Sunday, May 29, 2011

My Craziest African Adventure Yet...

Yesterday was by far the most insane 'African Adventure' I've had yet. Certainly the most overwhelming.

By now, I've gotten used to the cat calls, the kissing and hissing sounds to get my attention, the "Do you love me's", and my favorite- trying to guess your name by using only African names... so hearing "Fatmata....Miratu.. Kadie.... Isatu...." and sometimes you'll hear the occasional... "Sarah...". I'm used to all of that by now. I'm also used to hearing "Mercy Ships" which sounds more like "Massy Sheeps!!" and people asking me if they can be my friend, or if they can marry me.

When we ventured out yesterday, I was just ready to get off of to the ship, have some fun, eat some good food, and possibly make a few sweet purchases at the Craft Market. We headed out- and all was usual. I realized later, I'd never been out on foot on a Saturday. Normally I'm off at the beach or working on a weekend. We were met by a fork in the road. I thought that we'd taken the route on the right before and it was better because there was more foot traffic, but not as much car traffic, which made it safer. I wish I had re-thought this before we went for it.

We got to walking, and realized quickly the extent of the foot traffic.Very little room for anyone to move, and there were poda-podas(mini-busses) pushing their way through the crowd- they didn't honestly care if they hit you or ran over your food. Multiple times, I had to pull one of the girls I was with out of the way because they were going to be hit by either a poda-poda or a wheel-barrow. I almost go taken out by a wheel-barrow and a SUV later down the road. As we walked, we entered the market.On a weekday, the market isn't too busy- it's just right for walking home or to the market on. On the weekend, however, everyone is out selling or buying things. All you hear is '1,000....10,000....500!!' and all you can smell is rotting, and there is black mud under your feet that makes you slip around.

A common issue in Freetown is muggings. Upon my arrival back on the ship, I told a friend of mine that we walked to the market on that road, and she asked if I was mugged.... to her surprise- I wasn't. Thankfully all of us had shoulder bags which allowed us to carry our bags with our arms around it, and I didn't keep anything in my pockets- I definitely know better than that at least:)

On this road, I saw tons of fish, chicken feet, mangoes, sunglasses, candies, rice, different powders- the works. When you passed fish, and smelled it, you hoped it was over and you didn't have to pass another fish vendor, but of coarse you did. The stench was overwhelming, and there were flies all over the food they were selling- it got to be almost unbearable. People pushing, people yelling, people asking your name, asking to be your friend, asking for food, asking for money...

Thankfully the road finally ended and we got to some less crowded streets, then eventually to the market road. I don't think you'll find me on that market road ever again- I'll take the market road next time, thanks. Also-I'm not sure if you'll find me going to the market on a saturday ever again... the only exception would be when my mom comes.. but we'll see about that;)

Finally we were at the market. I was drenched with sweat. We all split up and went shopping. On the bottom floor of the craft market(which was a large building- very different from other markets I've been to) was wood carvings, baskets, and hand-made wooden plaques to hang in your home. Upstairs was the fabric and jewelry section, with some dolls and carvings as well. One thing to note is you do have to be incredibly wary when buying things- especially dolls and carvings- often they are voodoo-related, which is just something you absolutely do not want to mess with. I generally stay away from those things unless I am certain they carry no other meaning other than just being a carving of an animal or a village.

I got going and found some great jewelry that I'm going to either use for myself or for people back home as gifts when I visit. Apparently I'm super at bartering. I've always found that I actually like arguing prices down, but yesterday I scored 4 necklaces and 2 pairs of earrings for 15,000 leones, which is about $3.75... great huh? Eventually I got tired of arguing, and looked around but then found the girls I came with.

We were waiting for one of the girls who really wanted particular things to finish up- the rest of us just wanted to look around. I was standing there, when suddenly I got a really strange feeling- my vision went weird, kind of like it does when I get a migraine, and I got really dizzy. I told the girls I was with because it started freaking me out. They told me to sit down. I was really nervous I was getting a migraine- it'd be a terrible time and place to get one- I wouldn't be able to walk back to the ship- we were over an hour away walking at least at this point. As I sat down, suddenly my vision turned black. I can't remember if I closed my eyes and just couldn't open them, or what happened, but then my hearing also went weird- kind of muffled. At this point, I had to give myself a bit of a pep- talk... it was something like... "michelle- don't do this now- you wont be able to get back to the ship quickly and if there's something really wrong, there's no way to get medical attention within 2 hours(traffic is terrible- taking a taxi would take 2 plus hours)...come on wake up..." Now- I'm pretty sure I just blacked out... I didn't faint because I still had muscle control- I never left the upright position I was sitting in. I came to and then one of the lovely girls I was with- who is a nurse- gave me 2 sugar tablets- and I was okay... Completely strange. I'm hoping it was just a hydration and electrolyte issue- nothing more... but I dont think you'll find me very far from the ship for a few days...

