The past two weeks, for the most part, have been really good. I say "for the most part" because I did sustain an untimely, yet minor, injury last Monday, but I'll get to that in a bit.
A lot has been going on, so I'll try to touch on a little but of everything.
My travel to the ship was much less eventful than my first time traveling to Africa (no cancelled flights, etc.). I met up with some ship friends at the Brussels airport, which was easily the highlight of that airport. I've said it before, but just for the record: The Brussels airport is the worst airport ever. If you are stuck in the terminal, your food choices are abysmal and the entire building is basically one huge window, so the sun is pretty much always in your eyes. Also, those food choices are also super expensive, even by airport standards. A regular-sized bottle of water and a small can of Pringles cost over $10 USD. There also seems to be a lot more misbehaving, hyperactive children running around there. Anyway, our flight into Togo made a scheduled stop in Abidjan, Cote D'Ivoire before getting to Lome. After the very long series of flights, we had made it. Through passport control, baggage claim, and a joke of a stop at "customs." Our bags went through an x-ray machine, and then an "officer" suggested that we give him a gift. I said absolutely not, grabbed all the Mercy Ships luggage I could and struggled through the final door under all the weight. On the other side, our team of friends was waiting to pick us up. We hugged in the stifling heat and headed to the vehicles. My friend Jay offered me a ride on his motorcycle, which having never been on one before, I skeptically accepted. It was much better than expected! As we headed out of the parking lot and down a long, wide boulevard, it was very apparent that Lome was much different from Freetown. Electricity at night (!), almost no traffic (!), sidewalks (!), long, wide boulevards (!). As we pulled into the ship's section of the port, more friends were outside waiting to greet us and assist with carrying luggage. More hugs and laughs were exchanged. After wearily receiving my new badge and some paperwork, I headed straight for a shower and bed.
My first week back on board was spent getting settled in: unpacking, getting necessary signatures, organizing stuff in my office, and just generally getting my bearings. That Friday, the OR staff and some other crew were invited to the "grand opening" of the Hope Center. You will recall that the Hope Center is our off-ship facility were out-of-town patients can stay after their initial recovery time on the ward. This year, the Hope Center is located in a building that also houses a maternity hospital. When we arrived at the compound, about 150 mothers and their babies were outside, waiting to be weighed-in for the check-up appointments. I'm happy to report that all the babies looked very healthy--we even heard that there was a one-week old baby that weighed 5 kg (~11 pounds)! Anyway, the ceremony for the opening was also attended by several ceremonial chieftains and included short speeches by our Managing Director, Donovan, and the Togolese Minister of Health. Afterwards, we toured the facility.
One of the (male) ceremonial chieftains in traditional (?) garb. Comparisons were drawn between his "hat" and something you may find in your grandma's bathroom to cover up a roll of toilet paper.
The interior of the Hope Center. Each of the wings has an open courtyard with a sand garden. A truly beautiful design. Off of this area there are sleeping quarters and bathrooms
Inside one of the bedrooms. Beds are ready and waiting to be filled with patients!
That night, we went out to eat a nice restaurant off of the main road. We ate outside in the walled courtyard while a live band played jazz-esque covers of the Beatles and Cat Stevens. It was a little bizarre, but my beef kebabs were delicious and the fries were perfectly crisp. The currency hear in Togo is the West African Franc (CFA), colloquially pronounced like "see-fa." It is used in several French-speaking, West African countries and the exchange rate is about 500 CFA to one dollar, making it very easy to figure things out in your head. Cheeseburgers range from 1000-1500 CFA, fries are 1000, and a meal with salad and side can be 3500-6500 CFA. There are several reputable restaurants in the city, many of which offer very affordable choices. There is even a true ice cream parlor (Festival de Glace)!
While the first week was mostly relaxing, this past week was much more work. The hospital opening/first surgeries will be on Monday, February 6, so there has been a lot of preparations to take care of. While the ward nurses were busy setting up the wards and training a whole new group of nurses (40 arrived in one night!), us OR folks have been unpacking, cleaning, and setting up the ORs. Since I'm not much help with technical aspect of the OR, I volunteered to head up our laundry project, which shall henceforth be referred to as Laundry. I knew I was ready to take on Laundry because I had received ample training from the great Jana Matheny of Rockbridge housekeeping fame. I know a) how to fold a fitted sheet, b) that the metal laundry carts are only for clean laundry, and c) that the washers and dryers have an exact number of sheets, towels, etc. that they can efficiently wash at one time. Equipped with this knowledge, I tackled Laundry head first starting Monday, January 23. With two working washers (one was broken), and three dryers, Laundry was proving to be quite the beast. The main goal was to wash every and all of the OR linens (sheets, towels, rags, etc.) in preparation for the outreach. I also had to process some ward items that were mixed in, along with scrubs, mop heads, and blankets. The OR itself had over a dozen overstuffed bags of stuff! At only two hours into Laundry, disaster struck. The hospital laundry room gets very hot when the dryers are running, so I went and found a large black fan to help with ventilation. Little did know that the very heavy "fan" part was separate from the "base" part. After lugging it from one end of the ship to the other, I set it upright. Unfortunately for me, the "fan" had slid apart from the "base," so standing it up straight sent the "fan" straight down on my left thumb. I quickly grabbed my hand and grunted in pain, but the damage was done. The fan had claimed a nice slice of my fingerprint and replaced it with some greasy gunk and a blood blister. Squeezing it with a towel to stop the bleeding, I made a beeline for the Crew Clinic where Lynne, the crew nurse, cleaned and bandaged me up. Laundry was turning out to be more than I bargained for.
Thankfully, two of our OR nurses, Christina and Zoe, were huge helps when it came to folding the hundreds of sheets and thousands of towels. I couldn't have done it without them! Four days, dozens of bleach tabs, and buckets of sweat later, Laundry was complete.
A mountain of laundry to fold.
Just a portion of the OR linens...
Christina and Zoe modelling some random fenestrated drapes we found. You can see that evil culprit, the fan, lurking in the background.
Another highlight of this past week was the return of 7@7, our Wednesday night worship time. This year, we decided to shoot for 7@8 (meeting on Deck 7 at 8 o'clock), in hopes of drawing a bigger crowd. Well, it worked--we had roughly 40 people show up as we sang worship songs, read scripture, and shared encouragement under the night sky. It was so great to see that turn-out! Needless to say, I'm looking very much forward to what our 7@8 sessions bring us this year.
This week will be a busy one. As I type this, I realize it's after midnight, so...today (!) we have our Hospital Photo will be taken with all the hospital staff, followed by an OR pow-wow to plan for the Hospital Open House...followed by the Hospital Open House this evening (yes, we are a little last minute on this one). I will be sure to write about the Open House in a future post. Wednesday will be a long day, as it will be our major screening day. We are anticipating it to go much smoother than last year's screening day (which you can read about here). This is when we identify the majority of our patients for the outreach, so success is imperative. Finally, we will be bleaching the ORs on Thursday and potentially Friday, in order to "go sterile." After bleaching, we will culture swabs of different surfaces to make sure we have killed all the germs. If stuff grows, we have to rebleach until it's truly clean. And then Monday we welcome our first patients!