Monday, April 28, 2008

Deck 8

I really should have posted this yesterday while it was still fresh in my mind. Actually, if I were as tech. savvy as my friend Mary from work, I would have had my laptop in church with me to take notes, and could have written in the moment. My memory is still pretty good, so I think I'll be fine.

We sang Glory in the Highest yesterday in church. You can listen to it here if it doesn't pop into your head. I don't know about the rest of you, but every once in a while a wave of emotion hits me more quickly than I know how to handle. I nearly had to sit down in tears, happy ones, not sad. That's what happened during worship. I love that song. You know how sometimes a song, or a smell, or a taste takes you right back to another time and place? All of a sudden I found myself on Deck 8 of the Africa Mercy. I'm here now, and I know I'm right where I'm supposed to be. I'm not exactly sure why, but that's for my Father to know and me to trust. Sometimes, though, during worship, He takes us back to other sweet times with Him. Deck 8 is one of those times/places for me.

Deck 8 is one of the few places one can go on a ship with 350-380 crew and a hospital full of patients. For single crew members, the only place you can really call your own, is your pillow. Even then, if you're on the bottom bunk, you cabin mates may use it for a sofa. Needless to say, some days you need some alone time. I was sad to realize when I sat down to post this that I don't have any good photos of Deck 8. At the end are a few to try to give you an idea. It's the very top of the ship. There are cranes, storage for old resin lawn chairs, the bridge (where the capt. and officers sail the ship from), extra small freight containers, AC vents, lifeboats, and a lot of machines that look like things that someone with no sailing experience should leave alone. The other thing that is to be found there is a lot of open space and solitude. Especially if you're wise enough to go there around 1 or 2am, you feel like you have the whole ship to yourself. It's a great place to go to pray, sing, be still, read the Word, or listen to your iPod.

At least once everyother day I found time to go to Deck 8 to get away from it all for a little while. During the night you could see the stars, hear the waves, watch the UN guards patrolling the dock (or budding romances that weren't yet ready to expose their relationship to the grapevine;), smell the saltwater, not to mention the funk coming from water in the bay that wasn't fit to swim in. You could also look out over the city. It naturally brought me to prayer, both for the crew and patients in the 7 decks below me, as well as the people of Liberia that I know He loves and wants to draw to Himself.

You don't need to be in exactly the same spot every time to replicate sweet times with Jesus, but when a memory hits you so hard, it's hard to not want to return. Yesterday as we sang, that's where I was. The beauty of Deck 8 is that between the roar of the diesel engines and the wind, I could listen to that song over and over on my iPod, singing as loud as my lungs would take me. Even so, the people on the dock rarely heard, or at least were kind enough not to jump off the dock in misery:) I love to sing in the car and the shower. I love to sing with others too, but it's fun to let it rip when no one else is listening. (I know y'all know what I'm talking about.) More than once one of the ship's Nepalese guards came around the corner of the funnel to find me belting one out all by myself. hehe
This isn't a great picture of Deck 8, but you can see, on the ship on the right, that there is a lot of busyness going on on the top of the ship.

The side of the funnel. Every time I looked at the funnel, I had to think of Loveboat.
The Peet family, from England, was living in the city, and then came to volunteer on the ship. Much later than expected, their pool that they had ordered finally arrived. To the benefit of the crew, it now sits on Deck 8. This is a recent photo of Sally trying it out.

Oh yeah, you can watch some amazing sunsets from Deck 8 as well. I never tire of the beauty of water, clouds and light! Thanks for letting me ramble and reminisce. Hopefully we all can find our own Deck 8 from time to time.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Spring Cleaning

A photo doesn't really do it justice, but I wanted to show off a couple paintings that I bought in the craft market in Monrovia, and just recently had framed. This is my first venture in having something professionally framed. Not cheap! I knew that going in, but still.....come one. It's salty to say the least. I have to say I'm very glad that I only paid $22 for both. I had a hard time deciding between the 2, so the vendor gave me a deal on the pair. I love blues and greens and that was what really drew me to these 2. They're each about 2 ft. by 3 ft. so they look much smaller in the photos than they do in realy life.

