Friday, 25 March 2011

2nd Screening Day set

The new screening day is tomorrow.  As you can imagine the ship is busy with people organising all that we will do and need.  Security at the new venue has already begun with shifts beginning this afternoon, changing at midnight and then at 0600hrs.  There will be pre-pre-screeners in the crowd asking people why they have come and telling them to stay a little longer to see a pre-screener or to go home now before the sun comes up because we cannot help them.  People will have already arrived at the venue, a day before it begins.  The desperation is still as big as ever.  We cannot walk down the street into Freetown without having someone stop us and ask if they can see a Dr on the ship, or if they can bring their sick child to us.  Each time we suggest they go to the Dental clinic or Eye clinic on any Monday all year and they should be seen, or to come to screening day if we think it is appropriate.  Until the last few days though even we did not know when screening day would be, but we would suggest they listen to the radio for further instructions.  Now the day is finally here.
Please be praying for us, that God will bring the people he wants to heal and that those we cannot help will stay home.  Pray for safety for the Mercy Ships team and for the people of Sierra Leone, that the crowd will behave and not push their boundaries.  Pray that God’s presence will be at the new venue, keeping the people calm and bringing peace to their desperate souls.
As for me, tomorrow I am charge nurse over one of the orthopaedic wards.  I will not get to be a part of screening day as I was last time.  I am sad that I won’t be there, but I know someone needs to look after the patients that we do have.  And the ones we have are gorgeous!

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

The children that stole my heart

Take a sneak-peak into my world.
I'm so excited to finally be able to show you photos of these beautiful children that take up my days, evenings and nights.  Except for the bowed legs, they are just like any others kids in the world.  They love balloons, colouring, cars, games and best of all, cuddles!  Lots and lots of them!!!  My love tank is always full from the loving I get from these kids!

How could you not fall in love with them!?!

Saturday, 19 March 2011

White sandy beaches

One of the exciting things about being in Africa is the adventures that you just find yourself on, whether you’re trying to have one or not.

Today we decided we’d spent the day at River 2, a beach south of Freetown.  Driving by Landrover or Poda-poda (the local transport- a van which seats 18 people) would take between 1 ½ hrs and 3hrs depending on traffic and the time of day.  Today we decided to take a new approach.  My friend Jeff is amazing at negotiating and loves an adventure.  He had talked with a man from Lakka beach with a boat (similar to the one pictured- except with an outboard motor) and had organised with him to take a group of us on his boat to River 2 leaving at 9am from berth one at the deep water quay.   So at about 9am the group of eight of us left the ship, walking down to berth one on the dock and waited for the water taxi to arrive.  About an hour later, Jeff called this man asking where he was.  “I’m coming, I’m coming!  I’ll be 10mins.”  Another 30mins later, we were wondering if he was actually coming at all.  We waited and waited some more and after another couple of phone calls and another 30mins, he arrived.

Finally we were on our way, motoring through the ocean with views of Freetown speeding past us.  After an hour on the water we had to stop at a local fishing village from more fuel and for a new plug for the engine.  While we were waiting there in the boat, African kids and people from the village watching us, a lady came towards the boat.  She waded waist high into the water carrying an albino baby.  Just before she got to me, my friend Christoph said to me, “Don’t take the baby.”  As she waded in the sea, right next to me, she lifted up the baby for me to take.  I didn’t know what she wanted me to do.  Was she actually giving me this child?  I sat there with my hands in my lap even though I wanted to stretch them out and take that baby.  I said, “I’m sorry I can’t take your baby.  She is beautiful though.  She is beautiful.”  And at that the mama turned back to the shore and made her way back.  I’m not sure what the Sierra Leoneons think of the Albino people here, but I truly hope that that young mama didn’t truly want to give her white baby to me because I was white also.

We arrived at River 2 beach after cruising the ocean for 2 hours.  We could see beautiful white sand, clean, blue water, palm trees lining the ocean front and mountains in the background.  The sun shone happily and after they anchored the boat, we all exited somewhat wet after a wave crashed over us, but excitedly.  There was already a large group of Mercy shippers on the beach who had come by Landrover or poda-poda.  I caught up with a few of my fellow gatewayers and we walked along the beautiful sandy shore.  Unlike other beaches I’d been to in Sierra Leone and Africa, this one was so clean and the sand so white!  We walked for at least 2km to the end of the stretch and then back again.  The beach also had quite good waves that, much to my delight, we were able to body surf!  I did have a few moments of missing my beaches from home and those that would have been swimming with me if I had been there.
We left River 2 late in the afternoon, cruising back to the ship the sun was setting behind us, the water blue and silky.  We passed a fishing boat, waving to the men working hard for their families, noticing the birds diving over the ocean close behind them trying to get their supper.  I love so many things about this country.  I think today was perhaps one of my favourite so far!

