Tuesday, 20 May 2014

In Six Days

One of my patient's stories was recently revealed to me by another nurse. 13 years ago during the civil war in Congo, Paul was in his teens and running away from the soldiers who were shooting at him and those in his village. His grandmother was too old or unable to run and so in true love, he picked her up on his back and ran with her tightly clinging to him. He was, however, not fast enough to outrun the gunfire. His grandmother was shot and killed as she clung to him and his nose was shot right off his face, sparing his life but leaving him disfigured. All these years later he was able to have a free surgery to reconstruct his face.
It's a long process as we take skin from the head and flap it down to make the new nose and leave it attached looking very strange for three weeks while the blood supply becomes strong. Then after three weeks the pedicle flap is released and our patient has a new nose. You should see the smile that the patient has plastered on their face for the next days. It is truly unforgettable! Paul was no exception for that award-winning smile!

Charissa, one of my fellow nurses, spent time with Paul during the reconstruction

Three weeks later, his nose is finished!

Over time the nose will shrink a little, but I think it looks so great already!!

Things here are really wrapping up fast. I have said countless goodbyes and have countless more to come. At the end of the day there is a list being written in my head of things to do that I would prefer to put off for another day, but the next day rolls around and all too soon these things cannot be put off any longer. Tonight I finished writing goodbye cards for numerous friends who are yet to leave this week, the following week and even after that. The ship will be a different place when I return in October after a huge turnover of staff.

But for now, we still have six beautiful patients downstairs in the hospital for two more short days. The rest of the hospital has been packed up, cleaned and put into a shipping container. (Do you think I can write that on my resume?)
Today I went down to the hospital and walked into the ward four times, each for a different reason, but ever so willing to spend time with our lasting Congolese Day Crew who have translated for us all these months and to hang out with the patients who have settled themselves deep in my heart.

Deborah and Deborah! They shorten her name to Debo. So it's been Debo & Debo.

Some of our D ward team

In six short days I will be leaving Congo... I sit here, unsure what to write next. Yesterday a friend said to me, hey this time next week it'll be you standing on the dock for goodbyes. I felt like I'd had the wind knocked out of me. Although it's not a final goodbye to the ship, each country goodbye comes with a deep sadness. All the patients that I have touched, cared for and loved are being left behind. I wish it were easier to follow up with them. I'd dearly love to know how their life turns out to be, how their friends think of their new face, how they fit back into their society, how much their self-esteem has grown while they've been in our care and how much they know that God truly adores them.

This is the group of patients sitting on the ward tonight. Please pray for them as we trust and wait on God for their healing!

And so in six days I fly away, ready for some much needed time out, but I can hardly wait to have a little one in my arms again soon. Are you ready for that my Aussie friends? See you in a few weeks!

Friday, 9 May 2014

This Was My Today

As I opened my eyes I realised I was laying on my side. I saw grass, bush, green shrubs and craning my neck, the tall tree. Confused I looked down at my legs, seeing something white coming through my denim overalls. I was laying in the grass in a pool of blood. My legs were swollen to double their normal size, filling the size of my baggy pants. I told myself to not look down there again or I'd make myself feel sick.
Barely conscious I tried to help the person who was bandaging my leg. A thick, warm, fuzzy feeling enveloped my thighs as I bled into the grass. A numbness spread down my legs.
My eyes were closed to block out the sights I didn’t understand, magnifying the sounds of my fellow grade nine classmates who had gathered around me, crying hysterically. Keeping my head resting on my left arm, I lay there, pain pulsating through my body at every tiny touch.
I revisited in my mind the sights I’d seen. My body had flown upwards as planned, but instead of being caught by the bungee cord I’d seen it laying on the ground in front of me while I was still in the air.
The most intense pain you’ve ever felt.
Apart from the noise of crying and the instructors on their radios making the appropriate emergency calls, no one knew what to say. Time was crawling. Every second that passed the pain intensified and the pool of blood spread. I opened my eyes periodically and saw the red, tear stained faces of my friends, clinging onto my left hand, outstretched on the ground at their knees. I told them I would be ok.
Breaking the silence, a friend boldly spoke out, “We need to pray!” Voices rose immediately, intermingled petitions to God, mine among them. God take away the pain. Thank you that I am alive. Please take away the pain.
The place of escape I’d built in my mind was disturbed by the ambulance who arrived 20 minutes after my body had hit the ground and smashed. They immediately set to work putting in an IV and giving fluids and what I most desired, pain relief. Never enough, the paramedic continued to ask what my pain was out of ten. Always a ten or nine and a half out of ten, the pain was hardly dulled, instead it filled my mind, pushing out all thoughts of confusion or darkness, immersed in pain.
Barely able to listen to the words being spoken around me the paramedic was asking me all sorts of questions. The effort to open my mouth, form the words with my thick, dry tongue and project them from my throat was almost too much to ask. Through the fog of my pain, I answered her questions and did as she required me to do, meanwhile thinking that my sister standing by my side holding my IV bag could have answered them much quicker than myself.
“Is your back sore Deb?” one of the ambulance officers asked. I slowly thought about it. I had moved my head and neck around, I could wiggle my toes, or could I? Who knew where all that pain was coming from? And so the ambulance team decided to roll me from my original position on the dirt and grass onto a spinal board.
“On my call. Ready, brace, move!” And all at once every broken bone moved and shifted and grated against each other. My muscles revolted against me as they began to spasm, shooting the most intense pain throughout my entire being. Over and over again, despite my deep breathing and telling myself to relax, the spasms continued. Torturous spasms.

