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.