Hello from the Africa Mercy!
Another three weeks have slipped by, and we are going into our last week of surgery.
One week ago, the film crew from 60 Minutes was here doing a feature on the Africa Mercy. They spent a lot of time in the ORs, filming cataract and max fax surgeries. On the Friday morning they came by the sterilizing room to ask when our busy time would be. I responded that that would be hard to calculate due to the timing of the finishing of surgeries…how many trays were used etc. etc. I asked if I could page them.
At approximately 3:30 pm they came back down and filmed the 6 of us assembling the surgical trays. In what is normally a rather rambunctious and noisy workplace, not a word or sound was heard. The videographer commented on how quiet we were…I responded by saying that this was not the norm! Me thinks there was some stage fright going on there.
After he filmed the black, brown and white hands packing the trays, he asked me about the process. When I explained what happens in the sterilizing room, you could actually see a light bulb go on in his head, as he exclaimed, “Wow, I get it! Nothing happens down the hall (meaning the OR), if it doesn’t happen here” We all cheered loudly in response…as usually we are the ones trying to get folks to understand just how important our role really is. It is a little more complex than simply doing the ‘surgical dishes’.
The show will be just 7 minutes long, as it will also feature several other charities. Preview date? October or November of this year.
We lost one of our Day Workers this past week, as Mark had to tend to a sick family member. He came in Thursday to say that it would be his last day. Twenty minutes later he and I were in the library where he wrote his sterilizing exam final. Despite the lack of time to review, Mark (always the top student in the class) got a final mark of 81% – just fantastic. He also was interviewed by HR that same day and was accepted to return as a Day Worker in Guinea in August. Now that was terrific news.
Now that we are down one person, the work is quite busy. Each spare moment is spent studying and reviewing. The exam will be written by the others this coming Wednesday. I feel hopeful that everyone will be successful. We are having a graduation cake and certificate presentation on Friday- the last day of surgery.
Once again, the best way to really experience what is happening here on board is to hear another patient story. This one concerns the condition called VVF.
From down the hall, the drums start to beat as voices begin to sing out in jubilation- for today is a day for celebration. Several women enter the hospital ward with their hands raised in joy. Each one is dressed in bright fabric with fancy head-wraps. Today’s celebration is for them . . . because they have been made well.
The women are all part of the Mercy Ships VVF program. VVF is an injury caused by an obstructed labor. It causes a woman to continually leak urine, feces, or both. Sadly, these women are often shunned from society because of the smell resulting from their incontinence. In their culture, it is commonly believed that the physical problem is the result of a curse or a sin. Many of the women lose their husbands and families. They are completely cut off from society – alone and in despair. In reality, the biggest cause for VVF is a lack of access to emergency obstetric care. When labor becomes complicated, a woman is left to suffer for days as the unborn child continues to push down on the mother’s pelvis. The baby is born dead, and the mother is left with a life time of suffering.
Dr. Lauri Romanzi, a VVF surgeon on board, says, “It is a completely preventable condition that can be eradicated from the world. It takes prevention.” That prevention is access to health care, something that is not available in third world countries like Togo, West Africa. In the western world, if the labor becomes obstructed, the mother is rushed into surgery for a caesarian section. “In the United States, the percentage of births that perform a caesarian is over 30%,” Dr. Romanzi explains. “This eradicable epidemic is a problem merely because these women do not have access to emergency caesarian sections.”
This is why VVF awareness is important – because it is a condition that could affect any woman in the world, but, with proper health care, it is preventable. The women share the emotional pain caused by their physical condition. “If their voice is crying out for one thing, it would be to be normal again,” Dr. Romanzi says, fighting back her own tears in her passionate concern for these women.
As the women stand up to tell their stories, emotions are clearly written on their faces. Chins quiver and words fail them as they try to thank Mercy Ships for saving them from a life of anguish. Today marks a new day! Their strength and perseverance have finally carried them to the end of their suffering, and now they can let go of the past. It means they have the prospect of starting over and re-entering society. It is the start of a new life with delightful possibilities.
Joy wipes away their tears, and they dance out of the ward as they sing. Songs of happiness, healing, and triumph ring throughout the halls of the hospital. Each woman leaves the ship with her head held high in new-found confidence. It is her new beginning!
Trays involved: Laparotomy – 102 instruments
VVF – 68 instruments
2 cases per day X 4 weeks
Thanks to each of you, for your part in helping to make these great things happen.