Saturday, June 25, 2011

Street vendors

The fact that you can buy everything on the streets shouldn't come as a surprise. And by everything i mean EVERYTHING. (fruits, cars parts, clothes, electronics, toothbrush, bread, shoes, soap, top up cards, popcorn, meat, money, fried fish, lottery tickets, water, perfume, fake DVDs, jeans, charcoal, ...etc) Basically it's safe to say if you cannot find something there, most likely you are either not looking hard enough or you are in the wrong street! :)

What fascinates me the most is the fact that even after dark they are still out there trying to make one more  dollar by selling one more bag of washing powder...

Here are some random pictures I took recently...

Fabrics. Lots and lots of fabrics with tailors.
Notice the gutter under the lady. Now, that the rainy season has started those drains are clogged...
Music and fake DVDs of movies everywhere. The "latest hits CD" include UB40-Red wine :)))))
Selling water in small plastic bags is typical and dangerous.
Shoe street
Street meat - my favourite! If he is cooking it fresh on some charcoal, I would eat it any time, especially with lots of pepper and onions. Yummy and SAFE! (I eat it once a week and never had any problems!)
Fried fish from last Friday... it's a NO-NO even for me!
Palm oil is used for cooking. It's red and yes, it DOES look like blood...
Spices spices spices - my choice is their crushed chili souce
Lady selling fresh (??) kasava roots and sprinkling clean (??) water on it to keep it fresh. Kasava is used as a type of starch and people eat it as we eat potatoes.
Child selling charcoal for cooking on open fire.
Local "Best Buy" / "Media Markt" :)

