Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Africa Mercy - Surgeries Have Begun: One Nurse's Journey

Madagascar has been a different experience for the Africa Mercy team. They are still trying to locate cataract patients. They know the need is there but the population is more rural, Marilyn explains. As usual, the challenges continue.... Sharon

(This is a running email post written by a volunteer nurse serving on the Africa Mercy, a hospital ship that travels the African coast).

 "Surgeries have begun"
6 Dec 2014

The day has finally come--cataract surgeries have begun. We only had four patients the first day because the surgeon had a meeting with a local surgeon in the morning. I personally was grateful because it gave me a chance to review our process with the day crew before we began. Consequently, we had a smooth launch and all went well in the peri-op room. Some of the other days this week have been rather long because the OR team is also new. They needed to sort out their processes, so surgeries were taking quite a long time. I'm sure it will improve soon.

We still lack patients overall. Unlike other ports where we have been, this town is small and the population is rural. Kathryn, our team leader, has been working hard to establish alternate screening sites so that we can find the patients who need surgery. It is not a simple process--it involves a security team to manage the lines, ophthalmic providers who have responsibilities back at the ship, travel and overnight accommodations for the team who goes, figuring out how to take delicate optical instruments from place to place over rough roads without affecting the calibration, how to transport the patients to the ship for surgery once we've found  them, how to do the needed followup appointments in one remote location while screening in another remote location, etc. I think I'm pretty good at organization, but I can't wrap my head around all the pieces of this puzzle! It's a good thing that it is Kathryn's job, not mine! For me, it is enough just to organize the peri-op room and our small team of five people.

Dr. Naivo is a local surgeon who was trained in India to do the same procedure that we use for cataract surgery. I hear that he's pretty good. We are planning to partner with him--our visiting surgeon and Dr. Naivo can learn from each other, no doubt, and hopefully this will open the door to further long-term collaboration in years to come.

Well, it's Saturday, but I need to make some phone calls to next week's patients (which requires a translator, of course), so I'm going out with the portion of the team that is doing one-day post-op exams today (yesterday's surgery patients). It will be interesting to see some of the patients again to see how they are doing. Often, their vision is still quite blurry the day after surgery because of swelling, but it gradually improves over the first couple of weeks. So, real results from the first surgeries will not be available for a while. The patients I've seen again sure seem happy, though. That is what makes all this effort worthwhile.

We only have two more weeks of surgery before Christmas break. But, but, but...we just got started! It seems so unlikely that Christmas is upon us already, both because field service was delayed in starting and because the weather here is definitely humid, hot, summertime weather. It's not winter, and therefore it's not Christmas. But since the calendar doesn't care how it feels to me, and time marches relentlessly on, Christmas is coming. So, let me wish each of you a Merry Christmas, and many, many blessings for the new year.

Love, Marilyn

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


  1. It is so brilliant that these people are getting the help they so need even if it appears to be few and far between. I am certain, once people start talking, more will be at their doors. We have snow today...I couldn't think about it being hot and humid

  2. Love reading this, the work that so many people do to help third world countries is often overlooked. Reminds me of ER when they did several story lines in Darfur, it helped bring their situation to so many people.


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