Sunray by Valerie Fortney - Excerpt
The Death and Life of Captain Nichola Goddard

a biography by Valerie Fortney


THE “PEARL OF THE PACIFIC” is a magical place, famed for its bats that fly in daylight, hundreds of species of orchid and brilliant red bougainvillea as plentiful as prairie dandelions, not to mention its crocodile-filled waters and the alluring scent of fragrant frangipani trees that constantly hangs in the air. On the first day of May 1980, Tim Goddard found himself in the Pearl, also known as Madang, a pretty port town in Papua New Guinea. He wasn't there as a tourist. As he paced around a palm-treed courtyard under a blanket of shimmering stars, counting the sidewalk cracks and struggling to keep his fears at bay, the twenty-six-year-old tried to distract himself from the events unfolding just a stone's throw away: inside one of the sorbet-hued buildings that looked like a run-down vintage motel in Miami's South Beach, his twenty-eight-year-old wife was about to give birth to their first child.

Only two days earlier, Sally Goddard had heard the words “breech birth” from a doctor in Wewak, the town on the main island’s northern coast where she and her husband worked as educators. While Sally knew that if she were back in Canada, she would be facing a relatively minor birthing complication, the expectant mother understood the grave implications of her condition. She was 14,000 kilometres from home, in a country that the twentieth century had left behind. Most parts of Papua New Guinea had no electricity, let alone doctors trained to perform Caesarean sections. Her family physician had discovered the breech by performing an X-ray on her abdomen, a procedure a Western doctor would take great pains to avoid, but the only diagnostic tool he had on hand. He’d never performed a caesarean alone: she needed to be near a hospital. His pronouncement set off a forty-eight-hour scramble, in which Tim and Sally had to make their way to Madang on the once-a-week flight, a white-knuckle ride over jagged mountain peaks, rainforest and active volcanoes. They’d had to bump a Japanese tourist to make that flight, but when they arrived in Madang, they discovered, as Sally would say with a sardonic laugh, “no rooms at the inn.” In the end, it didn't matter: Sally—who doctors said was still a month away from giving birth—went into labour hours after touching down.

As his wife waited in Madang Hospital for the arrival of members of the surgical team—it was a Friday night, so they were rounded up via ambulance from dinner parties, local bingo halls and movie theatres—Tim contemplated this new life chapter. He also had plenty of time to think about how he got here in the first place, when on a wintry day in 1976 he’d hopped a plane at London’s Heathrow airport and headed to a remote cluster of islands on the other side of the planet.



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