Wednesday, 23 December 2015

A Little Christmas Fun

I’ve been waiting until I have felt inspired before writing a blog, but the truth is inspiration has been fleeting and there have been too many other things happening that I have given my time away to.
As much as I would have loved to be home with my family this Christmas I’m not, I’m here on the ship in Tamatave, Madagascar and making the most of this season with my ship family. The ship is well decorated with Christmas trees in all the common areas and greenery wrapped up the gangway and over the stair banisters. There have been a lot of events to enjoy, including Sinter Claus (Dutch tradition), Santa Lucia (Scandinavian tradition), Christmas movies, cookie bakes, gingerbread house competition, jingle bell dash and Carols by Candlelight just to name a few. I have made the most of Christmas by visiting the market and buying gifts for others for Christmas and picking up a few things for myself!

Nothing like a pair of Christmas leggings. So ridiculous.

Above is a photo of me walking around town with a blow up Santa. Yep, that’s right. I bought him from a guy on the street who was carrying a handful of them. When I saw them, I knew that I needed one. (Hehe, no one really needs a blow-up Santa, do they?) So I asked the man, “Combien?” How much? “Douze mill” 12,000AR = $5. No way, I think. “Cinq mill” He shook his head and so I continued on my way to join my friends at the outdoorish eating place (not fancy enough to even call it a restaurant, so I don’t know how to classify it!) 
Anyway, the guy hung around and after about 30 minutes he walked over and said “Six mill” I shook my head “Cinq mill” 5,000 AR = $2 (I drive a hard bargin- I know their game) and he gave the nod of his head, signalling that he had lost the battle and I could pay what I had said. So, Santa or Dada Be Noel as he is called in Malagasy, joined our lunch table.
After lunch, we headed back out into the market, Dada Be Noel on my hip. As I walked passed a group of older ladies sitting on the curb, they noticed the blow-up man and so I waved his arm at them, “Dada Be Noel, Salama” They started laughing and replied Salama. I reply, “Ina vaovao?” Giggling some more, “Tsy vaovao” And then I jiggle Santa with my arm around his belly and say in my best Santa voice “Ho, ho, ho” and just keep walking. Oh, the faces of those ladies, cracking up and laughing at me.
I continued these antics the whole way through the market. People probably thought I was crazy but you know, I don’t care, as long as I get a genuine smile. Dada Be Noel is now sitting on my desk, acting as a Christmas Tree surrounded by presents, although the tree lights are strung above him on the roof because I think they are hot enough that they’d pop him. Anyway, this funny little blow up Santa makes me smile every time I look at him.

The operating rooms have closed for this Christmas week and the wards have many less patients than normal, many of them discharging to be with their families or at least out in the community during this season.

Cleft lip baby christmas Mercy Ships

Cleft lip baby christmas Mercy Ships


On another random note, we stopped at this concrete Santa on the side of the road on the way to our favourite weekend getaway and took some fun photos.

Santa- did you know your eyeliner is running? Creepy.

Whether you are in the heat or in the cold this Christmas, with your family or without, I wish you a very Merry Christmas!

Sunday, 22 November 2015

I did it

I did it. I packed my bag; water, iPod, headphones, water colour pencils, journal, purse and sunglasses. I signed out at the gangway, made my way down the gangway's rattly stairs, unlocked my newly owned bike (thanks to the sad farewell of a good friend) and was on my way, all on my own. (Not recommended by Mercy Ships but justified in my mind by the fact that I was travelling to a place frequented by shippers, on a well known road and my destination was known by a friend.)

Often I feel when I'm on my own, that I just want to get to my destination quickly, but I am learning to enjoy the journey because that's half the experience. With that thought in mind I cycled through town enjoying the scenes on the side of the road; a little boy running in bare feet with a large toy car (probably once battery controlled) tied to a string, racing along behind him. There was a huge church service set up on a sandy field with hundreds of people attending; some were huddled under the shade of the palm trees, trying to keep out of the burning midday sun. Other people sit on concrete seats in the shade, sipping the milk from a freshly opened coconut or licking a cold cone of ice cream scooped from Gastronomie by a man wearing a mouth shield so that he doesn't breathe into the ice cream fridge.  Palm trees line the street and beyond that the white sand and blue sea in combination with almost cloudless blue skies, make the perfect picture. There are people on bicycles, tuk-tuks, cars, trucks and pousse-pousse drivers all moving towards a destination. I weave in and out of moving traffic, overtaking the slower pousse-pousses and often being overtaken by a motor bike at the same time. Little hands grab the metal bars from the inside of the pousse-pousse, holding on from the laps of their parents. Pousse-pousse riders are trickling sweat as I cycle past them and their heavy load of people. I listen to the sounds of traffic coming up behind me trying to guess the type of vehicle. Courtesy beeps come from them as they warn me they are coming past and to stay out of the way. Fruit stalls line the streets with bananas, avocados and just newly in season, lychees.

