Tuesday, April 29, 2008

the view from A ward

I was a bit intimidated when I received my report sheet. 9 of my 10 patients were male and only 2 of them were children.

One of my goals in nursing was to only take care of women and children. Men sometimes make me feel intimidated and moderately uncomfortable.

I really like working weekend night shift, especially when I have the ward to myself (which I did). There generally is not a lot of work to be done until 10 pm, so you have time to really hang out with the patients.

I grabbed a rolling chair an plopped myself between the two rows of beds that my tenants were stationed at. Their ages ranged from 19 to 43; they were all plastic surgery patients.

Bed 11 was a 19 year old who had acid poured over his head when he was 4. I'm pretty certain it was done be a rebel solider. You can see a distinct melted circle on the top of his bald scalp, and melted skin drips down the sides of his face onto his arms and chest.
His name is Joseph and he is a sweet guy. Today when I was visiting the ward he beat me in a game of uno.

Bed 12 is a 21, just 6 months younger than my brother. He has bright, gentle eyes that are filled with determination and grace. His spirit is so sweet that I nearly broke down in tears after talking to him. I got him crayons at the beginning of the shift and he spent the entire night coloring.

His name is Gaye. Gaye grew up during the war, he was four when it started. His father died at the beginning of the war; he didn't ever know him. Gaye has three older siblings. During the war he and his sister remained with his mother while his other two siblings were sent off with his uncle. When the war was over, after more than a decade of separation, they found each other again. He said it was happy but also sad; his uncle had been killed. He also lost a grandfather who became sick during the war and died because there was no doctor to go to.

Gaye told me about the day rebel soldiers came to his school looking for new recruits. They pulled up to the schools walls with trucks and guns and took his best friend, who was later killed. A man grabbed his school uniform but the sleeve ripped off his shirt and he escaped. He also reminisced about when he was captured by a ten year old a child solider. The boy was flogged and detained him but he managed to escape.

Gaye is almost finished high school; he is a very smart and bright boy. His older brother is a nurse but he wants to be an accountant. He hopes that one day Liberia will be strong and will help other countries like they have been helped. When he speaks of his goals, he say "I am determined," and you can see the truthfulness of his words glistening in his eyes.

Gaye had to stop going to school last July; he was hit by a car. The bones in his leg are splintered and there are now large, infected sores that have overtaken his foot. I imagine walking was a rather arduous task (he is now ambulating on crutches).

At home, he would had some pins placed in his leg, gone through some rehab, and been on his way. But here, where there is no health care system, breaking your leg often turns into a lifetime of disability.

But Gaye is not discouraged. "I am determined," he states as he flashes his charming smile.

Bed 17, Cooper.
Cooper was a translator on the Anastasis during a previous outreach. He gave me a list of his old friends he worked with before but I didn't recognize any of their names. About 1 1/2 years ago he was in an argument that ended in a cup of acid being poured down the front of his body. His face, arms, and chest are badly burned and disfigured. He told me he use to regularly lift waits, "But now I am weak. After 1/2 hour I am too tired."

Cooper told me one of his war stories. He spent three days squatting on a one room school house with three hundred other people. He said you couldn't move to the left or right because someone would take your spot. You had to stand still in your crowded space; for three days. Finally, starvation forced him to leave. He needed food and water . His mother begged him not to leave the school, concerned that he would not return if he left. In leaving he risked being killed or worse, being forced to join the rebel army.

Cooper left and ran into a friend who took him to a village where there was food. His friend had become a soldier. He told Cooper he could not leave the village, he would have to become a solider too. Somehow he was able to convince his friend to let him go and he returned to the school house with the food. Everyone put their hands out and begged him for just a mouthful.

Later in the evening Cooper asked me about movies I had seen. He named a title I didn't know. To possibly jolt my memory he stood, and started waving his arms in the air singing, "O happy day, Oh happy day." Apparently that was a song in the movie. It made me smile.

Bed 18 was Mr. Sassy. Or that's what I called him :)
I had brought a few photo albums to show the boys club my family and friends. He called me to his bedside and pointed to a photo,
"I want to take this girl," he said with a sly smile. I looked down at his finger, he had meant to pick a photo of me but instead he was pointing to a picture of my mom.
"That's my mom," I said, which made the other men brake out into a fit of laughter. Bed 18 look confused, "That is not you? Your mother is young. You favor her."
His smoothly planned pick up line had backfired. We all had a good laugh at his pride's expense.

Bed 19 is "the Reverend". He is very involved at his church ( I think he's a pastor). Every night and every morning he prays "sermon prayers" for the ward, the patients, and the nurses. Hearing him pray made me want to be converted and I am already a Christian.

He asked me all sorts of questions about my faith and we had some very theological discussions. He said, "It is nice to see a young women strong in the Lord." I told him I work with the youth at my church and requested that I testified before the youth at his church. I hope it really happens.
The Reverend likes to read, so I littered the ward with K.P. Yohannan pamphlet's that all the patients that can read have been diligently working through. Before he went to sleep on Sunday he told me "I am going to pray you marry a strong Christian man." He's praying the same thing for my friend Ali. Seeing the way he prays, I think we will probably both be married by June.

The weekend was great. My fears were unqualified.
I felt like I was Snow White and the patients were my seven dwarfs. It was pretty sweet.

