Wednesday, September 30, 2009

work hard. play hard. have fun.

On Sunday it was Bowie's birthday. My friends and I celebrated it with him at a local Fun Fair (aka carnival). The Fun Fair consisted of a carousel, bumper cares and spinning swings. Not exactly Six Flags, but amazing when I think of how underdeveloped Liberia was. And I am a firm believer that having fun is never about what your doing, it's about who you are with. I have
some really fun friends and we were determined to have a great time on Bowie's birthday.

After waiting a half hour we all rode the bumper cars to the amusement of the onlooking locals. When our time was over, the man in charge said, "Wait, I have another ride." At that moment, we learned who the impulsive people of the group were (that would be Erik, Jess, and myself). Without asking any questions (like, what is the ride? is it safe? will it be fun?) we jumped into the three chairs on the platform. Our friend Micheal soon joined us (he is probably truly the most adventurous since he actually thought about it before jumping on). As I strapped myself in, my mind was flooded with the realization that I could be making a very bad choice, but it was too late turn back. Watch the last video and you'll understand why "fun night" came to a screeching halt for the four of us, and why we all needed crackers and tea when it was over.

It was a lesson in the merits of thinking before acting. I suppose spontaneity isn't always the best idea.


more pre-fun.

actual fun.

too much fun.

Monday, September 28, 2009

life in a paper cup

"You do not have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body." C.S. Lewis

This weekend was a ship holiday and all non-shift workers had Friday off. Some friends and I spent Friday-Saturday at a local pool. On Friday night we played "fax machine," a game from home I've been happy to introduce to my international friends.

At the start of the game, everyone gets a stack of blank papers, according to the number of people playing (for example, six of us played so we each had six papers). Everyone writes a phrase on the top piece of paper and passes it to the person next to them. They read the phrase, put it at the bottom of the pile, and then try to illustrate it. The next person looks at the illustration and writes the phrase they think it is describing. It's sort of like whisper down the lane with paper an pens. It's hysterical to watch the phrases morph and change with each illustration.

The first phrase I was handed was "Life is like a box of chocolates." I used a stick figure to illustrate "life". The stick figure was born, became a child, got married, had a family, and then died. It proved to be a sufficient illustration when the person next to me wrote the correct phrase. At the end of the round, when I looked through all the drawings, I found, without seeing each other's drawings, everyone used the same concept for describing "life". We all drew a person under going a prescribed series of events experienced by most of humanity.

Sitting by the pool on Saturday, I was struck by the significance of our identical illustrations. We had all described "life" as a concept with a concrete beginning point, birth, and ending point, death. "Life" was the in-between, events encapsulated within these two points.

I wondered how we would have illustrated "soul". As I looked over the events and timetable of life, I concluded that bring my soul withing the jurisdiction of these points, however, it is completely separate from them. The soulish part of me is in not defined by events. Yes, I was born, but I would never describe my soul by my birth. Perhaps I will get married one day, but I would not describe my soul by my marriage. Neither of those things define my existence. They may affect my soul, but they will never frame or define it.

Life is a captive of time. It remains between two clearly set points which all of mankind comes under subjection. Our souls exist outside of the framework of time. They are eternal. When our life is gone, our souls will carry on. A truth which carries poignant implications.

I hit my halfway point last week. I've been here three months and will be leaving in three more. I have no plans and no tangible expectation of what God has next for me. I feel called to continue in missions, but am uncertain of where, with who, when, and in what capacity. I felt a bit overwhelmed by it all last week.

Currently, I am reading through Genesis and am currently exploring the life of Abraham. In chapter 12 God calls Abram saying, "Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will shew thee," and Abram leaves everything behind and goes.

24 years and five chapters later, in Genesis 17:5-8, God again speaks to Abram.

"Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee. And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee. And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee. And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God."

He'd spend the next 75 years of his life, living an unsettled life in tents throughout the dessert, believing that promise. His life on earth never included seeing his descendants become many nations or possessing the land of Canaan. But God kept His promise. We can still see that today.

The journey, the promise, the calling, wasn't really about reaching a physical destination. The journey was becoming Abraham. Abram could have held onto his life and stayed in Ur, where he was settled, cultured, and wealthy. He could have fulfilled all the points between life an death my friends and that could have been it. There was a clear choice. He could not have both. He choose to reach towards eternity, and forsook that which is bound for that which is boundless.

