Friday, March 26, 2010

Exploring Lome

Despite every thought of rationalization in my body, I have found myself waking at 0545 to get ready for a run several times a week. Every time I've put on my running shoes, the thought of, "This is really ridiculous, Kristen McCauley," crosses my mind a million times over. However, the moment I have crossed through the gates where the ship is docked and have run past the security at the port entrance, I remember why I've dragged myself kicking and screaming for a run. I love running along the street as massive trucks and motorcycles stream past in an unordinarily controlled chaotic manor. As we stand on the dirt road waiting for just a split second of break in the traffic to allow us to cross the road, I wonder how it is that all these people are sooo busy at 6 o'clock in the morning! The side streets are more quiet with children standing along the road. Running past different little shops and businesses along the way keeps my mind entertained, while trying to maintain a conversation with the people who are running that morning. As for the Togolese, the look on their faces as several Yovos (white people) run past them is the best!

Lome is surprisingly a fairly large city that stretches on and on. I have been to the Market several times with some friends. The items sold at the market are typical -- beautifully craved figures of animals and people, handmade jewelry, jimbaes, musical shakers, gorgeous fabrics, warm bread, fufu and spice sauces, fruits, etc.

A couple of the translators that help us in the wards have taken us out around Lome as well. Let me just stop for a minute to tell you all about our translators. They are an incredible group of individuals that have an intense devotion to serving the families onboard the Mercy Ship. Without them, little would be accomplished around here! A couple days ago, we had about 5 or 6 kids who were being discharged from the hospital to return home. All of the kids had been through an orthopedic surgery to straighten their bowed legs. We gathered all of the families together and one of the translators taught led a teaching session on how to care for the casts and what to look for if there were any complications or emergencies. Watching him educate the families was a beautiful sight. I hope and pray that the message of basic health hygiene that has been taught and learned in the wards will carry and spread amongst the villagers when people return home. What a tremendous impact this could have!

Saturday, a few of us headed northeast out towards Togo Lake. The lake is about a 45-minute taxi ride from the ship. We hitched a boat ride starting from Hotel le Lac. Final destination: Togoville!

Our mighty boat driver!

Sarah C., Laura, Juan, Anna, Sarah

Edouardo and me

Togoville is a small island that is comprised of about 75% voodoo practicing individuals and families. The remaining 25% are Christians. As we were guided around the town, we were shown a few of the main sites where voodoo rituals and sacrifices occur. Walking through the village the day before we celebrated the Resurrection of our Risen Lord was really quite interesting. My heart literally felt as if a ton of bricks was being pressed upon me as we meandered betweens homes with cement mounds outside the front door. The mounds varied in sizes and numbers depending on how many spirits were helping to guard the homes. Pictures of ancestors were painted on the outside of buildings indicating where sacrifice and homage could be paid to the dead. Male and female concrete structures were scattered about the village waiting for someone to sacrifice an animal to ask for more food, clothing, shelter, etc. Everyday at 2:00 pm, a ceremony is performed in front of the female monument. There are various ceremonies and animals sacrifices that occur under the male and female trees that are about 200 years old. We were invited to stay to observe the afternoon rituals, but graciously declined as we needed to head back to the boat.
The week leading up to Easter was amazing. Palm Sunday's service was full of worship. The Queen's Lounge was converted into a meditation room with the stations of the cross. We had a very moving and convicting Good Friday worship service -- once again, I was overwhelmed with the thought of Christ bearing the cross for the sins of all mankind.

Easter morning, we had a Sunrise Service on the top deck, Deck 8, at 5:30 a.m. We also had a traditional service at 8:00 a.m. Afterwards, an unbelievable brunch was served! The Galley and Hospitality Staff went above and beyond to make our Easter celebration very special and memorable.

