Friday, March 16, 2018

This Adventure Ends by Emma Mills: Book Review

This Adventure Ends
Author: Emma Mills
Publisher: Henry Holt and Company, 2016
Reviewer: Sharon M. Himsl
Age level: 15 up, Young Adult
Pages: 308

Sloane Finch is not sure what to expect when she moves with her family from New York to Florida her senior year. She’s never been all that close with kids in school, except for maybe in elementary school. Besides, her life is plenty full—voice lessons for one, and maybe music school next year. There is also her father’s “fic” to read. Dad, publicly known as Everett Finch, is a popular literary romance writer. Sloane reviews his work faithfully, even in his current writer’s slump. Meanwhile, Mom and Dad have urged her to make new friends.

To Sloane’s surprise, her sharp-witted and sassy personality quickly wins over a group of friends who adore her honest, frank manner. Among them are Vera and Gabe, the Fuller twins, who have been grieving over the death of their talented artist mother. It doesn’t help that they have a new twenty-something stepmom to boot. When Sloane learns from Gabe that one of their mother’s paintings had been mistakenly sold, it only seems right to locate the art. She gets another friend to help, determined to surprise the twins with the lost painting.

Problems develop, however, including marital strife between Sloane’s parents, which test her overall trust in relationships. Life is no longer tied up neat and securely like her dad’s fiction. Friendship and love in the real world do not come with guarantees. Being more open with her friends and accepting their love is hard at first, but a happy outcome follows with the budding romance between Sloane and Gabe. She has never been kissed by a boy before, not once, although that is about to change. The story itself is slow to develop, as Mills sets up characters, but the intelligent and witty dialog make This Adventure Ends enjoyable to read.

Sharon M. Himsl

Writer/Author. Blogging since 2011. 
Published with Evernight Teen: 
~~The Shells of Mersing

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Secret Agent Training Manual by Elizabeth Singer Hunt: Book Review

The Secret Agent Training ManualThe Secret Agent Training Manual
Elizabeth Singer Hunt
Illustrated by Brian Williamson 

Publisher: Weinstein Books, 2017
Reviewer: Sharon M. Himsl

Age level: 8-12, Middle Grade
Pages: 94

Learn how to make and decode top secret messages in this nonfiction companion workbook specially designed for the series Secret Agents Jack and Max Stalwart. Readers learn over twenty-five spy techniques on how to keep secret messages private. They then can send coded messages to a friend or “fellow spy.” After learning the methods, readers are challenged to test their skills at the end. The history of cryptography is also described, going as far back as ancient Greece thousands of years ago. For example, Herodotus is known to have used special code to warn his people that the Persian army was fast approaching. Drawings and plenty of fill-in boxes are used throughout the manual to work out presented problems. Readers can write on the pages as they learn, as paper is workbook quality, comparable to a coloring book. A glossary and resources are included, as well as answer keys for workbook exercises.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The Ojibwe: The Past and Present of the Anishinaabe by Alesha Halvorson: Book Review

The Ojibwe: The Past and Present of the Anishinaabe“Fact Finders” 
The Ojibwe: The Past and Present of the Anishinaabe
Alesha Halvorson
Publisher: Capstone Press, 2017

Reviewer: Sharon M. Himsl
Age level: 8 up, 
Pages: 32

The Ojibwe, also known as the Anishinaabe and Chippewa, are a proud people. Their ancestral pride in the past and present are often demonstrated at powwow gatherings today. 
Ojibwe history is mostly centered in the Great Lakes region of the United States and to the north in Canada. They migrated there from the east about one thousand years ago. 

Similar to other Native Americans, their livelihood was influenced by the seasons and the locale. In spring, for instance, their wigwams were built near the maple tree groves, where syrup could be tapped from the trees. Near marshy areas, they further set up camp to harvest the wild rice that grew in abundance. Rice was considered “a gift from the creator,” as it was nutritious and good for the diet. 

