Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Airport Scene

When I finally arrived at the Austin airport last night after 40 hours of traveling, it was truly magical. Epic theme music was playing as I ran in slow motion across the terminal, and glitter fell from the ceiling when I leapt gracefully into my boyfriend's arms and he spun me around. Everyone was wiping tears away and sniffling.

Ok, so really my plane landed early and Patrick hadn't even gotten to the airport yet. I came down the steps to baggage claim searching in vain for him and the 10 or so friends who were driving down from Temple to welcome me home. About half-way down the stairs my friend Jen appeared, a happy but concerned look on her face.

"Jen, where is everybody?"
"Girl, I don't know. They're not here yet. You'd better go back up those stairs and come down again after they get here."
"I'm not going back up the stairs."
"You have to! You don't want to miss the Hallmark moment. Just go on back up the stairs and wait a few minutes. I'll take pictures."

I didn't go back up the stairs. We went and picked up my luggage, then found a spot to sit and wait. Before I could sit down, Jen said "Oh, wait, I think I see them! Aren't those some of his friends?" I turned around, saw Pat walking in the door, and at that point I don't really remember what happened in my brain, I just lost control. Poor Jen, I dumped my bags in her arms, abandoned her and took off running - definitely NOT in slow motion. The graceful leap was more like a body slam that almost brought us both to the ground. Pat didn't even see me til I was about 5 feet away, at which point I realized I running too fast to slow down. He had time to throw his cell phone at Chris and say "hold this!" before I almost knocked him over. He claims I broke a few of his ribs...but I don't think he minds.

It's good to be home.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Back in America!

It's been a long 2 days, but I'm almost home! Yesterday at noon I went out on the dock for my last round of Mercy Ship goodbyes...only this time, I was in the Land Rover, not standing on the dock. Freetown traffic was awful, we probably could have gotten to the ferry quicker if we'd walked. But we finally made it, and then had a couple of hours of waiting before the ferry took us across the harbor to Lungi. There were over 20 people disembarking yesterday, so we had plenty of company. :) On the other side of the harbor, we all loaded up in SUV's and minivans and drove to the airport. After getting our bags through, we all gathered in a corner of the non-air-conditioned airport and sat for hours before it was time for our flight. It was very hot and humid, but that's been the norm for the past 6 months. Winter is going to shock me this year. An 8-hour flight got us to Brussels, where we had one last round of goodbyes as everyone went their separate ways. Then I had a 6-hour wait in the boring Brussels airport. At least I didn't spend money on stupid airport souveneirs or overpriced food, since I didn't have any euros. (well, Rachel did buy me a cup of coffee). After the long layover, I had a 9-hour flight to Washington D.C., where I'm currently enjoying the incredibly fast, free airport wi-fi, and a Starbucks frappucino. :) One more flight left, and I'll be in Texas with my honey! I'm dirty and sweaty and crumpled and grubby and tired, but so so excited!!!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Goodbyes and Cleaning

I'm down to my last few days in Sierra Leone, and probably won't have much time to blog this week, so here's a quick update.

After an energetic worship service with the patients in the wards, we slowly sent each one of them home last week and shut down the hospital. There have been lots of goodbyes lately - not only are the patients gone, but so are our day volunteers (locals who work on the ship as translators, housekeepers, deck hands, and help in the hospital). We had a celebration on Friday to say thank-you to all of our day volunteers, and there were lots of tears as everyone hugged goodbye. The crew have also been trickling out; every Monday and Thursday a crowd gathers on the dock to send off the Land Rovers full of crew members and their baggage, headed to the airport. We're down to just 3 people in my 6-bunk cabin, and soon Julie will be all alone, as Rachel and I leave this Thursday!

Although the surgeries have stopped and the hospital is closed there is still quite a bit of work to be done before the ship will be ready to sail. This morning all the remaining nurses, about 30 or so, gathered in B ward for a time of worship and devotions before we donned our rubber gloves and got to work scrubbing and bleaching every inch of the hospital. I spent the morning outside on the dock, helping the dental team pack up all their equipment into a shipping container that will now be lifted up onto the top deck of the ship with the crane. Many hands made light work, and we were completely finished before lunchtime! After lunch and another round of goodbyes as more crew headed to the airport, I went down to the ward and joined the cleaning team. We have our own ways of making cleaning fun. Imagine about 8 nurses, wearing scrubs rolled up to their knees and blue rubber gloves on their hands, holding sponges and spray bottles. The main lights are turned off, but the emergency alarm light is on, flashing like a disco ball. "All the Single Ladies" is blaring out of the little computer speakers, and rather than wiping down cabinets or sorting dressing supplies, the nurses are just dancing around the half-empty ward and singing. Yep, that was my afternoon. After the dance party we got back to work, but first put the movie "Grease" on the TV's and sang along to "Summer Days" and "Beauty School Dropout" while we cleaned.

