28 May 2011

don't carry it all

Almost three months in.  Can you believe it?

I'm glad this week is over.  Departures, unhelpable patients, stress, policies, blah blah blah.  Instead of listing specifics, I think I will just leave it at that.  Years from now, if I read this, I'm know I'm not going to want to remember the reasons that made my week cruddy.  And by then I will surely have forgotten.  So that being said, let's get the forgetting process on with.

As for the positive things that happened this week:
  • I received a great care package in the mail! (Thank you, you know who!)
  • With the departure of my peri-op nurse Lorraine came my new nurse Karen.  She's from Australia and will be with us for 4 weeks.  
  • Additionally, the eye team welcomed Dr. Glenn Strauss and his wife Kim.  Dr. Strauss basically developed/mastered the cataract surgery that we use here on the ship, called MSICS (pronounced like M-6).  He is able to do them with incredible speed and accuracy, allowing us to operate on more and more patients than previous weeks.  
  • While the Strausses are here, Kim will be taking over my role as Peri-Operative Coordinator as I will be filling in for my teammate Shannon during her vacation.  This will give me a nice three week break from normal duties as I become the scheduling coordinator.  
  • I made a really good cake (pineapple, coconut, and banana) and even better cream cheese icing. 
  • I received another entry in my Mix CD contest, this time from my buddy Dam Mallya.  While it is too soon to tell, he is currently in the running for the Best Cover Art.  And the music is pretty great too.  Thanks Dam!
Last Sunday at our worship service, we sang the old hymn "What a Friend We Have in Jesus."  The first stanza is:
What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear! What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer! O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear, all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.
I really felt the Lord speaking to me this week through the lines "O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear, all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer."  Basically, as humans we carry all this crap with us all the time.  Work issues, relationship issues, financial concerns, stress, worries, etc.  And oh how this causes us pain and disquiet.  But in these instances, we totally bring the pain onto our own selves!  As the verse suggests, all we need to do is just give it over to the Lord.  Commit it to the Lord and he will bear our struggles with/for us.  Exodus 14:14 says "The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still." (Thanks Carolyn!)  I find this verse and song so comforting after a week like this one.  

In closing, I want to just highlight two blogs by friends of mine back in the states.  The first is called "Psalm 143:8" and is written by my friend Katie.  Kit, as she is also known, is on staff with Young Life, a Christian outreach ministry for highschoolers, in Chesapeake, VA (near Virginia Beach).  Her blog documents her amazing journey of pursuing kids for Christ.  Her most recent post, "Sing Oh Barren Woman," is so beautifully and honestly written and Kit's personality and passion for what she does is so evident in it.  If you know her, you know she is an incredible individual--I encourage you to check out her blog at www.toyouiliftmysoul.blogspot.com.  The other blog of note is called "Postcard Pen Pal" and is written by my friend Kari.  I met Kari through the Young Life circles when I worked at Rockbridge and she is another truly unique and inspiring person.  Her blog is a registry of postcards that she receives: some old, some new, some from friends, from herself, from family.  It is an awesome way to document all that goes in her life and a way to keep memories from escaping.  It's fun to see who pops up on the blog and where the postcards are coming from.  Oh and did I mention that I just think it is really cool?  Check it out at www.postcardpenpal.blogspot.com.  

Thank you all for continued support, prayers, readership, and love.  

17 May 2011

like a ship at ocean

As I mentioned in a recent newsletter, the verse Proverbs 19:21 has been weighing on my heart a lot recently.  It reads "You can make many plans, but the Lord's purpose will prevail."  I've come to learn that sometimes the Lord's purpose prevails more subtly than other times.  Yesterday was not one of those times.

Each Monday morning, there is a ship-wide Communications Meeting where important announcements and information can be disseminated.  A few weeks ago some rumors of the ship's sailing schedule started filtering throughout the on-board community and it was announced that the true plans would be announced at Monday's meeting.  So yesterday morning, Donovan Palmer (the ship's managing director) announced that the M/V Africa Mercy will not be sailing to Tenerife (The Canary Islands) in December, as originally planned.  Instead, the ship will have a short break in the country of Ghana, before heading to the next-door country of Togo for a new field service!  The reason for the change is as follows: Typically, a field service lasts from February through November, with shipyard occurring in December and January.  This means that a West African field service spans the typically wicked rainy season, infamous in this part of the continent.  The new plan is to have field services be from about September to June, with shipyard in July and August, thus avoiding medical outreach during the rainiest part of the year.  So, the tentative plan for now is Ghana in December, a short Togo field service January-June, shipyard July-August, and Guinea field service for Fall 2012.

