Sunday, 17 January 2016

A Jumble of Thoughts

I can’t seem to order my thoughts very well these days. Instead of sitting down to write the complete story of a patient I find my mind a jumble of scrambled thoughts. So what you find below is a mishmash of things swirling in my head, no perfectly worded story or emotional journey, just me and my thoughts.

I'm a year older. It's a funny time of year for me, Christmas comes, a week later it's New Years and I think over my year and dream about the coming one and then one week later my own birthday calendar flips a year. It all fits together perfectly for my orderly personality. As the year changes, so does my age. But these last couple of years I enjoy all that the Christmas season brings but as the new year and my new age approaches I start thinking more and more about being a whole year older. Those of you who already know my age would laugh and say, Oh, you're still so young! But the truth is, you probably still have the same fears and questions as me. How long will I live single and free? Am I lovable and good enough for some man, no not just some man,THE man? Am I good wife material? Why do I have to wait for so long to have a partner to live life with?
And then I think, Deb, you are single and free, use this time! So I start thinking: Am I living my life to the fullest potential? Is there anything I'm not doing because I'm too afraid? Is there something I should or could be doing while I'm still so free?
Maybe those questions sound funny to you, knowing I am already living my life as a volunteer, relying completely on the generous support of friends and anonymous donors. Yes, I have given more than 5 ½ years of my life to Mercy Ships, to the AFM’s ever changing community, to the country the ship is docked in and the endless stream of patients coming in and out of our hospital wards. I have actually spent the majority of my 20’s living in a small cabin with at least two other females, eating food that is cooked for me whether I really enjoy it or not and with good friends available within a seconds call. After years and years in this place, meeting hundreds of nurses and other ship crew, I love and take pride in seeing my new nurse friends’ fall in love with this ship and our patients. I read their blogs and my heart swells as I read how their heart has opened for the people of the country that we are serving in and for particular patients. Despite their goodbyes to the ship and community being hard, I feel joy in knowing that our hearts beat to the same rhythm. There is no place in the world like this ship. It is the sort of place that you are indescribably changed forever. It gets into your blood stream and as your heart beats with the emotional highs and lows of life here, you are slowly changed in every inch of your body. There is no part of me that hasn’t been touched by what I have seen and been a part of in this place.

on the ward of the Africa Mercy

on the ward of the Africa Mercy

Last week I cycled around Tamatave with my friend from the UK. She pointed out to me how random it was that we were cycling along the road next to the beach in a city in Madagascar, in a place where we feel at home, where we know the streets and our favourite restaurants and coconut stalls. We stopped and had a cold coconut, sipping the milk and eating the flesh as we watched the activity on the beach in front of us.

As I sit on my bed typing, the hospital is busy on the deck directly below me. I can just imagine the fistula women walking the corridor this time of day, singing their songs, songs that often bring tears to my eyes when I think about the journey that so many of them have been on. So many of them carried lives within them and lost them on the baby’s way into the world and then they too were left physically damaged beyond the body’s natural ability to heal. Some of these ladies have had multiple pregnancies and very few living children. It’s heartbreaking to hear their stories, but so amazing to watch them heal from surgery and prepare to live a new life after discharging being dry and healed.

On the ward last week we had a small 14 year old boy admitted. He had a tumour on the back of his head, similar to the actual size of his head. We expected his surgery to be very difficult, with a potential massive blood loss, but with much prayer it was easier than anticipated and he only required two units of blood- one of them was mine. The unit I donated on my birthday.This boy is just one of the 15 patients sitting on that ward who had large tumours or gaping holes in their faces that needed reconstruction.

Mercy Ships patient neurofibroma head

On the ward of the Africa Mercy

Giving blood on the Africa Mercy, Mercy Ships

Giving blood on the Africa Mercy, Mercy Ships

During the week I was asked to print out medical pre-operative photos of all the patients and put them in their charts. As I stood at the end of the patient’s bed and looked at the pre-op photo with the now tumour free patient sitting in front of me still recovering, I wondered how it felt to be them. How does it feel to be given a free surgery that removes a tumour that was growing slowly enough to eventually suffocate you? A procedure that many surgeons in these African countries do not know how to do, or perhaps don’t have the equipment to perform them and even if they did, could their anaesthesia team cope with the patient’s airway without so much vital equipment? Then for the patient recovering on the wards, do the nurses have the right skills to care for them, as patients in Western hospitals go into the ICU post-op? These African hospitals are not set up for this sort of care, many of them barely have running water. Almost every day I see surgeries that change lives like this, it becomes normal.

Bilateral Cleft lip pre-op

Bilateral Cleft lip post-op

For the few patients who I have seen and cared for, struggling to breathe through the tumour that engulfs their face and airway, it is almost impossible to describe the desperation written on their faces. It is relief beyond measure that we can be the ones to remove that tumour and bring life back into the patients. As hard as I try I cannot bring enough words to mind to explain how it is to care for a patient like this. To look at them in their one undistorted eye, past their nose that is stretched beyond recognition and their mouth and lips so distorted by the tumour that you wonder how they could have lived with this growth for so long. Some days I feel like my heart will never recover from caring for these beloved people. I am certain God has dropped a love in me beyond what I could humanly muster. Below is one of these patients, a woman named Olivienne, a sweet lady who I will never forget.

Patient on the ward of the Africa Mercy, Mercy Ships
Olivienne after surgery and her husband who helped care for her

Patient on the ward of the Africa Mercy, Mercy Ships
Tirzah and Faharoa, a spunky little girl who we see frequently

Last Monday the crew from the Africa Mercy were shuttled over in the pouring rain to the OM ship the Logos Hope for a worship night. It was so amazing to worship with another organisation who love Jesus and work for him and on a ship too! I stood in a packed room, brimming over with praise for who God is. Hands raised and voices singing, hearts wide open in awe of the God whom we worship. It was truly a piece of heaven to be engulfed in worship, surrounded by friends from more than 60 nations. The Logos Hope has been docked in the same port as us for the last three weeks and it has been wonderful to meet and encourage each other.

Africa Mercy, Mercy Ships and Logos Hope, OM in Port of Tamatave, Madagascar

And so it seems that this far from normal life, is my life. So, no matter what this new year brings I will reach forward, determined to embrace it with enthusiasm and a little sparkle. 

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