Friday, 16 February 2018

The Parker Brothers

Looking around my maxillofacial ward over the last few weeks since I arrived I have seen all sorts of things that warm my heart. I would even boast by saying that every day I’ve witnessed something that infused joy into my soul. I will tell you about some of them.
It is hard to explain how it feels to work in my little D ward.

Back in 2016 Madagascar, but the ward looks the same

In the photos above you can see what part of the ward space looks like. In my first couple of weeks back on the ship, beds 1-5 were full of male patients. Two of them had stayed longer than expected and when we came for ward rounds one morning, myself, Dr Gary Parker, a physician and translator, a patient named Ali, proudly proclaimed that his new last name was Parker (after Dr Gary). Then the row of males became the Parker brothers. Ali would even sign his colouring pages- Ali Parker.

Ali also helped us translate for a language that only a very few of our day crew translators speak. So instead of the usual two way translation from English to French, it became English to French to Fulfulde using Ali for the last translation. (I always wonder in the last translation what gets said and how much it changes!) So in the morning ward rounds, we’d make our way to the Parker brothers side and Ali would hop out of bed to translate or just lean forward from his own bed and talk across his ‘brothers’. What a gem.

Ali Parker is to my left

Sometimes I would look across at these Parkers brothers who all had bandages wrapped around their heads, some of them had nasogastric tubes hanging from their faces, lips dribbling salvia as they recovered from having major maxillofacial surgery. One day I looked over to see two of the men in their 50’s laying in their beds facing each other and giggling. I mean, eyes pinched closed and floppy lips pulled tight as they laughed about their private joke.

The day the Winter Olympics started, one of our Hospital Chaplains walked into the ward to let us know the opening ceremony was on the TV and to change it for the patients. I looked over and saw most of them involved in watching the movie Up (Pixar animation) that was playing. I suggested that perhaps we ask the men on the Parker brothers side whether they would prefer to watch the movie or the Olympic Opening Ceremony. Much to the surprise of the Hospital Chaplain, when he asked the 50 year old man which he would prefer, the patient said, “Cartoons!”

Alicia and Mama Sabine

On the other side of the ward we had one of the most beautiful, joyful, bright women I’ve ever cared for (pictured above). She had come to the ship also with a big mandible tumour and had it successfully removed. On the ward the patients are fed post-op with nasogastric (NG) feeds of Ensure supplement for 7 days. On day 8 post-op, the NG comes out and the patient gets to drink the Ensure supplement before being able to start a soft, no rice diet the following day if their inner mouth incisions have healed. It was post-op day 8 for this lady so her NG had been removed and after being given a bottle of Ensure to drink, she bowed her head and said grace over her ‘meal’.

Two other patients in the ward have had one of the most painful procedures for a cleft palate repair called a pharyngoplasty. Dr Gary describes it as the worst sore throat you could ever have. These patients are so brave. This week we had an 18 year old boy have his cleft fixed with this procedure and then a 15 year old boy, Junior, had his fixed with the same procedure the following day. They typically have a morphine infusion for 1-2 days post-op and normally takes several days before they stop hanging their mouth open and pooling saliva. Well the 18 year old progressed quicker than we expected and today when he saw Junior try to take a drink of water, he leaned in and said something to encourage him, because he knows how it feels and he gave Junior a thumbs up. It was such a kind, big brother thing to do.

This week I also sat in a meeting room surrounded by some of the best surgeons, doctors and nurses and hospital ancillary staff I’ve ever met. We discussed a patient who has a condition that is life threatening. The meeting was to decide whether we should do surgery or not. The aim was to discuss the patient’s case from every angle. The most beautiful part about the meeting was looking around the room and knowing that everyone has this patient’s best interest at heart. No one is paid to do their job, so no one has anything to gain except a good outcome for this patient. It felt so pure.

I love all these things and more of the every day events that happen around me each day at work. It is such a blessing.

Saturday, 27 January 2018

I'm Back

Where to begin? I returned the M/V Africa Mercy (AFM) 7 days ago and it’s almost like I never left, except a few things have changed. Most noticeable; there are new curtains in the dining room and a huge change in crew members.

My first day back in the ward for doctors rounds was Tuesday. I was met with a big hug and grin from Dr Gary Parker, the Chief Medical Officer and Maxillofacial surgeon. I stood back on ward rounds that day (there were enough people standing around the tiny space; a second maxfax surgeon, local maxfax surgeon, medical student, pharmacist, two physicians, day crew translator and acting maxfax team leader). Instead of focusing on what the day’s plans were for each patient, I watched the patient’s faces as the team made their way around the ward, stopping to greet each patient, shake their hand, ask them how they were and make a plan for the day. There were smiles and praise hands and head bows in thanks and for some reason it’s all those simples gestures that are unspoken that make me choke up the most. There is just so much beauty in serving others and seeing them blessed.

