Monday, March 31, 2008

an international fashion revolution

What girls on hospital ships do for fun on the weekends...(well, what girls like us do for fun on the weekends..)

The letters UNMIL hold a special meaning to anyone who has been on the Africa Mercy. The official uniform of the weekend warrior.

We have taken the 1.5 mile journey to the small Mecca on UN Drive and feel the world should share in our discovery.

Here is a sneak peak at an international fashion revolution. These shirts are hot.

see more of the revolution here

Sunday, March 30, 2008

to be still

“Sit still my daughter.” Ruth 3:18

I am not very good at sitting still. I often feel as if my brain were running in ten conflicting directions at the same time, which could be the source of my continual series of near miss disasters (For example, I nearly dropped a plastic plate on my bunkmates head when I crawled out of bed this morning..I felt terrible about it! Poor Michelle!!).

As I near the end of my time in Africa (I will be leaving in two months, unbelievable!!) I find myself trying to figure out what on earth one does after spending a year living on a hospital ship in West Africa. It’s always nice to have a plan or at the very least goal of some sort. For the past three years coming here has been my goal. And now it’s almost over. And the only future plans I can come up at the moment are to take the summer off, go to Coatsville with Sr. High (it’s a camp we run for inner city’s wonderful!!), and spend some time at the beach with my family. Which all sounds very nice to me but provides very little future delineation.

Uncertainty can breed contempt or it can make life completely exciting. The best assessment of the Christian life I have ever heard is that it is a complete adventure. I could not agree more.

I find it easy in my head to run ahead to the future and try to precisely figure out what is next. To work hard at creating my own security and carefully devised plan. To get so caught up in my own strength, my own business, my own ideas, that I miss the joy of today and forget the Lord who simply wants to be with me. When I come before the Lord I find Him telling me to “Sit still my daughter.”

To sit still and allow Him to bring all good things into fruition. To sit still and enjoy His creation. To sit still and find the joy in each day. To sit still and let His hands mold the vessel of my life. To sit still and enjoy His presence. To still and be confident in His love. To sit still and trust His wisdom. To sit still and surrender to His authority. To sit still and know that He is God.

I have really been enjoying my time with the patients. Everyday is filled with some priceless experience. As my time here comes to and end I hope to enjoy and appreciate the privilege of being here rather than become pre-occupied with the future. To sit still in the midst of each day. To learn to love the Lord and to love others.

I have much to learn.

no windows here

I have a habit of staying up late. I'd like say it was a side effect of ship life or the downside of shift work but I'd be lying to myself. I solved the world's problems on my couch with my brother at 3 am enough times to convince me it's an internal problem. Or just a natural bent.

On the weekends breakfast is served from 6:30 7:30 on weekdays; 7:30 to 9:00 am on weekends. For the first two weeks I was here I went to breakfast every morning. Then I got smart and realized a piece of toasted bread was never worth waking up before 8 am. I only attend breakfast on weekdays when I am working a day shift.

But sadly, on the weekends, lunch is not served; you have to pack a lunch at breakfast. And here in lies the dilemma; be awake and interacting with people before 9 am on a Saturday or go hungry until dinner. I don't like to be hungry. I generally roll out of bed as close to 9 am as possible.

The travel alarm clock I brought to the ship has not served me very well. It does not wake me if I am wearing two ear plugs and the digital screen is now malfunctioning. It's hard to distinguish between numbers like 6 and 8.

When my alarm went off this morning I rolled out of bed, brushed my teeth, and headed towards the dining room. When I reached the top of the steps, it was strangely quiet. I also noticed that it still looked dark outside (I have no windows in my cabin so I wouldn't know). Then I realized it was not 8:30, but 6:30. I had been smitten by an malfunctioning alarm clock.

I walked back into my cabin and slept until 8:30. I'll make sure it's set for 8:30 tonight.

Saturday, March 29, 2008


My morning started with a phone call in my room at 7;08 AM. "Meggee..we need you in D ward."
Apparently my alarm clock had not gone off. A nauseated feeling ran through my body. Fortunately, my commute is all of 30 feet and I made it to report by 7:13. While sitting in our circle of nurses still 3/4 asleep, I heard a screaming child from behind the curtain that veiled the patients in the ward.

"That's Phillip. He hasn't been able to eat all night." His screams were understandable.

In report I was told Phillip had an eye tumor that was going to be removed that morning. When I went to assess him and check his paper work I did notice the typical bulge I expected. His eye seemed fine.

But when the lights were on I noticed his left eye had a slight roll. When you looked directly into it a clear yellow flashed in place of his pupil. Something was wrong.
The next day, Phillip was my patient again. It was Thursday. His surgery had been postponed until Friday. We would just get to hang out. When I went to his bedside his mother tugged my arm.
"Are they going to take Phillips eye out?" she asked.

