Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Mercy Ships in Freetown - video

Here is our official video on the arrival of Africa Mercy to Freetown. Some of the footage is from me when we were in the speed boat :) Enjoy!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Screening ReBoot March 26.

Sooooooo... the big day was yesterday. "Without a doubt this was one of the best and most successful screenings ever!" This is not my comment (my track record up till yesterday was less than desirable). Dr Gary said this around 2pm yesterday as we were packing down; all of us ready to grab a cold cold shower and crash into bed. But let me give you a little background.

After that Monday we were all shaken; some angry, some hurt, many sad and even more of us confused. The leadership started evaluations and preparation for a possible future screening. Actually the word "screening" quickly became everybody's least favorite word around here. I spent many hours on debriefings... took much time to dwell on what happened if I am honest. :(

Besides the obvious the events of Monday raised other challenges, too. With a large number of new crew on board who was not used to "normal" operating procedures, it was an extremely challenging time. "Normal" (if it ever is normal haha) operations would have included the beginning of patients coming in to be operated on board for the hospital team. For our department it'd have meant that we can start focusing on a Civic and Media Reception, followed by a Hospital Reception for local medical personnel and other PR tasks on one hand. As for my other hat (leading the comms team as well) capturing patient stories and photos to provide fund raising material to the national offices seemed a bit hard since we missed the big screening.

The good thing is that we have now an eye-screening up and running every Monday in a local eye clinic, where our doctors book the (mostly cataract) patients. The dental screening is at the HOPE center just 5 min walk from the ship. The doctors and nurses are already in full swing - pulling, filling, cleaning and booking patients every Monday and Thursday.

In preparation for a new mass screening I wrote a radio jingle (click here to listen to it) that a famous local radio guy performed in Creole and was broadcasting it for a week in several radio stations. Just for fun, listen to it and tell me how much you understand... The jingle is about 2 min long!!! Imagine that in Europe! :) He talks about the type of problems that we do NOT treat and emphasizes the conditions that we are able to (benign tumors, goiters, cleft lip and palate, bowed legs, clubbed feet, cataracts, dental issues).

In addition to the jingle we were on radio a couple of times for interviews and I was also on TV. Their biggest channel SLBC had a 1 hour live TV show called Good Morning Sierra Leone where I was invited as a guest. During the screening day several people in line mentioned that they recognize me from TV. Yay.... :) It was kind of funny, how the other guest and presenters are so animated and they often talk with their hands. Those of you who know me, I often do the same, but compared to them I came across as a stiff wooden statue :)))

On Friday our security guys went to the site after lunch and most of them stayed there through the night. According to them the people started gathering in the afternoon. Unfortunately they had to turn away many people who came with conditions that we do not treat. And the line grew and grew as the night approached... more and more people joined the queue in hopes of a "YES" to the dreaded question of "Can you help me?"

To be continued... :)

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Reka operating

Before the surgeries start on deck 3, the nurses and doctors throw an Open Day where normal people can go down to the hospital (that is off limits for the general crew) and goof around for one evening.

This is me, operating on a monkey while a former US Army Nurse is commenting on my cultural background... I offered him a free surgery too, sadly he refused. :)

Hospital Open Day part II.

So, after I learnt how to intubate, it was time to learn how to stitch the poor patient together.
I was privileged to have Dr. Gary Parker assisting me. If you don't know him, he is one of the best maxillo facial surgeons in the world! He has been serving with Mercy Ships for 24 years.
It was really an honor working with him! :)

Life in a hospital...

This happens when the ship doesn't have enough doctors - a crash course in intubation and off I go... :)

The doctor said at the end that I have a gifting in this area, usually people cannot do it for the first time... Do I see a change in carrier??? :)

Sunday, March 13, 2011


I know I haven't written anything since I came on board. I was extremely busy - as you can imagine. The ship sailed in on Sunday, 27th February. My day started at 4AM and ended around 1AM. My first meeting on Monday was 6.45AM and again I went to bed way after midnight. It took me 3 days to bump into my 2 cabin mates. I know where is my office, I still have difficulty finding my cabin on deck 4 (still cannot remember the number hehe) I pulled 18 hour shifts EVERY DAY, Saturday and Sunday included.

We planned a big screening day for Monday, 7th March. IT DIDN'T GO WELL AT ALL. You can read below the official press release (that I was working on shortly after we came back to the safety of the ship on Monday afternoon) and also some chapters I copy-pasted from other crew members' blog entries.