The following day I was in the ward when the Hospital Chaplaincy team came and did devotions with the patients. They share a little word of encouragement and sing a couple of songs. The 26yo serious man from bed 1 who I was yet to see smile, was up and dancing to the singing and drums, a slight smile tugging at the corners of his mouth, head wrapped in bandage from his surgery four days prior.

I hope in the coming months I’ll have hundreds of big and small stories to write here. At the moment I’m in transition. Transition back into the world of maxillofacial surgeries and leading a team of ward nurses as best I can. Transition back into a ship community I left 18 months ago which has changed significantly. Transition into the country of Cameroon and learning about her people. Transition into speaking French and trying not to say Malagasy phrases instead!

While it’s early days to have photos of patients I have already met, I’ll leave you with some photos of previous transformations this outreach.

This baby, Paul, got fattened up and had his first surgery.

This mama's life has been forever changed.

And now just a few of the new place I live.

Above right is the ship Captain- an Aussie.

Below you can see Harmattan is in full swing, which blows sand from the Sahara Desert into the sky of West Africa.

The AFM dock space.

A happy Deb, back at work in the hospital she loves the most. I'm missing family and friends from home, but glad to be back in the place God has called me.
Thanks for joining me on this journey.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

A New Season Ahead

I’ve been back in Australia for over one year now. It’s been full of ups and downs.
In the first eight months of being back in my home town, I couldn’t see much purpose in being where I was except that God had called me to be there. So many days I struggled with loneliness and a lost sense of purpose. In my mind there’s nowhere to go but forwards and so as the days ticked on, I tried new things. I found a new job where I could be challenged and learn new skills, I found a new church that I love and I knew I was where God had placed me, in a season of waiting. I felt challenged to live in that waiting, as uncomfortable as it was. I struggled and wrestled and still do some days. It’s hard to live in a state of discomfort, both physically and mentally. I’ve done a lot of both this year as I’ve struggled with body aches and often constant discomfort, but the mental anguish is harder. It has been way harder than I thought it would be to return to the same town I grew up in. It has been hard to live as a single 30 year old female in a town full of married friends who are now busy wives and mothers. I have made myself as useful as possible, hanging out washing, bringing it in, bathing kids, feeding them, babysitting, playing in parks, having tea parties and generally hanging out. In the process I have loved all of it and tucked away lots of very special memories.

I have lived with one of my sisters since coming home who has been studying really, really hard to pass her emergency medicine trainee exams. As hard as it has been to watch her struggle through endless days of study (up to 11 hours a day on her days ‘off’), it has been an incredible privilege to support her and help her get through them as well as she can (and she passed them both!!!!!!). Basically it means that I kept the house clean and stocked with food! She has also been a pillar of support, understanding my passion for providing healthcare to those whose countries aren’t providing it for them and knowing how it feels to come home to an empty, dark house at the end of the day.

I have enjoyed so much about being back in Australia. I have been around for my newest nephew’s whole life! I have been so blessed to have most of my family close around me, available to hang out almost any time.

We’ve all been through waiting seasons. They aren’t fun, but one of the many books that I’ve read during this period challenged me to ask myself what I was learning. At the time I was actually stumped, but as time passed I realised I was learning all sorts of things; endurance, how to trust that God has my future, how to live and still praise Him in the discomfort, to look for places to serve now, to choose joy and always be thankful.

The sister that I’m living with will be moving from this town at the beginning of next year, leaving me without furniture (because I own nothing!), a house and my favourite housemate ever. As disappointing and sad as this felt when I heard the news from her, I was excited for her and had always felt like our time together was an unexpected blessing. I wondered quite a lot about what my next step would be, what would I do with my time and passion, where would I live if I stayed here considering I always felt it was temporary, but I also felt like I didn’t have to have the answer yet. I needed to wait. So I waited.

Then one day I got a message from a friend on the ship asking me if I’d like to return and fill a position that had a gap. After much consideration, prayer and people closest to me discussing it, I’ve decided to go! (insert emoji with ear to ear grin!!) I will be the Ward Nurse Maxillofacial Team Leader to finish off the Cameroon outreach from the end of January to June 2018 and I’m really excited! So excited that this week that I went and got three vaccinations!
Before this year finishes though, I’m heading to the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine in the UK, to do my Diploma of Tropical Nursing. It is a 3 week crash course in all things tropical nursing so despite the fact that I’ve seen worms come out of the body in many places and all sorts of other creepy crawlies, it will increase my knowledge and I am excited to learn more.

I won’t return home until the week before Christmas so I must get organised before I go! Once I return there will be Christmas celebrations, New Years, a new niece entering the world and lots of packing and goodbyes.

