Anilo Kusak sits on a chair in a small nurse’s cubicle at the Malahang Urban clinic as we set up for a short interview.
It’s hot. Outside, amidst the din of the patients and nurses in the neighboring rooms, the cries of at least two babies punctuate the already noisy air. It’s like this every day. On average, up to 300 patients come to the Malahang Urban which is one of several clinics like this in Lae city.
For the 23-year-old, nursing had long been the career of choice since childhood. Her mother, Lina is also a nurse in Lae.
“We grew up around hospitals and nurses. When were little and when we didn’t have a bay sitter, we would spend the nights in the hospital wards.”
After completing four years at Lae Secondary School, Ani was accepted into the Lae nursing college.
While college trained her for the job, the real world challenges were a lot different. Text books and lectures told her that the average nurse to patient ratio is one to 25. But each day, she is confronted with figures that challenge what is taught in school.
“In nursing, your have to be mentally, emotionally and physically fit. Everyday, we get up to 300 patients who come.”
Ani is small in stature. At times she has to deal with patients much bigger than her.
“It’s very challenging. When we get a 75kg patient bought in by a guardian, how do you move him when there’s no one around to help?”
The emotional aspect of the job is something many outside the medical professional don’t really understand. Ani says school trains you for the job but doesn’t adequately prepare you to deal with death which happens.
“For me, I don’t want to see a patient die in my care. They must go home alive.”
Going beyond the call of duty, Ani sometimes follows up with her patients during her days off. She goes to Angau hospital, a fair distance away, to check if her patients actually go for further treatment.
“It’s something I do at my own time.”
But not everything runs smoothly at Malahang. The deaths of children have had a significant impact on her life as a nurse.
“Sometimes, mothers are negligent. When they come to the clinic, the babies are already very sick.
“There was a case where a baby was brought in. All the mother told us he had a fever. But later we found out that the baby had not eaten for four days.
“In the end, we couldn’t save him. He died.”
Ani went home and cried.
“I didn’t sleep. My parents tried to talk to me. They said, its life. It’s nursing. But I couldn’t take it.
“I think it lasted for a week and then I had to get over it and come back to work.
Maternal and infant health remains a top priority in her life as a nurse. It is also a serious concern in rural areas of Papua New Guinea where the deaths of children are very common. Even in urban centers like Lae, babies still die of preventable illnesses.
“I don’t want maternal and child health to continue the way it is now,” Ani says. “If I have the opportunity to go for further studies, I would choose maternal and infant health.”