Now I have the evening free, and am trying to get up the motivation to go start sorting my stuff and packing for home. I might just end up in the cafe playing cards with friends instead...

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving on the Africa Mercy

A month ago our galley staff cooked up a lovely turkey dinner in honor of Canada's Thanksgiving day, and today we got to enjoy another Thanksgiving dinner for the Americans onboard. All day my American friends and I have been trying to explain to our non-American friends why we celebrate Thanksgiving. It's made for some entertaining conversations.

Brit: "So...the pilgrims, from England, were thankful to the Indians that they didn't starve?"

Canadian: "Yeah, and then they gave the Indians smallpox blankets."

American: "They didn't know the blankets had smallpox on them!"

Brit: "England's such a small country, but it's interesting how we're involved in everything."

American: "We were trying to get away from you!"

I ate dinner with 3 nurses from the United Kingdom, and when we sat down to eat Jess looked at me, the lone American at the table, and said "is there something we're supposed to do? Do we have to sing a song or say something special before we can eat?"

I'd already started eating. Oops. "Um, well, sometimes my family all goes around the table and everyone says something they're thankful for." So we did that, and then I got back to my turkey and mashed potatoes. Yum!

I didn't get very far though before Larry, an older gentleman from somewhere in America, stood up and rang the bell. There's a bell in the middle of our dining room that people ring when they want to make an announcement during a meal. Usually it's an announcement for someone's birthday, and everyone in the dining room sings happy birthday. Today, Larry stood up and said something nice and nostalgic about it being Thanksgiving, and then added "and I'd like all the Americans to join me in singing God Bless America."

What followed was a half-hearted rendition of what sort of sounded like 'God Bless America,' but nobody really knew all the words, and everyone was off-key. Every time I tried to sing I just heard how off-key everyone was, and started laughing, which made me start coughing. I've had a cough for about 3 weeks now. Anyway...the Thanksgiving song fell rather flat, but the meal was lovely. I miss my mama's cornbread stuffing and sweet potato pudding, but dinner was still really good. And a few hours later we all gathered in the cafe and had delicious apple pie and ice cream! All in all, it was a nice Thanksgiving. I have so much to be thankful for right now, I can't even begin to list it all.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

You know you're ready to go home when Disney makes you cry

So, I was watching a Disney princess movie with Jess this afternoon before work, and in the middle of the sappy part we looked at each other to find that both our chins were quivering.

Me: *sniff*
Jess: "Does this make you think of Pat?"
Me: "Yes!"
Jess: "I miss Fraser. I think it's time we went home."
Me: "Uh-huh."

Monday, November 21, 2011

Preparing for Goodbye

It's after midnight, and I'm in an eyes-glazed-over-and-contacts-dried-out state of sleep deprivation and should really be going to bed, but the mood is upon me to write, so here I am. Forgive me, I'm in a strange mood.

T-minus-ten days til I pack up my bags, turn in my room key, and walk down the gangway of the Africa Mercy for the last time. Sometimes I accidentally call it the gangplank, not the gangway. But no worries, the captain hasn't made anyone walk the plank yet. I don't think we even have a plank.

I've been on night shift for the past 4 nights. Thursday was the last day of surgeries, so the patients left on the ward have all been here for awhile. That means there was hardly anything for me to do during my shifts. All my patients slept soundly, hardly needed anything, and after I did everyone's vital signs and assessments at 10:00, I had practically no work to do for the rest of the night. I did lots of reading, knitting, and looking at photos on the computer.

My dear friend and bunkmate Rachael said goodbye and headed back to England today. She and I have been through a lot together the past 5 months, and it was definitely a hard goodbye. After wiping the tears away, I went down to my room, saw her empty bed, and started crying again. Another good friend, Kari, went home today also. It's hard to see the crew dwindling away as people leave, and it made me wish that it was me going home today instead so I could just have it all over with. The flight from Freetown to Brussels only goes out on Mondays and Thursdays, and the rest of my Mondays and Thursdays here are going to be full of goodbyes. But that's the nature of Mercy Ships, and really it's the nature of life. Life is constantly changing, people come and go, transitions are made.

