Friday, September 30, 2011

Another day on the ward

A missionary named Jon Erickson recently brought a group of his patients from the Hope Clinic in Guinea to the ship to have various operations. Jon is from America originally, but has lived in Africa for many years. He's really amazing with his patients - he's pretty much been living in the hospital with them while they're here, sleeping on the pallets under their beds, eating the African meals with them instead of going upstairs to the dining room, and translating for all of us on the ward who don't speak French. We've all had fun getting to know the Guinea patients - they're a wonderful group of people, and we'll be sad to say goodbye this Sunday when they go home. It's amazing how attached you can get to people that you can't even talk to. You can say a lot through facial expression and make-shift sign language. :)

Small victories from work today:
I had to take staples and sutures out of a little 7-year-old boy's scalp and face. Even after pre-medicating him with paracetamol and codeine, I expected him to cry at least a little bit. It's not fun for anyone to have staples and sutures removed, let alone a little boy who doesn't understand what's going on. But he was so brave! He didn't cry at all and held perfectly still while I carefully removed each one. I was praying that God would help me be gentle, and He did.

A little girl I was looking after today had to have her head bandage changed. Her incision had oozed a little bit, and there was some gauze stuck to her chin. When I tried to pull it off she immediately started whimpering. So I put a little saline on the old dressing, and sang her a song while I slowly soaked it off. In the end I got all of the old dressing off, the incision cleaned, and a new dressing neatly wrapped around her head.

The same little girl had to have her last dose of IV antibiotics today. She did NOT like her IV to be touched even though it was still working well, and she started crying and wiggling as soon as I came near her. Then I thought to give her my penlight to play with, and let her examine the inside of my mouth, nose and ear with it. That distracted her enough that she didn't notice me injecting the medicine in her IV.

I know those are just little things, but it's the the little things that matter the most sometimes. The best part was that both of those patients still had smiles and hugs to offer me at the end of the day. :)

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

72 hours

Thank you everyone for your encouragement and prayers! This week has been better I think, although busy.

Several of us on the wards have felt discouragement the past few weeks, so we've decided to do a 72-hour prayer room for the nurses. We've set up a corner of E ward (which is currently used for storage, rather than patients) as a prayer room, and all the nurses who want to participate have signed up for hour-long slots. It's our goal to cover the hospital in constant prayer for a solid 72 hours. Please join us in praying for our patients, their family members, and all the hospital staff. Everyone needs refreshment and to refocus on God and the real reason we are here. I got up early this morning for the 7:00 time slot, and as soon as I went in and sat down, I could feel such a sense of peace and God's presence. He is in this place, and He is with us. May I never forget that, no matter how burnt-out or frustrated or tired or discouraged I feel.

"And He has said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.' Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong."
~2 Corinthians 12:9-10

Sunday, September 25, 2011

I will not be scorched

Several times in the past week, I've wanted to update my blog but just couldn't find the words to say. I want to share stories of my experiences here, I want people back home to understand a little bit of what it's like, I wish you could all know the amazing patients and crew that I interact with every day. But sometimes I don't feel like writing heartfelt stories. Sometimes I feel like I don't have anything new to report. At the end of the day, it just feels like another day, nobody will want to hear about it, it would be boring to talk about it. You know - I got up, ate breakfast, went to work, took care of patients, got off work, took a shower, hung out with friends, read a book, ate dinner, called my boyfriend, checked my email, went to bed.... I have nothing to write.

Sometimes, even when there are interesting experiences to share, I just don't care about them. Sometimes I'm tired of having interesting experiences and just want to pack my bags and go home. I've felt like that a lot the past couple of weeks. And when I feel like that, I don't want to write because I don't want to be depressing. Did your mother ever tell you "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all"? I haven't felt like writing anything nice, so I haven't written anything at all. I thought, "nobody wants to hear me complain. This blog is to share my experiences in Sierra Leone, not to complain about things." But I want to share what God is doing, both here in Sierra Leone and in my own heart, and how I'm feeling about things is part of that. If I ask people back home to pray for me, but don't tell them my struggles so they can pray about them, well where's the good in that? Also, I don't want to give the impression that this whole Africa thing is a walk in the park. Sometimes it's easy, I relish each day, and the time flies by. And other times it's really, really hard.

