While we are here in the Canary Islands, the local communities celebrate their thanksgiving for the good fishing they have had for the year. I think this is what they are celebrating. They carry a statue of the Virgen and child through the streets. The night before they decorate with colored salt and charcoal and sand. And this is the result. It is so interesting. A great feeling of community and loud party music and BBQ's along the street. Very friendly. Very interesting
Nine Hills to Nambonkaha: Two Years in the Heart of an African Village by Sarah Erdman
Cure for the Common Life by Max Lucado
Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult
The Middle of Everywhere by Mary Pipher
Writing to Change the World by Mary Pipher
Wrapped in Rain by Charles Martin
APRIL 2009 NEWSLETTER
APRIL 2009 NEWSLETTER
It is the unusual things that make me realize this is an odd life. You are standing in the reception area and there is an over head page for the emergency medical team to come to Ward B and all of a sudden there are your friends and neighbors running from the dining room and heading for the stairs. Or an overhead page for a certain young woman to contact the lab immediately and you know that there is a problem in one of the operating rooms and they need blood. It really is a call to prayer. You know at that point there is a problem. You do not know what the problem is but you do not need to know. It is enough that you have heard the page.
This past Monday was our Plastics Screening Day. People came with all sorts and conditions to see our main Plastic Surgeon. He comes every year. This year he is here for 5 weeks now and then 5 weeks in the fall. He works a regular job so that he can come and volunteer here to help the poorest of the poor. I got to help organize the 109 people who came hoping to be helped. For some it was contractures from burns or from leprosy and they wanted their hands or limbs to have movement again and for others strange lumps and bumps. We saw everything from bad scarring to a woman who will need her foot removed. Last year when I was down in the ward on a Sunday morning for the service there, a young woman came from another ward and she had had her foot removed. I was feeling sorry for her and for her loss. The group was asked if anyone wanted to say anything. Keep in mind there were probably 50 people and crew with bandages, catheters, casts, taped up cleft lips and a strange assortment of maladies. This young woman jumped to her foot. “Praise God!”, she said. “My foot is gone!” Well, I did not expect that. It had been an infectious, smelly, fly attracting thing and people would not come near her. It is all a matter of perspective.
The other morning Ken came into the office and was inspired to write - The morning broke sunny and hot today. I’ve joined the Technical Department’s combined meeting that occurs each Thursday morning on an open deck looking out to sea from our ship docked in the Port of Cotonou, Benin. Before me stands the Second Engineer, a Buddhist from Sri Lanka when he arrived at Mercy Ships 17 years ago, looking for something and finding Jesus. Now he works days in the engine room onboard, evenings showing the ‘Jesus Film’ in communities around the port, and this morning is encouraging us to stand firm in our faith. To my right stands a young Canadian deck officer, excited to be serving on a ship that is manned by people who love what they are doing and who care for one another, something he has not found in the rough and tumble world of commercial shipping. To my left stands a Liberian who fought in the Liberian civil war as a rebel leader, responsible along with so many others, for the death and destruction that has crippled his country. Now rehabilitated, he assists our Mental Health Team who brings healing to victims of violence. An amazing combination of cultures and experiences! If you can access Utube on your computers, you can check out Mercy Ships Screening Day to see footage of our main screening where we saw about 3000 people come. It gives you just a taste of an amazing day. There is a young man speaking who has a huge tumor. The other day on the ward I was visiting a patient and saw him in the next bed. Huddled beneath his blanket. Next day – the tumor was gone. A life changed.
And there are people everywhere. We jokingly mentioned that before you back up one of our Land Rovers, you had better look underneath the vehicle to make sure there is no one sleeping there waiting to be seen for help. We laughed but we DID look. Well a couple of days later there was an official announcement that yes, indeed, we must all check under the vehicles before driving.