Thursday, June 9, 2011

A Miracle. Truly a miracle

This story is just soooo amazing! I was there when it happened, but Elaine Winn, the writer who works in my team did a much better job at gathering all info and putting it all on paper so I let her tell you this story...
Two-year-old Josephine inhaled something that affected her breathing. Her parents, David and Judith, could hear the rattle with every struggling breath. They took her to a local clinic which sent them to an emergency hospital . . . which sent them to a government hospital . . . which sent them to a satellite clinic . . . which sent them back to the government hospital.  After five days in the government hospital, specialist Dr. Karim Kabineh told them that Josephine was so tiny that she would die if he performed the necessary operation. He needed a pediatric anesthetist, anesthesia equipment, and a critical care unit with 24-hour nursing care – all unavailable at that hospital.
After eight days of hopeless searching for help, the desperate parents took Josephine to the office of the Minister of Health, where David hoped to plead his case and find someone who could help. At that moment – in the miracle of God’s timing – Ann Gloag, a member of the Mercy Ships International Board who is well-known for her charity work in Africa, was meeting with the Minister.
As this compassionate woman walked by the family sitting in the reception area, she heard the labored breathing of little Josephine. She put in a call to Dr. Gary Parker, Chief Medical Officer onboard the Africa Mercy, the hospital ship docked a short distance away in Freetown Harbor. After explaining to him what appeared to be the problem, arrangements were made to use an ambulance to transport Josephine, her parents and Dr. Kabineh to the ship.
Dr. Gary examined Josephine, took x-rays and discovered a small stone lodged in the little girl’s bronchus. A virtual think tank was begun to find a way to remove the stone from her tiny body. Dr.Gary approached engineering to see if a medical device could be fashioned that would be the right shape to fit into the bronchoscope and retrieve the stone.  Every plausible idea was examined and eventually rejected. 
Dr. Gary and Dr. Kabineh worked for five hours trying to remove the stone without success. Dr. Gary called Ann back to explain that what Josephine needed was a cardiac thoracic surgeon, and there wasn’t one on the ship. David was devastated. Mercy Ships was his last hope. But crew member Clementine Tengue encouraged him, saying, “God will find a way.”
Josephine was admitted to the intensive care unit with 24-hour care. About 3:00 am, ICU Nurse Melissa Warner was working the night shift when Josephine lost her breathing tube.  Her vital signs were crashing.  Dr. Michelle White, the pediatric *anesthetist/ anesthesiologist, was paged, but it would take her several minutes to respond.  “In my mind, I said ‘I need help!’” Melissa said. “And when I looked up, there was Corina Buth standing in the doorway in her pajamas!” Corina, a pediatric ICU nurse from the Netherlands, had been restless and couldn’t sleep.  Corina did CPR, and Josephine’s vital signs returned to normal. Then Dr. Michelle arrived and replaced the breathing tube.
Josephine’s condition was rapidly deteriorating. Analysis was made of the hospitals nearby. Ghana had the required surgeon, but he was absent at that time, and the travel expense to South Africa was prohibitive.
Meanwhile, Ann had phoned a professor friend of hers in Nairobi and explained that she needed a pediatric cardiac thoracic surgeon who could fly to Sierra Leone right away. The professor knew just the right man – Dr. James Munene, head of cardiac surgery at Nairobi’s Kenyatta National Hospital. Although it was quite late, he phoned Dr. James, explained the problem and asked him to go to Sierra Leone to operate on Josephine.
“Wait!” Dr. James said, rather forcefully. “I don’t know what you’re talking about!”
“Just talk to this lady,” the professor responded.
Ann called a few minutes later and told the doctor he needed to fly immediately to Freetown where his skills were urgently needed.
“I was a bit reluctant,” said Dr. Munene. “I had never heard of Mercy Ships. I had no information on this case, and it was the middle of the night!”
Ann called back with information on his flight. “Be at the airport at 6:00 a.m.,” she said. 
“It was a little difficult to say no to the lady. I told my wife, ‘I guess I’m going to Sierra Leone in the morning,’” Dr. Munene said.
Then Dr. Gary called to say he was emailing information and x-rays of Josephine.
“I was thinking, ‘It’s not happening! It didn’t sound real!’ But by 1:00 a.m., I had the ticket and all the necessary papers ... and there I was at the airport at 6:00 a.m..,” explained Dr. James.
This confident specialist with the gentle demeanor landed at Lungi Airport, not yet totally comprehending the situation. And he still had to endure the bumpy boat ride across the bay to Freetown. “It was surreal!” he admitted.
Dr. James was overwhelmed by the Africa Mercy, the more than 400 crew members volunteering from 35 different countries, and the concept of bringing hope and healing to the forgotten poor. He couldn’t believe such a mission could have been in operation for so many years, and he didn’t know anything about it.
Teaming with Dr. Gary, Dr. James operated on Josephine, fishing the stone out of her bronchus with ease. Because Josephine was so tiny, it was a vital requirement to have a pediatric anesthetist as part of the team. Dr. Michelle White was serving in this capacity at the time and was a vital part of the team.  “Working with such a tiny body, I wouldn’t have proceeded without her,” said Dr. James. 
Josephine awoke shortly after the surgery and sat up on the gurney all the way to the Intensive Care Unit, looking around and asking for a glass of water. To everyone’s surprise, she was anxious to eat right away. After a few days of recuperating in the ICU – and enjoying the attention of the nurses and other crew members – the little girl and her grateful parents left the ship
In reviewing this story, it is amazing to see the many things that had to happen for this tiny girl to survive.  Her parents had to keep her alive for eight days after she inhaled the stone.  Ann Gloag had to be visiting the office of the Minister of Health at the same time that David, Judith, and Josephine were there. Dr. James Munene had to agree to perform a surgery for an organization of which he had never heard; and Nurse Corina had to be drawn to the ICU because she couldn’t sleep.  This incredible timing and all of these wonderful people were part of the miracle that allowed Josephine to grin happily as she left the Africa Mercy as a healthy little girl.
Dr. James was captivated by the mission and hopes to return to volunteer his services. “Really, it’s a privilege to come and see what people are doing while others are sleeping and doing nothing,” he said.
And God never sleeps – miracles still happen every day.  Sometimes we are blessed to be a part of them.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

An African President and a Hungarian organizer

In 1 word: ....... - ok, i have to admit, I had way too many words flashing through my mind like "wow, never again, fun, exciting, nerve-wrecking, nightmare, awesome..."

I read other people's blog and accounts of that day, if you are interested in the factual report, go read those. For me, I had nightmares before and after the event. Before Friday I dreamed that he came unannounced and we were not ready. After his visit in my dream he returned for a second visit and again, we were not ready... :)

Many people from the ship were involved in some ways to make this visit a success. We tried to think of everything that would be affected for those 2 hours while His Excellency, Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma is on board and I can tell you there was not a single person whose schedule remained unchanged. 436 people!!!