Long story short: I will still be home for Christmas, just not sure where I'll be flying home from.  Cue the "I'll be Home for Christmas" music.  Right now, there are no solid dates, but I will be sure to keep everyone updated as I know more information.

Onto other things: There isn't a whole lot new to report.  We began a series of screenings on Fridays, in an effort to find more surgical candidates.  We will alternate between Pastor Moses's church (see a previous post "freedom"), and churches in the surrounding communities of Hastings and Waterloo.  We screened in Hastings last Friday, so I will share a few photos from that.

One of the pastor's sons, outside the main entrance of the church.

This girl's immaculately white dress was odd to see in this dusty, dirty environment.

I soon had an audience wanting me to "snap" them.  The kid with the toothpick was cracking me up.

More local children.

The building had large open windows letting both curious children and pesky chickens into the church.

Inside the sanctuary.  The colorful banners are quite popular in churches here in Sierra Leone.

The pastor's daughter, helping us load chairs into the Land Rovers.  Note her new sunglasses we gave her.

One of the pastor's sons, sporting his new shades.

The Glory Assembly of God in Hastings.  Lorraine, the Scottish nurse on my Peri-Op Team, in front. 

As usual, I ended up with more photos of the children than of the actual screening!  Luckily, one of the ship's photographers, Debra, accompanied us on the trip, so I will soon be able to put up some of her professional photos.  

A few things to keep in prayer for the week:
  • Eye screenings and surgeries
  • My possible driving test on Friday (I'm getting pretty good at driving stick!)
  • Two crew members, Todd and Gina, who were both admitted into the ship's hospital this weekend, with malaria and internal bleeding, respectively.  Both are recovering in stable condition now.  
On a final note, a few shout outs are necessary.  Congrats to newlyweds Hannah and Ernie Golen!  I interned with Hannah at Rockbridge last summer and I wish them the best of luck in their marriage!  Next, (comma) I'd like to say hi to Kathy Iannamorelli, (comma) one of the blog's most diehard readers, (comma) or so my source says. (period) <---- get it, La??  And finally, congrats to Anna White for winning the "First to Arrive" prize in my mix-CD competition.  I'm currently holding a contest for the best mix-CD, and Anna's arrived today and is fantastic.  Thanks for the new music!

That's all for now.  Thanks for reading!

07 May 2011


I have a few photos I'd like to post that I didn't get around to posting in the past few weeks.  This blog serves two-fold: a way to keep my friends, family, donors, and supporters updated and also a written account of my time here in Africa for my own reflection.  These are just a few vignettes that I'd like to remember!

A few weeks ago, a long-awaited container was opened on the ship.  A "container" is a large metal shipping container that arrives from Mercy Ships headquarters in either Texas or the Netherlands every few weeks.  This one was long overdue.  Among other contents was a whole store-load of snacks and such for the Ship Shop.  After a day and a half of stocking the store with the likes of Oreos, Goldfish, cake mixes, Tootsie Rolls, Snickers, salsa, mac 'n cheese, etc., a line literally formed outside the door prior to the grand opening.  People had window shopped during the previous day picking out exactly what they wanted to buy up.  It was not unlike Black Friday in the States.  Within minutes of the lights coming on and the doors opening, the small shop was FILLED with crew members vying for their desired items.  I had planned on getting tortilla chips and salsa (one of my favorites), but I was distracted by the addition of queso dip to my mental list.  By the time I got the salsa and queso, the chips were all gone!  Here is a (posed?) photo and myself and Gemma, a patient life coach, fighting over a bag of Goldfish.

In my previous post "freedom" I forgot to mention the Easter Monday Crew Open House.  A Mercy Ships tradition, on Easter Monday crew can open up the cabins for people to come and visit, share snacks, etc.  11 cabins were on the list this year and my friends Deb and Christoph and myself, set out to visit all 11 cabins in under an hour, as well as to eat a snack in each cabin.  Here are a few of my favorite photos from the Open House:

With the Ventura twins, Janice and Elisha, in their bedroom/playroom.

