Psalm 40:5 – Many, LORD my God, are the wonders you have done, the things you planned for us. None can compare with you; were I to speak and tell of your deeds, they would be too many to declare. (NIV)
As I write this, there is a large group of crew members gathered around one of the TVs in “midships,” (a communal area) watching the opening ceremonies for the Winter Olympics in South Korea, and everyone is loudly and enthusiastically cheering their respective countries! We did miss the Super Bowl, but there was a Super Bowl party the day after, and everyone was warned not to peek at the sports news.
So we are truly “in the groove”….. it’s hard to believe we’re half way through our service here! Steve continues to work LONG days in the OR, whereas my days aren’t quite as full, and I have more time off. I was excited this week because I was able to donate blood – something I haven’t been able to do in the States for over 10 years! We lived in the Azores during the Mad Cow disease scare, and that has kept me, Steve, and both of our children on a list of unacceptable donors (though I’m told that may have recently changed). My blood type is B-positive, which is in high demand here. Often during difficult surgeries involving a lot of blood loss, the lab puts out the call for B positive crew members to make their way down to donate – and it is delivered warm to the OR! (So even the housekeeping, galley crew, engineers, and security folks get to help save lives!) Kathy, the head of the lab who drew my blood, offered to take my picture with my unit, but I didn’t take her up on it….. but here is Deb, one of the other crew nurses, with hers:
Last week I was able to visit the Douala Hopital Generale to visit several burn patients being treated, and observe the burn nurses there. It was a 45 minute ride from the ship, and I was able to see a lot of the city of Douala on the ride. It is typical of a city in a developing country, much different that a city you would drive through in the US. Namely, there are TONS of motorbikes (have seen several with 4 people on them! And no helmets….), and no traffic lights or signs, despite sometimes 6 lanes of traffic – everyone seems to drive how and where and when they see fit. And the roads are often full of humongous pot holes (one of which we recently drove into and got stuck in for a while 🙂 As you can imagine, there are a lot of accidents, and driving here is not for the timid. (Thank goodness for our day crew drivers!!!)
The hospital was so interesting….they do amazing things with seemingly outdated equipment and such limited supplies. The nurses I worked with were both male, excellent at what they do, and asked many questions (mainly, “How would you treat this wound?” to which I was only able to offer small suggestions). Interestingly, there are probably more nurses here who are male than female.
(BTW, I did not take any of the four photos above – took them straight off of Google images).
On Thursday I attended a surgery by Dr. Tertius Venter (pictured below, from Capetown, South Africa) and his plastic surgery colleague from Holland in which they placed a scalp pedicle flap over a cheek (a full thickness flap of skin that is partially cut from the scalp with it’s blood supply still attached, rotated down to the area needing the graft, and sutured in place). In three weeks, the pedicle will be cut and the remainder resewn in it’s original place. (I’ll let you google “pedicle flap images” if you are interested in seeing what this is….) They do this type of graft often – one patient the wound care team is currently seeing came with severe contractures of both hands/wrists (her father tied her hands behind her back and poured boiling oil over her as a punishment some years ago). Dr. Tertius released the contracture, and made a pedicle from the skin in her groin, and attached her wrist to the pedicle. Yes, she has her hand sewn to her groin for the next 3 weeks, and we dress the pedicle every day! This beautiful young woman had her right hand/wrist contracture surgery in the same fashion late last fall, and returned this month to have the left one done. Her name is Marie 🙂
A Little Bit about the “Noma Belt”
Each Wednesday evening after dinner on the Mercy Ship, a medical in-service is presented to the crew. These presentations are given by our volunteer surgeons and have been fascinating. As Dr. Tertius explained recently, diseases, tumors, and other deformities seen here have usually progressed so severely that Western medical textbooks have no information on their treatment….often these surgeons are “sailing in uncharted territory,” and have had to learn by experience what works and what doesn’t. As a result, they have pioneered techniques and procedures to help the people here. As such, even the postoperative care is very different, and unlike how we would “do it in the States.”
This past Wednesday, Dr. Gary Parker (pictured below; a maxillofacial surgeon originally from the US who has served on the Mercy Ships for over 30 years, with his wife and kids) presented on the treatment of Noma (http://www.facingafrica.org/what-is-noma/). Here in Cameroon, we are in the “Noma Belt,” part of Sub-Saharan Africa where the poverty and malnutrition are so rampant that this disease, which comes from normal mouth bacteria, reeks havoc.
Before coming to Cameroon, I had never heard of this horrendous disease, which is 90% fatal. Survivors are left with severe deformities that honestly look like something out of The Walking Dead. This disease of poverty and malnutrition is never seen in the Western world (with the exception of the concentration camps during the Nazi Holocaust of World War II). If you are interested – and be warned – the images are quite graphic and disturbing – here are additional links/videos on the disease: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EF6cScuMLJA and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Y4wvsfTubI
But Dr. Gary’s talk was on giving back hope to the survivors, who otherwise go through life alone, in hiding, or with their faces always covered. He and others here on the Mercy Ship literally rebuild faces – recreate lips, noses, cheeks, eyelids, and bony structures. I do not have photos of a current Mercy Ship Noma patient to share today, but if you have clicked on any of the links in the preceding paragraph, you saw how devastating and disfiguring the disease is. Here is a former Mercy Ships patient that Dr. Gary treated:
Have I mentioned the “revolving door” on the Mercy Ship? Every week, crew members leave to return home to the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, Australia, the US (again, over 40 countries represented here!) Though many are here for the whole 10 month field service, the majority of nurses are here for 2 months. Tomorrow one of my wound care team co-workers, Dasha Eyers, leaves to return home to Florida, and I will miss her!
She has been such an encouragement to me, and I have learned a lot from her…and most importantly, she truly demonstrates the love of Jesus in all she does here. This was Dasha’s first time on the Mercy Ship, but she plans to return!
That’s Kirsten Murphy on the far right, another of the “wound care wonderwomen” :).
I want to leave you with pictures of “R,” who is one of my favorite patients. R came for treatment of gigantism, and originally had several of his toes amputated and his foot “debulked” in late November. But his right leg was still much longer and the foot was larger than his left, making it very difficult to walk, even with crutches. His wound also had difficulty healing. Last week Dr. Tertius took him back to surgery and removed his lower leg. While this seems tragic, he will most likely have much better mobility and a chance to heal now, and once he is fully grown, will probably get some type of prosthesis. Though I cannot understand R’s language, he communicates beautifully with his huge smile.
Isn’t that beautiful smile worth so much……
Proverbs 15:30 A cheerful look brings joy to the heart, and good news gives health to the bones. (NIV)