Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Africa Mercy - Reaching the Summit: One Nurse's Journey

Hi......Cataract surgery is something we take for granted here in the United States. All of us can probably think of at least one person who has benefited from this life-changing surgery, and there are few if any complications. Imagine the joy of being able to see again, after waiting for months (maybe longer) for the Africa Mercy to arrive. Marilyn shares the excitement of one such day in the following post. How I wish I could have been there!     Sharon
 (This is a running post about my friend's journey as a nurse on the Africa Mercy, a hospital ship that travels up the coast of Africa)

15 Oct 2013
Today was a mountaintop day.

We finally started cataract surgery yesterday, after two months of training and preparation.  We've done many screenings to select patients, and we've seen quite a few people in the clinic for a more thorough eye exam.  Those patients who qualified for surgery have been waiting for their big day...and for some of them, that day was yesterday.

Actually, their big day was today.  After surgery, the patients have an eye patch for 24 hours.  So yesterday's surgery patients came today to have their patches removed.  It was the moment of truth--and what a moment it was!

The patients arrived around noon and were seated on benches facing each other. It had been raining, but now the sun was out, and it was hot even in the shade of the canopy. But the atmosphere was charged, expectant, suspenseful.  One of the day crew started taking off the eye patch from the first man in line. The crowd held their collective breath.  As the patch came off, the man jumped up and started shouting "Hallelujah."  Someone held up some fingers for him to count...and he could.  With every finger count he got correct, the crowd went wild.

Soon they were all singing and clapping and even dancing.  One by one the patches came off, and the people rejoiced.  We had quite a crowd--patients, caregivers, workers, kids--so it got to be a very spirited party right there on the dock. Several of our day crew were openly weeping, overcome with emotion to see the first fruits of all their labors.

 Our very first patient to have cataract surgery yesterday was a little grandma with a lot of spunk.  Once she could see again, there was no holding her back.  She was practically running to get onto the ship for the doctor's post-surgical exam.  Suddenly, she stopped dead in her tracks and her eyes got big.  "The boat is so large!  I had no idea it was so large.  I couldn't see it yesterday when I was here."

We brought all twelve of yesterday's patients into the ship for their follow-up exam.  They were all lined up in their chairs...until the singing and dancing broke out again.  We did eventually get them all examined, and they went on their way rejoicing.  I tell you, it was an afternoon to remember!

These people received their healing as a gift from God, and rightly so. God planted the vision of Mercy Ships, and he has brought the vision to fruition.  This is such a complex project, with so many obstacles to overcome, it just wouldn't be possible if He didn't facilitate it.  And to think that it is done by a bunch of volunteers, just ordinary people that God has called to come play with him.  I count it such a privilege that there is a place for me here, a ringside seat to watch him work, an invitation to join him in the fun.

Blessings to you all,

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

Friday, October 4, 2013

Celebrate the Small Things: Pony Rides and Simpler Times

A picture of me at four years old. Traveling salesmen were big in the 50s and 60s. They went door to door selling their ware and
made a perfectly decent income for all I know. In this case, a photographer had knocked on our door and offered a photo on his beautiful pony. It was the beginning of a love for horses that continues to this day. 

I lived in a big city at the time, so owning a horse was never an option, but Point Defiance Park (Tacoma, WA) had stables where one could rent a horse for a few hours for an affordable price. My babysitting money was usually enough, and I was a regular customer for a while, from about age 11 to 14. You could practice one-foot jumps in the corral or ride on a trail, and the horses were as gentle as lambs. Insurance and lawyers got wind of this at some point (no doubt there were injuries) and the stables were eventually closed for 'insurance reasons'.  To my knowledge, stables like this no longer exist. 

So, today I am celebrating a simpler time when pony rides were more than a spin around the ring at the local fair, which I often see at county fairs and carnivals today. How about you? Ever have a door to door salesman come to your door with a pony and offer to take your picture? Were you as crazy about horses (and ponies) as I was?

On a smaller level (because I should be done by now!), I finished a chapter last week. My frustration level with the novel I am trying to finish could comprise an entire post, but I won't bore with the details. Just happy to have made some progress.

Hope you have had a good week. Enjoy your weekend! 

Copyright 2013 © Sharon Himsl

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Africa Mercy - Moving Along Gently: One Nurse's Journey

Hi. Another interesting post from Marilyn in the Congo, my longtime friend serving as a nurse on the Africa Mercy. Her posts are a treasure trove for those considering a similar journey, and a window in for those who never will. I love her story of the little boy at the end, how one small life can make such a difference. It gives hope for those in the future....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)

Moving along gently

 Pam, one of my teammates, was gone for two weeks to attend her daughter's wedding. It didn't seem to me that she'd missed much...but she thought so, and it's the same two weeks since I last wrote.  So, what did she miss?

Perhaps the main change has been the establishment of a routine, albeit a continually changing and interrupted one. Tuesdays and Wednesdays, we go to one of several sites around town to screen for potential patients. Mondays and Thursdays we are at the eye clinic giving a more complete eye exam to people who passed the first cut at screening. Fridays have been a potpourri, but will become clinic days starting this week.  Our first eye surgeon arrives in two weeks. Until then, we do preparation and training, shifting people around so that as many people as possible can learn to do the different jobs.

