God is faithful

Hello from Benin! It’s hard to believe today is the final day of surgeries! I came aboard the ship in July 2016. In some ways it feels like yesterday and in other ways it feels like forever ago. As I reflect on this time in Benin so many memories of patient stories, rich friendships and a community life experience that is like nothing I’ve ever had before, come to mind. One patient’s story keeps resurfacing and I’d like to share it with you.

It’s a story about a baby girl named, Bignon. I met Bignon when she was about 8 weeks old back in September 2016. It was a busy day in admissions. That morning our small tent was packed with three nurses, three physicians and two dietitians all seeing patients. One of the physicians was sharing my office space, literally using my desk to do an exam because there was nowhere else to go. I was tucked in a small space in the corner of my desk, trying not to be in the way. Lee-Ann (one of our dietitians), poked her head around the curtain and asked me to come take a look at a little girl. I sensed some concern in her voice. And she was right to be concerned. I stepped into their little curtained off area and caught my first glimpse of Bignon. She was a significantly malnourished cleft lip baby (an upper lip deformity). She was lying in a lethargic state across her mother’s lap. At 8 weeks old she weighed in at a mere 1.6kg (3.5lbs). She was clearly dying of starvation and barely clinging to life.

 

Unfortunately, this is a very common sight in West Africa. Cleft lips are upper lip deformities that affect babies all around the world. But in countries like Benin where there is little to no access to safe, affordable healthcare, these little ones die. In Benin and many other West African nations, the deformity is thought to be a curse so the child is killed or their families leave them to die in the bush. The mothers don’t know what to do. They are discriminated against and their children are stigmatized because of the deformity. As a result, they give their children names like, “forgotten one” or names that mean “trash”. Bignon’s mother decided against this. She chose a name that means “God is faithful”. Bignon literally means, “God is faithful”. Bignon’s mother believed that God would be faithful despite her child’s deformity.

That afternoon Bignon was admitted to the ward. After she started to eat and grow a bit stronger she was discharged. This is when the dietitians stepped in and make certain her mother received dietary counseling to ensure Bignon received proper nutrition. A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of admitting Bignon to the ward so she could receive surgery for her cleft lip. I couldn’t believe my eyes when she and her mother walked into admissions. Her mother recognized me right away. She was beaming as she handed me Bignon, who is now a healthy (chunky monkey) weighing in at 7.8kg (17lbs) at 9 months of age.

Nurse Tam Lowe with Bignon and her mother
Bignon and her mother with nurse Tam

Its stories like these that clearly remind me of God’s faithfulness. It has been my great pleasure and honor to walk alongside our fearless patients and their families! I am forever changed. To God be the glory forever and ever!

In just over a week my journey home begins. It is so bittersweet. Mere words cannot adequately capture the joy that wells up inside me as I reflect back on the countless memories of my time in Benin. I look forward to telling friends and family these countless memories as they come to mind. Thank you for continued prayers and support! I look forward to catching up with you all soon!

Nurse Caitlyn Williams with Clarisse and Paul's mothers

 

IMG_2329
My Admissions Team!

 

Advertisements

Wounds of the body and soul

One of my favorite things to do is to go to the wards in the evenings and visit the patients and caregivers. Even though, working in Admissions I get to meet every patient admitted, I don’t have much interaction with them once they’ve had surgery.

When I walk onto the wards and greet them it brings my heart joy to see not only the physical difference, but the change in their countenance. The love, care and acceptance they receive tends to their physical needs as well as their emotional/spiritual needs. When I meet the patients in admissions I’m often a bit taken aback by the size of a tumor or distortion caused by a burn, etc. Some of the patients have very visible deformities. I’m reminded in these moments to look beneath the surface. The outside deformity is only the tip of the iceberg. It does not reveal the entirety of their wound. I find one does not have to look too deep to see the emotional pain beneath the surface. Emotional pain caused by constant ridicule, teasing and being outcast from the community because one does not look normal. This is a “wound of the soul”. These wounds are not so visible, but can be just as debilitating.

screen-shot-2017-02-23-at-6-05-43-pm
When I look at these pictures it’s hard to believe this is the same girl. Elisabeth came to us very malnourished and was not strong enough for surgery. Our medical staff and dietitians monitored her closely. Slowly she began to gain weight and grow stronger. These pictures are before her surgery. I love them because it shows how the wounds of her soul received healing. The love and acceptance she experienced started to heal her heart long before we operated to remove the tumor. She received surgery on my birthday (7 February) and is doing very well!