Anyway... after that, we walked to a close-by bakery where I enjoyed an amazing pizza-by far the best since I've gotten here- and then we journeyed back to the ship. The way we came home was a little tricky because there was a 'sidewalk' which is just drain covers- some which are super shaky and some have fallen into the drain- or you walk in the street- which had a lot of crazy ocada(motorcycle) drivers and cars... but ... we got back pretty quickly.

Afterwards, I got back, took a shower, took a nap, and relaxed for the rest of the evening- I wasn't feeling great, unfortunately. But, I"m feeling better today;)

Keep Hydrated
Always keep a nurse close-by
Don't take the market road
Always wear a bag that you can hold as you walk
Never go out to the Craft Market on a Saturday unless you have a well-planned route
Never get overheated


Friday, May 27, 2011

The Ward

Many of you have asked me to go into more detail about the kids I've been visiting and many have wondered if I've met my girl who I was able to give blood to.

After giving blood, I decided it was about time to go down to the ward and get hooked-in to it so that I could really dive deep into what the ship is all about. Before I started going back to the ward, everything just seemed blah- it felt a bit like I could be anywhere to do what I was doing, and at times it felt like jail. I mean think about it- each of our rooms are about the size of a small jail cell(enough room for a bunk and 2 wardrobes), we're told what and when to eat, when we have to be on the ship, and we have jobs that we go to and work crazy hard at. I mean- loose interpretation since we have a few freedoms, but you know;) So- going to the ward has been a very important part of my trip so far- much like it was the last time I was on board.

The first night I went down, I started off in the hall. Many of the orthopedic patients were in the hall zooming around in their wheelchairs or crawling. Most of them had clubbed feet and now have double casts to correct them. I've seen teeny tiny babies with casts, young kids, teens, and adults. I then went into A ward- which was the orthopedic and plastics(mostly burn patients) ward at the time- and participated in a story and craft time with them. Afterwards I wandered to the other wards.

I havent' really been to B ward because it's mainly hernia patients, which is mainly grown men- I'm more into the pediatric patients. Maybe one day I'll visit in there the kids, but going to the other 3 wards takes over an hour at least:) On that first day, I then went to D ward, which is mainly Maxillo-facial patients- facial tumors, deformities, clefts, etc. Unfortunately for me, most cleft patients are very short-term, so I only see them once then they're gone- though it's certainly a treat meeting them at all. I'm dying to watch a surgery for a cleft baby! Then I went to C ward. This is where the patient who I gave to- Afi- was. I saw her only a couple of days post-op so she was extremely groggy and unable to really do much. She's from Togo, so she doesn't speak english well. After visiting a few times, I learned her caregiver speaks english okay, so we talked through him a bit. At first- I didn't feel comfortable telling her who I am. At home, it'd be 100% weird if someone came up to you saying 'hey.. so... i gave you blood during your surgery.' That honestly doesnt even have the possibility of happening in the states because the blood is processed and banked. Here it goes right to the patient.

A little Sierra Leone backstory. We were driving to the beach one of my first days here and we passed the Emergency Hospital. We looked at the sign and were wondering why there were so many people outside. Then someone put things together- the sign said to bring your own donor- these patients have to bring a family member or friend to give them blood in case they bleed out on the table because they have no blood bank. That being said, the system we have on board is actually weird to them becuase they don't have to bring their own donor, but the crew give to them. But it's not all that different from what they do here.

One day, while visiting Afi, I decided I wanted her to know why I'm visiting her so much. I had the translator talk to her caregiver and told her that when she was in surgery she needed blood and I was one of the people who was able to give to her. I also told her that I prayed very hard for her in surgery- quite a fact. She seemed a little overwhelmed but excited. It was such a cool moment. I can't wait to see her next! She had a few tumors taking over the right side of her face and was able to get some of it taken care of in Togo when the ship was there last, but needed 10 units of blood, meaning she needed 10 donors. This time she came to get the rest taken care of and she needed 4 units of blood. She looks a bit like she's missing 1/2 of her face, but she looks better and better every day- I'm so excited to see her pull through so well. Swelling has reduced, stitches will come out soon- so great. I'm not sure whether or not she'll end up getting some reconstruction done, but either way- what a great story!!

