Friday, July 13, 2007


She has totally stolen my heart. She's a 40 year old VVF patient who has been here on the ship now for 3 weeks. She was here for a week and a half before she even had surgery. There were about 5 ladies from a couple hours away who came for the screening, driven by their pastor. For some reason, he left them here, so they stayed in the hospital as hotel patients for a while before they actually had surgery. Most of them speak Liberian English as well as their own tribal languages. Korto only speaks her tribal language, so she just looks at you and starts talking, but none of it makes a bit of sense. To talk to her, I have to have one of our translators talk to another patient, have that patient talk to her, and then back through the 2 again. It's a job. Most of the time, she just looks at you, waves her hand, and laughs. I've been pretty sure for quite a while that she thinks I'm crazy. You have to wonder what these ladies are thinking. Many of them have never had any sort of medical care. They don't understand a lot of what we say to them, and I think a lot of what they learn as far as what's going to happen during the course of their stay is by observing what happens to the ladies that have surgery before them, moreso than understanding the details we tell them.

So at the end of day shift, it's the responsibility of the day nurses to take the ladies outside. It's definitely the highlight of working day shift. They sit in a big circle and sing for an hour or so. I'm pretty sure that that hour does more for them than all of the care they receive the other 23 hours of the day. After the surgery they've had, stairs are not a good plan, so we take them from the ward, which is on deck 3, up to deck 7. It's sort of like the front porch of the ship, it's just on the side, not the front. There is a roof over it, so you can go up there even when it's raining, which is pretty much all the time. We take them to deck 7 on the service elevator. It says on the door that there is a maximum of 10 people. I had never operated the lift, which is what the rest of the world calls an elevator, but how hard can it be? Shut the door, push the right button, and off you go. Well, that was true, but only to an extent. We got in, 9 patients and I (remember only some of them even speak Liberian english, which is still VERY different than American english. Swallow every consonant, speak with a lazy tongue, and you start to get close to what it sounds like), and headed up to deck 7. We got to the top and Korto was clinging to my shoulder, rolling and crossing her eyes, and moaning. She still managed to laugh the entire way. She is always laughing and smiling. For someone who has lived such a difficult life, she is very joyful. Well, we got to the top and the door slid open. There's a sliding door, but also a very heavy door that swings open. I was just turning the knob on the swinging door and all of a sudden the sliding door slammed shut, just missing my arm. Down we went. We got to the bottom, I started to open the door and the same thing happened. All told, we went up and down 3 times! It took no time at all before I looked around and noticed that there were 9 terrified women, who have never ridden in a lift before and they were all looking to me to figure out how to make the world stop jumping up and down. Here we are in a small metal box, moving up and down, getting dizzy, and they're not really sure how to understand that we leave one place and strangely show up somewhere else. Looking around in desperation, I noticed that there was a phone, so I called reception, hoping to have them call the ward and send someone down the hall to get help for operating the lift. Finally after the 3rd trip, we stopped and someone still at the bottom opened the door. It turns out that one of my co-workers had not waited long enough when we got to the top before she called the lift back down. By the time we stopped, the lift was offset from deck 3 by nearly a foot. Needless to say, as soon as the door opened, Korto nearly dove out of the lift and into the hall. I was amazed that she actually agreed to get back on a few minutes later. During the time we were going up and down one of the electricians showed up and told us that we really should only have 5 people, not 10. Lesson learned!

I said earlier that Korto always looks at me like I'm crazy. I've tried talking to her several times, but it's so complicated that it doesn't usually work very well. They way she just flips her hand and laughs, I figured she must be nearly exasperated. As I've spent more time caring for her, I've decided that even though we can't communicate with words, she's decided that we're pals. We use a lot of sign language. She does know a few english words and uses them as much as she can. One day a couple people were sitting talking. I walked over and just stood listening in. Her bed was already full of people sitting on it. She kept trying to get the attention of the lady in the bed beside her. Finally she did and motioned for her to move. The lady looked confused but moved anyway, then Korto patted the opened spot and looked at me, motioning for me to sit. When I did, she smiled a big smile of satisfaction, apparently happy that she had been able to make me welcome. The day we had the whole episode on the lift, ,on the way she was walking ahead of me and turned, calling "mama". That's the name used for nurses, mothers, grandmothers, anyone who is any sort of female caregiver. I walked up to see what she needed. She held out her hand so I held out mine. She took mine in hers, smiled an adorable smile, and continued walking down the hall holding my hand. Frequently at work if she notices that I'm not busy, she will call out Mama, and then pats the spot beside her, motioning for me to sit, and then just sits there smiling and talking. In my rough Liberian english, I tell her "no undertand". She just smiles and keeps talking anyway, often patting my back or knee. How can you not love a sweetheart who just wants your company even when you can't really talk or get to know each other on a deep level?

Yesterday when I worked it was beginning to seem as if her repair was failing. She had a little leaking starting again. I've not seen her look so blue before. She didn't sleep the entire night and could not bring herself to smile. She knows painfully well what it means to go back to the leaking. I think that it was just due to a spasm, but how do you do sign language to explain a spasm? After a while, I sat beside her, and just said "I pray?" With a very somber look she nodded her head. I prayed in english. I know she didn't understand a word I said, but from some of the conversations I've heard through the other ladies, I believe that even though we don't speak the same language, we both trust the same God. I guess she could tell by the tone of my voice when I was just about finished, because when I said Amen, she said it right along with me and gave me a look of gratitude. I'll have to check in on her today or tomorrow, just to let her know she's being remembered.

1 comment:

Mary said...

Such a sweet story. I think it must be much more rewarding than you can even convey to us. Yet, you've done a fabulous job of bringing us into your world over there. Thanks for updating.