 

Patients recovering on the ward
Happy smiles greet me every time I visit the wards!

Next week we start Women’s Health surgeries. These patients in particular endure significant “wounds of the soul”. Most of them have a condition called a vesicovaginal fistula, which is essentially it is a broken bladder. After a long labor an abnormal tract forms between the bladder and vagina. This means the woman is unable to hold urine, so she leaks urine continuously. Because of the bad smell and lack of cleanliness these women are abandoned by their husbands and ostracized from their communities. They live in poverty and isolation because they are no longer accepted.

The birth of a child should be joyful and bring happiness, but for these women it brings pain, sadness and shame. They are no longer wanted by their husbands and thus can no longer bear children.

 

Mercy Ships provides free surgery to fix their broken bladder. But the bladder is not the only thing repaired. Hearts are mended as these women are loved, accepted and given an opportunity to hear about an eternal love that will never turn them away or give up on them! Please pray for these women, not just for their physical wounds, but for their emotional and spiritual healing.

mgc160118_b_ward_vvf_therese_pat07169_aina_pat06125_julie_pat06122_svensson_cw0020_lo
This is a picture of our Women’s Health patients from last year when Mercy Ships was in Madagascar.

What are we up to??

It was quite the adventure during the first half of the field service and the second half has been no different! Working in Admissions allows me to meet every single patient admitted to the hospital. When I returned from Christmas break we started with plastics, eyes, general and maxofacial surgerical specialties. Here are just a few of the patients we’ve admitted over the past month!

screen-shot-2017-02-02-at-8-08-26-pmThis little kiddo started as part of our infant feeding program. You can see from the picture on the left he has an upper lip deformity (cleft lip). This left him unable to suck appropriately. Essentially he wasn’t able to latch onto his mother’s nipple and get the milk he needed to grow. He was so small when we first met him. The picture on the left is after he had gained weight and was ready for surgery! The picture on the right is him after we corrected his cleft lip!

screen-shot-2017-02-03-at-9-41-18-amJust before Christmas break we finished all the orthopedic surgeries! Correcting bowed legs. So when I returned in January the casts started to come off and we saw straight legs J Kids are so adaptable, but unfortunately they’d learned to walk, and even run, with bowed legs. Rehabilitation is hard work, but it’s worth it to re-learn how to walk, now with straight legs!

Leopold (BEE30054) at the Eye Clinic for a post op evaluation.Another surgical specialty we have is Eyes! We remove cataracts. Unfortunately, I don’t get to meet these folks! Another team of doctors and nurses are responsible to these patients. But I see the patients everyday. They are incredibly brave as they are led up the gangway and into the hospital for surgery. I can’t imagine not being able to see and allowing someone to lead me up a gangway onto a ship for surgery!

screen-shot-2017-02-02-at-8-11-26-pmAnd last but certainly not least….plastic surgery! The main goals of plastic surgery are to give patients mobility of whatever arm/leg/finger is stuck in place and cultivate new skin with skin grafts. This is a slow and painful process. But we have very brave, strong patients and an incredible team of doctors and nurses! And we serve a God who heals and restores all our wounds!

Psalm 147:3 “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds”

My heart is full!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year everyone! This Christmas my parents and dear friend Crystal surprised me by paying for my plane ticket home so that I could be in the states for Christmas! What a huge surprise and blessing! My heart is full after spending time with family and friends and having a two week break.

Here are a few of my favorite pictures from my time at home. A big highlight was getting to meet my niece (Ruth). She was born back in August 2016 while I was on the ship. She is so full of life and such a happy, smiley kiddo! It was so great to get to know her a bit and watch my sister be a mom for the first time!

This past Sunday I arrived back aboard the Africa Mercy Ship to finish out the second half of the field service. I will remain on the ship until June 2017 as the Admissions Nurse Team Leader. Sadly, before leaving for Christmas holiday, I had to say goodbye to my previous admissions nurses. Which means three new admissions nurses joined the team. The new nurses have all worked in admissions for Mercy Ships in the past, which is a big help considering we started admitting patients right away. They are learning and working well together. I am excited for what the second half of the field service has in store for this team!

Thank you for all your prayers and support! Hopefully it won’t be too much longer before my next update!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

What happens in the Admissions Tent??

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 3.25.38 PM
The tents on the dock!

You might ask what does a normal day look like in the Admissions Tent? Well, let me tell you there’s no such thing as a normal day! In case you haven’t noticed we’re on a ship in Africa, working in a tent on a dock! Things are far from normal here, but I truly believe that the Father orchestrates things like this so that He receives the glory, not us!