I find this all strangely comforting. My God has not only searched out the great oceans of eternity, but He mysteriously contains them within Himself (John 1:1). I'm swimming in a paper cup of life. I see it for what it is when I hold the cup next to the ocean. It's small, short, and incomparable. Likewise are our lives when held next to eternity. If God contains the eternal sea, surely my paper cup of water is not outside of His watch and guidance. Regardless of what life does or does not hold, whether it be joy or sorrow, one day my soul will be freed and I will swim in those eternal seas.

I think He cares most that my souls makes that journey. It's the journey I want to pursue. My heart echos the words of the the martyred missionary, Jim Elliot, "He is no fool to lose what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose."

May that be true of us. Let us not be content to only think of our lives. May we be those concerned with eternity, accounting for first our own souls and then standing in the gap for those around us.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Prince Eddie

A few weeks ago I was visiting the wards and one of the nurses directed me towards Prince Eddie. Apparently, he had written a poem for the nurses, thanking them for their service.
Nursing has to be one of the toughest jobs there is. Everyday you stretched and challenged emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually. Often, nurses are taken for granted and not appreciated for what they do.

A little encouragement goes a long way. I know that Prince Eddie really encouraged the nurses with his words. Here the poem and Prince Eddie's story.

Prince Eddie: A Grateful Heart

Walking into the Africa Mercy hospital, I immediately noticed the patient sitting in bed 11. His smile was illuminating the entire room. I knew he had to be Prince Eddie.

Prince Eddie is known on the Africa Mercy for his contagious joy and grateful heart. In the few weeks he has spent in the hospital, his smile has encouraged dozens of patients, nurses, and doctors.

A businessman by vocation, he keeps a black briefcase next to his hospital bed. Inside, amidst stationery and pens, is a carefully stored photograph of his new bride, Millicent, and a wedding ring he can’t wear.

“I have my wedding band, and I want to wear it but can’t because of the burn. Forcing it over the burn is too painful,” said Prince Eddie.

Prince Eddie was born with a condition called syndactyly. On both of his hands, his ring fingers and middle fingers were fused together. When he was an infant, he received a surgery to separate the fingers at a local hospital. The operation was successful on his right hand, but post-surgical complications burned the fingers on his left hand, leaving them fused and contracted.

Every day – for 36 years – Prince Eddie has made subtle modifications to perform common tasks and avoid embarrassment. “For my job, I have to do a lot of computer work. Typing is hard because I can’t freely move my fingers,” said Prince Eddie. “When I am at work, I don’t sit by the computer if there are a lot of people around because I want to hide my hand.”

The injury had prevented him from pursuing many interests. “I really enjoy music and have wanted to learn how to play guitar. But because of my hand, I have not been able to. I cannot grip the strings,” he explained. But it has never stolen his joy. In the face of difficulties and disappointment, he’s never stopped smiling.

Today, Prince Eddie has a lot to smile about.

Four months ago, he married his beautiful bride, Millicent, and is very excited about being a husband. This month, he received a free surgery onboard the Africa Mercy to restore the use of his fingers. In a few weeks, his bandages will be removed, and he will finally be able to wear his wedding ring.

Prince Eddie first encountered Mercy Ships in 2006 when the Anastasis came to his home country of Ghana. Friends from his church, the Yeboah family, were living on the Anastasis and encouraged him to come to the ship. He was examined by a surgeon. The surgical schedule was already full, so he was placed on a waiting list. He was never called back. This year, the Yeboahs informed Prince Eddie that the Africa Mercy was coming to Benin. In March he traveled to Benin, was examined by a surgeon, and again placed on a waiting list.

The always gracious Prince Eddie did not become disheartened or frustrated. “When I was screened, there were a lot of patients in the line. I didn’t feel bad when I was put on the waiting list, because I realized there were a lot of people whose situations were worse than mine,” he said. Fortunately, a space in the surgical scheduled opened, and Prince Eddie was able to receive his free surgery.

Prince Eddie is extremely grateful to the doctors and nurses who have cared for him on the Africa Mercy. He wrote the poem, “Angels Amongst the Sons of Men,” to express his gratitude.

“I see all the nurses here as angels. It’s a touching sight to watch the nurses work. How could I not be grateful?” said Prince Eddie.

