Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Be Strong and Courageous

“Be strong and courageous. Do not fear, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6.  The need for courage is a theme that has been reoccurring several times over the past month as I watch and care for my patients.

When I first arrived to the ship, I was working with the VVF women who had had surgery 2 weeks prior, and were just finishing healing and treatment before going home.  Last April I also worked with VVF, stands for vesico-vaginal-fistula.   VVF is a complication of child birth where a women who has no access to medical care labors for days or even weeks.  Normally in a developed country a women in obstructed labor would have a C-section and be fine.  But here in West Africa, these women have so much trauma from the pressure of the baby who is literally stuck inside of them, that they end up with tissue damage which causes them to leak urine and/or feces constantly for the rest of their life.  They are usually left by their husbands and banished from their village due to their foul smell and forced to fend for themselves, alone, for the rest of their lives.

VVF dress ceremony celebration for the "dry" women

When I arrived on the ship in February, most of the women who had healed properly had already had their joyful party and gone home to celebrate and rejoin their communities.  The women who were still on the ship were mostly failed surgeries.  It is a very difficult surgery, and there is such a small amount of tissue area to work with that sometimes the fistula can’t be fixed.  When I talk about courage, these women are a shining example.  They have come to the reality that they have to go back and face their communities- still leaking urine and feces.   Despite their devastating news, the women continued to be joyful and uplifting on the ward.  They would sing and dance, give the biggest, most loving hugs every time you started your shift, and never let their circumstances affect their kindness towards others.  Though many of them weren’t Christian, they were truly a reflection of Christ in His love for others despite his grim future of death on a cross.

A normal day on the ward, with patients, nurses, and translators

I saw courage portrayed again during our screening day for patients for plastic surgery.  Our plastic surgeon is now here (yay!) so we saw about 50 possible patients with issues need skin grafting such as burn contractures or large tumor removals.  Some of these patients came from very far, traveling for days to get here just for the chance that they might receive surgery.  Not only that, but some of them have such large deformities that they probably never enter the public eye for fear of mocking and ridicule.  But they have learned to hide it so well with scarves around their neck, or draped over one eye to cover large tumors, or long skirts to cover bent legs or deformed feet. 
On screening day I was working to go over each patient’s paperwork and to help move patients from the waiting area in to see the surgeon.  It was encouraging to see their transformation from sitting in the waiting area with down cast eyes, looking tired and scared and unsure of their decision to come to the ship.  After they see the surgeon they have a long waiting time again, not knowing if they will be accepted for surgery or not.  At the end of the long, hot day we start handing out appointment cards and instructing the patients when to come for surgery and it is incredible to see how they change from fear to joy as they find out they are going to have surgery and hopefully have an miraculous change in their life.  The courage it took these patients to decide to come out of hiding and take a chance on a life changing surgery is inspiring.

Now that plastic surgeries have just started, I will be working on the dressing change team doing the dressing changes on all of the skin graft surgeries every day.  We started already this week and have done a few dressing changes on hands and legs.  The hardest part about doing a dressing change is the pain and fear that we inflict on a person!  I remember last year in Togo while I was doing a dressing change on a young boy, my friend came in to watch and when the boy started screaming and crying he got a sour look on his face and left immediately.  Afterwards I asked him why he left, and he said, “It made me nauseous to watch you torture that little boy!  How can you do that?!”
The first few dressing changes I did here in Guinea were difficult for the patients, but I always go into the ward a few hours later and check to make sure they still like me and don’t hate me!

Now don’t think it’s been all work and seriousness for me these past few weeks!  Here’s a look into the fun I’ve had exploring Conakry:
Roume Island (photo by June)

Ship wreck! (photo by June)
Trip to Roume island!  What a beautiful place!  We took a wooden boat out of the local fishing village, weaving and winding through the harbor.  Why were we weaving and winding you ask?? Well to get around all of the ship wrecks of course!  I kid you not, I saw at least 6 ship wrecks on our 45min trip to the island.  And not little boats, BIG ocean liners!  I have no idea what happened, but I don’t think I want to find out!  Once we got to the island, we set up camp in a cute little palm branch bungalow and played in the sand and water all day.   
our tasty dinner (photo by C. Fast)
We made a delicious dinner of fresh fish and French fries (Ok, all I did was peel the potatoes, the boys did all the cooking!)  Then we made a campfire on the beach and watched the stars!  As we were lying on the beach watching the stars, my friend Christina says, “where is the moon?  …wait, is there no moon in Africa?”  We bust out laughing at her, but let me tell you--- I have YET to see the moon in Guinea!  I’m starting to think she might be right... I’ll keep you updated on my investigation.

part of the crew at the beach (By C. Fast)

Up to this point in my island-adventure-story, the island was a beautiful adventure.  But then the beach demons came out.  AKA- crabs!!!  I did not sleep a WINK that night because 1) contrary to common belief, sand is NOT soft and fluffy, and 2) I had crabs running over me all night long!  Every time I would get comfortable something would scamper over my foot, or run into my leg, or try to climb up my side.   Not pleasant.  Needless to say, Dogara did a few crab-chases and removals for Christina and me! 

Prayer requests:
- We have 5 weeks of plastic surgery ahead of us.  Pray for NO infection! And pain free, quick recoveries.
- Pray for peace in Guinea due to some political and tribal conflicts
- For my upcoming plans once I leave the ship end of April.  More details to come!


  1. thanks for sharing. wow what an experience. so proud of my baby. prayers are always with you. hugs. grandma flo

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