Monday, September 19, 2011

Ay di com!

            Half way through week 6 in Sierra Leone… crazy.  I have been planning to write this blog for a long time, but my mind has just been all over the place and I couldn’t decide what to write about!  I titled this blog “Ay di com!” because that is a very common phrase here, and I find myself saying it a lot!  It means, “I’m coming!” or “I will come!”  When you are in Africa, and you see someone you know on the street, or when you leave a friend’s house, or when you leave church, or when you see anyone that you wish you had time to have a longer conversation with (which is everyone), you say “ay di com!” This phrase permanently commits you to return and enjoy your friends company again soon!  Unlike in America, when we say, “See you soon!”... it doesn’t actually mean see you soon.  We just say that to be nice, and then never actually plan on seeing them again, right?! Well not so in Africa my friend!   When you say good bye to a friend, and they ask you if you will return tomorrow, they are serious!  So don’t just agree and say, “O yes yes ay di com!” 

Relationships and community are so huge here.  They thrive on being inter-dependent, sharing deep conversation, and caring for others.  In the ward, it is a struggle to keep the patients off each other’s beds, keep babies with the right mom, and keep them from sharing food, cups, and toothbrushes!  As frustrating as it can be sometimes to maintain some reasonable infection control, it is just beautiful to see how much they care for each other!  

The more time I spend here in Sierra Leone, the more I WANT to say “ay di com!” because everyone I meet and everywhere I go, I really do want to go back and have more conversations and spend more time with them!  I’ve never been a fan of having to say good-bye, and I’m sure getting some practice here!   Staff turn-over on the ship is pretty high, and many of the people I arrived with will be leaving soon.   As I dread the thought of having to say good-bye to them, I realize that this is going to be a pretty regular thing for me as I will see many people come and go.  

 The bittersweet good-byes also apply to my patients!  There are only 3 patients left out of the 15 or so long-term patients that were here for 2-3 months.  One of the ladies, Esther, had a very large breast cancer tumor that was removed and skin-grafted over.  She has become such a close friend, and she left today.  She was looking for me before she left, and I found out too late, so I ran outside onto the dock and caught her before she left!  (it was just like in the office, when Pam ran to catch Michael at the airport!)  I had been through a lot with her over the past month of so.  I remember when I first got here, her wound was not healing well, and she had a very deep wound that was infected.  She was very sad and quiet and didn’t talk much.  As the weeks went on, something changed in her, and she started to think more positively, and listened to Gospel music all the time. The ward was like a juke box 24/7!  Her wound started to heal amazingly well.  I use to love dressing change time with her, because we would go into a separate room, and it gave us time to talk and be real with each other.  She had just finished her final nursing exams before she came in for surgery, and she will have to finish up clinicals now that she is out.  I am so excited for her to be a nurse- she will be incredible!  One of the last dressing changes I did on her, she was very quiet and I didn’t know why.  When we got into the dressing change room, she started to cry, and said she was just thinking about everything she had been through the past few months- the surgery, the pain—but then over all of that was the joy of meeting us, and making close friends, and relying on the Lord. I felt so blessed to be able to have that moment of tears and laughter with her as she recalled her experiences the last few months!  I am so excited that she is going home, but I have an URGENT prayer need for all of you—Esther is currently having her other breast screened, as we found another lump before she left.  She is very scared and frustrated, so PLEASE pray that the screening will come back clear, and she is breast cancer free!!

Another difficult good-bye was to a patient named Alpha.  He had also been here since I first arrived.  He started out as a very quiet, shy man, but eventually opened up and laughed and joked, and was the sweetest, most loving man on the ward.  I had gone down to the ward one day and saw that his bed was empty.  My heart dropped, because I had no idea he was leaving and I hadn't said good-bye.  Luckily I found out he had gone to stay at the Hope Center for a while.  The Hope Center is a home run by Mercy Ships.  Discharged patients who still need outpatient care, but live too far away can stay there as long as they need to.  New patients can also stay there before surgery if they live far away, or if they need heavy nutritional support before they are ready for surgery.  It is an amazing place, and it is so much fun to go hang out there on off days to visit old patients and get to know new ones.  
So when I found out Alpha was staying there, I stopped over one day to see him.  I was sitting out in the court yard with a group of children, when he came running up to me and gave me a big hug with tears in his eyes, so excited to see me!  If you had seen this man a few months prior- a quiet mechanic who kept to himself- you wouldn't recognize him!  Attempting to separate myself from my work here and not get personally involved with patients is absolutely impossible here. It is moments like this that make me realize just how powerful the work is that we are doing here!

