On August 28, the Africa Mercy held the first and biggest selection day for the Repulic of Congo (also known as Congo-Brazzaville) 10 month field of service.
Over 7,000 people came to be seen, and over 4,000 went through the selection process with hopes of qualifying for surgery.
The day was tumulous, with moments of joy and excitement contrasting starkly with the moments of sorrow and rejection, as some recieved news that they would finally have relief from their disfigurement or ailment, and others were disapointed to find that their problem is not one we are able to help with.
Our crew laughed and cried with Congolese people in both situations, all the while aware of the line that remained stretched for blocks outside the school where the screening was taking place.
What was expected to take 10 hours stretched to 13, and as it grew dark outside, the rooms inside of the school where the various stages of the screening process were taking place grew even darker. Land Rovers were driven to strategic places among the corridors to shine light and enable work to continue. Crew brought out flashlights and headlamps to examine patients and fill out paperwork by.
When the last patient was seen in each area, there was a collective sigh of relief, joy and heartache.
Now, just a week later, I have gotten to know some of those patients who were just one among thousands.
See the girl in the foreground of this photo looking at the camera? That's Graci.
She had surgery last week to release and repair a burn contracture on her foot. For a few days after surgery Graci was not allowed to get out of bed, as she has a skin graft donor site on her thigh, and wires in her toes to help the skin stretch and heal in the correct position.
She would cry as the other children got up to play games on the floor. There are 5 other girls recovering on the same side of the ward as she is, all at different stages in their recovery, and undergoing varying treatment. Comparison is a constant battle.
Graci has to eat "Mana" every day - a nutritional supplement that comes in a packet and tastes like peanut butter. She cries every time she sees that packet coming her way - you'd think we were bringing a needle over! A few days ago we decided to try to make the Mana more palatable for all these kids in the plastics ward, and I spent an hour running up and down to the kitchen, finding a blender and milk, and eventually came out with some Mana smoothies! They were a hit!
Graci is just one of many who suffer from disfiguring and debilitaing burns, and will be helped by the surgery that the wonderful plastics team here has performed. While there is joy and excitement to be able to recieve this surgery, the process is one that is painful and foreign to Graci and her mom. Graci cannot leave the hospital deck for 10 days, so that her donor and graft sites can heal without exposure to infection. For those who are allowed to, every day they go up to Deck 7, to play and sit outside from 2:30-3:30. All the patients who are able make the trek up 4 flights of stairs from Deck 3 (hospital) to Deck 7.
Thanks once again to all of you who have made this time possible, for me to be here and learn from surgeons, RNs, patients, and people from all around the world. It truly is such a unique place to live, and mission to be a part of, and I am so grateful for this opportunity.