It's been a pretty ho-hum sort of week. Work has had it's annoyances, but the work week is over! Actually several weeks ago we were having a particularly trying work day. My friend Michelle and I were talking about it. Before I had really taken the time to think through the comment, I pointed out that I've not had a work day yet that has not ended. Good to know. Some days you just keep plugging through with the mere goal of surviving. This last week felt a bit like that, but the work week ended just like every other one always has. Thank goodness. The good news is that we only have one surgery that will require time in the recovery room, so several of us got to be downstaffed. The reward for trudging on was a 3-day weekend. I love it!

Another bonus at the end of the week was renewed faith in the fact that good things come to those who wait. It's not anything major, like my ship coming in or anything, but I felt like I won something. I've been thinking that I'd like to replace my computer chair. It's really not a computer chair, it's a VERY old dining room chair that my parents bought used when they got married. Anyway...I've looked at new ones, but was reluctant to spend the money. For some reason they decided at work that it's time to replace the board room chairs. They're nice. High- backed, swiveling, reclining, telescoping based, leather chairs with arm rests. Really I don't know why they need to be replace. They look like new. Just as I was leaving work I happend to run into my supervisor in the hall. The old chairs were only being given to the supervisors. She said that she doesn't want hers, and that I should go take it if I could use one for any reason. Hmm......glad I didn't buy one last weekend when I was looking. This one is much nicer, and it's free. I LOVE free!!!!!!!
I'm going to mention this at least once more, and I may even send out an email. Remember to watch PBS on May 13. "A Walk to Beautiful" will be airing. It's a documentary about VVF. I'm excited for others I know to get a little bit better opportunity to see first-hand what the lives are like of the ladies I cared for last summer.
Well, the title said spring cleaning. That's ultimately my goal for this weekend. I was supposed to be doing that when I sat down to check my emails and blogs. Now here I am writing rather than cleaning. Gotta get back to it. Hope you're all having a good weekend.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

It's Raining, It's Pouring

What a dreary day! Yesterday it was 69 degrees here. Today it feels like 34 with the wind chill. Yes, I said wind chill. What's the date? April 12. We should NOT have to be dealing with wind chill in April. I would much rather be dealing with humidity, and I don't even like humidity. After an experience of being lost and thirsty to the point of real concern once while we were backpacking, my sister and I have become good at reminding ourselves that it's all in perspective. We were on our hands and knees drinking water out of a tiny stream only about one half inch deep. We stopped to pray for direction and over the next hill we again found the trail. was all in perspective. We felt hopelessly lost and yet were so near wheere we needed to be. My dad is in the hospital. It looks like he's going to be alright, but it's been a pretty crappy week, literally. My friend's mom that I mentioned several days ago has learned that she has stage 4 cancer in at least 3 areas of her body. It's all in perspective. Yes, today is a lazy, gloomy day, but the sun will shine again. Until then, I have decided to take the day to take it easy, look at some pictures of rain that's worse than it is here, and days in the last year that have been much nicer than today.

These are push-carts that can be rented in Monrovia. Very few people own vehicles, so when they need to get a large item from A to B, they use one of these. It gets tipped upright, much like a wheel-barrow, the item is strapped to the bars, and off you go, pushing your cart through town.
Our roads have suffered through this long winter. It's nothing compared to what it could be. Here are a couple pictures to keep it all in perspective as far as what bad roads really look like.

This is Jamaica Road. It's one of the main roads in Monrovia. It would be comparable to Anthony or Lima Rd. in Fort Wayne. In one of my earlier blogs I wrote about walking to church on Jamaica Road. This is taken on the way to church.
Just to keep things in perspective, now we're going to reminisce about prettier days. The first full day I went was in Liberia we went to Cece Beach. These are some examples fo different days there. Yes, the life of a missionary is a lot of hard work and difficult experience, but let me be the first to day it's not all bad.

A reminder that there's still a lot of work to be done cleaning up after the war.