So this past week I have named myself Danielle-the tear-maker.  Hopefully my good-bye to Esther will be the last person I will make cry for a while!  In total over the past week, I have made 6 people cry! Call me a jerk.  So let me explain:

1st is a friend of mine here on the ship.  She is from Africa, and we were talking one night, when I realized I know absolutely nothing about her past.  I started asking questions, and she shared a little, but skated around many questions.  Finally, she said, "you will make me cry, it is too hard to talk about".  I am slowly starting to realize the amount of pain that many African's have gone through.  She started to tear, and I didn't press any further.  Wars and famines and true suffering have infiltrated this continent, and I don't think we could ever truly realize what pain and suffering is when compared to what most  people here have been through.  A few of us American's were chatting in the galley one night (while waiting for banana bread to cook, Mmmm!) and we started listing the luxuries that we have in America that would be just insane requests here.  It really puts things in perspective.  I was ashamed to admit that if a friend of mine from Sierra Leone were to visit me in the US, I would not want to pick them up in my car, or take them to my house because I would be embarrassed of luxuries I have.  Here is some of our list:
        - I have crazy electronis- a computer, Ipod, GPS, camera.. and I'm not even technologically intelligent!
        - I can instantly cook food in my house- in a microwave, stove, or oven
        - I have a mattress. not only that I have blankets.  AND, I am the only person who sleeps in my twin-size bed.  Not my sister, or my cousin, or my grandma. just me.
        - I have the ability to keep food cold, or even frozen
        - I can have a "snack" if I want
        - I can push a lever, and my poo will instantly disappear
        - I can wash my clothes without going to a river. and instantly dry them.
        - If I'm cold, I can turn on a heater. If I'm hot, I can turn on an A/C.
        - If it rains, I can shut the rain out of my house.
        - I have my house! 
        - I own a car.
        - If I burn myself, or get sick, or accidentally cut off my finger, I can go to a hospital and get it fixed.
OK, I think you get the point.  Seriously think about these luxuries.. do you take them for granted?!  Back to the list of cry-ers..

2nd is a patient of mine named Hassan.  He is a sweet little 12 year old boy who had 2 hands deformed from a fire.  One hand we are unable to repair- his fingers are gone and only has his palm.  The other hand was contracted, so we released his fingers and used skin grafts to open up his hand.  I did his dressing change yesterday, which you could imagine is pretty painful on fresh,  new skin.  He is a quiet, sweet, boy, and was shedding some seriously painful tears. (3rd-) His dad started crying because of the pain that his son was in, and unable to avoid the chain reaction, I started tearing up as well! It was not a pretty situation, but at the end, the dad said, "I am so grateful for what you do, I tell God Tenki."  

4th was another patient, Sally.  She is 28 and had a burn to the arm with contractures that we released.  I was doing her dressing change the other day and asked her how the burn happened.  She started to tear up and said that she was escaping from her village with her mom in a car full of people when the rebels through a bomb at their car.  She was able to escape, but her mom did not.  She was 13 at the time.  Unfortunately, over half of the burn patients here have similar stories.  And 15 years later now, they are finally getting treatment.   

and 5th was Esther and 6th was Alpha, which I already explained to you!

There is a ministry here in Freetown called Missionaries of Charity.  I thought I had talked about it before, but I can't find it in any of my old blogs.  It is a home that was developed under the tradition of Mother Teresa.  It is run by 4 nuns who all trained in Calcutta at Mother Teresa's ministry there.  Every Wednesday morning a group of Mercy Ship-ers go there.  I have gone quite a few weeks in a row now, and I fall in love with the people more each time!  The have a wide range of illnesses, some with TB, HIV, Malaria, malnutrition, etc.  And some are just handicapped or developmentally disabled, and have been abandoned their by their families.  The sisters are amazing, and the 2 hours we spend there give them a bit of a rest, since they are caring for the people 24/7.  There is a girl named Sadimba there who is a bit younger than me, and lost her arm in the war.  Every week we play memory, and she kicks my butt every time.  Last week she wrote  a song about having Hope in God.  After all she has been through, her faith is incredible.  