Prince Eddie Daniels, patient onboard the Africa Mercy, wrote the following poem:

Angels Amongst the Sons of Men

The day the Big White Whale landed on the black shores of Africa was a blessed day to the Sons of Men.
It came with Angels to walk amongst the Sons of Men.
Why do I call them Angels? Let me tell you of my time with them.

I came onboard the White Whale with rooms filled with
the lame
the maimed
the formed
the deformed
the wrong
and the rough.

And deep into the darkest part of the night, I saw men and brethren,
maidens and ladies, though flesh as us, yet with hearts as Angels.

Sleeplessly and tirelessly they toiled through the night,
through the pains and aches of men;
They, with hands to heal and mend,
bringing from above the Father's love to the Sons of Men.

Some they cut.
Some they tie.
Some they seal, and yet others
they fix with tools untold.

Like messengers of the Most High they came.
Not thinking of their own, they risked their lives
and sailed the seas to lands beyond the endless world,
to shores of Men afflicted and in pain.

Their hearts and lives they came to share,
as Angels walking amongst the Sons of Men.

Some in this life are born to pass,
and some are born in life to live,
Yet these Angels are born to preserve humanity.

Though some may see lives as waste,
yet with speed they move to save.
With words of love and touch of peace,
they endlessly toil to make right the wrong.

You were born as Men to your lands,
and yet as Angels you served the earth.
Gold is digged from earth beneath.
Treasures are hunted on high seas.
But love so pure and true
can only in hearts like yours be found.

Your labor in the Lord shall not be in vain.
For every life you touch and every soul you save,
For every bone you mend and every face you straight,
The Lord of Life and Light will light your path and guide your life.

For you are truly Angels amongst the Sons of Men.

Prince Eddie explained his inspiration:

“I see all the nurses here as angels. Because of the pain in my hand, sometime I can’t sleep at night. Instead, I sit awake and watch the nurses work. They do everything, from cleaning to mopping – taking care of all kinds of things. It takes angels to do that, to render that service.”

“Sometimes you do a lot of things, and you wonder if people really appreciate what you do. Patients come in and out, and many don’t have the opportunity to say ‘Thank you.’ I feel everyone would wish to express their gratitude, but the English background restrains many people from saying what they want to say. I wanted them to know I appreciate them.”

“It was already a touching sight to watch the nurses work, but then I learned they have to pay to work onboard. I asked myself, why are they paying to work? They should be paid to work. I was so touched because I knew they were doing the service of the Lord. You have to have a big heart to do that.”

“I write as a hobby when I am inspired. I don’t keep copies of my writing; if someone inspires me, I write, give it to them. I felt like writing the poem to say, ‘Thank you.’ My motivation is to let everyone know that I am so grateful for what they have done for my fingers. I wanted to thank everyone who helped me. This poem is what I feel; it’s a way of saying, ‘Thank you.’”

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Oumar Dolo: A new reality.

A patient story I recently wrote....

The average 25-year-old has never thought about dying from a dental infection, but that was almost Oumar Dolo’s reality.

Oumar Dolo, 25, lives in Benin. For two weeks, he had been experiencing pain in his tooth. On a Monday morning, he came to the Mercy Ships Dental Clinic for a free examination. “I was feeling a lot of pain when I went to the dental clinic. I wasn’t scared, because I thought I just had a small problem with my tooth,” said Oumar. He was diagnosed with a tooth abscess, the tooth was extracted, and he went home.

But on Wednesday his mother, Momoun, brought him back to the dental clinic. Oumar had developed Ludwig’s Angina, a bacterial infection of the mouth which can develop after a tooth abscess. In just two days, his face had become distorted from prominent swelling and deposits of puss. The swelling was occluding his airway; he was losing his ability to breath.

Momoun felt scared and helpless. She realized the life of her son was in eminent danger. “I was really scared when Oumar had the infection. I thought my son was going to die,” she said.

Realizing Oumar would die if no intervention was taken, Dental Team coordinator, Jessica Campbell, contacted the hospital staff on board the Africa Mercy.

“When I came to work, I was told one of our patients had returned. When I saw Oumar, I knew he needed help,” said Cambell.

That same morning Oumar was transported to the Africa Mercy, where he received an emergent surgical irrigation and drainage of his face. After surgery, he was transported to the Africa Mercy Intensive Care Unit. The infection was affecting his entire body.
For several days, he remained critically ill. His mother remained by his side, praying God would heal him.