I told her I didn't know, but I would make sure the surgeons clearly explained what they would be doing tomorrow when they made their morning rounds. She seemed content with my answer.

The surgeons came around and explained to the mother that Phillips eye would be removed. She took it well, the tumor would have to be removed, but no mother wants to see their 2 year old lose an eye. Later in the morning, she tugged my arm again.

"What causes tumors?" she asked.

Her intonation and body language indicated a guilty conscience. Not to surprising. Many people here think sickness is a direct result of a curse or something someone has done. A sad belief system.

I explained to her that tumors can be caused by many things and that many people from my home have tumors. Sometimes we don't know what causes them.

"It's not caused by anything you have done," I said.

"It's not because I had my pleasure when I was pregnant? I am told that causes tumors".

"No, nothing you did caused Phillips tumor."

Her conscience seemed relieved at my explanation. How sad to think she would put the guilt of her baby's sickness on herself.
Phillip is from Sierra Leone. He is two years old. I heard of a study that said two year old boys were the most active people on the planet. Phillip provided great evidence for this theory. He didn't stop moving all day.

He laughed. He spun around in the middle of the ward for the sole purpose of making himself dizzy and then laughed hysterically when he fell to the ground like a drunk soldier. He took off his gown and his underwear and ran around the ward naked; hysterically laughing the entire time until his mother snatched him and made him decent again. He followed around our translator who was mopping the floor and tipped over her entire bucket of water, flooding the left side of D ward. The floor got a little extra shine on Thursday. It probably needed it.

Later in the afternoon his mother tugged my arm again.

"Could you take Phillips photo? When he is older, he will want to know why his eye is out," she said. I agreed.

That afternoon we went outside and I took a few photos of Phillip and his mother. Phillip spent most of the time out side kicking around a soccer ball. He looked like a mad wind up toy with an inexhaustible amount of energy. A total two year old boy. A very cute two year old boy.
The next evening I popped my head into D ward an learned that Phillip still had not had surgery. Apparently he did not have tumor but an inflammatory process that would not be resolved by surgical intervention. He was able to keep his eye.

Friday, March 28, 2008

old friends

When I arrive back from lunch, Laura, who works in post ops and sees all of our patients on their follow up appointments, told me Grace and baby Anthony were here and they wanted to say hello. I walked down an found them both.

Anthony is getting so big! He is starting to lose is newborn look and mature into the title of infant. As I held him and talked to Grace (his mother) I heard another familiar coo. The room has a small "hallway" and two curtain covered cubicle's. Behind the curtain I was standing next too was baby Kumassah. She was getting her poet-op care today as well.

Kumassah is also growing. Her legs and belly and even chunkier than when she left! Her mother somehow manged to place the small amount of tiny frowish black curls she has into three very tight rubber banded knots on her scalp. It honestly looked a little painful. I was happy to see sweet little Kumassah.

As I walked out the door of the post op room to head back towards the ward, a pair of small arms tackled my knees. I looked down and saw one of the largest, whitest, ten year oldish smiles I have ever seen. It was Emmanuel from last outreach. Last summer he had one of his club feet repaired. He was getting x rays taken so he can have his second foot repaired.

Emmanuel lives at an orphanage and he came with his caretaker Lucy. Emmanuel interrupted her while she was in the bathroom so she could say hello :). I was also was the beneficiary of a huge smile and hug from Lucy. Emmanuel even introduced me as "auntie" his (success! my goal once more being accomplished).

Lucy asked the typical "how have you been" question's Liberian women asked,

"Do you have babies?"


"Are you married?"


"Is Melanie married (another nurse)?"

"No. I don't think so- but Stephanie is married and is going to have a baby." (Stephanie was here last outreach and got married after leaving the Africa Mercy in the fall)

(A huge, approving smile breaks out as I have finally spoken some words of worth :)

"Oh, Emmanuel. You remember auntie Stephanie? She is going to have a baby."

You can read a previous post about Emmanuel.

Later in the day, I heard Manja's mother (Manja was another patient from last year who I was in love with. She might just be the prettiest little girl baby ever :) was searching for me to say hello.

It was just really nice to know that people remember the care and love you have showed them. We don't love looking to be loved in return; but it sure is nice when our hearts are reciprocated. When our love is returned.

I was happy my former patient and I'm happy that they were happy to see me :).

photos from today

Phillip. He's two. He has a lot of energy.
He's just plain old cute.
We have a hair dresser on the ship and this week I got my hair cut and colored. And it only cost 8$. Pretty fun seeing I have never dyed my hair before. It's now a dark brownish reddish color. I really like having my hair a different color. This could turn into an addiction.
One of our patients. He did the split and then said "click me" (meaning take my picture).
Todd, our token male ward nurse, with the "D ward boys club".