As I sit here and think about the year that has passed and the new season ahead, all I can think is: I have a lot to be thankful for and excited about!!

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Ten Months

I wish I could say after ten months being back in Australia that I had adjusted to life here. In some ways I have, I mean, I know what side of the footpath to walk on without being bumped into again. But deep down I know that life is passing and not getting any better.

The days somehow slip away faster in Australia than they did on the ship. I barely know where the past months have gone and what I have spent my time doing. I feel in some ways like time is in fast forward yet other days have stretched out much longer than I would have cared for. These days are usually the lonely ones when my sister is at work and I'm home, plodding around the house with no one to talk to but the plant on the window sill or the neighbour's cat if she is around. Of course there's always someone at the other end of the phone, but some days I just don't feel like talking and I'm too tired to go anywhere. 
Other weeks my time has been full. Full of work, full of study, full of looking after other people's children, full of keeping the house clean and stocked with food. In the busy days I'll sometimes feel full of purpose and others days like I'm just filling in time waiting for the next thing to happen. 
But what is next? What am I doing in this strange season of waiting? What can I find here to feel passionate about?
I would say that I'm surviving but not thriving. What would it take for me to thrive here, I ask myself every so often. I haven't come up with an answer yet. I might have grown out of this town. It doesn't seem to fit me anymore. I feel like I could slip away unnoticed, except for my family. They have been my roots through this whole replanting. As for me, I feel like I've been harshly pruned for a new season but no buds have grown yet. The losses from the ship; my community, a job I adored, single friends to take adventures with, new places to explore, is more grieved all these months later than the day I walked down the gangway for the last time.

The one thing I can do is hold onto the hope I know that I have in Him. He sees me, He knows me and He loves me and that will have to be enough.

Monday, 2 January 2017

Days That Seem Dark

“No matter how long we’ve walked with God, we will still have days that seem dark. In those times rely on who He is.” Beth Moore

I found this quote in my journal this week when I opened it to write some New Year goals and dreams for the year. I was struck with how appropriate those words are for me in this season. The darks days seem to stretch on and on, with definite glimpses of light and beauty but always a shadow of darkness.
It feels as though leaving Mercy Ships has stripped me of my purpose. I lived and breathed Africa and her people, meeting new friends and having adventures. Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of things to love about being back in Australia and around my family, but I’m a different person now and won’t ever fit back into the place I left. The place that I have left has changed too. My community has dispersed over the last six years and is no longer as it was.
To make matters worse for me, I am single in a world of married women who have become mums in the last few years. So not only do I not fit into this Aussie culture, I’m husbandless and childless. Talk about not fitting in. When I’m looking for projects to occupy my time outside of work, my mum friends are run off their feet. Am I the only one in the world with this dilemma?

I recently watched the documentary The Insanity of God created by Open Doors and had the opportunity to hear Nik and Ruth Ripken speak at a church in town. I highly recommend watching the documentary or reading the book (although I haven’t read it yet) because their story and the stories they tell of persecuted Christians across the world are absolutely amazing. One thing that Nik said the night that I heard him speak was, when the persecuted Christians were told by authorities to stop praising God and gathering together, they knew that if they obeyed the authorities, the enemy would win, so they decided to do the opposite. Despite the fact that we live such free lives in Australia, the principle can still be applied here. I felt encouraged to turn my defeated, negative feelings around and not let the enemy win, to choose joy and thankfulness in all circumstances. I’ve had to practice this a lot since coming home. I made a list of things I’m thankful for:

For praying family and friends
For the ability to grow plants and nurture them and see them flourish
For good coffee, all the time
For being able to walk around home in my pyjamas with bed-hair for as long as I want
For having a bedroom and bathroom to myself
For having a car to drive around in and not count kilometres travelled
For being able to eat whenever and whatever I want
For being able to cook fresh foods and add lots of spice to my meals
For having windows that open
For hearing the birds out my window
For warm weather
For electrical storms, hearing the thunder, seeing the lightening and smelling and feeling the rain
For yummy cheese
For a job that pays good money
For a good team of nurses to work with
For family close by
For friends that include me in their daily lives
For being able to light candles in my house
For a washing machine that I can use any time of the day or night and there is no one waiting after me to finish
For a clothes line in the sunshine
For FaceTime and across the world face to face conversations
For ship friends in Brisbane
For my little home, all the space and comfort of having a place to call my own and be at peace

I’m waiting, semi-patiently, for a few new opportunities to open up in the new year but in the meantime I have to keep going back to the reminder in that quote. I don’t know where God has me, where He is leading me, but I have to trust and rely on who He is, to choose joy and thankfulness and for now that is enough.

“I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.” Isa 42:16

Three of my little lights


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