Their religion centered around the teachings of Gitchi Manatou (the Great Spirit). Spiritual communication often came to individuals in dreams. Still important today, their basic belief states that everything has a spirit. The Ojibwe are one of few tribes to have recorded their religious beliefs, which were discovered on ancient birch bark scrolls. 

As the third largest tribe in America, 170,000 in the U.S. and 60,000 in Canada, there are 150 bands in existence, but survival was not always easy in the beginning. When trappers visited their land in the 1800s, the French and English fought for control. Sad stories of being forced onto reservations followed, including the famous “Wisconsin Death March.” Halvorson’s presentation is packed with information on current culture as well, all useful in Social Studies curriculum. A Glossary (boldface text) and Timeline are provided. Maps, photos, and sketches are on most pages. 

Monday, March 5, 2018

Africa Mercy - Midstream Thoughts, Winding Down: One Nurse's Story

More from Marilyn in Africa....  Sorry these postings are so late!  My friend, as you know, is in Africa serving as a nurse on the Africa Mercy. She emails me and I share her words with you. For those of you who know nothing of  Marilyn's story, the Africa Mercy is a hospital ship that travels the African coast with a crew of nurses and doctors. They come from all over to give of their time as volunteers.


07-Feb 2018

"Midstream Thoughts"

     We are more than half-way done with this field service in Cameroon, and we have done more than a  thousand cataract surgeries.  We haven’t seen the great need we see in some countries…but that’s a thousand people (and families) who have been blessed, with more to come.  Quietly satisfying.

     The advance team is working hard to settle key issues for the next field service in Guinea.  Last I heard, they still hadn’t found a suitable site for the eye clinic.  Part of the problem is the configuration of the city—there’s a choke point in traffic leading off the tip of the peninsula where the ship will be; traffic can be tied up for hours there, so they want the clinic located below the choke point, near the ship, for convenience and for safety reasons.  I certainly hope they find something better than what we had last time we were in Guinea.  That was a tent inside a leaky building—very dirty and hot, no water, no toilets, no parking. 
     Staffing for next field service is also unsettled.  I probably won’t know for another month whether I’ll have a spot on the eye team or not, and if so, just what job I’ll be offered.  So, we wait to see.

     Meanwhile, we continue to screen for cataract patients for this year.  Monday a week ago we screened in a small city a couple of hours from Douala and found quite a few potential patients.  Encouraged, this past Monday we sent both the primary and secondary screening teams to another small town even further from the port, anticipating another good-sized crowd of people who are medically under-served.  It was disappointing —we scheduled only one patient for surgery.  Next Monday we’ll travel a couple of hours in another direction, to Limbe, to try again.  After that, there will be no more long-distance screenings, only the ongoing screenings in Douala.

     Dr. Glenn continues to train local surgeons to do this type of cataract surgery.  Patricia, who trained last fall, has moved to the northern part of the country and is getting started there, booking her first patients already.  The Minister of Health and quite a few dignitaries visited the ship this week to see our program and to talk about how they can sustain the work after we leave.  Dr. Glenn talked to them about how they needed to protect their valuable resource (trained surgeons) by ensuring that the surgeons have the equipment and support they need to get established.  They seemed to take the message to heart, and they are the power-men who could make it happen.  Very hopeful.

     Next Saturday I plan to take a day trip to visit some baby chimpanzees. The reserve is managed by an association that subsequently releases them into Pongo Songo Island on the Sanaga River when they become adults. After playing with the babies, we will take a boat ride to the Island to watch the adult chimpanzees from a safe distance; they are not so friendly, but fascinating.

  Marilyn Neville



"Winding Down"

     I have only a bit over six weeks left in Cameroon.  The weeks are just melting!  I am currently booking surgeries for the last day of surgery.  After that, I will backtrack and add patients to increase the number of surgeries per day.  We plan to screen for new patients for two more weeks.  I am also calling folks who didn’t show up on their surgery date and others whose blood pressure or other medical problem prevented them from having surgery when scheduled.  I also have a bunch of potential patients who never made it past me to get onto the schedule in the first place because of medical problems, and I have been calling some of those to see if they’ve gotten themselves sorted and want to try again.  Everything gets a bit tricky at this stage—we want enough patients, but not too many.  We want to encourage people to come back if appropriate, but we don’t want to raise hopes only to dash them if we run out of room.