Thursday, March 27, 2008

commercial breaks (today was a lovely day)

I am writing between the commercial breaks of the UNC vs. Washington St. NCAA men's east regional basketball game. The sweet 16 is pretty sweet. I am still amazed that I am watching it live in Liberia.

Today was lovely.

I was in ward, which for the first time since the outreach started, was not busy. So, I had time to hang out with my patients; which I am really fond of doing. Henry was my patient today. In the bed next to him was Andrew, who has a large infected area on his shoulder from a remove tumor, who has a bulky and very painful dressing change three times a day.

Dr. Mark, a surgeon from New York, came early in the morning to change Andrew's dressing and debride his wound, Andrew was premedicated but it still is not a fun procedure.

Halfway through the dressing change, both Henry and another patients were sitting on Andrew's bed helping Mark with his dressing change. Kirstie, our charge nurse, asked Mark if he needed a curtain for privacy. Mark said know; Henry and his friend were offering Andrew moral support. As Mark changed the dressing, and remove dirty tissue, they clapped an cheered.

It was priceless. Not something I will ever see in the States.

During nursing school I had enough experiences with flagrantly sassy old men to determine for me that I really only every wanted to provide nursing care to women and children. But the "Boys Club" in D ward has seemingly proved me wrong. They were a joy to care for.

I am excited to find out what on earth is next in my life, but I am going to miss the patients. Some of the experiences I have had are simply priceless.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


Henry has been with us for about a month now. If he had not come to the ship, it is most likely he would not be alive today.
For the past two years I have experienced pain, which at times was rather significant, in my right molar. My wisdom teeth have been lingering at my gum line waiting to join the cave of my mouth for about the same amount of time. I always attributed the pain to my elusive wisdom and felt bad for teething children.
In October, the pain intensified, putting me on a week long diet of painkillers, until finally one after noon I looked in the mirror to find that my entire jaw had started to swell. I was placed on antibiotics, continued to take my pain medications, and in a few days the swelling went down. An x ray revealed that I had a massive infection (that was probably there for a few years) that had been untreated and ruined my tooth. It was so bad, the ship dentist thought the tooth might need to be extracted.

oops. next time my teeth hurt I probably won't wait until my jaw swells to see a dentist.

When I was home for Christmas I had to get a root canal on my back right molar. I saw two dentists in the course of three days to have the problem properly cared for. My tooth and I are now doing fine.
There are over 3 million people and less than five dentists in the country of Liberia. So, there is roughly one dentist for every million people.

Which means, if you get an infection, or a cavity, or an abscess, you are most likely not going to have it treated.

Henry had a dental infection. Probably similar to mine. But sadly for Henry, he did not have a dentist to go to. He didn't have antibiotics to take. He couldn't have root canal done.

When he came to the Africa Mercy, Henry was in danger of losing his airway and going septic. His infection had consumed his face, spread down his neck, and infiltrated his chest. He was taken to surgery and over 17 drains were placed in his body to remove the puss.
He has been wearing a huge bandage that covers his face and chest. When I changed if a few weeks ago, most of the skin on his chest was sliding off the muscle in his body.

All because of an infected tooth.

I can happily report that Henry is doing well. He is in his 20's and has decorated his bedside with original crayon and marker drawings. Although he will still probably need some skin grafting on his chest, his wounds are healing beautifully. But perhaps the best part is that he is here; and he is alive.

Sadly, there are thousands of Liberians with the same story as Henry who will die this year.

All because of an infected tooth.
I will think twice before complaining next time I need a cavity filled.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

madness. march.

I know my dad was probably a little upset after this weekend. And that his bracket is severely ruined. Why? because four out of the five Big East team were eliminated from the NCAA Men's national basketball tournament. Villanova is all the Big East has left (which is pretty exciting seeing they are a 12 seed).

Life on the ship can be challenging. Sometimes it's frustrating when just want to read Bible for an hour by yourself and after 45 minutes of moving and trying to hide you realize your efforts are completely futile: there just isn't anywhere quiet to go. I'm really looking forward to long summer drives at night, quiet mornings with fresh coffee, and fields full of thick green grass.

But I would be a liar, as I sit in my air conditioned cabin with my wireless Internet, if I told you my life on the ship was hard. It's really not. I think this is basically the Beverly Hills of missionary life. really.

I didn't have time to fill out a bracket this year. I have broken a family tradition but I guess it will just have to forgivable. However, our ship has a satellite and I was able too watch three full hours of march madness glory. And I even watched with people who enjoy college basketball even more than I do and get equally excited about a last minute three point shot that goes in.