We have been here now in Benin for 2 months and there have been 906 surgeries through the operating rooms so far, from 4 minute cataract surgeries to 8 hour maxillo facial surgeries. One of the patients was Balkissou, on the right, who I have been spending time with on the ward. You can see her before and after her surgery. Though I never find it easy, it is something I am always so pleased I have done. We could not speak, Balkissou and I, but we could knit and make pom poms and play Fish. She is 15 years old.
I have noticed some differences between Liberia and Benin. The dugout canoes here have motors on them. Also, yesterday we saw a sign that said “Pedestrian crossing”. You would never have seen a sign like that in Liberia. Of course it was lying in the road and had been run over numerous times, but it was there all the same. It is truly an amazing place, amazing people, unusual as it is, and we are thrilled to be here at this time. Thank you for your care and for your interest and for your friendship
A PATIENT STORY
Monrovia 9 September -- “I am sorry to say you delivered a stillborn baby, Sister Gamah,” her doctor said. “But there is another problem.” Those were the first words Gamah heard the doctor say after being in labor for days and hoping to give birth to her second child. “I was so sad and in so much pain,” she says. Gamah found that her bladder was weak and leaking. She would need surgery. The most common childbirth injury from obstructed labor is a vesico-vaginal fistula (VVF). This leaves the woman incontinent and, if not corrected surgically, unable to have children in the future. Unfortunately, most women who suffer from VVF have little or no access to medical assistance. Life can be unbearable for women with VVF. Generally shunned by society and disowned by relatives and friends, their dignity and acceptance is replaced by shame and rejection. Gamah’s experience was no different; she was desperate for help. An unsuccessful surgery elsewhere left Gamah bedridden for one month. She avoided friends and family who were thankfully unaware of her dilemma. Only her husband knew her secret, but he could provide little comfort and no answers. Gamah lived in hiding for nine years. “It was my secret. I don’t tell nobody, because it was between me and my husband,” she tells the Mercy Ships attendant. “I started going to church regularly and my faith in God became better, I began to feel encouraged and decided I won’t give up. I was in so much pain and begged God to save me. Whether I wet myself or not, I had to be in the presence of God,” Gamah says. One day, Gamah heard about Mercy Ships on the radio. Giving a loud swoop she started praising God, she realized her answer was coming on a big white ship. At last there was real hope and the surgery would be free! Soon after screening, Gamah found herself onboard the Mercy Ship, accepted for surgery. “I thought I was the only one suffering from VVF until I came to the ship and saw other women just like me with more sad stories than mine. I was not alone.” Gamah’s internal injuries were extensive, and the second surgery – her first onboard a Mercy Ship – could not stop the leaking. The doctors decided to schedule a second surgery. In spite of their grave concerns, her hopes were high. Excitement soon dissolved into anguish after this new surgery when she was still wet. Distressed, she watched other women completely healed and smiling after one surgery, their family members rejoicing and praising God. Arriving home, Gamah felt all alone but she wouldn’t give up. Full of prayer, she had faith that God would heal her, but didn’t know how. Soon, she heard that the new Mercy Ship, Africa Mercy had arrived for the first time in Liberia, and she believed God was giving her another chance. “I knew God was by my side,” she says. Today Gamah praises God that this final surgery was fully successful, repairing the extensive internal damage and allowing total healing. Gamah is dry for the first time in many years and feels like a new woman. It took faith and several surgeries to help Gamah realize that she could also be an encouragement to other women suffering from VVF. “Her voice has definitely raised the hope of others,” observes Esther, a Liberian serving with Mercy Ships. Two weeks later, Gamah looks beautiful in her fine new outfit and walks away confident and dry, smiling radiantly. She plans to encourage others suffering from VVF to keep praying and not give up hope. (This year Gamah has been coming everyday to help on the wards as a translator. She understands, what it is like to have this problem, what it is like to have a surgery but not be dry and also what it is like to have the problem solved. She smiles constantly and is a real encouragement to all of us. - Ann)