My heart was really broke for the men as I gained a first hand account of the sorrows they experienced. I was able to sit on an empty bed and tell Joesph, Gaye, and Cooper the story of Joseph. How he was sold into slavery; was injustly accused; and then falsely imprisoned. All while he was trying to follow God. But then one day, after 14 years of trials, God revealed the plan He had all along, and Joseph was used to save entire nations. What man meant for evil, God meant for good.

They really listened when I spoke and I could tell they really believed what I was saying. They believed God could take their sufferings and use them for His glory. Gaye sat there with his hopeful eyes and said "I am thankful that God spared my life and I am determined."

It was so humbling. I complain over so little. I doubt God so easily and have had such and easy life.

James 2:5
Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which He hath promised to them that love Him?


Originally uploaded by megan_petock
This bridge was ver y fought on during the war. The street pole which line it were filled with bullet holes; a testimony to the amount of fighting seeing that these were missed shots. I wonder how many shots needed to be fired to have that many misses.

I am happy to report that a week after I took this photo, all the bullet filled street poles were removed from the bridge.

Another small but significant sign of progress.


a few retro photos :)
A few weeks ago Rhiannon, one of our physical therapists, found me in the cafeteria and told me Esther was outside on the dock. Esther was a patient last outreach who was here for a long time. I became particularly attached to her.

I dropped what I was doing and ran (well, we aren't allowed to run on the ship so I "fast walked") down to the third deck in pursuit of my friend. I rather frantically walked out of the deck three gangway into the admissions tent, searching the area with my eyes. At this point Kim Anna, who was also Esther's friend, had surfaced. Rhiannon had found her too. Together we realized Esther wasn't in the tent and we sprinted down the dock to see if she was still inside the gate.

Sadly there was no Esther.

On Sunday night i was walking through B ward and saw the back of a small, teenage girls frame that looked familiar. The girls hair was platted so that a star burst of braids exploded from the corner of her head, her left hand was a boxing glove of bandages, and she whore the cute pink gown that Esther frequently chose to dress herself in. For a moment, I thought maybe it was her.

But when the girl turned around she dismissed my hopes. Hopefully, before I leave Liberia, I will see Esther again.

She has been to the ship a few times and I am told she is doing very well. She told Rhiannon that her operated hand is working well and she is no longer inhibited in any way. She can platt hair and eat with her hands. She going to school and still living with her sister in Monrovia.

Which makes me happy to hear.

Monday, April 28, 2008


one of the greatest moments in the human experience: having a sleeping baby nestled under your neck. does it get any better then that? i have my doubts....

Ali..a friend & fellow east-coaster/PICU nurse.
His real name is Dorku; but his mom calls him Junior.
Junior was born with two club feet. People didn't want to talk to his mother because she "bore a crippled child." She spent a lot of time crying.
Junior has 3 older siblings and lives in Liberia's up country. His mother had brought him to a local hospital, hoping they might help her son, when she when someone she came in contact with thought Mercy Ships might be able to help her. A photo of his twisted feet was taken and sent to our orthopedic team. And Juniors surgery was scheduled.
They traveled for two days to reach the ship. A long time for a nine month old to be in a hot taxi.
However, the two day trip turned out to be life changing for little Junior: he had both of his feet fixed on Friday and will be taking home two blue casts as a parting gift.
Junior is simply stunning. His light skin tone, wide facial structure, and glaring brown eyes are rather edible. He has a high pitched cry that he projects whenever it is time for his nebulizer treatments (I hate having to give them because it makes him upset..the joys of pediatric nursing..inflicting pain on sweet little ones..). Last night, I found that if I patted his chest with my hand it settled him down. He even laughed with his mask on when I pretended to eat his small hands.
I have been Juniors nurse throughout his stay and his mama says "he knows you meggee". Junior did extend his arms towards me last night when I came on. That was rather wonderful.
Junior will go home tomorrow. His mom said she will miss seeing me. I'll miss seeing them too.
more photos of Junior here

Sunday, April 27, 2008

lip service

a cleft lip patient at screening day
at the beginning of the surgery

the lip being stitched together.
Dr. Gary and Dr. Mark in action. They are both wonderful (and very kind) surgeons.

the final sutures. notice the lip is together now.
my dear friend Becky and one of our cleft lip patients.

This week I was able to observe a cleft lip surgery.
Cleft lip/palate repairs are my favorite surgery on the ship. The kids (and sometimes adults) come to us with gaping holes in their faces. Most are rejected by their families and communities; some have even been abandoned and left to die.
A no-risky surgery that is takes about an hour gives them a new face and an entire new life. It amazing and simple.
When i was first learning about cleft lip/palate surgery, I went on CHOP's website (the hospital I use to work at) and found that 14 specialties are involved with the surgical care and rehabilitation of these children. In West Africa, they are just rejected.
more photos from surgery here
I love that we are able to alter the entire trajectory of their life in an hour.

sexual gender based violence

This is a report that was published in 2004 by the World Health Organization. It discusses the atrocities the women of Liberia faced during the civil war. It's very graphic and heartbreaking, but paints a realistic picture of what the women here have suffered.

Read it here


And then we added some members...and changed a bit.
In this photo: Lucas Darway Megan Petock Benjamin Petock Nicolas Pezzato Justin Grow Linda Petock Scott Cella

Laughing hard and loud is probably my favorite thing to do. I find that it's rarely what I am doing but instead who I am with that determines whether or not I am having a good time.
Fortunately for me, I know a slew of people that share my rather off beat sense of humor.