Big plans are in motion to ensure that we have the ESPN channel signed out this weekend. We might even eat pizza as we watch.

I really love college basketball. I can't believe I get to watch from Liberia.

Yeah, my life is pretty is tough.

Monday, March 24, 2008

solomon and samuel

I can officially go home. The twins mother said, "You are Solomon and Samuel's auntee." My family will attest that my most proclaimed and premeditated goal for my time in Africa was to convince as many children as possible to call me "auntee megan". She called me "aunte meggee", but I feel that it still counts. mission accomplished.

Solomon was such a happy baby. He loved to clap, smile, and laugh. Last night her serenaded me with a series of rather determined coos and intonations. He had so much to say. Aside from his general delight fullness Solomon was a great snuggler. Some babies resist love; not Solomon. Once you picked him up it was not long until he relaxed his entire body, burrowed his head into your neck, and melted into you chest. We slow danced in this state on several occasions. I am under the opinion that holding a baby is one of the most amazing experiences in life. They are just so wonderful.

This is Solomon. When his brother Samuel came back from surgery he was in a great amount of pain and demanded the soothing of his mother. I cannot imagine having twins. Two small people who need you all the time. wow.

Their mother could not comfort Samuel and watch Solomon. So, Solomon was crawling and squirming on his bed...looking like a head injury waiting to happen. It did not require much imagination to see him toppling off the bed. Seeing that I was busy with my other patients I could not hold Solomon the entire shift (although I would have liked to do so) but I also really was not interested in taking care of a neurologically injured child. So did the only logical thing. I strapped Solomon on my back.

If I ever have kids they are going to be strapped on my back. It's just so efficient. I don't care how strange the neighbors might think I am.

Solomon stayed on my back for about an 1 1/2. If you ever are feeling unloved I recommend strapping a baby to your back. I never knew I had so many friends. Solomon was a huge popularity booster.
But it's not very hard to see why. I happily obliged sparing him from a head injury.
The twins went home today. They are nine months old, both have chunky legs, and are extremely snuggly. This morning I checked on them and found them both fast asleep each on different sides of their mother. It was a priceless picture. They have both gotten a ridiculous amount of attention from the nursing staff. But they really are more than worthy of every minute of it.
I'd be lying if I didn't admit that my heart is easily stolen by cute boys under the age of two, but I feel these boys pulled on my heartstrings with a heavier than usual weight. I'm going to miss their snuggles.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

the priest

the priest.

A pair of chuncky, soft legs danggled between a mothers set of strong hands. Carefully, the baby was laid onto the unknown alter of a hospital bed. A sacrifice had been made.

Laughter was soon permeating the room like a potent, burning incence. A nine month old boy was smiling and rolling around the bed ignorant of the grace that was about to be poured onto his life. He had been chosen.

Samuel, a child of God, was born with a cleft lip and palate. Anointed at birth with shame by gaping hole in the center of his face, it seemed he was destined for a life of rejection. But Samuel has a loving mother. A mother who was willing to place her babies life in the hands of a man she didn't know. She trusted God with his life.

24 hours later Samuel's laughter morphed into tears. His life had been consecrated by instruments of healing, which had cut deep and left him in tremendous pain. His face was well girded by thick, plastic strips which supported his newly formed face. Forcefully raising his arms in protest, his mother gently wrapped him in a white sheet and pressed him against her chest.

She had dream for the baby she held. Perhaps he would speaks before kings. Perhaps he would fight corruption. Perhaps he would free the oppressed. Perhaps he would hear the voice of God.

His newly formed lip and palate will forever serve as a memorial of remebrance that his life has been marked by God.

Perhaps he will use his new lips to tell the world of what God has done for him.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

the vvf ward

Dr. Steve, our frequent VVF surgeon, just finished three weeks of VVF repair surgeries on Thursday. All of the women who have received surgery this time a repeats. Sometimes it takes two or three surgeries before the women are dry.

This weekend of have been in A ward, home of the VVF ladies. It's the first time for me this outreach. Last weekend I was walking through the hospital and stopped A ward to see the ladies (I knew many of them from outreach). When I came in the ward was mysteriously silent. Let's be honest; any room full of women is rarely silent. I looked up at the TV and saw they were showing the documentary "A walk to beautiful." Check you local listings. This film documents a VVF hospital in Ethiopia and shows the painful and triumphant stories of five young women affected by VVF and there journey to finding healing. It's beautiful. It's sad. It's funny. You need to see it.

I sat on the bed of one of the patients and watched the film with the women. They were mesmerized. They were watching their stories.

I won't go into details so as not to spoil it for you, but it gave me a new appreciation for the heartbreak and pain these women experience. It broke my heart to think of how mistreated and forgotten these women are. I nearly broke down in the middle of the room. I wondered what they were thinking as they watched the stories of other women like them.