We're also saying goodbye to patients, as the hospital is closing for good this Friday. I wrote about that some the other day, regarding Aminata. There are other patients whose wounds haven't finished healing, or who need more surgeries, and it's hard to leave them before the job is done. But I know that even if the ship stayed and the hospital continued operating, the job would never be done. There will always be more people who need care, more stubborn wounds that won't close up, more complications. We just have to do what we can, the best that we can, and leave these people in God's hands. Some of the patients who need further surgeries in the future have been given instructions to travel to Guinea when the ship is there for a field service next year. Others have been referred to local hospitals that have agreed to partner with us in providing follow-up care. And still others simply will be given the best teaching we can, and we'll hope that they follow instructions at home and recover without complication. Please pray for these patients, that their wounds will heal quickly, that the ones experiencing pain would have relief, and that their home situations would be conducive to recovery.

Although part of me wishes that it had been me packing up and heading home today, another part of me knows that the next 10 days are going to fly by. Tomorrow I have the day off, and plan to spend it hiking with friends. Wednesday and Thursday will be my last 2 shifts on the ward, and Friday I'll be working a "cleaning" shift as we scrub down and pack up the hospital. After a weekend off, I'll be cleaning again on Monday and Tuesday. Next Wednesday will be spent completing the checklists and paperwork I have to do before leaving, and packing up and cleaning my room. Then Thursday I'll take the ferry across the harbor to the airport, and wave goodbye to Sierra Leone! It's a strange feeling. Lots of thoughts and feelings and emotions. But I've run out of words for now, so I'm heading for bed.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Our Princess

When I first arrived in Sierra Leone and found out that I would be taking care of both adults AND children on the wards, I was nervous. My last experience in pediatrics was my limited clinical time in college, and I was (and still am, to some extent) very insecure about my abilities as a peds nurse. One of my first little patients way back in June was Aminata, a baby with a big tumor growing underneath her jaw. She was severely malnourished and developmentally delayed when she came to us, so she was put on the infant feeding program to get her healthy enough for surgery. I remember when we were taking care of her in June, Ami was very lethargic and didn't even have the energy to cry or kick her legs. Her arms and legs were much too skinny in proportion to the rest of her body, and her hair was thin and pale.

After staying in the hospital for awhile on tube feedings, she and her mother were sent to live at the Hope Center while she continued to fatten up before surgery. Over the next few months, Ami slowly gained weight and began acting more and more like the 2-year-old she is. Finally she was healthy enough to undergo surgery! All the nurses were so excited to see her back in the hospital, and she quickly became the Princess of D Ward. I remember one day I looked over and saw a group of our day volunteers gathered around Ami's bed, playing the guitar and singing to her. She had the biggest smile on her face, and was waving her arms at them while they sang.

In the operating room, the surgeons found that the tumor was much bigger than they'd anticipated. They had to do quite a bit of "digging" to get it all out, and as a result Aminata had a lot of swelling around her throat after the procedure. She came back to us intubated and breathing on a ventilator, and took up residence in the ICU. She had one-on-one care from nurses with pediatric ICU experience, and lots of visitors over the next few weeks. One evening as I was getting ready for my shift, I heard an announcement come on the overhead speakers: "Emergency medical team to the ICU!" My heart sank when I heard that; I knew we only had one patient in the ICU at the time. When I showed up in the ward for work, a crowd was gathered around Ami's bed. Despite being sedated, she had pulled her breathing tube out and there was too much swelling around her throat to put a new one in. As the doctors and emergency medical team were working, all the D Ward nurses waited nervously next door. At one point our team leader, Natalie, looked up at us and said "Are you guys ok? I think I'm more worried about you than Aminata!" Several of us were close to tears, worried about our little princess. Ami was rushed down the hall to the operating room to have a tracheostomy placed, and she came back to us on the ventilator again.

It was a long, slow process, but eventually the swelling went down enough for Ami to start breathing on her own and come off the ventilator. Her trach site healed up, but she had a pretty nasty respiratory infection after that. Several more weeks on antibiotics and tube feedings had her slowly but surely feeling better. She's been going back and forth between the Hope Center and the hospital since getting her feeding tube out, and is brighter-eyed and happier than ever these days. It's really amazing to see the change in her, since having taken care of her back in June. She's definitely fattened up since then, loves to play with the nurses, and smiles all the time. Her hair is healthy, and her legs are strong enough for her to start learning how to walk!