My brother and his friends for example.

The above photos represents their current obsession; scouring the Internet for photos of old bands and "tagging" each person in the photos which the name of a friend they resemble. The following dialogue accompanied this picture

Justin Grow
is anyone else a little surprised at how accurate these tend to be?

Justin Grow
general classifications.
me: tall, glasses.
ben: the happy everyman
deedle: the babyface
nic: piles of hair
lucas: creepy old guy
megan: girl.

Daniel Faehl
Nick, you should really grow it out again.

Megan Petock
wow. seeing this picture and reading Justin's comment makes me believe in stereotyping.

Linda Petock
Was it necessary to tag me? Don't you know other girls on Facebook who would like to be in your Swedish Band Fantasy. I think I am a little to old.

Justin Grow
In reply to your second question: No, Ben does not know any other girls.
Although I do like the phrase "Swedish Band Fantasy." It sounds like a potential ride/ 3D show in the part of Disney World with all the countries.

Benjamin Petock
I'm telling you guys. Reincarnation is true, and we were totally in a Swedish dance band together in a past life. That's why these are so accurate, and that's why we formed a band together. It makes so much sense.

I was showing one of our Liberian translator's online photos of my home and family, when we stumbled across this. I started laughing so hard I could not finish my sentence. He REALLY didn't get it (but he did give a polite smile :).

I suppose we all have our tastes in humor; or maybe you just have to know my friends to really appreciate the combination of the photo and dialogue.

Either way, it's always nice to have a reason to laugh when you are alone in A ward in the middle of the night. And I really can't wait to laugh with my family.

Friday, April 25, 2008

the boys of a ward

sweet baby james. his 4 month twin sister had cleft lip surgery. james was the bonus prize. a very cute and snuggly bonus prize i might add.

a few of my charges this week

a sweet 11 year old boy. he was NPO for an entire day and his surgery got cancelled :( but he didn't complain. Instead, he gave me a mango as a little present. I just tucked him in and prayed with him before he went to bed. he flashed me the sweetest little boy smile.

first off, that is totally no how his name should be spelled. sorry-o. He has two wives, which upon my learning I gave him a hard time. I told him he must be a very busy man and that I would never stand for that. he gave me a devilish/charming smile that indicated he quite liked his circumstance.

I sat down and he explained about his "big" wife and his "small" wife. he is 64. his big wife is 72 and his small wife is 46. He married the big wife in the 70's and the small one in 1991. He has children from both women.

upon our discussion of wives I learned he is a Muslim. he told me Muslims and Christians are the same. I disagreed and inquired why /how he was going to heaven. he didn't really have an answer. I told him we were different because I knew I was going to heaven and proceeded to tell him about Christ and the cross. we were friends and he listened. (one of the listening fathers later confided "I like your evangelism")

late I told him to think about what we talked about.

bed 18
a sassy 32 year old man who has demonstrated some of the qualities that made me never want to take care of men. this morning I causally mentioned he was a bit sassy in report and discovered that he had been sassy with some of the other nurses as well (not a good sassy).

today he had a little chat with one of the male surgeon's who told him the proper treatment of women; more specifically the nursing staff, and let him know that any deem able inappropriate behaviour would result in an immediate discharge from the ward.

things have been much better tonight. the universality of human nature always cracks me up.

nine months old. has the sweetest little angelic face and fair skin tone. he doesn't cry, not even when I give him his nebulizer. his mother is equally lovely and sweet.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

fire drill

Alfred is a cute 14 year old boy. He is leaving today. He is an orthopedic patient who has been on the ward for at least a month. Yesterday, there was a fire drill.

Last night, Alfred was my patient. Sitting on his bed he recounted the days events in his "captian's voice"

"This is a drill, this is a drill, this is a drill. Would all emergency teams please report to thier stations."

This was his third fire drill and he said he could be the "assistant captian." We told him he had been here to long :)


Today as I sat in my room, mentally preparing myself for night shift, I wondered how on earth I was going to haul my stuff back across the Atlantic Ocean. A year's worth of living in two bags. It will most likely come down to a choosing of my favorite t shirts and most loved books. All else will have to be left behind. In six weeks.

I have had a bit more mental turmoil in the past few weeks then in the entire time I have been here. Sort of funny. Perhaps it is the realization that very soon I will return to a culture which hands out similarly shaped rather uniform boxes and expects us to fit our lives inside. Like packing my belongings, if it doesn't fit is must simply be discarded.

Living on a ship for a year surrounded by cultures entirely different to my own has shed light on the realization of what of my beliefs is Biblical and what is cultural. Being removed from western culture has made me see how the concept of "security" paints our beliefs on rationality, responsibility, value, and even love. Affecting our Christianity and deceiving us into embracing the notion of entitlement.

Sailing to Liberia, hiding between the strapped down Land Rovers on the 8th deck, I remember reading this verse

2 Corinthians 12:15
And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved.

It grinds against everything that my idea of entitlement would lead me to believe.

I have grown up hearing "treat others as you would like to be treated". Understanding the underlying tone of "treat others as you would like to be treated as long as they treat you the same way back". We are very easily offended. Indignation often ensues after we have been hurt or mistreated in small, silly daily things; we sulk and whine in penance of personal injustice. We wait to be asked for forgiveness before forgiving, because our position grants us such entitlement. Someone has stepped outside of the box we have given them.

