Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Africa Mercy is Really HERE!

Up early this morning. I've been waiting for this day for years, but didn't think I was overly excited about it, just anxious to get to work. Still, by the time my alarm would have gone off shortly after 5am, I had already done my laundry (machine wash this time), showered, and checked on the Red Sox score and NBA lottery.

It was still dark, but that didn't stop people from gathering on aft deck to watch lights beyond the breakwater. The Africa Mercy was out there, circling around, waiting to sail into port. After a gorgeous sunrise behind us, cries arose, "I can see the logo." Still, she circled until approximately 9am hen the tug brought her in. Lots more comments from those who had never seen her before: "She's an odd looking ship" and "I never realized how boxy she is." Both true...yet I think there is a beauty about her for what she will do, not for what she looks like. I noticed a lot of people, on the dock as well as on the Africa Mercy, wiping tears from their eyes. It's taken so much to get to this point. It's not over yet, lots of work ahead in the next month and even over the next year, but at last, she is here! Unto the Lord be the Glory, Great Things He Has Done...Greater Things He Will Do!

Monday, May 21, 2007

When it rains, do laundry

While in Liberia, we function with an ongoing water shortage. The water plant doesn't always pump and our tanks are often low, so laundry is restricted to a load every week or two. If the air conditioning is on and I'm not working in the cargo holds, I can get by on a weekly load. Malfunctioning air conditioning, working in the holds, exercising in the evenings and it's another story altogether.

The good news is that Liberia receives more rainfall than any other West African nation and the rainy season is beginning. Over a month ago a friend bought me a washboard for $5 so that I could do laundry in the rain. It's not the metal type that Grandma used to have, but rather made from heavy, molded plastic. I've been wanting to use it, but so often the rainstorms come during the night. Getting out of bed at 2am or 4am to wash clothing in the rain was not an appealing idea.

Tonight, however, as I looked out the windows during our Mercy at Sea Toastmasters meeting, I could see that the western sky had a golden glow that heralded an approaching storm. Out on promenade deck after the meeting, I saw the blackened eastern sky with occasional waves of lightning. Finally, a rainstorm I could use for doing laundry. Of course, the plastic bin I planned to use was already packed full of my spare toiletries in anticipation of the move to the Africa Mercy in two weeks (I keep up to a year's supply in my cabin). After tossing the shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, contact solution, etc. unceremoniously onto the floor, I threw in a little laundry soap, donned Tevas instead of sneakers, grabbed dirty laundry and washboard and headed out the door to aft deck.

The nice thing about aft deck is that it is covered with a large tarp that provides protection from the sun during the day. When it rains, water cascades through holes placed at various points so that the tarp won't tear (years ago, before the grommets/holes were placed, parents had to do tarp duty to make sure the water was pushed off the tarp before it tore). After several minutes of bucketin' down rain, I figured the tarp was probably pretty clean and thus the water, too. With a little juggling under the holes, I managed to fill my bin. Then in went the washboard and the dirty laundry. Good news is that I only had to do the wash and rinse cycles manually. After that I tossed the clean laundry into the washer for a spin cycle, followed by the dryer. Others found it quite entertaining, but I was just excited that if I washed half my laundry now, I could probably even throw my sheets into my official laundry slot Wednesday morning.

Another exciting thing happening Wednesday morning. At daybreak or thereabouts (0700), the Africa Mercy will finally arrive in Africa. Note, it is the AFRICA Mercy and NOT the African "N" in the name.

Four Wheel Driving

Last Friday a group of ward nurses and I traveled to a remote village to attend the funeral of a former patient. Getting there was quite the adventure; coming home provided some much needed stress relief. It started out smoothly, traveling through Monrovia and out to the airport. After the airport, we turned off the main road and THEN things grew interesting. First we had to contend with the puddles...across the width of the road, I'm not sure how deep that is puddles. At this point, we were following another 4WD vehicle, so figured if he could make it, so could I. Lots of splashing, a little muddy water through the vents, but nothing too bad. Then we reached the bridge. The bridge was a series of 8 logs, the middle two of which were broken. Then there was a set of three logs on each side. One log in each set was flat topped and these were the ones to drive on. The flanking logs were a little higher or lower than the main one. Sure was glad someone was there to make sure I stayed lined up on top of the good logs! You'll notice in the photos that I was not exactly centered on them...

After a successful crossing of the bridge, our guide informed me that we would soon be turning left into deep, loose sand and we would need our 'helper.' He pointed to the smaller gearstick for the differential lock to clarify his meaning. Hmmm...Andy, our transport manager, had offered to teach us how to use that, but I haven't had the lesson yet! I pulled out the manual, located the relevant pages, and handed it to Kirstie who proceeded to read guidelines for shifting and choosing high and low; low is good for sand. Although we slipped and slid a bit along the way, we continued in forward motion, making it to the next turnoff following tracks through grass over a meter high. (The picture of this is taken on the way out of the village. I think the taxi came in via a different route because I'm not sure it could have handled the puddles).

I don't have any good pictures of the puddles. I'll have to ask around a bit and see if someone captured some good shots. I gave my camera to someone else and can't give credit for the above photos because I don't know who took them. Kirstie might have taken the one of me driving across the bridge.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Time of Thanksgiving in the Ward

Tonight many of the crew joined the Anastasis ward staff and translators for a time of celebration of all God had done in the lives of patients and crew over the years. Crew members who had adopted patients shared how relationships were built to last - for here and for eternity.