Despite the improvements, Aminata's tumor may return, and her chest infection never quite went away. And the ship is leaving in December. Leaving Ami before she's completely healed is something we're all struggling with. It's hard to leave before the problem is fixed. It's hard to go home to a country where I have immediate access to whatever healthcare I need, when the people I leave behind don't have enough medicine or doctors or food or clean water. All of Ami's memories are here on the ship; what's she going to think when all of a sudden, we're gone? Her home is probably not a very clean environment; what if her infection gets worse? One of my coworkers reminded me the other day: God brought Aminata to us. He was with her all along, and He'll still be with her when we leave.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Snippets from the Ward

During handover yesterday, we had a little worship time and prayer in B ward. After the nurses finished praying I heard someone behind me calling "Root! come." It was Isatu, and she was gesturing for me to come over, saying "you pray for me." So I went over, took her hands, and prayed for her. Then I said "now you pray for me" and she took my hands and did. It was the best way to start a shift.

We have the cutest little cleft lip baby named Alpha on D ward right now. Since he was born with a cleft lip, he never learned how to suck, so he has to be fed formula with a spoon or syringe. The other day he was crying and screaming for food, and by the time Jess got the formula mixed up and sat down to feed him, he was quite a pathetic little mess. He was hungry so he was trying to eat, but not used to breathing differently yet after the surgery, so he kept choking. On top of that he was mad so he was crying and kicking, and he may have had a dose of lactulose, which was making things get rather squishy in that diaper of his. Poor little Alpha was just an angry, spluttering, burping, farting, hungry mess. In between the gasps and coughs, Jess managed to squirt enough formula in his mouth to satisfy him, and in the end he was content and fell asleep.

Yesterday I went down the hall to fetch something from the kitchen, and heard quite the commotion down by A ward. A few of the nurses and plastics kids were having a bowling tournament in the hallway with a plastic toy bowling ball, using empty pediasure bottles for bowling pins. They looked like they were having a blast.

During some down time when I had nothing to do yesterday evening, I just sat down on a stool and Kadiatu, my wild woman, came and crawled up on my lap. She started nodding off so I carried her to bed. Her dad called me back as I was walking away and said "she needs nappy!" I hadn't realized that she was sitting in my lap for 20 minutes without a diaper on. Glad I didn't find that out the hard way.

Taking care of kids, I've had lots of medicine spit back out into my face. My little 13-month-old patient Esther was quite a surprise yesterday when she saw me coming with a syringe full of her antibiotics. She sat up, crawled over to me, and sweetly tilted her head up with her mouth open. I squirted the medicine in, and she just swallowed it without a fuss! What a nice treat for me - no metronidazole splattered across my scrubs or anything. :)

We have a little girl named Sia who has Burkitt's lymphoma, a nasty cancer causing huge facial tumors. Usually we would have cared for her through the Burkitt's program we have on the ship, but since it's the end of the outreach, the Burkitt's program is shut down and we aren't able to finish her chemotherapy treatments. Instead, we're sending Sia and her mother and little sister to a hospital in Guinea to complete the chemo. Mercy Ships is paying for the medical care, but there was a bit of an issue finding the money to pay for their transportation and lodging, and the patient life team was working to find donations. The other day our team leader Natalie came running into the ward with some great news - she had been talking to one of the patient life people upstairs in the cafe, about how much money they would need to take care of Sia and her family for the next few months in Guinea. A lady in the cafe came over and said "excuse me - I don't mean to be eavesdropping - but are you talking about a child? I have some money set aside from one of my donors that's meant to go to help a child, and I've been wondering how I could find a child to help." The money the woman had set aside was just the right amount to help Sia. Isn't God amazing?!

At the end of my shift last night I grabbed my water bottle, and Kadiatu immediately started waving goodbye to me. She's figured out that when the nurses pick up their water bottles, they're leaving for the day. So cute!

