All comments contained within this blog are my personal observations while serving on the M/V Africa Mercy. They are not the views or opinions of Mercy Ships or partner ministries.»

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Pollyanna reflections...

I woke up this morning, stumbled into the bathroom and looked in the mirror. Or I should say, I squinted into the mirror. My eyelids were swollen. Not quite swollen shut, but it was an effort to open them wide enough to function. I knew the events of yesterday had worn on me, but I had no idea it would carry over to the morning.

What can I say about the people who serve on the M/V Africa Mercy? If I were to sit down and write about all the amazing things the crew here do every single day it would fill several volumes. And even then I am sure my words could not do their actions justice. But let me try to highlight a few of the amazing medical personnel I have had the honor and pleasure to work with over this past month.

Dr. Gary Parker: He, along with his family, have served onboard the longest. He has been performing life changing surgeries and has been used by God to bring the Gospel to the people of West Africa for over 20 years. He is the chief medical officer and walking wisdom for those of us new to the ship and to the medical field. In his chosen profession as a maxillo facial surgeon he could have a house as big as the ship, but the people of West Africa have touched his heart in a way that his desire is to serve them and bring them healing, both physically and spiritually. Not only does he give his life away, he also freely gives his knowledge away.

Dr. Gary was the head surgeon in yesterdays surgery with Alica. During this surgery he was once again passing on his knowledge freely. Dr. Mark was assisting and Dr. Gary was doing what he does best, operating. I have also become comfortable enough to ask the odd question or two during surgery and he answers with grace, kindness, patience and knowledge. He speaks in layman's terms and not over my head.

Dr. Gary also was involved in the situation with the little boy; to what extent, I can't say since I was not in the OR. But, before he went in, he talked to me and was very honest with what is happening here in Africa. Not every story turns out happy. Not everyone is able to be helped on the big white ship. The need is great and just like in an earlier post when I posted the story of the little boy and the starfish, there are many starfish stranded during this season of low tide in West Africa, particularly Liberia.

I must confess, I came to Mercy Ships with perhaps a "Pollyanna" attitude. Everyone who walks off the ship is healed. Nothing bad happens here. Our doctor's have miracles flowing from their hands.

Before I started writing today's entry, I looked up the story of "Pollyanna". I had not read the story of this little orphan girl, but her name has become synonymous with an overly optimistic personality. Here is what Wikepedia has to say about the latter part of her story:

"Eventually, however, even Pollyanna's robust optimism is put to the test when she gets hit by a car and loses the use of her legs. At first she doesn't realise the seriousness of her situation, but her spirits plummet when she accidentally overhears an eminent specialist say that she'll never walk again. After that, she lies in bed, unable to find anything to be glad about. Then the townspeople begin calling at Aunt Polly's house, eager to let Pollyanna know how much her encouragement has improved their lives; and Pollyanna decides she can still be glad that she had legs."

Yesterday I was hit by an emotional car. Not every story here has a happy ending, but there is still hope for the story of this little 4-year old boy who is in our ICU ward.

Another amazing person I have had the honor to get to know is Mark. Sorry Mark, you are going to blush with what I am going to write about you at least I warned you at lunch.

Mark has been a part of every experience I have had down in the OR. He is new to Mercy Ships as well, but not new to the medical profession. He is a surgeon back in the US and specializes in working with cancer patients. He is definitely the kind of doctor you want on your side if you ever confront something like the big "C" in your life. His manner, both on and off the ward, is one of compassion.

On the screening day a couple weeks ago, I happened to glance over at Mark as he was speaking to a woman. The look on his face was not one of good news. There would be no, "Yes, we can help you." His eyes held nothing but concern for the woman. He had to tell her and her grown son that she had cancer and there was nothing we could do on the ship to help her. There were long pauses yelling quiet desperation. Hoping that if a question was asked in a different way the answer would be different. Megan Pitock has her story on her blog. Click HERE to meet Sarah, the woman who received this terrible news. Please pray for her and her family.

I filmed this event, but not the woman he was talking to. I wanted his reaction as he spoke to her. Today I looked at that footage. His eyes never wavered. It was a look that, to me, conveyed the message of sorrow for having to give this type of news. There was the classic, "I'm sorry." and the shaking of the head no. But there more subtle things like the deep breath before trying to explain one more time what was happening in her body. Almost as though he was trying to digest the news he was giving her as well. It was after that scene that I prayed for all the doctors involved in the screening day and the long road ahead of them.

After everything that happened yesterday, some of my equipment had been left in the OR. I was given my equipment as well as Mark's camera. Last night I went to the ward to return the camera to him, but he was busy with the little boy in the ICU. We had arraigned for him to come pick it up later that night, but we missed each other after I was compelled to come to the office and update my blog.

First thing this morning, I went down to the ward and gave it to an OR nurse to pass on to him. He uses it in the OR and wanted to return it to him before the day got rolling.

I was sitting in my office when he came up to thank me for returning the camera and gave me an update on the situation. The little boy made it through the night. He has an aggressive form of cancer that is very common here in Africa. Jean, the health care manager went out and somehow, some where secured the required treatment. With this medical treatment he has a chance. I have not discounted God's miraculous healing.

After giving me the update, Mark turned his concerns to me. We spoke about how situations like this are difficult on the medical personnel as well. This is his field of expertise and this hit him hard. Contrary to popular belief, doctors and especially surgeons are human to. He offered to help me debrief if I needed to, to understand a bit more of what was going on. That meant a great deal to me. Thanks Mark.

One observation Mark made yesterday was when the Captain announcing the need to pray for this little one while they were still in the heat of the moment in the OR. To know that over 400 people were lifting the situation up in prayer right then and there encouraged him. I was able to expand that beyond the ship and dock with this information.

As soon as we returned to our office from the all crew meeting, Esther, my co-worker was on the phone asking for prayer and I was on my computer sending out an email to people asking for prayers. They were not only being lifted up to the Lord here in Liberia, but by people around the world. How awesome is that?!?!?!

So, I'm okay if I am a Pollyanna. I'm glad I have had the opportunity to be here on the M/V Africa Mercy. The people I have met, both patients and crew alike have effected my life and I pray in some small way I have done the same for them. This has been the richest experience of my life and for that I am thankful.

Thanks for taking the time to keep up-to-date with me and the adventure I am on. I appreciate it.