     What happens after two weeks?  I have no idea what I’ll be doing once scheduling is done.  I’m sure there will be many wrap-up tasks, and the last four weeks will melt as quickly as they have been doing.
It seems likely that I’ll return next year to be the scheduling nurse again in the Guinea field service, but nothing is definite yet.  Meanwhile, I plan to be home in Syracuse NY from April through August, minus a few trips here and there to see people.  And somewhere in there, I’ll probably be moving to Philadelphia with Barbara when she retires.  I’m sure that time will melt as quickly as this field service time has done.

     We had another Celebration of Sight today, as we do every Friday.  All the patients who had surgery during the week six weeks ago come back on this day to have the final laser treatment and attend the Celebration.  A couple of hundred people were all dancing and singing together, praying and praising the Lord, thankful for the surgery and for Mercy Ships.  They really get into it; it blesses me to see how blessed they feel by what we do.  I can’t think of anything equivalent in our culture.  Maybe a football game comes closest for group enthusiasm—but that seems so shallow in comparison.  Not many lives or families are profoundly impacted for good by football.

      Several patients gave their testimony of how the surgery has impacted their lives.  One was a woman who was speaking on behalf of her father.  He had been losing his sight for the last ten years, and it had gotten so bad that he could no longer care for himself.  He called her to say that he was going to hang himself because she was his only daughter and he didn’t want to burden her with his care.  She gathered up what little money she could and took him to the hospital, but they wanted $500 for the surgery, totally out of reach.  She heard that our surgeries were free, so she managed to bring her father to Douala for screening; he had his surgery six weeks ago, and now he can see.  Stories like this remind me, at least a little bit, of what it must be like to be poor and unable to meet basic needs.  I am so rich, so blessed in both material and spiritual things.

     Update on recent events:  Last week we hosted a ship tour for all our eye team day crew and two of their family members each—63 guests in all.  Just getting that many people onto and off of the ship is quite an undertaking due to security, and entertaining and touring that many people without adversely impacting the rest of the ship takes some planning.  It went well, however; I think that they really appreciated it.

     I did go see the chimpanzees last Saturday as planned.  The attached picture gives you a glimpse.  Thanks to the dusty dirt road we traveled, I came home with carrot-orange hair.  I should have gotten a picture of that!  Anyway, it was a tiring but fun day.  I doubt I make any more excursions, but you never know.

     With scheduling coming to an end in two weeks, we will have to let most of the day crew go.  Of course, they knew it was coming, but it is still a painful process.  I don’t know how hard it will be for them to find other jobs.  In many countries, it is very hard indeed.  We will do all we can for them with letters of recommendation, but when you’ve worked closely with people for six months, the ties are not easily broken, especially when you send them into an uncertain future.


"A few cameo shots of patients"

     Two patients caught my attention at the YAG celebration this morning.  One was an old man, bent back, shuffling gait, white cane used for walking.  He had cataract surgery six weeks ago, and now he can see.  We generally start the celebration with dancing and singing.  This old fellow was out there with the rest of them, shuffling his feet energetically and pounding the floor with his cane as he sang.  It was his new use of his cane that caught my attention.

     The second man I noticed was young, very tall, very thin, very long fingers.  I think he has Marfan’s Syndrome, a genetic condition that causes premature cataracts among other things.  He is the only son of an ailing mother.  He was a student until he was too blind to read and had to drop out.  His mother has had to care for him in recent years; the future looked bleak for the pair of them.  His mother heard of Mercy Ships on the radio and brought him to a screening.  His surgery went well; he plans to resume his education, and he can now care for himself and for his mother.

