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!


  1. Kristen - Your words are such an encouragement! Throughout reading your experiences, all I could think is "this is what Kristen was made for..." We will continue to pray for you and I look forward to hearing all of your experiences and growth opportunities! MUCH LOVE!

  2. Thanks for sharing your experience with us so many miles away. Remember we are all under the same stars. Keep living your dreams. With Love, Tiffany

  3. Love the Blog, it makes me understand about
    what you're doing and keeps me in touch with
    you although at a distance of thousands of
    miles : ) Much Love to you (of course!)
    and may God keep you well and safe...
    XXOO, Chuck

  4. Wow. What an incredible experience and incredible stories. Thank you for taking the time to share with us (when you could be sleeping in 6-bunk your cave). What a blessing you will be to these little (and big) people in the weeks ahead. Look forward to reading more. We will pray for you, and all your new friends. Blessings,
    Nancy & Carl Rosene

  5. Thanks for sharing! Please keep posting in your spare time not out in the sun. :-) Living vicariously through you and praying for a safe trip - Kat

  6. Kristen, how cool is your life! Love your blog and your detail writing is enjoyable to read. Keep enjoying every moment of it. Bendiciones!

  7. You are such an inspiration! I was just with Cynthia tonight and you both make me realize how much more I could be doing.
    I love the Frenchy story. Too funny!!
    What an experience you are having! Can't wait to hear more.

  8. That is so wild that you are there and doing such great work!

    Could we have your permission to link to your blog from the church website?

    Thanks for considering,
    Christina Black

  9. Kristen, I'm so happy to hear you are having a great time. I miss you here of course but I know you are doing wonderful things there. Can't wait till you get back though...p.s. i was sad to hear you can't skype:(


  10. What an amazing experience!! I love your blog, what a great way to keep in touch and share your experiences....... but don't spend too much free time blogging, spend lots of time making memories. Best wishes and safe traveling, hugs from Okie land. Vicki

  11. It was great to here from you today! Miss you. Keep doing all your great work. You are a wonderful person!!!

  12. What an amazing experience! I can't wait to hear more. Prays for you and your patients from the DeFreece family!

  13. Hi Kristen,
    What a great blog. While we miss you here, it's fun to hear what you're doing and all about the people you are meeting. Take care- looking forward to reading more. Pat H.

  14. We are enjoying your blog and wanting to hear more. Keep up the good work. I am going to share your work with my UMW group. Laramie was thrilled to get your infro. for her award. Both she and Wyatt are keeping up with what you are doing. Anxious blog. Grandma Pat

  15. Hi Kristen,

    It is amazing and inspiring to read about your day. Thanks for sharing it with me. Margy

  16. Kristen:

    You have given more hope to me through your blog than one can imagine. I hope one day to meet you in person.