“Although I was scared, I believe in God and I was sure everything would be okay. I knew there were a lot of people praying for him,” said Momoun.

Oumar spent several days in Intensive Care, requiring 24-hour nursing care, artificial ventilation, and large doses of antibiotics.

“They placed three drains in his face and kept the breathing tube in for over a week because of the swelling. It was a life or death situation,” said Intensive Care Unit nurse Cassidy Phillips.

Finally, after more than a week in Intensive Care, Oumar’s condition stabilized and he was transported to the ward. A week later, he walked away from the Africa Mercy completely healthy.

Without Mercy Ships, death at 25 would have been Oumar’s reality. But today, Oumar is alive, healthy, and has a hopeful future. Mercy Ships gave him a new reality.

“I am really happy that Mercy Ships was here to help me. The Lord has done a great miracle for me,” said Oumar.

Monday, September 21, 2009

the color of it all.

It's hard to believe, but I have been on the ship for three months and am almost halfway through my time here. The looming question of "What comes next," has been creeping into my head. The honest answer to the question? I really haven't a clue.

While living on ship with the constant mirror of 400 other people can be frustrating at times (i.e. nearly impossible to find a truly quiet-non-interruptable space) and the stress of the environment forces you to uncomfortably embrace your insecurities and get over issues with people you could normally just avoid at home (not necessarily a bad thing). But the truth is, at the end of the day, it's really amazing. God has again faithfully blessed me with an abundance of kindred spirit friends and I've have really been enjoying my time here.

But in three months, I'll say goodbye and head back to Bucks County, to face the perils of "re-entry". As much as I miss/love my home, family, and friends, it's a really tough transition to make. I know because I've already done it. I'm not looking forward to doing it again. The anticipation this week filled my head to the point of complete self-consumption.

En route to Benin I watched "Slum dog Millionaire." There is a scene in the movie when an adult burns the eyes of street children, making them blind, so they can be more efficient beggars and make him more money. Last night, while our Land Rover paused at a traffic light, a blind man came to our window and asked for money. The mans eyes recalled the images of the children in the movie and left me a bit unsettled. I'm sure there are thousands, possible millions, of children around the world who are being exploited right now. Maybe the man at the window had been one of them. Regardless, I could not ignore the reality that the world is a sinful place filled with hurting people.

In light of that fact, in light of what I claim to believe, how I live should be affected. Period. There really is no room or need for self consumption.

When my eyes are focused on myself, my future, my needs, my rights, and my desires, my world gets very small. My mind is made obtuse and my vision narrows. Suddenly, I'm blinded to the needs of those around me. I can't think of myself and my neighbor. One will suffer the loss of my attention.

This morning I read this verse,

Genesis 12:1

"Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will shew thee."

I loved the last four words, "I will shew thee." God called Abraham but didn't tell him where he was going. He asked him to leave everything in his life behind and simply promised that he would lead him and be faithful to His promise.

Really, isn't that enough? I want my gaze fixed that reality.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Labi's tears.

Last week 8-year-old Labi came to the ship. In the afternoon, someone came to my office and told me about her. Thinking I might want to write a story about her, I went down to the ward Tuesday evening to find her.

I'd seen her pre-op photos before going down to the ward. There was a fist-sized cauliflower shaped tumor, the width of her smile, sprouting four inches out of her mouth. It was pink, fleshy, and dripping in puss. When I entered the ward she was hanging up coloring book pages on her wall, with her nurse Becca. She had the tumor covered with a blue rag. Becca told me she wouldn't let anyone see it. When it was time to eat, she'd crawl under her hospital bed so no one could see her. Eating messy and difficult. She had to tilt her head back, pull her tongue out, place the food on her tongue, put her tongue behind the tumor, and then she could swallow the food. It was quite a process.
When Labi first came to the ward, she wouldn't look anyone in the eye. She was too withdrawn and insecure. She'd experienced a lot of pain for an eight-year-old.

The next day, Wednesday, Labi went in for surgery. Dr. Gary (max/fax surgeon) thought he'd have to remove part of her jaw to take out the tumor. But thankfully, the tumor wasn't affecting the bone like he's thought, and was removed with the jawbone intact.

That evening went back to the ward to see how she was doing. The tumor was completely gone. Labi looked like a totally different little girl.

