60 Minutes…exams and such

60 Minutes…exams and such

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.



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Can We Be Wrong, When We Think We Are Right

“The miracle of your mind isn’t that you can see the world as it is. It’s that you can see the world as it isn’t.” Kathryn Schulz

I have had the opportunity recently to spend time with many different people on numerous islands here in the Salish Sea.

The Salish Sea

It is amazing how people look at the same situation & ‘see’ completely different results. Each one is sincerely convinced their view point is correct & will fight to defend their position. Fight is the operative word. So how do we ever get agreement?

“A cognitive bias is something that our minds commonly do to distort our own view of reality.” Wikipedia

It might give you pause for thought & a little light hearted entertainment to see Kathryn Schulz live:

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Mothers Day

I was going to write about Community today & the possibility of unity.

That concept seems difficult in our country as we have many things we can find for disagreement, one of those is how to transport oil from our neighboring province, Alberta, to our shores here in British Columbia, & then on to foreign markets.

I just couldn’t get my mind around the subject & started to read a great article on community which ultimately moved to religion as an answer, one particular denomination mind you, which has the power to divide communities as much as bring them together.

People ‘see’ the world in different ways & therein lies the potential for division that competes with the idea of unity, the basis of Comm’unity’.

Ina suggested  that I write about Mothers, & this morning a friend emailed the following video from Central America.

Amazing, serendipitous, co-incidental, timing, you will have to take 5 minutes & watch this right to the end to find out:

Happy Mother’s Day!

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We attended a funeral today for a woman, dear to the hearts of many Pender Islanders. It was a very moving, beautiful ceremony. It left me thinking of the family left behind to grieve and somehow begin a life without her.


I can’t imagine a world without you there,
I can’t imagine you not sitting in your chair,
Nor can I visualize an empty spot in bed,
Your warmth, your pillow on which you lay your head.

I can’t imagine waking up alone,
No smell of coffee, no you, inside our home,
No early morning chats to start our day,
No waves and blowy kisses to see you on your way.

And cooking dinner, what use is it for one,
The very thought has left me quite undone.
Your tires scrunching gravel on your return,
And rushing to your arms for which I yearn.

I can’t imagine the loss, the wretched ache
Of me without a you, my very heart would break,
The sun would cease to shine, the sky would surely fall,
Then darkness would encase my soul, and that is all.

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Seventh Generation Thinking – Islands Trust

This week I ran into one of our Pender Island trustees, a young carpenter, who said “fifty years from today I believe we will say that the Islands Trust was the best thing we ever did”.

“The formation of the Trust by the B.C. Government in 1974 ‘to be responsible for and to coordinate the future of’ designated Gulf Islands was a bold and visionary experiment in ecologically-based planning and governance of a particularly sensitive, rural area in British Columbia. It was given a special province-wide mandate to protect the islands in the face of predicted land development pressures. Since then, it has endured many reviews, studies and challenges and has yet to be granted the authority to truly accomplish its mandate. Nevertheless, it continues to be an active, dedicated confederation of local governments. Imagine what might have happened on these islands without the Islands Trust.” Peter Lamb, Salt Spring Island 2009

For those of you that might be interested in the story, read Peter’s article at: http://www.islandstrust.bc.ca/pdf/islandstruststory-plamb.pdf

This got me to researching the First Nations Seventh Generation thinking: “Seven generation sustainability is an ecological concept that urges the current generation of humans to live sustainably and work for the benefit of the seventh generation into the future. It originated with the Iroquois – Great Law of the Iroquois – which holds it appropriate to think seven generations ahead (a couple hundred years into the future) and decide whether the decisions we make today would benefit our children seven generations into the future.” Wikipedia

Great Law of the Iroquois: “Confederate Council, in your efforts at law making, in all your  official acts, self interest shall be cast into oblivion.  Cast not over your shoulder behind you the warnings of the nephews and nieces should they chide you for any error or wrong you may do, but return to the way of the Great Law which is just and right.  Look and listen for the welfare of the whole people and have always in view not only the present but also the coming generations, even those whose faces are yet beneath the surface of the ground — the unborn of the future Nation.”

