Wednesday, January 31, 2018

M/V Africa Mercy

The sound of the metal shutters going down at Starbucks muffled most of the noise and activity going on in mid-ships. My senses seemed to be on high alert as I looked around the busiest place on the M/V Africa Mercy on Wednesday afternoon. My head and heart felt like they were on overload- unsure if it was just from donating blood or the emotions that come with leaving such a place. I was early for my performance evaluation with my supervisor so I took a moment to soak up what was happening all around me. How was I going to leave this wonderful place?

The constant hum of the generator seemed to be in tune with the worship music still playing from Starbucks.  I noticed the dental team huddled around a few tables as they laughed and clinked their coffee mugs together. Most likely a celebration of getting to the cafĂ© before it closed since they are off ship all day at the dental clinic. A young guy who works in housekeeping walks by with cleaning supplies in hand and a smile on his face. Kids run down the stairs with backpacks in tow, school must have just finished. A carpenter climbs the stairs on the opposite side with a tape measure ready to start a new project. The ophthalmic coordinator sits with her team at one of the tables. At another table, a photographer is teaching one of teens how to use an advanced camera. A mom walks deck 6 with a baby in her arms, the little one greeting everyone they pass by. My supervisor walks into the cafe, with a slight frown and takes a seat next to me and ask "So when are you coming back?" We both laugh and it echos thru mid-ships. 

I thought about the patients I took care of in the OR that day who received sight after cataracts were removed. The patients I hear singing and marching down the hallway because they are dry after leaking. The smiles I see on our patients who did not have them before because of a tumor or cleft lip. They are receiving healing because of everyone I saw in mid-ships that day and those who are working in their offices, in the galley, in the school, and in the engine room. The people of Cameroon are not only being healed, but are given hope every day because of the crew of the M/V Africa Mercy. 

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Let it shine

After Hernia land, I find myself in Eye world now. When I first came to the ship in 2009, I had no eye experience, but eventually every nurse will take a spin in the cataract rooms. A literal spin, because that is how fast we go taking care of our four patients in two rooms. Lots of nurses and translators caring for patients as the surgeons go from one to the next removing cataracts in just minutes. Last week I cared for many patients, but a few of them stand out. I led a Papa (African term of endearment) to his stretcher one day and he had the widest smile and was most thankful even before we began the procedure. He was only 90 years old and danced his way out the of operating room after his surgery. Mama, similar generation, came in with her daughter to help with translation. We explained to the daughter what we were going to do, but she interrupted as she had her surgery done just months before on the ship. After her sight was restored, she drove all the way to the north of Cameroon to pick up her mother. We asked where in Cameroon, offering major cities north of Douala and she kept responding, "The village after that and hours away." I scrubbed in on one to assist the surgeon and the Papa on the stretcher said he would choose a wife after he could see. What I did not expect it that he would choose me in the operating room after his surgery! Then there was Frank, just four years old- such a grown up name for a little one. My friend Suzanne and I went over to the ward to visit him and his Mama before surgery and to see the progress of dilating drops. He was not happy (again, no breakfast), but also the drops are always hard for a young patient. Thirty minutes later, I went to pick up Frank and he was a different boy. Reaching out for my face to feel it and he placed his hands in mine- looking out of the corners of his eyes. He was able to see past the cataracts probably for the first time because his pupils were dilated. He had first glimpses of lightness and shadows. He sat in his Mama's lap as we prayed and jumped into my arms willingly to head to the operating room. My friend, Kim, reported to me the next day, that Frank reached out for a sticker in her hand- he could finally see! 

We do cataract surgeries Monday thru Thursday and then Friday there is a Celebration of Sight at the outpatient eye clinic in Douala. Patients come from all over Cameroon for their 6-week follow-up and YAG laser treatment to prevent cataracts from reforming. They come in to the clinic and have several stages to pass- their vision is checked with "E" chart (many celebrations start there), then drops for the laser, another vision test if they need glasses, than the laser. After the laser- just seconds long- I had the privilege of walking them to the discharge table. They receive their last discharge instructions and a French Bible. We finish the long line of patients and then we set up for the Celebration of Sight. Benches are set around the room, but there is not much need for them because we are up singing and dancing soon after. The passage of Nicodemus and being born again was told by a storyteller. Then the testimonies began- any patient could stand up to share just for a few minutes to share their story. First was Mama Paula who was on the back row, she needed help by her son to stand up and move to the front. She left her cane at the bench and took her new Bible with her. Paula urged the crowd of patients "to thank God for your sight" and was grateful she could read her Bible again. One Papa was blind for five years and exclaimed his "medicine now is the Word." Mama Christine had cataracts for three years, another Papa for seven and was happy when the patch came off. A father of a pastor stood up to say his was in darkness for 12 years before having surgery. A wife of a patient said she lost all hope because they had run out of money trying to find a doctor to help her husband. They met someone at the market that knew about Mercy Ships and we were able to do his surgery for free. They all had testimonies, they thanks Mercy Ships, but all of them gave greater praise to God. The end of the celebration came quickly to an end, but not until one last song. The leader asked "Who is happy?" Most raised their hand, others answered with an "Amen" or with clapping. He blessed the patients and told them "Don't keep your testimony to yourself- let it shine!" And then we closed singing the song "let it shine, let is shine, let it shine..."  

“You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father." Matthews 5:14-16

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

God With Us

So its the 10th day of being back onboard the M/V Africa Mercy and it feels like I never left. The familiar faces in the dining room line, movie nights, the hugs (oh the many hugs!) that are around every corner, the nightly dutch blitz games, and the coworkers who become good friends- all this and more- make this place home.

The ship is also work and hard work and late nights it has been because we are short four operating room nurses. I have been working in what I like to call "Hernia land" because that is what we do from sun up to sun down with a few lumps and bumps in between. On a typical workday, we have a team brief in each theatre (or room) with the anesthesia team, surgeon, and nurses to communicate any concerns for the day. We pray for our patients and then we start to prepare the room- one nurse will assist the surgeon so we open the supplies and scrub in to get the instruments ready for surgery. The circulator nurse will head to the ward to pick up the patient. So last week I scrubbed a few hernias, but my favorite job is to go and meet the patient. Back in the day, we met at the bench, but now cataract patients are occupying it so we now go to the ward. I have brought Sebastian, Baise, Alex, and many more to OR #2 for their hernias. I picked up Marte for her lipoma surgery from A Ward- and we danced and sang down the corridor. A little melody in French singing "God is with me, God is with you." I'll never forget her smile and her song. I practice the little French as I introduce myself to them as their nurse, asking about allergies, and last time they drank. The task I cherish the most, is offering to pray for them. What a privilege to come before God and ask for healing- and seeing it answered before our eyes in the operating room. Today, I picked up Filas and after we prayed he got up from his bed- he carefully placed his French Bible on his pillow. He was ready for his surgery. I love taking care of the kids, some of them goofy from pre-medication, and others like Denis, who was the bravest 9 year-old to walk with me to the operating room. Finally, there was Emmanuel, a little guy for hernia surgery. He was not so happy when I arrived in A Ward to pick him up, probably because he missed out on breakfast. He calmed down enough for his mama, the ward nurse, the translator, and me to join hands and pray for God to be with us. And He was. 

"She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means 'God with us.'" 


The views expressed here are solely mine and are not the opinion of AWC/Mercy Ships.