Monday, 23 May 2016

Being Understood

I’m sitting here on my bed with my last nursing shift in my favourite hospital in the world looming before me. I struggle for the words to express what I’m feeling. I have loved every minute in the wards and now I’m wondering where all my knowledge on this maxillofacial specialty will go, for it is not useful in the general paediatrics ward at home where I will return to. I think one of the things that I am struggling with most as I look ahead is knowing that I walk away from a place where I am sort after for information and knowledge of my specialty. I know most of the surgeries we do and the nursing care specific to it inside and out, but I am about to walk out of that position, to be the one again who asks one hundred questions every shift until I know again. It’s not just at work though, it’s in life. After more than five years here I have built this community of the ship around me. I walk the hallways and know who has just arrived, who has been here for the last outreach or even years before me. I can greet everyone, knowing that if they are new on board how they might be feeling and I’m able to share knowledge of how to live life well in this community and soon I will be the one who needs help and adjustment. I will return home to a physically familiar environment, but feel like an alien. I already know because when I have returned home in the past years I feel out of place and uncomfortable in my own country. It only makes it worse that I have an Australian accent because there seems to be no excuse for my lack of knowledge or confusion over how to order a drink or pay for a meal (before we eat or after we eat? to tip or not to tip? to speak English or French or Malagasy?).
Once I have returned to Australia I am sure there will be memories of my travels or time with Mercy Ships sparked by a conversation or comment and I won’t know whether to pipe up and add to the conversation or just to let the moment pass, knowing maybe those I am with will not understand and my comment will require too much explanation. So I will keep it to myself but then I will feel a part of myself dying. How will I know when to speak up without making it a conversation killer when the others don’t know how to respond? How many times can I say, “When I was on the ship….” Before people start internally rolling their eyes and wishing I’d shut up?

I think living on this ship, being in this community and loving on the people of Africa has changed me beyond anything I could imagine. I have experienced the deepest feelings of my life in this place. Loving so hard that it feels impossible to say goodbye. Hurting so deeply that I feel like I might break into physical pieces. The tears have come more freely, sparked by little things like singing a song that reminds me of a patient I loved.
I have wondered how it would feel saying goodbye to this place I call home. Last week I stood in front of about 150 friends and crewmates, many of them the best friends a girl could have. They are people who understand me in my deepest part. They've seen my heart rejoice and my heart ache. I stood in front of them to be formally farewelled from the ship. As the complimentary words of my amazing team leader were read over me, I could barely look up to meet the crowd in the eye for fear of dissolving into a massive puddle of ugly tears. So instead I hugged my arms around my chest to hold myself together. I pushed all the emotion down, for another time, another place, every now and then letting a tear or two slip out.

I suppose most people have walked through periods of life like this, where they feel overwhelmed with emotion to the point of breaking open exposing a deep vulnerability. I think of my friends who have lost siblings, friends who have lost children and babies, other who have lost their parents or grandparents. Most of my friends have had a deep ache of some sort, the breakdown of a relationship or a beloved pet die. The tender part is knowing when it is safe to speak up about our deepest hurts or feelings. Just as I want my friends to be my safe place for my deepest feelings, so do I want to be the safe place for them. Can we make a pact to always talk about the hard and vulnerable things together? About the things that make our blood boil? About the things that cause us to burst into tears? To not be afraid to speak.

I tell you because I want you to understand and I want to feel understood.

Monday, 9 May 2016

Mourning has begun

The biggest month of the year is well and truly upon us. May ends the surgeries on the ship for the outreach, the hospital closes down, school ends for the year and the grade 12 class finish school forever and the majority of the hospital crew disembark often traveling places on their way home. Some head home early before preparing to come back to the ship for the following outreach.
For the last few years I have felt immense sadness behind this month of goodbyes, knowing that in all likeliness I will never see these patients again that I have spent months caring and praying for or the day crew who have been my voice, another set of my hands and cultural teachers for the past 2 years.
When it comes to saying goodbye to nurses and crewmates, in the last years I have hidden behind the saying, “see you when you come next time!” knowing that many of them will most likely not be back, but for a good many I have seen and worked with again. So this time around, it feels so much harder. There is nothing to hide behind, except to know that for the ones where friendship runs deep, I will try my hardest to visit and keep up with them despite our different geographical locations.

D ward team
Here is the timeline of coming events:

11 May- The Advance Team leave for Benin to prepare the way for the next outreach. My first goodbye in May, to a beloved roommate.

20 May- The last day for surgeries for the Mada2 outreach and the HOPE Centre closes and all remaining patients needing care are transferred to the hospital on board. More goodbyes to good friends.

26 May- Last day of school for the academy and the grade 12 class graduate! More goodbyes to good friends.

27 May- The AFM hospital closes its doors to patients and we send everyone out, whether they have healed or not. Sometimes we have to transfer them to the local hospital but often we just send them home with an estimated number of dressing supplies, hoping and praying it’ll be enough.
-     The day crew Thank You event is also held on board where all 200 of our day crew come together with us and we celebrate them for the hard work they have done. We also say goodbyes to most of them.

28 May- There is a mass exodus of crew, mostly hospital staff. We stand on the dock for a 06:30am departure, overwhelmed with the sheer number of people getting on the buses leaving. Friends left behind usually say to me that day, “How have you done this so many times?” and it’s hard to answer because each times a piece of your heart breaks off. Then I usually walk back up the gangway with a guarded heart, pushing the emotions back deep inside, hoping I don’t fall apart.

Then we have one week to clean, pack up and tie down the hospital before saying more goodbyes to friends leaving and friend staying behind and to the country of Madagascar before we sail away. At that point I don’t even know what to do with the heavy feeling in my heart, tears just aren’t enough. I already had one good sobbing session out of the blue on my own last week. I have a feeling there are a few more to come.

So, will you stand and pray with us for all these things?

Pray for the next two weeks of surgeries, that the cases would be uncomplicated and patients will heal quickly.
Pray for the patients who have been with us for months that their wounds would heal before the hospital closes.
Pray for the day crew that they would find new jobs quickly.
Pray for the crew leaving that they would walk away from the ship with full hearts and that they would know God walking with them as they leave and process all they have seen and been a part of.
Pray for the emotional, mental and physical strength of the crew who are packing up, readying the ship to sail.
Pray for me, as I prepare to leave this beautiful country, the Malagasy people and say goodbye to a ship community that has shaped me these past 6 years. Pray for the strength of my heart.


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