In the Kewa language area of PNG, where we once lived and learned to speak two separate dialects, the “siki anda” (sick house) usually referred to a hospital of some sort. Going to the siki anda was the last resort because of its reputation and, in the case of where we lived, the distance.
Associated with the siki anda was the “doktaboi” (doctor boy), a medical orderly stationed in villages some distance from the siki anda, which was always in a town. Both feature prominently in my story.
For our first five years we lived in a rural area, in a village—actually a series of homesteads—called Muli in the Southern Highlands of PNG. At the time we settled there (1958) there were no roads to Muli, only a 4 to 5 hour trek (depending on the weather) from the nearest town—Ialibu—where there was a siki anda. Muli sometimes had a doktaboi who was present and Ialibu sometimes had a siki anda that was operational. But you could never be sure, so we had our own medical supplies. I had limited, but useful, medical training, so we did not rely heavily on the doktaboi or the siki anda.
On one occasion, however, I became very ill with flu-like symptoms and decided that I needed a shot of penicillin, something that I often dispensed to others, but was not willing to try on myself. I couldn’t convince my wife to try either—these were the old days of penicillin in oil and the injection was not simple or quick and it always hurt. I decided to try the local doktaboi—I would give him the syringe and needles and even the penicillin. All he had to do was “shoot” me.
He did not seem interested. He told me “Mi no save sutim waitman” (I have never injected a European) and “Nogut nil i no sap na i pen tumas” (It is not good if the needle is not sharp and there is a lot of pain). I couldn’t argue with that, but I was desperate and convinced him that he alone could cure me by “shooting” me.
Let me back up at this point and tell you why my wife would not shoot me (at least with a needle). We had trained in southern Mexico in the jungle for three months to learn basic outdoor living. Part of the training was to learn how to give injections and we were to practice on oranges. I had completed a year of medical training so was given an exemption from having to shoot anyone but Joice, my wife, was not excused. The camp nurse, a very thin person, said that Joice should shoot me. I declined, rather loudly, having looked at my wife’s orange. “Oh, don’t be such a wimp” she said, or something like that, “She can do it to me.” She had no idea what she was volunteering for. “Just hold it like a dart and let it go into the muscle quickly,” she instructed Joice. Joice was nervous and so was I. Only the camp nurse seemed, awkwardly, brave. Joice held the syringe like a dart and thrust the needle forward into the thin-armed nurse. It went into one side of her arm and came out the other, a minor wound as it turned out, but one that at the moment made us all feel faint. “Get it out! Get it out!” the nurse yelled. Joice got it out and never shot anyone again.
So it knew it was no use trying to conscript my wife as a para medic. I was left to the skill of my doktaboi. He prepared the needles and syringe by boiling them for 15 minutes, then coming nervously to our house to shoot me. He obviously didn’t want to hurt me so he decided that if he shot me slowly it might be less painful. It wasn’t—for two days I could hardly lift my arm. He had done his duty and he would never be asked to do it again. I thought about giving him an orange for practice, or perhaps a sweet potato.
Upon another occasion our four year old son became very sick with what turned out to be the measles. We made arrangements to go to Ialibu to the siki anda. By that time there was a road halfway to Muli village, so we walked until we met the government Land Rover that we had arranged to meet us. We often helped the government by dispensing medicine and information, so we were not reluctant to ask them for help.
When we arrived at the government station in Ialibu, the officer told us that the local Gospel Tidings Mission had a competent nurse who would examine our son Kirk. We were taken there and the nurse (Mrs. Sode from Denmark) immediately diagnosed our son as having measles. We had been treating him with antibiotics, which had masked some of the symptoms. Kirk got better, the Sodes became our good friends, and the government officer’s son got a terrible case of the measles.
In the second village where we lived there was no doktaboi for several years, so it would then be our duty to dispense medicine. Often The doktaboi was gone anyway, or had no medicine. I didn’t mind giving shots, we had lots of penicillin, and it helped people, especially the babies, immensely. I had a system for the adults: I would line them up in a row, clean their buttocks with alcohol, and use disposable needles. With a full syringe I could walk down the row and shoot several people quickly. It was almost like throwing darts.
I did not like to go to the siki anda, even to visit people, because it smelled of disease and chlorine. In addition, it was 15 miles from our house, so it was an hour’s ride each way on my small motorcycle. If there was something I could not take care of, I preferred to send the person to the Lutheran mission station, which was only 8 miles away.
Yandawae worked for us occasionally, so I knew him well. One rainy evening he hobbled up to our house on a home-made crutch. He had been out chopping firewood in the bush, the axe had slipped and it had nearly severed his big toe. He had packed moss around it to slow the bleeding, wrapped it in his old T-shirt, made himself a crutch and somehow made it to our house. I needed to take him to the mission station on my small motorcycle. While I quickly got ready he played with the kids and left some blood on the floor. We took off on my motorcycle and I fully expected him to faint along the way. Instead he merrily called out to friends and acquaintances along the road and arrived in good spirits. Five days later he was back in the village, almost healed—no siki anda or doktaboi.
Some years later we had a two-way radio in the village and could consult with our station doctor about medical problems. It was a relief and even the doktaboi could get advice when he needed it. But I never asked him to shoot me again,
Muli village 1958-1963
Usa village 1967-1973