As I trotted down the blue stairs toward the operating room after my coffee break, I could hear music coming from the ward. The drums were beating and you could hear the patients sing "Higher, when the enemy tries to bring me down in shame, He (the Lord) lifts me higher." I love that the voices were so loud and clear, singing over the echoes of the drums, so all could hear even beyond the hospital on deck 3.
I think back over the month I have been back onboard the ship and the patients I have taken care of in theatre. Each one of them has a story of shame, but also a story of healing. My first week we wrapped up fistula surgeries and continued with hernia surgeries. I have written a multitude about the fistula ladies in the past year. However, who writes about the man that suffers from a hernia and can't work to provide for their family? Or the patient that has to wear a hat to cover a lipoma (a fatty tumor) on his head? I stopped by A Ward later that week and saw all my patients from the "lump & bump" days and saw how happy they were. They did not feel that shame of looking or feeling different anymore. They felt human again. One papa I greeted and he gave me two thumbs up as I asked him "Como ca va? He then proceeded to point to the smiley face on the pain scale. Just with the removal of a bump on his head, the shame was gone, the weight on his shoulders lifted, and he was happy again.
I need not to forget that even the smaller scale surgeries we do can make such a big difference in our patients lives. The second week I spent assisting in cataract surgery. Every twenty minutes, a life was changed, giving someone their sight back. It was hard to grasp this as we were moving quickly to keep the patients flowing from bed to bed. I believe our cataract patients are some of the bravest people. They arrive to the ship and a crew member takes their hand to lead them up our very steep gangway and down another set of stairs to the hospital. We collect them one by one as they sit on the bench outside the OR. We walk backwards and lead them into the theatre by holding both their hands until they reach the bed. We do this because majority of our patients our blind due to the dense cataracts. Their expressions are masked by fear of the unknown, but most of them lay still with only local anesthetic until we cover the eye with a patch. We walk them back to the bench the same way with their hands in ours, but this time they know something is different. The day worker translates my French "c'est fini" into a Guinean dialect and usually a toothless grin forms with a grateful "merci" to follow. The shame of being blind is no longer their story, they will hopefully be able to see again.
Finally, the past two weeks I have been working in Maxio-facial surgery with the patients that are embarrassed because large tumors are taking over their jawbone or Noma that has eaten away their lips and nose. They feel the shame of looking different. Not one of them I would look down to, but people they know most likely have treated them like this. I look past the tumor or deformity and see a person that needs to know they are loved and will be cared for in surgery. As I check them in at the bench, I kneel next to them and hold their hand and look into their eyes as I introduced myself as "Alimatu" their nurse. A hint of a smile can be seen despite the tumor or cleft lip, because they know I see them for the first time and not their shame.