Kadiatu and her dad

Sweet Sia and her little sister

Thursday, November 10, 2011

On the Road to Freetown

Last Saturday I got up early and headed to the beach with Rachael, Sarah, Fran, Kari, Julie, and Mona. It was a fabulous day from the very beginning. Usually a trip to the beach starts by walking up Bad Boy Lane, flagging down a poda poda or taxi and arguing for 30 minutes about prices. But Friday night Rachael asked one of the local day volunteers who works on the ward to call and arrange transportation for us. Saturday morning there was a poda waiting for us on the other side of the iron gates at the dock - on time and for a reasonable price. After an hour-and-45-minutes bumpy ride through town we arrived at the beach. Amazing waves, warm sunshine, good friends, delicious food (barracuda and cous cous!), and a little shopping made for a great day.

I didn't take many pictures on the beach, but tried to take a bunch on the way back, of the countryside between the beach and Freetown. Here's what I managed to get out the window of the poda poda:

The ride back through Freetown was highly entertaining. People are used to just jumping into a poda whenever they slow down enough, and our driver had to explain to several people that ours was taken. One person hopped in the front seat and the driver quickly told him that he had to leave. The man turned around, saw all us white women, and apologized profusely. Then he looked at Rachael and said "I love you!" Rachael responded "no, you do NOT love me! And I am not having this conversation." The man left and our driver shook his head, telling Rachael "Ah, you have broken his heart." Everyone had a good laugh over that one. At another point in the drive someone on the street saw us and yelled "Eh! Americans!" Rachael tapped our driver's shoulder and said, "Excuse me, just so you know, I am NOT American. I am British! And SHE (pointing to Julie next to her) is Canadian. So you just tell him that next time you see him." Later we looked out and saw someone in a strange costume making his way down the street. He was wearing a mask and had bundles of sticks coming out his sleeves where his hands should have been. We tried to get an explanation from the driver, but weren't really sure what the occasion was. Some kind of festival or holiday we think. When we were almost home, there was a slight disturbance on the street. A taxi had broken down in the middle of the road and stopped traffic. There was a lot of angry yelling out on the street, and it kept getting more and more crowded as people tried to get where they were going. There was a small space open behind the broken-down taxi where we needed to turn, and the driver just went for it. While we were all distracted by the commotion caused by the roadblock, Fran, who was sitting close to the front, screamed. We all looked out the other window and saw 4 bulls charging down the road, headed straight for us! A man running behind them was frantically beating them with a stick, trying to redirect their path. What in the world - there's never a dull moment in Africa. Thankfully the bulls missed us, and we escaped being gorged by their horns. Fran was a little shaken up for the rest of the ride home, understandably.

By the time we successfully made it back to the ship we'd missed dinner, so after washing off the sand and sea water, we headed to the crew galley to make a big pot of mac-n-cheese and laugh about the adventures we'd had together.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Faces to go with the names

Just a quick post to share a few pictures from work last week:

Enjoying the sea breeze out on Deck 7

The patients aren't the only ones who like to play with the wagons :)

Blowing bubbles is always fun too

Ward worship

Kadiatu, my little wild woman. Note the pretty blue coban wrapped around her hand, to prevent the pulling out of any more tubes.

Bockarie, who got a new nose

"Stockings" up there pulled out Esther's nasal trumpet the other night. Neither one of them is very impressed with their NG tubes.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Princess Royal

I completely forgot to blog about this - then I was looking through the pictures on one of the ship computers today, and remembered. Her Royal Highness, Princess Anne, was in Sierra Leone last week and decided to pay a visit to the Africa Mercy! The ship was a flurry of activity as wards were scrubbed, floors mopped and waxed til they sparkled, and everyone practiced their curtsies. I've never seen this place so clean and shiny. I didn't meet the princess, but some of my friends were working when she toured the, I know someone who met the princess. That counts for something, right? ;-)

I think the missionary kids were a little disappointed that she didn't wear a tiara.

In other news, Kadiatu smiled and laughed today. That made me very happy. We have lots of pikins with NG tubes on D ward right now, and they've been kind of fussy the past few days...understandably. But today they all started feeling a little better and having some fun. My little one in bed 9, Esther, pulled her nasal trumpet out last night, but she did not go back into respiratory distress so all is well. At the end of my shift, I learned that she was actually not the one responsible for the nasal trumpet coming out, but her mischievous neighbor, Muka in bed 11 was. I guess the little guy decided he was a nurse last night and that Esther's airway was fine.

Monday, October 31, 2011

21 weeks down, 4 to go!