They VVF ladies are fun. And quite sassy. For example, tonight I was pouring meds at the nurse station when I felt two distinct pinches on my butt. Curious and surprised, (and possibly offended..) I turned around and saw Garmai laughing with a fixed mischievous smile.

Garmai is a very memorable lady. She is a bigger women (last night when I went to take her blood pressure she informed me,"It's two small. You can try, but it won't work." She was right; I spent 20 minutes finding a larger cuff) whoh wears a gaudy gold wedding ring on her right hand and she often speaks of her husband. She knows how to read and is working through the book, "Bringing God's Deliverance". Every night she puts on her silk nightgown and reading glasses; gets out her Bible, the book, a note pad and pen and reads. She takes notes and frequently says, "Amen," and "Yes, Father," during these sessions. Last outreach she regularly stood and gave sermons to her hostage ward mates. Tonight she asked me if I had a boyfriend and upon my answer of "no", she prophesied over me saying, "This will be your year." I'm just glad she didn't say I was going to have "plenty plenty babies".

I have decided Garmai is the ward's matriarchal grandmother. I really like her. She makes me laugh plenty plenty.

It's nice to be back wit the VVF ladies. A few of them are still teenagers. A few are depressed because the y are still leaking. A few are joyful because they are dry. But they are all God's children. They are all His precious little girls.

It's amazing to be able to tell them they are precious. To show them they are loved. Last night I tucked all my patients into bed and wished them off to sleep with a kiss on the forehead. It made them smile and laugh. My last few patients gave me an expectant glance after I took their vital signs and smiled and giggled when I tucked them in. No one touches these women. They are outcasts.

I love that I get to love on them.

Friday, March 21, 2008

the third H

My friends and I have a bit of a joke about the third "H" of Mercy Ships that you don't find out about until you come. We do see a lot of hope. We do see a lot of healing. But we also see a lot of heartache, the unspoken third "H".

I am working nights all weekend. Tonight is the first of four. I woke up around noon (actually, the captain made me wake up at 8:50 for a fire drill, so I really did not get much sleep today, which is not really appreciated seeing I am very tired and now responsible for the lives of nine patients. A rather weighty responsibility to carry. You can understand my frustration of being denied my proper rest...) Around 3 pm I was on deck 7 snuggling and slow dancing with the cutest boy you will ever meet. I'm actually pretty certain he likes me (his name is Solomon and he is nine months old). While I was up there I was informed that a former patient was in the post ops room and wanted to say hello.

It happened to be a very cute little baby, so I happily obliged and went down to the hospital.

I found a mother waiting for me. She told me she wanted to ask me a question. I have been here long enough to understand that it meant she was going to ask for something. But I wasn't ready for the request.

With complete seriousness the request came

"The baby's father wants to know if you will take him. If you will carry him to America."

The word "I" was not used. It was "The baby's father." I have a very good friendship with this mother; I know she loves her child. I know she would never want to part with him. But I also know that the father did not want the child before, because of his deformity. Perhaps, even though the baby is recovering perfectly and is an absolute joy, he still doesn't want it.

I can't imagine being that mother. I can't imagine being married to a man that wanted to make me give up my child because it was less than perfect. It's sad to see how women are mistreated here. I am reminded everyday how privileged I am to be a woman in a western country. I won't ever have to worry about developing a fistula or being forced by a husband to give a baby. I don't know what it's like to live in a country where rape is legal. I know how to read and write. I'm allowed to have my own opinion about things. I'm even able to be totally independent.

My heart broke at the request. To take the baby. An unavoidable encounter with the third H. I can only pray that the father has a change of heart and that the Lord blesses the mother with every good thing.

Thursday, March 20, 2008


Cynthia at screening day.

Cynthia has always had a great smile.

I remember seeing her at screening day. She and her mother were sitting outside the room full of doctors waiting to be seen. Cynthia was sitting on her moms lap playing with a balloon and eating bread. And smiling.

I bent down so that I was at her eye level and asked if she's like her picture taken. She laughed and put on a bit of a show. I took her picture. She laughed again when I showed it to her on the LCD screen of my camera. She has a joyful, spunky little soul.

On Monday night, Cynthia joined us on D ward. After about five seconds of shyness and environment acclamation, she was running around the ward saying hello to all the nurses, smiling, laughing, and playing with any toys she could find. She wasn't my patient but I could not help but say hello. We ended up dancing together in the middle of the ward without any music.

One of the many perks of working with children is that you can be as silly and crazy and imaginative as you like and regardless of how mad your actions might appear on the surface, they are still considered socially acceptable. I'm never working with adults :).

