Greetings from the choppy seas of the Atlantic – off the shores of Africa!
This past Friday at approximately 10:30 am our anchor was raised as we set sail for dry dock in the Canary Islands. Staying on-board for the sail has been interesting, difficult and fun all at the same time.
The past two weeks have been filled with one good-bye after another. Some are for just a few months – others potentially forever. Three times a week at 7:00 pm, the ship practically emptied as friends hugged, cried and even wept. As the cars loaded with luggage and volunteers made their way through the port gates, the remaining crew formed two lines through which the cars would drive. We cheered and waved the occupants a final ‘good-bye’, then turned to enter the ship once again…our numbers ever smaller. If only we could have harnessed the emotional energy expended during this time…I am sure we could have powered the ship on to our new destination!
Most exciting of all, was the successful completion of the OR sterilizing course by all four of the West African sterilizers. Mark, Holali, George and Frank all did amazingly well, with results from 81-96%. Our graduation was fun and was attended by 23 OR staff.
Our time was full before the sail. We had to wait until the last of the patients was discharged before we could complete the pack up of our department. Everything in the OR must be padded, wrapped and tied down for the sail. Then the entire department is inspected by the First Officer to ensure it will stay put as the ship rolls. Loading and securing the ship is a huge job for the deckies and technical crew. Every car has to be driven onto a harness and then lifted by an on-board crane onto the ship and secured. All decorations come down from the walls and are stored. All books on the library shelves are turned sideways to prevent the contents from unloading onto the floor. All ship shop products are loaded into boxes on the store floor. All kitchen equipment must be safely secured…and so on…and so on. There are a million ways that sticky tack is used to hold items in place!
In looking back over our time in Lomé, we have accomplished an amazing number of operations for those in need. 794 eye surgeries; 34 cleft lip and/or palate repairs; 281 facial reconstructions (including tumours); 72 releases of limb contractures due to burns; 933 general surgeries (including hernia repairs; tumours and goiters) and 49 VVF surgeries (female fistulae). With a minimum of one tray per surgery (some take up to 5) these numbers add up to at least 2163 trays to be cleaned, disinfected, assembled and sterilized…not to mention separate instruments. No wonder the sterilizing team is tired!
Alongside this work were: 9,688 Dental procedures; 14 palliative care patients who received support; hundreds of physiotherapy patients treated; individuals trained in agricultural practices; renovations of community clinics and much more. We have been a busy group!
Two days before we left Lomé there was some significant civil unrest throughout the city. This resulted in our shore leave being cancelled for 17 hours. For those of us who were counting on that one last good-bye, this was serious trouble. We felt as if the jail cell door had clanged shut! We prowled the decks and rooms like tigers shut in the zoo. Our angst was raised by the fact that we were soon to leave for a ten day sea voyage –without any stops. Fortunately, the riots were short lived, and we were allowed ashore for twelve hours during our last day in Togo. The relief was palpable.
We had many sailing and security briefings before we sailed, and received a supply of sea sickness pills at the end of the last one. The night before we left, we had an unexpected surprise with an ‘abandon ship’ alarm sounding at 3:00 am. I jumped from my bed, slipped on my shoes grabbed my ID and opened my cabin door. There stood a crew member who was a room checker during alarms. He looked at me and declared he thought the alarm was for real, and suggested I make my way to the stairs- which I did. At the end of the hall I met the Russian technical crew, who informed me that they had just received notice that the signal was a false alarm. They blushed and smiled at me in my pajamas. I hurried back to bed!
Leaving Togo was a heart-warming experience. The crew of the nearby ships stopped their loading/unloading work to wave us good-bye. One sailor held a large sign and stood at the end of his ship waving enthusiastically. Unfortunately, we could not read the lettering – even with binoculars. We had fun spending time wondering what the sign had actually said… “Good riddance”… “Look out for Pirates” …”I never did put the fuel in your tank” …etc., etc.
Most OR crew are re-assigned to another department such as housekeeping, galley or dining room. I am trying to re-write our department’s manual which is long over-due for an over haul. Too bad that computer work is one activity that can initiate sea sickness. So far I have only had one bout of it. The pills do make one very sleepy, so I will try to cut back or I will never get my assignment finished.
George and Frank have been assigned to the stores department and are busy hauling boxes around the ship. They will have a brand new set of muscles before too long!
I am so grateful to each of you who have so generously supported my volunteer work on the Africa Mercy, as well as that of George and Frank. Your generosity has touched the lives of thousands of patients and their families, and has changed their lives forever. Know the difference you have made in Sierra Leone, and Togo West Africa
If you would be interested and able to support Jane’s efforts, you may donate to Jane McIntosh’s Mercy Ship account# 2888 or you can call Mercy Ships at 1-866-900-7447 or mail a cheque to: Mercy Ships Canada Unit 5- 1318 Oak St., Victoria BC V8X 1R1. All donations are tax deductable. Just specify that the donation is for Jane’s account #2888.