Life in another land has many challenges, including staying healthy. The bugs are different to at home, cleanliness is thought of in a different way and access to health care is different. To help us stay healthy and remain in PNG, we’ve been having a series of medical lectures. Much of it boils down to being diligent in caring for ourselves and staying hydrated with clean water. At POC we’ve had our share of bugs, as people arrive stressed by major life changes and adjust to living together in a new place. The longer we are here, the more we adjust and the healthier we are.
Medical approaches across cultures are very different. Illness in PNG is often attributed to broken relationships, for the spiritual and the physical are seen to be directly related. Maintaining healthy relationships equates to maintaining the health of a community. Although the US and Australia are both ‘western’ they too have different medical approaches. I am used to using dettol or just clean water for cleaning wounds. My US friends bleach everything. As for a response to choking, they teach the Heimlich manoeuvre, which first aid training in Australia told me never to use. Lateral chest thrusts, a fancy phrase for a good thumping on the back or side, is taught instead.
As an ex-pat in this country I have health advantages. The organisation I am with has its own health centre and a doctor on call 24-7. By phone (or radio) I can always get medical advice. I am sent to the village with medications for a range of conditions that the doctor can then remotely prescribe for me to use, a situation I am familiar with from life at sea. There too, we had a locked cabinet of prescription medication and a doctor at the end of the radio or satellite. The organisation I am with also has an aviation department, to get people to and from remote villages. They also do Med-Evacs when necessary, including to Australia for more significant help. Although I pray I never need such an evacuation, there is comfort in knowing the safety net is there and that it even delivers me to my home country! Knowing insurance will pay for it is also comforting, but I’d prefer to stay fit and healthy.