And yet, to love as the above verse implies, to lose our personal rights, will most certainly will bring with it pain.

In Hinds Feet for High Places the main character, Much Afraid, experiences this dialogue

"Much Afraid shrank back. "I am afraid," she said. "I have been told that if you really love someone you give that loved one the power to hurt and pain you in a way nothing else can."
'That is true', agreed the Shepherd. 'To love does mean to put yourself into the power of the loved one and become very vulnerable to pain, and you are very Much-Afraid of pain are you not?'
She nodded miserably, 'Yes, very much afraid of it."
'But it is so happy to love even if you are not loved in return. There is a pain too, certainly, but Love does not think that very significant."

I think about what Christ did when He died on the cross. He left the throne of God and clothed Himself in mortal flesh. He made Himself completely vulnerable, hanging exposed and naked before His heavenly Father, earthly family, the hosts of angels and demons, and the physical world, to demonstrate His love to a world that he foreknew would despise and reject Him. He didn't want to die on the cross; we see Him sweating blood as be begged God the Father "To let this cup pass," the evening of His betrayal. But, because of His love for His Father and us, He surrendered in saying, "but not My will, but Yours be done."

There was no entitlement in His love. There were no boundaries. There was not box you could place it into. It was not reasonable. It was not rational. It was extravagant. It was completely vulnerable and it inflicted great pain upon the Giver. And yet He still gave it; and in His giving, He left us an example.

I claim to know nothing of possessing this kind of love. But as I ponder the future (or rather make myself mad in over-pondering) I don't think I can whole heartedly pursue both earthly security and learning this sort of love. The dilemma of choosing which master to serve.

The only way to learn this love is to know it; and in knowing it we find the Rock of Ages which provides the stability and security no earthly anything could ever provide. I suppose it might lead to a rather "irrational" sort of life but then again, the "wisdom of man is foolishness to Christ."

and after all, in the simple and eloquent words of the martyred missionary Jim Elliot,

"He is no fool to lose what he cannot not keep to gain what he cannot lose."

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


The children here are just beautiful. I really can't get enough of them.

Last night two cleft palate babies, one who was 4 months and one who was 5 months, were moved from D ward to A ward, where I was stationed. The children and their mama's were from Sierra Leone and they had to stay on the ward until it was time for their nasal bolsters (which supports the surgical site) to be removed. The babies had been officially discharged and their moms were in charge of issuing medications and performing wound care.

The four month girl has a twin brother, Michal, who was happy, alert, and incredibly cute. And he liked to be held and I like to hold babies. Most of the nurses do. It's a shame that the babies never get any attention :) (We actually spoil them quite terribly).

Cleft palate/lip repairs are probably my favorite surgery performed on the ship. We send children to the OR who are essentially missing entire parts of their faces and an hour later (with the exception of a few steri strips) they look life everyone else. It's really remarkable.

A neat part of this story is that these two babies are cousins; their moms are sisters. Coming to the Africa Mercy has been a family affair.

ode to Michelle

Cabin 3426 experienced a very considerable loss two weeks ago. Michelle, my bunk mate and good friend, was unexpectedly needed at home. The phone call came on Sunday and i had transported my pillows and photos to the bottom bunk by Wednesday.

I wonder what Michelle was thinking last August when i willfully announced I would moving into the back of the cabin with her. Michelle is very calm and smart. She spent 15 years designing software programs. She is naturally organized and yet very laid back.

And then there was me. A rather reckless and mildly disorganized ball of energy and constant excitement who has been waving the self-proclaimed banner of "free spirit" since high school.

I wonder what she thought when I moved my abundance of colorful clothes, headscarves, and scattered photos into the back nook of our six berth cabin. She must have been a little nervous; maybe a little scared.

I don't know that Michelle needed me but I feel quite certain that God knew I needed her to be my bunk mate.

I didn't think that my highly independent self would come to West Africa to learn that I crave stability in relationships. But I guess it's something you realize when you are far removed from the people you have spent your life loving and have over 20 roommates in one year. There is a freedom and security in knowing that someone knows all the worst parts of you, but you know they will always love you anyway. You can relax. You can let your guard down. You can be yourself.

One of my biggest fears in coming to the ship was wondering about who I would live with. I knew I needed it needed to be a non-rigid laid back type or a distaster might ensue. Apparently God was in agreement, so He sent me Michelle.

Michelle was a wonderful, stable friend; a good substitute family member. Someone I could trust. Someone I could let me guard down around and simply be myself. I will highlight a few reasons why Michelle was a great friend and all round wonderful person:

1. When she woke up to a stream of coffee dripping onto her and her bed at 3 am one Saturday morning she found the scenario humorous. And gently suggested I not keep full coffee mugs on my bed.
2. She bought the scariest looking doll I have ever seen for 20 dollars from a Liberian women because her heart is soft (this softness also resulted in a collection of hand woven goods).
3. She let me hang children's artwork on our walls.
4. She didn't take me or my "verbalization's" at face value.
5. She loves the Word of God.
6. Michelle never got mad and is extremely patient.
7. It's nice to have someone who enjoys your cooking (by cooking I mean my ability to make a peanut butter sand which on the weekends)
8. We regularly contemplated "what the heck are we going to do with our lives" and were in agreement that we'd both consider being a barista at Starbucks. Michelle actually put a "what should I do with my life" poll on her blog.
9. She thought our room (which was filled with primarily my belongings) looked "cozy" when most people probably would have said "cluttered".
10. She encouraged me that some day "fictional character called husband" might stop hanging out on that far away island with "Ben's hypothetical children", Elvis, and the Lochness monster.

