My day started well, I slept in until 830 and took a driver shopping. I had just learned that was going to move to Tari, in the highlands, where MSF provide surgery in the ministry of health hospital. Unlike coastal Lae, Tari is cold so I needed a jacket and a jumper so went to the second hand clothes market and got one of each. Arriving at the office I was surprised not to see either of my assistants. They don't normally work on Saturdays, but half of our medical cargo that should have arrived at the airport the day before did not turn up, so I told my Robin, my supply assistant that we had work to do and my admin assistant volunteered to help too.
The airport is some 30km outside Lae and the road towards it is dangerous. We travel the road at high speed in the bus of a security company. Getting 1,200 kgs of medicine from the airport to the warehouse (that a friend has let us use for free) is risky business. Having to do the journey twice made me uneasy.
So when it reached 10 o'clock and my supply assistant (who had the only notes on which boxes we received so far) had not arrived, I was annoyed. I don't get annoyed much, but getting the shipment back into MSF custody was a high priority.
I took the unprecedented step of sending a vehicle to collect Robin from his house. Friday is pay day, is drinking day and is partying day so I was in a foul mood assuming that he had been up late the day before and slept in for one of the most important work days of the year. The car radioed back that
he was not at home. I sent the driver to check the bus stops. It was raining hard and demand for busses would be high.
Then the clinic guard came in to my office. She told me Robin's brother was here. They were both attacked and robbed last night. I marched through the hospital with his brother, idle visitors jumped out of my way, surprised at our pace. "Where were we going?", I wondered, panicking as we approached the intensive care department. We walked past, were we going to a ward? No, we walked past. We we going to Accident & Emergency? No. We approach what I assumed to be a dead body, leaning against a wall, under a blood soaked sheet. Robin's brother points to the figure. My admin assistant who has been trying to catch up with our pace the whole journey and I are speachless as we peel back the sheet and see Robin's badly beaten face. Emotion overwhelms me, am I am horrified that he has been sitting in the hospital entrance lobby under a sheet having not receive any medical care since he arrived over 12 hours ago. It is obvious that something needs to be done. Immediately. I run through the corridors back to the clinic and arrive at the bosses office out of breath and upset. I tell her the story and she agrees that we put him straight into the private hospital.
Arriving at the hospital I despair to see a room with 50 people waiting. All look rich and healthy reading magazines and drinking tea. I am close to exploding as the slow receptionist asks me Robin's date of birth, home address, how we will be paying. "Keep calm", I say inside my head as Robin sits soaking more blood into the sheet over his head. I stand where the doctors come to call the name of the next client. I grab the hand of the first one that comes, reading her name from the box she is about to grab a patient file from. Fortunately, she knows of our clinic. "Have you got a client for me?", she asks. "Yes. This fellow here, under the sheet has been sitting bleeding all night. He has received no medical attention in 12 hours. He is my colleague and my good friend. I'd like someone to look at him now" (with emphasis on the 'now'). She can see the determination in my face. The nurses take him straight into their Accident & Emergency room. I relax. A little.
My thoughts turn to the shipment. I get a driver to take my admin assistant, a radio and a plastic sheet to the transport company to arrange the collection of the missing medical items. I then send the other driver to get clean clothes for Robin. I had given a bag of clothes that I wasn't planning on taking to Tari to the guards on duty at the house and I tell him to go and fetch shorts and T-shirt. Robin asks for some juice too and the driver goes shopping with the money I had given him to buy fuel before things started going wonky. My admin assistant radios. The transport company have already left without him to supervise the collection. They have no means of calling them back. We agree there is nothing they can do, we can only hope they bring back all the items. 10 minutes later he radios again. The vehicle is back at the depot with no medicine. I call the transport company from the hospital and my frustration boils over when he suggests that our airport trip is a waste of his time. "You are a transport company. This is your job. We are paying you. I have 500kgs of medicine sitting getting warm in the airport. It must come here today", I shout down the phone at him. He agrees to send them back in the afternoon. Being friendly and patient is generally the way to get things done in PNG but by now I don't have the patience. I can see people glancing at me nervously in my bloody clothes.
I wheel Robin's wheelchair from A&E to X-ray. I leave the room as I see that the technician isn't going to warn me before he gamma radiates us all. I'd at least like the option of being a father at some point in the future. 6 pregnant ladies in the corridor are waiting for scans and I strike up a conversation with them in Tok Pisin. Most "white men" just fire someone who is sick and get a new worker, they advise me. I explain that Robin is my friend and colleague and where I work we take care of our staff. "God will thank you" they tell me. I loose it and can't hold back the tear any longer.
I wheel Robin back to A&E where his wounds are dressed. The doctor calls me over to discuss his X-rays. We chat for about 5 minutes in medical terminology before it strikes me that she thinks I'm a doctor. ("Doctors without Borders" is the claim on my T shirt). I can see relief in her whole body as I tell her that I'm mainly doing security and transport. She had been thinking that I was analysing her medical decision. Robin's nose is broken, but skull is OK and there are no signs of any brain damage. I take him to our house where we have ice packs before getting a driver to drop him at his home. At the house, an air conditioning engineer has been waiting for me. I grab a cold drink and let him tinker with the medical store air con unit, give him some money, tell him I'm going to Tari and thank him for the good work he has done (much of it for free) as he is just one of many people in Lae who really support what we do and I rush to the transport company to sort out the medical shipment. I was embarrassed to ask him early on the journey, but it seems Robin has wisely kept a copy of all the cargo paper work in the desk and so things are looking brighter in terms of our cargo's logistics. "Mi sori tru yu no amamas long me", I apologise to the transport company manager, "wokman bilong mi gat buggerap face long plenti man pitem em assday. Mi askim yu sendim man long airport bringum cargo bilong mi". My Tok Pisin isn't great, but good enough to impress locals that a foreigner can try. He smiles and send the same team as yesterday with my admin assistant.
I go to the clinic and tell the boss the morning's events. With a few hours to kill before the cargo will be back in the town I go home to see if there is any food. It is raining heavily and we drive past an old man sitting on the pavement surrounded by a crowd. We radio base to tell them our plans and spin the car around to see if he needs help. Neither the driver or myself are medics, but I'm guessing the crowd aren't either. As we cut across the road to approach, the crowd assume we are trying to entre the house they are outside and bundle the old man out of our way. I jump out and ask if he is OK. A lady threw a rock at the man and he can't walk. I ask him if he wants transport to the hospital but he doesn't. The crowd are clearly stunned at this turn of events. Ambulances in Lae only seem to be used for transporting dead bodies. I can see the crowd reading "Médecins Sans Frontiers" on the vehicle and staring at us. A man asks us if we would take the old man to the bus stop and we do that. David the driver is very excited that logistics are using our vehicles as quasi-ambulances for 2 times in 1 day. "This is why we are here", I tell him, "to treat the survivors of violence". I know that David and I are proud of being able to help, logistics don't typically get to deliver front line assistance. He is also happy that the public saw that we stopped and went back to help.
The shipment arrives and I trick the boss and mental health supervisor into a "warehouse tour" which result in 2 extra pairs of hands for unloading the truck when it arrives. We all go home and decide it's time to have night out and treat ourselves to pizza and drinks we cannot afford in the hotel before coming home and dancing in the back garden, barefoot in the mud.
Doctors advise that Robin's nose will heal in 3 to 6 weeks and that he will be back to his handsome self within a week or so. The robbers took his phone, wallet and pocket contents.