28 September 2011


Another cute kid story.  Brace yourselves.

Alberta hails from Liberia and that is how she introduces herself: "I'm Alberta Johnson from Liberia!"  With a giggle and smile, she's off, running down the hall or chasing a balloon around the ward.  Just celebrating her sixth birthday last weekend, this precocious little girl can put a smile on anyone's face.  And goodness knows that she has had the time to wear down even the coldest heart--Alberta has been on the ward since May!

I took the above photo when she visited the OR office one day.  I think it was silly hat day (her's is a flowerpot).  I made her a photo tag (all the OR staff have one) with her photo, reading "Alberta Johnson, Candy Eater, Liberia."  She visited the office almost everyday the past few weeks, as I got in the habit of giving her one gummi-bear or three Reese's Pieces per visit.  She would always pick out the colors. 

When she was three, Alberta fell into a cooking fire.  The accident left her severely burned; her scars contracted her arm, attaching it to her side and keeping it bent at the elbow.

Our brilliant plastic surgeon, Dr. Tertius Venter of South Africa, released the contractures and did reconstruction with skin grafts.  The operation itself only lasted about one hour!  While Alberta quickly bounced back with the help of physical therapy, her graft sites took a long time to fully heal.  Brimming with energy, poor Alberta was even put on bed rest for a few weeks so her wounds could heal!

Alberta and "Anando"

Alberta was discharged and headed back home to Liberia this yesterday, 133 days after her admission and just two days after her sixth birthday and a wonderful surprise party for her on Deck 7.  Since arriving to the Africa Mercy, she regained over 80% of her range of motion in her arm, making it all the easier for her to eat her candies.

15 September 2011


"This is a drill, this is a drill."

We here this from the captain every other Thursday, during our regularly scheduled fire drill.  Last week, my friend Murray (the assistant purser) informed me that I was assigned to be a muster station name caller.  Mustering is the process of accounting for all members in a unit--in this case, the whole ship.  I was not excited at first, because I don't like going outside during the drills (normally I muster with the rest of the OR staff on board).  The upside is that my muster partner is my friend Miriam, the pharmacist.  During mustering, people report to their appropriate station, have their name crossed off the list, and then later, all the lists are compiled to see who is missing.  The whole drill usually takes about 30 minutes. 

Here is a little video we shot today before crew began to muster.  Did I mention that all the muster station people must wear silly yellow hats?

12 September 2011

admissions, this rachael

Now that I've been in the OR office for several weeks, I feel like I can now give you a good idea of what actually happens there.

Surgeries are the practical backbone of what Mercy Ships does when it visits a country.  Bringing in surgeons from a variety of specialties, organizing patients in need, maintaining instruments and operating rooms...this is what the OR office does.  

It's hard to describe a typical day for me, but I'll give it a shot:

0800: White Board Meeting- The whole OR staff gets together to start the day.  When I say "OR" I technically mean "Surgical Services," which includes the OR administration, surgeons, OR nurses, anaesthetists, sterilizers, and PACU (post-anaesthesia care unit) nurses.  It's a big group, especially when we are running at full capacity, like this week.  During the meeting, we make announcements, do welcomes and goodbyes, have a verse of the day and prayer, and update the daily schedule if need be.  

0815-1030: As surgeries get underway, I get to work in the office.  Firstly, I'm always available to answer phones, field questions, and greet visitors.  Crew members have the opportunity to sign up to observe surgery once during a field service, so just about every day at 0930 and 1330, I orient a visitor to the OR guidelines and show them into one of our six operating theatres.  During this time, I also work on our supply and usage records.  In order to be more efficient in ordering supplies, we record everything that is used in the ORs.  And I mean everything.  Every 18-gauge needle, every gauze pad, every pair of size 7 sterile gloves.  This also helps us to figure out what an average surgery costs to perform.  It can be a tedious process, but I have the whole week to record the previous week's usage, so I usually spread it out.  In the mornings, I also help Missy (now the OR supervisor) and Ginger (the assistant OR supervisor) with ironing out the issues that arise with the scheduling.  We usually get a lot of calls from Rachael (Admissions team leader) in the Admissions tent.  These calls often go like this:

[ring ring]
  • Seth: Admissions, this Rachael.
  • Rachael: What?  Wait what?
  • S: Just kidding.  What's up?
  • R: Now listen here, Patient SLE15555 is here and has malaria.  I need a reschedule date.
  • S: Okay.  I will call you back.
On a good morning, we get only one or two of these calls.  On a bad morning...let's just say that "malaria" can be replaced with any of a variety of surgery-postponing conditions, including but not limited to "query tuberculosis," "worms," "pregnancy," "a chesty cough," "pneumonia," "fungal infection," "open wound," "lice," "no caregiver," and "mulluscum contagiosum."  Yes, these are all real things I hear on a daily basis.  And yes, all these things lead to a lot of rescheduling, cancelling, and postponing of surgeries.  The surgery schedule could be X one minute and Z the next.  All of this leads up to...

1100: Daily bed meeting- Every morning, Rachael, Kirstie (Ward Supervisor), Dan (Patient Services Coordinator) and a few ward nurses (pick from Maaike, Laura Z., Natalie, Frances, Sharon, etc.) come to our office to discuss which patients have turned up for admission and which beds they will be assigned on the ward.  It usually lasts about 10-15 minutes, but our tiny office goes from three to at least eight bodies, so it can feel a little hectic at times.  By the time this meeting is over, it's almost lunch.

