Friday, May 31, 2013

Remember.

For the last week I've been feeling sad.  My heart hurts for this country, for the people I've come to love, who are now facing a very unstable and uncertain future.  This country has such massive potential and it feels like we're leaving a simmering pot, just about ready to boil over.  I've been asking myself if we've really made a difference, when the country is not in better shape than it was when we arrived... Hopelessness had crept in. 

And then... I remember.

 
I remember Yaya, whose legs were so mishapen he could hardly move, who now can walk and play and kick a ball and go to school like all the other little boys around him. He runs towards a future where he can grow up and lead his country to greater things.

 
I remember Fode, once blind, who now stands tall and radiates joy, as he now can see.  He looks toward a future filled with new possibilities.

 
 
I remember the beautiful ladies whose dignity was restored and they danced with joy on the VVF ward. They now face a future filled with hope instead of despair.
 


I remember the story of Hadiatou, who was thought to be cursed when she was born with a cleft lip and wasn't even given a proper naming ceremony.

 
Hadiatou now smiles broadly at the future, whatever comes her way.



I remember Jaka, whose crippling burn as a child kept her from many things...

 
 
Now Jaka dances freely towards her future, filled with promise.



Because we were here in Guinea:

1590 people who once were blind can now see.
666 people had facial tumors removed, cleft palates repaired, or other maxillofacial surgeries.
116 kids with club feet or bowed legs now walk straight and tall (orthopedic surgeries)
312 patients had general surgeries (hernias, goiters, etc)
63 women had their dignity restored by VVF repair.
99 patients had plastic surgery
45,000+ dental procedures were performed
13,000+ eye evaluations and treatments were given.

I think about all those people. Each one of those patients has a name and a story and a future ahead of them filled with hope, not despair, promise, dignity, and joy.   How can I think, how can I even imagine, that we haven't made a difference here? Really?  I pray for each one of them that they would embrace the hope of their future. I pray for the kids that that they would grow up and become strong leaders for their people, with integrity and honesty and a dream of greatness for their nation.

I remember their stories and I remember why we are here, and I find the hopelessness I've been feeling has dissipated; the heart of God for his people is always for good, and the hope that is promised is worth pressing onward. 


Thank you, my friends, family, donors, and readers, for being a part of their stories, too. Much love, Krissy

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

All you've got.

You’d better find a translator quick – because Hasanatu has a lot to say.

Known affectionately by crew as Mama H, Hasanatu had surgery in January to remove a massive facial tumor. Pull up a chair, and she will tell you all about her favorite food (rice), her four children (boys), her disdain for air conditioning (she’s freezing), her journey here by taxi (prolonged), and her village in Guinea’s interior (it’s that way [points]).

But first, Mama H will tell you that it’s not just the hospital that makes surgery possible – it is the attitude of giving in the heart of each volunteer. Time, money, energy – whatever crewmembers can give, they will give. Because Mama H knows something that most people do not:  the crew of the Africa Mercy serves as the hospital’s blood bank.

Blood banking is an intrinsic part of every hospital system in the developed world – one that requires laboratory equipment, space and highly specialized technicians. On the world’s largest non-governmental hospital ship, there are still limited resources to store blood. But what the Africa Mercy hospital lacks in storage capacity, it makes up for in its steady supply of willing volunteers. Without our crew donors, surgeries like Mama H’s would not be possible.

“When you need clotting factors and platelets, you need the blood to come straight out of one person and right into the next,” Dr. Gary Parker, the Africa Mercy’s Chief Medical Officer, says. “The outcomes of many of our surgeries are possible because the crew is willing to share their blood with our patients.”
Due to the location of Hasanatu’s tumor on her head and neck, excessive blood loss during her surgery was inevitable. Before her operation, a message went out to volunteers with her blood type: “We need you.” Soon, nine Mercy Ships crewmembers had donated blood to ensure that doctors would be able to replenish whatever Mama H might need.