Another big reason for visiting the ward recently is that one of my buddies from the Cheshire Home(the place we worked with during Gateway for 2 weeks) was admitted for surgery on his underdeveloped lower jaw. Originally, his surgery date was in September, but he got a call last week asking him to come that day. I ran into him as he was boarding the ship- so excited for him! I went down later that night(last Thursday) and he already had surgery! He wasn't due in until Friday, but he had it on the spot! Talk about fast-paced.... TIA. It's incredible how fast things went. All i could think about was how scared Gus(his real name is Gussimo:)) was.. so I have been checking on him every few days, along with many of the people who worked with him in February and continue to do so. As I've visited, I've also gotten to know the patient next to him who had some kind of reconstructive throat surgery, and I've gotten to meet many cleft babies. One of Gus' caregivers was trying to marry me off... sort of funny, but I knew how serious she was- so it sort of wasn't at the same time. Man- if I accepted all of the proposals I've gotten I'd have at least 20 husbands by now.. no thanks!! haha.

Gus is the boy on the right side middle:)

I"m so excited I"m back in my element- with patients in a hospital setting. I've fiddled again with the idea of nursing, but I think if that ever happens, it wont be for a few years. I think I'd do Child Life first and see how that goes, then decide, but honestly, I don't really feel drawn to nursing so much as I do just working with kids in hospitals doing anything... you know?

I wish I had some cool pictures, but we're not allowed to take pictures of patients in the hospital. If i find some, I'll post them.

If you are curious about anything having to do with me or the ship or anything- let me know and I'll post sometime! I'm just a bit low on things to write about. Hope to hear from you soon.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

I am a vampire, I am a vampire, I am a vampire, and I lost my fangs...

On Wednesday evening, as I entered my cabin to head to bed after a long day of work, I saw a little slip of paper on my door saying my blood cross-matched for a patient in surgery and I needed to be on ship and available on Thursday. Now, the way the ship works is that we are a 'walking blood bank' meaning that when blood is needed, the lab techs will call someone with the same blood type and draw blood and immediately take it to the person in need and transfuse. At orientation, if you're interested ingiving blood, they collect your information and later a blood sample to be sure you're healthy and check your blood type. They keep this information in the system, so when they get a patient who has potential to bleed out, they leave a notice on your door letting you know. If you're going to be off ship, you have to call and let them know. Otherwise, you're pretty much expected to be free and ready.

This slip on my door scared me, but also got me a bit excited. I got to work and let the person in charge know. We were both a bit wary since we were down to 3 people to make food for 400, but we decided to just feel it out. I got to lunch and I came down with a bit of a sore throat in the morning, so I was hoping I just wouldn't give that day. Then, one of my co-workers came to me and said “the lab called and said they need you immediately.” My hear leaped. Thankfully I was finished my lunch. I ran to a phone, no answer. I found someone in scrubs looking for me, and I told him the work situation. Then he told me calmly, but with urgency that someone was bleeding out on the OR table- I don't have much of a choice. He told me to go tell my boss and get down to the lab. So, I did.

It was all a bit of a blur, yet at the same time I felt like things should be happening faster. I was laying in the ICU where they take blood, and they took my temp and my blood pressure, then hooked me up. They thought they might have a hard time getting my vein, but luckily the amazing 'vampire' got it on the first try. She said I pumped it out pretty fast- not as fast as the people after me, but pretty good. As my blood was being sucked out of me, I asked the resident vampire(blood tech) who was in surgery that needed it. She said that it was a girl who is 19 and has been to the ship before in Togo for surgery. She's back to work on some more of her facial tumors. She said that last time this girl took 10 people(10 units of 550ccs) of blood because she bled out so bad. This really put in perspective the need this girl had at the same time I was being drained of my blood. I honestly felt blessed by the opportunity to help this girl live. In the end there ended up being 4 of us donors. One of my friends who donated as well came to me and said, “Isn't it weird that all of our blood is in this one person?” We're all connected in this one girl... that's amazing.

The vampire gave me some oreos and a coke(quite the perk) to get my blood sugar back up, but they needed to get the next person in(I was number 1), so they wheeled me in an office chair into the ICU where patients were to watch a movie(Fly Away Home) until I felt up to going back to work. At this point it was just after 1pm. Break had just finished, but I knew I couldn't rush it. So, I just relaxed, ate and drank. A nurse was there keeping an eye on me(I was bit woozy... thus the not letting me stand up thing), and she walks in with a 6 year old girl and a little boy who couldn't be any older than 1 ½ year old. She puts him on my lap and says, “I hope you don't feel like I'm dumping them on you- just thought you'd like to have some kids to play with!” Man- I don't even know this nurse well, but she sure did know somehow that babies make everything better in my eyes. So cute. After a while I headed back to work. While I was walking upstairs, I saw the lab guy who found me earlier in the day. He said that they've already put my blood and the girl who gave after me, but they were working on getting more. He then thanked me for giving.

