Thursday, February 9, 2012

Screening day

Line getting longer by the minute
 Here is a short account of what happened during our surgical screening on February 1. Out of respect towards the locals we are not allowed to bring our cameras to the screening. All these photos were taken by our official photographers (except the ones without the watermark - those are mine!) :)

Patients waiting inside the gates
"A successful mass screening day was held at Kegue Stadium in Lomé, Togo this Wednesday, February 1st. After months of hard work and preparation, the day came together very smoothly. The majority of the Africa Mercy crew was involved in this screening at various stations located throughout the stadium complex. Starting Tuesday afternoon, set up and security teams were already in place on location. By that evening there were already many waiting patiently in line. The day remained calm and peaceful despite the large numbers waiting in hope for a chance for healing. Around 4000 people came to be seen and over 1600 patients made it past the pre-screeners into the stadium area where their histories were taken and they were examined by the medical professionals to see if they could be helped on the ship. Maxilo-facial tumors, goiters, lipomas, hernias, cleft lips, burn contractions and some VVF patients were identified and were given patient cards for their next step with Mercy Ships. The screening team would like to send out a big thank you for all of your worldwide prayers and all the work that went into making this day run so smoothly. God is good."

The first group arrives to the stadium
Try setting up everything in pitch black dark :)

People making food for us - the captain is on the far left!!!
The day started at 3 am when the first set of alarm clocks went off all over the ship. Soon sleepy heads started to emerge from their cabins to have a quick breakfast before they were heading out to the stadium. But the screening day really started the night before. After dinner some wonderful volunteers (the captain included!!!) were working hard in the dining room after hours to make approx. 2000 sandwiches for us. :)
Sign at the dining room a night before. It's just plain WRONG! :(
Some tough looking guys also went to the screening site in the evening to provide overnight security and pre-pre-pre screening  - that is to get the people in lines and inform those whom we surely cannot treat that they really shouldn't wait in line for hours in vain.

Different stations
Doctors running some tests right there

Often people don't know the difference between medical and surgical help or they are just hopeful that we give out free medication for back pain, vitamins, condoms...etc.
These girls schedule the surgeries with the 2 translators
Many patients don't know how to write
so we take their finger prints as ID or signature
a fully filled out patient sheet
Thank God I was in the second wave of people so my alarm went off at 5am - still waaaay too early for me, but once a year it's doable. Breakfast was (not surprisingly) very quiet, people were trying to wake up. Yay for good, free, strong coffee! :)

Playing with kids
By the time we were all in the land-rovers ready to roll out the sun came up. I was sitting in the second car and it gave me the good chills to see our convoy pull out of the harbour and cruise across the city - knowing what we will do today. It was indeed a very powerful sight!
Typical African way of carrying things: he is
walking around with our sandwiches on his head!
Before we arrived to the stadium I had some reservations, secretly hoping the sad events of last year (read here) won't happen again. To our great relief we saw 1 single line of patients only (instead of an uncontrolled crowd) waiting patiently outside the main gate! We also saw a huge group of military men with guns and suddenly we all knew that this day's gonna be awesome! :)
Quick meeting with some translators before we open the gates
I signed up to be a 'patient escort' person who walks (and talks if language allows) with the patients while they go from one station to the other. We were on a rotating schedule so I started at the main gate. Darren was outside of that gate working as Security - I haven't seen him all morning. Once the patients came inside the main gate we put them in 4 lines to wait while the pre-screeners see them. That's a station of nurses who determine if the people have something we can possibly help with or not at all. Unfortunately many who passed the main gate were turned down here and they needed to be escorted out.
The Central Command Post with the Screening coordinator (middle)
Operations Director (left), Managing Director (right)
This was the station where I could see the most horrendous tumors, deformities and 'curses' as many locals believe. There was a small boy, about 6 months old whose head was about the size of 2 footballs together. I am not trained in a medical field, but even I could tell that we cannot offer anything but prayer to this patient. It really breaks your heart to see his mum holding him, the light in her eyes shines a bit brighter with each step she takes towards the nurse only to be turned down by said nurse...
Screeners going through the line with pictures of the type of patients we can treat
While I was there several young children came in. They seemed ok; it was usually the mother or the other sibling who needed medical attention, but there was nobody to look after these kiddos so they tagged along. We were distributing free water to everybody standing in line. One of the security officers made a small whole on top of the water bottled and showed the kids how to squeeze the water out. They quickly fell in love with this new game and soon enough all of them were chasing me. :) We had a great time, but I realized quickly that running under the hot sun is not something my poor body can do for an extended period of time - unlike the kids who mercilessly made my clothes wet at every turn... :))
Husband-to-be looking good in his Ghanaian hat doing security :)

This baby with cleft lip was soooo very cute. After the photo shoot
she was snuggling with me for 20 minutes! :)
We have about 450 people on board, over 350 were involved in the screening day - one way or the other. Some girls were blowing soap-bubbles with the kids, others were colouring books together, yet others were singing songs for the little ones.

There were stations set up for the nurses and doctors to take people's medical history, do a proper medical examination, check blood type and vitals, prescribe vitamins and medications, book appointments for further screening or book them straight for surgeries. The last station is where their pictures are taken with their patient card and number. This is my favourite place to be!!!
Prayer station - nice location under the tree

I was asked by the photographers if I could help out a bit with these pictures so they can go out and take some general shots or capture stolen moments like these I included in this blog. I was glad to help as it gave me an opportunity to spend time and interact with the patients. The joy was clear on their faces - as they held up the precious cards, and, for the first time often in many years, THEY COULD HAVE HOPE! Hope that the tumor will be gone, the pain will stop, the rejection would be replaced with understanding and acceptance! These priceless emotions were displayed in everybody's faces and if I was a better photographer, I could have captured them better...
distracting a crying baby
This tumor on her head is the most dangerous of all and the most difficult to remove...
me working
All in all it was indeed an awesome day. Very long and exhausting for sure, but a day like this makes me energized for this entire Field Service! I cannot wait to see some of my new friends come to the ship for their life transforming surgeries! :)

I took these 2 pictures of happy mothers upon hearing their babies WILL BE operated on
Mum proudly showing the precious appointment card (details wiped out)

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