I really love Michelle. She's great. She's missed. But I am sure God has countless joys and blessings upon each step the future may hold.

and she promised to visit Philadelphia.

Monday, April 21, 2008

the moments which become a day

I was out of bed before 8:30 of my own accord. A mild miracle.
I learned the the word "dwell" (in Psalm 25:13 "His soul shall dwell at ease") means "lodge in goodness'' in Hebrew. My soul is lodged in God goodness. Like the splinter in my finger.
My soul was put at ease (for a few minutes anyway....I am rather un-steadfast...)
JP, an academy teacher, asked me to speak about the northeast of America to his 6th-ish grade geography class. I spent 40 minutes boasting of the merits of Bucks County and the surrounding territory (surely Bucks County must be the nucleus of the known world?) On Sunday, a list of questions, submitted by the students, was waiting on my door.
Some of the questions were as follows:

What is the most beautiful sight in that area? (the orange and red trees in the fall)
What is your favorite American football team? (I am too busy to care about football....but I do enjoy a live baseball game on a cool summer night eating peanuts and twizzlers)

Have you been to NYC many times? (yes..when you look up in central park you can't tell you are in a city...and their is a wonderful gourmet grilled cheese restaurant..and who doesn't like grilled cheese?)
What is your favorite fast food place? (I don't eat fast food. This was a bitter disappointment to the two boys in the class.)
What do you think the Northeast has that the rest of America doesn't? (sarcasm. a completely manic life style. water ice. soft pretzels. a megalopolis per Wikipedia. the Jersey shore)

Does your state have a main song and can you sing it? (we probably do have a song but I don't know it. Although I did consider belting out the theme song from "The fresh Prince of Bel- Air". Everyone from Philadelphia at least knows it, so it's sort of a main song.)
It has to be very cool to have people from the countries you are learning about to give you their personal accounts. A living geography class.

Bed 16 asked me for nail clippers. We didn't have any on the ward so I started cutting his nails with my bandage scissors. Three nails into it, I just broke out in a fit of laughter. Partially completely grossed out, partially amazed that I was cutting a 62 year old Liberian man's fingers with my bandage scissors, I surrendered the scissors and let him finish the job.
Bed 17 looked perplexed.
"Why do you keep putting your hand under that machine."
He was referring to the antibacterial lotion machine stationed in the ward. He didn't know what it was and could not understand why I was constantly putting it on my hands.
"It's soap without water."

His confusion ended.
Reading 11 year old Tambuh, who is the sweetest boy with a very gentle spirit, a story and creating different voices for each character in the story, I remembered how fun it was to be in plays in high school.
I showed Tambuh and ALfred, two patients, the above pictures of my brothers. The pictures reminded me how much I miss my them. They are just so fun. And they make me laugh hard. And they don't mind that my jokes generally aren't funny.
I have to say, it's good that my parents raised us in a laid manner. We would broke rigid parents.
This week I was laughing when I thought about the "Doritos Commercial" Ben directed last fall. I was the videographer and assistant stunt director.
The commercial consisted of him and Josh using their best ninja moves as they fought over a bag of priceless chips. The climactic moment came when the fight lead to the roof and Ben plummeted ( or rather, jumped off the roof) to the ground in mild defeat. My parents were gone while we were filming, and we all agreed the dragging our pillows and couch cushions to soften Ben's plummet was a perfectly logical idea. (I mean...we never did that....)
I can't wait to hang out with my brothers in 8 weeks.

psalm 25

Unto thee, O LORD, do I lift up my soul. O my God, I trust in thee: let me not be ashamed, let not mine enemies triumph over me. Yea, let none that wait on thee be ashamed: let them be ashamed which transgress without cause.

Shew me thy ways, O LORD; teach me thy paths. Lead me in thy truth, and teach me: for thou [art] the God of my salvation; on thee do I wait all the day.

Remember, O LORD, thy tender mercies and thy lovingkindnesses; for they [have been] ever of old. Remember not the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions: according to thy mercy remember thou me for thy goodness' sake, O LORD.

Good and upright [is] the LORD: therefore will he teach sinners in the way. The meek will he guide in judgment: and the meek will he teach his way. All the paths of the LORD [are] mercy and truth unto such as keep his covenant and his testimonies. For thy name's sake, O LORD, pardon mine iniquity; for it [is] great.

What man [is] he that feareth the LORD? him shall he teach in the way [that] he shall choose.
His soul shall dwell at ease; and his seed shall inherit the earth. The secret of the LORD [is] with them that fear him; and he will shew them his covenant.

Mine eyes [are] ever toward the LORD; for he shall pluck my feet out of the net. Turn thee unto me, and have mercy upon me; for I [am] desolate and afflicted. The troubles of my heart are enlarged: [O] bring thou me out of my distresses. Look upon mine affliction and my pain; and forgive all my sins. Consider mine enemies; for they are many; and they hate me with cruel hatred.

