Sunday, September 15, 2013

Africa Mercy - Stories and Screenings: One Nurse's Journey

Another post from the Africa Mercy in the Congo. Marilyn shares a touching story of a young boy's life-changing treatment, and the difficulty dealing with the anger of those turned away......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)

Stories and screenings
Evangeline is a little 2 1/2 year old boy with a story.  It started
almost a year ago with difficulty breathing.  It was diagnosed as
malaria, but it didn't respond to the usual treatments. His parents
took him to a large hospital for further evaluation. They said     maybe he had malaria and maybe not, but he definitely had a tumor
in his mouth which would grow and eventually suffocate him.
Indeed, as the months passed, his breathing was progressively  compromised, to the point where he would pass out several times a day. 
The local hospital had nothing further to offer, so the parents eventually quit taking him to the doctors and awaited his approaching death.  The father, however, works in the shipyard.
When the Africa Mercy arrived and he heard that we were a hospital ship, he bought a calendar and marked the days until our main screening day. The parents just hoped he could last that long   (only two weeks!).  Indeed, Evangeline had trouble during the      screening--they had to call the emergency medical team for him. He had surgery early this week.  They removed a tumor from his soft palate the size of a man's fist.  No wonder he couldn't breathe! He spent a couple of days in intensive care, but he recovered well. He went home today to live a normal life, rescued just in the nick of time. 

A little girl wasn't so lucky.  She was brought to us from a mission hospital upcountry, hoping that we could help.  Alas, she had advanced cancer, far beyond anything we could treat.  One of the nurses was carrying her on her back, African style, when she died. The nurses often do that with the young ones--they are greatly comforted by being carried in that familiar way.  I'm glad the little girl was being held close and feeling loved for her final moments on earth.
Our screening day on Tuesday went very well.  The church hadn't   closed the gates, but the people were lined up outside as they were   supposed to be, and the crowd stayed manageable.  We were even able to screen everyone in the line.  Wednesday, however, was a      different story.  That church is in one of the poorest, most crowded districts, and they didn't shut the gates either.

Consequently, there were roughly 400-500 people already inside the compound when our security team arrived at 5:00, and the crowd outside was growing quite rapidly.  The church refused to shut the gates because they wanted their congregation to be able to come to morning mass.  The security team tried to admit only those who said they were going to mass...but once inside, they almost all  immediately tried to get into the eye screening crowd instead. People were starting to push and shove, and tempers were rising. It soon became clear that we were not going to be able to establish order, so we had to pull out and cancel screening altogether that day.

Of course, every screening that doesn't happen or doesn't go well only increases the potential for problems at future screenings by swelling the crowd size and by frustrating and angering the people who have been waiting in line for hours.  It seems to me that there is a level of expectation here in Congo that we haven't encountered elsewhere. Or maybe it is a cultural difference in how they handle disappointment. In Guinea, people seemed so very grateful for anything we could do for them.  If we couldn't help, they seemed to take it in stride and remained grateful that we tried.  Here, there is a lot more evidence of anger. 

One man told me that he was angry because he had to get in line while we were still sleeping--never mind that his mother actually did get an appointment, unlike many who were shut outside the gates.  Another man was angry because a local doctor was trying to help us with screening," You never helped us before, so why are you here now?" 

A day crew member from  another department had brought her mother to the screening that was canceled.  She was angry. Even after 15 minutes of explanation, her anger didn't often.  Our eye team day crew have reported to us that people approach them to say that they are angry to have been unsuccessful in being seen at various eye screenings. Some people even seem angry when we have to tell them that we can't help their particular problem. 

I get the feeling that the general expectation is that Mercy Ships is supposed to see everyone who wants to be seen and to fix every problem that they bring to us. Being confronted with the perception that many of the people we are trying to help are angry instead of grateful brought me to a moment of truth. Was I going to get on my high horse, as if we deserved their gratitude?  Was I doing this for the sake of getting pats on the back for being here? Or was I working to please an audience of  One, a God of compassion who cares about these people no matter what their emotional response to disappointment might be. It was a good reminder to keep my focus where it belongs!


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

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