as soon as we received that good news, our travel agent informed us that she could get the tickets through Alaska even cheaper than we had anticipated!  So, on Saturday, February 14th we will finally begin the first leg of this long-awaited journey to Papua New Guinea…but not without a quick (and quite unexpected) stop in Alaska along the way.  Rerouted!

A sight for sore eyes! FOUR visas allowing us to live and work in PNG for two years!

Ready, Set…Wait

DSC_0407_2

We are in transition. Our lives are in limbo. We are playing the waiting game (although calling it a game implies a good deal more enjoyment than waiting deserves).  For months we had been hoping and planning to make our move to Papua New Guinea when Ben’s family returned to PNG from their six-month home assignment in the States.  Well, December 29th has come and gone and we’re…well, we’re still in Ohio.  Not that its a bad thing, really.  Leaving four days after Christmas would have made for a very hectic holiday and we are really so thankful for the (somewhat) more relaxed time that we enjoyed with our family over Christmas and New Year’s.   And, we’ve so enjoyed living with Katherine’s parents (truly, we have!) for the last six months since we sold our home in Columbus.  Doing life together with them and Katherine’s brother has been a gift that we will look back on with fond memories for years to come.  But now we are feeling the pull to the other side of the globe.  Unfortunately, we continue to be at the mercy of the PNG Embassy in Washington DC.  They have our passports as well as the mountain of paperwork required to be issued an entry permit into Papua New Guinea.  And now, we wait for their “okay.”  We wait for the stamp in our passports that gives us permission to buy our plane tickets.  We’re hoping and praying this happens soon enough to allow us to fly within the next month.

These days come with great anticipation.  We are excited about the opportunity to be a part of this plan that God has for our lives.  We’ve waited for this culmination for many years, knowing that one day we would board an airplane (not knowing at the time that we’d have two young boys in tow) for a far-off land to answer the call of God on our lives to serve him as medical missionaries.  Honestly, this reality that we are living is a bit surreal.  After four years of college, four years of medical school, and five years of residency training, this departure has been a long time coming (to say the least).  But here we are.  We’re on the brink of quite a big adventure and we’re ready.  Sure there will be a good deal of unknown to conquer, but our confidence is in the One who sends us and he has promised to be with us, even in the waiting.