“I remember how excited she was about getting her surgery,” Mar Morales, a blood donor, says. “It is wonderful to be able to say that I contributed to her recovery!”

On the evening after her surgery, Mama H woke up in a hospital bed, finally free of the tumor she had carried for a decade. Emily Seamon – an ICU nurse and blood donor for Mama H – handed her a mirror.
“It was a unique experience, to be a caregiver in this way,” Emily says. “As a nurse, I understood the need for the blood donation and how important it was for Hasanatu … it was wonderful to care for my patient and to be a part of the picture from beginning to end, to see it come full circle.”

When Mama H saw her reflection, she smiled. For the first (and probably last) time in her life, she was unable to find words to say. It was a few days before she was back to her chatty ways. But, when she felt like herself again, she said to tell her blood donors “djarama” – thank you. In return, she would like to teach them Pular, her native language. That way, her stories won’t depend on a translator anymore.

“It’s amazing – so many patients over the years … they’re alive today because the crew of the ship shared their blood,” Dr. Gary says. “I can’t even start counting them now, but there are many, many, people we never would have started surgery on … so I’m grateful for everyone who’s given and who will continue to give in the future.”

Pull up a chair, and there isn’t a Mercy Ships patient who won’t steal your heart. Time, money, energy, blood – being a crewmember on the Africa Mercy means giving it all you’ve got . . . and loving every minute!

Hasanatu’s Blood Donors:
Amber Batson (Ward Nurse, New Zealand)
Esther Blaum (Patient Flow Manager, Germany)
Laura Coles (Ward Nurse, USA)
Mar Morales (Receptionist, Mexico)
Nicole Pugh (Human Resources Facilitator, USA)
Emily Seamon (ICU Nurse, USA)
Kevin Trapnell (Crew Physician, USA)
Lianne van den Dorpel (Galley, The Netherlands)
Josh Young (Sales Manager, USA)

Story by Catherine Clarke Murphy
Edited by Nancy Predaina
Photos by Debra Bell (and interior screening photo by Chris McCaffrey)




Sunday, May 26, 2013

Blackout.

Our engineers and deck crew are amazing. 

This week finds us transitioning from a hospital that happens to be on a ship to a ship that happens to hold a hospital.

The deck and engineering crews are always working hard, but it's just more visible right now. Yesterday, in order to repair something important, we had to have a blackout. No power, no water, no internet, no air conditioning, nothing. I was actually dreading the time; I'd heard how fast this tin box heats up, and with no windows that open and no fans working, it can get really uncomfortable very quickly. 

As it turns out, I loved it! It was eerily quiet. You don't even realize how much white noise is constantly filling your ears until there isn't any! Most of the crew went out to the Riviera pool or out to the islands, so the regular people noises were less, too.  My cabin stayed comfortably cool the entire time and it was just really nice to be forced to rest!

I just feel a sense of excitement now that we've finally said goodbye to our day workers and patients, today is the big exodus of crew (I think there are like ten or eleven cars full of people heading to the airport). I still feel a bit of sadness about those things, but the excitement of the sail and the summer is keeping my spirits up. 

AND my lovely friend Becky is going to come visit me while the ship is in Las Palmas!  So that's super fun to look forward to :) Thanks Beck!

Okay. I guess I don't have much else to blather on about right now. Love to all - K


Friday, May 24, 2013

The Time of Last Things.

This is the Time of Last Things.

Last night held the graduation ceremony for the Mercy Ships Academy class of 2013.  It was a beautiful ceremony, the three graduates were eloquent and excited as they embark on the next steps before them.

This morning we said goodbye to our last hospital patient, Thierno.  This was the man with the huge tumor on his face that we almost lost but he held on to life and now his lopsided smile radiates the joy that we all feel in his new outlook on life.

This afternoon we say goodbye to almost 200 day workers who have given much over the last ten months, we couldn't have accomplished a fraction of what we have without them.  Some I've never met, some I will greatly miss, but all are a part of the stories written here.

