A Deadly Snake Bite
Testimony from Michel Pauw, Dutch missionary for Wycliffe Bible Translators with SIL PNG, who is the Translation Advisor for the Aramba Translation Project in Kiriwà, Morehead Region, Western Province, Papua New Guinea.
On February 9, 2022, I had finished my work in the village for the Aramba translation projects in Western Province. I had the privilege of accompanying my Russian colleague Olga Formanchuk and her family on their pre-allocation trip to a neighboring language group and we had a wonderful time. But that’s a story for another time.
The day before our return to Ukarumpa I heard that a 9-year old girl was bitten by a snake. They couldn’t tell yet whether it was a poisoned snake or not, but they came to us to buy a K3 flex card, so that they could call a doctor in one of the hospitals for advice.
I figured I couldn’t do much in order to help, so I stayed home finishing up my work and preparing for departure.
When the SIL pilot Johnny Reeves landed his aircraft, a young family with three little children including a 1-year old baby came off the plane. They happened to be wantoks. They came from Kapuna in the Gulf and for some reason Aviation had scheduled the flights in such a way that – instead of picking up this family last for a 40-minute direct flight to Ukarumpa – Aviation scheduled them to be picked up first and carried them all the way through Western Province. By the time they arrived in our village, I could tell they were exhausted already. And it was hot!
We loaded the plane and five minutes before we would take off, one of the medical workers came to me. He told me he had not been able to contact a doctor, yet. And he asked if he could talk with one of the doctors in our Ukarumpa Clinic. I talked with Johnny and I still praise God for his flexibility, while he was balancing between the needs of this young family, this new emergency and his own flight limitations, and he graciously gave us 50 minutes. From that moment I was trapped in a whirlwind of emergency phone calls and decision making.
I will save you the details here but this is what I saw when I entered the Aid Post.
It was such a moving scene: the sick girl lying on a bed, with her leg wrapped the wrong way, her loving father holding her arm that was receiving antibiotics that wouldn’t do any good against poison and her mother on the other side fostering her child. The girl was already showing symptoms of poisoning: tears started dropping from her eyes, saliva had come out of her mouth, and her speech had already become unclear.
I sat down with this little family, while I was waiting for the Clinic to call me back. I listened to the story and cried with the parents and prayed with them. And after that it was action time. Dr. Carl called me back and we talked for about 5 minutes. He basically told me that this girl needed anti-venom, but he didn’t know a place where that would be available to this girl. However, he managed to give me two mobile numbers of the nearest hospital in Balimo to check. So I called the hospital in Balimo with one simple question: ‘Do you have anti-venom for a poisoned snake bite?’. They couldn’t tell me, because they couldn’t find a doctor.
We could send her to Balimo without a guarantee they would have anti-venom. I decided that I wanted to take that risk, because by that time it was pretty obvious that if we would do nothing, this girl would likely die.
They picked up the girl, put her on the floor of the airplane (as per instructions of the doctor), and – believe it or not – we took off with no less than 14 people on board! I’m impressed by how the pilot had calculated everything accurately to guarantee a safe take off. We needed the whole runway and I held my breath until the end of the take off. We landed in Balimo, where an ambulance was already waiting for the girl to treat her with – PRAISE THE LORD – available anti-venom!!
We arrived in Ukarumpa around 5.30pm making this a working day of 12 hours for the pilot, a travelday for this young family of about 12 hours (instead of 40 minutes, you remember?) and a day full of emotions.
A Few Days Later
On Friday I called Katawer and before I could start talking he expressed his gratitude on behalf of the community. I have never heard him say so many words of appreciation and he said: ‘This time I learned something!’ And I asked: ‘What did you learn?’ And he said: ‘Your decision to give up your seat and stay here for another three weeks set a huge example for us. You gave us an example in putting the interest of others above your own interests. That meant a lot to us!’
I said: ‘That’s what Jesus did for us.’ And I praised the Lord for this opportunity of following his example. And I actually even didn’t have to stay there for those three weeks!
And I asked: ‘But what about the girl?!’ And he said: ‘She is doing fine! She started eating again!’ Praise the Lord for blessing all our efforts in trying to save this girl’s life!
- In hindsight I now understand why Aviation had to make such a flight schedule as they did, because: if this Dutch family was picked up last, then the medical worker would probably not have tried to get in touch with me, and the girl would have died;
- In hindsight I am still processing the fact that the Lord didn’t give a solution until I had made the decision to stay there for three additional weeks; and then it wasn’t needed anymore. Apparently, He wanted to teach the community this lesson;
Thank you, SIL Aviation, for allowing the multiple exceptions to normal procedures in this emergency. Thank you, Johnny, for your flexibility and for your professional, adequate acting, it was a tough day for you!
Soli Deo Gloria!
Support Our Ministry
Do you want to support the Aramba Community in Bible Translation? Give a donation through Wycliffe USA:
- Go to https://www.wycliffe.org/partner
- Scroll down to ‘Give to the Ministry of My Wycliffe Missionary’
- Choose the amount for your gift and click ‘Give’
- In the Missionary Name, fill in: ‘Michel Pauw – 280260’