Sunday afternoon, several of us headed over to the Cristal Plage to toss an American football around! The walk is beautiful -- the road leading you towards the beach winds you through a handful of small farms.
The Cristal Plage is beautiful and a perfect place to relax.
American Football Team: Was great fun teaching Africans to throw a football -- by the end, perfect spirals were thrown from one person to the next!
Fred, Thierry, Cael, Sarah, Raphael, Scott, Anna and Kristen

Today has started off quiet and I really appreciate the stillness. In a minutes, I will be down on B Ward, laughing and giggling with the kids and their families! I do love being down there with everyone. There is a sense of knowing that this place is a taste of heaven. And when God says to taste and see that I am good, this is what I experience here.

I hope that you had a wonderful Easter celebration, knowing that Christ suffered and died so that we might enjoy the abundance of His grace and mercy. For it truly it is better to spend one day in His courts, than a thousand elsewhere!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Hospital of Mercy: Bringing Hope and Healing

Time must tick-tock to a different beat here in Togo. Each and every day holds so many treasures and adventures that when I lay my head down in the evening, I cannot believe all that occurred in just mere hours.

Hopefully, a few of these photos will help to capture the sights I see on a daily occurrence. If only you could hear the song that is constantly arising from the wards, you would truly begin to get the full picture. At any given moment, the patients and their caregivers will lift their voices in praise. The melody is a sweet sound that truly makes me realize that I am walking on holy ground in the halls and wards of Deck 3. We have had many dance parties, as well! The beat of the bongos, strums of the guitar, harmony of the voices and the joyous movement of dance are so spontaneous and yet so consistent.

Previously, I mentioned the premature twins I had the opportunity to work with. Both of the girls are working with the team in the Infant Feeding Program. The program here on the ship truly serves a wonderful purpose and fills the gap for many of the youngest infants here in Togo. There is a local program for infants to receive supplemental nutrition; however, the children must be strong enough to live to be 6 months before receiving of any sort of aid. The goal for Anne and Annie is to continue to follow-up with the Feeding Program here onboard for the next 6 months and then transfer their care to the local program. Below is a picture of Annie.

The following pictures are of Anne. Both of the girls are receiving fortified breastmilk. To watch such a little person drink from a medicine cup is quite the humbling sight to see. All the while, I am captivated by the brightness in their eyes and trust that the Lord will continue to strengthen their growing little bodies.

Anne has one more difficulty that she will face as she gets older. She was born with club feet.

The doctors casted her legs for a couple of weeks to determine if her feet would begin to straighten. For now, she will have to wait until she is bigger and stronger before being able to receive any sort of treatment to straighten her feet.

After each shift of working, I come back to my room and have found that I must take a few minutes to pray. My heart breaks for so many of the families here. Each one has a mingled story of joy, survival and suffering. I find myself starting to write each family's story and then promptly hitting the delete button. Somehow, my words do not seem to find the proper respect that is due to each family. But, I will tell you of one little boy: Espoir, whose name translates to "Hope."

Espoir is the second child for his parents and has a smile that will draw you into his 3 month old world and begging for more! The first child of the family passed away shortly after birth from complications of HIV/AIDS. Devastated, the parents decided to have another child after taking some radical precautions (as far as things go here in Africa) to prevent the transmission of the disease to their newborn. Espoir was born via c-section and is formula fed. (Both of these measures take considerable amounts of money, all of which is quite difficult to come by here in Togo.) However, just after his birth, the two large protruding masses on his forehead could not be avoided. Espoir's parents brought him to the Mercy Ship seeking a cure. Espoir came in, was examined and admitted for a CT scan, had his prescreening blood work completed, etc. Despite all efforts, Espoir's HIV results came back positive. Additionally, his chances for becoming a candidate for surgery are slim do to other circumstances, yet the ability for living a lifetime in the hands of our Father are full of Hope.

