16 December 2015

Is It Worth It? Definitely!


An exciting trip to an area that I have never experienced and cannot imagine. That was my initial thought when I agreed to join doctorSHARE’s Flying Doctors team to Ugimba District, Intan Jaya Regency, Papua.

However, I already envisioned that our presence would bring many benefits to the people there. The image of Ugimba residents in my mind was that they were in poor health, malnourished, and infected with various diseases.

What I never expected was to trek 15 kilometers in 13 hours. This means that a distance of more than 1 kilometer can only be covered in 1 hour. Under normal circumstances, we can walk a brisk 5 kilometers in 1 hour. My ‘decent’ trekking experience initially resulted in a big ego. I didn’t think long about the journey ahead.

Half of the terrain we trekked through was muddy. We also had to fight our way through tree roots, rivers and steep cliffs. A quarter of the journey was taken in the dark of night in the pouring rain. All this was enough to make my heart ache. The road didn’t seem like a road at all.

Wet clothes, waterlogged shoes, hungry stomachs. Luckily, the night’s journey came to an end. We stayed at the first honai we came across, which happened to be the honai of a former Flying Doctors team treatment patient from the previous edition.

Not only energy, but the safety of the team of doctors in my opinion is also at stake here. Going down a steep hill in the darkness of the night is not easy, especially with slippery conditions due to rain, with no idea at all about the natural contours of the place.

The next day, general treatment and surgery began. Some of the patients were in dire need of surgery, but the limited facilities meant that it could not be performed.

A burn patient with fused fingers.
A patient with machete wounds who could not bend his knee joints.

These patients were in dire need of surgery but could not be treated as they needed better facilities with follow-up care.

Finally surgery is limited to lipoma removal, ventral hernia and some other minor surgeries. General treatment is given to patients suffering from daily ailments. Diagnostic measures for severe patients were difficult to perform due to the lack of adequate equipment such as ultrasound (ultrasonography).

After the medical services, we returned to Jakarta. The question “is it worth it?” remained on my mind. The answer to that question came after I dived back into the hustle and bustle of a big city like Jakarta with all its hustle, glamor and commotion in economics, security and of course politics.

We are so focused on ourselves in the work environment in our daily lives that we are completely unaware and perhaps deliberately unwilling to realize that there is another life that is so different. Doctors have never been to Ugimba, and I am (most likely) the first surgeon to set foot (in mud) in Ugimba.

Perhaps the impact of my arrival in medical terms was not so great. I did not save any lives there. I also didn’t manage to remove a tumor from a patient’s stomach in a honai.

What we managed to do as doctorSHARE’s Flying Doctors team was to give hope to the people of Ugimba who had been isolated. There are still those of us who are willing to come to give them attention, and will continue to give them attention.

The other side of success, at least for me, is realizing and remembering that there is another life in a place not so far away. The “achievements” we make in our day-to-day lives in the big city may not mean much in a place like Ugimba.

So, is it worth it? Yes it is definitely worth it!