Sunday, May 23, 2010

How things have changed

When I first got to PNG, 2.5 yrs ago, cell phones had just arrived. I initially only used my phone to call home when Skype wasn't working, but never had it with me during the day. I didn't want to be bothered by a cell phone ringing as I am trying to take care of patients in PNG. I left America and the busyness, and sure didn't want to deal with interruptions while seeing patients here. After about a year and a half, I started bringing it with me to work and found it was helpful when I needed to talk to another doctor in PNG or was calling around to try and get medicines for the pharmacy. I occasionally use it to call patients, but typically only cancer patients who I am following closely and need to tell them when medicines have arrived.
Despite my attempts to limit my cell phone use, that doesn't mean that everyone around me isn't using their cell phone constantly. Hospital workers can often be found texting when not busy, patients are texting or their phone is ringing while they are waiting to be seen. Some are even talking on the phone when they walk into my room to be seen. At times it is annoying with everyone on their phones, like I am back in the US, but I know it has brought communication to a country that didn't have it. People in villages were virtually out of communication with the rest of their province, their country, and certainly the world - not anymore.
I was seeing an elderly lady who was escorted in by three 20yo guys. As I watched them walk from the bench into my room, I noticed how well these 3 guys were caring for this elderly lady. I assumed they were her s
ons, but found out later, they were just from her village looking out for her. She had severe arthritis of all her joints, which caused her significant pain. Someone in her village had an apparent similar illness and had an operation and now it all better, so they were hoping the same for this lady. When I explained to them that she has bad arthritis and that I only have medicine to offer her, they started tell me her son is in London. Great, but that doesn't change her condition or what I can do for her. They wanted to know if there was a medicine that the son in London could get for her that we didn't have here that may help her, sorry, nope.
I briefly left to answer a phone call (no not my cell phone) from one of our nurses, and when I came back one of the guys hands me a cell phone and says it is her son in London. Ok, uh hi. The connection was a little delayed, but we were able to talk. I had just finished telling the patient and the caring guys in her room what was wrong, but now I had to do the same to her son hundreds of miles away via cell phone. I explained to him that his mom has horrible arthritis and I have no operation for her and that there is no special medicine he can send from London for her. He kept telling me about a patient in the village who got an operation and the "bad blood" that is in his mom's joints, which as a doctor I obviously know a lot about and how to fix it. I tried to educate him about this misconception about the "bad blood" and how my only option is antiinflammatory medicine. After about 10 minutes, he understood and agreed with my plan. I was able to pass the phone to his mom, who enjoyed a conversation with her son in London (something I am sure she hadn't ever thought possible 3 yrs ago), while I finished up talking to her 3 wasman.
So although cell phones at times cause me to have to explain things to families hundreds of miles away, it also served to reconnect a mom and her son, which is a blessing.