I am still NOT OK, still struggling with coming to terms with what had happened, on the other hand I have to support the leadership and my team. If you want to know more, feel free to email me privately. At the moment I do not have the will, the time, the strength, the energy to write down my own account. Sufficient to say I was stuck on top of  THAT GATE you will read about, I witnessed everything first hand ... :(

I believe it would be a conflict of interest if I shared more on my personal blog, which is read not only by my friends, but sadly by members of the head office in Texas, too... :(

Screening Day, Mercy Ships press release, 7th March:

Mercy Ships is deeply saddened by the tragic events that occurred today during medical screening at the Freetown National Stadium when a crowd stormed the gate resulting in several injuries and one life lost.

Mercy Ships personnel working at the site attended the injured and accompanied them to local hospitals.

"Our hearts and prayers are with the individuals and families of those affected by today's events. The occurrence of this incident in the course of activities intended to restore lives is tragic. We move forward with tremendous sadness, but great determination, to assist as many people as possible in the next ten months," stated Mercy Ships Founder, Don Stephens.

Mercy Ships exists to serve the forgotten poor and has served Sierra Leone five times over the past two decades, also helping establish two land-based health care facilities. For the next ten months, Mercy Ships will be providing surgeries for qualified patients while working alongside the Sierra Leonean Government to support its five-year healthcare plan and strengthen the functions of the national health system.

And here are some personal accounts from my friends' blogs...

"Late nights planning, hope, expectations, stress, prayerful hearts & minds, and so much more have been the focus of the past few weeks. As we prepared a mass screening day at the Freetown National Stadium. We expected a large turn out, but were not prepared for the thousands of people that started coming the night before and slept at the gate. My heart, as well as so many others, was all to help, not hurt the people of Sierra Leone, but Monday took an unexpected turn when the desperation and fear of not being seen or helped caused the crowd to storm the entry gate into the stadium where the surgical teams and I where examining potential patients. 17 people were injured and one man lost his life from being trampled. A few nurses did all they could with what was available to revive him. The rest of us were pulled from screening patients to do crowd control. As we formed a wall,  I could see the desperation on peoples faces, and it grieved me to see so many that we could have help but couldn't reach through the crowd. I am still processing this all at the moment, and one day may be I will be able to put it into words for you all. Today, however, please be praying for the ship staff, as well as, the people of Sierra Leone as we move past this tragedy to figure out how we can bring hope to so many in need..."

And another: 

"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted ~ Matthew 5:4
My thoughts are scattered and piecemeal; in attempting to write from the heart I'm finding my heart still broken on the floor.  I'm trying to make sense of something senseless, and find that I just need to cling to my rock and trust.  It's not the trust of not knowing, of a safe and sheltered life...this is the trust in the middle of the storm.  God is my shelter when there is no other shelter left, he is my strength when I am weak and broken.

We're still a community in mourning, and in it's own odd way I find that mourning is a comfort.  Because how can you mourn for something you never had and never lost?  How can you mourn unless you first have loved?  And how can we love a people we have never known, except by the grace of God?  We witnessed a tragedy of desperation - something so incomprehensible from the Western medical mind.  So many of us feel a sense of entitlement to things: to good, safe and speedy medical care, clean water, sufficient food, pursuit of happiness however we see fit.  

And yet the reality is that there are people fighting just to survive.  So desperate for even basic medical care that they could run unseeing over another person, many of them having spent days or weeks walking, or using up all of their savings just to have a chance at hope.  They are the ones so often unseen, unremembered, left behind."
And one more:

"I do not even know where to begin this post. I think I will try to keep it on the shorter side just because I and each one of us here are still trying to process things in our own mind and don't know where to begin to express today's events.
We knew there would be thousands of people waiting for us at the national soccer stadium in Freetown when the first crew arrived after 4am. And yes, this was definitely the case. The line that NEVER ends is always a heartbreaking thing to see, yet encouraging in that we get to help many of them. Almost all of the ship was present to help with this huge day. Usually there is some unrest in the crowds and our team of security is able to handle it. Today however, this was not the case. By 0930 events started to unravel that caused people to storm the gate. People were pushing, shoving, and literally trampling each other. People began to climb the fence and our team turned from screening patients to triaging those who were getting hurt and attempting crowd control. Many crew have memories now of patients being trampled several people deep, and pictures that I am not going to even describe in this blog. Several of our cars started taking people to the local hospitals and one man lost his life. To say today's events were tragic is an understatement. We shut down screening by noon at which point we packed up and left quickly.

The whole thing breaks my heart. People here have no money. Many of these people have traveled from LONG distances to stand in line since yesterday morning for hope...probably not having anything to eat or drink in the meantime. Africa is full of poverty and people are desperate. It can definitely be a rough place sometimes. We are used to seeing many difficult things, but this is a whole new thing. My heart truly breaks for those who were hurt today but even more to all those who really need us and need surgery who we could not see."
I think you get the picture and now you know how to pray for us... :(