     Then there was the lady who had been told by the local specialists that she couldn’t have cataract surgery because the eye was too damaged inside.  So instead, she brought her father for screening for his cataracts.  His surgery was so successful that she decided she’d get screened herself.  Her surgery was six weeks ago.  Even though she does have some loss of vision due to a damaged retina, she has better vision now than she had before surgery, and she is quite pleased.
     Sometimes I measure success in less dramatic ways.  Last September, we had a pterygium patient who had a complication.  His blood pressure was very high, and he developed a peri-orbital bleed when they tried to do the local block anesthesia.  He was sent away to let the blood re-absorb and to get his blood pressure under control.  He came again for surgery in January, but again his blood pressure was too high.  He came again today to be re-checked, still hoping for surgery.  His blood pressure was under much better control—still high by western standards, but pretty acceptable here.  But, since he’d had the bleed before, Dr. Glenn felt it was too risky to do surgery with an even slightly elevated blood pressure.  The man was so gracious about being told no after all these months of hoping.  But, looking on the bright side, his blood pressure used to be dangerously high and now it is not.  Perhaps we’ve done him a good turn if we’ve convinced him to continue with his BP medication—maybe he won’t have a stroke.  We had opportunity to teach him how to minimize the pterygium growth, and we gave him some sunglasses that fit over his eyeglasses, so maybe we helped with the original problem, even though we couldn’t do the surgery.

     We have a three day weekend this week, and most of the people at the team house are leaving town to sightsee somewhere.  I would have been pretty much stranded at the house, but they arranged for me to have a berth on the ship for the weekend.  It’s in a ten-berth cabin filled with young women—should be interesting!  I’m looking forward to it.  I would imagine it’s an upper bunk…

  Marilyn Neville

Sharon M. Himsl

Writer/Author. Blogging since 2011. 
Published with Evernight Teen: 
~~The Shells of Mersing

Africa Mercy - Cool Rescue, Feeding Program: One Nurse's Story

More from Marilyn in Africa....  Sorry these postings are so late!  My friend, as you know, is in Africa serving as a nurse on the Africa Mercy. She emails me and I share her words with you. For those of you who know nothing of  Marilyn's story, the Africa Mercy is a hospital ship that travels the African coast with a crew of nurses and doctors. They come from all over to give of their time as volunteers. 


"Cool Rescue"

     I love the “coincidences” that sometimes happen around here, and I just heard a cool one.
      Background: Sometimes, if women have days of prolonged labor, the uterus and surrounding tissues get damaged from the pressure of the baby.  The tissue breaks down, creating fistulas (holes, tunnels) between the uterus and the bladder or the uterus and the rectum.  The baby always dies, and, if the woman doesn’t die also, she may end up incontinent of urine and/or feces.  This is a devastating condition.  Very often, the husband divorces her, her family puts her out of the house, and everyone pretty much shuns her because she smells bad and contaminates everything she touches.  The cure is surgery, but very often it is not available.  Some of these women suffer for decades as social outcasts.
     We planned an extensive women’s fistula repair program for this field service; the government assured us that there were many women needing our services here.  For whatever reason, though, we have had trouble finding them.  In fact, there was not enough work to keep the OB surgeons busy, and they went home before Christmas, intending to return in February.  They had done a number of surgeries before they left, but everyone seemed to be healing well, and it seemed safe for the surgeons to go home for the holidays.
      So, Christmas comes.  One of the fistula-repair women developed an abscess and needed remedial surgery.  The only surgeon left on the ship is Dr. Gary, and he specializes from the neck up.  OB is not his thing, and surgical specialties are not interchangeable. What to do?  Well…it “just so happened” that an anesthesiologist on board had his mother visiting for Christmas.  His mother was a recently retired OB doctor, but she’d never been to the ship before, and came only as a mother, not a surgeon.  But, since there was a need... mother and son did the necessary surgery together, and it all ended well.
      God sometimes works in “coincidental” ways, quietly, without fanfare, to protect and to provide what we need for the work we’re doing here.  This strikes me as a case in point.