Dr Gary related the history of the ward, the expansion of HealthCare Services. There was the story of the little boy with a hopeless diagnosis who was miraculously healed...and the little girl from the same week who as not. And the oft-told story of the two nurses who argued publicly in the ward...and apologized and forgave publicly too, causing one man in the corner bed to conclude that Christianity was different from his Rasta faith after all.

Some patients stand out in my mind:

  • Angelle, with the foul-smelling maxillary tumor, who needed another operation and transfusions before we could even operate on her facial tumor. She was featured in a Reader's Digest article. I loved the grin on her face when I gave her a copy of the magazine the next year. She excitedly cried out, "Dr Gary," and kissed his photo.
  • Shy Ce who was anything but by the time he was finally discharged months later.
  • Young Symplice grasping at colorful balloons and toys as he explored the visual world for the first time. The eye patients come and go so my time here we've gone from performing 3 operations a day to 20. Those numbers will increase on the Africa Mercy, but each patient remains a face, a life transformed.
  • Justine was another woman with a massive facial tumor. She arrived at the end of the screening day, having hidden her tumor from the masses with a scarf. Justine reminds me that these people are brave to come to leave home, to go to a ship, when ship's are often associated with slavery even today, to volunteer to go to a hospital, when in so many West African countries the hospital is here one goes to die.
  • After Justine returned home, Hugues, a man from her area learned that she had had surgery and survived, so he, too, ventured to the ship for help. It's often like that, a second wave of people seeking help after the first tide has returned to the village. A few years later we returned to Benin and Hugues came to see Dr Gary about having some follow-up surgery on his face. I knew the translators couldn't imagine what Hugues had looked like before, so I brought them a picture of him, showing his eye displaced by the bulging tumor on his cheekbone. One translator exclaimed, "This is what it means, bringing hope and healing. I get it now."

It's been a while since I worked in the OR and scheduled most of the patients for surgery. I miss going out to the dock to screen the patients who have come and figuring out the puzzle of scheduling a patient who REALLY needs an operation when the surgery schedule is full. Of course, there were the days, too, when I realized I'd double-booked a patient and how was I going to work out the schedule now? I'm glad that through it all, it's not about me, it's not about Mercy Ships, but it's about Christ whom we serve.

Great things He has done...Greater things He will do. I can hardly wait.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Out of Rotterdam and Off to Africa

The Africa Mercy departed Rotterdam at 1500 local time today. Many of the Anastasis crew gathered in the International Lounge to watch the departure via webcam. Just a few problems with audio and limited perspective. We did get to see the gangway lifted, a few lines cast off, and then the growing gap between ship and shore.

Meanwhile, already in Liberia, we're down to the last few patients in the ward and boxes of supplies are appearing everywhere. I don't know how we are going to get this to all fit onto the Africa Mercy. It's one of those good opportunities to pare down what we have to what we really need and stop hoarding. There is a lot less storage space on the Africa Mercy, so we need to simplify our requirements and maintain an accurate inventory and plan well ahead.

A container arrived today from Texas. Among other things I received the books I bought at the November CBD warehouse sale the day I returned from my vacation. With the reduced luggage allowance I didn't think I could take them. I should have packed them all in one bag and paid the fee for extra weight. It would have been worth it and not much more expensive than mailing them to Texas. Definitely faster! Also, about a month before I went to England, I went on a book-buying spree through Amazon Marketplace (used book prices help me justify the added expense of sending them to the ship). Now, at a time when I rarely have a quiet moment, I have stacks of books begging to be read. There are also the magazines...

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Africa Mercy in Blyth; End of Era in Monrovia

I created this blog a month ago, thinking I would use it to send brief updates while I was in northeast England moving equipment aboard the Africa Mercy. Didn't happen! I've been back nearly a week and this is the first time I've had a chance to even revisit it.

While in England, we moved a lot of the hospital equipment on board. It was like Christmas opening packages of monitors, defibrillators, racks for the washer/disinfectors, operating microscopes, phacoemulsifiers, scales...the list goes on. Many people, foundations, churches, clubs, companies, and governments have given generously toward the equipping of the ship. One goal was to have some of the operating rooms and wards ready for media visits on April 24. We succeeded in making the operating rooms, intensive care unit, recovery room, disinfection room, and CT-scanner and x-ray rooms look pretty decent.

I did a few interviews for paper and television while there. The local BBC1 news did a short feature in the midday news and a longer feature in the evening. Another show will be the BBC Heaven and Earth on Sunday morning.

Today was the final day of surgery on the Anastasis. Bittersweet...they performed a record 20 ophthalmic operations today. Tomorrow we will hold a screening here in Monrovia to select patients for the July-November surgery slots on board the Africa Mercy. So, one era ends and merges gently into the next.

Forgot to say that although I work for Mercy Ships and have for ten years, the opinions expressed in this blog are mine and mine alone, not the opinions or official stance of Mercy Ships. This blog will contain my opinions, thoughts, reflections, and adventure and the photos will be ones I've taken unless otherwise credited.