Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Brown Eyes

Today I witnessed something truly incredible. One of my patients had come several months ago to the Africa Mercy for a tumour on her jaw to be removed. At that time we were able to replace her jaw with a metal plate and remove the whole tumour. She was very thankful, but also asked about her left eye which was scarred, blind and eyelid mostly closed.  She said something had happened to it when she was two years old and it had been scarred like that ever since. Unfortunately we had to say sorry, there was nothing we could do to help.
A few days ago this young lady returned to the ward for follow up surgery; a bone graft from her hip to the metal plate in her jaw to strengthen it.
This morning as the doctors and I did the morning rounds, one doctor suggested that we could ask the current eye surgeon take a look at her eye, just in case there was something we could do. A few hours later this surgeon came in to see her. Much to our amazement and delight, he said he could probably find a prosthetic eye for her!
So this afternoon I took her down to the eye room and to find her an eye!
She sat in the green, dental-like chair, gripping my hand, ready for whatever came. On the first trial the prosthesis was two big, causing my poor patient much pain- my arm felt the squeezes- as her eye poured tears. So the eye surgeon removed it and looked for a smaller match. He had a box of glass eyes, ready and waiting for patients like her. We just had to find one that fit!
The second prosthesis slipped into her eye with little discomfort. After a few squeezes of the eyelids to see that it would stay in place, it was a perfect fit and match to her other eye!
The next step was one that would change her life forever- looking in the mirror. As soon as it was placed in front of her face, it lit up with amazement. The tears began to freely fall. She looked up at me, still clinging with her arms wrapped around my waist, with two beautiful brown eyes. Two beautiful brown eyes for the first time in 21 years.  Her face said, I can't believe it's real! I can't believe this just happened.
She clung to me, from that green chair, no longer from pain but from the joy bubbling out from within. She stayed there a few minutes looking up at me and then down at the mirror, a permanent smile weaved across her face, joy sparkling from her eyes.

Saturday, 12 January 2013


Well, the strange thing is, now I have two homes. After living on the ship for 2 years, I have ‘family’ on board, so it seems no matter where I am, I am always missing someone.
But Australia will always be home, no matter how far away I am.

My favourite things about being home are really simple. Things like:
Being in a house and able to walk around, only being seen by my family and not 400 other crew members.
Eating food whenever I want to eat, instead of being restricted to set meal times.
Sitting on a comfy couch with a window open, feeling the cool breeze on my face.
Wanting to cook something and having all the ingredients ready at my fingertips (thanks to my mum’s well stocked pantry).
Sitting on the porch swing and having the cat lay on my feet.
Having a car available whenever I want to use it.
Being able to leave the house on my own whenever I want to and come home whenever I want.
Living in a bedroom by myself and not having to share space or be super quiet when I get out of bed in the morning or going to bed at night.
The ability to watch a movie in a lounge room.
If I needed something from the shops I could just drive to get it.

I know they are simple things, but most of them are just not possible living on the ship. So I soaked them in while I could.

I also wrote a list of things I wanted to do while I was home, just because I could.  It looked something like this:

Make a gingerbread house

Create something new- I sewed a new dress! (many thanks to Mum!)

Cook penguin waffles

Do a puzzle

Go to the beach

Eat Gelato and frozen yoghurt

Have a BBQ

Swim in the pool
Play tennis
Go for a run
Go to the shops

Most of these things involved the company of family members or friends and while the activities themselves were enjoyable, the most joy was in catching up with family and friends and seeing my friend’s children growing up.

