Monday, November 11, 2013

Africa Mercy - Surgeries, Excursion, & Slaves: One Nurse's Journey

Sorry to be so behind on my blogging schedule. Not sure I have a schedule, but I have aimed for more than one blog post a week! Here is another email from my friend in the Congo. She is learning so much! ......Sharon

(This is a running post about a friend's journey as a nurse on the Africa Mercy)

2 nov 13, Surgeries, Excursion, & Slaves


First, an update on surgeries:  In general, our surgeons come for 2 to 3 weeks, tucking their time with us into their vacation time from their regular practices.  Dr. Guy was with us for two weeks, and he performed over a hundred cataract surgeries while he was here.  The results have been very, very good.  Many patients could see well from the moment the eye patch came on the day after surgery; others had some edema which cleared by their two week checkup, and their vision improved correspondingly.  That's actually the more normal scenario for cataract surgery.  I've attached a picture of the man I described last email, rejoicing over his restored sight.

 Halleluah! Man praising. Marilyn on right in blue.

 We now have a gap in the surgery schedule--no surgeon for three weeks. Normally, I'd say that this is very sad--all those potential surgeries not being done--but perhaps it's a blessing after all.  We are having trouble lining up enough patients to fill the surgery schedule as it is.

 We're not sure why--I would suppose there are several factors.  This is our first time in Congo, so we don't have the reputation here that we have in West Africa. I imagine that there are many who have adopted a wait-and-see attitude.Also, Pointe Noire is a much smaller city than other places we have been, and the extended follow up required for cataract surgery makes it hard for out-of-town patients to come.  Then, too, Congo seems to have more health care available for those who can afford it than does West Africa.  There are surgeons here who do cataract surgery.  That seems to be a mixed blessing.  We see quite a few people who have had cataract surgery, but they can't see.  Most surgeons here--maybe all--don't put a new lens in place, they just remove the cataract lens.  That gives people more light and color, but no focused image.  Of course, we probably aren't seeing patients whose previous cataract surgery has gone well because they don't need us--and who knows how many of those there are?  Whatever the reason(s), we are not getting the expected numbers of people at our screenings, and therefore we are not getting the number of patients scheduled for surgery as we expected, and need, if we are to keep our surgeons busy when they come.

The Gorge - near Pointe Noire, Africa

On another note, let me tell you about our excursion yesterday.  Pam and I took our day crew plus several others out for a day of exploration and fun.  We went to The Gorge, a beautiful area about 15 miles outside of Pointe Noire.  Our three day crew have lived their lives in Pointe Noire, but none of them had ever been to the The Gorge before.  Fifteen miles sounds close--but it's a long walk if you don't have a car.

Anyway, the Gorge consists of red cliffs in the midst of jungle leading down to the ocean.We hiked for a couple of hours along a trail leading from the top of the Gorge all the way to the ocean.  (They didn't think I could do it!  And they did have to help me in spots...)  At the end of the trail is a beautiful sandy beach, and it is even free of debris and garbage.  There is some very lovely scenery here in Congo.

On the way to the Gorge, we stopped to visit a very beautiful, very sad place.  Apparently, Pointe Noire was a major port for slave traders.  We visited the bay where two million people were shackled, counted, labeled, and shipped to serve as slaves in Europe and America during the heyday.  You read about it, you see movies about it, but being at the actual site brings great sadness as you ponder the reality of man's inhumanity to man--and not just historically.  It's not happening at this location at this time, but elsewhere, people still suffer.  Being there also sparked a bit of introspection--am I free from the all-too-human tendency to use other people for my own ends? Perhaps I am not a slave trader because I was born in a different place and and different time, not because I am essentially superior. I grieved for the slaves, but also for the slave traders, caught up in an evil they didn't even see.

Well, enough philosophical musing.  Next week, since we don't have surgeries, I will be involved in some special screening days.  We have given tickets to all the Congolese day crew so that they can bring people they know who have cataracts to see if we can do surgery for them.  I hope that many people do come, because I know that there are many people here too poor to afford cataract surgery from the local surgeons, no matter how excellent their surgical technique is, or isn't.

We can do a lot of good for many people, if only we can find them and get them scheduled.  Maybe our day crew will find them for us.


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


  1. The gorge is beautiful! Such a blessing they don't have too many patients too!

  2. Hi MJ. Patient numbers really vary. The days there are too many are almost impossible.


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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.