We've had to say goodbye to many long term crew members and families.  More are leaving in the next few weeks. I'm so grateful they are all a part of my story, a part of this community, and saying goodbye is never easy.

Next week we say goodbye to the country of Guinea.  I wish I could say the country is in a better place than it was ten months ago, that we're leaving filled with hope for their future, but I can't.  Unfortunately the situation had continued to disintegrate before our very eyes, and what was once just political unrest has become ethnic division, distrust, and violence.  Many of our day workers, while extremely high quality workers, won't be able to get jobs that utilize their skills based on their ethnicity.  And, unlike in past field services, they won't be able to just follow the ship and work for us again.

I'm so very excited for my future; our time in Europe will be a welcome change of pace, my time in the States will be full of family and fun, and everyone is looking upon Congo with great anticipation.  However... in this, the Time of Last Things, a piece of my heart is being torn away and will be left behind here in Guinea.

Our three graduates - Lara, Carys, and Michelle. Photo courtesy of Ali Chandra


K

Monday, May 20, 2013

The next two weeks.

We sail in two weeks.  This is kind of a big deal.  But I realize to anyone who doesn’t live on a ship, it doesn’t really mean much to you – so I decided to try to come up with a list of things that need to be accomplished in the next two weeks. And I know I’m missing some things… But here you go.

 
- Friday was supposed to be our last day of surgeries. As it turns out, there was one small one for today. Most of the anesthetists, surgeons, and some of the OR staff left last weekend.

- Friday they closed the HOPE Center - (outpatient center where pre- and post- surgical patients can stay when they don't require full hospitalization) - most patients were discharged, a few re-admitted to the hospital here on the ship.

-Friday was the last day of care at the Dental field clinic.

-This week will be pack up of the HOPE center and Dental clinic, along with the eye clinic site that I think finished up a week or so ago.

-This Friday our own hospital closes. All remaining patients will be referred to a local hospital for follow up care, and if any of them are still requiring hospitalization, they will be transferred and their care paid for. Pray that we don't actually have to transfer any patients, that they would heal quickly!

-This week the OR staff will be deep cleaning and packing up our OR's. Everything needs to be organized and secured, tied down well, taped, strapped, and locked up. This ship really rolls on open ocean!

-This Friday is our day worker thank you event and the last day of work for (most of) our 200 day workers.

-Next week pack-up continues in the ORs and then in the Wards and the rest of the hospital. Our time in shipyard in July they will be repairing the floor of the Wards side of the hospital, so everything in those rooms, all the beds, equipment, etc, will need to be organized, packed, stored, and secured in the OR side.

-Along with the Hospital, the entire rest of the ship needs to be secured. The IS guys are running around securing computers, monitors, projectors, and TV's so nothing gets damaged on the sail. All the art is either removed from the walls or double-triple secured on to the walls; anything that can fall over or out needs to be moved or strapped down. All the plates in the Dining room get placed in big plastic bins, anything that goes on a tabletop is either removed or velcroed down. Everything in the ship shop gets taken off the shelves and put into laundry baskets on the floor. Everything in the galley, refrigerators, and food stores needs to be secured or there will be a serious mess. Everything that is on shelves or desktops needs to be placed in boxes or drawers or on the floor. It's kind of a big deal.

-Our Deck and Engineering crew are working all hours to get the engines, lifeboats, and all other important sailing-type things ready.

-We will start having at-sea fire drills this week, and will likely have several in the next two weeks. Instead of gathering on the dock, we need to get our lifejackets and gather at our lifeboats! It will take a few tries to get everyone doing what they are meant to do quickly.

-Next week begins the mass exodus of crew - approximately a hundred people leave in the next two weeks, and then the first week we're in shipyard, another hundred and fifty people leave, either for good or on vacation.

- All Guinea Francs need to be turned in to the bank by next Monday, or you're stuck with them forever. New country = new currency.