  Marilyn Neville

"The Feeding Program"

     One of the surgeries that we perform on the ship is the repair of cleft lips and palates, usually on babies and children.  Sometimes the deformities are so profound that the babies can’t suck.  Without surgery, they lose weight and eventually die.  Often, by the time we find these babies, they are too malnourished and sickly to withstand surgery, and so we have an infant feeding program to fatten them up.

     Paul was such a child.  He was pretty much on death’s door when his mother brought him to us.  Check out the pictures attached to see the transformation.

     Cool program, huh?



Africa Mercy - Milestones, Guinea, Update on Frank: One Nurse's Story

More from Marilyn in Africa....  Sorry these postings are so late! My friend, as you know, is in Africa serving as a nurse on the Africa Mercy. She emails me and I share her words with you. For those of you who know nothing of  Marilyn's story, the Africa Mercy is a hospital ship that travels the African coast with a crew of nurses and doctors. They come from all over to give of their time as volunteers. 


"Milestone Patient"

Ten years ago, Dr. Strauss did the first surgery on the Africa Mercy.
Recently, he did the 30,000th surgery.  That's a lot of surgeries for
one ship!  I thought you'd like to see this famous patient.

  Marilyn Neville

"Guinea is next"

     The Africa Mercy is planning to go to Guinea next year.  I was

     there in 2013, before the Ebola outbreak.  It was a poor country
     then; it is much worse now.  Ebola devastated the health industry,
     among other things:  it seems that the physicians and nurses either
     died or fled.   I have heard that there is no anesthesia machine in
     the entire country, which means no surgeries.  There are no
     ophthalmologists at all, and the once-thriving eye clinic in
     Contonou is barely functional now.  Furthermore, Ebola survivors
     have a host of eye problems as a result of the disease, including
     cataracts.  (27% of those with the disease did survive…)  It sounds
     like we will have our work cut out for us!  I am excited about the
     prospect of going to Guinea.  I have applied, but of course, I
     don’t know yet if they will select me as part of the team.  Stay

    Meanwhile, back in Cameroon, we are still doing surgeries and
    training surgeons.  Patricia is a Cameroon surgeon who has been
    training with Dr. Glenn Strauss for the last several months.  She
    had never actually done surgery before she came to us, but she
    caught on quickly and has become pretty proficient.  Not as fast as
    Dr. Glenn, of course…but who is?  She plans to set up a surgical
    clinic in the northern part of Cameroon, in an area that currently
    has no eye surgeries available.  Mercy Ships plans to equip her with
    the surgical tools she needs and send her off with our blessing
    soon.  Starting in January, we will have a new Cameroonian trainee,
    one who plans to operate in Douala or Yaounde, I believe.  It’s one
    thing to blow into town and do surgeries; it’s another to invest
    time and resources in the surgeons who will remain after we leave.
    Of course, not all countries have the health infrastructure to allow
    a surgeon to thrive, but Cameroon does.  (Guinea doesn’t…no training
    program next year.)

     The rainy season is over, followed almost immediately by the
     harridan wind season.  We’re pretty far from the Sahara Desert, so
     we don’t get sandstorms, just dust.  It looks like a permanent case
     of LA smog out there.  We haven’t seen the sun in days.  It does
     keep it cooler, though.  It is merely “overcast” hot and humid
     instead of truly tropical-African hot and humid.  Works for me!
     I’m surprised we don’t see more lung problems, though, if they
     breathe this dust every year.  Maybe this dust isn’t corrosive like
     smog, and our little lung cilia are able to keep up.

