Friday, January 29, 2016

Lasting Impact

As I prepare myself to leave this floating hospital ship in two weeks I'm trying to reflect on and post about experiences that have really stood out to me and impacted me during this time.

One aspect that I truly admire about Mercy Ships is its dedication to making sure that certain programs are sustainable after the Africa Mercy departs from a country. Being in Madagascar for two field service has given them an unique opportunity to really find out what education and resources the healthcare system needs. Over the last two field services Mercy Ships has implemented many educational sessions for doctors, surgeons and nurses, a surgical checklist to ensure safety in operating rooms and renovated an operating room and two buildings at the local hospital here in Tamatave.The obstetric fistula clinic that I worked in is also part of this medical capacity program. I might have mentioned it before but this clinic will be employed by Malagasy nurses and supported by another organization called Freedom From Fistula after the Africa Mercy leaves.

One of the most challenging and yet rewarding part of my time here has been training those local nurses. I have oriented nurses at home but this was very different. We don't speak the same language. Our training and education as nurses was different. Our culture is different. Add the fact that I don't have any women's health background and was learning about obstetric fistulas myself and it sounds like a recipe for disaster huh?!? They had classroom sessions with our Mercy Ships crew educator and then worked 12 hr. shifts at the clinic and on the ward at the ship. At first these local nurses were shy, and not really giving us much indication that they were learning anything. Over the weeks we slowly passed on the knowledge and skills we were learning about caring for obstetric fistula patients. We were learning and growing together and I think as time passed they started trusting us. They started asking questions, critically thinking and taking initiative with their patients. It was such a joy to see the look on there face when they finally put the pieces together, realized the significance of what they were doing and why they were performing a procedure a certain way. All the skills, knowledge, and facts that we instill in them can't compare to the fact that we are also showing them how to love patients like Jesus would. Showing compassion, loving the least of these is all completely counter-intuitive to the culture of nursing here in Madagascar. These local nurses are taught that not only can they medically care for their patients differently, more effectively and with best practices but that they also can holistically, compassionately and lovingly care for their own people.

I don't say all this to boast or pat myself on that back but to say how completely humbled and thankful I am for the opportunity to work together with these local nurse and to play a small part in teaching and molding them. Nurses who can change the culture of nursing in Madagascar, who will care for the thousands of other obstetric  fistula patients that I can't care for and will continue to compassionately and lovingly care for the poorest of poor, the least of these and some of the strongest and most beautiful ladies of Madagascar.

This video will give you more details about the medical capacity programs. Enoy!  

Although I am currently serving with Mercy Ships, everything communicated here strictly reflects my personal opinions and is neither reviewed nor endorsed by Mercy Ships. Opinions, conclusions and other information expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of Mercy Ships. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Least Of These

In every nurses career there are patients and family members you simply will never forget. If you are a nurse reading this you know what I'm talking about...the difficult patient, the baby that despite so many obstacles survived, that one code in the ER, the patient that passed away or the family members that faithfully stood by their loved one. I have said it before but these ladies will forever be etched in my heart and mind. Their stories, faces, the joys and the sorrows. Their stories all have a running theme. Pregnancy. Days of labor without access to any kind of medical care and the nearest hospital is a days walk away or further. If they never make it to the hospital the baby will die and the body will instinctively begin the process of expelling the baby. If they make it to the hospital and can actually afford the cesarean they need it is often still too late. After enduring this traumatic labor that results in the loss of a child they now have a hole in between their bladder and birth canal causing them to constantly leak urine. What once was supposed to be a time of joy and bringing forth new life results in death. Death of a child, death of a women's identity, hope, joy and future.

‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?" Matthew 25:37-39

I have not written about specific patients because at this point accurately portraying their story seems like a daunting task and one that I will never give full justice too.I must have sat down a dozen times trying to describe this one patients story. She is fourteen years old. She embodies Mercy Ships line "poorest of poor." Her name is Minette and I will never forget her. 

