Monday, May 31, 2010

The Women Danced!

VVF is upon us! This is the time I have been waiting for. Since I cared for VVF women in Liberia three years ago, my heart has belonged to these women. What is VVF? VVF stand for vesico-vaginal fistula. Basically, it's a hole which is formed between the bladder and vagina which causes a women to constantly leak urine. The most common way this occurs is during prolonged childbirth.

Picture this: You are a woman in a remote village and you are pregnant. As you start going into labor, the other women around you come to help. If there is a problem, what do you do? What can you do? The nearest hospital is at least a days walk and since you have been laboring for at least a day already, it is too late to start that journey. You labor another day. And another. And possibly a third or a fourth before the baby passes, stillborn. You grieve for the loss of your child as you start to notice you are unable to control your urine. It runs down your legs without any control. Pads can't stop it. Medicine can't stop it. Because the baby was stuck for so long, and it pushed so hard on parts of the vagina that it killed the tissue there and caused this hole into the bladder or into the ureters or maybe even into the rectum so you are leaking stool as well. Nothing can stop this. You constantly smell. Flies swarm. You can no longer stay in the house because of this. Your family disowns you. Your husband leaves you. You have lost your baby. You are on your own. What hope do you have for a future?

Last monday was screening day for VVF. 66 women showed up. 60 were able to get surgical slots. That is an amazing number! Tuesday was the first day of surgery and today was the first dress ceremony. After a women has her surgery and she is dry, as we call it, she is given a new dress to go home in. Makeup is put on her face. Her nails done. A head wrap on her head to match her beautiful new dress, and we dance. Five women danced today. Five women who were wet but are now dry danced today. One was leaking for a year. Another for ten years. Another for thirteen years. They had all been left by their husbands. Ostracized by their communities. One of the women I saw smile for the first time today in a week. Hope is being restored. Lives are changed in ways I could never understand.

These women remind me of the passages in Luke 8:42-48:

As Jesus was on his way, the crowds almost crushed him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her. She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped.

"Who touched me?" Jesus asked.

When they all denied it, Peter said, "Master, the people are crowding and pressing against you."

But Jesus said, "Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me."

Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed. Then he said to her, "Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace."

These women ache to touch the edge of Jesus' cloak. To be healed. Not only did Jesus heal her physically, he healed her body and soul. We have a wonderful surgeon here right now to help heal their bodies. Pray for this healing, but also pray that these women can start to experience emotional healing as well. To not harbor bitterness or anger, but to forgive and be able to go on living their lives in joy.

Five women danced today. They danced. They danced. They danced!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Dzinye le Africa

Tonight I went on an airport run to pick up a load of new arrivals to the ship. This was my first time doing it here but I remember always loving to do it when I worked at camp. I love seeing and hearing first impressions. It reminds me of my first time landing in Africa. Ghana was my first African country three years ago and I remember the fear and excitement and just knowing my life would never be the same when that plane touched down. When I stepped off the plane onto the tarmac, I remember standing there, feeling the hot, humid air, and a man came up behind me and told me I looked scared. That was probably true. I had traveled overseas before but Africa seemed so big. So...far away and so different. True, it seemed like the differences outnumbered the similarities from where I come from, but it's just another way of living. Not right or wrong, just different.
Tonight, driving home with three people, first timers to Togo and to Africa, I had to laugh. "How many people can you fit on one of those motorcycles?" Ummm...five or six is the most I have seen, depending on the size of the kids in the family. No helmets. If babies don't fall off mama's back when she is walking, why would it fall off on a moto-taxi? Cheaper and faster way to travel anyway. "Not many streetlights, huh?" Nope. The lights from the zimi-johns light up the road, if the bike has one. "How many lanes on this road?" We still haven't figured that one out. However many cars can fit...
I wish I could be the first to take them all to the market to see their impressions of that too. The noises and smells and colors and touches and people yelling "yovo, yovo" over and over and over...
Dzinye le Africa.
My heart is in Africa.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


