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 quickly...in 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 us...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.