Tonight we leave the Africa Mercy and will fly from Douala, to Brussels, Belgium, then on to Paris – about a 9 hour jaunt. Steve is in the OR, and will work right up to “quittin’ time!” I was scheduled off today, but one of our wound care team is very ill with a GI infection and dehydration, so I was able to work a few hours this morning to help cover all the dressing changes that were scheduled. I was really happy to do this, as I got to say goodbye to several of the patients. The first on our schedule was one of the first patients I treated when we came to the ship in January, Dieudonne. He had 4 toes amputated back at the end of November due to gigantism, and his foot “debulked,” and the wound from his surgery healed quite well – but when he first came he also had a chronic neuropathic wound on the bottom of the same foot that he had been treating for 2 years; we continued to try different wound healing approaches with no improvement. Two weeks ago, Dr. Tertius took Dieudonne back to the OR, removed a good bit of tissue from the bottom of his foot, then covered it with a split thickness skin graft. Today as we removed the dressing for the first time (we usually don’t change graft dressings until Day 14 post-op), his graft was well-adhered and there was no sign of infection – hallelujah! It was bittersweet saying au revoir to this sweet man. There were several others, as well. Rose is another of my favorites – a sweet deaf-mute woman who had a huge neurofibroma removed from the right side of her face, and now has a wound on part of her skull where the bone is exposed that we are trying to heal. Her brother is her caregiver, and is an English speaker (part of Cameroon is English-speaking; the other French-speaking). Rose always has a sweet smile and a hug to give, and her brother is so kind.
So I mention Rose especially as one of our patients who needs prayer. The Africa Mercy will be in dock for 11 more weeks; when it pulls out, there will be a number of patients left behind who we have not yet been able to achieve full wound healing. Today, the ship is praying as a whole for another patient, Adama. She has undergone 5 surgeries since coming to the ship and has been here since August, I believe. She has battled delayed healing and multiple infections, and without a miracle, will be one of the ones left behind without being totally healed. I cannot imagine how hard this will be for the patients and their families, but I also cannot stress enough how hard this is for the crew who have labored for healing with these sweet, brave patients. Four of the current “Wound Care Wonder Women” on the dressings team: Kirsten Murphey (CT), Kelsey Sax (Washington, DC), Bethany Brown, our incredible team leader (CA) 🙂 Absent from this photo is Anna-Karin Bergman, from Sweden, whom I have really connected with in the last few weeks. She is recovering but is still very weak.
At this point in the field service (month 7, basically) the crew is tired. Cameroon has been a hard field service, for several reasons. This was the first trip to Cameroon for Mercy Ships, and there have been struggles. Some of that comes from distrust of the people here and misunderstanding. Some believe we are paid by the government to come here, or that we are here to take advantage, or “experiment” on the patients. Some have been told that we will steal their shoes, or replace their eyes with goat eyes. Some of the struggles have been in getting the right patients to screening for the right services. There has been a large rate of “no-shows” for scheduled surgeries – which is incredibly sad when you think about the numbers of people who were turned away because there were only so many slots available.
So I would ask, that as we leave, you would pray for rejuvenation for the crew here – for energy and strength to finish this field service strong in early June. For trust and relationships to be built between Mercy Ships and the Cameroonian government, and the people here that we desire to serve well.
And I also ask you to pray for a 16-year old young man, Juspin, that I helped care for this week at the Douala Hopital Generale. He suffered severe burns on 40% of his body Sunday night. Someone had just brought in a container of fuel into a dark room, which exploded when Juspin ignited a lighter in order to see. His head, face, neck, hands, arms, feet & legs received the brunt of the blast – only his torso was protected by his t-shirt and shorts. The removal of his dressings and subsequent scrubbing of his wounds and reapplication of dressings was time-consuming and painful – fortunately he did receive sedation. But his family has no finances to pay for further care, and the system here is not like it is in the US. I am not sure how much longer they will allow him to stay at the hospital, but without finances, they cannot provide him with the dressings, medications, or even IV fluids that he needs. He has about a 50% chance of survival with good care. Please pray for Juspin.
Jody, an AWESOME Occupational Therapist. One of the treats in my job has been the opportunity to work alongside so many selfless and excellent OTs, PTs, nurses, and physicians. Again, everyone who serves on Mercy Ships does so at their own expense. I am amazed by and thankful for how many wonderful people give up their time and resources to serve the people of Africa. Julia, from the UK – our infection control specialistThis is Adam. Adam is one of our housekeepers. Every day, each time I saw him, he called me by name (and I love the way my name is pronounced here, “Ahhhn-Marie”). I have discovered the power that speaking a person’s name aloud has here – on days when I struggled or was down, this often was enough to lift me up and make me feel valued. Malachi (Chaplaincy) and Sanzy (Ward Day Crew), in the next 2 photos below, always did the same 🙂
Laura and Steve. Laura and her husband (another Steve) are serving here from Flagstaff, AZ. Laura is a PACU nurse by trade, and her husband is on board as a carpenter. But because there were no PACU slots when they needed her husband’s skills, Laura came to serve with the housekeeping crew. Twice the PACU has pulled her off house-keeping duties as staffing needs have arisen.The “Plastics Team” – Dr. Tertius Venter, far left, as well as the nurses from the OR and wound care team, and OT/PT staff. Anna-Karin, my buddy from Sweden on the dressings team, is in front of me.This is Josue (Joshua), who is full time crew from Ghana. Josue runs the gift shop (“Ship Shop”) and Cafe. He has been so patient trying to teach us rudimentary French!
From January – working with patient Leon :)
So apologies for all the “selfies” – just so important to me to document or acknowledge as many as these wonderful people as I can (while I can remember!!!!) Today has been quite bittersweet and we have been so touched by the heartfelt goodbyes from patients, and crew from all over the world.
And finally, from Steve: (I keep bugging him, “What do you want to say in the blog!!??” “Being on the ship is unique for many reasons, but one of the primary things that sticks out in my mind is forming friendships quickly. And I experienced something very real today. A surgeon whom I met last year and I were able to reconnect, and during that brief time, he asked specifically if he could pray for me right then and there about an issue of concern. That is what sets this place apart. The Christian community and love that you experience here is life-changing.”
Ok – throwing this one in for kicks as a reminder of home…. Wednesday when I made our stretcher for the first patient, this was the pillowcase I pulled out (the linens here are all donated and mostly well-used 🙂 ). Appropriate, as Steve is a WVU alum 🙂
A song of ascents.
1 I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
2 My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
3 He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
4 indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
5 The Lord watches over you—
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
6 the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.