O keep my soul, and deliver me: let me not be ashamed; for I put my trust in thee. Let integrity and uprightness preserve me; for I wait on thee. Redeem Israel, O God, out of all his troubles

Sunday, April 20, 2008

bong mines (take two)

my good friend becky & I with about 4 inches of sweat, sunscreen, dirt, and black smoke all over our faces. good times.
a midwife sits in the delivery room.

inside the bong mine hospital we visited. the under five mortality rate in Liberia is one of the highest in the world; almost 25 %

Michel exploring part of the old iron ore plant.

Odascious is a ship day worker and our tour guide. he is from bong county and lived there during the war. as many as 20, 000 bodies were laid to rest in this pit. very sad to think about.

the kids run to wave at us when we pass. some of them get quite excited. one little boy even stopped to wave while he was peeing. we are practically a parade. this must be what fame feels like.

sweet boy at the train station. we had to wait for about an hour before we could leave. thankfully, I have gotten use to waiting :)

the chaos at the train station. chaos is rather typical.

riding fast through Liberia's jungle while sitting on top of a Land Rover. It's quite amazing.

Taking a 2.5 hour train ride through the jungle side of Liberia, while perched atop of a Land rover is good for the soul. But I would guess that the 2.5 hours of inhaling black smoke, basking in the harsh sun, and mild dehydration (because every orifice of your body oozes sweat) is probably not so good for the body. Oh well; how many times in your life to you actually get to do in real life what every Disney ride tries to be?

The Swiss family Robinson ride at the magic kingdom will just seem cheesy now.
more photos here


Whenever a VVF patient goes home we have a celebration on the ward. On Thursday, the last three of the group of about 40 women who received surgery this outreach were discharged. They had been on the ward for over a month and developed close friendships with several of the nurses and it was both happy and sad to see them go.

The celebration is called a "dress ceremony" and each women is given a new dress, which she chooses, to symbolize the start of her new life. The women go to a separate room where they are dressed and made up. You get use to seeing them in the ward wearing hospital gowns, loose hair, and no make up. When they wear their brightly colored new dresses, put on a soft touch of make up, and elegantly wrap their heads in illustrious African fabrics- they look like queens. I nearly cry every time I see a VVF woman dressed for her ceremony. They are that beautiful.

At the ceremony each woman sings her own song. She chooses it and leads the translator's and onlookers in jubilant African praise. She then gives a testimony of what God has done in her life through her sickness and through her surgery.

The testimonies can be heartbreaking. Grown woman talking about how they have spent years being rejected; teenage girls recalling their still born baby; wives whose husbands have left them. And yet they praise God.

When I hear their stories I am also humbled by their faith in God and their love for Him. They don't testify of self-pity or anger- they thank the Lord for what He has done for them. It's a beautiful moment to be a part of.

My normally rather un-emotional self always sheds a few tears. It really can't be helped.

Friday, April 18, 2008


Because of an old burn this boy could not blink his left eye. the inability to blink can cause a range of problems. a recent surgery has allowed him to blink again. he's got a pretty sweet smile :)

good job

Lee is a a four year old little girl who recently had orthopedic surgery. Her full name is much longer and rather difficult to pronounce. I was going to give it a try when her auntie said,
"Just call her Lee."

Lee has a round face and plush cheeks. There is a special twinkle in her eye that is exploited when she smiles and laughs. She has the loveliest little girl laugh that is easily brought on by tickling (she's quite ticklish).

The frame of her mouth is delicate and sweet; but sadly her all her teeth, at least the ones that are still there, are an eroded black. They obviously have never been cared for and her mouth looks like a poster for why you should not let your baby go to sleep with a bottle in their mouth. It really breaks my heart.

Morris, another ortho child, was in the bed next to Lee. He needed to ambulate on crutches today. The physical therapist's first try resulted in only a series of strong willed shrieks and screams and very little ambulating. Morris didn't want to get out of bed.

However, the second time around, Morris managed to walk around the ward and the hallway.

When Lee saw his success, she triumphantly cheered, in the sweetest high pitched little girl voice that I could never do any justice in describing,

"Good Job! Good Job!"

She cheered for almost ten minutes. It was heartbreakingly sweet. Later, when Timothy, another orthopedic patient, was up to ambulate, she did the same thing. Except she rotated between "Good Job" and "Good Boy".

I was on the other side of the ward when I heard her sweet cheers the second time and had to postponed my paperwork so I could walk to her side and enjoy the sweetness of the moment.

How precious are four year old little girls.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

catherine and massa


one of today's cute patients. you should have seen her smooth moves on a tiny pair of crutches. also, please take note of her stylish hot pink cast. Hollie P. would be proud :)

a pint sized girl who is 1/4 energy, 1/4 affection, 1/4 sassy and 1/4 free spirit. she spilled a glass of water on her shirt and stood by a fire to dry it, while she was still wearing it. the shirt caught on fire and left her chest and left armpit badly burned. she has received plastic surgery on the ship.

I really like her. how sweet is that smile?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

the prayers of the saints

I have never been much of a prayer warrior. I don't often recognize my frailty. I most often ask God for strength and provision last instead of first. Only when I have finally reached the end of myself.

I have always admired people whose first inclination was to pray. The people who will pray with you in the middle of a busy bookstore or pause a conversation in a hallway. I wish I was more like that.

The disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray and He taught them. The Gospels frequently chronicle His example of being dependent upon God Almighty. He who was already God, already powerful, all ready all knowing, still asked His heavenly Father for wisdom and all else, leaving us an example to follow.