     The patient on my heart today is a man I had to deny surgery
     yesterday.  His eye qualified for surgery, but his foot didn’t.  He
     asked a good question, “What does my foot have to do with my eye?
     Why can’t you do surgery?”  But the risk of his spreading the
     infection from his foot wound to the newly operated eye is
     significant, and that would be devastating to his eye, destroying
     what vision he does have, and if not treated aggressively, maybe
     even worse consequences.  I encouraged him to see a doctor, get his
     foot properly treated with antibiotics, and come back to schedule
     eye surgery when the foot wound is not infected.  I only hope that
     he is able to afford to do that, and I hope that he heals in time
     to be scheduled.  He’d had the wound for many years, and he seemed
     pretty discouraged.  I’m such a softy, I probably would have
     explained the risks and allowed him to choose to have the surgery
     anyway…but I’m not the surgeon, and it’s not my call.  On the other
     hand, I had just such a patient two weeks ago, with a
     long-standing, infected, non-healing leg wound.  I gave him the
     same instructions, and he did what I suggested.  He returned this
     week to show me his now-healthy, now-healing wound; I got to
     schedule his eye surgery!  Maybe yesterday’s patient will do

I've included a picture of Dr. Patricia doing YAG under Dr. Strauss'

  Marilyn Neville

"Update on Frank"

Good news!  The Communications Team visited Frank again recently.  Remember how, before surgery, Frank wouldn’t smile for love nor money?  He was so depressed, with a hopeless-looking future.  Well, this visit, he never stopped smiling.  He was so joyous, so full of life and hope.  Before surgery, he was completely blind.  He couldn’t go anywhere unless someone led him by the hand.  He couldn’t do much of anything; he certainly couldn’t hold a job.  He lived in a very small world—his home, a one-room shack with no door.  Remember how disappointed we all were immediately after surgery, when he didn’t get the dramatic improvement that we expected?   Well, it seems that his vision is still slowly improving, at least somewhat.  He now has “count fingers” vision—still rated as blind, but considerably more useful than nothing.  He can walk independently, a freedom he treasures highly.  He is gradually venturing further and further from home by himself.  In fact, he is now looking for a job!  I suppose he could be focused on disappointment, that his vision is still very poor after such high hopes.  Instead, he has chosen to be thankful and to treasure what he does have.  He could be the poster child for an anti-grumbling campaign.  Certainly, he blesses me by his example.  Pretty nice Christmas present, don’t you think?



Africa Mercy - Douala Health, Simple Solutions, Thanksgiving: One Nurse's Story

More from Marilyn in Africa....  Sorry these postings are so late! My friend, as you know, is in Africa serving as a nurse on the Africa Mercy. She emails me and I share her words with you. For those of you who know nothing of  Marilyn's story, the Africa Mercy is a hospital ship that travels the African coast with a crew of nurses and doctors. They come from all over to give of their time as volunteers. 

"Douala health, Frank, Solange"

     My time here in Cameroon is 25% done already.  How can that be?  I
     feel like we are still on the on-ramp, gearing up, trying to get up
     to speed.  For whatever reason, we aren’t finding the patients we
     expected to find, at least for cataracts.  Most of the other types
     of surgeries—ortho, plastics, tumors, etc.—are already fully booked
     for the remainder of the field service.  The eye team is never
     booked that far ahead—we screen for new patients all year long
     because we can do so many surgeries each day.  But, we are not
     finding as many patients as we could be handling, and the people we
     do see are not as blind as the folks we usually schedule.  We’ve
     done a lot of unilateral cataracts for folks whose other eye sees
     pretty well.  It’s pretty strange to see a whole line of eye
     patients walking up the gangway without assistance because they can
     already see.

     Why are we not finding the profoundly blind people with bilateral
     cataracts?  Perhaps we are screening in the wrong neighborhoods.
     We’re screening where the government told us to screen…but judging
     by the number of medications our patients are taking and the number
     of prior surgeries they’ve had, the overall health care around here
     seems quite a bit better than other places we’ve been.  Perhaps
     Douala itself has good health care but the rest of the country does
     not.  Initially, the government planned to screen for cataracts in
     the regions of Cameroon where we can’t readily go, then pay to
     transport and house those patients in Douala so that we could do
     surgery for them.  So far, anyway, that has not happened.  I don’t
     know if it will eventually, or not.  Whatever the reason, we are
     not effectively reaching the poor who need cataract surgery, and
     that makes me sad.

