My father, Killian Raka, was 68-years-old when he died of oral cancer (cancer of the tongue) on 24th November 2018 at Ward 7D (surgical ward).
My father was a retired cop who worked at PNG Unitech as an Assistant Chief Security Officer since 1980. He was retrenched in 2014. He served the university for 34 years.
My father discovered that his tongue was sore 19 months ago (in April 2017) when he was preparing to go to work as a police reservist during the 2017 National General Election. He didn’t know much about cancer. But he stopped chewing buai to see if the sore would go away. He was not a heavy chewer.
During the elections, he was stationed at the 9 mile area. After the election, the sore in his mouth became worse. He never told anyone about his sore. Not even his wife. Mum noticed that he was spitting a lot because of a lot saliva in his mouth and asked him about it. He showed her his sore tongue. My mother immediately recommended that he see a doctor of which he did. He went to see Dr Beaso who was a consultant to the Unitech clinic and Dr Beaso referred him to Angau Memorial Hospital cancer ward.
I started following Dad to Angau to provide support and told my siblings about dad’s illness and we all paid our undivided attention to this medical condition. We helped him chang his diet. We moved him to several locations in Lae and Port Moresby over the next couple of months. His doctor at Angau was Dr Kundi. He would assess his sore tongue and get a prescription written for dad to purchase Methotrexate at the pharmacies outside the hospital because the hospital pharmacy ran out of that medication.
The prescription was to purchase 4 Methotrexate at K32.00 per tablet. It would cost dad K128.00 a doze for a month, 1 tablet every Monday week and when his completed his medication he would return for review. We visited the cancer unit again and was advised to continue using the Methotrexate but this time the price had risen to K136.00 for 4 tablets. Dad was a retiree and I left work to take care of him. We both couldn’t afford the K136.00 straight away so I would ask relatives to help us.
This continued for several months and his sore worsened and he couldn’t afford the tablets anymore at the pharmacy. He was not recovering. He lost weight. He went from a size 38 to a size 28. His food intake was now in liquid form and my sibling would use a blender to prepare his meals. His migraines got worse and there was no morphine to control the pain.
On November 8, 2018, I forced my father to get admitted at Angau because I could not take care of him anymore. His condition had already deteriorated. At first he refused to go to Angau because he said that is where people die. So I took him to see a private Doctor who referred us to Angau. That made dad except the idea to be admitted to Angau. Dad was admitted at the Emergency Ward and was put a drip on him. The doctor from the ENT clinic visited him at the Emergency Ward and inserted a tube into his mouth to this stomach so that he can feed using a syringe. They allowed 100mls of liquid in every feed, the doctor gave that advice because his stomach had become smaller.
After 3 days at the Emergency Ward we were told to vacate the bed and go home and I refused to take my father home and insisted that he be admitted to the cancer ward. I will refuse to leave. I was told that if I insisted, he will have to sleep on the floor just like everyone else along the corridor and make the bed available for more serious patients.
I refused again and visited the cancer ward several times asking for a bed but was told that cancer ward cannot receive anymore patients due to bed shortage. I begged the senior nurse at the Emergency Ward to give me at least a day more to find bed space in the hospital. I did most of the running around looking for bed space between the Cancer and the surgical wards.
We stayed the weekend at the Emergency Ward, waiting and hoping that that cancer Doctor would come visit him. My visits to the Cancer Ward were to negotiate for a bed and collect the Methotrexate in 2.5mg (7 small yellow tablets) to be taken daily for 7 days. Dad was still able to swallow food before the tube insertion so he had already taken 5 tablets. I was advised that the Methotrexate 2.5mg is a doze for a month (30 tablets). However, there was a shortage of this medicine at the Angau Pharmacy. I was only given a 7 day supply and would collect another 7 tablets the following week soon after he finished his last tablets. I was given an appointment card to keep track of medicines that I was collecting.
After the weekend, I got good news that Dad had been allocated a bed and we would move. We moved to the Surgical Ward (7D) because the Cancer Ward was still full. I had already given him his last 2 Methotrexate that I dissolved to feed into his tube when he was attached to the tube. I went to the Cancer ward to collect this next dose and told the nurse that I fed my father his last Methotrexate yesterday through a tube because he was unable to swallow.
The nurse got angry at what I did but she didn’t realised that I wasn’t advised on how to use the Methotrexate. Methotrexate will not work once exposed to air and must be swallowed. She refused to supply me anymore Methotrexate tablets. She said that my father would be treated with a Methotrexate injection instead, and delivered the bad news that there was nil stock at the Pharmacy. I knew my father would not survive. The hope my entire family had was shattered by the news.
I was fuming but held back my anger and was talking nicely to her.
Where I can buy the injection? Is it sold at the shops? or can I order it from overseas or from Port Moresby? I asked her. She said the Methotrexate injection is not sold on the shelves and that I will have to wait for the cancer doctor to visit my dad and recommend something else. I almost broke down in front of her while begging her in desperation to get that medicine right away. I knew that it was a week already and no cancer doctor had visited my father since he moved from the Emergency ward to the Surgical ward and he was not getting any better. I needed that injection straight away. She just ignored me and walked away. I had no choice but to leave the cancer ward.
I didn’t know what to say to him so I spent almost two hours walking around at Angau Hospital mentally preparing a good story to deliver to him. When I arrived at this bed, my sister was already feeding him his food and that delayed me telling him that I did not bring back any cancer medicine for him. Dad asked me for the Methotrexate medication and why I took longer outside. I told dad that the cancer doctor will visit him anytime soon, either tonight or tomorrow and will recommend a new dose. (I lied to him because I didn’t want to see him upset that there was no Methotrexate.
The doctor finally came to see dad and told my younger sister who was sitting dad while I was away getting some rest that Dad’s cancer has reached Stage 4 within the space of 19 months.
When I returned that evening, she took me to the cafeteria and told me the news. I broke down. I didn’t care what other people would thought of me. I cried that my father died. I had hopes of him recovering, we planned our business together. I spent that quality time I hadn’t done for years at this bedside. I cried thinking about our plans, his stories, how he gets angry. I thought about how he would would write on a book because speaking was difficult. I cried. I hated that doctor and wished I was there when he delivered that news so I could punch him. I blamed the Government for denying my fathers’ right to recovery because there was no medicine.
Dr Kundi told us to take dad home because his body was not respond to the medicines he was taking. He said that dad would undergo a minor surgery in his stomach and they will insert a tube for direct feed and that I had to take him home until his time came.
I sent word home and his room was prepared. The day before he would go into surgery was the day he took his last breath. I watched in agony as he passed on Saturday 24 November at 7:11pm. My pillar of strength was finally gone. He left behind 3 sons, 6 daughters, a wife and 32 grandchildren.
This is my story.