Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Africa Mercy - The Big Day: One Nurse's Journey

Another email post from the Africa Mercy in the Congo. What do you do when you can only admit so many patients? The 'big day' is here and maybe over (but unlikely; it's 7pm in the Congo). The excitement prior as the crew prepares for a 'massive screening' of potential patients is described in this post. Marilyn gives a detailed account of what to expect during the screening, when thousands of potential patients line-up and Mercy personnel are given the daunting task of deciding who can be admitted. She has asked for prayers. They can only help so many . . . Sharon 
(This is a running post about a nurse's journey on the Africa Mercy)
Our heroes, the Africa Mercy crew. Doesn't it just make you want to
shout "Hurray!?"
The Big Day
Tomorrow is a big event for us, the biggest event of the year.  For weeks or months, we have been advertising about Mercy Ships and the types of surgeries that we can do, inviting people to come for screening to see if they can be helped.  Tomorrow is the day of that massive screening.  Thousands of people will come.  Some will camp in line overnight to be sure of their place.  If it is like other years, they will wait patiently for hours to spend a few minutes with our doctors, hoping fervently that we can transform their lives.  Some, we can help.

Many, we can not.  It can be a heartbreaking day, having to turn away people who have nowhere else to go for help. But it is also a joyous day, seeing so many people for whom we can make a difference--a huge difference.

Why must we turn people away?  We try to advertise the types of surgeries we do, but many people come with other health problems, hoping that we can help anyway, or they have a problem that looks like the posters but is not the same, or they have additional health problems that make surgery not an option...or...sometimes we just don't have enough time and surgeons to handle all that could be done if we had those resources.  You've heard the story of the boy on the beach tossing stranded starfish back into the ocean...we can't save them all, but we do what we can.

Screening day is a massive logistical operation.  Think of a football stadium, and thousands of people all trying to get in through the gate in time for the game.  Consider--all they need is a ticket, and their place is assured.  All they have to do to qualify for that ticket is to pay money, which they have.  And if per chance the game is sold out, they can go home, none the worse for wear--probably even to watch that same game on TV!  The stakes are pretty low, really.  But you've been there, felt the crush of people pushing to get in the gate, heard the noise and felt the energy of so many people in one place.

Now think of those thousands of people vying for a once-in-a-lifetime chance to get a desperately needed surgery.  So many hopes and fears, so much at stake for each of them.  Try as I might, I cannot really put myself in their shoes to understand the depth of this experience for them.  For those of you who pray, please pray for our prospective patients tomorrow--especially those whose hopes are dashed as we sadly send them away.

On the ship, we have six operating rooms.  They will be in constant use, beginning next Monday. There will be a whole parade of surgeons coming and going throughout the 10 months of field service.  Most can only break away from their practices for 2-4 weeks at a time.  We have a stream of eye surgeons doing cataracts, plastic surgeons doing burn contracture repairs, orthopedic surgeons fixing dysfunctional limbs, general surgeons doing thyroids, tumors and hernias, surgeons who do vaginal fistula repairs, maxiofacial surgeons working on cleft palates and facial problems of all sorts, and so on.  So, in screening, we need to look for patients whose needs match the specialties of our surgeons, and we need to schedule them for surgery at the right time for the right surgeon!

A little bit about the flow of screening day:  We have the use of a large school compound with walls and gates.  That's important for crowd control.  Security people establish the lines and keep people in order.

Pre-pre-screeners walk up and down the line, eliminating those who are obviously not candidates for the surgeries we offer.  Eventually, the people get through the gate to the pre-screeners.  Those folks gather enough information to send the person to the correct station for further assessment, or out a different gate, if we can't help.  Eventually, after a medical history and basic nursing evaluaton, surgical candidates are seen by a doctor.  If he approves for surgery, the patient gets an appointment card to come to the ship at the proper time.  There's a prayer tent for those who would like prayer.  There are translators working with each medical person, of course.  There are people passing out water and bread for these people who have been waiting for hours.

There are escorts to lead people from one station to the next throughout the whole process.  We have hundreds of crew members on the ship, and we all have a specific job to do tomorrow.  Hopefully, it will be like a well-oiled machine!  We expect to process thousands of people in one day--it had better run smoothly!

Many, many of these hopeful people have eye problems.  Those are sent into a separate line to come to the eye team for evaluation.  We expect to process thousands of people just in our area, and hope to select about 500 of them to come to the clinic on other days for a more complete eye examination, with the hope of cataract surgery for many of them.  I filled out 520 appointment cards to give out tomorrow, for clinic days from now until mid-October.  It took several hours to fill out the cards--and each card represents several people who will need to be seen tomorrow, since there are probably more rejects than acceptances.  Obviously, our optometrist is going to have to work fast tomorrow!  In fact, we all will have a very long, very busy day.

I've attached a picture that they took today of the Africa Mercy crew. If you are looking for me, I am about half way back in the crowd directly under the "r" of ".org" painted on the ship.  White hair, green shirt... All these people, plus about a hundred more Congolese day crew (translators, etc.) will be working tomorrow.  If I can, I'll send pictures of screening day a little later this week.  Meanwhile, appreciate your prayers that it will go well tomorrow, and that we will select the right people for surgery to do the most good possible while we're in Congo.  Thanks.


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

1 comment:

  1. Nice to meet you and thanks for your comment. Ah yes. We have wooden floors upstairs - not clean lol


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