Carlos, every one's favorite Brazilian biomedical technician/adopt a patient extraordinaire/balloon artist (Carlos is multi-talented and great!!) came to the ward around 8 pm to make balloon creations for the kids. Cynthia got a hat which she proudly wore the rest of the night and a Orange balloon that served as a volleyball/general entertainment for the rest of the shift. She is a beautiful free-spirit and the ward was deliciously permeated with child laughter for most of the night.

After I reported off to the night nurses I took Cynthia for a walk around the hospital so the night nurses could get themselves settled without being smacked in the head with an orange balloon. I showed her all the wards, took her into the laundry room to see how we wash the cloths here, and showed her the world map filled with pictures of out staff. She seemed to like it. She kept smiling.

Yesterday, Cynthia received free surgery to repair her cleft lip. I was her nurse when she came back from the OR. When she wook up she wasn't scared, she didn't complain of pain, but she did make a request; she wanted food. The cleft lip/palate patients are put on a no rice/soft diet. I got her some milk-soaked bread to eat. When her mom offered her the bread, Cynthia didn't smile. She started to cry.

African children eat a lot of rice. They like it; it's what they are use too. Cynthia didn't want bread. She wanted to eat rice.

She quickly realized the battle for rice was one she could not win, conceded and ate the milk-soaked bread (yum!).

I went to visit her in the ward today but found she was sleeping. But if she was awake, I'm sure she would be laughing and smiling.

I can't wait for her steri strips and nasal bolster to be removed so she can try out her new smile.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


Yesterday as I started my evening shift after getting report from the day nurses, the peace of the ward was disturbed by a small voice that was loudly sobbing.
It was Emmit.
Everyday at 2:30 pm the day shift nurses take the patients outside to deck seven for some fresh air. Emmit had already made it outside when, suddenly, he had to be brought back in so he could get an x ray of his chin taken. And the worse part was he had to wait for it to develop before he could return to the great outdoors.
And so, enraptured with disappointment, he stood by the D ward door, staring at it and crying. I tried to offer him words of comfort and a kiss on the forehead but it was useless; only being on deck seven would sooth his woe.
Emmit has a great mother. She is a stickler for making sure Emmit takes his medicine, drinks enough pediasure, and washes with his mouth wash properly. She even brings his medicine cups to the sink when he is finished with them.
Tonight Emmit's sister, Mercy, visited.
"This is your sister-in-law," his mom said.
"My sister-in-law?"
"Emmit told me today he loves you and Karoline (another nurse). He wants to marry you both."
At this point, little 10 year old Emmit was sitting on his bed with a very sly little smile peaking out of his bandage. I really don't know how I feel about being two-timed by another woman, but he is so cute, it might just be forgivable.
When Mercy left, Emmit started to cry again. Mercy was going home. He wanted to go home too.
Apparently, love is fickle.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


I got this outreaches first offer of marriage tonight. It came from 47 year old Abdue.

He came to us from the Gambia to have his facial tumor removed. His brother workers in Liberia and was able to get him to the ship.

Tonight I had brought three plastic photo albums from home into the ward. I find the patients always enjoy seeing my family and friends. As the other patients flipped through the albums, Abdue asked if he could have a turn. After looking through, he asked me about my family and I in turn asked about his. He then asked if I was married. I gave a definite no. He said I should marry him.

"But my mama would be sad if I lived in Liberia. She would miss me and cry plenty, plenty, tears."

"Give me her email address. I will email her and explain."

Kids are the best. And they keep coming to the ship.

Little Samuel is a twin. He is nine months old and has chunky, rolling legs. He and his brother sat on their bed laughing and smiling all night. I even stole a few moments to hold him and he snuggled himself into my arms.

Tomorrow Samuel will have his cleft lip repaired. I'm glad he'll be around for a few more days. I love hearing his laughter.
After my shift I took Cynthia for a walk. She and her four year old spunk spent the entire evening bouncing around the ward. She chase an orange balloon around and plated catch with all who entered the ward. A few times she stood next to me and we both started dancing without music.

Our ward can get a bit crowded sometimes. I took her for a walk so the night nurses could get settled.

She is so much fun. One of our European nurses said, ''I f i was at home, we would say she has life for ten."

Meaning, she has a lot of energy and spunk. No wonder I like her.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

a day at the beach

12 year old Emmanuel was selling dounuts his mother made. He sat by our group for almost ans hour and was a very sweet boy.

A platter of plantane chips for sale.
Karoline avoids being hit by the soccer ball.

Fellow nurses: My roomate Jen and my friend Karoline.

Someone recently asked me what the seasons were like in Liberia. I sort of laughed and told them there were two seasons: dry season and rainy season. And they are both just hot.

But dry season does make it a little easier to go to the beach.