She was hooked up to a monitor and an IV, dozing in and out of sleep. I didn't want to bother, so I just stood in the corner and watched her for a few minutes. She woke up and Becca, still her nurse, wanted to show her what her face looked like. Labi hadn't seen herself since surgery.

Becca handed her a small mirror. Labi looked down, paused with a look of bewilderment, and began touching her mouth (where the tumor use to be). After about 20 seconds, a tear rolled down her cheek. You could see her trying to hold them back, but another soon followed. Then another. Then another. Finally, she stopped fighting them and freely cired. Becca left her bedside to get her tissues.

Her mother had been standing next to her, watching the entire time. When Labi started crying, she backed away from her bed. You could see in her eyes and body language the mixture of joy and pain. The two years of discouragement and depression over her daughter condition had finally ended. Relief had finally come. But watching the emotion of her small daughter was too much for her mother's heart. It took her a few minutes before she was able to wipe Labi's tears.

I was moved by Labi's tears. They were mature and raw. Painful and joyful. Heavy tears for an eight-year-old to cry.

I am certain that she has shed many tears over the past two years when she was alone. She is strong and I don't think she'd want people to see her cry.

I am thankful she came to the Africa Mercy and no longer needs to hide.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

True Conversations

In May, I completed the Unbranded Beauty Project, in which I photographed and interviewed women about beauty. I sent it to the True Campaign, which, "Exists to end the crisis of distorted self image by challenging cultural ideals about identity and beauty, so we can be free to impact our world as God intended."

Before leaving for Benin, Constance Rhodes, co-founder of the campaign, interviewed myself and three of the women I interviewed/photographed. The interview is now available online as a free podcast here.

Since we are unable to download things here, I haven't been able to listen to it. Someone will have to let me know if I sound all right :)

Story on Nursing Advance website

A patient story was posted this week on the Nursing Advance (a magazine for nurses) website.

You can read it at the link below.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Dance this mess around.

I've always loved theme parties. I love attending them. I love planning them. I love finding the perfect costume. I love dancing.

I've brought my theme party love to Benin. On Saturday night, some friends and I threw an 80's dance party on deck 8 of the Africa Mercy. When I woke up Sunday morning, completely exhausted and in need of Ibuprofen for a sore neck, I knew it had been a smashing success (coincidentally several other woke up feeling the same way).

I was amazed at the caliber of the costumes everyone showed up in and even happier about how crazy/silly/fun everyone was while dancing. There was no need to be cool. Just the way it ought to be.

At one point, I estimate there was 50 people on the dance floor, of all ages, from all different departments on the ship. It was a great community building experience.

I couldn't help but just feel blessed to be here. How many opportunities do you get in life to throw an 80's dance party on the top of a hospital ship with dear friends from all over the world.

There can't be many.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Speech Therapy Program

A story I wrote about speech therapy on the ship.