2 weeks ago, I held a tiny 4 month old baby.  You know the little skin-and-bone babies and children that you see on TV?  Well it is a much more humbling and heart-breaking experience when you actually hold one.  Some of the babies and children here are so malnourished when they get to Missionaries of Charity that they have no energy to laugh, cry, play.. nothing.  I could feel every rib in the 4 month old, and I felt like I was going to break him with every move I made.  He just laid on my chest with his eyes open, too tired to even sleep.  Last week I was holding a 5 year old boy that was about the size of a 2 year old.  His arm was the size of my thumb.  I was trying to color with him as he sat on my lap, and I would put the crayon in his hand and lift it to the paper.  He would scribble for about 10 seconds before he would get too tired, and resort to just staring at the paper.  I just want to hold them and take them home and love them!    What the sisters are doing is absolutely incredible.  Taking hopeless, ill people and giving them life again!

This little boy I have plans to steal.  His mother had surgery to release on her chest and let for burns.  She is in a lot of pain and it is hard for her to care for him, so us nurses have been taking turns!  He is a little crabby pants unless he is being carried!  Carrying babies on your back is the thing to do in Africa! It is called a Po-Po.  It is incredible, and I'm not sure why we don't do it in America!  It is super comfortable, the baby is happy, and your hands are free!  I can give medications, do charting, check vital signs, etc. with this little monkey on my back!  (The only risk is that you have to pray for no diarrhea-explosions, or it could be bad news for you..)  

Tomorrow I am going to the American Embassy!  I am taking some of my Sierra Leonian friends there to get information on studying in the US.  I have been helping them find information online, but I think we will find more information at the Embassy.  At first, I thought it was cliche and silly for Africans to want to study in the US.  They can just get an education in Sierra Leone, why does everyone want to go to America??  But unfortunately, with a degree from a local university, majority of people cannot get a job.  Most of these universities have been re-established in the 5 years since the war, and are still growing.  Businesses here highly respect education from western countries, so with a degree from the US, a job is pretty much guaranteed.  If anyone has any information on scholarships or grants for Africans studying in the US, let me know!  They have to take the TOEFL (Test Of English as Foreign Language) before even applying, and the test cost $160 USD, which is basically a lifetime savings over here, so it is quite a decision to make, and they need to have a good idea of a place to study before dishing out that kind of money.  So keep them in your prayers!

My accomplishment of the week: I went on an adventure into town- solo!  You may think this is nothing, but trust me, in Freetown, going out alone is huge!  I wasn't completely alone, because I met up with one of my local friends, but I had to get to his house by myself, and I succeeded!  I took an Okata (motorcycle taxi) and didn't even get ripped off in my price!  Some people find Okata transport to be crazy, but I think it's the way to go!  You get places so much faster, because the motos drive anywhere they want!  Right down the center line in bad traffic, on the sidewalks, anywhere!  :)  And so far, no wipe-outs!

More stories and adventures to come!  I currently have a dress being made at a local tailor (He is no Suzi George, but I'm excited!)  So I will be sure to share a picture when I get my new African-garb!

Love and hugs to all!

Prayer requests for this week:
- for Esther- that her scan for more cancer will come back negative
- For the children at Missionaries of charity- to put on weight quickly and get energy to be a real kid!
- For my local friends hoping to study in the US, that they will get promising information at the embassy, and hope for scholarships and grants!
- Post-op day 15 for many patients, and skin grafts are healing well! Continue to pray for ZERO infection!!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Night shift to remember!