If you were lucky enough to be the first ones at the beach, this whole area was swept smooth with palm fronds.
We had some of the most adorable children living on the ship with their families. It was nice having all age ranges represented. The youngest was months old and the oldest was 72. You're never too young or old to serve.
This is Libby. Her name is Liberty, and she was an orphan in Liberia. Her adoptive parents are from the UK. She was definitely my favorite person on the AFM. The first time I met her, she was very annoyed to be forced to be friendly to yet another new person. After I had asked her name a couple times and her mum gave her no choice. She put her hands on her hips, rolled her eyes, and said, "I'm Wibby!" She prompty stomped off. It took another 2 weeks to get her to respond to me again. I LOVED her!
Now, we're going to Miami. I had a free airline ticket to use, so my sister and I went for a long weekend the end of January. The first one is Southbeach. The great thing about going to the beach there is that no matter what you do or wear, you will still not be the oddest person people saw that day.

Just a few reminders of the fact that teh sun is, in fact, just beyond the clouds. Still keeping it in perspective.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Psalm 103

A friend of mine, Hettie, and I have been memorizing scripture together. Each week we add another 3 verses to what we have already stored away in our gray matter, and then type it in an email and send it to the other. If we remain on schedule tomorrow we will complete Psalm 103. Before that we had been working on Ephesians 1. I love Ephesians, but if you look at the first chapter it's a lot of phrases that sound the same all repeated over and over. We were both struggling so we set it aside for a short time. I had been studying Psalm 103 on my own and when I told Hettie to choose a passage that's the one she chose. Hmmmm....maybe God had that worked out already?

Tomorrow is a big day for several people I know. I have a relative going to the doctor to learn biopsy results. A dear friend who was adopted into a loving family over 30 years ago is having a conference call with her biological father who only recently found out that she even exists. Another friend is having a second interview with a missions agency, which may lead to an indefinite placement somewhere in Africa. Finally a friend's mom is going for a PET scan to see if/how far her cancer has spread. You know what I have to do tomorrow? Go to work. It's even only expected to be about a 1/2 day. This evening all of these people that I love have been on my mind a lot. I'm not worrying, just thinking. As I said in my last entry, sometimes you want the words to say and they just aren't there. As I've been thinking about it, though, there are promises in Psalm 103 to cover nearly every step in life's journey. He promises that His love is always with those who fear Him. He heals all of our diseses. As Heather wrote in her blog, sometimes that can be done in a variety of ways, but He does promise it. I don't need to come up with the words for any of these people, I've already been memorizing them!

I've come to the conclusion that it's not an accident that it looks like I'll have a short day at work tomorrow. We can pray as we go about our day, but it's also nice to be able to set aside dedicated time for it as well. One of the best places I've found to pray is the pool at the Y. As I swim from wall to wall looking at the tiles on the floor of the pool, all I have to do is pray or sing in my head or think. I think I'll go in the afternoon so I don't have to get up at 0500. When I go in the afternoon, it's usually an extended workout. Perfect! Good exercise and great prayer time. Won't you help me if you happen to think about each of my dear ones throughout the day?

Sunday, April 6, 2008

The gift of surgery doesn't always feel like a gift

This is a long one, so come back later if you only have a couple minutes. Sorry-O! (In West Africa, we add O to the end of many words.) I'll get around to explaining my title, but first I thought I'd take time to share a few more pictures. Take time.......that's a very African thing to say. We use it slightly differently. There if you're walking down the street too fast, eating too fast, talking too fast, basically going through life too fast, a West African will tell you to "take time". Translated to American english, it means "slow down". Take time to smell the roses. Anyway...there may be a few random thoughts thrown in this one. You just never know.

This first picture is of one of the wards on the Africa Mercy. Private rooms? Private toilets? Think again! We are used to so much pampering here. There were 4 wards. Two of them have 20 beds. This is half of one of the wards. There's a wall separating the two sides, 10 beds on each side. There's one toilet for every 10 beds. Actually this particular ward has 15 beds and only ONE toilet. Remember that most Liberians aren't accustomed to using toilets so even though there's one there to be used, you may not want to. I'll get around to more of that in a bit.