Let me start, by introducing you again to my fabulous team! (see picture).

img_3268

They are wonderful, hard working people whom I am blessed to lead and serve alongside. One of my nurses left us last week. My admissions nurses usually stay for about 7-9 weeks at a time. Then a new nurse comes to take their place. It’s a challenge to have to train new nurses, but so far everyone has come with a positive attitude and servant’s heart. Debbie (the nurse in the green scrubs), our newest addition, came during a particularly busy week. She is so sweet and jumped right into the madness like a champ!

So, what is it like to be the leader of Admissions? It’s quite a unique job; not like any other position I’ve had before. In fact, I’ve never held a leadership role in my nursing career, so it is all new to me. It definitely has its challenges, but overall I have really enjoyed the cross-cultural leadership experience, interfacing with all hospital departments and the opportunity to meet every single patient admitted to the hospital!

I begin each day in the tent by myself. You might be thinking, aw how sad! You begin your day by yourself, alone in the tent? But for those of you that know me, I’m an introvert and I thoroughly enjoy the alone time before all the craziness of the day begins! I use this time to compile the list of patients we will admit to the hospital that day. That list then goes to each of my admissions nurses, the doctors examining the patients, all the team leaders of the wards, rehab team leader, medical photographer, ward secretary, patient escort and our security officer at the top of the gangway (the ship’s front door). When my team arrives we do devotions together. I have themes for each day of the week.

Madhouse Monday – What armor of God/truth/promise are you going to ask the Father to protect you with today?

Tent Tuesday – All the ‘tent dwellers’ (Admissions, Rehab, Screening & Outpatients) meet in the Rehab tent and do devotions together.

Worship Wednesday – We join in worship together as a team before starting our day. Sometimes I play a song, other times we sing and dance African style! I don’t usually dance!

Thankful Thursday – We each share something we are thankful for and spend time in prayer thanking the Father.

Fun Fact Friday – We each share a fun fact about our self. Sometimes it’s a funny story, other times it’s a picture of our family or something of the like.

After devotions it’s time to do role call. I give the list of admissions patients to one of my daycrew (translator). He/she goes outside to the patient waiting area makes sure the admissions patients are present, that their names, dates of birth, ages & sex are correct. If everyone is there, it’s a miracle! If all the names, dates of birth, ages & sex are correct it’s an even bigger miracle (this NEVER happens)! Then we print patient labels and begin “stickering” the charts. Finally my nurses bring the patients in one by one to interview them. The interview is an in depth health history and pre-operative assessment. We take their heart rate, blood pressure, measure their height, weight and hand them over to the doctor for examination. The doctors I work with are not the surgeons. These doctors work in concert with the surgeons to take care of the other medical conditions that arise. For example, patients who come with undiagnosed high blood pressure require medication to reduce their blood pressure to a normal level prior to surgery.

After the doctor examines the patient and says they’re ready for surgery, we draw some blood and take a medical photo of their condition (i.e. tumor, burn, etc.) for their medical record. If the blood-work is normal then the patient is cleared to have surgery. Finally we make them a patient ID badge so they can board the ship and then it’s off to the hospital they go!

One final thing we do with the patients before they board the ship is education. Education is an essential aspect of our job in admissions. It is crucial that the patient understand what is going to happen to their body when they have surgery. We also explain things like… How to properly use a European toilet and why we don’t allow them to eat after midnight the night before surgery, etc.

The entire admissions process takes all morning and most of the afternoon. We ask many questions and it’s a lot of information for the patient to digest. They are overloaded and exhausted by the end of the day! But it all becomes worth it when you escort them onto the ship and show them to their bed. Their faces light up when they see the hospital and meet other patients who’ve had surgery. It becomes real to them! What was once a dream or hope becomes reality.

Admissions is just a small piece of the journey for these patients. There are so many other specialties, medical personnel and other people working behind the scenes to bring care to these patients. It still amazes me that volunteers from all over the world come and pay to volunteer aboard Mercy Ships so that we can provide this type of surgical care in Africa aboard a ship. Again, I believe that the Father orchestrates things like this so that He receives the glory, not us!

The words of this song by Big Daddy Weave beautifully express and capture the essence of how God works in and through His people.

“My Story” Big Daddy Weave

“If I told you my story, you would hear hope that wouldn’t let go. If I told you my story, you would hear love that never gave up. And if I told you my story, you would hear life, but it wasn’t mine. If I should speak then let it be of the grace that is greater than all my sin, of when justice was served and where mercy wins, of the kindness of Jesus that draws me in. Oh to tell you my story, is to tell of Him!