The VP entering with his entourage, I am standing in the back
The real challenge came when a few days prior to his planned visit we got word that the Vice President might come as well. I personally doubted that since in most cases the President and the VP should not be at the same place at the same time. Nonetheless, we had to be prepared. For many reasons I preferred this option, because this way we had to stop normal ship's routine operations only once instead of twice. On the other hand this presented a whole new set of questions like "How to take down 30-40 people to the hospital deck at once?"

With my FAVOURITE boss - Donovan Palmer,
the Managing Director of Africa Mercy
The President was supposed to arrive at noon - that means the VP should have arrived 15 minutes prior so proper protocol can be observed. As you can imagine though, the President got caught up in some official business and was delayed first 30 min, then 1 hour, then another 90 minutes. And of course the VP had to adjust to that... :)

Finally we got a call from their security that the President is about to leave the Court House and the VP is already on his way. The relaxed atmosphere that took over during the waiting disappeared once again as everybody hurried to their position. (The entire ship was in shut down mode since 11.30) The flowers in my office started to fade from "breathtaking" to "very nice" so it was high time they came! :)

The flower girl went down with our leaders to welcome the VP. Each year it's a different girl from our school who has the honour of welcoming the president of the country on board with a huge bouquet of flowers. It's amazing how FAST these things go. You plan it for weeks and make million changes on the schedule (who stands where, who says what, when we do what...etc). From arrival to receiving the flowers, going through introductions and disappearing on deck 3 for a hospital tour... it was only 5 minutes!

We had a few minutes of silence, a quiet before the storm - you can say. Then the first motorbikes arrived, followed by some more and some pick up trucks with AK47s in the guys' hands... :) It was obvious that the President of Sierra Leone is about to arrive... We went through the same protocol, but this time the flowers were given by a girl called Hawa, who received a life saving operation on board the last time Mercy Ships was here. She had a benign tumor growing in her mouth and was facing a slow, excruciating death. The way Dr Gary (who did the operation) explains it often "with tumors like this it is better if it's malicious, because that way it kills you faster. Benign tumors suffocate you slowly..." :(

But Hawa didn't die, she quickly recovered from the surgery and with both parents deceased, she lives in an SOS Children's Village in Freetown. Of course we didn't have time to explain any of that to the President when His Excellency arrived. BUT - after the tour of the hospital Dr Gary gave a short presentation in the International Lounge and he showed pictures of her when she was 3. The standing ovation started when he said "but maybe a before-after photo is not convincing enough. Probably you didn't realize it, but you just met this very same girl a few minutes ago" And Hawa stood up to smile and wave at everybody... :) It was very emotional!

The President visiting the ward, meeting some patients
So, after our speeches it was time for the President to deliver his message. His aid quickly jumped up to the podium, opened the folder and laid out his prepared speech. The President went up, quickly glanced at it and then shut it. He changed his message last minute to deliver a heartfelt thank you instead. It was amazing to see how he was touched by what he saw and instead of giving a boring official response he spoke from his heart. With Captain Tim's words: "It is only on Mercy Ships where you can impact the poorest of the poor and the President of the country on the same day!"

There were some socializing and refreshments afterwards in MidShips Lounge. While I stood stand by in one corner, the President's chief security guy came up to me. After exchanging pleasantries he quickly steered the conversation onto his mother, who (surprise, surprise) had a medical condition and wanted to know if he can bring her to the ship. :( Thank God I didn't have time to respond as I got called away. His Excellency, the VP and the entire entourage of about 40 people (as opposed to 15 as discussed and agreed upon...) was about to leave.

It was extremely entertaining to see how fast these people can be, if they see fit. Because the President has all those motorbikes to clear the way and shut down roads, everybody wanted to tag along for an uninterrupted ride home through the traffic of Freetown. :)

For me, it was a highly stressful day, week, - month really with all these dignitaries and International Board coming at the same time. But it is over now and finally yesterday I had my first real day off in May (on the second of June...) :)