-The tents down on the dock - Physiotherapy, Outpatients, and Admissions - will be dismantled, cleaned, packed up, and placed somewhere up on deck 8, tied down securely.

- Our entire fleet of LandRovers will be lifted up on to deck 8, fit together like a giant Tetris puzzle, and secured.

-The pool will be drained and the huge tarp-like roof over the pool will be taken down and stored.

- Reception will print out new badges for everyone who is sailing, instead of the flag of Guinea and the port of Conakry stamped on them, as they are now, they will have the Spanish flag and the shipyard in Las Palmas.

- There will be stowaway checks throughout the ship. Every potential hiding place needs to be checked and then secured. There will probably be a drill of some kind related to this, too.

- We'll have various sailing briefings and safety briefings, instructions on pirate watches, etc. The Lifeboat Assignment lists will get posted.

-The crew physician will hand out little bags of anti-nausea drugs to prevent sea sickness. Everyone is encouraged to take them for at least the first few days; in the past I know the Dining Room and Galley staff were required to take them. They'll also put out ginger cookies in the Dining Room, to help with upset stomachs...

-We'll donate unused and extra medical supplies to local hospitals.

-Many people will try to find wedge pillows to put under their mattresses so they don't roll out of bed at night while sailing. Top-bunk sleepers especially, or they might just find a piece of carpet somewhere to put their mattress.

- There will be many 'last things', many goodbyes, and likely, many tears.

So as you can see, it's a busy two weeks here on the Africa Mercy - and I've probably forgotten many, many things that happen that I don't even see or know about!

K

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Thankful

There is just so much to be thankful for...
 
 

... My niece, Bridget Evelyn Sollom, was the best Mothers Day gift my twin sister, Karin, could have asked for! Four days early, 7lbs, healthy, and all are well. I can't wait to meet her in a few months!

... peanut butter on bananas.

... Surgeries in Guinea are finished, and we didn't lose a single patient this year! (we don't lose a lot, as we don't do most high-risk surgeries, but the last several field services we've lost one... something to be VERY thankful for in Guinea!)

... My French is better than I tend to give myself credit for.

... Rain!  Rainy season has begun, and it's amazing to watch the storms roll in. It hasn't rained since November. Love it. (photo credit to Stephanie B)

... my insurance premiums are dropping this year! It's like a raise of $30 a month! Cheers!!!

... the awesome people I get to work with this summer at kids camp in WA.  Y'all are amazing to include me from 5000 miles away. I'm honored and grateful.


... Amazing sunsets. (photo credit to Stephanie B)

... I don't have to move cabins!!!  I am so, so, so very blessed with incredible cabin mates that I love living with.  It's just a huge relief, and giant blessing, that I don't have to move.

... Imported oranges in the dining room.

... "Why fit in when you were born to stand out?" ~Dr. Seuss


... an amazingly sweet treat from an amazingly sweet friend left on my door the last ship holiday. Seriously, how did I get to be so blessed? Incredible people in my life. Incredible.  Thank you, friend.

... the best Sunday morning - a good run, a good shower, lingering over a good breakfast with coffee and conversation with amazing people. 

... Awesome patient encounters that renew my faith in humanity.

...Christina. I'm just so thankful she's here and I'm going to miss her when I have to say goodbye in a few weeks... she's amazing.

...Soy milk is back in the Dining Room!! Yay!!


... Our neighbors for the last 24 hours - a French naval ship. I love what we see here. (Photo credit to Stephanie B)

...that my cabin's air conditioning works REALLY well... it's downright cold. AND thankful the hot water has been repaired, the showers are downright HOT! So awesome.

... Dr. Gary, Dr. Michelle, Allison, and various other amazing hospital staff that patiently answered my questions while I was visiting the OR. 

... my boss who is amazing. I'm gonna miss working for him.  Not to say my new boss won't be amazing, it'll just be different! I'm so grateful for the time I've had in HR and all that I have learned from Nick...