Streets of Tamatave

Streets of Tamatave

Streets of Tamatave

And then I have arrived. For the first time in my life I have chosen to go out on my own for a sit down meal. I am expecting to see people I know walk past and see me alone and for once in my life, feel totally okay with it. Within five minutes of sitting down, two friends arrive, say hello, ask me if I came on my own and one replies that she comes here on her own often too. I feel like I could invite them to sit down, but then that would defeat the whole purpose of me coming out here. You see if you've been on the ship you know exactly what I mean when I say living on the ship in community is tiring. The thing is, you're always in public. The majority of the crew share cabins, depending on your length of service or job, you may share with 2-10 people. The majority of cabins are 6 berths and while this creates great friendships and tight community, it's tiring to be among people all the time. The second you pull your berth curtain you're in public, having to be dressed appropriately and respond to greetings and questions.
So now I sit here, on my own, on a busy Sunday afternoon in a restaurant on the beach, eating my favourite lunch in Tamatave, people watching, hearing the French language float around me, much like the coals on my table, blowing smoke into the wind to keep to flies away. Unfortunately that smoke is irritating my lungs which have been struggling for the past few weeks, a sickness I have not been able to shake.

Oceans 501, Tamatave

It's hard to know whether I should admit it publicly or not (too late now). I'm tired. For no explainable reason I feel tired and so I am seeking ways to renew life and find a freshness of spirit and a new sparkle. Part of the restoration process has involved getting off the ship a little more often, cycling through town, enjoying fresh air and sunshine, creating and crafting, walking through the streets of Tamatave, going out for ice cream, reading more books and allowing myself to dream about what God wants me to do in the future.

There is no happy bow to tie these thoughts up except for me to remember that life is a journey and no matter how I am feeling, I will endeavor to enjoy the ride.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

A Raspy Cry

I've been silent for a while, not knowing where to find the energy to put down the hundreds of words swirling around in my mind. Sometimes life in this place is just about keeping your head above the water while so many things are going on.

I do have one particular story of a 3 year old boy who had surgery on a tumour in his neck that was cutting off his airway. I didn't see him before he went in for surgery but I heard from those who did that it was much like Emmanel from Congo where he was trying so hard to breathe past his tumour that is was distressing to listen to.

This little Malagasy boy, let's call him Naty, went in for this very complicated, difficult surgery and was intubated and sedated after surgery for several days. I often helped out inside the ICU during the time that he was in there.
Naty was a strong boy and despite sedatives, pain relief and even some amount of muscle paralysers, he still moved around. There was a certain position he hated lying in and so even with bolus medications being given before moving him, he'd still manage to wiggle back to his most comfortable position.

ICU Africa Mercy, Mercy Ships

Since this cute little boy’s admission his papa or aunty had been staying with him since his mother was 9 months pregnant and had other children at home. Both the papa and the aunty were so beautiful to watch their interactions and care with him. Even when his small body was on the large ICU bed, covered in lines, wires and tubes, whenever he fought against us, his papa would be off his chair in a flash to calm Naty and talk to him.

We tried getting him off the ventilator several times but each time he couldn’t cope breathing on his own with a damaged trachea, so we put in a temporary tracheostomy. He was able to be off the ventilator pretty much straight away. He was out of the ICU and back in the ward less than 24 hours later.

ICU Africa Mercy, Mercy Ships

Soon Naty was able to start practicing swallowing water. His papa was so patient with him, spooning water into his mouth as he practiced swallowing. Some days he was improving and other days it felt like he was taking a step or two backwards, but most days I'd look over to their bed and Naty would be sitting on the bed with his papa sitting on a stool next to him, leaning on the bed. The two of them would be playing with a truck or other toys. His papa would say something to him and Naty's little face would brighten with a massive smile.