This is the other half of the 15 bed ward, Peace Ward. That's a funny name considering it was typically the pediatric ward, so there was often not a lot of Peace.
Below is an example of the pictures that hang in every patient bathroom. Like I said, many Liberians don't have the benefit of using toilets. They squat where they have opportunity to relieve themselves. I'll explain that again in another post when I share more pictures of the city. Use your imagination until then. Anyway...these are examples of things not to do and ways to use it. Just because you usually squat, do not stand on this bowl and squat......good way to fall in. No, the nice white bowl of clean looking water is not for laundry. The final two are pretty self-explanatory. Finally, remember to push the button on the wall to empty the bowl when your finished. When I first saw these pix I was very amused until I worked my first shift. I was trying to think of new pictures to add for issues these didn't cover. What an education!!!! My first shift the ladies forgot about pushing the button and we nearly had a flood. Needless to say, with a less-than-perfect plumbing system to begin with, the poor plumbers were called more times than I care to admit.
This is Dr. Steve Arrowsmith, a urologist from the American Southwest, New Mexico, I believe. He's affectionately known on the AFM as Dr. Steve. The world does not have very many VVF surgeons, because VVF is not an issue in the developed world. Here is a brief explanation of VVF. One day if I see him again, I'll have to ask how he came to do what he does. He spent at least 12 weeks of 2007 in Africa doing surgery for free. In this picture he is sporting a hat made by one of his grateful patients. This man is a teddy bear in the purest sense of the phrase. He cares so much about each of his patients. He rejoices when they do well, and takes it extremely hard when they do not. I could share much more about Dr. Steve, but that will have to suffice for now.
That brings me to the final picture of this post. This is Fatmata. Her friends call her Fata (sounds like gotta, not fat). I was privileged to be one of thse friends. Patients are typically admitted the night before their surgery and have their pre-op. That's pretty much the same as surgery here at home-an IV, a bowel prep, etc. I admitted Fata and went through the routine. There is always a mixture of excitement, apprehension, and fear of the unknown. I have to say it would be very intimidating. For most, this is the first time they've been on a ship, been in a hospital, or had surgery. Add to that the fact that yes, most Liberians speak English, but their English and ours is not the same. It would be a scary experience. There's also the desperate hope that this leaking will stop. In Fata's case, this was not her first attempt at a VVF repair. I'm still not sure, but I believe this was actually her third. It would be hard to allow yourself to hope.

I was still getting used to the fact that it's completely acceptable to ask your patients if they want you to pray with them, but just before she settled in for the night, I asked just that. We sat together on the edge of her bed and I prayed. I had to wonder how much she understood, but I was grateful for the fact that God is big enough to hear us in any language. She thanked me. I gave her a big hug, and tucked her in for the night. I knew that night that Fata was going to be someone that would stick with me for life. I was struck first by her beauty. She has gorgeous milky skin, strong cheekbones, and eyes that speak volumes. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. There is a book in her eyes. We are close to the same age. I sensed that in a different time and place we may have been very good friends.

The next day Fata went off to surgery. One of my roommates was an OR nurse, so we often ate lunch together and talked about how our days were going. She talked that day about a very difficult case that did not go well. There was not enough tissue to perform a repair. It happens more aften than we would like that there is too much damage, but Shonagh said that this was one that Dr. Steve was taking very hard. It was not good news to hear, but it still didn't hit me until that evening when I went to work I learned that the difficult case was Fata. At the beginning of evening shift Fata was still pretty sedated from the anesthesia. I'm ashamed to admit that I was relieved to not be assigned to her because I was so sad for her that I just didn't know what to say or do, so I was glad to not have to interact. I remember later talking with Jo, another one of the nurses, and she said that when she broke the news to Fata she sat down on the bed next to her and just cried. She said that she has not cried many times while she's been on the ship, and she had been there for a year or so. As she described it, she just said that Fata's story broke her heart the tears came before she realized what she was doing.