The trip home was one of the least enjoyable trips ever, freezing to death (or close to it, with tingling fingers) for 8 solid hours, then almost missing my last flight, then being left at the Conakry airport for an hour and then arriving to find my jewellery was stolen from inside my luggage during one of the lay-overs. Hmm... yes, not my favourite trip ever.
But now I am back on the ship, after a delightful holiday and happily reunited with dear friends.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013


I have never been big on surprises, but much to the delight of an encouraging friend on board, I planned a trip home for Christmas, but only told my mum.  She, of course, was delighted, yet had to keep it a secret for the following 3 months!
Fun Christmas events were happening frequently on board, wrapping me up in all the Christmas fun.  I had put going home out of my mind, because that way it was much easier to pretend it wasn’t happening, otherwise i would have spoiled the surprise with my true excitement.
As I looked around the beautifully decorated ship, my home, I had such mixed emotions. I had been preparing for Christmas for months. I had bought my flights home, I had ordered gifts online, I had been sitting in my cabin for hours hand stitching presents for friends and family.  All these gifts had now been wrapped and were sitting on my bed, ready for the night before I departed. I had explained to friends spread all over the ship, of the excitement I had squashed deep down inside of me, at the thought of going home to be embraced by my family members.
After many happy see-ya later’s and Merry Christmas’, and little sleep, although I tried to tell my body to enjoy the horizontal position for the last time in two days, I was up just after 4am, for final packing and disembarkation.  Two sweet friends were up to send me off with hugs and goodbyes and even waves from the dock, as the Landrover drove off into the darkness.
If you’ve ever traveled far from Australia, you’d know it contains hours and hours of sitting around, whether in airports or on planes. I tried to contain myself and my excitement, because there were so many hours (42 hours altogether) I couldn’t afford to work myself up!
Adventures are always coming my way, and after making friends with some Nigerian men in the airport in Abidjan, my flight companion was more than I bargained for! Here’s what I wrote during my flight:

Sitting on the 2nd plane already, in Accra after already spending 7 hours in the airport in Abidjan, Ivory coast, I let myself begin to think about actually being home with my family after being away for exactly 365 days. As the excitement began to bubble up inside, I wondered how I would ever contain it for the next 30 or so hours sitting on planes and wandering around airports. But then, for the third time, and counting, a child, speaking a foreign language with no caregiver was placed next to me! Perhaps I look like someone wanting to baby sit for this 8 hour, overnight flight?!? He speaks French! And I know I've lived in French communities now for more than a year, but it is not a language I have picked up quickly! I should have tried harder because right now I need it! I know some words, but not enough!
How will these hours pass, with a child who looks to me to help him and asks me to draw a helicopter on his notepad, who has eaten a small box of Pringles, mars bar, half a scotch finger, a pack of aeroplane snacks and a glass of juice and won't even sit still long enough to watch a French dubbed Pixar movie! Never a dull moment!

And then FINALLY, I arrived to Brisbane airport. You may never have seen one so full of nervous energy and so impatient to wait in those custom lines! My mum was on the other side of those doors!!! And then before I knew it, there she was, and I was in her arms, ready to cry out tears of relief and pleasure.
After the drive to my home town, we pulled into the drive, Mum honking crazily on the horn. Sarah came running down the back stairs, saw me, jaw dropped slightly, yelled my name in delight and swept me into her arms hugging me tight, tears running and mouth laughing all at once! My brother and sister-in-law had just left the house, and they turned the car around, pulled into the driveway and more hugs were given.
After dumping my luggage into my bedroom and taking a much needed shower, I called Dad. He’d known that Mum was going to pick someone up from the airport. In fact all of the kids had known that mum had gone to collect someone, but they had not dared hope it was me, for fear of great disappointment.

At the sound of my voice over the phone, Dad choked up and could barely utter words. My oldest sister who was arriving in 3 days, did the same! The last family member to surprise was my younger sister. We waited for her to finish her day at work and come home, walk up the stairs, dump her bag on the table and then I was standing there, in front of her. “Hello Ruth” Her eyes widened, a high pitched, “Debbie!!!” escaped her mouth and her arms gripped me tightly, squeezing out all that anticipation I had carried for the past 3 months. I was home.

I kept the secret to my family that day and the following day after a lovely visit with a dear friend, I made some calls to unsuspecting friends, pleasantly surprising them also.
And now I am here, sitting in my parent’s house, the one that I lived in before I left for the ship. The day I arrived I wrote a list of things that I want to do while I’m home. It is full of the simplest things; things you might do every day that I never get a chance to do on the ship. But that will come later, for now it’s a belated Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you from me and my (some-what silly) family :)


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