What all happens in the clinic exam?  First, we collect personal information, including phone numbers and languages spoken.  It still amazes me how widespread cell phones are, even among people living in shacks with deficient diets. It is a way of life here, an essential tool that people really depend on.  Well, we depend on them, too, in case our surgery schedule changes for any reason.

But getting an accurate phone number seems to be a challenge.      Either they don't know it, or it gets transcribed wrong, or our     western way of reading the numbers the translators write is      sketchy, or some combination of factors.

 To begin the eye exam itself, we use a Snellen chart to test visual    acuity.  If the person sees too well, we don't do cataract surgery,    saving our limited surgery spots for people who are too blind to    function without a caregiver.  For those with somewhat better vision, we see if perhaps glasses would help, and we use a tonopen to check for glaucoma. Glaucoma is a major cause of blindness here, but if we catch it soon enough and send them for proper treatment, their vision can be saved. 

Is their vision poor enough to qualify for surgery? The next step      is to dilate their eyes.  Then we use an auto-refractor to measure      the curvature of the cornea, one of the measurements they need to choose the proper lens to implant in surgery.  From there, they   move to the slit lamp, where an ophthalmic provider or technician examines their eyes for a variety of diseases and conditions that would prevent a successful cataract surgery, including corneal scarring and retinal damage.  We also test these patients for glaucoma, since cataracts and glaucoma are not mutually exclusive.

Is the patient still a good surgical candidate? Next comes the A-scan, an ultrasound device that measures the depth of the eyeball, another number needed for choosing the proper lens. Then we take a short medical history and take their blood pressure. Africans tend to run high blood pressures, but if it is above 200/120, the retina can bleed during surgery--not good.  So, we send them to see a doctor and get their blood pressure under better control, and then we bring them back in a month for another try at qualifying for surgery.

 Finally, about half the people who come for the eye exam are found to be qualified for surgery.  We then enter their information into the computer, schedule the surgery, and fill out the necessary paperwork.  Last stop--teaching.  We need to explain the surgery and the risks and get a consent signed.  We need to tell them when  and where to go, what to bring, and how to prepare for the day of surgery.

It takes an hour or more to get each patient through the whole       process, and we're seeing around 60 patients a day on clinic days. It becomes quite the assembly line, but each of the tasks require some skill and some practice to do them well.  Of course, we also require translation for every step of the way-- communication is always the biggest challenge.  Many of the machines and tasks can be done by our Congolese day crew once they have been trained, and indeed, we couldn't function without them filling many of the roles on the team.  But, perhaps now you can understand why it takes so long to get each one properly trained in a variety of tasks and to get the whole operation running smoothly.

 Today brought an unexpected treasure.  It is our practice as a team to circle up to pray before we start our work day.  This morning, however, the patients and caregivers who were lined up waiting for their appointments wanted to join our prayer circle!  Some of them prayed in Kituba (I think it was Kituba, anyway), some in French, and some of us in English.  Congo is 90% professing Christian, and they are passionate about it.  When they pray, it is loud, long, and fervent.  When they have a church service, it lasts two or three hours and includes much loud, passionate singing and loud, passionate preaching.  So, our morning prayer time was energetic today!

It seems that Wednesday is market day in Pointe Noir.  We were      trying to reach a screening site fairly far across town yesterday,      and the traffic was so dense it took an hour to get there.      Thankfully, I did not have to drive!  Do you ever find yourself      squeezing your  elbows to your sides when your vehicle is trying to  navigate a narrow spot?  Or squinching your eyes?  Wednesday gave me plenty of opportunity to observe those reactions in myself!  But we got there, and we got home again in due time.

 Market day was interesting to observe from our slow-moving car.  Hundreds of people swarming everywhere (mostly not watching for cars, either).  Traders were sitting by their little patches of      wares laid on a cloth on the ground, hoping for customers. I would  have been bored out of my gourd to have to sit there all day in the   sun hoping for an occasional sale, but these folks seemed content.  They'd visit with the trader sitting next to them, or just sit      doing nothing visible, but their faces were peaceful and their      movements were placid.  Little children flitted all around--who      knows who they belonged to?  They have a freedom of movement that our kids have lost.  I would have been gripping mine tightly in the midst of such a crowd, I know, but these kids seemed to be able to play freely.

 Speaking of screening day and of little kids, let me end by mentioning a special little boy. He was probably about seven or eight, and he came alone to our screening yesterday because his eyes were bothering him. Who knows if he has parents, or why they were not with him? If he has parents, did they send him to fend for himself, or did they perhaps not even know that he came? We had a crowd of several hundred people yesterday, and this little guy just waited at the end of the line for the crowd to clear so that he could make himself known and present his request.  His eyes were itchy, probably allergies, so we gave him some soothing drops. 

But how many eight year old kids do you know who can navigate to a destination, negotiate a crowd of hundreds of competing adults, wait patiently for hours by himself, and then present his medical situation and request in a clear and concise manner? Mark my words, that young man is destined to be a leader someday, if he can navigate the treacherous waters of childhood without capsizing.  

Blessings to you all,

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


About Me

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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.