In life we encounter individuals that enter into the depths of our hearts in a deeper way then the general population of the world around us. We can't always explain why but we can generally recognize when it happens.

I'm not sure why little Edwin stole my heart in a particular manner. Perhaps it was his joyful free-spirit. Perhaps was his rapid-fire-energy filled conversation that left a trail of sparks wherever he went. Perhaps it was the tears of his mother who knew he had suffered.
Or maybe it was just the hugs and kisses he delivered in abundance.

Whatever it was, he had taken a path into a deeper depth of my heart. To think of the sore on his back not healing was far too sad.

On Sunday morning things were not looking so good for Edwin. We as a medical staff were doing everything we could to help his graph heal, but an infection was brooding over his newly graphed skin and heading towards failure.

On my lunch break I emailed everyone I knew and asked that they prayed for Edwin. Not something I normally do, but it was the only thing left to do. He needed God's healing touch.

Watching people respond in prayer has been humbling and a bit overwhelming to watch. So many people promised to pray Edwin and to told their friends to pray as well. You just have to love the body of Christ.

Edwin is leaving the ship today and returning to the inland pediatric hospital he come from where he will continue to have the dressing's on his back cared for. His wound is no longer showing the signs of infection. It's dry, there is no funky drainage, and the graph is starting to show signs of growth. The plastics surgeon evaluated his back and felt things were progressing in a positive manner and gave the okay for Edwin to be transferred. Praise the Lord.

His chart says the vinegar soaks he was receiving were making the difference but I tend to think it was the prayers of the saints :) Last night when I told his mother about all the people that were praying for Edwin, with tears forming in her eyes, she could not stop thanking me. Thanking you.

I forget how big God is and how frail I am. How loving His heart is and how needy I am for His love. That
"by Him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in the earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by Him, and for Him: and He is before all things, and by Him all things consist." Colossians 1:16-17

In the midst of what has been a challenging week; in the midst of change; in the midst of an unknown future; in the midst of personal insecurity; it's so good to be reminded of who our God is. The Alpha and Omega. The Ancient of Days. The beginning and the end. The bright and shining star. The unchanging one. The lover of our souls. The healing King. The gentle Saviour.

Thank you so much for praying for Edwin, God is listening to the prayers of His children. Please continue to do so!!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


Yesterday I volunteered to sit in B ward while the patients and other nurses went to ward church. While I enjoy the service, sometimes the over stimulation makes me very tired.
And I already drink too much coffee.

Midway through the 1 1/2 church service, Edwin's mom wandered into B ward. She said she didn't feel good. I was sitting on an empty bed filling out paper work. Often the patients and caregivers don't understand that if the nurse is in the middle of doing something (writing in a chart, pushing an IV medication...) proper manners would suggest waiting until the person is finished the task. When this happens I generally try and politely explain that I am in the middle of doing something but will help them as soon as I am finished.

Edwins mom interrupted my paper work once. I politely said I needed to finish what I was doing and could talk when I was finished. I tried to write again. She interrupted a second time. I gave my explanation again. She remained unfazed and interrupted a third time. I finally just gave up on my paper work and we started to chat.

I began to ask her a few questions about how she got here. She gave me some answers and some tears along the way.

In February, Edwin was hit in the back with a soccer ball, causing a small sore to form on his shoulder. The sore developed into necrotizing fascitis a.k.a. a massive infection. His entire body became swollen from the waist up. Huge blisters of puss formed throughout his back. Edwin was very sick. He was not laughing or smiling. His life was in danger.

Someone told his mother to take him to JFK, one of the few working hospitals in Liberia. When his mother brought Edwin,

"The doctor charged 100 LD (Liberian dollars) just for him to be seen."

Edwin needed to be admitted to the hospital, but she had no money to have him treated. She manged to take Edwin to a free pediatric hospital in Monrovia. When he arrived, Edwin was admitted to the ICU. He was given IV fluids, antibiotics, and blood. The blood cost Edwin's mother 1500 LD (a HUGE amount of money) and she needed to replace it after it was transfused.
She told me that a Mercy Ships surgeon came to the hospital and removed the necrotic tissue from Edwins back. He then stayed in the hospital until he came to the ship about a week ago.

Edwin came to have a skin graph. The day he came to the ship his older sister had a baby; and the baby died. His mother could not go to comfort her daughter or help bury the baby because she needed to stay with Edwin.

I'll never forget the first time I saw Edwin's pre-op photo; his entire back was a streak of exposed red flesh. All the skin was gone, from his shoulders to his butt. I can't beleive he survived that large of an infection.

When the surgeon grafted the skin, his back was slightly wet- not a good sign. It was likely that he had some infection on the site, which can cause a graph to fail. The surgery could be a bit of a long shot- but it was Edwin's only shot.

On Saturday, when the dressing was changed, it was beginning to fail. A culture revealed that a antibiotic resistant organism, which presumably had been there before surgery, was growing. Which is not very good news. If the graph fails, Edwin will most likely die. His skin is not going to grow back on it's own; there is no where else for him to receive treatment; and it's only a matter of time when you sleep on a dirt floor that your skinless back will become massively infected. And his "sore" is painful.

Edwin's mom realizes how serious Edwin's situation is. At several points in our conversation she buried her head into my shoulder and just cried. Her biggest fear was that

"the skin on Edwin's sore would not take."