Thinking I may have spinal injuries, the ambulance personnel decided to send me to a hospital in a nearby city. At that exact period of time there was an RACQ CareFlight Helicopter about to fly overhead.
While I lay on the spinal board, tortured by muscle spasms, I was covered in blankets to keep the debris off and the helicopter landed.  The spinal board which I was tightly strapped onto, neck brace holding my head stiffly in place, was picked up and carried onto the helicopter. My sister Sarah, hopped into the cramped space holding me and the machines and equipment that would hopefully keep me alive. Tears rolling down her cheeks she managed to choke, “Bye Deb, I love you.”
They didn’t expect me to survive that night. There were too many risks and complications which my body faced for the doctors to have high hopes of a good recovery.
The people continued to pray.
All night long, from before I went into surgery at 10pm, until after they had closed me up at 7am, too tired to continue, I was lifted up in prayer.

Exactly 14 years ago this was my today.

Sometimes I write about miracles. The creation of each of our lives is one, but some, like me have had more. That day I fell 15 metres (45 feet) from a sling shot bungee. It was an accident. It was one of those things that never happens to you, only the unfortunate person on the news. I survived the unsurvivable. Bilateral complete fractured femurs, (Right femur compound- I could see one half of the bone sticking out through my jeans), a terribly fractured left humerous (almost severing the nerve to my whole arm, the one I write with) and about 13 dislocated and fractured bones in my left foot. In short, my whole body was quite a mess for a time.
I could write pages and pages more of what procedures I had, how long it took to recover physically and emotionally, how it impacted my friends who were watching and heard my bones snapping, how my family coped and on and on, but the end result is this: Jesus saved my life that day and walked with me closely through my recovery. Prayers were answered, big prayers. (If you want to know specific answers just ask!)

And the result? Not only did my faith develop in incredible ways but through my time in hospital as a patient I gained a deep appreciation for my nurses and decided I wanted to be one. I wanted to model the kindness and compassion they had shown me in my weakest, most vulnerable moments.

During my recovery, particularly in the first days when I was barely conscious, people were praying for me. The word was spread not only around the whole of Australia thanks to the National News, but to the United States, the Philippines, Canada, New Zealand and perhaps countries I didn’t even know about. I have actually met countless people who once they have heard my story, they’ve turned to me and said, “Oh my gosh, that was you!? I prayed for you!” And to those who I’ve never met and perhaps never will, Thank you! Your prayers truly made a difference. I don’t know who I would be without them.

May 2000- A school in Brisbane who had never met me sent this beautiful bunch of flowers while I recovered.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

The Road Ahead

When I look in front of me, I feel anxious. It's that time of the year again when the field service is coming to an end. Stretched out ahead of us is only two weeks left of surgery time, then the operating rooms close. The hospital will be open for one more week and then whether our patients are ready or not, we discharge them home or into another's care for follow-up, we close our doors, clean and pack the whole hospital into a shipping container. We farewell our Day Crew (ward translators), whom we have worked with side by side for the past 10 months, never knowing if we'll see them again and then with the energy left, I must stand on the dock bidding farewell to the scores of nurses whom I have served with, loved, created memories and relied upon. Then, my home the ship, will be packed up and ready to sail away from Congo to the next country for maintenance.Just thinking about it I feel exhausted. This will be my fifth country to say goodbye to. As for saying goodbye to friends, did you know that crew are constantly coming and going multiple times per week? At the end of the outreach though it happens en masse, leaving a hole of emptiness in your heart for each beautiful person who crept inside during the last 10 months but has now left your reach.

This next outreach has suddenly changed location. The outreach was planned for Guinea but they have had a recent outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus, a viral hemorrhagic disease. As of the 20 April the Ministry of Health in Guinea has confirmed 208 clinical cases, including 136 deaths in two separate areas in the country. In light of the disease and knowing how much traffic and movement of people we bring to the country (and many other things), the decision was made that the ship would not return immediately to Guinea, but instead head to the country of Benin. This change in decision has caused all sorts of reactions from crew members. Some crew are rejoicing at returning to their home country or near to their home country, others deciding to end their time with Mercy Ships early and not return for the next outreach since all hopes of seeing patients from 2012-13 outreach have disappeared before their very eyes. I am disappointed not to be returning to Guinea to see my friends living there and the many patients that I loved and cared for over the 10 months that we lived there. Please continue to pray for them as they contain this disease and their hopes for our arrival are dashed.
Benin was the country where my journey with Mercy Ships began back in 2009. When I think back to that time in 2009 it feels like another life time. I feel like I hardly remember who I was back then.

The M/V Africa Mercy docked in Benin 2009

Have I aged?

Between now and arriving in Benin I have a million things in front of me. There are several goodbye projects in the making, heartfelt words to be poured out on paper, captured memories to be printed and arranged, possessions to be organised and packed and a time-out holiday and visiting far away friends to be planned and arrangements to arrive home to Australia. I'll actually be back in Australia for almost three months, the longest time period since leaving in December 2010.

But for now the road ahead is downhill, not easy, but increasing speed, unable to be slowed and I'm already so tired. Please pray for me and those serving here with me. Pray for divine strength and energy for the last weeks. I want to give out and love to the very end of our time in Congo, to show our patients and Day Crew that we love and value them and what they have taught us over the last 10 months. I want to run to the end of this race in Congo and finish strong and not half-hearted.


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