     Turn this on its head:  The people of Douala seem to have pretty
     good access to health care!  People take vitamins, supplements,
     medicines for aches and pains, as well as medications for specific
     problems like diabetes and hypertension.  People with HIV all seem
     to take their medications consistently.  Quite a few people have
     had prior cataract surgery on one eye, done somewhere, and are now
     coming for the second eye.  I rejoice that so many of the people
     here are doing so well.

     Not everyone in Douala is that fortunate, of course.  Frank, the
     boy I wrote about before, comes from a poor family.  By the way, we
     saw him again this week, and his vision had improved a little more.
      It’s still not good, but he’s no longer “legally blind.”  He
     crossed the street in front of his house for the first time in many
     years…with assistance, but still…  He and his family expressed
     gratitude that we did what we could for him, wondering aloud why on
     earth we cared.  They could have been angry or bitter at having
     their hopes raised and then dashed, but no, only gratitude.

    Next I want to tell you about Solange.  She’s a young woman who was
    put out on the streets when her mother died, and so has a huge heart
    for orphans.  She is currently caring for 48 orphans by herself.
    Her house is in terrible shape, she has no income, and she feeds her
    children by faith, not knowing where the next meal is coming from.
    They eat mostly rice, of course; they almost never have meat or
    vegetables or fruit.  Mercy Ships is getting involved.  We took up a
    collection to buy food for them for the next few months.  Someone
    paid the rent that she has been unable to pay for the last five
    months, and Mercy Ships is looking into alternate facilities for the
    future.  Meanwhile, our electricians and plumbers have been working
    on her house to get it functional again.  The dentist team took care
    of all the kid‘s teeth.  Solange brought one child to our eye clinic
    today, so I got to talk with her.  Her cheerful faith in God is
    wonderful to behold.  It reminds me of the stories of Hudson Taylor
    in China many years ago.  Would that I had such faith!

     Can anyone wonder why I love to be here?
  Marilyn Neville

"Simple solutions, broken legs"

     Sometimes the simplest things bring delight.  This week, a fellow
     came to the clinic because he’d had cataract surgery sometime in
     the past, but his vision had gone cloudy again.  He was a
     journalist, but he couldn’t work because he couldn’t see to read.
     This condition, dubbed “secondary cataract”, happens gradually in
     about 20% of all cataract surgeries; the posterior wall of the
     capsule that normally holds the lens gets a film on it.  The
     solution is simple…if you have a laser and know how to use it,
     which we do.  You poke a few holes in the membrane with the laser,
     and voila!  Problem solved.  That was one happy dude that day.
     FYI, we routinely do this laser procedure on all our cataract
     patients at six weeks post-op, just to prevent this from happening
     to our patients, since we can’t predict who will be in the unlucky

     We really haven’t had enough work to keep two scheduling nurses
     busy, so Amber decided to move to a different position.  She is now
     a facilitator at the Hope Center; I think that she will like it.
     I’ve been doing all the scheduling for a couple of days now, and it
     seems to go along just fine.  In fact, we usually get done seeing
     and scheduling the patients by lunchtime.  Most of the team returns
     to the clinic in the afternoon for other tasks, but I usually stay
     on the ship and help with data entry and other stuff to help the
     team leader.

     One woman came for cataract surgery today walking on a broken leg.
     She apparently broke it nine days ago by stepping into a
     pothole—that’s not hard to do around here, especially if you can’t
     see—and she just wrapped it up and hoped it would heal.  Instead of
     doing her cataract surgery, we sent her to X-ray, then to the local
     hospital to get the displaced fracture attended to.  We’ll do her
     eyes when that gets sorted out.  But imagine the pain she endured,
     walking on a displaced fracture without even a splint, in order to
     get here for her cataract surgery!