And she was tired of seeing Edwin suffer.

"If God will carry Edwin, let Him carry Edwin. But I do not want to watch him suffer."

Edwin is a sweet, sweet boy. He eats up affection and gives kisses to all the nurses. He loves to play Jenga and is quite good. Yesterday he took all the Jenga pieces and set them up like domino's. He then called me over and gave me the privilege of knocking over the first block and initiating the falling cascade. He does not like to take his Cipro because "that medicine is bitter." He didn't complain once when I changed his dressing and made him lie on his bed with vinegar soaks. He told me to "mind his sore", and frequently stated/asked, "Meggee, my sore is getting better?" His mom told me he really wants to take a bath but he can't because of his bandages. He asks me if I am "working tomorrow" before I leave my shift and makes me promise to visit if the answer is no. He has a fun, energetic, and joyful spirit. It breaks my heart to think of his graph possibly failing.

After our conversation I unitized my break to email everyone I knew; asking that they would pray for Edwin. I told his mother I would and she was comforted.

Before going to bed (well, I'm still not quite in bed...) I checked B ward to see how Edwin was doing. Apparently he is doing small small better!! His back was dry and it looked as if the graph was starting to take. His mother told Katy, the night nurse, that all my friends were praying for Edwin.

Please keep praying for Edwin and the sore on his back.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

maybe there's a loving God.

This takes me back to when Veronica was dating Brian. To the first ever CCPhilly college and career retreat when Veronica and I lied on our backs, sharing a headset and listened to this song, as we stared at the stars by the bay at Sandy Cove. It makes me excited to stare at stars again and makes me think that Sara Groves must be a kindred spirit.

Maybe there's a loving God
Sara Groves

I'm trying to work things out
I'm trying to comprehend
Am I the chance result
Of some great accident
I hear a rhythm call me
The echo of a grand design
I spend each night in the backyard
Staring up at the stars in the sky

I have another meeting today
With my new counselor
My mom will cry and say
I don't know what to do with her
She's so unresponsive
I just cannot break through
She spends all night in the backyard
Staring up at the stars and the moon

They have a chart and a graph
Of my despondency
They want to chart a path
For self-recovery
And want to know what I'm thinking
What motivates my mood
To spend all night in the backyard
Staring up at the stars and the moon

Maybe this was made for me
For lying on my back in the middle of a field
Maybe that's a selfish thought
Or maybe there's a loving God
Maybe I was made this way
To think and to reason and to question and to pray
And I have never prayed a lot
But maybe there's a loving God


I realized today that it must be spring in Bucks County. It was a lovely revelation.

In two months time, my feet will again be treading upon American soil. As long as I renew my licence, purchase car insurance, and get my sitting-in-my-nana's-garage-for-a-year car to work properly, I might even be able to go for a dark summer's night drive amidst the winding roads of beautiful Bucks County.

It's hard to believe that I have been living on the ship for almost an entire year. That I actually came to Liberia. That I have served as nurse with Mercy Ships. It was my goal for two years and now it's almost fully reached. strange.

I feel that this experience has perpetrated my mildly restless soul and left me in the midst of a very strange internal dynamic. To be or not to be is not really the question. We can always be but can we truly live the lives we were created for. But I find the knowledge of that Divine intention is not revealed in a full coarse meal but rather in small, tiny bites. Daily manna if you will. Our never-quite satisfied mouths realize they find something of substance but as the taste hits our tongue it dissipates, leaving us needing a bite of something more. We are always dependent. We are easily broken. We are frail indeed.

We are incapable of ever being full satisfied while in our broken earthly state. Even in the most joyful moment we carry with us the realization that something is still terribly wrong. You don't have to look very hard to see that.

We were created for God's satisfaction and we can only find our own satisfaction when we are satisfied in His delight. So they key is to delight ourselves in God. And then as we find our hearts longing for another kingdom, a kingdom in which we will be know as we our fully known, the worries, the trials, the heartbreaks, the pain, the doubts, and the loneliness of earth begins to fade. Our goals, our dreams, our values, our ideals, our worth, our confidences and the weight of our lives become transparent in the light of eternity; and look very different then when they remained tucked away in the nooks of our desires.

I'm really happy that I will arrive home just in time to see the fireflies shine like twinkle lights my backyard; to pick the wild raspberry's that grow on the train tracks across from our neighbored; to watch my cousin get married; to see my best friend pregnant; to enjoy a summer's night with a campfire, marshmallows, a few guitars, some funny lyrics, and my brothers.

My goal would be to enjoy each day moment by moment. To not take myself too seriously. To not plan the future. To trust that all my needs will always be provided for. To learn to love God and to love others.

I think by the grace of God, we can find purpose and joy in each step. Even if don't know where they are leading.


too cool for school. yeah.

you have to love those ears. I just want to pinch them.
I showed Edwin how to use my camera. he took this picture.
edwin put the stickers on my forehead. so kind :)

my tenets on b ward. today we had alot of fun. we read books. we sang songs. we made crafts. we watched a movie. we played jenga. we changed skin dressings.
but i would be a liar to not confess that trying to keep five 2 to 7 year old's, who don't feel the least bit sick, sane and behaved in a small windowless ward on a hospital ship for 12 consecutive hours, even for someone who deeply enjoys children, is rather exhausting.
wonderful. exhausting. wonderful. exhausting.