We proclaim and exemplify the Father’s story of love, hope, grace, and mercy when share our story. I hope the words of my story helped you see Jesus today!

Worship in the Rehab Tent! 🙂

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Screening potential patients! What is it? How does it work?

IMG_3087
My new work family!

Thank you for your prayers and words of encouragement! Screening has been going well. It is a grueling and tedious process and there have been a few “kinks” to work out, but all in all things are going well! We have screened well over a few thousand potential patients these past two weeks. On average we allow anywhere from 250-350 patients inside the screening compound per day. Once inside the compound we take their temperature. This is part of screening for Ebola and Lassa Fever (click the link to learn more), which are concerns here in West Africa. Patients are then given a wristband and directed to another line just outside the entrance to the screening center building. (SEE PICTURE) There they are briefly pre-screened by a nurse to determine if their “condition” requires surgery.

Often times, patients come to these screening days, not knowing that Mercy Ships is a surgery ship. We are only able to assist them if their “condition” falls into one of our surgical specialties. For example, people come that have had a stroke or have pneumonia. Another common example is parents bring children with hydrocephalus. A condition in which there is an excessive amount of fluid surrounding the brain. Mercy Ships does not perform brain surgery or treat these other conditions (i.e. stroke & pneumonia). The purpose of surgical intervention aboard Mercy Ships is to restore or improve functionality.

The screening days very long and tedious. It is a trying day for everyone involved, but especially for our screening nurses. It’s so hard to tell someone we are unable to help him or her. And unfortunately, we end up having to turn away more than 50% of people. The need is overwhelming. I often think Jesus felt this way as he ministered to the same types of crowds in his day.

It’s at times like this that I feel an overwhelming sense of hopeless and my heart grieves for the people of impoverished nations. All I can do is pray and ask my heavenly Father for wisdom to know how to best help the people that He puts in my path and asks me to help.

In addition to screening, my admissions nurses and I have been working hard to get the admissions tent all cleaned, set up and decorated for the patients on Friday! That’s right, this Friday (September 9th) Admissions opens at 8am! We will begin the admission process with those patients that day. Then they will come back to the ship Sunday, September 11th and be escorted aboard the ship into the hospital. And Monday, September 12th they will have surgery! It is going to be a busy week as we finish cleaning the hospital and start training all the new nurses!

Here are a few praises & prayer points!

PRAISES

 

  • Admissions nurses are here!!
  • The admissions tent is set up and ready to go!
  • Screening is going well. Despite having to turn away so many people, we are still able to help a large number of people who would not be able to receive care if it weren’t for Mercy Ships.

 

 

PRAYERS

 

  • Wisdom for the team leaders as we train the new nurses.
  • Patience, courage and strength as I lead my team of nurses and Daycrew (translators) when Admissions opens on Friday!
  • An overwhelming sense of peace and the Father’s presence to envelop the ship on the first day of surgery! (Monday, September 12th)

Thank you prayer warriors!!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

 

 

We’re in BENIN!!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Screen Shot 2016-08-21 at 12.54.45 PM

Three days ago around 10am we arrived and settled into our new berth space (parking spot) in the country of Benin! The port city we reside in is called Cotonou. If you’d like to see video of the ship arriving visit the facebook page “Mercy Ships Benin”.

Our arrival is a pretty big deal! 🙂 But this time it was an even BIGGER DEAL because the people of Benin & Mercy Ships crew have waiting 2 years to come!

In 2014 the ship was scheduled to be in Benin, but the Ebola outbreak in West Africa prevented us from coming. We were forced to divert and perform surgeries elsewhere for two years. We spent 2 ten-month field services in Madagascar before it was safe to return to Benin. Let me reassure you it is indeed safe for us to be in Benin. There have been no reported cases of Ebola in Benin. Furthermore the infection prevention and control personnel aboard Mercy Ships are continuing to monitor the situation and will pull out if necessary.

The Mercy Ships advance team arrived, some as early as mid May (2016), to begin the process of preparing for the ship’s arrival. In addition to hiring translators and securing our berth space, the team worked tirelessly to make contact with the port authorities, local government officials, immigration, customs, etc. They were also in charge of preparing and renovating our clinic sites. In addition to performing surgeries, Mercy Ships staffs several clinics in the city of Cotonou. These clinics are for our dental, eye and clubfeet patients. There is also a rehabilitation clinic/site called the HOPE center where some patients are housed after their surgery. These patients require longer-term physical therapy, dressing changes & outpatient appointments. This is a larger site that required much renovation before it was ready to house patients. As you can imagine these things don’t just fall into place! It requires a lot of preparation, countless meetings and permission from local authorities. The advance team definitely had their work cut out for them!