A few little stories from the ward this past week:

"Nurse" Shaka is a man who had a giant lipoma removed from the back of his neck. He told us he's a nurse at a local hospital, and perhaps he is. The other day he was found adjusting the IV drip rate for another patient. Later on he and another patient from the ward were found in the ICU with a patient on isolation, all three of them having some heated discussion about who knows what. Concepts like "patient confidentiality" and "isolation precautions" can be difficult to communicate sometimes.

"Fanta Man" was a confused elderly patient who kept things interesting for D ward the past couple of weeks, doing things like holding intense conversations with the soap dispenser and attempting to escape the hospital. Ali has some pretty hilarious stories:

It's been encouraging to see little Kadiatu's spirits improve. She's a 5-year-old girl who had facial reconstructive surgery to correct damage caused by noma. She was NOT a happy camper over the weekend. Her wounds need some time to heal before we can let her put food in her mouth, which means tube feedings for a week. On Saturday, anytime I touched that NG tube (or her IV, or her bandages, or pretty much any part of her) she would scream bloody murder. That night she ripped out everything that was attached to her, so Sunday she took another trip to the OR to have it all replaced. When I saw her again Sunday evening I saw her new NG tube was sutured to her face and safety pinned to one of the braids on top of her head. Poor pikin. She didn't seem to be screaming quite as much Sunday, but still whimpered throughout all of her tube feedings. Rhoda and I took turns holding her while the feedings were going, and she managed to get through the shift without ripping anything out. Tuesday and Wednesday Kadi ventured outside when we took the patients to Deck 7, but she spent the hour just sitting in her caregiver's lap, looking at the water. Today on Deck 7 she actually played a little bit, went for a ride on one of the tricycles, and walked back downstairs by herself instead of being carried.

We're coming to the end of the Sierra Leone outreach, and the hospital will be closing in 3 weeks. It's strange to think that we only have 3 weeks left of NG feeds, sterile dressing changes, chlorhexidine mouthwashes, cleft lip babies with their adorable little steri strip cat-whisker faces spitting medicine back out at us, singing with our patients, praying with them as we send them off to the operating room and celebrating with them when they come back transformed. As things wind down we're starting to tidy up the wards, scan all the charts into the computer system, and get ready to pack up the ship before the sail in December. It's bitter-sweet, but I'm glad I'll be here until the end. I think that packing up and scrubbing down the hospital my last week here will help me say goodbye to this place, bring a sense of closure to my time here. It was definitely a big transition to get settled in here on the ship when I came, and now I begin another transition as I prepare to come home.

Mama Isatu

Isatu is a patient everyone on D ward has come to love. Sadly, the surgery we did on her jaw was only palliative, as the tumor was cancerous and will likely return. Shortly after surgery Isatu's wound opened back up to form a fistula through her cheek into her mouth. This led to a prolonged hospital stay, scrupulous wound care twice a day, and three weeks of tube feedings instead of only one. Despite her situation, Isatu always had a bright smile on her face. I would often hurry through the ward, focused on some task or other, and hear her call out behind me, "Rooot!!" I'd turn around and she'd be waving excitedly, eyes twinkling. I'd go over to her bed, get a hand squeeze or hug, and remember again why I'm here. Last week her teenage son (or maybe grandson, I'm not sure) was here to visit her and she was very excited to introduce him to all the nurses.

"My pikin, my pikin," she said, pointing at the young man. ("Pikin" is the Krio word for baby, or small child). Isatu gestured to Hannah, another nurse, and told her "your brother."

"My brother?" Hannah asked, confused.

Isatu nodded. "He my pikin. You my pikin. Your brother." Then she pointed at me, "You all my pikins."

Isatu now has the feeding tube out and is eating normal food, her wound is healing up nicely, and we were able to send her off to the Hope Center yesterday afternoon. I'll definitely be going to the Hope Center for a visit this week. :)

Saturday, October 22, 2011

What did you do this weekend?

