I’ve realized I haven’t talked much about our work here. I wanted to provide some images of our work and life on the ships, but they still don’t cover it all. I will try to fill you in more in the future.
I cannot take credit for any of these photos – they are from a French magazine called Le Pointe – they visited here in November and I worked with them to get theri story about Mercy Ships. These photos are all by Gaelle Magder. She did such a good job in capturing scenes I find hard to do. You can read the full story (in French) online at their website at http://www.lepoint.fr/slideshow/view_slide?id=30 .
Monica, my friend from Norway on the gangway with a little patient. She worked on our ‘dockside unit’ which provides post operative care to patients who return to get their wounds checked. Monica isn’t smiling here which is funny because she always was smiling. She’s gone back to Norway now.
Eye patient at the dockside unit. The eye chart on the left is an illiteracy chart that allows us to test eyes without the patient knowing how to read. The ‘E’ is just rotated around, and we ask patients to tell us which direction the ‘legs’ of the E are pointing. This lady is getting her eyes tested after surgery, probably a few weeks back.
Another eye patient gets tested. We do about 8 cataract surgeries per day. In the 8 months in Ghana, we did over 1,100. We only replace one eye even if both are bad, so that we can help more people. Otherwise, if we did both, we could only do half as many people. Doing one eye returns mobility and quality of life. We see cataracts in young people as well as old.
We have eye clinics in town that see over 200 people a day, screening them for potential surgeries on board. Only a very small percentage are referred to the ship for surgery.
Recently our chief dentist saw a man who had 3 cm of a knife blade embedded in his cheek for the last 15+ years. The man wondered why his cheek was swollen periodically and ran with pus. The man came on the ship for surgery and the dentist took the blade out. I’ve got a story we wrote on this if you want to see it, I’ll email it to you. I can’t post it here.
Eye patients waiting in our exam room on board, the tape is over the eye they will operate on. For most people this is the first time they’ve seen a hospital and they do remarkably well. They are willing to endure anything to get help, even their deep fears of the unknown.
This is the eye operating room. We have three operating rooms, one dedicated to eyes. Everything on the ship is so small, and the corridors just outside these ORs are jammed with everything: people, medical supplies, and the occasional mop and bucket.
This is Dr. Neil Murray, an opthalmic surgeon shown operating in the photo, above. He and his wife, Tania, served on the ship for a long time. I was friends with them and we traveled together on weekends while in Ghana. He also loved to go surfing. He is now with Christian Eye Mission, and will be serving in Togo.
Here is a shot of another operating room, yes those are port holes. Ironically, they face out to the dockside area where patients are waiting to enter. The operating room is tiny. This shot was taken with the entrance door open.
Another OR shot. The surgeons (about 3-4) at any time, come in and out, for which we book patients according to the surgeon’s specialty. Many come several times a year. The only constant surgeon is our chief medical officer, Dr. Gary Parker.
We specialize in surgeries that address stigmatizing conditions, especially those of the face and neck. We rebuild faces after people have lost noses or jaws due to Noma, remove tumors, repair cleft lips and palates, and do other facial surgeries. We also do burn contracture repairs and Vesico Vaginal Fistula surgeries.
The sainthood is not for the 20 years, but for his amazing servant attitude and humble heart. His unending strength to do surgery after surgery is from God, he says, he couldn’t do it otherwise. He says he still has alot to learn from the West African culture.
A child has been operating on (looks like his eye) and is still asleep. This woman is the child’s mother, who is waiting until he wakes up. Notice she also has a baby on her back. I remember the child did wake up and started screaming his head off. Awakening from surgery with a patch over your eye and tubes in your arm is very frightening for a West African kid.
It may seem strange to see the beds so close, and it is a function of our small ward size, however, it is not a problem for the West Africans, who find comfort in being in community, not isolated. After a couple of days after surgery, they begin to talk and socialize with others there. Some feel more accepted than ever in their life, as they see people with similar or worse disfigurements, and realize they are not alone.
Many women bring their babies with them to the ship even though they are the patients themselves. Whether the child or the mother is the patient, they both sleep in our tiny Ward beds together. Many times the kids will wander about the Ward, and the nurses and other patients will get to know them.
Again, in West Africa, which is community oriented, this is a normal experience. Kids grow up very socialized with many different types of people — and they obey all adults.
Some patients are well known. This man, Alex, has had the flesh eating virus, Noma, attack his face, as many of the patients we see, have had. (Noma is curable with simple antibiotics, but left untreated will literally eat away at the face. The patients we see have no noses or holes in their jaws or cheeks, which our surgeons miraculously rebuild.)
Alex lost not only his nose, but a better part of the lower face and jaw. He has been persistent in coming to us multiple times from his home country of Benin not only in Liberia and Ghana but in other countries we were in as well. He has had major constructive surgery, with our surgeons taking skin from his back and elsewhere to place on his face.
His tremendous spirit was astounding, as he talks of praising God for his life. He was an educated man, who taught school, until the disease’s disfigurement made it impossible to teach. Even with several surgeries, he still wears a cloth over his face as his nose is completely gone and there is a skin flap for a mouth. His native language was French, and even for French speakers on board, it was difficult to underwtand him, so he wrote out notes on a board to communicate, as he is doing here.
Before he left for his home, while we were in Ghana, he was diagnosed as having cancer in his face. Please pray for this man who has seen so much anguish yet still faces life head on.
Although it is not required of the patient, we minister to the patients spiritual needs while they are with us if they wish. Many testify that their surgery and healing was from God.
Here’s another shot of the ward service. The translators provide music and singing. We’ve learned a few West African Christian songs and sing along. They are so jubilant and open about their faith. They smile and praise God.
Sometimes (most times) there are people we cannot help. Here, Clementine, who is our counselor for the ward, comforts a child and his mother who has been diagnosed by our doctors as having cancer. We do not operate on cancer patients, because we do not have the resources.
In the case of this boy and his mother, we were the last hope, and now all they have are Clementine, and God.
(pause for a moment, please, and consider).
We even have a hair salon which was already on the ship from its 1953 vintage days as an ocean liner. Our stylist, Rosemary keeps us looking good, although little Etienne, here, isn’t so happy to be having his hair cut.
This is Solfrid Quist, our executive director. She is from Norway. Together with the Captain, they are responsible for the ship, crew and programming.
Here is a construction site, with Rene, our other construction site supervisor standing on our bobcat.
We also do HIV AIDs training with local churches to teach them how to talk about AIDS within their congregation and their community.
After dinner, we had a Thanksgiving service, and the African women crew members danced into the service with baskets of West African fruits: mangoes, papayas, pineapples, bananas … showing the plenty that God provides in time of harvest to any nation. It was a great event.