Now that the ship is here there is even more to be done! We have begun the big task of unloading the land rovers from the ship, “hooking up” the Internet, untying everything that had to be securely stowed for the sail and much more! Next week we will start to unpack and set up the hospital!

Thank you very much for your continued prayers! The sail from Cape Town to Benin was very smooth! Very few people were seasick and we did not encounter any pirates! You may chuckle at this, but pirates are definitely a concern especially when sailing through West Africa. Don’t worry! Mercy Ships was aware and took extra precautions to make sure we were safe!

 

PRAISES

Our safe arrival!

The large dock space! (see picture)

This provides room for the children to play, space for the Rehab, Outpatients & Admissions tents. And plenty of space to park the land rovers!

The daycrew (translators). The advance team was able to hire a total of 225 daycrew! The ship could not do what it does without our fabulous translators! They had their first day of orientation on Saturday. Four of them will work with me in Admissions! They are wonderful and seem eager to work and learn!

PRAYER REQUESTS

The process of screening potential patients begins Monday morning and will last for three weeks. A group of nurses and translators will meet potential patients and decide if they are a good candidate for surgery. Sometimes as many as 350, potential patients, per day are screened. It is a tedious process and there is always tension in the air. People are desperate for help. It is heart wrenching to have to tell them we are unable to help. And sometimes this news is not received.

Please pray for the safety of everyone involved, for accurate translation and the Father to guide us as we select potential patients for surgery.

 

Short Vacation in Cape Town, now onward to BENIN!

IMG_2911
The leadership team I proudly serve with!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Hello!
We arrived in Cape Town, South Africa for a short weekend vacation and are now headed to our final destination…BENIN, WEST AFRICA!!
While in Cape Town we were allowed off the ship to explore and be tourists in the city. I was able to see some spectacular mountain & ocean views! It was truly incredible!
In other news, my NIECE was born! My sister, Sarah, and her husband Joel are the proud parents of Ruth JoAnn Fink! She made her debut into the world Thursday, August 4th @ 8:07pm EST. This happened around 2:00AM my time. Thankfully, the ship was docked in Cape Town so I had good internet and was able to facetime with them shortly after the birth! Enjoy the pictures!
The sail from Cape Town to Benin will take about 8-10 days. During this time the leadership team and myself are busily preparing for the 10-month field service. As you can see from the picture, I will be serving with a group of 11 other women. These nurse team leaders are in charge of the nurses who come to work in the hospital aboard the ship; as well as other departments such as admissions, physical therapy & dressing changes. I feel excited and privileged to work with them! They are so encouraging and supportive! Throughout the sail, as a team, will continue to get to know each other, have devotions, do team building activities and plan for the upcoming field service. Right now I’m reading the admissions manual and talking with the other leaders about my role, but I cannot actually see the admissions tent or anything tangible about my job. This type of preparation is very abstract and hard for me. I am a visual learner and hands-on person. But that’s not the kind of preparation that is required right now. I’d appreciate your prayers as I navigate this uncharted territory and as I ask the Father to prepare my heart and mind for whatever lies ahead!
Thank you!

 

I’ve ARRIVED!! I am safe on the Africa Mercy Ship!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Hi Everybody! Thank you for your prayers over me as I traveled! I arrived safely to the ship last evening. There were a few hiccups along the way, and I almost missed my flight from Johannesburg to Durban! BUT, I made it! 🙂

The ship is currently in Durban, South Africa. We set sail for Benin, West Africa either Sunday OR Monday! BUT, before arriving in Benin we’ll make a quick pit stop in Cape Town, South Africa.

It’s been wonderful to come aboard again, to greet familiar faces and meet new people. You can pray for courage and peace as I get to know the hospital leadership team and step into my new role as the Admissions Team Lead.

Enjoy the pictures! 🙂

 

T-minus 3 days until I leave the country!

IMG_2830I can’t tell you how much I have been extremely blessed and thankful for all of the support, words of encouragement and monetary blessings people have given me as I prepare to serve! I am excited to report that my current support is $7,859.93. My goal is to raise $8,000.00. It’s so close 🙂 I have no doubt the Father will provide the rest!

My departure day is Tuesday, July 26th @5:40PM from Washington Dulles Airport! I will post before I leave the states and again when I arrive in Durban, South Africa!