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Crooked legs

Sunday afternoon the hospital hallway filled with 21 children all walking with some kind of orthopaedic abnormality, all excited to be in a such place filled with white people and wondrous things, all hoping that when they leave this floating ship they will be fixed.
I worked the evening shift in A ward which has now become home to 19 of these patients and 19 of these children’s caregivers, plus two extra babies.  At first these little ones sat on their beds with their caregivers, looking around at this strange place called the Africa Mercy.  After another nurse and I spread out a mat for the floor and pulled out the lego blocks and cars, they were down on the floor, one sat in my lap and all were intrigued by what they could play with.
After they ate lunch and finished the admission process, including x-rays, blood tests and pre-operative photos, they had already settled in, zooming around the ward, high-5ing all the nurses and cuddling our legs as we tried to get around.  Yes, that’s right- my heart has once again been stolen by these little children!
The internet is slow here and today I can’t upload photos much to my disappointment, even though I have tried several times.  So, sorry, you’ll have to wait a while longer to see these little ones that I love.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011


Yesterday after many hours debriefing screening day my heart had almost settled.  After one of the meetings of the day I was unexpectedly given the opportunity to visit Connaught hospital where I had taken the young woman patient I had looked after the previous day.  She had been trampled by the people pushing from the front of the crowd, desperate to be seen by someone that could help.  I had heard a rumour that this patient had been brain damaged from lack of oxygen.  And of course, on hearing that my heart had sunk, wishing that I could have done more, but knowing that I didn’t have the experience or equipment to have made a big enough difference.
On the way to the hospital as we were stopped in traffic, a man on the side of the road noticed our Mercy Ships vehicle and called out, “Mercy Ships.  Thank you for coming!  You are welcome in Sierra Leone.”  Even after knowing what had gone on at the stadium, his call soothed my heart.
Arriving at the hospital I was full of anticipation of what I would see.  As we walked in the gate I spotted her mother who waved to me at the same time.  She pointed over to her daughter sitting opposite her.  There she was sitting on a tiled bench!  Her eyes were blood-shot and clouded over from her cataracts.  The graze on her face had turned into a raw wound but it was clean and dry.  I ran over to her and put my hand gently on her shoulder and explained that I had been the nurse who had brought her to the hospital the day before.  How was she feeling?  “Fine.”  Was her response.  So maybe not completely fine, but to me she didn’t have a hypoxic brain injury!  She was able to walk around and talk when spoken to.  Not long after we arrived she went to lie down in her bed and I was able to speak with her father about her condition.  He told me she had been vomiting blood the previous night and that morning but she had had some fluids to drink and kept that down.  The Drs thought she may have fractured her jaw which explained quite a lot of her behaviour.  She had not had x-rays taken yet that they knew of, but she was able to speak and swallow.  As I talked with her father and prayed with her, my heart settled.  God has answered my desperate prayer in the landrover.
The rest of the nurses that had taken patients to the hospital were also able to see each one of the patients they had brought in or worked on at the stadium.  We were all so relieved to see the answers to prayer and catch up on their progress.
While I was standing at the gate waiting to leave, an African lady walking past stopped and tapped me on the shoulder.  She asked me if we were working here.  I explained to her that we were visiting patients.  She knew of the incident at the stadium the day before as she had been waiting there with her aunt who had a large lump on her jaw.  She asked me where I came from.  “Australia, do you know it?”  To my utter surprise she replied, “Yes, of course.  I live there!”  Haha!  She told me she was an Australian citizen and even pulled out her Aussie passport to show me!  She had been visiting her parents who were living in Freetown.  We continued a little conversation for a time and I encouraged her to listen to the radio for more news on further screening days for the ship.
What a surprise encounter!  God has a funny sense of humour!

