Wednesday, 16 November 2011

I am in two minds...

Surgery for this Sierra Leone outreach finishes tomorrow.  The hospital closes on Friday 25th Nov, where the last patient will go home or to a clinic we have arranged for continued care.  The next days until Dec we will be cleaning and packing ready for the ship to sail to Ghana for a two week break.
In less than two weeks, before the sail, I will leave the ship to be on holidays, which I’m very excited about!  But it also means that I am leaving Sierra Leone, with no idea of when I will be coming back.  This country and her people have buried themselves deep into my heart.  I will have to say final goodbyes to patients who have been on the wards for months, to Day Volunteers who have worked with us all year and nurses whom some I have worked with all year and some only a few months.  So the ‘goodbyes’ weigh heavy on my shoulders.  The last few days I have spent hours writing in cards saying goodbye to friends, with each card, the weight gets heavier.  In fact it is so heavy right this minute I feel sick, unsure of what to do with this multitude of feelings.
As I think over this year, I wonder where on earth it has gone?  About 1,200 crew members have come and served on the Africa Mercy and I have looked after countless patients, cuddled countless babies and played with countless children.  Although the numbers have been countless to me, each child has taken a small piece of my heart with them.  Just take a look at them:


How can you not leave your heart with them?  How can you not love them as much as humanly possible?
I have seen some dramatic transformations this year.  Just have a look:

 There are so many more before and after photos to come which i can't wait to share!!!
I am just so blessed to be able to be a part of each of their lives.  And will be very excited after a refreshing holiday to come back for more!  Thank you for supporting me with your emails, your kind words, financial support and prayers.  I’m looking forward to writing more in the future!

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Aberdeen Women's Centre

This week I went to Aberdeen (another part of Freetown) to visit my friend Kate, who I met on the Africa Mercy in Benin, 2009.  Kate works as a midwife at the Aberdeen Women’s Centre.  The centre offers, Obstetric Fistula repairs, a children’s clinic and maternity care; helping 100 mothers each month give birth.  As you can imagine, a lot goes on behind these walls!

Originally Mercy Ships helped to set up this Fistula repair clinic a few years ago, but after a couple of years they decided to just focus on their ship, the Africa Mercy and let someone else take care of the land-based organisations.  Ann Gloag, who is a major sponsor for Mercy Ships, now supports this clinic from her foundation and all services are free of charge.  My friend Kate took me on a tour and explained how each of the areas run.  She is especially passionate about the maternity clinic as she was a key leader in setting it up in April 2010.  This was a vital clinic to set up and train midwifes as Sierra Leone’s maternal death rate is one in eight!  Can you imagine?  The reality is for these women that if you fall pregnant, you have a one in eight chance of dying while giving birth!
A few of the staff from the Aberdeen Women’s Centre go frequently to different nearby areas of Sierra Leone and select high risk pregnant mothers to come to the clinic for a history and assessment.  15 mothers come on both Wednesdays and Fridays clinic days, giving them a total of around 100 births per month.  After the mother’s history is taken and the unborn baby assessed, the mother is sent home until she goes into labour.  Then, she will return to the clinic, give birth, hopefully without complications and return home again with her new baby.  If any complications do arise, the midwives are there and ready to intervene.  Over the past 18 months the wonderful midwives have delivered about 100 babies a month and have had, by the grace of God, only two maternal deaths.  This clinic is already changing the statistics of this country!
The fistula clinic is for women that have had internal trauma causing a hole between their bladder and vagina, vagina and rectum or bladder, vagina and rectum.  These women leak urine or faeces or both without any control, making them social outcasts.  Most of these fistulas have happened through obstructed labours but some happen from rape.  This part of the clinic has 44 beds.
The local phone company Airtel has also signed up to help these women by running a free hotline they can call for help.  The ad is broadcast on the local radio station and has helped spread the message far and wide that women can have free help.
The children’s clinic is also open most days of the week, for general consultations and immunisations.
This hive of activity is mostly run by Sierra Leoneans, with the guidance of a few women from other countries all over the world.  After much training over the last few years, the plan is to hand over the whole establishment to the Sierra Leoneans by mid 2012.  I was so impressed with the set up and work that these precious midwives, nurses and others do for the women of Sierra Leone.  They do truly inspirational work!

Monday, 3 October 2011

Running Strong

Rainy season is finally coming to an end and the sun is shining brightly again, much to my delight!  There are only 8 weeks left in the outreach for the Africa Mercy in Freetown, Sierra Leone.   We are still running strong with several specialties going on: maxillofacial surgeries, general and plastic surgeries.
Plastic surgery here on the ship is very different to plastic surgery in a western country.  Here on the ship, and in West Africa, our patients have much different needs.  Most of the patients I look after have had horrible burns causing skin contractures like these patients pictured below.

Each of them, and many more have had skin grafting to release the contractures to bring back the use of their eyelid, neck, arm and hand.  The photos may be shocking to you, but this is reality here.  The best thing is that we are able to help them and bring back so much function that they have lost.  There is a lot of work and nursing care involved in caring for plastics patients.  They have dressing changes every second day and when there are more than 30 patients on the ward, it makes for a very busy day!  We have pleaded with God for no infections in skin graft or donor sites and for quick healing for these patients, as some patients we had at the first plastic surgery stint at the beginning of the year stayed on the ship a long time (135 days)!  And God has been faithful and answering so many prayers for us!
With the patients staying on the ward for so many days as we wait for their wounds to heal, we bond quickly and enjoy many laughs and sometimes tears together.  I wish I could fill this newsletter just with photos so you can see the fun we have together.
This year I have enjoyed the native language being so close to English that it is quite easy to communicate with the patients and have one-on-one chats.  During a massive dressing change a week ago, on a patient who had been badly burnt as a baby, she told me in Krio with some English, that she had lived over the years with so much pain.  This lady doesn’t have hands.  Somehow when she was a baby with the burns, her hands had contracted back to her wrists, leaving the ends of her arms as if her hands had been cut off.  Even though she expressed such emotional pain during that particular dressing change, she was so brave and never shed a tear.  I have loved watching her interact with other patients and when the youth group came down to the wards last week and the girls performed a dance, she sat on her bed with the sweetest smile I’ve ever seen, innocently spread across her face.  It made my heart melt.  She is also married and has a 12 month old son, who is gorgeous of course!  What an amazing mama!

 With the outreach in Freetown running to a close, my group of friends and I are quickly trying to do all the things we have wanted to do before we leave the country.  There are beaches to go to once again (now that it doesn’t rain every day!), visiting a few places here and there and I’m pulling out my camera once again, which seems to have gotten a little dusty over the last few months.

More and more friends leave as the outreach comes to an end, but thankfully my closest friends are mostly also staying at least two years with me.  I’m so thankful for the group of people that God has given me to be my family here.


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