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.  

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. 

 

 

Medical: Paradise Village

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Second medical clinic day in Paradise Village! PV is a 10-minute trike ride from the church in Navotas. It's another 15 minute walk into our location because PV is inaccessible to motor vehicles. PV is essentially the poorest of the poor and has been a target of outreach for Fisher's of Christ church (Navotas). Next time, I feel sorry for myself, I'm going to remember that a very poor church congregation ministers to an even poorer community...

Our clinic was held in the brand new church building in PV! It's beautiful and open and clean with lots of windows and airflow! An amazing number of 211 patients were seen and treated by our phenomenonal medical team. Everyone had (almost) endless energy and lots of patience. 

Again, our patient population was largely mamas and babies with coughs and runny noses. However, one of the patients was 102 years old! 

It was my goal this time to spend time praying with patients. This isn't really in my confort zone, but in the Philippines it doesn't feel unconventional at all. I didn't really ask for permission or anything, and nobody objected. They all asked for healing for thier bodies, safety for thier families, and "guidance"--not sure for what. I don't know if my prayers for them had any impact. During our team debrief, it was pointed out that numerous stations of the clinic were praying for the patients. So in the end, someone could've received prayer maybe 3 times or more. You know God's gotta be listening to that! We may never know the seeds planted by our team that the local church can see grow over time! 

Human moment: when I said the church had good airflow, it's not always nice smelling air. During lunch, I had to eat in between strong whiffs of sewage.  

Triage shnanigans 

Triage shnanigans 

PV has lots of delicious babies to hold. I won't continue to parade those pictures for my audience...I'll give you a break.

NOPE. 

My faithful interpreter. I turned her into my nurse so she called me "doc"

My faithful interpreter. I turned her into my nurse so she called me "doc"