Maria lay face down on the canvas stretcher. A knife handle protruded from her back.
Maria lay face down on the canvas stretcher. A knife handle protruded from her back. Blood covered her upper torso. A crimson trickle from her wound expanded into a dark stain on the clothes beneath her. Her eyes were open. She was silent, yet her face conveyed agony with every breath.
A large crowd filled the emergency room, hindering the movements of the ER staff. Many spoke in muted voices while one man shouted commands in an attempt to control the others.
A frightened relative provided details of the event. Maria was the first of her husband's wives. The second wife had hidden in dense foliage, waiting near the path, suddenly attacking from behind, anger and jealousy fueling the thrust of the knife. Maria had staggered for a brief moment then collapsed into a shrinking world of pain and breathlessness.
We threaded a large cannula into the veins of Maria's forearm for the rapid infusion of fluids and blood. I spoke briefly to Maria, my face inches from hers. She understood the gravity of her injury and the possibility that she would not survive. She assured me of her confidence in God¹s faithfulness to her no matter the outcome.
Maria's chest x-ray only increased our concern. The long blade skewered the entire left lung, crossed the midline, the point buried in an area of critical blood vessels and major airways. Was the knife in her aorta? Would Maria bleed to death as soon as we removed it?
We cut a new hole into Maria's left chest and inserted a tube to evacuate the blood and air that had accumulated between her lung and chest wall.
We had to remove the knife, knowing she might bleed to death. In a separate room, surgeon Mark Potter and I told Maria's husband of the critical moment we faced. There was no certainty Maria would ever awaken from the anesthetic. Her husband listened without comment, then consented, but declined to see or speak with Maria.
I returned to Maria, telling her "Mi mas slipim yu na rausim dispela naip. Wanem samting bai kamap bihain i no klia. Sapos bikpela rot bilong blut em i bagarap, yu bai dai. Sapos nogat, yu bai lukim pes bilong mipela gen long taim yu kirap."
(I must put you to sleep and remove this knife. What will happen next isn't clear. If a major blood vessel is broken, you will die. If not, you will see our faces again when you awaken.)
Maria listened to my words without any sign of fear. She asked me to proceed. While I prepared her anesthetic, Maria prayed with Margaret Mugang and Chaplain Taime.
I was staggered as I heard Maria pray for her husband and her assailant, "Mi lusim rong bilong man bilong mi. Mi lusim rong bilong dispela meri husat i bagarapim mi."
If Maria died, forgiveness would be her final theme in this life.
I injected a combination of Ketamine and Valium into Maria's veins. Almost immediately, her eyes began to twitch side to side, evidence of Ketamine's effectiveness. Praying silently, and surrounded by the prayers of many, I grasped the knife handle and pulled, at first gently, then harder to overcome some resistance, until the knife began to move. Fourteen inches of broad bladed steel emerged smoothly and I laid the bloody weapon aside.
Our attention remained fixed on Maria for the next few crucial minutes. Her breathing stuttered briefly then resumed a regular cadence.
Her pulse remained strong, her blood pressure steady. I was hesitant in that moment to fully embrace the hope that now appeared justified. We moved her to surgery ward where Maria did amazingly well.
I have been present during the final minutes of hundreds of lives. Often I have wondered how my faith and courage will fare when I face my own death. Maria, however, speaks to me a greater challenge than the question of how I might die. My desire is to live today in the grace I saw in Maria.
Dr. Bill McCoy, Papua New Guinea