I think I'm burnt-out.

Not completely. Not to the point of giving up and going home early. But to the point of having to take things one painstakingly slow day at a time, taking a deep breath every morning and going through the motions of work and meals and spending time with friends, feeling like I'm wading through jello with a bag of rocks tied to my back. Am I being melodromatic? I'm sorry. Don't get me wrong - I know this is where I'm supposed to be, and I DO want to be here. But part of me really wishes that it was December and time to go home. And another part of me knows that when December arrives, I'm going to wonder where the time went. Too many conflicting emotions! You'd think I'd be used to that by now. I think I've been more emotional in the past 3 months than I have been in the past 3 years. I've lost count of how many times I've cried since I've been here, when before I could usually count on one hand the number of times I'd cried in a year.

The easiest times are when I'm with the patients. Then I remember why I'm here, and that it really is important. When a man who has lived with a giant tumor on his head all his life comes back to the ward from surgery and I hand him a mirror, and see his eyes light up with delight when he sees his reflection...when I do wound care on a lady who smiles up at me gratefully and says "Tenkhi!"...when I go to the Hope Center and sing and clap during worship service, praising Papa God alongside people who are so excited to see me, and always tell me when I leave "you come back tomorrow, yeah?"

Some of my thoughts lately have been along the lines of "why is this so hard? I thought this was where God wanted me to be." Today in my homework for Bible study, I read this: "Some of us with little previous battle experience have no idea why God is allowing us to go through such difficult times in a place we thought was His will. He's trying to make warriors out of us! Rise to the occasion!" (Beth Moore) So...I'm trying to rise to the occasion. I'm still homesick, I'm still kind of tired of it all...but I'm thankful to be here, and I hope God is using me somehow.

I've read this passage over and over again this past week:
"But now, thus says the Lord, your Creator, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel,
'Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, Nor will the flame burn you.'"
~Isaiah 43:1-2

Kind of fitting, I think. "When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched." I feel scorched. But I know God is with me.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

This week's highlights

As you can see from the picture I posted Wednesday, our noma patient has had his second surgery, and now has a new nose and roof of his mouth. The surgery involved cutting the pedicle flap away from the nose and unrolling it back onto his scalp, and releasing his tongue from the roof of his mouth. One of my coworkers had the opportunity to observe the surgery, and she said that the surgeon, Dr. Parker, was impressed by how clean everything was. He said "there's obviously been some excellent nursing care going on in the ward." We all gave ourselves a little pat on the back for that. ;-) The patient is just as much to be praised for how well he's doing. What he's gone through the past 3 weeks would be difficult for anyone, with tube feedings, living off of soft foods and ensure supplements, having his nose suctioned every 4 hours, and multiple dressing changes and mouth washes. But he's endured it all with a smile on his face and a cheerful wave every morning for the nurses, never complaining, and being more than compliant with every treatment. I wasn't on shift when he returned from his second surgery, but everyone said that he came back wearing the biggest grin yet, and asking for a mirror.

Monday a group of about 30 new people arrived on the ship, so there have been lots of new faces to get used to. This happens every couple of months, and it's always a little disorienting at first. The ship feels like a different place for awhile, but soon everybody gets used to each other again and routines continue. I'm a preceptor on the ward now, so I've been helping to orient some of the new nurses. It's reminding me of how out of place I felt when I first arrived, and how strange everything first seemed. Now the way we do things in the hospital has come to feel more normal, and those thoughts of "we would never do it this way at home" don't cross my mind nearly so often.

