Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Africa Mercy - Goodbye to Africa and Home Again: One Nurse's Story

Hi. Going backwards on three emails from my nurse friend Marilyn (scroll down) on her final days in Africa on the Africa Mercy. 

I know that some of you follow her story and she is now back in Africa for more service! (More on that later). Such an amazing woman. I hope you are enjoying her story.

2018 April 18: "Update at last"

It's been a while since I've written.  The cataract surgeries finished March 28, so of course, the scheduling finished a bit before that.  It's always a bit chaotic at the end, trying to find the most needy patients, being sure to leave room in the schedule for those who were sent away to fix their blood pressure problems, and yet wasting as few surgical slots as possible.  But, somehow, it all seemed to come together.  We were able to offer surgery to every patient who came to us and qualified; no one was turned away just because the schedule was full.  It doesn't always happen that way.

I spent most of March doing administrative tasks because our team leader had to go home early; her mother got quite ill.  I was glad to have those tasks to do because the scheduling portion of my job had diminished to minimal levels by then.  But, there's nothing too interesting to report about entering data into the database and collecting statistics, so we'll skip over that.

I flew home on April 2.  Even though my job was done, they let me stay through Easter, and I even got to stay on the ship for the last four days.  Easter, as always, is really special on the ship, and living on the ship meant that I could participate in all the activities without worrying about transportation to and from the team house.  It was definitely a high point for me.

I've been busy since getting back home to Syracuse.  After two days at home, I flew off to San Jose for my nephew's wedding, and then to LA to visit my son.  I got home again, and two days later I left to visit my other son in Wisconsin, which is where I am now.  Poor body doesn't have any idea what time zone it is in.  It decided that 4:30 AM must be time to get up today...

The rest of my summer looks equally busy--there's a trip to Boise in May, a nephew's graduation in Chicago in June, a house-sitting arrangement in Philadelphia later in June, and then sorting, packing, selling the Syracuse house, and moving to Philadelphia, hopefully in July and August.

Although it is not definite yet, I am hoping to return to the ship about mid-August for another field service, serving once again as the scheduling nurse for cataract surgery.  If that comes to pass, I'll resume my periodic updates to you folks.  Until then, y'all have a good summer. (I tend to think of it as "summer" already, but it's supposed to snow a couple of inches tonight, so maybe I should be looking forward to spring, not expecting it to be summer...)



03 Mar18 "One young woman"

     On Wednesday, a young man brought his 26 year-old sister from his village in the southwest region of the country to be screened for cataracts.  She did have bilateral dense white cataracts, probably suitable for surgery.  So, on Thursday, they came to secondary screening for further examination.  Indeed, she was an excellent candidate for surgery.  We squeezed her into that same day’s surgery schedule and found them a place to stay overnight so that they didn’t have to make another long trip to and from their home.  On Friday, the day after surgery, she could see 6/18—better than I can see!  They were so happy.  I can’t even imagine what a profound difference it has made in her life and in the lives of her family.  Perhaps now she can get married…perhaps now some child can return to school instead of caring for her at home…perhaps…oh, the whole world has changed for them.  Isn’t it beautiful?

 2018-02-22 "A few cameo shots of patients"

     Two patients caught my attention at the YAG celebration this morning.  One was an old man, bent back, shuffling gait, white cane used for walking.  He had cataract surgery six weeks ago, and now he can see.  We generally start the celebration with dancing and singing.  This old fellow was out there with the rest of them, shuffling his feet energetically and pounding the floor with his cane as he sang.  It was his new use of his cane that caught my attention.

     The second man I noticed was young, very tall, very thin, very long fingers.  I think he has Marfan’s Syndrome, a genetic condition that causes premature cataracts among other things.  He is the only son of an ailing mother.  He was a student until he was too blind to read and had to drop out.  His mother has had to care for him in recent years; the future looked bleak for the pair of them.  His mother heard of Mercy Ships on the radio and brought him to a screening.  His surgery went well; he plans to resume his education, and he can now care for himself and for his mother.

     Then there was the lady who had been told by the local specialists that she couldn’t have cataract surgery because the eye was too damaged inside.  So instead, she brought her father for screening for his cataracts.  His surgery was so successful that she decided she’d get screened herself.  Her surgery was six weeks ago.  Even though she does have some loss of vision due to a damaged retina, she has better vision now than she had before surgery, and she is quite pleased.


     Sometimes I measure success in less dramatic ways.  Last September, we had a pterygium patient who had a complication.  His blood pressure was very high, and he developed a peri-orbital bleed when they tried to do the local block anesthesia.  He was sent away to let the blood re-absorb and to get his blood pressure under control.  He came again for surgery in January, but again his blood pressure was too high.  He came again today to be re-checked, still hoping for surgery.  His blood pressure was under much better control—still high by western standards, but pretty acceptable here.  But, since he’d had the bleed before, Dr. Glenn felt it was too risky to do surgery with an even slightly elevated blood pressure.  The man was so gracious about being told no after all these months of hoping.  But, looking on the bright side, his blood pressure used to be dangerously high and now it is not.  Perhaps we’ve done him a good turn if we’ve convinced him to continue with his BP medication—maybe he won’t have a stroke.  We had opportunity to teach him how to minimize the pterygium growth, and we gave him some sunglasses that fit over his eyeglasses, so maybe we helped with the original problem, even though we couldn’t do the surgery.

     We have a three day weekend this week, and most of the people at the team house are leaving town to sightsee somewhere.  I would have been pretty much stranded at the house, but they arranged for me to have a berth on the ship for the weekend.  It’s in a ten-berth cabin filled with young women—should be interesting!  I’m looking forward to it.  I would imagine it’s an upper bunk…



Sharon M. Himsl

Writer/Author. Blogging since 2011. 
Published with Evernight Teen: 
~~The Shells of Mersing

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You could call me an eternal optimist, but I'm really just a dreamer. l believe in dream fulfillment, because 'sometimes' dreams come true. This is a blog about my journey as a writer and things that inspire and motivate me.