An Unexpected Journey

There are no safe paths in this part of the world. Remember you are over the Edge of the Wild now, and in for all sorts of fun wherever you go.

- J. R. R. Tolkien from The Hobbit 

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My African adventure is over and I find myself sitting in an American coffee shop. I have a delicious Chai in hand, my computer, my iphone, my kindle, scarf, hat, new boots, Bon Iver setting my mood. I have everything I have been missing for the past 4 months (including my queen sized bed in a room that I sleep in all by myself!). And yet...I miss, so very much, miss my African adventure. 

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I'm shivering and scraping ice off my car; I miss the heat, the humidity and even sweating profusely. I can go to the refrigerator and grab food whenever I want, but I miss eating with 400 other people in a loud dining hall. I've started the hunt for a new job yet I wish I was back in a tiny crowded ward with screaming/laughing kids and singing/dancing mamas. 

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It is quite difficult to put my emotions into words, but in this moment, I'd go back in a heartbeat (with an extra $5K). Serving the Africans and living in community is incomparable to my comfortable Western life. It was a joy that I fear I didn't enjoy ENOUGH when I was there and now it's loss is acute. The lessons I learned there will forever be with me. 

Friends who became family

Friends who became family

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Getting Real

The hospital on Mercy Ship has been open for almost 2 weeks now. My unit (B ward) has been almost full this week. We have 20 beds filled mostly by kids under the age of 16. Here are some pictures of B ward kiddos. 

R. has been my patient many times now. He has just recently started smiling again after a painful surgery on his foot. He's now turning out to be quite the rascal and is requesting English lessons, but only if I agree to learning Faun language (local dialect). 

R. has been my patient many times now. He has just recently started smiling again after a painful surgery on his foot. He's now turning out to be quite the rascal and is requesting English lessons, but only if I agree to learning Faun language (local dialect). 

This little guy was my first patient on Mercy Ships, little V, a very small 8 year old boy with severe burns to his groin and thighs. A week after my busy day with him, he is up and smiling and holding my hand. After listening to his screams that day, I am so happy to hear his cute little voice babbling things that I don't understand. He isn't smiling here, but he does smile! 

This little guy was my first patient on Mercy Ships, little V, a very small 8 year old boy with severe burns to his groin and thighs. A week after my busy day with him, he is up and smiling and holding my hand. After listening to his screams that day, I am so happy to hear his cute little voice babbling things that I don't understand. He isn't smiling here, but he does smile! 

I haven't had this guy has a patient but he's been on the unit for awhile now. He had severe burns to his armpit and now after his surgery, his arm will stay splinted in that position for about 2 weeks. 

I haven't had this guy has a patient but he's been on the unit for awhile now. He had severe burns to his armpit and now after his surgery, his arm will stay splinted in that position for about 2 weeks. 

Here are some photos of patients during the screening process. I did not get to be a part of this, but am able to see and share the photos from it. These kids are so cute. I wish I could take pictures of the kids on the wards as well. The moms bring in their other children as well (flashback to Haiti) and toddlers are running wild on the unit. One in particular is my favorite, Prince. He looks about 14 or 15 months old and is always wearing black teva-looking sandals on his feet (the absolute cutest). The patients and their parents help take care of him too (he is WILD). 

These photos below are from Mercy Ship's previous field service in Madagascar, but are examples of the types of surgeries and healing processes that I have already seen on board the ship in the last 2 weeks.  

On a personal note, I am slowly adjusting to ship life. The conditions for sleeping are the most disheartening for me. I'm not a good sleeper even in the best of conditions, so sharing a tiny room and sleeping on a bad mattress are not working well for me. GI bugs are going around like crazy here on the ship and I got food poisoning last weekend (note to self: don't eat weird mushrooms). I know things will continue to improve with time and prayers are so appreciated! 

Please enjoy fall for me. I am so sad to be missing it! 

Thai food in Benin -- hold the mushrooms.... 

Thai food in Benin -- hold the mushrooms.... 

Rooftop hangs.  

Rooftop hangs.  

All Aboard!

One week in and ready to go!  

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I will be working on B ward, which is the Plastics unit. Unlike what you'd think plastic surgery is all about in the States, these procedures are about function, not aesthetics. For example, a severe burn can cause contractures to the point that a person cannot use a limb or even walk. The surgeon uses a skin graft to release that tight skin and restore function to the affected limb, but only after weeks and possibly months of healing and rehab. This is just one example of a plastics case, more to come. 

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This last week has been all about prepping the wards for the patients and preparing us new nurses for their care.  

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We will have Day Workers, who are local translators, working alongside us.  

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The nurses station is quite small...well the whole unit is small. It's going to get VERY crowded! 

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I am in a 4-berth cabin with only 2 other cabin mates. Lucy and I are both working on B ward and Theresa (far right) is a nurse in the operating room (OR).  

Lucy is from Sydney, Australia and Theresa is from California.  

Lucy is from Sydney, Australia and Theresa is from California.  

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Deck 7 provides from great views of the port and the sunsets. The weather has been quite cool when it's cloudy and being so close to the water, there seems to always be a good breeze.  

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I've ventured out in Cotonou a few times. I went to an arts and craft market with these girls. The shopping lasted 10 minutes and then we sat in a bar (drinking what we'd ordered as Coke and came out looking like Fanta) to recover from all the vendor-hassling.  

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Another day trip led to this pool. The pool guy let us in for free when he found out we were nurses on the Mercy Ship.  

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Lucy :)  

Lucy :)  

Truthfully, the last week has included more downtime than I bargained for. I'm so thankful to have Lucy to sit around and laugh with. She's teaching me Australian. Haha! 

Surgeries have officially started this week and that means I'll have stories to tell very soon!  

How to be a cancer nurse.

As an oncology nurse, I get asked all the time, "I don't know how you do it." 

I'm not really sure either. I stumbled onto oncology by accident, not an intentional career move, and somehow I've been "here" on and off for 5 years, inpatient and outpatient, solid tumors and blood cancers, across state lines and international.

I've figured out that the strongest tie that holds me to oncology is RELATIONSHIP.

The essence of cancer treatment is repetition. Patients come in to the hospital day in and out to get labs checked, correct levels, get fluids, get blood, infuse chemo, treat side effects, manage reactions, be educated, receive all manner of pokes and prods, etc. The list goes on and our dear patients sit and wait with us day after day. All the repetition cultivates relationship between nurse and patient that I haven't experienced in my personal life, a bond formed by illness and pain that remains indescribable. It is really hard to watch people in pain, it's even harder to watch people die. For this, I have no answer, no secret to make this easier or more bearable. Sitting with a patient, watching tears flow, anger ripen, prognosis and expectations change is HARD and takes a lot of emotional bravery just to sit and hold a hand or knee, or even a heart, and not run away.  

Being a cancer nurse is tough, but it's included some of the most meaningful moments I've been blessed to experience.