The crazy thing about this place is that a miracle happened in the hospital last week and I haven’t even told you about it.
Last week while I was working an evening shift, I had a call from my supervisor telling me that a dental patient had come in with a big tooth abscess and needed to have it drain in the OR before he became septic. He was going to come back to a bed in the ward I was in charge of. She said the biggest risk for the patient post-operatively would be airway swelling. Apparently large tooth abscess' had been a ‘Liberia special’ (very common during the 2008 Liberian outreach). I remember reading a Mercy Ships article about it one time before I’d ever come to the ship, so I had an idea of how it could turn out.
I kept that information in the back of my mind while I sorted out problems here and there in the ward and while I was making sure the nurses got to dinner on time, I had a call from the OR saying that they were going to bring the dental patient to the ICU post-op on the ventilator. I hung up the phone and turned around to face the busy ward, noticing the nurses scurrying here and there, patient’s NG feeds running, others sitting up on their beds eating their dinner from the red bowls that we serve them in. I knew that even though I’m not trained as an ICU nurse (no ventilator training) I had nothing to fear because we have the best team I could ever ask for. All I had to do was pick one of the adult ICU nurses already working, reallocate her patients to other nurses and have her set up the ventilator, send a few text pages to let others know what was going on, look at staffing for the next two shifts and ask someone to save me dinner.
After letting the OR know that we’d be ready for the patient in 20 mins or so, they let me know that they’d had to insert an emergency tracheostomy in the patient. While they’d tried to extubate, his airway had closed right over, from the immense swelling and pus draining from this huge oral abscess. They’d tried and tried to reintubate but to no avail. With the tracheostomy finally in and the patient relatively stable on the ventilator, he was brought into our ICU. Later in the evening his oxygen saturations dropped and changing the settings on the ventilator didn’t help to improve it. We were pumping antibiotics into his already feverish body.
Over the next couple of days his condition worsened. His oxygen saturations dropped lower and lower and we were pretty much powerless to stop them. We tried everything that we had access to and continued to pray. I sent a call out on FaceBook to pray for this man because that was really all we had left.
By day three post-op his oxygen dropped to an all time low. We were scared for this man because his oxygen saturations had been quite low for a long time and it brought dangers of permanent brain damage. It didn’t look like he was going to survive. And then the miracle occurred. With no interference by us, his oxygen saturations began to improve. They continued getting better and better and the following day he was well enough to be off the ventilator and breathing on his own! The following day he was moved back to a bed in the ward and only a few days later his tracheostomy was removed.
Each day that I’ve seen him in the past week I have literally thanked God for unexplainably saving him, but ever since having the abscess drained he was very straight faced. Barely speaking when asked questions he would reply with a shake of the head or a raise of the eyebrows for yes (very common here). I barely heard him utter words, let alone show emotion. Yet when I looked at him, I wanted to jump up and down with the joy of answered prayer and his life being saved!
Today I was his nurse. Seeing him straight faced for so many days, made me wonder what on earth he must think of this whole situation. I sat down with him and a translator to explain that while he was really sick on the ventilator we thought he was going to die. While that was being translated, his eye brows shot up as he took in the information. I continued saying that God clearly had a plan in mind for him since we had so clearly seen him saved from certain death. He didn’t have anything to add and continued to sit there silently receiving whatever we said.
Later as I was doing his wound care, I was speaking to him using the translator asking him about his sister who had visited almost daily since he’d arrived, asking him what he does when he’s not in hospital. He didn’t say much in response, although he answered the questions using words. I then said that he seemed like he had a quiet personality and didn’t like to talk much. Much to my surprise, after it was translated to him, his face lit up with a smile, the first smile I'd seen. He told the translator, “No, I’m not really quiet. I like to talk.” Astonished, I looked right at him, my eyes wide, “You do like to talk!? And you just smiled! Why don’t you talk much? And you just smiled!!” I said this straight to him and I have no idea how or what was translated to him about what I said, but as I saw him watch my stunned reaction to him smiling, I got a glimpse through the window straight into his personality. To see the change in his face when he smiled and showed some spunky personality made me feel triumphant!
I saw him smile two more times that hour and even pull a face at a little boy patient. Each simple smile felt like we had somehow conquered the world. I have no idea what plans God has for his life, but I know He wants him alive!!!