...the fact that the words 'wingeing' and 'torch' and 'trainers' are a regular part of my vocabulary. (thanks to my lovely British friends)...  I love living in international community. It seems almost every day we have some conversation about word usage or differences in meaning. Love.

 
...A sweet surprise from some of my Ukranian deckies - Ukranian chocolate!  Also, Dennis brought some Lithuanian chocolate for us... that stuff is seriously heavenly.
 
... that on the upcountry trip I was seriously lacking sleep but wasn't really tired. so awesome.
 
... my donors. I'll never stop being so grateful to you all who sacrificially give to allow me to be here.
 
... My running friends who put up with my slowness ever since malaria. Eventually I'll be able to keep up, I promise.
 
...the fact that I could seriously go on and on about everything I'm thankful for right now... and this list is by no means finished, or does it even scratch the surface...
 


Saturday, May 18, 2013

Love is spoken here.

After a particularly long week filled with late hours, emotional encounters with difficult people and situations, and less than an ideal amount of sleep, I knew I needed to first spend some time alone today, and then I needed to spend some time with patients.  I needed to be reminded why I am here.

At 2:30 most every day our patients make their way up from the belly of the ship, where the only light is the flourescent variety and the air is pumped in through vents, up to the open expanse of deck 7.  There they enjoy the sunshine on their faces and whispered breaths of the breeze on their cheeks; the littlest ones with their little cat-wisker steri-strips (cleft lip repairs) get passed from willing arms to willing arms and the older kids, with various bandages and stitches and scars, zip around on tricycles and in wagons.  The adults talk on their cell phones, or just stare into the expanse that is the Atlantic Ocean, the sun dancing on the waves and little speedboats zipping back and forth.

I expected to go up and hold a baby for an hour or so but what ended up happening was very different. As I was walking by, a beautiful woman of probably 40 grabbed my hand and pulled me towards her. I squatted down in front of her and looked her in the eye, her hands both now gripping mine.  She probably hadn't ever had anyone look her in the eye or touch her before she came to the ship; her face was ravaged by Noma, a particularly nasty third-world infection that destroys facial tissue.  She didn't speak a word of French or English so for the next thirty minutes we held hands, I rubbed her shoulders, she played with my hair, I smiled into her eyes, and we spoke the language that transcends cultures and borders and diseases and disfigurements and scars and bandages. Love was spoken, it lit up her beautiful scarred face and soothed my bruised and weary heart.  This is why we are here; this is the heart of God for his people, this is what I was created for.

My heart is full.

k

"Watch out for that cow, there..."

So I had the amazing opportunity to go on an upcountry followup trip a few weeks ago - it was awesome in SO many ways! The people I was with were fantastic. We were following up with some of our surgeons that were trained on the ship and it was super encouraging to see that they not only learned new, important OR practices (like don't use instruments that are dropped on the floor), but they have taught these things to their staff.  My French is better than I give myself credit for, and my driving on African roads is greatly improved. (more about that some other time.) Anyway, here are a few photos from the trip, most of them snapped out the window of the moving landrover. Enjoy! 

The country really is stunningly beautiful. Very green in some places and brown and dry in others.

Our home for the week was a cozy LandRover.  The pillow was bigger than Michelle. :)
After a long day of driving, or meeting with Hospitals, it was heavenly to just chill under a mango tree.  Amazingly wonderful conversations with wonderful people.




Wildlife. (Cows. Lots of cows.)
The women staying at the fistula center in Kissidougou were so thankful to us they threw us an impromptu dance party. It was so sweet.  USAID funds this project, and it's those moments I don't quite mind paying taxes as much.


More wildlife. Sheep this time. We saw lots of cows, sheep, goats, and chickens. Nothing any more exotic than that...


The roads were lovely.

This could have been a big problem had it happened out in the bush... thankfully, it didn't!

