We’re now on the 4th week of surgery here on the Africa Mercy. Surgeons, nurses and patients have come and gone, and it finally feels like there's at least a little bit of a routine.
Each nurse is assigned a ward where he or she will work for the entire time they’re here. I am assigned to A Ward, which is where all the general surgery patients (hernia repairs, lipoma excisions, goiters etc) are, as well as all the overflow patients from the other units (this is all dependent on what surgeons are on board at any given time – sometimes A Ward becomes Maxillofacial when there are no general surgeons here). B Ward is Plastics (for a few more weeks, then becomes ortho, then womens health), and D Ward is “Max Fax” (Maxillofacial).
The wonderful part of being here from the start of the field of service is that, because it takes days and weeks of surgery for the wards to fill up, I spent the first 2 weeks working in other wards, and have been able to see all the different kinds of surgeries. I’ve gotten to take care of babies who had cleft lip/palette repairs (and are ADORABLE), like Daniel
(seriously, those eyes?!? and that heart shaped nasal bolster?!?)
men and women who have had large facial tumors removed, like Ebeneezer,
(post op from his tumor removal)
(at the HOPE center, after being discharged, with Tori Hobson)
and children and adults who have had contracture repairs and skin grafts from burn wounds, like Sahara.
(Sahara was burned in a house fire when she was a little girl. Both her parents died in the fire, and she has been adopted by her aunt. She does not know that her aunt is not her real mother, and that her parents were killed.)
(Sahara, Graci and Jemina are some of our resident plastics girls - we love them!)
This last week I was finally on A Ward all week. Right now it’s about half general surgery patients (who are discharged 1-2 days after surgery, so we don't get to know them as well), and half plastics patients (who have been here 10-20 days, as their graft and donor sites need attentive care and rehabilitation).
I loved getting to know the patients and caregivers better last week - spending 6 days with them gave us a lot of time to play and laugh.
One of those patients is Gloire, who I've now adopted as my Congolese little sister :).
Gloire ("glory" in english) is a 14 year old girl who had a release of contractures in both armpits 18 days ago.
I took care of her the day of surgery and the day after. I helped her sit up every time she needed to eat or take medication (no automatic beds here!), turned her all the way around in bed so that she could watch the movie at movie time (she was on bedrest for 2 days), hung curtains from the ceiling with magnetic hooks around her bed so she could use the bedpan, and tried unsuccessfully to get a smile out of her. Not even my horrific french could get her to laugh.
Last week she was moved to A Ward, and I got to spend all week with her. There are 5 other girls who have had contractures released with skin grafts on Gloire’s side of the ward. They and their moms all talk and laugh together, and take care of each other.
All of them except for Gloire.
She’s reserved and quiet, and it’s hard to get her to crack a smile.
At least I thought she was quiet.
Last Wednesday I took care of her, and made it my mission to get her to come out of her shell. I took her for a “marche” (walk) in the hospital corridor, and she pointed out photos of the nurses she knew as we walked back and forth. We tried to communicate to each other with mixed success.
I pointed to one photo and then another to show her which crew are married, which she loved, and then she proceeded to “match make” couples in the photos, which was equally hilarious and awkward (some of them involved her pointing to me and then a photo of a married crew member). I had to drag her back into the ward when we were finished.
I've learned Gloire is a typical 14 year old. She's playful, difficult, moody, and loves to test boundaries. She tries to follow me into the hallway every time I leave. One minute she's laughing and pulling my hair or doing something mischievous, the next she's ignoring me because I let one of the other girls paint my nails, or play a game with me. Then I have to sit with her for 15 minutes before I can finally get this smile out of her again...
Yesterday I was off, and I found myself wondering what Gloire was doing. I found myself wanting to go visit A ward just to see if she was ok, if she was smiling.
Nursing on the Africa Mercy is a whole different world. While my job is to look after these patients physically, their emotional and spiritual health is just as important to everyone onboard. What a blessing it is to be free to practice nursing the way that I've always wanted to!
Please continue to pray for our patients. Some of the girls (including Sahara and Graci) have developed infections in their skin grafts. We are praying that they clear quickly, and are able to continue a smooth recovery.
Love and joy from Congo,