Friday, April 18, 2014

A kind reminder to check your visas!

While I was waiting for the shuttle bus to the hotel from the airport in POM, two Australian men from my flight were brought over to join me in the special waiting area. They were understandably not in the best of moods as they were in the process of being deported.
I will explain. This was March 7th.  On March 1st, PNG had changed the visa laws for Australians requiring them to obtain a visa before arriving in PNG - no longer allowing them to purchase it on arrival like most other nationalities were and still are permitted to do. This was done in the hopes that Australia would revise its visa procedure for PNG Nationals arriving in Australia and grant them visa upon arrival privileges. Probably not going to happen! These guys had been to PNG before these changes and had no reason to suspect that anything was differenr. I did have a visa. The changes had been advertised in the local newspaper in POM and Bryce had received bulletins about it at work, otherwise we wouldn’t have known. When I got my visa, the website still said you could get it on arrival in PNG. I called to check – given we had good reason to believe otherwise, and they confirmed that I would need to get my visa in Australia before I left.
So these poor guys were getting deported. Their passports were not stamped, their baggage was not released and they were let out into the main terminal to wait for the next flight back to Cairns. (Kinda like the movie ‘The Terminal’!). They were trying to connect (unsuccessfully) to the internet to see if they could get their visa online. I told them it took the embassy 4 days to process my visa in person and being that it was Friday and there was no chance they would be able to apply before Monday, that kinda blew their week long surfing holiday. They were understandably angry, frustrated and disappointed.

So…the moral of that story is to please remember to check and double check visa requirements well in advance of your actual visit.
For an update on us... Bryce is back from PNG for the Easter holiday. Great to see him! His contract has been extended for another six weeks so he well be heading back up there on Tuesday. Given that we now have a bit of extra time, he has decided to finish off his masters degree for which he only has two subjects left to do. My rehab for my hand is going well. I am following a strict regime of weekly appointments, hourly exercises, thrice daily scar massages, different dressings for different times of the day and have just started weaning off my splint for small periods of time. Hopefully I will be able to follow Bryce up to PNG soon.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A Trip to the Doctor in PNG