Yesterday, I went with a fully loaded Land Rover to Elwa beach, which is about a 45 minute drive from the ship. I laughed because our group could have been the emergency medical team. Amongst us we had five ICU nurses, a surgeon, a physician, and an anesthesiologist. That's how it works out when you live on a hospital ship :)
Every experience here has a twist that makes it uniquely Liberian. I will provide several examples to validate my point.
1. We were sitting amid a long stretch of uninhibited beach when a group of teenage boys decided to play soccer directly in front of us. One of them was wearing only his bright white briefs. My poor friend Karoline almost took a soccer ball to the face a few times.

2. Two African dogs got into a viscous fight on my towel. Frida, a woman who runs a dental clinic and is a friend of Mercy Ships, was talking our group and had her dog with her. Another dog approached us and the two dogs started fighting and Frida was in the middle trying to break them up. It was a bit scary. I washed my towel.
3. Two 12 year old boys approached us selling home made food items which, of coarse, were carried on their head. Sadly, many small children are sent out to sell for their families. Sometimes they cannot go to school because they are needed to sell.

4. Another NGO group camped out next to us and we spent the afternoon making guesses at what country they were from and what their charity did.

At the end of the day I ate a large bowl of hummus at a one of the many Lebanese restaurants in Liberia.
Another normal abnormal outing.

Saturday, March 15, 2008


Today I stopped down at the ward just to say hello to the patients and see how everyone was doing (when you live 30 feet away from the place you work you can do that).

I stopped in to see Mary...who I referenced in a previous blog as having and extremely flat affect and not really engaging those around her.

I walked up to her bed and the most glorious thing happened- she paused from eating her soft-diet bowl of oatmeal, looked up at me, and smiled!!!

Yeah!! Mary smiled!!

My day was completely made. She has a beautiful smile and the sweetest little face. I'm glad she is smiling. There is no excuse for ten year girls to not have a reason to smile.

Mary is doing well. She can open her mouth now. She'll be able to talk and engage other people.
That's a great reason to smile.

a few photos

Myself and Kim Anna, one of he Academy students. This week the high school students are having something called "work experience". They chose a department on the they are interested in and spend time shadowing members of the department. Kim Anna spent the past few days down in the ward with me. She is lovely!
Anthony's mom, Grace, shows off his post op scar. "He was born with two butts," she says, referring to his meningocele. Now he only has one little one.

Fatu and Mary

The past three days have been busy. I have been working in D ward, which is currently our dental abscess/ max-facial ward.

I have been caring for a pair of ten year old girls, Fatu and Mary. Fatu had some work done to her palate while Mary had a TMJ release.

Fatu was sick today. I felt quite bad for her. Despite my best medicated efforts to relieve her uncomfortableness she still looked rather miserable. But thankfully she had her mom.

Her mom told me, "Normally Fatu is tough, but not when she is sick." Fatu kept requesting to curl up against her mothers chest rather than her pillow. Her mother spent the entire day (as well as the night before) watching her, stroking her, singing to her, praying for her, loving her, taking care of her. Almost one in four Liberian children die before their fifth birthday. I believe have seen many parents be very dis attached to there children and I believe this statistic plays a large roll.

But Fatu's mom was quite attached. She is a great mother. I hope Fatu feels better tomorrow.

Halfway through my day I looked for Mary on her bed and release she was gone. A second glance reveled she and her mother were sitting on a mattress on the floor. The spent the rest of the shift there. It made me lough; this would only happen in Africa.

Many of our patients don't have beds so sleeping in one is a strange, unfamiliar experience. I am assuming that's why Mary and her mother preferred the floor; it's what they know.
I feel quite sad for Mary. She has a strangely flat affect and is difficult to engage. Sadly, I have seen this as a trend in many of the TMJ patients. I am imagining they are teased rather horrifically; and that is why they are so withdrawn.

I hope this operation gives Mary the chance to step outside again.

Before i finish I will mention Abraham, a 14 year old who broke his jaw playing football (soccer) a few days ago. For reasons I don't know, his mother could not be with him today. When I assessed him this morning I could tell he was very nervous. I sat on his bed and explained that it was okay to feel nervous and that we would take good care of him. I thought he looked a bit relieved.

However, i was disproved when we stepped foot into the hospital to walk towards the OR. 14 year old Abraham broke out into vicious tears. He was really scared.

I sat on the OR waiting bench with my arm around his frame (which was closer to that of a ten year olds), trying to offer some comfort. Poor guy.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

stickers and sam

Anyone who says you can't buy friendship obviously has little experience with 1 1/2 year olds. Little Sam proved this theory today.

Sam is 1 1/2 years old. He had a facial tumor under his right eye. It looked as if someone was sticking there fist out of his cheek.

