Friday, January 18, 2013

An Out of the Ordinary Day

Living on a ship that is functioning also as a hospital and has 24/7 work being done, means you never can really unplug.  Literally.  We have to keep our phone plugged in for safety reasons, and the pager is always within an arm's reach in case Dan is needed (as EMT leader and Dive Team Leader).

One day this week we overheard some unusual overhead pages.

What I mean is, not the normal: 

"Good morning, crew.  This is the captain.  You may experience a short blackout when we are testing the engines later," 


"Attention crew - we are now bunkering (taking on fuel).  All hot work must cease."  

Or the weekly Monday night,

"New Crew Orientation begins at 6:00pm in the Queen's Lounge.  All new crew are required to attend.  Please bring your orientation forms and the four forms emailed to you."

No, today we heard some different overhead pages.  The first was at lunchtime:

"Attention crew.  We have a patient scheduled for surgery tomorrow with B positive blood.  We are currently out of B positive blood.  If you have B positive blood and would be willing to donate, please come to the lab after lunch to be tested.  If we do not receive a donor, we will have to cancel surgery for this patient."

This will get you to pay attention during lunch! (and a great lineup of folks at the lab after lunch hoping to be able to help this patient).

Several hours passed with nothing out of the ordinary, and then we got our most unusual page yet:

"Attention crew, this is the Chief Steward.  We have discovered that some of the chicken in tonight's dinner is bad.  If you have taken chicken from the dining room, please do not eat it.  Not all of the chicken is bad, but again, if you have taken chicken, please do not eat it."

 (I do have to say, this is the first time I've ever heard any announcement regarding a problem with the food in our nearly 24 months onboard.  Our galley team and cooks do an amazing job preparing a variety of food and this was CERTAINLY a fluke).

But, I guess it was a good night to have a surprise birthday party planned for dinner - OFF SHIP!
Well, actually, it was sort of a default.  You see, Dan had come down with a cold the day originally planned for his birthday surprise and announced that night, "There's no way I'm going out to eat tonight.  Sorry. I'm going to bed."  So I had scrambled to find all 25 people planning to head out with us and let them know we were rescheduling.

Tuesday was our do-over day.  And what a fight it was to make it happen!  Dan didn't want to comply with the plan (go figure!).  He wanted to eat somewhere else.  He was hungry and wanted to eat early.  He couldn't figure out why we needed to watch Savannah and Kylie's video of their Nutcracker performance before dinner instead of after.  I was just being plain difficult!

Finally, we managed to delay sufficiently to allow the other guests a head start to the restaurant.  Finally, we got Dan out of the reception area so they could sneak off ship.  Finally, we checked out our vehicle and were on our way- just as scheduled.  Except Dan wanted to go to a different restaurant.  After some pleading and puppy-dog eyes, we convinced him to drive to the destination where his friends were waiting.

However, not half a kilometer away from the port our Land Rover chug-chug-chugged to a stop with no power coming through the pedal.  After several attempts of restarting the vehicle we had no luck.  We radioed the ship and had a conversation with the Transportation Manager who decided to head our way and take a look at the vehicle.  So, we waited in the vehicle.  At a standstill.  While 20 people were waiting at the restaurant - wondering what had happened to us...  And we waited.  And we waited.  You see, at a certain point in the evening, the traffic direction changes.  Instead of the road being a one-way out of the downtown peninsula (the way we had started), it switches to a one-way TOWARD the peninsula.  So, our wonderful Transportation Manager (aka Roadside Assistance) had to go around the peninsula the long way in order to reach us.

About 45 minutes after we started out, our Roadside help arrived with new fuel filter in hand hoping that would be the solution.  This was swapped out with the old and given a try but still, the power was not getting to the pedal. A bad batch of fuel was determined to be the cause of our troubles.  So, now it was time to tow us back to the ship and get a new vehicle.

Finally, 1 hour and 15 minutes after our guests had departed, we were AGAIN heading out for the restaurant.  Now Dan really wants to go to the other restaurant he can't get out of his mind- the one that is even closer to the ship.  Sorry, I just need to eat at Les Jardins de Guinee! (you'll forgive me later, I think...)

Greeted with a overture of applause, we finally arrive - putting an end to our guests' guessing game of what had happened to us.  The surprise was a success and the evening finally came together.

with the birthday party delay, my parents were able to be a part of it too!