Her story is very similar to what I just described. Another mercy ships crew nurse that works closely with the local hospital in Tamatave found Minette. The nurses at the local hospital were begging her to help Minette claiming she was the poorest patient they have ever seen. To get an accurate picture of the local hospital and the condition Minette was found in I strongly recommend you read the following post by the lovely Amy Jones Amy, team leaders and surgeons advocated to transfer Minette from the local hospital to the clinic which is not part of Mercy Ships normal screening process. They did not have to fight too hard. The committee saw the poorest of the poor sitting right in front of them and could not delay action. 

I"ll never forget the look on her face the first night Minette came to the clinic. Eyes wide, scared, fearful and full of pain. We started from the basics. We gave her a bath. Lovingly and gently nurses cleaned her skinny, boney, sore body that had been sitting in urine for days. We took all the appropriate steps to care for her medically but we first started with loving her. Looking her in the eye. Telling her we wanted to help her. Slowly explaining everything we were going to do. Gently holding her hand. Giving her tough love through the difficult times of not wanting to take medications, deliberately throwing nutritional supplements on the floor and not even wanting to get out of bed on some days. It was emotionally and mentally tiring care for her at times. The more strength she gained the more her feisty, stubborn fourteen year old self emerged. She would lay quietly in bed while everybody else was singing around her, she would sleep late, miss breakfast and often stayed up late hanging out and chatting with the night shift nurses. She was a typical teenager but none of her life experiences reflected that of a normal fourteen year old. Her total stay at the clinic spanned about three months with many ups and downs, joys and sorrows.  I can't even begin to describe the emotional, spiritual and physical healing we saw over those three months. This loving, smart, fun and humorous fourteen year old slowly started making appearances over the weeks. She would pat our heads, grin and say something in Malagasy, give us a smirk when she was doing something she shouldn't be doing, always wanted to braid the nurses hair or paint their nails, admire our watches and sneakily ask to wear it for a shift. Turns out she knew the songs we were singing the whole time. The day I watched her singing, clapping, smiling and interacting with the other patients was the day I knew that Minette would never be the same and that she in turn had captured the hearts of every nurse and patient that she came in contact with. 

Minette's journey isn't over just yet. She will return to Mercy Ships in April for further surgery. Sadly, I won't be here in April to see her return...add that to the compiling list of reasons it will be difficult to leave this place in a few short weeks. At the same time though I'm joyful knowing that one greater than me loves her and holds her in the palms of His hands. I'm at peace knowing that He who began a good work in her will be faithful to complete all the things in her heart I witnessed begin to grow and blossom. I'm confident that we fed, clothed and loved the poorest of poor all for Gods glory and so that she may know the goodness, love and faithfulness of our God. 

 Minette's story is not completely uncommon here in Madagascar. There are thousands more just like her. Fourteen, sixteen, eighteen all the way up to sixty year old women suffering from obstetric fistulas. Although, the task of caring for these ladies and telling their stories feels overwhelming at times I know it must be done. As with all of our patients telling their stories gives you all a glimpse of what is going on around the world. It gives you knowledge and awareness which at some point will lead to action. That action will look different for each person. It could be as simple as stopping and saying a prayer for these ladies and all the patients Mercy Ships cares for. In this season of my life it looks like volunteering my time with Mercy Ships. Even more simple than all of this would be to just be aware of and reach out to the poorest of poor, the least of these that are surrounding you everyday.  
The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'" Matthew 25:40

Shared this video before but I think its worth another share. Enjoy! 

Along with the joy of pregnancy comes worry. In Canada, mother's can be comforted in knowing that skilled healthcare for moms and their babies is available if needed. This is severely lacking in Madagascar. Thousands of women who survive the complications related to pregnancy and childbirth suffer from a terrible injury called obstetric fistula. It is estimated that 2,000 Malagasy women develop fistula each year.Thousands of women have a story like Gisele's and Mercy Ships is working to alleviate their suffering and to bring hope and healing.Learn more:
Posted by Mercy Ships Canada on Thursday, January 22, 2015

Although I am currently serving with Mercy Ships, everything communicated here strictly reflects my personal opinions and is neither reviewed nor endorsed by Mercy Ships. Opinions, conclusions and other information expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of Mercy Ships. 