I sent Sam to the operating room yesterday morning. Before he left I had to obtain a set of vitals signs. Sam was already cranky because he wasn't allowed to eat (It's always so sad to have to keep a baby from eating! I would be cranky too). I bent down next to his bedside to listen to his lungs and that was it...the screaming started.

In my experiences 1.5 to 3 years of age seem to produce the loudest shrills of stranger/medical personal anxiety. And my scary pale skin does not help my cause. Despite my best attempts to sooth, comfort, and give him a sense of control, Sam made it quite obvious that he did not want to be friend.

When I first came here, I use to take this kind of treatment very personally. It took about two months for me to finally realize that the Liberian toddlers did not have any personal vendetta's against me; they were just plain old scared. Our hospital ship is about as foreign an environment as you could find for a Liberian child. And they don't feel good. And we poke and prod.

The day I got over myself with this discovery was quite freeing.

Sam was my patient again today. I let him sleep through most of the morning (the first thing I learned working on a peds floor is never wake a sleeping baby unless it's an absolute necessity :).
When he arose and I attempted to be his friend over a set of vitals signs he made it quite clear (by finding repose in his mother) that he was still rejecting my offer. But little did he know that I has the manipulative power of Disney stickers.

Before I removed the drain out of his cheek, I grabbed a handful of Disney stickers out a drawer and carried them to his bedside. We sat for about five minutes playing with the stickers before I made any attempts at the drain. And while he still screamed and needed to be held by two people when it was finally time to remove it, afterwards, we were friends.

He started laughing and playing peekaboo, and running around the ward with a red soccer ball in his orange tie-dye gown that was slightly over sized. I was happy. He was to cute. Hopefully our friendship will continue to flourish when I work tomorrow.

If not, I know where the stickers are kept.

a sad reality

Charles Taylor, former president of Liberia, is currently on trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Liberia is going through a truth and reconcilation process right now. The ugly realities of the war are coming to the surface and tension from the uprising recipically ensues. I really can't understand the storeis I hear.

On Tuesday, Edwin, 22, showed me a book he had written about his expeirences in the war. He was four when it started. The first chapter chronicles the beginning of the war. He tells of how he and his family were up country vactioning together and rebels stormed the house they were staying in with guns. He and his entire family stood terrrified with there hands above thier heads as guns were pointed at thier faces.

Edwin was four years old. He looked away as he told me the story. But it didn't hide the pain and tears that could be obviously seen in the sliver's of eyes he was reavealing. Four year old's aren't suppose to make those sort of memories. I find it remarkable that at 22 he has the fortitude to process these expereinces enough to write them in a conherant manner.

Here is a link to an article that was published on I warn you it's a rather graphic story. But it should make you appreciate your life. click here Taylor 'made rebels eat enemies'

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Liberian Maraton

Tonight as I jogged on the dock I was joined by over 30 miniature pairs of running legs.

We have many families that live on board the ship together. It's really nice to have them. It gives a sense of balance and "normalizes" (as normal as life on an international floating hospital ship in Liberia can be) to ship life. Collectively they have a ridiculous amount of beautiful children (the kids on this ship really are extra gorgeous)

Once a week the children assemble on the dock to partake in the running club, which is ran by a few of the on board academy teachers. Each child has a lanyard with a laminated paper foot. After completing a lap on the dock, they get a hole punched in the foot. The being that if they come and run every week they will have collectively ran a marathon.

It was so cute to see the kids running back and forth, some holding each others hands, and all were excited to collect a hole punch.

I have recently decided that I would some day like to run a marathon. Maybe this could be my big chance. Maybe I could get a paper laminated foot.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


Today I had a guest on board.

A few weeks ago I asked my roomate Dorathy how her day was whne she entered cabin 3426. She said it was great and proceeded to tell me about a nurse she had been orienting in the admission tent. Her name is Attealia.

Attealia left Liberia about six years ago and lived in the United States, more specifically New Jersey. There, all alone, she went through a LPN program, got her professional liscence, and worked as a nurse. She sent her money back to Liberia so she could feed her six brothers and isters as well as her husband and own two children.

She is back in Liberia for the first time since she left and heard about the work of Mercy Ships. She wanted to utilize her nursing skills and help her own people. She has been a perfect fit working in our admissions department. I know they are really happy to have her.

Attealia asked if I could have her younger brother as a guest so she could show him the ship. So tonight, they were my guests.

I found them both remarkable. Her younger brother, Edwin, is 22. He has just finished high school and is trying to find away to attend college. He sings and has recorded his own tape of

self-written songs. He has also written a book about his experiences during the war.

Attealia and Edwin are how Liberia will be rebuilt. They have and are still facing unbelievable difficulties but they are still moving forward. That is courage. They are both courageous.

Sunday, March 9, 2008