I thought this was the end of our in-ordinary day, but there was one more page to be heard jarring us awake:

 "Emergency Medical Team: Please report to A Ward immediately.  Emergency Medical Team: report to A Ward immediately." 

This 2:30am wake up call brings the whole ship to attention, not just those on the EMT that need to report.  Dan, as the head of this team, leaps out of bed and is out the door in less than 10 seconds to help assess the situation.  The rest of us our left in the dark - wondering what is going on, and praying for whatever the need might be.  In this case, we later learned, a patient had started bleeding again following their surgery and needed to return to the OR to contain the bleeding. 

I'm happy to say the patient is now doing well and the next day was quite normal, as least as normal goes here.

 "Attention Crew: If anyone has personal items on the Dutch container, please report to the cargo hold on starboard side to claim these by 10:30." 

doesn't sound weird to me at all!

You never know what to expect on this ship.  Some of it can be written off as: T.I.A. (This Is Africa), but most of the time the accurate acronym is: T.I.M.S. (This is Mercy Ships).

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A Place to Hope: The Hope Center

Hope.  It is a crisp helium balloon being filled.  Beautiful.  Ready to begin on something new.  On the heels of setting out for a brand-new glorious journey.  Hope isn't about the present, but it's that breathe of expectation for the future.

The Hope Center is a place for our patients and their caregivers to be infused with this height-soaring helium.  Where they get refilled and equipped to begin this new journey.

When patients travel from many hundreds of kilometers away, sometimes they arrive earlier than their admission date to the ship.  (Travel by land in Africa is unpredictable, treacherous, and full of surprises).  When this happens, our patients are housed (for free) at our Hope Center.  When patients are released from the hospital but still need dressing changes or physical therapy appointments and live further than an hour or two from the ship, they are sent to the Hope Center to continue their stay with us.

For some this is a couple of days until they are healed enough to receive their Final Discharge and they are released to go home.  For others, this could be months. 

While boredom in Africa is a relatively foreign concept, it can mean lots of long days just "hanging out." 

Here in Guinea, our Hope Center was created out of a dilapidated wing of one of the largest hospitals in Conakry.  Our Off-Ships team worked around the clock for a couple of months to reconstruct and make this a place of beauty, a place of refuge and rest for up to 60 patients.  When Mercy Ships leaves at the end of this field service, the hospital will receive this renovated wing as a place where they can continue to care for the people of Guinea.

We have a team of 22 dayworkers who rotate between early, mid and night shifts to staff the Hope Center around the clock- 24/7, 365 and shuttle the patients back and forth to the ship for their appointments.  We have crew members who help oversee the Hope Center - managing personal conflicts, making sure everyone is safe, healthy, and being cared for in a way that reflects Christ's love. 

And of course we visit!  The patients create great bonds with many of the crew members- especially those in the nursing field who have been able to work side by side with these patients and watch their transfomations taking place day by day.  But there are also opportunities for all crew to visit, and I am so blessed to be a part of this.

Mercy Ministries is a way to connect with the local community and serve those that are doing work in Guinea.  There are orphanage visits, baby rescue centers, pediatric ward visits, schools, prisons, and Jesus Films.  And twice a week we organize groups to head to the Hope Center for a time of stories, songs, crafts and games. 

It is amazing to see the eyes sparkling of those who just days or weeks before arrived with fear and shame smothering their spirits.  The chance to hope - the chance to dream of a life that looks different - has filled their airtanks with helium and they are ready to soar: some of them for the first time in their lives.

Lamarana when she arrived
Lamarana post surgery

Maybe that's what I love about it - it reminds me that no one is beyond having the chance to hope again.  Maybe I haven't suffered from a flesh-eating disease that has taken my nose or half of my face.  Maybe a tumor hasn't grown to the size of a cantaloupe that obstructs my airway and becomes the only thing people see about me. 
Our lovely Hasanatou
But I have suffered the same sort of despair internally.  At times my heart has been ravaged by a flesh-eating disease of self-protection that has turned it to stone and prevented me from loving authentically and deeply.  Sometimes something swells inside preventing me from speaking words of life and affirmation and the only words that can eek out are those of criticism and negativity.  Other times I shroud my face and refuse to reveal my struggles, my pain, my faults, my frailty. 

There is freedom that comes with the chance to hope again. Whether it is waiting for a surgery that could change you so drastically that people see you in a new light, or the chance to dream again, hope abounds at the Hope Center.