On my way to getting back to work, I had a few detours. On my way back up the steps(from deck 3 to 5) I got incredibly dizzy. I knew I had to sit. I was standing talking to my friend at reception, and all of a sudden I realized I wasnt breathing well- I was breathing very quickly. Then I got really dizzy and realized I reeallly needed to sit. So, I went and retrieved my mango I was going to eat at lunch, but saved for after, ate that, drank some super sugary juice and took it easy. Don't worry- I called work and let them know:)

Once I got back to work, I was wishing I could just go back to my room and sleep it off. I was just plain exhausted. Everyone kept me busy with small tasks- like cubing cheese and cutting pineapple. That's not the side of the kitchen I'm normally found on, but lifting 30 pound trays of spaghetti was just a poor choice at this time.

At the end of the night, after I was told that the girl was doing really well and in recovery, I was a friend's birthday party. One of her friends overheard me talking to a little girl about getting bit by a 'vampire' and she asked if I gave blood that day. I said yes and she said, “Oh my gosh- thank you so much. I worked with the patient and I'm so glad they were able to get blood. She's doing great- I just visited her. She's in the ICU, but we knew that would be the case.. really.. thank you.” I was speechless.

Later that day, I was sitting in Community Meeting just really really happy, and I couldn't figure out why I was so happy. Then I remembered what had happened earlier in that day and I was really thankful that God decided to use me that day. It was in incredible way to be needed- I never imagined I'd get to give blood directly to someone, but I was given the chance. I'm really hoping I get to do this again.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Where has all the AC gone?

Yet another saga has begun on board the good ol' AFM. The AC.

Now, a couple weeks ago, the captain made an announcement that the AC would be turned off for an un-determined amount of time in order to work on the generators. About a week ago, everyone on board noticed a drastic difference in temperature on decks 5 and 6- the most occupied by crew during off-hours.. the 'hang out' areas if you will. And some cabins too. Then a notice was posted that the AC would be on and off at undetermined times due to the trash build up.

Something to note is that during rainy season, trash gets significanly worse for the ship. It was already a huge problem- the trash gets into the water which gets sucked into our vents and clogs them, making it impossible for air to make its way to us. During rainy season, since there's lots of mountains, the trash gets swept down the mountain down into the water, and into our lovely intake vents.... so divers have do go down and take care of that little's what it looks like most days...
Can you see the divers??

They scoop things like trash and animals out of the vents so we can have AC. However, the buildup has been so bad lately, in order to keep up with the system, they'd have to dive daily, and there's no way that could happen seeing as all of the divers have other jobs. Also, I've heard that there's an anemone down there there attaches to the skin and makes you insanely itchy while you dive... fun... we're hoping a solution is found soon, because AC keeps people sane in my opinion. I know it's a complete luxury, but it's totally a wonderful thing to have- especially as you attempt to sleep. When the AC goes off in the middle of the night- I'm hopeless.


Thursday, May 5, 2011

It's been a while...

Hey everyone.
Been a while, huh?
Sorry about that- It's been a CRAZY few weeks.

First was Easter- I actually wrote my newsletter for April about Easter, so I won't go into great detail since you'll hear it again, I'm sure but Easter was definitely really special on board. I grappled a bit with my brain as I had to work during the holiday, but I was sure to find my own ways to celebrate and soak in the meaning of the holiday- it was one I will certainly never forget.

Over the last few weeks I've been incredibly challenged in all ways imaginable. I've been stretched in my attitude, the way I view myself, the way I view others, the way I view work, the ways I love people, how to function on not enough sleep, how to function with too much sleep, how to function while feeling sea sick, and how to find joy in the toughest situations. To say the least, it's been one crazy rollercoaster ride.

I wish I could go into detail, but I just cant divulge information on here that I don't really want the whole world to know about, but also, I don't want to burn bridges or anything of that nature. But I can say that God has been challenging me and stretching me in some incredibly painful ways that I was not at all prepared for. But, I have certainly learned my lessons and tried not to take anything personally- though.. if you know me... one thing you must know is that I take WAY TOO MUCH personally.. things I shouldn't .. so that was hard to do, but I've been working on it;)

Anyway- if you want more info feel free to email me, but I think that's all I'll share for now on my blog:)

That being said- I still have heard from 0 people about what you guys actually want to read about- do you want to know about fire drills, rainy season, my weekend trips, funny stories, what we eat every day.. what? I honestly dont know what you're all interested in reading- so please comment and let me know- I am running out of ideas for posts and I want to keep writing for you all:) Let me know!:)

With that, as I look out of a window that is showing an incredibly stormy-looking mountain, I bid you adieu. Have a great day everyone!


Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Open Floor

Hey guys!
It's been a while since my last post, but I promise to update on my days off coming up:)

I'm wondering if you guys have any questions you'd like answered on here- anything at all... anything about the ship, my trip, Sierra leone, my job, ship life, annnnnyytthinggg.. so.. leave me a comment or let me know and I'll see what I can do. I realize there's a lot many of you may not know or understand yet about what I'm upto or what is going on around the ship.

I want to hear from YOUU:)