So, a trip to the doctor is not exactly what I had on my list of things I wanted to do in PNG. A couple of days (on a Tuesday) after I got there, I was making lunch and cut my hand. I remember that the two concerns I had at that time were: I do not want to faint while I am padlocked in this apartment and I most certainly do not want to require a blood transfusion here. Thankfully with a nursing background I was all over it. I had the door unlocked and was sitting on the floor with my hand elevated and wrapped in a towel with ice and pressure and was calling Bryce to come home within a minute. Tears only threatened to come when I couldn't get the damn phone to work. We headed straight to the doctor who put two stitches in my cut to stop the bleeding. We asked about tendons etc. and he said he wasn’t worried about them. Given I had just traumatized my finger I wasn’t in a huge rush to move it around, so I wasn't too concerned. We went and had X-rays done which confirmed that I hadn't damaged the bone. The next day however, I actually couldn’t move my finger. I would tell my finger to move and try with all my might to move it without even the tiniest wiggle in response and that was quite concerning to me. I called the insurers to fill them in and shared my concerns that I might have cut a tendon and their medical team requested that I get a medical report from the treating doctor so they could pass judgement. So…the day after it happened (Wednesday) we headed back to the doctor where I more specifically told the doctor I was concerned about the tendons and he said ‘not to worry – you’ll be able to move your finger next week when the stitches come out’….
This was the first red flag - given that I could look at my finger and ‘tell’ it to move and see not even a small wiggle in response. On Thursday morning we picked up the medical report and sent it off to the insurance medical team along with a photo of the cut and a video demonstrating my range of motion (or lack thereof). The video was rejected by the insurer’s server and upon further enquiry I was told that the medical team did not require the video and they would get back to me soon about whether or not I needed to head back to Australia. Second Red Flag! So at that point I took matters into my own hands (or hand!).  On Friday, Google and I found me one of the best hand surgeons in Brisbane and sent him an email which included the medical report, photo and video. If I didn't get a reply back we would've begun to arrange my trip home on our own but I got a reply back from the surgeon within the hour: "There is no doubt what the problem is. You have lacerated your Flexor Digitorum Profundus tendon to your index finger.  It will be complete. It is best to have that repaired ASAP.  I wouldn’t delay too much getting back to Brisbane.  The results are not as good for a delayed repair after some weeks.
This obviously had me full of mixed emotions: on one hand, I got confirmation that my fears were right- I did the right thing, I can get the right treatment now- and on the other hand, I got confirmation that my fears were right - I have to leave PNG under crappy circumstances after I just got here after being apart from Bryce for two months to go home and have surgery and a long recovery. Who knows how this will affect our long term sailing plans! I have completely f'ed up and ruined everything!  Of course accidents happen but its amazing how everything can just change so instantly!
Of course it wasn't as simple as just going home, nothing ever is. This was on Friday and we found out that the insurers hadn't even processed the medical report that we sent them the morning before and told us " oh it's getting a bit close to the weekend so we might not be able to arrange anything before the weekend!" Great emergency travel insurance right!? Well, they certainly knew how to awaken Bryce's inner fight and I was on a plane home on Sunday! I went into the hospital on Monday and was operated on first thing Tuesday. 
My Very Special Visitors!
The surgeon that I found was amazing and while he didn't actually perform the surgery and I've never even met him, he seriously made me feel cared for from afar! He put his registrar on it and the entire process was seamless. We are so grateful to him as it was his quick response to my email that got the ball rolling! It was also quite an interesting experience being on the receiving end of care after being on the giving end for so long, I certainly appreciated being awoken nicely for midnights obs and antibiotics! I had some lovely visitors while I was in the hospital who certainly cheered me up and I felt a bit like a princess as staff brought me the phone multiple times a day with Bryce calling from PNG and my family calling from the states. Turns out I had completely severed two tendons and another on partially. The repair went well and I should expect to regain relatively full function of my finger (~80%). 
There's a lot going on for just a finger!
I am now decked out with this super 'awesome' purple splint that ensures that I don't use my left hand. Thank goodness I'm a righty, right!? So I'm learning how to do everything one handed. I'm ok at typing but I am hand writing these blog posts and Bryce's mum is typing them up for me. She is awesome and so is the rest of the family who are helping me with all sorts of simple things like putting up my hair, hooking my bra, chopping things up, cooking, driving me around and so much more! I am very grateful and lucky!
I currently have weekly occupational therapy and will be in my splint full time for three more weeks (currently at three weeks), before they start weaning me off of it. I can't start using my hand for another two and a half months and should expect to regain normal use in about 5 months (six months from surgery). This is just the general prognosis and hopefully we will be able to speed it up a bit!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Welcome to PNG!

