Sunday, January 19, 2014

Africa Mercy - Square Wheels: One Nurse's Journey

Hi....another email post from Marilyn in the Congo on the Africa Mercy! The challenges continue, this time with a large turn-over of personnel and translator problems, but the beauty of Mercy's mission to aid those who otherwise lack access to health care has not changed and God continues to provide.

Marilyn is now on Facebook and I urge all of you interested in her  journey to connect with her there. She has posted some new photos. You might want to mention you discovered her at my blog, so she doesn't think you are some spammer. For now, I will continue to post her letters.

(This is a running email post written by a volunteer nurse serving on the Africa Mercy, a hospital ship that travels the African coast. In your charitable donations please remember this worthy organization).

January 19, 2014
Square Wheels

 In honor of the new year, I've started something new--facebook! Not that I know what I'm doing... Anyway, if you want to "friend" me and I haven't found you to ask you yet, maybe you could let me know how to find you on facebook, if you are there. Hopefully, the more savvy folks around me will help me to figure out privacy settings, messages vs. timelines, and so forth. And maybe facebook will help me to know what's going on in your worlds, if I can figure out how to navigate it without spending all my waking hours poking around.

We've had three weeks of surgery since the Christmas break. They have been difficult weeks, in a way. There's a large turnover in personnel at the end of the year, a problem that seems to have affected the OR particularly hard. Not only did we have a new surgeon, we had a new team leader in the eye OR, new nurses to assist and to scrub, and new translators. They had to reinvent the wheel back there, it seems, and that slows things down. Then, they were having a lot of difficulty with the new translators not showing up for work on time and taking unseemly long breaks when they did show up. Our eye patients only get a local anesthetic, and they need to be able to cooperate with instructions during surgery. The whole system breaks down if we can't communicate.

The OR solved that problem by borrowing one of our translators from the peri-op room. Ordinarily, that would have been a hardship for us, but the OR was working so slowly that we didn't have any trouble keeping up with them.

Because of the difficulties in OR, our work in the peri-op room was tedious, with long hours of boredom waiting for patients. We start more than an hour before the OR does, preparing the patients, and we stay half an hour after they do to discharge patients, so we were "working" eleven hour days, but accomplishing little, with only ten patients per day. After a couple of weeks of this, our day crew got restive. The harmony of our little team started breaking down. When we keep them until after 4:00 or 5:00 PM, it becomes difficult and expensive for them to get home; they started demanding changes. We are looking at some options, but haven't solved the problems yet. It has been a bit disheartening to see the camaraderie of our team fraying at the edges.

One obvious solution is to do fewer surgeries until the OR team gets up to speed. That is not a good solution for a couple of reasons: 1. fewer patients receive their sight (this is the reason that resonates with me...), and 2. we are under a tremendous amount of pressure to reach our target numbers to keep both the donors and the Congolese government happy. (sorry, my gut reaction to that isn't very nice.

Maybe it's a good thing I'm not the manager who has to deal with these realities.) Compounding the problem, one surgeon scheduled for two weeks in February just canceled, and last-minute efforts to fill the gap were unsuccessful. So, that's another 100-120 surgeries not able to be done. Our team leader is trying to make up some of the difference by pushing the surgeons she does have lined up to do more surgeries each day than originally planned. In the peri-op room, it feels like we're between a rock and a hard place...

Have you ever contemplated the mystery of life? For an organism to survive, every single function of the body must be in working condition at all times. If the heart misses 6 beats, you're toast. If the liver, if the kidney, if the brain... Have you noticed that even when you have something as minor as an infected toe, it affects the whole body? So it is with organizations trying to perform complicated tasks. If you haven't got a translator, if someone in the home office fails to order supplies, if a surgeon's family member gets sick, if, if, if... you have to have it all, or you have nothing. 

While not as complicated as what even a single cell must do to stay alive, still I find it a marvel that Mercy Ships can keep on functioning despite the obstacles that arise. When everything is functioning smoothly, we're traveling on nice round wheels. These last few weeks have felt like square wheels most of the time, and one day, I declared we even had triangular wheels. Not a smooth ride! And yet, still I see the Lord's hand of provision. Patients continue to receive sight. We do still function as a team despite the challenges. The mission of Mercy Ships goes forward, pretty much on course. 


[Click here to learn more about the nurses and doctors on board the Africa Mercy.]

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