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

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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.