Days passed by and we were able to remove his tracheostomy and actually hear his cry and have him start swallowing food. When the nurses came to his bedside Naty didn't enjoy it. Mostly he cried a pitiful, raspy cry than was almost silent in volume. His papa was always so tender, calming him for whatever it was that we needed to do.

Last week I did night shift and looked after him. One night when his IV antibiotics had ceased and I didn't need to disturb him, I had a sudden thought to pray that God would close that trache hole that bubbled frothy sputum when he coughed or cried. When I came back from my day off after nights the hole had closed completely!! In fact, in this last week suddenly Naty has conquered his difficulty swallowing, his trache hole has closed over, he has had no more fevers, he is happier than ever and he isn't crying whenever a nurse comes near him.

I went to deck 7 with him and his aunt the other night and it was such joy to see him participate in a little running race with the day crew, his aunt and myself. His face was bright as a smile lit it. When we got back to his bed on the ward, Naty pulled out the pictures of his new baby sister that had been born a few days before. “Zaza!” (child) he proudly said in his raspy voice, showing me each printed photo of his beautiful new sister. “Yeah, your zaza kely! (baby) Tsara be!” (Beautiful) I replied in my limited Malagasy.

This past weekend, our little boy and his papa discharged home and he would have been able to meet his baby sister for the first time. After a whole month of being in our hospital, seeing this little family every day, his departure has left a little hole in our patient community, but I am so happy for them. I am happy that we were able to give this little boy a chance at a long healthy life. His aunty said to me, that night on deck 7, “No one else in Madagascar could have done this surgery.” It’s true, the local hospitals aren’t equipped for all the care that he had on board, but some day I very much hope they are equipped so that boys and girls just like Naty are given the surgical healthcare that they need. That’s why Mercy Ships is here in Madagascar, to bring life to those who aren’t able to access the care that they need and to train up the Malagasy medical professionals who will help strengthen and build their own healthcare system for the future.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015


At work in the ward one night shift, it was just past midnight when my co-worker’s patient started screaming her lungs out. It was a 5 year old girl, who’d had a cyst removed from her tongue only a few hours prior. She was writhing in her bed, screaming in the darkness. Her grandma and the Malagasy day crew working with us were both holding her down in the bed. Her nurse went over to her bed in the darkness, behind the blue curtain that shielded the light from the patients. Her nurse had a tiny baby already in her arms, as she was just about to feed her. I went behind the curtain also to see what was going on. At seeing her patient’s distress and not knowing what was causing it, the nurse turned to me and passed me the baby. I looked around for somewhere to put this tiny baby girl. There were no other day crew present as they were eating their midnight dinner, so I hurried back to the baby’s bed where her mama was. I tapped the mama on the shoulder, “Azafady mama” (excuse me) and I dumped the baby into her arms and hurried away.

The screaming and writhing of this 5yo continued and we shone a flashlight into her mouth to see if we could find the problem. There was something in there. Was it a nasogastric tube? I thought, no, she doesn’t have one. OH MY GOSH, it’s a worm! I could see the worm moving around in her mouth as we shone the light inside.
I left the drama at the bedside and went and put gloves on, wondering how on earth I was going to get the worm out without breaking it into pieces since it was so soft and instruments to reach it would be hard and sharp. I called another ward for a third nurse to come for back-up as this little girl was just beside herself, terrified.
I asked God for help as I walked back to the bedside where the nurse, day crew and grandma were struggling to keep the girl in her bed as she fought them, gagging, coughing, screaming, saliva flinging in every direction. When we turned the flashlight back on and shone it in her mouth, the worm had moved from inside her mouth up the back of her throat and was in her nose. In fact, the worm was looped in and out her nose, partly down her throat but part of the body hung outside the nose and so I scooped my gloved hand in and with a swift move, pulled the whole worm out of her nose. I held it gently with my thumb and index finger as we told our little girl, “vita, vita vita” (it’s finished, it’s finished, it’s finished). She eventually calmed down and the wild, terrified look in her eyes calmed and she fell asleep again. The worm died immediately and we left it in a kidney basin for the doctors to view in the morning.

The culprit measured up against a penlight



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