Monday, March 29, 2010


I know everyone loves pictures of patients on the ward, but we aren't allowed to take pictures down there so here are some pics of patients taken by the communications department!

This tiny baby was only a few weeks old. She is a twin and they were both part of the infant feeding program. They each only weighed a couple pounds. This twin also came to have her tiny legs casted.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Night Shift

I have seven patients tonight. Two adults, two babies less than a year, and three less than seven. Tonight I am primarily a pediatric nurse. The only other time I have had kids as patients was in Liberia here on the ship and the many summers I have spent with homesick, puking, bleeding, sliver filled, wonderful kids at summer camp. Although I get a bit nervous when I hear I will be taking care of kids, I do love it. It's just something I am not used to. Something out of my comfort zone. Something else to keep me on my toes. One of the great things about working here is that you are never alone and you will be challenged and pushed beyond your comfort level, in a good way. We are all stretched and asked to do things outside our comfort zone but that's part of the life here. Imagine living on a ship in West Africa with people from over 40 different nations. Even in my room, I am sleeping below someone from the UK, and sharing a room with an Australian and two Germans. We are all different in so many ways, but we have all come here with the same purpose and it all seems to work. Every step is a step of faith, knowing we were all called here for a purpose and no one was called here to stand alone and do it by themselves.

I am taking care of two of the cutest flies tonight! Two of my patients had bilateral cataracts removed today and no, it wasn't my two adult patients. One is 3 years old and the other is 5 months. I call them flies because they are wearing shields over both their eyes so they look like tiny, adorable little flies. Two other patients who are 4 and 6 are having their cataracts removed tomorrow. I am also taking care of Fatou. Fatou is 11 months and had a cleft lip repair done two weeks ago. When he went home he fell off a chair and split his lip open again. He had it sewn back together today. It's been interesting being in this ward tonight. I have spent almost every shift in D ward which is the max-fax ward. It's good to switch things up a bit.

It's now 2am. Time to figure out how to get Fatou to take his pain medications!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Dirt Road

I was given the day off due to having too many nurses and not many patients today. I decided to go to the beach close by the port, the Crystal Palage. We are not allowed to go to many beaches due to the crime, but this is one we are allowed at and it's only about a fifteen minute walk. I love the walk there because even though it is right outside the port, we get to meander through some agricultural fields. Walking home today I met this girl. I am glad she let me take her picture.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Missionaries of Charity

Something I love about working with Mercy Ships is that they have a program called Mercy Ministries. Throughout the week you can sign up for different opportunities to visit the community in different ways: orphanages, prisons, school of the deaf, clinics, whatever they can find in the countries they are in.

I signed up about a week ago to visit Missionaries of Charity. I remember seeing them also in Liberia. If you don't know much about Missionaries of Charity, you should look them up. These women are amazing. They follow firstly, the example of Jesus, but they are also under the same order of Mother Teresa. They reach out to "the poorest of the poor". Here in Togo they have their base in Kpalime, the place I had visited and hiked in a few weeks ago, about two and a half hours north of here.

This Missionaries of Charity is a HIV/AIDS home where people can come and live and find support. Driving into this base, it was beautiful. The grounds were mowed and flowers were blooming. You could just sense the peace in the place. When we got out of the land rover we were greeted by Mother Teresea. Not really, but it could have been. She was wearing the same sari and was the sweetest person. You could feel peace and hope radiating from her. She showed us around the community and we met Sister Risa who we spent most of the day with.

There were about 30 people living here. About five men, 5-8 children, three older women who were not HIV positive but they needed a place to live, and the rest were women. Something that blew me away was that they had no nurses. The ones living there that were well enough would be the nurses for those who were sick. They told us that this would teach them compassion knowing that at some point they too would be in that situation. The only person working there who was not HIV positive was the cook.

