Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Africa Mercy - Time Goes By: One Nurse's Journey

Marilyn's journey on the Africa Mercy continues. She describes a visit to an orphanage - "Grins were priceless," she writes.  ------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).

9 Jan 2015

Time goes by...but nothing changes.  We still don't know how this field service is going to go for the eye team.  I feel like I'm waiting for the second shoe to drop...and waiting...and waiting.

We have finished the first week of screening in the capital city of Tana, where we had hoped to find an abundance of patients.  They were not abundant...but not so scarce that we need to close down the program--at least, not yet.  Usually, the first day of screening brings out the biggest crowds, but for our first day in Tana, only about 120-150 people showed up, and only 6 of them qualified for surgery.

Discouraging!  But, on the second day, approximately 400 people came, and the number of surgeries doubled.  On the third day, fewer people came, but more of them were surgical candidates, bringing our scheduled surgeries to a total of 42.  I haven't heard yet how the fourth day(today) went.

It's surprising that the numbers are increasing each day instead of decreasing.  Forty-two is not even one week's worth of surgeries, but if the numbers keep on increasing, we may yet find enough patients to keep our surgeons gainfully employed.  Or not.  It is really hard to predict at this point.

We were supposed to begin surgeries on January 19th, one week from now, but they've decided to delay the start-up for another week.  That way, our second week of screening in Tana has a chance of filling the surgery schedule far enough ahead so that we don't run out of patients in mid-week.  Meanwhile, the container with the mattresses for the Hope Center arrived today, so perhaps that will solve the problem of where to house our Tana patients for the two nights they are in town.  I haven't heard if the transportation issues have been worked out yet or not.  I certainly hope so!  Slowly, slowly, the pieces fall into place--pretty much at the last minute, it seems to me.

Meanwhile, those of us who didn't go to Tana had an interesting week here.  Some of our time was spent doing the tasks normally done by the people who were screening in Tana--doing check-ups on patients who had surgery before Christmas, screening random people who showed up at the clinic hoping for surgery in the future.  A couple of days, though, we were able to do some extra things.  One day we went to a nursing home and gave the folks there some reading glasses.  They seemed really pleased to get them.  It was lovely to see how the staff worked with the residents there--so much kindness.

The highlight of the week, though, was our trip to an orphanage for mentally and physically handicapped kids.  We couldn't do much for them, but we briefly examined their eyes and then gave each one of them some cute sunglasses.  There was a mirror in the room we were using, so we'd take them to the mirror to see how they looked.  The grins were priceless.  One little girl went prancing out of the room like a movie star--she knew she looked good!

Next week will again be a combination of post-op checkups and screening, both at the clinic and in a couple of towns outside of Tamatave.  We're still just rolling along, doing the best we can to find patients and to bring a little light and good cheer to the people we meet along the way.

The future?  Well, stay tuned...


  Marilyn Neville

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


  1. What a beautiful and eye opening letter. My dad wanted to head out on a mission like this, but so go the best laid plans. I adore people who are willing to leave behind the comforts of life to bless others.

    1. I do too. Thought I would do this myself once upon a time but other priorities took over.

  2. I wonder if they have other services to offer the people. This seems to have good times and bad too. Thank God for their kindness.

    1. Have wondered the same. They did more than eye surgeries on the west side. Must be politics of area.


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