     I worked night shift this past weekend, which was a lot more thrilling than one could imagine!  There is generally not a whole lot to do on night shift apart from treating pain and checking a few vital signs.  Some of the day-workers sneak away to hide and sleep, but I can convince some of them to stay and talk with me!  This weekend I spent hours talking to one man (we will call him Andy) about his experiences in the war.  What a sad and humbling experience to sit and listen to him share his stories with me.  He spent a good chunk of his childhood, roughly age 10-20 living in constant fear because of the rebels.  He explained to me how the rebels would scout the villages, sneak in, and ambush the town, killing anyone who ran away or refused to give money, or sometimes just killing and torturing people for no reason. 
     Andy's family was continually picking up and moving to new villages to try to avoid the rebel attacks, and try to find food.  Once when a city they were staying in was ambushed, they fled to the bush (jungle) and hid there for 3 months.  For 3 months they lived in the jungle eating only wild yam roots, and making small fires at night to cook and give light.  (He said at night the animals would stand around them in the jungle watching them- mostly monkeys, baboons, bush cows, etc.  The animals got so use to them being in there that the kids started playing little games of tag with the monkeys!)  They would sneak into town to find food and to get information on where the rebels were.  He also recalled a story of a young boy that he befriended and played football (soccer) with.  They became good friends, selling things on the street together and playing soccer in the evenings.  After a few weeks, the young boy told Andy in secret that he was a rebel.  He was sent to their village as a spy to find out who the wealthy and powerful were in the city.  The boy told Andy that the rebels would be attacking in 3 days, and he needed to get his family out of the village.  The boy said, "don't tell me where you are going or when you are going, because I will have to lead my people to you and kill you then.  Just leave and don't let me see you."  God had definitely blessed Andy in this situation and saved his family, because the rebels attacked the village just as the young boy had warned.  (Side note: crazy thing is that this boy is now living in Freetown driving Poda-Poda's (public transportation) for a living!  I hadn't thought about the fact that people I pass on the street every day, or people who drive my Poda-Poda's..could be past rebels)
     I was enthralled by his stories for hours, both heart broken and impressed to see how he has coped.  I won't share most of his stories with you, as they are way to horrific and graphic.  He is 27, and has seen and experienced things in his life that I could not imagine. His father and brother were both killed by rebels in the war, and he is the sole provider for his 2 sisters here in Freetown.  Despite all of this, he has such a positive and encouraging outlook on life.  It is a real lesson on learning to depend on Christ for your joy and comfort and not on your feelings and circumstances.
     Working night shift turned out to be more of a blessing than I had expected.  (Besides the fact that I slept for only 4 hours combine the whole weekend.. of which some of those hours were spent in a squishy shag-wagon!)  My Sierra Leonian friend Andy worked night shift with me again last night- my last of 3 nights in a row.  I was considerably tired due to my lack of sleep all weekend.  I was afraid he was going to sleep the night away and leave me by myself fighting to keep my eyes open.  I couldn't think of any exciting topics to discuss, so I figured I was SOL.  At the beginning of the shift I was sending an e-mail, and he sat down next to me, jaw dropped, and started laughing.  I looked at him, wondering what I did that was so funny, and he said, "look how fast you type! You're not even looking!"  It hadn't even crossed my mind that Sierra Leonians do not have the access to computers that we do.
     As Andy and I talked, I quickly learned that he has only been in front of a computer 7 times in his entire life.  A friend of his helped him set up an e-mail account 2 weeks before this, but he had no idea how to use it.  He went to the internet cafe by himself and took an hour just to login to his e-mail.  I decided that to occupy my night, we would do computer lessons!  Now I'm no computer wiz-- far from it actually.  In the US I would be considered computer illiterate, but to my friend Andy, I was Bill Gates!   Now, I thought helping my Mom and Dad on the computer was difficult (sorry Mom and Dad!), but I had to start at ground zero with Andy.  For instance- where do you type a web address?  What IS a web address??  how to open/close the internet, what is a search engine and how do you use it?  It was such a great experience for me to teach him.  Andy was so excited to learn, he was more awake that night than I have ever seen him during the day!
     7 hours later, He was searching information about his favorite soccer teams online, sending e-mails, and using Facebook!  Since it took him 10 minutes just to type a web address in, I decided we needed to do some typing tutorials. I opened a free online tutorial, and he spent 2 hours practicing how to type!  2 hours of, "fjfjfj kd kd lllgh..." etc.  I dozed off watching him, but he was thrilled!
     So many missionaries go overseas and spend so much time teaching computer classes.  I never fully understood why that was so important until now.  I hate to admit that computers rule our world, but it is true.  And when an entire country has virtually no access to or ability to use a computer, it makes it that much harder for them to get out of poverty and catch up to the advancing world.  Andy had been through school and graduated college with a degree in finance, and still had no access to computers.  Even the education system here looks so different because of the lack of computer access.
     By the end of night shift, I should have been exhausted, but it was hard for me to sleep because I was so excited for Andy.  I never realized how much of a blessing a simple computer lesson could be to him.  I feel like I just unlocked the world for him.

