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

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Prayer Room

The other day I wrote a little about the 72-hour prayer room we set up for the nurses. We weren't sure how many people would want to participate, but every slot was full, and the hospital was covered in prayer for 72 hours straight! It was refreshing to come together like that and remember why we're here, doing what we're doing. It was also very unifying - everyone did more than just pray, we all left behind notes and verses and encouragement for the people who would come after us. Last night, when the 72 hours were up, we all got together outside on Deck 7 for a tea party to share our experiences from the past few days. I managed to take a few pictures before they had to take everything down and turn the area back into the storage room it was before.

sign-up sheet, with every slot filled

pictures of patients, surrounded by sticky-notes of prayers and verses

communion was set up the whole time

we are His hands and feet

prayers for people all over the world

tea party :)