About a month ago I joined a women's Bible study here on the ship, and we've been going through Beth Moore's Esther study. Watching the lesson every Monday night with the other ladies has been a highlight of every week, and the daily "homework" has helped me stay in the Word more consistently. I was really excited to be in a Bible study like this, because the past few years I haven't had the ability to, due to moving around so much and working crazy nursing schedules. Since most of the women in the study work shifts, they show the lesson Monday mornings as well as evenings so that everybody has the chance to come.

In my time off I've been trying to sign up for more of the "Mercy Ministries," like the women's prison and Missionaries of Charity. Yesterday I joined a group going to visit an orphanage outside the city, called Fatima Home. The orphanage is run by a local couple who started it for war orphans about 10 years ago. Some of those original children are still there, and more have joined them since. Living on a piece of land outside of Freetown, the children are provided meals, clothes, beds, and an education. Exams are expensive in Sierra Leone, and the Mercy Ships crew recently collected a donation large enough to pay each child's school fees for a year! When we pulled up to the home in our land rovers yesterday, it was raining but the kids were all standing outside anyway, jumping up and down eagerly and waving, big smiles on their faces. We all crowded into the living room inside the couple's house, to get out of the rain. While we took seats in the chairs and couches around the perimeter of the room, all the kids settled on the floor. Denise, the lady leading our team, said "don't be shy kids, you can sit in our laps!" The kids stayed where they were on the floor and just looked at her, obviously confused. Then the man who runs the orphanage translated what Denise said and within seconds the floor was cleared and every lap was filled. :-) We all had fun cuddling the munchkins while Denise taught a lesson on the fruits of the spirit, with the translator's help. Then we sang some songs and gave the kids coloring pages and crayons. The time passed all too quickly, and soon it was time to load up and make the bumpy hour-long drive back to the ship. Hopefully I'll be able to go back again in a couple of weeks.

The rest of my free time this week has been filled with walks on the dock, admiring the sunsets after dinner, reading books, movie nights with friends, and calling home to make sure my family's safe amid all the Texas wildfires. It's strange to think that my time here is more than half-way over; sometimes the next 3 months seem like forever, and other times I feel like they're going to just fly by. I've been battling a little more homesickness and burnt-out feelings than usual this week, so I'd appreciate your prayers that I would make the most of the time I have left. I want to relish every opportunity I have here in Sierra Leone, but I know that come December, I'll be more than ready to see Texas again.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Monday, September 5, 2011

Hospital Updates

Max-fax has been slow the past few days, so D ward has been pretty quiet. They haven't been doing as many surgeries, but it should pick back up again shortly - I think we're waiting to get the anesthetists we need to do pediatric surgeries.

One of our general surgery patients, a lady who had a thyroidectomy, developed some complications and is now in the ICU. She came down with severe malaria, typhoid fever, and congestive heart failure-like symptoms. I cared for her the past 3 nights, and she stayed about the same over the weekend. Not doing any worse, but not really much better either after receiving antibiotics, diuretics, ACE-inhibitors and a blood transfusion. Please keep her in your prayers, that she will respond to the treatment and take a turn for the better soon. Also, typhoid is contagious and not all the nurses have received the vaccine. I have, thankfully, but please pray for the health of our nurses and everyone on the ship.

The man with the noma nose and palate reconstruction is going back for his second surgery tomorrow! He's been doing well, although losing weight. I'd lose weight too if my tongue was sutured to the roof of my mouth! We started him on nutritional supplements a couple of days ago, so hopefully he'll gain the weight back and his wounds will heal faster. Everyone's looking forward to his second surgery tomorrow, to release his tongue and replace the pedicle flap back on his scalp.

The plastic surgeon who was here at the beginning of the outreach returned this week for another round of plastics. The plastics patients take months to heal, and we finally sent the last ones home last week. Now we're about to fill up A ward again with a new set.

That's all for now. I just worked night shift the past 4 nights, and I'm tired!