The rest of my weekend was nothing compared to my experiences with Andy, but I will sum them up quickly:

River #2 beach- absolutely beautiful! Just like the TV show LOST!

     - Took a 3 hour journey to the most tropical beach ever, taking Poda-Poda's, taxis, and motorcycles over roads that should not even be passable by pack mules. 
     - Floated down a real-life lazy river that was warm, clear blue, and lined with the softest white sand in the world.

     - Took an Okata (motorcycle taxi) to church.  Got lost and tried to help my driver find the way, and ended up driving through the middle of a soccer game.  Motorcycle apparel:  skirt, sandles, bicycle helmet.  (sorry Mom and Dad)
     - Drank a Sprite out of a glass bottle served to me by the pastor on Sunday-- it was filled with unidentified floaties.  Still not sick. fingers crossed.

   - Watched the most spectacular sunset yet from the top deck of the ship with an amazing African breeze cooling the hot air :)

Sorry for the lack of pictures this time!  My stories were all about night shift, where a camera is not exactly appropriate..

Prayer requests:
     - My patient, Lonny, who I talked about in past blogs went home today!  Pray for a welcomed return home for him, and continued wound healing with NO infection!
     - For Andy, that he can continue to mentally/spiritually heal from his war experiences, and that his new computer knowledge will open up a window of opportunity for him!
     - For our new plastics patients who just arrived today!  There are some very sweet children that I am excited to work with!

Love and miss you all! Continue to update me on your lives! I love to know what is going on State-side!


Saturday, September 3, 2011

Seke! (Hello in Temne)

     I have passed my 3 week mark with Mercy Ships, can you believe it?!  It is flying past, and I am already getting sad about having to say good-bye to Sierra Leone in 3 months.  But lets skip that subject and talk about my latest African adventures this past week! 
     We are slowly dwindling our patient numbers as we prepare for a our new plastics patients to come in next week.  Most of our large hernia/hydrocele wounds have been stitched up this week for hopefully the last time!  We have an amazing general surgeon here who is doing an amazing job of healing these men and getting them home.  Unfortunately he leaves on Monday, so we need URGENT prayers that these last few patients will heal quickly, and no one will return with complications!  We will not have a general surgeon for 2 weeks, so our Max Fax surgeon or Plastic surgeon would have to step up to the plate.  Please pray for quick healing and no problems!!

just a picture of everyday life!

As badly as I want to get these men home, they have become very dear to my heart, especially 2 of them.  They have been here since I first arrived, and were my first patients.  I have seen their pain and their joy, and I have seen how they have learned to depend on the Lord and on prayer for their comfort.  It is such an incredible process to watch.  A few days ago I had a very moving day at work, and it started with my dear friend, we will call him Lonny.  He was very concerned about being in the hospital because his wife and children had no access to money without him and he had no way to get money for them.  A few days before this was the first time he had seen his wife in 5 weeks.  He came into the hospital with wound complications, and hadn't talked to or seen his wife because her phone had recently been disconnected.  I asked him if I could pray for him and his family, and we sat and prayed for his families safety for a while.  Afterward, he said, "last time a women prayed for me because I hadn't heard from my wife, she got a ride to the ship the next day and I finally got to see her!  So I know that prayer works, and God will take care of my family because of this prayer."  It is so amazing to see how God has been showing himself to these men who have been hospitalized for months!
     That same evening we played some worship music at change of shift, and our last little plastics girl, I will call her Annie, sat on my lap while we sang.  Annie is a 5 year old girl who was badly burnt in a kitchen fire, and her final wounds are almost healed.  She is the worlds best snuggler, and I absolutely love holding a tiny little miracle in my arms as I worship Christ :)