1145ish-1230ish: Lunch.

1230-1430: In the afternoon, I continue with my morning work.  Depending on the day of the week, I may have to print and distribute welcome notes, prepare orientation or evaluation paperwork, or prepare the potential admissions list for following week.  More phone calls answered, more e-mails sent, more fires put out, etc.

1500ish: If I haven't completely lost track of time (which is easy to do), around 3pm, I start working on the next day's surgery schedule.  After making sure that our handwritten schedule book agrees with the computer database, I check in with Rachael to make sure that everyone has been cleared down in Admissions.  With the green light, I assembled the Word document, allotting surgeons, anaesthetists, and patients to their appropriate ORs.  I print a draft copy and check in with each surgeon to make sure that he or she is happy with the list and the order.  Sometimes tracking down 4-5 surgeons is easier than other times.  Once I get the okay, I print out about 15 copies and distribute them to the ORs, PACU, the wards, the lab, and make a personalized copy of each surgeon's individual list.  By the time I finish this, the ORs are nearing completion for the day, so I help with the day's data entry.  

1700: Close of business day.  Evening commute.

So that is pretty much my day!  As I mentioned, we are currently running at full capacity, with two eye ORs, one for Max Fax, one for ENT (ears, nose, and throat), and two for Plastics.  Next week, one of our Plastics rooms will switch to General.  In case you are wondering, "Plastics" on the Africa Mercy is what you may think of when you think of plastic surgery.  No nose jobs or breast enhancements here.  The most common procedure is a contracture release.  This happens when a patient has suffered a burn and their body has healed in a way that has limited the range of motion of say the hand or arm.  It involves skin grafts and flaps and it a fascinating procedure to see.  Our plastic surgeons also correct syndactyly (fingers fused together) or polydactyly (extra fingers or toes).  It is so great to have the variety of specialties going on at the same time--I'm always learning or seeing something new.

On a completely different note: 6,988 pageviews.  What the what?  This is incredible and more than I could have ever imagined.  You are amazing.  Yes you.  Whether it's the first post you read, or you check the blog daily (I'm talking about you, Moma), thank you for reading.  It means so much to me to know that you are interested in what I, and the rest of the crew, are doing here on the Africa Mercy.  So, thank you for reading, tell a friend, and I'll be back with some more later in the week!

03 September 2011


After donating, walked up the hallway to the ICU, where I had the opportunity to meet Yankay, the soon-to-be recipient of my blood.  As the translator and I were talking with her, Sarah (from the video) brought in my blood and the nurses began to hook her up.  A mind-blowingly speedy process.  

For those of you wanting the nitty gritty:

They need to draw about 500 grams of blood.  Almost there!

One fresh unit of warm O+ blood!

road trip

Google "open road" and you will find millions of photos just like this one.  I love these photos.  Maybe it's cliche, but I love this as a metaphor for life.  An open road outstretched before you, just waiting, begging to be traveled.  Anyone who has been on a road trip can tell you that the beauty of it lies not in reaching your destination but rather in the journey that got you there.  For example, my friend Mary Elaine went on a sort of country music pilgrimage during our junior year of college.  And sure, Nashville and Memphis were exciting destinations to visit, but what truly made the trip fun and worthwhile was the travelling in between and the random adventures to places like Loretta Lynn's childhood home (yes, the cabin on a hill in Butcher Hollow).  I digress, but I think you get the point.  

Lately I've been thinking a lot about what I will do after Mercy Ships.  I've been trying to discern what the Lord has planned for me--where His road will lead.  Part of me wants to fast-forward and just be there, wherever "there" is.  But then I would probably just have an "Okay, so now what?" attitude and I would have missed the road trip itself.  

Psalm 119:35 is on a bookmark, tacked to the wall, in the common area of my cabin.  "Direct me in the path of your commands, for there I find delight." [NIV].  I see this every morning as I put my watch on and grab my water bottle.  Like so many other things in life, I have become accustomed to seeing this verse, so much so that it practically lost its meaning.  The pastor at my church in DC once explained that we need to be refreshed from time to time, to gain a new perspective.  One simple suggestion he had was to check out a different version of the Bible.  Lately, I've been using The Message, which puts things into really practical language.  And wouldn't you know it, this verse's passage is chock full of road trip language!  

Barricade the road that goes Nowhere;
      grace me with your clear revelation.
   I choose the true road to Somewhere,
      I post your road signs at every curve and corner.
   I grasp and cling to whatever you tell me;
      God, don't let me down!
   I'll run the course you lay out for me
      if you'll just show me how.
God, teach me lessons for living
      so I can stay the course.
   Give me insight so I can do what you tell me—
      my whole life one long, obedient response. 
   Guide me down the road of your commandments;
      I love traveling this freeway!
   Give me a bent for your words of wisdom,
      and not for piling up loot.
   Divert my eyes from toys and trinkets,
      invigorate me on the pilgrim way.
   Affirm your promises to me—
      promises made to all who fear you.
   Deflect the harsh words of my critics—
      but what you say is always so good.
   See how hungry I am for your counsel;
      preserve my life through your righteous ways!

Psalm 119:29-40, The Message (emphasis added)

You can check out Psalm 119 in it's entirety HERE.  It's long but so full of praise, pleading, and fervent language that you can't walk away uninspired.

I'm not sure what else to say that wouldn't end in an ultimate cheese-fest (like "Enjoy the journey of life!"), so  I will just say good night and thanks for reading :)