     Our reputation is beginning to build.  One fellow remarked that
     he’d planned to go abroad for cataract surgery, but his friend got
     such good results that he decided to come to us instead.  Well…if
     he’s rich enough to go abroad for surgery, he’s not really among
     the forgotten poor that we came to serve…but it was nice to hear
     the good report, anyway.

     We are starting to draw patients from places further away.  We have
     been developing a questionnaire for untrained screeners to use to
     identify potential cataract patients as they are screening for
     other things.  We got our first batch of these potential patients
     on Monday, and three of the four actually were suitable for
     surgery.  It seems promising.  Perhaps this will be a way to find
     patients among the poor who live outside the city, in the villages.
      I sense a wave of the future here…

     You folks will be celebrating Thanksgiving next week.  It will be a
     crazy-busy work day for us, but that won’t stop us from giving
     thanks!  What a blessing it is just to be here, doing what we do.
     I wouldn’t trade this time for anything.  So, eat an extra bite of
     turkey or pumpkin pie for me, and rejoice with me in my good
     fortune to be here.


"Thanksgiving, YAG day"

Well, it feels like Thanksgiving after all.  Yes, we worked hard all
day, but when we got back to the ship, they had prepared a delicious
turkey dinner, and many people had made desserts to share, so it really
is quite festive.  There are a lot of Americans on board…but we invited
everyone to the party, not just Americans.

I wish you could see YAG day at the clinic.  It looks chaotic, with
people everywhere, but it is actually a fairly well-controlled chaos.
The clinic is a room about the size of a normal school classroom.  On
YAG day, the surgeon is doing the YAG procedure on about a hundred
people—our patients who had cataract surgery about six weeks prior, plus
random people who have had cataract surgery in the past but never had
the YAG done.  All of them get their eye pressure checked (for
glaucoma), then their visual acuity done.  They move to the next bench
to begin the drops to dilate their eyes, then have an auto-refractor
reading done.  Moving to the next bench, they get more dilating drops
and wait their turn for YAG.  Meanwhile, based on the auto-refractor
readings, we give them readers if they need them.  After the YAG, we
take them back outside to wait for the Celebration of Sight.  That’s a
lot of procedures happening simultaneously, and the room is packed with
people moving from bench to bench, and workers swarming all around.  It
reminds me of lines at Disneyland.

Once all the YAGs are done, we bring all the patients and all their
caregivers back into the clinic for the Celebration of Sight.  Now there
are 200-250 people packed into the space.  The singing is beautiful,
unlike anything I’ve experienced at home.  The testimonies are
heart-felt gratitude to Mercy Ships and to God for their restored sight.
 Looking at that whole room full of people we’ve impacted with just one
week of surgery—it blows my mind.  And we plan to do it for about 28

This week, I had a relatively young man, profoundly blind, brought to us
from a city many hours away by his friend, a very old man, because he
had no family to help him.  They rode the bus all day and then spent the
night on the streets because they had no money for a hotel.  Normally,
when they come to the clinic for secondary screening, we do the
measurements and book their surgery for the next available slot, about a
month later.  But, for this fellow, we put him in as an extra surgery
that same afternoon, and found beds for them at the local hospital,
since of course he needed to stay for the one-day post-op exam the
following morning.  You should have seen that young man beaming as he
greeted me that morning!  What a difference that act of friendship made.

We are starting to get more and more patients from further away, so we
are scrambling to figure out how to handle them.  For most of them,
multiple trips to Douala are a hardship, and yet, stuffing them into an
already full surgery schedule isn’t always possible.  So far, we’ve been
able to find a bed at the local hospital for those who really need it,
and usually we can squeeze them into the surgery schedule, although it
is disruptive to do last-minute add-ons.  If the number of long-
distance patients increases too much, it may not work…but for now, we’re
scraping by.  If we could predict the numbers, we could adapt…but, dream


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.