Living on a hospital ship, in a city where we can't exactly hop in the car and drive to the mall or movie theater (even if we could, there's a curfew when everyone has to be back on the ship for the night), we find ways to make our own entertainment. Sometimes that entertainment involves taking a cup of tea outside and watching the dive team fish a wayward forklift out of the water down below. Sometimes a huge group gets together in the Starbucks cafe for "trivia night," and teams answer random trivia questions while drinking frappucinos and sharing snacks. Once we had a film festival, where everyone submitted homemade movies and we all dressed up to go watch them together. There are lots of card games, movie nights, and "tea at ten" parties. This Friday night, a group of 20+ ladies gathered in the Queen's Lounge, armed with pillows and chocolate, and spent 5 hours quoting along with and giggling at the antics of Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet. Saturday evening a few of us carried our plates of food up 3 flights of stairs and had a picnic on the top deck. We watched the sun set, then lay on our backs on a blanket and watched the stars come out. Today we're going to be very busy laying out by the pool and soaking up as much sun as possible before another busy week begins. :)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Midnight rambles

It's been a week since my last post, and I don't really know what to write about at the moment, so here are some random thoughts before I go to sleep:

I think I'm becoming somewhat institutionalized, eating in a cafeteria. My stomach starts growling at 12:00 and 5:00 every day.

I went to fabric street yesterday. I bought some fabric. A pickpocket tried to get in our bags, but was unsuccessful. I carry a bag that zips up all the way for just that reason.

There's dried baby drool all over my scrub top right now. I don't really care.

People from England will never approve of Americans' pronunciation. I wonder what they'd think if they visited Texas? ;-P

We've had triple max-fax surgeries the past few weeks, which means D ward has been busy...and we're overflowing into C ward and B ward.

I now automatically introduce myself as "Root." Nobody understands me when I say "Ruth."

I walked into C ward today and heard my patient from last week, an older lady named Isatu, excitedly call out "Root!" I looked up and she beckoned me over, a big grin on her face, and grasped my hand and gave me a hug. I love moments like that.

I miss my boyfriend. Six months is a long time.

My boyfriend sent me jalapeno cheddar cheetos. I'm trying to make them last at least a week.

I've started looking at nursing jobs online several days a week. Which probably doesn't make sense, cause those jobs will be taken by the time I get home. But I can't help myself...

I went to a local church service on Sunday. It was really long, and I was tired. But I didn't fall asleep, cause they had ushers patrolling the aisles, on the look-out for people who fell asleep, and nudging them awake and shaking their heads at them disapprovingly.

This is Aminata. She's the princess of D ward. The drool on my scrubs is hers.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

More highlights from the past week

After the beach excursion Saturday, it was nice to have another day off work to just relax and do nothing. Most of Sunday I could be found outside on Deck 8, reading a book or lying out by the pool with some friends. I actually swam a little bit too - my first time in the pool. When the ship rocks a lot, it turns into a wave pool and the water pretty much carries you from one end to the other.

On Sunday evening, a few friends and I walked up Bad Boy Lane (the road leading down to the docks) to visit the patients at the Hope Center. Several of our max-fax patients had been discharged that day, and it was fun to go see them, take pictures, and play with the kids for a couple of hours, as well as meet some patients who haven't had their surgeries yet. It started to rain a little while we were there, but nobody really cared. As soon as we walked up to where the patients were gathered outside, a little girl named Lucia, about 4 or 5 years old, with a big tumor on her face ran up and gave us all hugs. I'd never met her before, but apparently she didn't care - she was more than ready to be friends. :) Hopefully she'll feel the same way when we're taking care of her on the ward soon. Another group of crewmembers from the ship was there at the same time as us, doing a Bible lesson/puppet show for the patients. When the show started, Lucia reached up her arms to me, clearly wanting some snuggle time. So I stood and held her throughout the entire show, and remembered what I love about this place. Priceless moment: standing with a group of patients out in the drizzling African rain, singing "Tell Papa God tenki," while a little girl wraps her arms around my neck, puts her head on my chest, and falls asleep. When the puppet show was over and it was time for us to go back to the ship, several of the patients walked with us across the yard to the gate. Across the street someone was playing loud hip-hop music, and we all started dancing as we walked. After we'd waved goodbye and headed down the road to the docks, we looked back and saw some of the patients still dancing as they returned to the buildings. Fun times.

Monday was Canadian Thanksgiving! Something I've never thought about before, but we have a lot of Canadians on board. I won't say no to Thanksgiving dinner in October...or anytime, for that matter. :)

Tuesday evening we all got an interesting show to watch. Down on the dock, someone drove a forklift off the edge and into the water! Thankfully there was nobody in the forklift when it went down. Within minutes there was a crew of engineers and deck hands wearing hard hats and looking important on the dock, cranes and chains were being set up for the retrieval of the wayward forklift (now covered by 30 feet of water and 5 feet of mud), and the dive team was donning their wet suits and flippers and jumping into the murky water. I was in the peanut gallery out on the top deck of the ship, looking down on all the action while also enjoying a beautiful sunset to the west and lightning show to the east. Who needs TV in a place like this? Check out Heather's blog for pictures.

