I am thankful for people who give of their lives and time to help those in need in such a far away place. It is humbling to say the very least. Not that all of us have opportunities to help in this way, but it does give perspective. I guess it comes down to this: we can all do something to help others where ever we are......a neighbor, a friend, a family member or even a stranger. One person at a time. It all adds up, no matter how small our contribution may seem. Anyway......this and the last post sure got me to thinking. Sharon
(This is a running post about a nurse's journey on the Africa Mercy, a hospital ship that travels up and down the coast of Africa)
Last Wednesday was the day of our big screening, the day we selected patients for the various types of surgeries in the coming months. By government request, our advertising poster depicting the types of surgeries available did not have a date or place for the main screening event, so I wondered if the people would know to come. They came--more than 7000 of them. I've attached a picture which suggests the size of the crowd, but one picture doesn't really capture it. The line of people wound all around the wall of the selection site, doubled back, down a second street and back. It made the longest Disneyland lines look short!
I've heard that we had about 350 crew members plus 100+ day crew translators working on site that day. We needed every one of them, both to manage the crowd and to do the actual screening procedures. We screened for more than twelve hours, from dawn until after dark, to see as many people as possible. More than 4000 people got appointments, either for further medical testing or for the surgery itself.
Altogether, it was a very successful screening day.
The hardest part of screening is having to turn people away. They come so full of hope. They wait patiently in line for many, many hours to be seen. Then, some of them have to be told that we cannot help their particular problem. More than half of the people in line for eye problems didn't have cataracts, or their cataracts were not sufficiently ripened so that our procedure would help, and they had to be turned away. Some had corneal scars--a corneal transplant would restore their sight, but that is not possible to do here. Some were blinded from untreated glaucoma--irreversible damage was already done. Some were blind from injury that couldn't be fixed. So many reasons to say no...and every "no" hurts.
We saw a fair number of children with evidence of Vitamin A deficiency. The poorest people eat mostly white starchy food because it is cheapest, so even though they get the calories, they lack the vitamins they need. Vitamin A deficiency in children can lead to blindness, but it is preventable. One thing we try to do is to educate parents about Vitamin A and where to get it.
Because cataract surgery is quick and patients are released the same day, we can do a lot of eye surgeries. So, we will continue to hold field screening to gather more patients throughout the months that we are here. Our next eye screening is scheduled for next Tuesday. There will be hundreds of people there, but not the thousands that gathered for the main screening, because only one type of surgery is being offered. Still, it is likely to be another emotional day.
Let me end with a couple of stories from previous years. Many of our cataract patients are old, of course. One year a man a wife both received cataract surgery the same day. When the eye patches came off the next day, the grandpa turned to his wife and said, "you are as beautiful as I remembered you to be." They were very much in love.
Next year, another old couple had surgery the same day. When the eye patches came off, the old fellow turned to one of our day crew people and asked her to marry him! Needless to say, grandma was having second thoughts about having his sight restored! People are people, the world over, aren't they? Well, we screened an old couple this year and scheduled both of them for surgery...
More another day...
Oops..."They" won't let me send such a big file, with the picture attached. So here's the email, and I'll work on how to send the picture separately.
Click here to learn more about the nurses and doctors on board the Africa Mercy.