Books I Read in 2016!

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I bought a kindle this year and it was the best thing I could've brought on my Africa trip. I get e-books from my library and it makes book-reading easy and cheap!  Here are my favorite books that I read this year. 

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. An autobiography written from the unique perspective of a neurosurgeon dying of lung cancer. I was weeping by the end, but definitely worth the read. 

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. It took me about a quarter of the book to appreciate the way it is written, but then I couldn't put it down. It is a slow, sad story of World War 2 as seen by a French blind girl and a German radio man. 

Daring Greatly and Rising Strong by Brene Brown. I read both of Brown's books on the ship. Her research and ideas on shame and vulnerability and the desire for human connection gave me many new ideas on how to interact with humans. The ship provided a great place to practice! 

The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller. My parents recommended I read this one. Keller's connection of marriage to the gospel is beautiful. It spoke to me, even as a single person. I will definitely read this again when closer to marriage. 

Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracey Kidder. I read this book about Dr. Paul Farmer in preparation for my Haiti trip. An inspiring book about his determination to bring healthcare to rural Haiti and eradicate tuberculosis in the country and increasingly all over the world. A must-read for medical missions enthusiasts. 

Strength in What Remains by Tracey Kidder. Another incredibly inspiring true story of a Burundi refugee who survives genocide and homelessness to become an Ivy league-educated doctor. He returns to his home country to treat his own people because that is where his heart is, regardless of the condition of Burundi. 

Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof. This book, also a documentary, is the summary of many years research into gender inequality and oppression of women worldwide. The chapters are dedicated to multiple issues seen mainly in the developing world, some of which I have seen in my travels this year. The author included interviews and stories of women all over the world to illustrate the issues and propose solutions. I learned so much about what my fellow sisters' lives are like overseas and also what I can do to help. 

Beautiful Battlefields by Bo Stern. I actually read this book a few years ago during a really hard time in my life, but it is so good, it's on this list. Stern's story of living with her husband's ALS diagnosis as a pastor, wife, and mother is truly inspiring. I learned so many tools for dealing with pain as a Christian that I utilized in that battle and others as well. 

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. A fictional story about 2 French sisters during World War Two had me reading late into the night in tears. 

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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Evening Shift

I arrive on the B ward for an afternoon shift. The day and evening nurses stand in a circle to pray for the coming shift. If we are lucky, one of the day crew (hired locals/interpreters) will pray a big sweeping thank-you-JESUS prayer. 

We start handover of patients with the day nurses before they take a few patients up to fresh air on Deck 7 for the last hour of their shift. After half the patients leave, a quiet settles on the ward. Some kids fall asleep. Most of the parents are already asleep. A stray toddler or 2 might be roaming for trouble. I start a game of cards with one of the teens, but both hands are splinted so I play both hands (after multiple explanations to me by the interpreter of the rules of this particular game). 

Blandine!

Blandine!

The rest of the ward returns and chaos ensues. A good chaos. Mamas are awake and chatting animatedly with each other. Babies are crying or nursing or crawling around. Teens are getting glassy-eyed with boredom. Kids start complaining of pain and I pass pills. The medications to give are Tylenol and ibuprofen, morphine for the recent post-ops. More people drift in and out of the wards...doctors, anesthetists, nurses, patients from A ward (general surgery and B ward overflow), physical therapists, chaplains, visitors, crew, day crew, the list seems endless sometimes! 

At least once during a shift, I have a moment of reaction. Panic is rising like the heat and stench. It's so loud! Its so crowded! I can't handle this! I can't fit between the beds. I want to hold that baby but he's been crawling on this nasty floor all day. Why can't day crew speak better English!?! I'm so tired of repeating myself and re-explaining a simple message! I just want to have a normal conversation with this person!   

 The panic subsides in a few seconds with a deep breath. Move on. You can do this. You are already doing this.  

I spend the next 20 minutes learning how to tell time in French by one of the day crew. He makes me count "one o'clock" to "2400 hours" in French over and over until I told him my head was going to explode. He laughed uneasily. Maybe that doesn't translate well...

Time for dinner. Everyone gets a squirt of hand sanitizer and a bowl of Beninese maize and meat. I spoon feed my girl with bilateral hand splints. I wouldn't normally enjoy feeding a grown woman, but her bed is right next to the cutest 3 year old you've ever seen. Faith and her sister entertained me between bites. The 5 year old sister can can count to 10 in English and practiced with me. I attempted to recall the French numbers I'd just learned and she helped me. :) 

Faith before her surgery. Her sister could be her twin, they look so much alike and have the same hair beads. 

Faith before her surgery. Her sister could be her twin, they look so much alike and have the same hair beads. 

Later in the evening around 7 pm, we have a visitor from A ward, Miracle (2 years old)! (But I learned that he pronounces his name "Meer-rock.") When he's in a good mood, he wants to be held and flashes everyone a big toothy smile. I took him on a walk in the hall way and he points to the pictures of the nurses and day crew hanging in the hall way. He jabbers on, pointing to one then another and back again. The hallway is a hundred degrees cooler than the ward so I'd stay out there as long as he wanted. 

Miracle getting all the attention. 

Miracle getting all the attention. 

Bed time starts at 9 pm. The lights go off and curtains are pulled around the beds. There are a few rebels who are resistant, but we say "Bonne nuit" and turn our backs. I wouldn't mind rocking a few babes to sleep at this point in the day.  

My friend Deborah working my dream job :)

My friend Deborah working my dream job :)

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!