I think Michelle and I sipped our coffee while the guys fixed the tire...

Me concentrating really hard while crossing the Niger river, which is nearly dry. Learning to drive African roads was quite an experience... I'll write more about that another time.

Pit stop for lunch - apples, pringles, and pretzels.


A sign warning us about cows in the road. One of my favorite quotes from the week - "Watch out for that cow, there..."


Randomly on the way to Labe there was this huge grove of pine trees. Or pine-like trees. They felt very out of place....
There are three guys on top of the full taxi...

Love some of the things you see in a car here...

Friday, May 17, 2013

Just a thought...

Today is the last day of surgeries, we have a couple hundred arrivals and departures in the next two weeks, drills, briefings, events, and lots of goodbyes. 

So please forgive me for the lack of blogging, I hope to find time to write some more this weekend.  But in the meantime I was presented a thought yesterday that has just stuck with me...

Our ward and one of the operating rooms are full of babies this week.  This is a big week of cleft lip repairs, as the recovery time and risk of complications for these little ones after surgery is minimal. But the majority of these babies weren't even born when we arrived here in Guinea.  They weren't in the massive screening line that stretched down the beach road, and their mamas may or may not have ever heard of Mercy Ships until their birth a few months later. 

In this culture a cleft lip is usually viewed as a curse, and these babies are often abandoned shortly after birth.  How many of the little cherubs contributing to the chaos on the wards this week would have been abandoned? Someone knew that the people on that big white ship in the port of Conakry believe these babies aren't cursed, and that they can help your baby.  And we get to be a part of their story.  I'm so honored.

One of our cleft lip babies, Alseny, who was here earlier this year, has a special story. Read it here: Alseny -  the top photo is before and after he was cared for by our infant feeding program, and the other photo highlights the incredible job our surgeons can do - changing this little one's life forever.

Krissy

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Catching up

Two weeks?!? Two weeks since my last update. Sorry folks. Life is crazy.

So the upcountry trip was FANTASTIC.  And I took tons of pictures.  And now I can't get my SD card reader in my computer to work.  :( So I can't post any of them.  Lame.  I'll keep trying...

But really, it was great. Why? The people I went with are wonderful. We've all lived in the 'bush' in third world countries, so a bucket shower and dust and heat and no bathrooms was just no problem. There were long days in the car, but we traded off driving, and Michelle was a great coach in helping me get more comfortable driving on terrible roads.  We stayed in hotels that were fine for what we needed - occassional power, bucket showers, and a decently clean mattress without too many bugs. :)

We were following up with our VVF surgeon trainees who came to the ship earlier in the year. It was an honor for them that we went to see their hospitals.  We toured them and asked questions about what they had learned and how they have applied it to their programs. I could write pages on this but won't - suffice it to say it was exciting to see that they actually had learned new things and were applying them to their hospitals!  It's certainly encouraging when you know the work you are doing isn't in vain. :)

We made good time and were able to see all three hospitals and get back to the ship by Friday afternoon.

Then last weekend we went out to Kassa Island again overnight.  I have amazing friends and am amazingly blessed. It was lovely.

This last week was busy, I spent part of Wednesday in the OR and Friday was a ship holiday.  The introvert in me was crying out for solitude, it had been awhile, so for the holiday I hid in my cave and read, slept, etc.  Yesterday evening I had the pleasure of going out to dinner with a a doctor from Congo who is here visiting to get an idea of what we will be bringing to them - it was great to talk through some of what we will be offering in terms of projects and training there, and my French is a huge blessing!

SO, that's the quick overview of some of what I've been upto. I hope to figure out a way to get my photos loaded and have some more stories of the trip but will leave it at that for now.  I'm plugging away in HR, trying to keep my focus on NOW and not just on CONGO and my job transfer!  One more week of surgeries, the hospital closes a week later, then a week of packing up and we're sailing outta here!! Certainly is an exciting season here on the Africa Mercy!

Love - Krissy