A few posts back I wrote about noma, the infection that invades your face and within days kills 90% of the people that it infects. Aicha, the seven year old girl that arrived on the ship from Camaroon with this, is doing amazing. The skin graft to the right side of her face is taking and she is healing more by the day. I had to laugh today because as I was working in A-ward, I realized every other patient in there knew her by name. Even the patients who were new to the ward. It's not because they know her history. How she was abandoned by her parents and taken in by her grandmother. How the last year of her life went from being moments from death to having the massive hole in the right side of her face being covered over by skin from her thigh. How her uncle has given up so much to be with here here and only having one other person besides Aicha that he can talk to in his own language. No, the reason everyone in A-ward knows Aicha is because of her bubbly, spunky, fighting spirit. This is definitely a girl familiar with the hospital setting. She no longer has her feeding tube in, but when it was in, she would give herself her own feeds. She would put on the syringe and draw back to see much of the previous feed was left in her stomach. She would push the medications down the tube. She would pour the food into the feeding bag and roll open the clamp to get the feeds to run. When it was finished she would let us know and she would flush the tube then go back to playing. I can't begin to say how funny this would be to watch. The day her tube came out was a big day on the ward. She had been wanting to eat for so long! Meals, even now, are an experience with Aicha. She can't eat rice because of her incision, so that doesn't sit well with her, but this girl likes to eat! If the meal trays are late, she will let you know. If she doesn't get enough, she will let you know. In the past year she has gone from perhaps a day away from death, to a bubbly, spunky little girl who knows what she wants and she will tell you. When you sit and think about it, it's amazing to see all the different people God has brought into her path, how far she has come and then to think about her future. She has one. What more is there to say?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Two Babies

So many times I have sat here staring at this blank page. I feel like there is so much to say but I don't know where to start. This past week especially. Such sadness and grief and so much joy all mixed together.

One of the tiny, tiny babies on the ward went home to be with Jesus. Obre had been with us for about two months. He came in with a bilateral cleft lip and was too tiny for surgery so he became part of the infant feeding program to be bulked up and have his surgery when he was at a safer weight. He became known as the "miracle baby". Some nurses and doctors had seen a miracle happen at one point when he was in the ICU. There was talk of putting him on a breathing machine and as the nurses were getting everything ready for it, the doctor and anestheologist stopped to pray. Before their eyes, Obre's oxygen levels began to rise. He didn't need to be intubated any longer and he returned to the ward. It was a miraculous healing. He was doing better for a bit, then last week he started to turn. His heart was having trouble and his breathing was even worse. He died in his mothers arms. Her only son. It's hard not to question why. To see a miraculous healing, then to have him taken. He is now fully healed and in the arms of grace and mercy and being loved more than anyone here on earth ever could. Please pray for his mother. I couldn't even begin to understand the hurt she is experiencing. This is a picture of Obre in the ICU with Jen, one of my friends and one of the great PICU nurses here on the ship.

Around the same time Obre came in to the hospital, Marius was admitted too. He too had a bilateral cleft lip and palate and weighed less than three pounds. He was also admitted to the infant feeding program and when we saw him after he came back for his surgery, he was a new baby. Nice and plump and ready to go! This chubby baby was ready! He had his surgery but was having trouble breathing as well. He ended up needing a trach to breathe through. I have to say, this is the calmest, most amazing baby with the biggest eyes. When I would walk into the ICU I would ask what they were giving him to make him so calm. Nothing. Marius would lay there, eyes wide open with his tiny little hand just holding his breathing tube. He wouldn't pull on it. This six month old would just lay there and look at you and just hold the tube. What I will always remember about Marius is his mother. The night they were putting in his trach, I saw his mother at the end of the hospital corridor. She was praying. More than praying, she was fighting for her son. Pounding on the wall, pleading for her sons life. You could tell she was in a hand to hand battle. She never stopped praying. In the ward she would pray over him. It didn't matter who was there, she would sing over him and pray over him like I have never seen before. Yesterday, Marius and his mother went home to Benin. Such a celebration! Sadness in seeing friends go, but such joy in healing! Here is a picture of Marius and his mother in the ICU.