Monday, 7 March 2011

Absolute desperation

This morning we set out in the dark at 0530hrs in a long convoy of Mercy Ships Landrovers.  We looked like we were ready to ambush the city of Freetown, Sierra Leone.  Today was screening day for our outreach of 2011.
One the way to the National Stadium where screening day would take place, the convoy of landrovers travelled up quite a hill at a slow pace.  The landrover three in front of the one I was travelling in, stopped on the hill and had trouble restarting up the hill.  We were in a hurry, there were about 9 other people in the car and it was a manual, so watching the car rolling back down the hill was nerve-racking to watch.  After 3 attempts at hill-starts I was so encouraged to see an African man coming out of the darkness to lay a huge rock behind the back wheel of the car.  The driver was immediately able to start up the hill and the man picked up the rock out of the way for the rest of us and waved as we drove passed.  My only thought was, God, I love Africa!
Arriving at the National Stadium whilst still in darkness, a sea of blue Mercy Ships scrubs, moved chairs and tables to set up for the coming day.  As the sun rose it was apparent there were already at least one thousand people waiting to be seen.  The waiting line was on the outside gates of the stadium and not visible to those working inside the arena.
After some instructions, the pre-screeners and I paired up, one to screen, the other to support and keep statistics to make sure we weren’t missing common complaints from the people.  Some people complained of back pain, chest/oesophageal pain, painful knees, infections and unhealed wounds.  We are not able to help any of these complaints so we asked them if they’d like prayer for healing and sent them with an escort to the prayer team.  It was so difficult to see their faces fall in despair, realising we weren’t going to help them.  The smaller percentage of those we saw we could help and we joyfully gave them a card to present to the registration table.
After some time our team leader called us all over and asked us to speed up the process as the crowd waiting were getting impatient and restless.  The line had curled into itself now and the people at the end of the line were now also the beginning causing frustration for those who’d been waiting in the hot sun for hours and who still hadn’t been let inside.  One of my friends seeing the crowd from a height guessed the number to be around 15,000 people.
As I watched and listened to Laura screening our patient right next to me, I was distracted by shouting at the gate entry about 50m in front of us.  As I looked up, the people waiting in the line outside had turned into an unruly mob and began to storm the entry gate.  So desperate to be seen and get in they began climbing up each other to get over the high fence.  People started clambering and pulling themselves over the fence while the police and our Mercy Ships security team tried to keep them calm and on the other side.  The desperation in the crowd was so intense it brought me to tears.  The next thing we knew, a crew member came running over telling us to drop what we were doing and come to build a human chain as we let through some people to try to settle them down.  As the single gate opened, the crowds pushed, shoved and trampled, causing carnage.  Before we knew it we had Africans hauling in casualties from those trampled right outside the gates.  13 people were carried in some crying, collapsed, unconscious, not breathing, needing immediate attention.  The human barricade was broken as we were called to attend to the wounded.  I ran straight to a 20 something year old woman, lying unconscious on the ground with a bloody nose and graze on her cheek.  Rolling her into the recovery position, I checked her pulse and tried to straighten her to settle her respiratory rate.  I had two African men from the line outside who had carried her in sitting with me, trying to cool her down by pouring water all over her.  Her mama was calling her name and trying to pull her up, so we repeatedly had to tell her to let go and let her daughter rest.  As I asked these guys what had happened they explained that she had fallen or been pushed and people had walked all over her in their desperation.  As I sat there waiting for her to regain consciousness I looked at the chaos around me.  There were nurses, Drs, translators and people everywhere!  Behind me was a man laying on the ground with an oral airway in place, surrounded by nurses and a portable suction machine.  Another sitting nearby drinking water, who had a large gaping wound in his foot that was old but obviously the reason he’d come to screening this day.  Over underneath the overhang of the stadium I could see a team doing CPR on a man.  God, what has happened?  These people are so desperate that they have walked over each other to get help!
My patient began to fling her arms and legs around.  I asked one of the guys with me to ask her to squeeze his hand if she could hear him.  She could but she would not speak to us to tell us if she had pain or even to assess her GCS.  The longer she lay there the more agitated and distressed she became, thrashing around on the gravelled concrete.  It took four of us to hold her and keep her from throwing her head on the ground.
Drs and nurses were everywhere, a sea of blue scrubs bringing help.  One came and told me we were taking casualties to the hospital.  We picked this lady up off the ground carrying her closer to the landrover and put her on a stretcher.  It was impossible to get a blood pressure or even strap her onto the stretcher because she was thrashing so much.  As we put her into the back of the Mercy Ships landrover and pulled her off the stretcher another nurse jumped in the back asking me if I was coming.  “Where are we going?  Which hospital are we going to?”  “I don’t know!”  “Someone, tell me where we are going!”   “Connaught, the local hospital.”  I jumped into the back, perching on my heals with the other nurse by my side, my patient thrashing about with the two guys who’d been helping me holding her down and her mama by her side.  The drive to Connaught was crazy, driving all over the road with a moaning patient still not speaking to us or opening her eyes.  After a desperate prayer with the other nurse and some tears of unbelief of the situation we had just found ourselves in, we arrived at the hospital and a couple of guys grabbed her out of the car and we stood there while she disappeared around the corner.  There were two more teams of Mercy Ships nurses at the hospital who had also brought patients, one whom had passed away at the stadium.  Not long after another landrover appeared with more casualties and after dropping them off, we piled in and headed back to the stadium.
Once back at the stadium I walked around for a minute like a lost soul, wondering in the idst of the busyness what to do next.  The people were all up the stairs of the stadium, still waiting with the police and our security.  This time our screeners were just saying yes or no and sorting the people out.  I stood up to the line and began the job again but this time making the decisions and without a translator.  Only 10 mins passed before I heard the call out, “We’ve got to get out!  We’ve got 2 mins!  Go!”  The people waiting had broken through the line and our security team had managed to get out of the way of the crushing crowd in only seconds!  We literally dropped what we were doing and started moving towards the rest of the Mercy Ships team where the landrovers were waiting.  We hurriedly packed the supplies and piled as many people into each vehicle as possible and left the stadium.  A whole fleet of landrovers drove straight back to the ship but there were too many of us to make such a long journey many times in a short time period.  I jumped in the back of a truck with about 15 others and was taken to the Mercy Ships team house.  There we waited for the rest of the team still waiting at the stadium to be brought back and then finally transported back to the safe haven on the Africa Mercy.
Tonight our hearts are troubled and sad.  We come to bring hope and healing and today that didn’t happen.  Please be praying!


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