Thursday, 19 December 2013

Merry Christmas!

Christmas is upon us! It was sneaking up while I was in the states and after only being back on the ship for a couple of weeks, the ship Christmas decorations were up. We have been having events for Christmas every few days ever since December began. Some people have said all the events have made it feel like Christmas is dragging on forever, but I am loving it.

Over the past few weeks we have celebrated Sinterklaas- the Dutch Santa celebration and Santa Lucia- the Scandinavian celebration. We’ve had Winter Wonderland markets on board, a ballet performance, Christmas craft nights, cookie bakes and tonight we had the Mercy Ships Academy Christmas play. Tomorrow night is the Australian Traditional Carols by Candlelight. I’m soaking up each event and enjoying them with friends around the ship.

This will be my first Christmas away from my family. That means the traditions that have made Christmas Christmas have been left on the other side of the world and will be very missed (mostly my family members!). At least the weather here is similar to the weather at home at the moment! Out of all the places in the world though that I would choose to spend Christmas away from my family, I would pick here. A few weeks ago we did a fun, silly Christmas ‘family’ photo shoot to use on our Christmas cards. Some of this group have gone home for Christmas, but a good handful of them will be my family for Christmas this year.

My Christmas cards have been crafted, written and posted and hand-made Christmas gifts for Christmas day have been in the making for a few weeks now and are not quite finished!

Down in the hospital, the ceilings are covered with red and green paper chains and our D ward door is covered too, with the newly made up words of The 12 Days of Christmas D ward style.

During the children’s Christmas play tonight, there was so much cuteness I could hardly handle it. My friends next to me could verify that I squealed in parts and that I also admitted I could cry at watching them. I love seeing the children I know and live with performing. They weren’t performing just anything though, they were testifying of the God that we love and serve. The story of Jesus coming to earth to live among man has been told for centuries but what does it mean to you? I felt like I could cry tonight because Jesus was calling me- Watch. Look. Do you see me? Come and spend time with me after the play. See what I have done for you.

Last week a situation arose where I found my insecurities rise as high as the Eiffel Tower. A sharp little finger poked me in the heart and told me that I wasn’t good enough- a lie that I have been fighting against for years. The situation seemed to point to that fact that I must not have been good enough and so I second guessed the truth that God had spoken over me. When I was writing in my journal about it, I wrote, God says I am worth... and I stopped. I thought firstly, more than jewels, not that's not it. More than the sparrows in the sky. No that's not it either... God says I am worth... God whispered to me. “You are worth everything I had to give.” His son. His only son. He gave everything. For me. I am worth God sacrificing his own son, just that I might live and know him. “I took you from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners I called you. I said, ‘You are my servant’; I have chosen you and have not rejected you.” (Isaiah 41:9 NIV)

This season God sent His only son to earth, in the form of a baby, to live among man because he loves us. He wants to know us. We are worth everything to him.

Merry Christmas to you and your family! May you know His love for you this Christmas.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Empty Arms

The same tiny little baby I wrote about just a few days ago was admitted again, but much sicker than previously. Hard decisions have to happen here every day, most of which I am never even aware of because they are not happening in the ward that I work in. The decision to try and help this little one get over her pneumonia was a tricky one for several reasons, but I have discovered over the years here, that very occasionally patients are admitted into the ward to be loved on, prayed for and rejoiced over before God takes them home.

During this baby’s admission we began to fight desperately for her life. She was hooked up to the ventilator and various IVs were giving her fluids and drugs of all kinds. We waited for the father to come into the hospital to see his daughter and support his wife.
There is a culture in Western Africa that we have discovered on the ship that is still not understood by me and many others. When it comes to the subject of death and dying, the father is told the prognosis and then he can choose when and how to tell the mother about her child. In this case the father was invited into the ICU where the team had a meeting about the care of the baby. She was so sick that she had tubes and IVs everywhere. This tiny little bundle that you could almost hold in just one hand was being kept alive by machines but still she was fading away. I don’t know everything that went on in the ICU and the conversations that happened, but I was out in the ward, seeing that mama, tormented by not knowing what was going on.

As a nurse it is one of the hardest things, to know something about your patient before the patient themselves know or the mama or papa are told. I found when I was at home in Australia, I didn’t want to know my patient’s pathology results before they knew, because they might see it written on my face. In this case, the mama was barely making eye contact. The sorrow was evident in her slumped shoulders, her empty arms, her downcast eyes. I don’t know what thoughts were going around and around her mind as she sat next to the bed in the ward that her baby and her had shared for the past few days. But as all life saving measures were withdrawn from her baby girl in the ICU, she was sitting there in the ward, unaware, unseeing, unable to cuddle her baby, because the culture kept her from being there. I certainly don’t pretend to know everything (or even close to much) about some African cultures, but my heart aches for the mama who sat with empty arms. This sweet baby girl, who’d she’d just spent the last two months of her life completely wrapped up in, could no longer be held for the months and years to come.