Driving around Cairns and the Tablelands already felt like being on a tropical island so I thought I was prepared to head up Port Moresby (POM). In an attempt to describe it to me, Bryce had told me that POM was just like Honiara but 10x bigger. So I was picturing Honiara and its handful of paved roads with just a few more buildings and people…. Let me tell you – with some small exceptions they are nothing alike. POM is really the big smoke of the South Pacific. I realized as I was waiting to board the plane that I could've just looked it up, but the thought honestly never occurred to me!
There is a stilt village back there...
As we flew from Australia on our tiny DASH-8 we were treated to some lovely views of the reef. It was raining on the approach to Papua New Guinea (PNG) and so all of a sudden the coastline appeared out of nowhere and then with a sharp 90-degree turn (this was pre-missing plane) we flew the rest of the way along the coast and got to see so much – reefs, islands, mountains, farms, stilt villages over water, rubbish heaps, animals, regular villages and then Port Moresby came into view. It is an actual city! There were more than 10 large aeroplanes at the airport already a step up from Honiara where flights are one at a time. 
Moresby in the Morning!
My first impression was that everyone was so friendly and welcoming. The Customs and Immigration officers were all smiles and ready to laugh. When the hotel shuttle wasn’t there to meet me, I was taken under the watch of some of the staff of the other hotels until the shuttle showed up. Bryce had warned me that there would be a large menacing crowd outside and that I shouldn't be alarmed as they were no real threat – just hanging out! So it was nice to be taken care of as I hadn’t wanted to go outside and look around. When I did finally go outside with my escort, there was thankfully no crowd!
My beautiful, tropical welcome flowers!
The most fun conversations I had was when people discovered that it was my first time in PNG. We would have normal introductions and chatter and then they would find out that it was my first time in PNG. Full of disbelief and excitement I got something like this accompanied by vigorous handshaking: "Well, oh my goodness, I can't believe it! It's your first time? Welcome! WELCOME!" This happened a few times at the airport and by the time I got to the hotel, I thought I’d consciously try it out and I wasn’t let down. :)  

Bryce sailing in Fairfax Harbour

Driving from the airport, we ran into traffic jams and construction as we drove through this large city with endless large buildings (including large malls) and crowds of people … all on paved roads with traffic lights! Nothing like Honiara. In general, I found Papua New Guinean society to be very confident and productive. People seemed to be moving with purpose and getting things done.

Sunrise over Moresby

PNG is pretty much synonymous with danger. People ask "What are you going there for? You couldn't pay me!" Well right off the bat I will state that I never once felt endangered. This could be due to the fact that Bryce is super vigilant and careful. The overwhelming presence of guards, gates and wire everywhere you go is a constant reminder that it can be a dangerous place and to stay on guard. Car-jackings do happen. Everyone either knows someone who has had it happen, has witnessed it happening or has had it happen to themselves. I guess it's just accepted as a part of life there and you take proper precautions to ensure that it doesn't happen to you. Avoid known hot spots and times, stay connected and take advantage of protective services where available. The dangerous reality of life in Moresby definitely could be considered a negative but it shouldn't impact your visit unless you let (or heaven forbid something actually does happen). The kindness I experienced and fun that I had far outweighed the negatives. Unfortunately driving or walking around with a camera is considered making yourself a target so even though I was just using my phone all of the photos were taken on a boat, in the marina or at the hotel!
Downtown Moresby from the water
We did a bunch of sailing which was a beautiful way to see POM. We even anchored off an island one day and went swimming. It was really lovely to be out on the water. We spent the better part of one day servicing the jib furler on one of Bryce’s mate’s boats. Conveniently, it was the same type of furler we have and servicing it is on our to-do list... Score! Hopefully it will be a bit easier now with one under our belt. If anyone is planning on or thinking about sailing there, the marina, which is located in downtown Moresby, has great facilities and is right next door to a grocery store. 
Sunset over the Marina
All this talk makes it sound like I was there for ages but unfortunately, I was only there for a few days before I cut myself pretty badly in the kitchen.   I needed to come back to Australia for surgery and I am back together and rehabilitating now.  You may say, "Alissa, how did you manage to cut yourself that badly?" And I will say, "...with a blender." And if you are at all queasy, you would probably want to stop reading. 

I am slightly embarrassed to say as it was really a stupid mistake, one moment of not thinking and not something I normally do so I'm just gonna put it out there in the hopes that it can be a good reminder for everyone who reads this. I had just bought a new immersion blender that I had brought with me to POM. It was really exciting! I was making lunch with it, picked it up to look inside, popped my finger in to get something out and as the angle that I was holding the blender changed, my other hand accidentally turned it on, with my finger still inside the blade cavity. Oops!

Accidents happen and I am now a >>very<< strong advocate for unplugging blenders when not in use. I have already pounced on multiple people who I have seen using their fingers in blenders since I have been back in Australia --> For the record, it has always been unplugged! More details to come...