Speech Therapy on the Africa Mercy

“Speech is power: speech is to persuade, to convert, to compel.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
The ability to communicate is powerful, allowing us to share ideas and engage in relationships. There are many mediums through which we communicate, including imagery, touch, and the written word. But our most frequent, and arguably most powerful, channel of communication is speech. Speech allows us to quickly articulate emotions, opinions, and thoughts. It’s a powerful ability.
Some patients onboard the Africa Mercy are discovering this power for the first time.
Maxillofacial operations are an integral part of the surgical schedule during Mercy Ships 2009 Field Service in Benin. Many maxillofacial patients, particularly those with cleft lips/palates, have spent their lives communicating with impeded speech. Facial malformations of the oral and nasal passages, in conjunction with weakened lip muscles, make it impossible to articulate normal sounds. Impediments can range in severity from difficulty producing a few sounds to a complete inability to form understandable words.
Living with a speech impediment is embarrassing and frustrating. Often children are not sent to school because they can’t properly communicate. This lack of education stagnates their mental and relational development, causing problems that will follow them into their adult years. Restoring speech to a child can spare him or her from a lifetime of anguish.
Surgically correcting the facial anatomy is the first step to restoring speech. However, even after the facial anatomy is corrected, many still have difficulties speaking. Post-operative speech therapy is needed to retrain the mouth and throat to correctly form sounds.
“Even though the surgery is complete and successful, and they look more normal, it’s the therapy that’s going to make them sound better,” said speech therapist Sally Peet. “Just because the anatomy is corrected doesn’t mean they are able to use it to speak properly. Therapy is a huge part of making the surgery a success.”
Sally Peet of the United Kingdom has been a licensed speech therapist since 1994. Since 2004, she and her family have served with Mercy Ships. Currently, she provides speech therapy for patients onboard the Africa Mercy.
Peet described her work: “I work with the maxillofacial patients, mainly the cleft lips and the cleft palates. However, any surgery that’s interrupted the facial muscles may have a need for therapy. For example, when a patient has a large facial tumor removed, their skin and lips become flaccid, affecting their speech and their ability to control saliva. I work with them, as well as the cleft lip patients, to make sure their lips are strong.”
Patients with speech difficulties are referred to Peet post-operatively by the Africa Mercy nursing staff. She works individually with each patient, evaluating their needs and providing exercises to strengthen weakened muscles. Also, she encourages the proper usage of restored facial anatomy.
“Many patients have found a way of ineffectively talking around huge malformations and have spoken incorrectly for years. The initial goal is to ensure the anatomy where the surgery has taken place will now be functional,” said Peet.
Peet works with patients throughout their time on the ward. When they leave the hospital, they come back to the Africa Mercy for outpatient appointments – sometimes for several months after their surgery.
“I can achieve more with the ones who live closer, because I can see them for a longer period of time,” said Peet.
Peet describes a memorable patient she worked with for over three months during the 2008 Field Service in Liberia: “There was a beautiful little girl with a cleft lip and palate. She spoke without using any constants sounds, and you could not understand her when she talked. She and her mom worked incredibly hard in therapy. By the time we finished, she was totally intelligible and making every sound correctly. Her mother said all her aunties in her village were dancing because now, not only does she look beautiful, she sounds beautiful.”
Providing speech therapy is just one example of Mercy Ships commitment to holistic care for patients through the partnership of various professional skills. Sally Peet is thrilled to be partnering with the Africa Mercy’s surgical and nursing staff to provide hope and healing to the world’s forgotten poor. “I love providing speech therapy. It’s great to be working in my profession onboard the Africa Mercy,” she concluded.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

West African Worship.

Today I was at the opening of a building Mercy Ships recently completed, which will be used as an agriculture training center. At the ceremony, these women sang and danced. I thought the viewing audience might enjoy seeing what is a daily occurrence here.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Burkitt's patients

Rochelle is super sweet. We gave her pen and paper to draw with and she started drawing ships.
Maddie, 2, is extremely sassy. She refuses to smile whenever the "Yovo's" (white people) are around but today, for a moment, she actually smiled. I was able to catch the moment as well as her mom's shock that she smiled.

Today, Maddie was giving our translator a hard time when he attempted to be her friend. After five minutes of attempting to befriend her, he picked her up. Maddie then proceeded to pee all over him and I am certain it was intentional. She's that smart and has the much attitude. At the age of 2.
Luc's mother. It's difficult for parents to watch their children battle cancer wherever you come from.
Luc and his mother sit on their hospital bed.
Luc is 3-years-old, snuggly, and sweet. He has a fetish with sunglasses and three pairs on his head throughout our visit. He has a crush on Suey. Today she was standing outside the room door, talking to some nurses, and he kept coming out of the room to give her hugs and kisses.
It doesn't get much better then that.
Burkitt's lymphoma is an aggressive form of cancer, responsible for 50% of cancer deaths in children in Uganda and Central Africa. It is characterized by an enlarged jaw, loose teeth, and protruding eyeballs. Symptoms develop very quickly. A healthy child can be have an large tumor within four to six weeks of the initial symptoms.

Last year I cared for Sadie, a Burkitt's patient who died within six weeks of displaying symptoms. I'll never forget looking at his small flip-flops carefully placed at the end of his ICU bed, as I took care of him during his last days on earth. It was hard. It's always hard to watch a child die.

But the saddest part is that Burkitt's is 70% curable when timely medical interventions are taken (aka you give the patient a series of 6 doses of chemotherapy) and the remission rate is 80%.

But in West Africa, chemotherapy most often isn't available. If it is, it's often unaffordable or given ineffectively.

The Mercy Ships palliative care program has several Burkitt's patients they are helping receive chemotherapy. Three of them, all children, are currently staying at a local hospital, receiving their chemotherapy. I was able to visit them Monday and today.

