Thursday, January 1, 2015

Africa Mercy - Christmas, Tana, and Beyond: One Nurse's Journey

Hi, I think Marilyn could use some cheering up and a little prayer. I hope she is able to read this and any comments you might make. The eye surgery team appears to be in limbo as they continue to wait for and locate patients. How different the team's experience is compared to the west side of Africa, where patients walked huge distances, then stood in line all day for a screening.      ------Sharon

(This is a running email post written by a volunteer nurse serving on the Africa Mercy, a hospital ship that travels the African coast).

"Christmas, Tana, and Beyond"
27 Dec 2014 

 I haven't written in a while, mostly because I keep waiting for things to settle down on the eye team to know what to say. That day hasn't come yet...

We've had three weeks of surgery, or partial weeks, I should say--two surgeons, seven days of surgery in total. Somehow, the days get full anyway...mostly screening for potential patients. We've now done screenings in a couple of cities north and south of Tamatave, but we didn't find many cataracts. That's good, for the people. Not so good for the eye program.

Now we are in the midst of a two week break, with no eye surgeons scheduled. Hey, it's Christmas! I took several days of personal leave, plus the holiday days. I'm sure I'll work a couple of days getting ready for business in January, but meanwhile, I'm on vacation. Six of us took a four-day vacation trip to a lemur resort located several hours south of here, traveling by speedboat down the canals, rivers, and lakes that form the waterway transportation network up and down the eastern side of Madagascar. The lemurs were delightful, wild and free, but unafraid of humans and eager for handouts, especially bananas. The lake was clear, shallow, and as warm as bathwater. Apart from a two hour hike into the forest to observe lemurs, we mostly sat around reading or talking...or waiting for meals, which arrived on "African time." It was very hot and humid, so we were all pretty lethargic, and sleep was elusive. Five of the six of us arrived home with intestinal issues, despite being very careful not to drink the water or eat things like lettuce and tomatoes. Maybe it was the fruit juice served at breakfast?

Oh, well. It was restful and fun, and I'm glad I went. Now, if I could just get well again...

The first week of January, we are sending a team to Tana, the capital city, to screen. It's an 8-12 hour journey over narrow, winding mountain roads to get there. "They" say that we'll find plenty of patients there who need cataract surgery. The trick is, how do we get them to the ship for surgery, and how do we do aftercare? I do hope that "they" have solved those difficulties, since the first Tana screening is now one week away.

Meanwhile, back in Tamatave, we need to leave part of the team to do aftercare on the patients we've already done, and to screen locally for more patients. I believe that I will be part of the team left behind, which is fine with me. "They" have planned a total of three Tana screenings, two in January and one in February. Our schedule is going to get more and more complicated, stretching to cover all aspects of the program in several different locations simultaneously. A group in Tana, a group here doing aftercare, a group handling the day of surgery stuff, and probably some local or remote screenings of this area tucked into the mix. I personally can't see the forest for all the trees...

I believe that it is now official: we are returning to Tamatave again for next field service. There will be a short break for shipyard repairs in Durbin from mid-June to the end of July, then a return to Tamatave for surgeries from August to the following June. A number of changes in our program will happen as a result. For one thing, they are disbanding the eye team altogether for next field service. Instead, they plan to lengthen the surgery schedule for other problems, especially VVF surgery for women who have suffered fistulas and other damage during difficult childbirths. That's good, for the people. Not so good for the eye program. Disbanding the eye team will make it difficult to restart the program; no one with experience will remain to bridge the gap.

Considering that I have been back to the ship for almost five months, I wonder where all the time has gone and what has been accomplished. It has been a year of setbacks and delays, that's for sure. Hopefully, the next five months will see many surgeries done and many happy people able to see once again. And hopefully, we'll find all the ones we're supposed to help this year, since there is no next year for cataract patients. Well, perhaps our plans will fall into place once we see what the first week of Tana screening brings. Or not. I guess learning to live with uncertainty and sudden shifts in plans is a virtue, isn't it?

Virtue is good; I could use some more virtue...

I hope that the new year brings many plans to fruition for all of you, too.

Blessings, until next time...
Marilyn Neville 

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


  1. Hi Sharon - Happy New Year to you both and to the eye team ... I hope patients will find the ship and the surgeons soon ... all the best for 2015 ... I'll be back to read properly ... cheers Hilary

    1. Hi Sharon and Marilyn - sounds very non-planned and sadly not terribly helpful to those who are there to help, but more importantly to those who need treatment.

      I hope the surgical and treatment teams get worked out ... all the best seems to be the order of the day to spread the words ... Good Luck .. and let's hope you're successful in 2015 - Hilary

  2. Happy new year Sharon :) Thanks for sharing Marilyn's updates, must be frustrating for her, but worth it for the people the ship has helped x

  3. I hope you feel better soon and that the screenings and surgeries go very well. Wishing you the best in 2015!

  4. Olá Sharon!
    Excelente postagem sobre um nobre assunto: ajuda humanitária a povos que não têm com quem contar.
    Que 2015 seja um ano de grandes realizações por parte de todos os órgãos que se dedicam à essa santa causa: Ajudar os mais necessitados, estejam eles onde estiverem!
    Abraços e bom início de ano!

    VitorNani/Hang Gliding Paradise

  5. Thank you all for your kind, encouraging words!


"Stay" is a charming word in a friend's vocabulary
(A.B. Alcott). Stay and visit awhile. Your comments mean a lot to me.