Ship Holiday

It seems like multiple times throughout a week something will happen that I plan on blogging about later...and then by the time I sit down and start writing, I've completely forgotten what it was I wanted to write about. So, I've thought back over the past week, and jotted down some of the little highlights to share. Here are a couple of them:

Friday's excitement involved some of my coworkers running into Eva Mendes out on the streets of Freetown. Talk about random - this is NOT the place you expect to meet celebrities. For the full story, check out Ali's blog.

This past weekend was a "ship holiday," which means the people who work Monday-to-Friday, 9-5 jobs got a 3-day weekend. No surgeries on Friday, and most of the crew went off-ship and took mini-vacations at the beach, chimpanzee sanctuary, traveled up-country, hiked mountains, etc. On Saturday I joined a group of 9 people heading out to Burreh Beach for the day. I always have mixed feelings about going to the beach. After living on a ship and not getting outside much, it's glorious to spend some time outside, breathe some FRESH AIR (it usually smells like garbage or sewage out on the dock), and soak in some sunshine. However, it's always a bit of a stressful ordeal actually GETTING to the beach, and the bigger the group, the harder it is. Sarah and I got some phone numbers of taxi drivers and she called to find someone who would be willing to come pick us up, drive us to the beach, and then bring us back to the ship at the end of the day. After calling a few numbers we thought someone might show up the next morning...but we weren't really sure. Language barriers always make things interesting. Oh well, we could always just walk up the road and flag one down. Saturday morning the nine of us gathered together, swimsuits on and backpacks full of snacks and books. As soon as we walked through the metal gate and left the dock area, a taxi driver ran up and informed us that he was the driver we'd called earlier. However, he only had one taxi, and we needed 2 for our group. He had also changed the price we had agreed on over the phone, and decided we were going to a different beach, one closer to town. Over the next frustrating half hour we haggled back and forth, eventually coming to a price everybody agreed upon and getting a second taxi. I squeezed into the back seat of one with 3 other girls and our backpacks, and we started the hour-long drive through Freetown and out into the countryside. We were enjoying the pretty scenery out in the country when our driver suddenly said "do you recognize this area? Are we going the right way?" Jess responded, "we don't know - YOU'RE the driver!" Apparently he didn't actually know how to get to the beach we were going to - a fact he failed to mention earlier. So he pulled over, asked directions, and we eventually made it to Burreh. Once we actually arrived, it was a lovely day. We met up with some other nurses and day volunteers who were already there, and spent a few hours swimming in clean, emerald water and lying in the sun. Toward the end of the day I was having a second swim when dark clouds rolled in over the mountains, the water got choppy, and the rain started to pour. The rain was cold, making the sea water feel really warm. There's something unique about swimming in the rain off the coast of West Africa. We tried to wait for the rain to stop before leaving, but it showed no sign of letting up and it was time for us to go. So we gathered our now-sopping belongings, hiked up the path through the downpour to where the taxis were waiting, and squished back in. The windows immediately fogged up, but that didn't stop the driver from zooming back out onto the road. We asked "um, can you see alright?" To which he responded curtly "I can see." We looked at each other nervously, prayed, and hoped for the best. After awhile the windows cleared up, the rain stopped, and we all made it back to the ship in one piece.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Max-fax patients

A couple of weeks ago I got to spend a few hours in the operating rooms, observing various surgeries. I went back and forth between the max-fax, ENT, and plastics rooms, but spent the majority of my time in the max-fax room. I watched Dr. Gary remove a massive bony tumor that I think was caused by fibrous dysplasia. During the next several days, I had the priviledge of being the nurse assigned to the spunky eleven-year-old girl, Comfort, whose surgery I watched. Comfort usually had a smile on her face, especially after I took out her feeding tube and let her start eating real food again. She liked to hold and play with the babies on the ward, sing and clap with us during ward worship, and take pictures whenever the photographer came through.
Comfort and her sister are staying at the Hope Center now, and will be going home to Liberia (I think - maybe it's Nigeria, I'm not sure) in a few days. Pray that the tumor doesn't come back, and that Comfort regains normal muscle control as the swelling goes down.

We've been enjoying all the babies we've had on the ward lately:

Thursday, October 6, 2011