In the Cairncross cabin, with hostess Anne and the most unique feature of their room: the pole!

The Cairncrosses had a dress-up competition as their cabin's activity.

At the Davies' cabin, Luke insisted I get a photo of him with his Finding Nemo hat.  One with the hat on the top of his head...

...and one with the hat completely over his face!

i'll let loose with your praise

What a week.  I'm very glad it is Saturday.

On the weekend, the ship is very quiet, as many people are out for the day or on overnight trips.  I really enjoy the calm atmosphere on the weekends.  The Internet is faster, you have you choice of places to sit in the lounges, and it is just generally pleasant. 

This week was a little tough.  Eye surgeries began again and we currently have a surgeon with us who is a Mercy Ships first-timer.  To say the least, he was a bit slow and wasn't too familiar with our system.  We had a couple of 10-hour days, but things are looking better.  Wednesday was particularly crazy: in addition to 11 patients, our OR had two needle-sticks (OR personnel getting stuck with a dirty needle or instrument), AND a patient had to be admitted to the ward post-surgery due to high blood pressure (254/142 !!!!) and urinary retention.  It was a very busy day!  Thursday was a sad day for the Eye Team as my peri-operative nurse, Ellen, left the ship to return to her home in Switzerland.  Ellen was a cheery and hard-working teammate and will be missed!  Luckily a new nurse, Lorraine from the U.K. arrived Thursday night, so I will get to work with her on Monday.  

Friday morning, my teammate John and I went on a site visit to the town of Waterloo, about an hour outside of Freetown.  We were going to meet with a pastor and to see his church as a potential screening site.  Right now, we are looking at doing additional screenings on Fridays at rotating locations throughout the Freetown area.  The church turned out to be a very nice facility and it is looking good for it to be a screening location.  I drove a bit on the way back, as part of my lessons on learning to drive a stick-shift.  We were almost back to the ship as we approached a roundabout.  To set the scene, traffic was pretty thick and slow-moving; I was in the left lane on our side of the road, when a poda-poda (the ubiquitous 20-passenger vans) drives up onto the sidewalk on my right in order to get around a taxi in the right lane.  In doing so, the poda-poda scraped the corner of the taxi and then came to a stop diagonally in the road, blocking both the taxi and our Land Rover.  The taxi driver immediately got out, walked up to the poda-poda, opened the driver's door, slapped the driver (!), stole his Walkman-style CD player and then returned to the taxi.  At this point, the poda-poda driver got out, walked to the taxi, pulled the taxi-driver out, and then hit him back.  A slapping/punching/shirt-grabbing/choking fight ensued.  John and I could do nothing but lock our doors and watch!  A few passers-by joined in the mayhem when eventually a traffic cop appeared.  He took the poda-poda driver by the shirt, threw him back into the poda-poda, and motioned him along.  I'm pretty sure he didn't get the CD player back.  This is law enforcement in Africa.  This is Africa.  

Yesterday was also our first YAG day.  YAG (yttrium aluminum garnet) is a type of laser and is used to treat patients during their 6-week post-operation appointment after cataract extraction.  In non-scientific terms, the YAG treatment helps prevent the recurrence of the cataract.  YAG days mark the final appointment for a given patient, so it was fun to see some of the memorable patients from several weeks ago. 

 Looking back, these patients were nervous, scared, quiet, and sometimes even stone-cold on the day they arrived for surgery.  Now, six weeks later, they are laughing, smiling, shaking hands, and so thankful and happy with their results.  PTL.

Psalm 51:7-15 (from the Message, emphasis added)

   Soak me in your laundry and I'll come out clean,
      scrub me and I'll have a snow-white life.
   Tune me in to foot-tapping songs,
      set these once-broken bones to dancing.
   Don't look too close for blemishes,
      give me a clean bill of health.
   God, make a fresh start in me,
      shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life.
   Don't throw me out with the trash,
      or fail to breathe holiness in me.
   Bring me back from gray exile,
      put a fresh wind in my sails! 
   Give me a job teaching rebels your ways
      so the lost can find their way home.
   Commute my death sentence, God, my salvation God,
      and I'll sing anthems to your life-giving ways.
   Unbutton my lips, dear God;
      I'll let loose with your praise.