Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Hope Has Come... Screening thoughts

Yes. We made it! Again!                     Ok, let me re-phrase that!
Yes! God did it! Again!

I have tears in my eyes as I type when I think about the amazing things that happened on Monday. Somehow God just pulled it off so beautifully and perfectly against many odds...

To understand the Miracle, I need to go back a bit and share the Advance Team's experiences. Even though Mercy Ships offers FREE services, some people in town who were supposed to promote the event charged money for the information. Some government people, whose job was to promote the event kept it quite for selfish reasons. Sadly we were here, all of us working our butts off to make this day a success and we weren't sure if people got the message or not. Will they show up for our screening? More importantly, will the RIGHT patients show up?

Not the ones with a 'simple' back pain or the ones who could afford a good doctor here or in another country... NO! The ones who feel cast out of society because of a birth defect / obstructed labour while giving birth / burning accident that left them unable to move their limbs / cataracts / goiters / facial tumors...etc. The Invisible ones. The Silent cryers. The Untouchables.

For this massive operation we chose a nearby location called The People's Palace. The compound had fences on each side with small gates, a large open air area and a multi-floor building with exits to many directions. A perfect place for our purposes.

Darren was part of the overnight security team who left the ship Sunday night. Their job was to keep the early birds in line, send home the ones that we obviously cannot help and protect our gear that we left there a day before. He said that things were calm during the night, a couple hundred people showed up to secure a good spot in the ever growing line. And they waited...

5 am. My alarm went off. Outside it was dark, I could see raindropps on our window. I managed to put my clothes on and went for a quick breakfast. The dining room was full - but quiet. :) Some coffee and a muffin and we were about to load our vehicles. It never seize to amaze me - the effect of white Land Rovers one after the other roam through town. Those awake could see a sight they will surely not forget for a while. If they didn't know we were here before... they do NOW!

It's stilll dark when we arrive. The Landies drop us off and return for the second wave of people. I jog to my station, which is the coolest spot if you ask me! :) I am the one taking pictures of our future patients! These are not beauty shots, not emotional stories, just "boring" shots we take before surgery. Let me assure you now, there was NOTHING boring about it! But let's not rush ahead...

Setting up our area is always fun. We run around with head lights, stick pictures on the walls that will help the patients understand why we take these pictures. We put up stands and hang white sheets that will serve as backdrop for our photos and provide some privacy for the patients.

Here are some lines from my friend, Tiffany, who captured the moments so well:

"The fear - of seeing these faces that have been stretched beyond recognition by forces beyond their control - this fear, is gone. Now my face lights up with joy as I see these precious ones who have lived in desperation for years, ashamed and devastated by their own appearance. And they come, afraid to set their hopes too high, convinced that they are beyond help.

I make eye contact, finding the eye that has the best visibility - this can be the trickiest part. I smile from the depth of my heart. A smile that says, "You are welcome here! You are not forgotten! God has not given up on you. He sees! We are SO glad to see you!"

First by a trickle and soon a swiftly flowing river of patients make their way through the maze of stations we have. 4300 people have come through the iron gates onto the front lawn of the People's Palace. Nurses evaluate each and every person who has chosen to wait hours in first the drizzle, then the clouded humidity, and finally the sun. Over 500 people are screened by our eye team outside and determined that we could potentially help them further.

Those with other surgical issues we could potentially treat are escorted inside to begin the collection process on their information. Each type of condition is brought to see doctors, surgeons and nurses to determine the next step: schedule a surgery, xray, CT scan, waitlist or if we are unable to help. Escorts continue to guide the nearly 850 patients (plus their loved ones) through the three stories of stations.

Finally they reach the ground floor (Ground Zero) and they are nearing the end of their day with us. I await at the Card Issuing Station. And we see them all: Orthopedic patients: little ones with feet seemingly attached upside down, babies with Kermit the Frog legs whose knees look like they are reversed as they touch their chests effortlessly, twelve-year olds that measure three feet tall with legs bowed almost in a complete circle. Babies, children and teens with cleft lips and palates - their beautiful smiles of joy stretching even wider than our lips allow. Patients who had surgery on one of the previous Mercy Ships, the Anastasis, in 1998 to repair a condition and now have returned for their follow up surgeries. They have waited 14 years for our return! Sierra Leonean patients have crossed the border with their paperwork that states they will need a second surgery and even though that date is November or next January, they come expectantly, knowing the schedule is limited. VVF ladies have found there way here, with a big "YES!" written on their paperwork from our nurses. The crook of a burnt arm, the taut marbled skin of a burned cheek and eyelid, both young and old have suffered at the hands of an open flame. The embarrassed faces, the shame that has veiled them vanishes as I stretch out my hand with a "Bon Soir, comment ca va?" To be looked in the eye and treated as a valued equal, to know that there is a chance that help has arrived for them. This gives them a tangible hope.

They leave with a plastic card: PATIENT. They each have a name, a number, and the next step. For some it's another screening day (on a smaller scale, with a specific surgeon who will identify his/her own patients), for others it's being on a waitlist and they are told to keep their cell phones turned on. And for others they have an appointment on the ship - a Scan. An Xray. An admission!"

And then they meet me...

Stay tuned for 'My Personal Impressions and Encounters' coming up soon! So far the Communications Team released only a couple of pictures - the rest is coming in my next post!

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