Once we had the tour we introduced ourselves and then gave everyone the opportunity to share with us if they wanted. People started opening up and sharing stories. Stories of how they became "sick". Stories of how their families reacted when they became "sick". There was more than one story that went something like this: "When my family found out I was 'sick', they went out and bought me a coffin. When I came here, they used it for firewood." HIV/AIDS in Africa is not accepted. Most people don't want to talk about it and if people know you are positive, you are no longer an accepted part of the community. These sisters bring them in and give them a place of rest and love and acceptance. As people were sharing their stories, a Sister walked by and handed me a two month old baby girl to hold. Quite a chubby little thing. I got to talking with Sister Risa about the baby and her mother. I asked if the baby was positive, and she is. They will test her again at 18 months old to see if she really is positive. I asked about the mother. She was with the same man for many years. He was not "sick". As she was traveling across the country one day, the car she was in was robbed. She gave them all she had then she was raped. From that, she came away with a beautiful baby girl and HIV. She is now living with the sisters at Missionaries of Charity. Doing the math in my head on the way home, that was less than a year ago. So many times when I hear these stories I think they must have happened in the far past, but this whole thing is new for her. What would she do, live, be, how would she survive without these sisters?

Before we left I spent some time with the three older women. I met Gurtrude, add a glottal sound in there. 91 years old. I don't know the life expectancy here, but it's not 91. This woman was hilarious. Totally with it. Couldn't see worth a darn so we talked to her about the possibility of her coming down to the ship for eye surgery. She was very adamant that this would never happen. She said she was old and that some day soon she was going to heaven and why go through all that. Oh, she made me laugh. I told her my name and she picked up her statue of Mary and started praying for me. For safety and safe travels... I am sure that when I go back to see her in a few weeks she will still remember my name.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Dancing in the Mirrors

I don't know if I have told you all lately, but I LOVE my job. I get excited knowing I get to go to work. I love that we finally have wards full of patients and lives are changing. I don't have any pictures to share of patients yet but I did learn something great last night. Football (soccer) is a universal language. It can get slow at times on the ward and yesterday I had turned on the tv to see if we had a movie playing. I was flipping through the stations and when I got to the sports channel I looked behind me and there was a row of men and some younger guys with big eyes shaking their heads up and down. Needless to say, we all watched football together last night.

I have been working on the maxillo-facial ward and loving it. I have been able to take care of some amazing patients. The man I spoke of in my previous post who I had seen at the screening day with the large facial tumor had surgery on Tuesday. It was incredible to visit with him on the ward. It was incredible to see how he was able to eat. His tumor was larger than a grapefruit, coming out of top part of his mouth. His upper teeth were sticking out the tumor. It had only started growing four years ago. After his surgery he spent the night in the ICU on a vent. He was able to be extubated yesterday and is doing really well. I was working last night when his brother came in to see him for the first time. His brother looked at him and just cried. Tears of joy. Tears that are due to a life changed.

One of my favorite moments on the ward is when a patient returns from surgery and you give them a mirror. All the patients get a small mirror which they get to keep. Yesterday I had a 19 year old patient return from surgery who had a massive keloid removed which was hanging from his left ear. A keloid is an overgrowth of scar tissue that grows wild and doesn't stop growing. When he returned from surgery I gave him his mirror. Even though all he could see was the gauze dressing over his ear, he sat there with his mirror and just stared at himself. The same thing happened with another patient. A 16 year old boy who had a large tumor removed from the right side of his face. Now that his dressings are off, he lays in bed and stares at himself in his mirror. It's like they are getting to know themselves again. To live with these deformities for years and to now have the opportunity for a new life in many ways. What are they thinking when they lay in bed, unable to look away from themselves, from their new life?

I have yet to work a shift when I don't tear up over something. It really is a privilege to be able to work with the patients I get to work with. The other day I was helping a patient just stand after surgery. He is a pretty tall guy and actually speaks english. When we were standing there I asked him if he wanted to dance. He looked at me and said he liked hip-hop. Now there is something I wasn't expecting to hear. We danced. Yesterday I was talking with him again and asked if he wanted to dance. He looked at me with sad eyes and said no. He said he had finally looked in a mirror and now that he had seen himself he didn't want to dance. He said that when his momma sees him, she will just cry. She will cry buckets because of his scars. True, his lip is very swollen and he has a feeding tube coming out of his nose and he has some stitches on his face, but the swelling will go down, the feeding tube will come out and scars will fade and I pray that this man will dance again. That he will dance hip-hop with his momma, whom I am sure will be thankful that her son is here and is healthy and is alive.