For those of you that would like to read the full text of the Great Law: http://www.indigenouspeople.net/iroqcon.htm

This led me to reading a little about the history of Pender Island: “At the time of Contact, Pender Island was inhabited by Coast Salish peoples speaking the North Straits Salish language. There is an Indian Reserve at Hay Point on South Pender Island, which is home to members of the Tsawout and Tseycum First Nations. The Poets Cove Resort was built on an ancient First Nations village site. The provincial government’s 2007 settlement with the Tsawwassen First Nation included hunting and fishing rights on and around Pender Island—an arrangement to which the Sencot’en Alliance objected, saying those rights are theirs under the 1852 Douglas Treaty.” Wikipedia

In the middle of that paragraph above, Wikipedia refers to Poets Cove, www.poetscove.com. The resort was “built on an ancient First Nations village site”.

What does that mean? Does it make any difference? So what?

What do the First Nations Bands think about that? Has anyone asked them? Does it really matter?

Is Poets managed with Seventh Generation thinking in mind?

“The Hul’qumi’num and Saanich people who have made these islands their home for the past 7,000 years, and whose village sites and graveyards can be found in almost every bay and cove, have been left to retreat further back into their few Native-reserve enclaves, like Kuper Island.” Terry Glavin


Terry’s article was written in 2005 & gives us one perspective of the interaction between cultures.

If the First Nations were thinking seven generations in advance, how does our changing the environment affect that positively or negatively? Does it matter?

Is the Islands Trust mandate a continuation of that thinking, a true partnership with the First Nations, or a vehicle for modernization, progress in our terms?

Another Ex-Pender Island trustee told me he hoped that our island could become heaven on earth.

Is heaven on earth a physical concept or an internal one?

If internal, is that eternal?

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A Long Overdue Greeting From Africa Mercy!

A Long Overdue Greeting From Africa Mercy!

The past two weeks have been over-the-top busy…more work than was almost humanly possible. We had the company IMS from the US here for two weeks sharpening our instruments again…but this year the timing of their arrival was not ideal. The sterilizing department had been extremely busy with the VVF surgeries (for female fistulae). On top of this had been the arrival of the Eye Surgeon Glen Strauss, who can do up to 50 cataract cases per day. Factor in the sharpening guys…and the work was beyond, beyond.

On top of the work load I developed a rather nasty cold, but had to keep going or the work would simply not have been achieved. This included a six day week …10-11 hours per day. Everyone in the department had to work full tilt. When this past Friday arrived, and IMS left, I felt a physical lifting of a huge burden off of my shoulders. The result?? Every surgical tray, OR separate instrument, Ward, Out-Patient, Dental and Physio instrument was sharpened, washed, re-packaged and sterilized.

A highlight of the past two weeks was the arrival of my former bunkmate Anna from the UK. She had been back in Sierra Leone doing training and workshops in the Ponseti treatment method for club feet, and checking up on last year’s patients from Mercy Ships. It seems as if Anna has found her calling, and has chosen her one spot in the world where she can truly work for the betterment of humankind. Sierra Leone has won her heart, and she is busy working to find funding to develop a program to treat what is called neglected club feet.

One in 700 babies is born with club feet in Sub-Saharan Africa. The statistics are only slightly better elsewhere, with even higher reports in India. The actually cause is still a mystery. The Ponseti method of club foot correction involves casting to reposition the foot. It can only be done up to 5 years of age, when the bones of the foot are still malleable. After this point the only treatment is Orthopedic Surgery…an impossibility in Sierra Leone when there are no Ortho surgeons practicing.

While with Mercy Ships and on this most recent trip, Anna was training health care professionals in the Ponseti method. Every time the clinics would advertise for babies to treat, the line ups would also be filled with those over 5 for whom there was no hope. Anna met two Surgeons from Ghana whose hearts became really touched by these neglected club foot patients. At the end of their training these Doctors agreed to volunteer some of their surgical time to help these patients…if Anna could come up with the ways and means to run the program in Sierra Leone.

Anna has been busy connecting to agencies that might help her, and visioning her program in Sierra Leone. In between all of this, we have been able to share many meals and great conversations on board together…and even a movie or two! How I have missed her.