   These adorable characters are some of patients who really touched my heart.  The little girl on the left is Annie, always full of smiles!  The man in the middle just went home 2 days ago!  He had bad foot wounds left over from the war.  He had a lot of skin grafting and wound care, and was finally able to leave the ship, but still returns daily for wound care.  He is a very sweet man who lost his wife and children during the war, and is still dealing with physical injuries and handicaps, but he is just spilling over with joy, and you can't help but smile when you are around him!  It is amazing to see, despite horrible circumstances, how much joy a person can have if they choose to!  The little boy on the far right is my little buddy who I played countless hours of tag with before he went home!

       If you recall in my last blog, I was going to attend my friend Frances' church on Sunday, which I did!  It was pouring rain but 2 friends and I made our way to the tiny church.  It turned out to be an amazing experience!  African church is so upbeat and energetic!  At the beginning of the service, they have a time for testimonies, where people can go up front and share share how they have experienced God's blessings.  Frances went up front and shared the story of how we met him, and how excited he was to see us at church and how much of a blessing we were to him!  The entire church came up to greet us and talk with us at the end of the service- they were a very welcoming, devoted, and family-like fellowship.  I look forward to going back! 
     One of the common threads I have seen in Sierra Leone churches is their terrible PA systems!  They already sing and talk loud enough, I don't know why they even need one!  Word of advice for anyone going to an African church: take ear plugs!
Hiking Sugarloaf!
     My latest adventure this week was a trip to Sugarloaf mountain.  5 other friends and I decided to take a day and hike the mountain!  We heard from several others who had hiked it before that it was "primitive" say the least.  I was thinking, "heck, I hike through the Quetico every year, it certainly can't be that bad!"  When we got there, we were simply guessing, based on some sketchy directions given to us by a friend, as to where the trail was.  Although we didn't find the correct trail on our first hike.. (or more like our first 4 hikes..) we did have an enjoyable time brush-crushing in a beautiful green jungle!  We hiked a few different trails for about 2 hours before we decided to to back-track and start from square one!  By the time we were all beaten raw by the jungle bushes, and dripping sweat from the humidity, we found the correct trail!  The hike was absolutely gorgeous, but it was very tough!  We were basically climbing up a huge pile of rocks that had a layer of vaseline on all of them, just to add to the challenge!  By the time we reached the summit (or what I call the summit at least--makes me feel less defeated that we didn't actually get to the top!) a rain cloud came pouring over the backside of the mountain and drenched us!  The rain was so refreshing, but it did add to the slippery rocks, and we decided it was too dangerous to go on.  Besides, we had a great view set before us already!  I felt like I was in the TV show lost as we were hiking through the jungle with a warm rain pouring down on us!  When we finally got back to the Land Rover, everyone was bleeding from somewhere, and we looked like we had been out for weeks!  I would share a picture of my legs and how cut up they are from the underbrush and rocks, but I think I will spare you the pain!  Lets just put it this way-- I convinced one of my day workers that I was attacked by a shark!
The hiking crew!  From left, Michael from Ghana, James from US, Jes from UK, Rachel from US, Julie from Canada, and me!

     It has been such an amazing past few weeks, and the rain clouds are finally starting to break up and each day there is more and more sunshine!  I'm excited for dry season, but at the same time, I' afraid the heat is going to be too intense!

Prayer requests this week:
 - For our general surgery patients- that they will be all stitched up and healed up before our Surgeon leaves on Monday!
-  We have a load of new nurses coming in next week, so pray for rapid acclimation and comfort!
-  For little Annie, that her wounds will finish healing and she will be able to go home!  (she is currently on bedrest to help heal her wounds more quickly..which you can imagine how easy that is for a 5 year old!)
-  For my friend Lonny, that his family will be safe, healthy, and have full bellies while he is still in the hopsital!

 Love and miss you all!  Send e-mails and snail mail!  I love updates from home :)

-Danelley (as the African's call me!)