Many times if the surgery was not successful the patients would recover for a couple days and then go home, still leaking. In Fata's case, she had an RVF, which is a rectal fistula as well as the vaginal, so she was also leaking stool. That was able to be repaired so she remained for about 2 weeks as she recovered. I'm ashamed, once again, to say that it was not without relief on my part that during those two weeks I was gladto not be assigned to her again. That's not to say that my heart didn't break every time I was in the room with her. She was so sad. It goes so far beyond a bad day. She barely spoke in those two weeks. Her bed was beside a wall, and she faced that wall all the time. As I learned more of her story through other nurses, I learned that she had been on the Anastasis the last time Mercy Ships was there. I believe she had also been done earlier in the year as well. That made this her third try. During that two weeks I found it hard to even look at Fata because my heart broke for her and I just didn't know what to say or do to make it better. Remember that VVF patients are treated like the lepers in the Bible. It felt like we had failed her and were sending her home to the wolves.

Toward the end of Fata's recovery period I knew that I had to spend some time with her. It was eating me up inside that just because I didn't have the words to say or anything to fix the problem, I was doing nothing to provide this dear woman with even a modicum of comfort. Through Clemetine, our ward chaplain, I learned that Fata was having thoughts of ending her life due to her deep disappointment. Clementine had also said that Fata was not a Christian. I prayed first and then went to the ward. It was uncomfortable. I was not working. I was just there to visit. After a couple minutes I sat on the edge of Fata's bed and made a bit of small talk. Due to the difficulty of speaking, small talk was no small feat. I quickly got down to business. Still not sure how to go about it, I simply told Fata that I knew that she must be feeling very sad and disappointed. I told her how sorry I was that her surgery was not more successful, and that she would be in my prayers. I got about as far as "I'm sorry" and she began crying silent tears. It was then that I realized that words were not what was necessary, just presence and love. I wrapped my arms around her and we just both cried for a bit. Shortly afterward, we went out into the hall to have a little more privacy. Sometimes those 20 bed wards can make private discussions difficult. She shared more of her story with me. She lives with her uncle who doesn't want her and is not nice to her. I got the impression that he's abusive, but I was having some difficulty understanding her. She said that her mother died in the war, she has no sister, and no aunties to help her. I asked if she goes to church and has any friends there, but she said that she's isn't able to go because of the leaking. She has no living children. I asked her if she knows Jesus. She shook her head and seemed to not be willing to broach that topic. She told me she was going home the next day. I promised to visit before she left. I then went to my cabin, lay on my bed, and cried harder than I have in a very long time.

I wasn't in my cabin long when the phone rang. It was one of the nurses in the ward, saying that Fata was asking for me. It had been decided that she was going to home a day earlier than expected. I walked down the hall. (I lived only about 50 steps from where I worked.) This time Fata and I found an empty room and talked. There were many more tears. We spoke more about Christ. She told me that she knew and trusted Him. I still had my doubts, considering what. I already knew, but I had to go on what she told me. Clementine and Esther, a translator and assitant to Clementine, came to drive Fata home. Usually the patients went by cab, but Clementine had been keeping close tabs on Fata for the last 2 years. Obviously Fata is dear to her as well. The four of us spoke a bit and then they drove her home. The picture above was taken just before Fata walked up the steps to the gangway. It's interesting to me that she's the one suffering and I'm the one with the bloodshot eyes. I promised her that day that whether or not we ever meet again here on earth, she will be in my prayers for the rest of my life. I've kept that promise. Barring a miracle, the leaking will be for the rest of her life. I wonder about her so often. Has that miracle occurred? Does she know Christ? Is she still leaking? Is her family caring for her? Is she getting enough to eat? Is she sleeping on the ground? Does she feel safe? Does she have even one friend? Does she feel Christ wrapping His arms around her? Clementine said that only the Holy Spirit could say the words to truly change Fata's heart. In the meantime, she said "I'm going to keep checking on the is one". When I first learned that the AFM was returning to Liberia, rather than Sierra Leone as originally planned, the first thing I thought of was that there could be continued follow up with Fata. The fact that I don't get to go visit Fata is the source of some of my deepest disappointment in not being able to return to Liberia. I've tried, without success thus far, to get in touch with Clementine by email. I'm going to keep trying. Until then, maybe longer, I will keep praying. Every time I pray with the desperate hope that if not on this earth, that Fata and I will be able to spend eternity together, worshipping with all of the might we have in our bodies that don't suffer with earthly hurts.