Originally it was a group of four but sadly, one of the children died last week. Thankfully, the other three are responding positively to the chemo treatments, and look like they will have a positive outcome.

The three kids are Maddie, Luc, and Rochelle. Please keep them in your prayers.

Check out my dear friend Suey's blog (she works in palliative care) to learn more.

Kids on the ward

This little girl is on the ward right now. She is sassy and adorable.
The cleft lip boy Iwas looking for.

Last night I went down onto the ward looking for a cleft lip patient I want to write a story on. I was stopped when I came to the bottom of the steps that lead me into the ward. A boy, about 13, was standing in the hallway with his arms and legs spread out so they touched each wall. He was making a face similar to Gandolf's in Lord of the Rings when he shouted, "You shall not pass". I was not allowed through.
He held his ground for about 20 seconds, and then, with a playful laugh, agreed to let me into the ward. He had obviously just had a max-fax surgery, as an NG tube was dangling out of his nose and a large bandage was wrapped around his chin. But that couldn't stop him from being silly.

When I went into the ward, I didn't find my cleft patient, but I did meet another little girl. She is six and has a tumor, the size of both my fists, climbing out of her mouth. She keeps it covered by a rag so no one can see it (which is still completely noticeable). Becca, her nurse, told me she sits under the bed when she eats. Eating is a difficult procedure and she is far to embarrassed to allow anyone to see.

I sat on her bed while Becca played with her. Earlier, she had colored what could have been an entire coloring book, and Becca was helping her tape her masterpieces to the wall. She was very particular in where they were placed, pointing to the spot she wanted and nodding her head in approval when they were securely attached.

Before I left, we all went for a "march" down the hallway. As we marched, I looked to my right and saw a male patient my age marching with us. His was moving his arms and legs up and down with such seriousness and purpose, I had to laugh inside. Only here will you ever see that happen. It's pretty awesome.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Benin football game (it's soccer to Americans).

Sarah has a ticket to get in.
The stadium.
Waiting for the gate to open for the 5,000 CFA seats we had tickets for. The gate, however, never opended and we ended up sitting in 1,000 CFA seats. Things work differently in West Africa. We were quite happy to make it into the stadium.
For the record, we bought our jersey's first :)
These guys were into it. Really into it.
The game begins.
A stadium vendor. West African style.
Group shot. It was a really fun group.

The wave went around the stadium several times.

Yesterday, some friends and I went to a Benin football match. Our group of 11 was almost completely clad in Yellow Benin jersey's and holding accompanying yellow, green, and red flags. The game was a world cup qualifier so the excitement/tension was high in the stadium. Whenever Benin missed a shot you could hear a universal groan throughout the stadium. Sadly for the Benin fans, the game ended in a draw. We had a great time and I can't wait until October when Benin plays Ghana.

This is moments after Benin scored it's only goals. Everyone was pretty excited.

Friday, September 4, 2009

abundantly more.

Almost exactly 4 years ago, I was walking around a lake with my friend Julie in the mountains of Pennsylvania. I had just started working as a nurse, I believe she was finishing grad school. I told her my pipe-dream plan to go live on a hospital ship in West Africa. She told me about her pipe-dream plan to teach in Hungary.

Two years later, we were both living our pipe-dream.

Yesterday, I received an email about some amazing opportunities God is giving her to continue her involvement there. And here I sit working in a communications department on a hospital ship in West Africa.

Four years ago, neither of us would have even dared to dream that we'd be where we are, doing what we're doing. It would have sounded crazy.

And that's why I love following Christ. The verse is true. He does exceedingly abundantly more than we could ask or think. Which makes the future, as uncertain and unplanned as it might be, safe, secure, and completely exciting.

Thursday, September 3, 2009


This is 2 year-old Juge who recently had her cleft palate repaired. Before her surgery, she struggled to eat and speak. Now, her eating has improved and she is working with Sally Peet, our speech therapist. In a few years, she will be able to go to school and will never have to face the rejection that a cleft causes.
Cleft repairs are my favorite surgery because of how quickly we can change someones life (and they normally involve children :).

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

she's getting so fat :)

Maomai before surgery.

Maomai and her mother yesterday. Isn't that amazing?

Maomai came to the ship yesterday for a post-op appointment and my friend (and photographer) took a few photos of her. It brought my heart a great amount of joy when I viewed them in our office this morning. She's getting so big and fat and I love it.