The first week she arrived was the week of her birthday. We celebrated with cupcakes, cookies and African dancing on the dock. It was a lot of fun, and she really enjoyed it.

The first weekend she was here she and my boss Missy went to Ghana for a few days and traveled quite far north. They arrived back Sunday night and by Tuesday evening Missy was having emergency abdominal surgery for a ruptured ovarian cyst, and an appendectomy to boot! There was no better place for Missy to be in West Africa than on the Africa Mercy. One of our General Surgeons performed the surgery and Missy is now recovering nicely.

Now for an update on George and Frank. They have been super busy taking lots of courses beyond the Sterilizing course. They have been taking Word; Excel and Navigator- a platform specific to Mercy Ships. Their computers are used daily for classes and studying…as well as email, Facebook and movies from time-to time! They are meeting lots of people and having many great experiences while on board. One weekend they were able to join a group of kids their age and travel up north in Togo. Exciting for them. Thank you, thank you once more for your generous support of these two great guys.

The Sterilizing course is going well, with our final exam at the end of May. We plan to have a small graduation for the students involved. From that point those that feel prepared will go on in early June to write the on-line certification through IAHCSMM (International Association of Healthcare Central Service Material Management).

A Surgeon was here last month who is planning to build a hospital in either Togo or the Ivory Coast (the location dependent on funding). He approached me to say that he needs to hire 4 sterilizers and wanted to employ the best in Togo…which he described would be in our department! Both Mark and Holaly speak French, and Dr. Andy has taken their info with him. I mentioned that if needs be, George and Frank might be able to access a French emersion course which could make them eligible for this opportunity as well. It is all still a distance away (December 2012), but the chance for this to potentially happen is very exciting.

Both Mark and Holaly have applied to follow the ship as Day Workers. Should they both be selected, our department would remain exactly the same as it is now until I leave in December. At that point Alice (who is also taking the classes) has been scheduled to come into the Sterilizing room from the Galley, and a team member will be selected to replace me as Team Leader.

We are now approaching our last month of surgery here in Togo. The month will be filled with Max Fax, General, Eye and ENT surgeries. We then pack up for the sail to Tenerife and the dry dock period. I will be writing a manual for the department on our sail to Tenerife and will be assigned to another department for our sail to Guinea in late August.

I have applied and have been accepted for a leave of absence to take care of John’s sister and brother-in-law once again in England during the dry dock period. As there are no surgeries during this time period, I am free to return to Reading to help to care for them. David has been placed permanently in a Nursing Home, and Ann is still at home with care givers. My presence there will enable the family (Ann and David’s children) to save some money from the private nursing care, and to take a much needed holiday. They have very kindly paid for my flight to England and back to the ship. I leave the ship June 29th, and return August 12th.

When I first signed up for Mercy Ships, we were supposed to be working in the OR throughout the summer. However, the change of the dry dock period from December to the summer changed that. At first I was annoyed by the change, but now in retrospect it does present a good opportunity to help out John’s family.

Many thanks to each of you for the many ways you have supported me in this journey so far. From emails, cards, parcels, financial support, blog postings …the list goes on and on.

May all that you have given to others, come back to you a thousand fold!

All best wishes,





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Mind Games – Co-Creators

“The biggest mountains we have to climb are in our minds.”

These words came from a song I heard this week & got me thinking about the power of positive energy. The reverse is the drain of negative energy. We get to choose.

Moving from island to island in the Salish Sea, I get to listen & watch these powers in action. It’s amazing what people are accomplishing, that believe they can, & then act. Others are drawn to this power of positive thinking.

When negative energy enters the room, it draws down the wattage of the positive ideas & is often presented as “I’m just trying to be realistic.”

Reality? Who’s?

Intention has a lot to do with the outcome of any successful endeavor. Is this about ‘me’ or ‘us’?

What about love: “the unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another”. Wikipedia

Creativity is a talent available to all of us. When we combine our creative talents with those of others, we can accomplish almost anything. This process requires allowing for the ideas of someone else besides ourselves. Negativity can often silence the ideas of others.

This is beginning to sound like a real stew, a mixture of emotions, thought, & intention. Our physical bowl holds unlimited potential combinations.

Is it a matter of life or death?

Possibly, David





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