Yesterday morning I went to a screening where we meet with approximately 200-250 people who have waited in line to tell the crew of the Africa Mercy their ailments. Their desire is to be treated and/or have surgery. Becca (my bunkmate) and I had the fortunate task of being the "Gate Screeners." We filtered through the individuals, listened to their concerns and with a lot of prayer for wisdom, determined whether or not they would be a potential candidate for surgery. In the end, we were able to send about 30 people through to the next screening station. This was the perk of being the Gate Screener. However, it's difficult to say "no" time and time again under these circumstances. The response to hearing, "I'm sorry -- at this time, we are not able to assist you," was almost always the same... The individual's gaze would drop to the ground and a soft spoken, "Ca va, merci beaucoup..." was uttered. They would turn and walk down the road they had come up several hours prior to meeting us. For many, they will return home with the same sense of shame they had come to us in hopes for a change. As for the individuals that made it past us Gate Screeners, they were filtered through one more nurse before meeting with a physician where the final determination of whether or not surgery will be in their near future. I am looking forward to working with those candidates on the ward! For them, they will be the recipients of a life changing surgery.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Onboard the Africa Mercy

A wonderful rush of emotions come over me as my eyes first caught a glimpse of the Africa Mercy! God’s faithfulness is beautiful to discover time and time again. Stepping onboard was a surreal feeling: one of, “I can’t believe I’m here!!” and another of, “I’m actually here!”

I arrived in Togo on Saturday evening. My flights were smooth sailing the whole way through! Sitting next to me from Paris to Lomé was a very chatty Frenchman who spoke no English. I’m not sure how French that had been tucked away for the past 12 years resurfaced, but I managed to finagle my way through several hours of conversing. I learned more about this diabetic-hypertensive-recently divorced-Frenchy that has a pizzeria in Lomé and found the flight attendants all to be rated 8 out of 10 on his “Prettiness Scale” (with the exception of one flight attendant)! I was grateful for his company and willingness to endure my botched attempts at French.

Since being on the Ship, things have been great. I share a room with 5 other girls. Yes, it’s true -- 6 girls in one room, sharing one bathroom! (Reminds me of the Brady Bunch.) Each room is sectioned off into 3 bunk beds and it works perfectly. I have managed to run into the narrow hallway wall about a million times over. Our room is just shy of being a cave and you never know who is working what shift, so the idea of turning on the lights would be fully rude!

The Africa Mercy was an old Danish ferry in it’s previous life. Being a hospital ship now, It is beautiful and has everything you could imagine. Looking off the back of the ship is the Gulf of Benin -- I am looking forward to going to the beach on a day when I am not working. The food is wonderful, the people are fantastic and you never know who you are going to meet!

Being on the wards is refreshing and so different in every aspect from things back in the States. For example -- wearing flip-flops to work is perfectly acceptable. My commute to work is about a 30-second walk down the hall on Deck 3. Children and adults are intermingled on each ward. HIPPA carries a new name and JACHO is non-existent! The patients are their caregivers maintain their daily life of living and working in community, despite the drastic changes they endure while on the Ship.

Over the past several days, I have had the opportunity to work with several adult patients (yes, it’s true -- adults!!) who had various types of types of masses removed from their necks. In talking with one woman yesterday, I learned that because of the deformity on her neck, she lived with a great amount of shame. I asked her how long the mass on been growing and she said, “Vingt-quatre ans.” Twenty-four years of living in shame and being shunned from others in her town. What a great amount of strength she mustered over the past 2½ decades to continue to provide for her 7 children. She stated that she will be returning home with new joy now that healing has come to her.

The children here are so fun, but then again - aren’t they all?! Yesterday, I worked with several babies who were admitted for CT scans of their head and/or neck. They will return in a few weeks for surgery. Also admitted was a little 4 year old boy who was diagnosed with Burkitt’s Lymphoma. He will be transferred to a local hospital for chemotherapy. (For those of you hem/onc staffers, his treatment will consist of 6-10 courses of cyclophosphamide every 3 weeks until symptoms subside.) I recently discharged a set of premature twins who were born at about 30 weeks (they are now about 4 or 5 weeks old) -- one weighed about 4 lbs and the other 4.5 lbs. The girls will hopefully continue to gain weight and strength over the coming months. They will be returning for follow-up over the next several months through the Infant Feeding Program. Their discharge was a wonderful celebration!

Being here is humbling in many respects. This past week, witnessing the quiet strength that individuals carry throughout their sufferings was a beautiful testimony to me. I am sure to learn...

Thank you all for your well wishes and words of encouragement as I was preparing to leave. They have carried me far and I feel like I am living in a dream!