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Good Gifts

December 31st officially marked 4 months since I arrived on the Africa Mercy. Cue the mixed emotions, lots of feelings and reflections on 2015 and all the good gifts the Lord has bestowed upon me. Little gifts like internet and video chat to stay connected with you all even when we are thousands of miles apart, life-long friendships that are forming, biking in good weather, good team work on a busy work day, and a simple interaction with a patient that makes them smile. Big gifts like losing my cellphone which was an inconvenience but also taught me that yes I can survive without a cellular device attached to me at all times. I know shocking. Bigger gifts like so much love and support from family and friends and my mom's ability to know me better than myself. (Sorry Dad, love you too!) This opportunity to serve the people of Madagascar with Mercy Ships that daily forces me to stand in awe of how good His timing is and how evident His goodness is in people's lives by restoring hope and healing. Being away from the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season this year allowed me to really reflect on God's greatest gift of His one and only Son. However, I have found myself at times still doubting His goodness. Sometimes I think could it all really be this good? There must be a catch. It can't be this simple. It's all too good to be true. Then I hear God whisper it is this good and yes it can get even better than this. I heard a pastor once say that a gift isn't a gift unless it is received. God can and longs to pour out all of these blessings but more often than not I find myself coming to him with my hands closed, holding on to what I deem best and in a sense preventing myself from receiving all of His goodness. This year God is challenging me to open up my hands, let go of my agenda, doubts, fears, bitterness and worries and receive the more than enough, over abundant and more then I can ask for or imagine good gifts that He has in store for me in 2016. 

"When you are overwhelmed with the goodness of God to you-you overflow with the goodness of God to others" Ann Voskamp

I write this all with a little hesitancy. I don't want to sound repetitive. I don't want to make it sound like everything is rainbows, butterfly's and fairy tales all the time. However, sometimes you have to take a moment to step back from all the nonsense and confusion swirling around you and stand on the promise  that "goodness and mercy shall follow you all the days of your life." He comes to bring life and life abundantly if we would only open our hands and hearts to receive it all. I'm challenging myself and you this year to put aside all that hinders you, trust that His ways are always perfect and with a willing heart receive all the good gifts God has in store for you this year. I don't know what those good gifts will look like for you. Maybe it's trusting Christ and allowing Him into your life, situation and heart for the first time (Ephesians 2:8-10). Maybe it's letting go of anger and bitterness and stepping into peace and joy. Perhaps it's putting the past behind you and confidently walking into the destiny and purpose he has for your life.                                                
                                            Praying that 2016 is the best one yet for all of you!

Taking care of these ladies is one of the best gifts of 2015! 

Another great gift. Building friendships and exploring this beautiful country of Madagascar:

Before 2015 ended I had the chance to go to another city in Madagascar called Antsirbe. The journey was long but in Madagascar traveling is all part of the fun and the scenery was breathtaking. Antisarbe is colorful, and busy with a lot of different shops and markets. The main attraction was a volcanic lake called Lake Tritriva. We walked around the lake and apparently some people go cliff diving here. The water is cold with no living thing due to the high levels of phosphate and sulfur. Don't worry we decided not to jump or swim :) 

My great traveling buddy Irene! 

This railway operates between the capital city of Tana and Tamatave but only for freight train use. 

Local post office

Capital city of Antananarivo

Finally, thanks to your generous support I have the full amount of my crew fees covered for the months that I extended! Another great gift :) If you still wish to donate I suggest you check out the Mercy Ships website, do some research for yourself and consider donating to the organization. Once again without supporters like you Mercy Ships can not bring this level of care to the poorest of the poor.  

"Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows." James 1:17

 Although I am currently serving with Mercy Ships, everything communicated here strictly reflects my personal opinions and is neither reviewed nor endorsed by Mercy Ships. Opinions, conclusions and other information expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of Mercy Ships.