How is it that there are no words to describe how deep things are felt? That somehow a pit can open inside of you, empty and huge. And sorrow, an emotion, can be physically painful. What do we do with this pain? The only thing I know to do: “If your heart is broken, you’ll find God right there; if you’re kicked in the gut, he’ll help you catch your breath.” Ps 34:18 MSG. I have not lost a child and I can barely begin to imagine the sorrow of such a loss, but I have felt gut-wrenching sorrow, bringing me to my knees. And from my knees as I have looked up, there is Jesus standing right before me, with his hand out-stretched, willing and wanting to give me the strength I need to get through that hour, that day. So I pray for this family, that He will fill those empty arms to overflowing.

Friday, 6 December 2013

Baby Love

Returning back to my home on the ship was nice. I was ready to come home and back to my own space- yes, my own space that I share with one other person in the bunk above me. My bed and my cupboard is the only space I have to myself, so I cherish it.
Within days of being back at work my mind was filling with stories of my patients. Words were piling up in my mind, swirling around and around, waiting for a chance to come through my fingertips. I haven’t sat down and given them a chance until now because December is suddenly upon us. The busy Christmas season has begun and it is so full of excitement on board. On Saturday the ship Christmas decorations went up, transforming our home into a Christmassy wonderland of decorated trees and fairy lights. It is beautiful to walk through and feel the excitement pumping around the ship, but it is also mixed with the sadness of friends leaving the ship for home.
Down in the wards the Christmas craft continues. Red and green paperchains, snowflakes and Christmas colouring pages adorn the walls and ceilings. A Christmas tree made of gloves sits on a table. Although the decorations in the ward have changed from the usual splash of colours to Christmas reds and greens, the patients’ stories continue to flow just the same.
Last week I looked after a two month old bilateral cleft lip baby girl who weighed just 2.13kg. She had been admitted for respiratory distress and needed care that her mama couldn’t give at home. Our team of nurses had the privilege of helping her mama out with feeding the baby every two hours, even throughout the night. Once our baby girl was strong enough, we were able to discharge her home again. While getting organised to send her home, I asked mama if there was someone at home who could help her to feed the baby every two hours overnight. She said she was strong and could do it. I questioned further- is there no one else? She said it was just her and her 14 year old daughter, but she insisted again that she was strong enough. I didn’t doubt that she was, I had seen her myself in the ward, caring and loving on her baby, but who has the strength for what she was doing? The mama told me, when her baby girl was first born the baby didn’t sleep at all or feed well for the first month. So the mama learnt to cope with not sleeping. Now the baby was sleeping better, so it was already much easier. Mama was so brave and I just wished there was someone present to support her and love her while she walked this hard road. The baby was in the Mercy Ships Infant Feeding Program where she was seen as often as necessary to check the baby’s weight and to be given support and instruction but I wished there was more constant support for her at home.
Before letting this mama and her baby discharge from the hospital, I held this tiny baby, dressed in two layers of clothing, wrapped in two lappas and still weighing barely anything, while mama sat and ate her lunch. I held the glass bottle for the baby as she tried to suck the nipple, almost impossible when there is a bilateral cleft lip. She was getting the milk one drip at a time, but she was determined. I stared down at this baby girl, wondering what her life would hold. She also has some defects in her heart and potentially others that we can’t test for. I wonder how long she will survive for with so many odds against her. I wonder how her mama will cope with this tiny baby taking up every minute of her time, with little to no support. Her mama is giving her everything she has, because that’s what love does.

I have been asked many times while working on the ward. Do I have children? My answer is always the same. My children are those here, in the ward. Tonight when I was asked the same question, I pointed to bed 9 and 10 and said, “Those babies, they are my children while they are here.” I pointed around the room, to each child’s bed. Their mamas smiled. Yes, they could see that. One of the nurses I worked with for several months on board used to always joke that I continually had a baby or child in my arms whenever I was at work. I would laugh, but it’s true. I long for the moment when the child in my arms rests his head on my chest, at peace and comfortable in my arms. This is part of how I love.

One mama came with her little girl who needed a cleft lip and palate repair. Her little girl only wanted her mama’s arms and her mama’s touch. Each day that she recovered on the ward, I would greet them. Mama always returned a great big smile. The day after the surgery her little girl fought so hard with us, frustrated that she couldn’t have what she wanted and had so many tubes everywhere. I encouraged mama, but I saw the tears roll down her cheeks. It was the first day after the operation and certainly the hardest. I told her it would only get better from here and it did. We saw a dramatic improvement the next day where our little patient was walking around the ward, feet only just poking out under her long hospital gown, kicking a balloon and happy. When mama and I saw each other, we rejoiced together. Small triumphs, but it brought a gladness that lifted the sorrow she had felt the day before. When I looked across the ward, days later and saw the same little girl sitting on the floor, clapping her hands and singing, her mama and I caught each other’s eyes and shared a sweet moment of jubilation. Perhaps I never got to cuddle this little one, but her mama still knew I cared and in this case, I think it was the mama who needed the support.

These moments are the ones that I love.


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