the man who walked for days to get to a hospital

I still can’t quite believe this story, but here it is. Sambany was onboard being treated while I was in Madagascar in February. The strength some people have is incredible.

Thanks for watching!

 

<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/123209406″>Sambany</a&gt; from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/mercyships”>Mercy Ships</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>]

priscilla: before + after

In the last few years I’ve had the privilege of watching several operations to correct bowed legs. What always astonishes me is that the process is fairly straightforward and the surgery itself doesn’t take that long. Maybe it’s because our awesome ortho-surgeon Dr. Frank just makes it all look easy…but I leave thinking “well, that wasn’t so bad?”

I guess what I’ve realized is that when we get the right people and resources and put them together on a boat ship to treat patients who need help…it’s a pretty remarkable thing. Of course, a lot of hard work (by medical staff, caregivers, translators, therapists, and the patient) went into achieving this before and after, but when I look around I can’t help but notice that, after so many years in the field, the Africa Mercy hospital is a well-oiled machine. They’ve got this bowed leg thing figured out, which is why there are many more photos like these in our future:

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Have a great weekend, everyone.

Photos by Justine Forrest and Katie Keegan for Mercy Ships.

On leaving: why saying goodbye to the Africa Mercy is the hardest

I’ve worked in the field, lived in the field, and I’ve seen poverty up close. I’ve grieved for the mothers I’ve seen lose children, for my unlikely friends who were taken too soon, and for every person who comes to us that must be turned away because we simply can’t treat them. And although living there is hard, leaving there is harder.
 

Since 2012 I’ve lived with one foot in a world that lacks basic healthcare, and with my other foot on a hospital ship, where my neighbors are some of the world’s most talented doctors and nurses. Have I lived in Africa, or just beside it? Because none of this suffering is ever happening to me, it’s happening in front of me – which reminds me of the unfair truth about the time I spend in these countries: I can leave

Yesterday, I left.

My time onboard these last 2 weeks was very different than before. I spent most days in meetings two decks above the hospital – not in my preferred spot, which is playing bedside jenga while the ortho kids put stickers on my face and paint my nails neon yellow. Still, I snuck down to the hospital hallway at night where I could peek through the skinny rectangular windows of the Africa Mercy wards. It was here that I heard our patients singing, saw children dancing, and remembered the impact of medicine again. I was reminded that although my job was happening upstairs in conference rooms and on long-distance phone calls, it’s what’s happening in the narrow ORs and corridors of this ship that I do what I do.

As I write this, I am on a plane to London. I (reluctantly) left Madagascar and its beautiful people and a ship full of incredible patients. I can’t stay any longer because now my focus is to help market Mercy Ships in the West. Though it pains me to go, I leave knowing that we don’t have to be on the ground to be a part of the impact, and that’s exciting.

Sometimes you have to leave when you’re here to stay.

 

Photo Credit: Catherine Clarke Murphy; Dress Ceremony 30 April 2014

Nothing and Everything

The other day, I came across some incredible numbers:

In 2014, Mercy Ships performed 2,527 surgeries in Congo.
Restored vision to 995 people.

Repaired 170 cleft lips.
Treated 8,358 dental patients.
Trained 73 Congolese healthcare professionals, including 6 surgeons.
Provided employment for 200+ translators.
Provided free rehabilitation care to 70 pediatric orthopedic patients.
Operated on 60 obstetric fistulas.

They also employed 1 familiar Houstonian and sent her back to Africa.

Ten months ago I was a girl who wrote to you about the incredible things that happen on a hospital ship in Africa.

Today I am a girl writing to you about the incredible things that happen on a hospital ship in Africa.

Nothing has changed. Everything has changed.

The Africa Mercy was docked in Pointe Noire, Congo until June 2014. Originally, Mercy Ships’ country-next was Guinea – but due to the Ebola outbreak, Conakry was no longer an option. If any of you were reading this blog while we were there in 2012/2013, you might remember the brokenness of Guinea’s healthcare infrastructure. Long before a deadly virus showed up, hospitals were overcrowded and understaffed. And now? I can’t imagine. It may not make headlines anymore, but the impact of Ebola is still heavy in West Africa.

Next, plans were then made to sail to Cotonou, Benin, but again, the uncertainty around Ebola forced us to re-route in the Fall.

So, to make a long story short, tonight I am writing to you from Tamatave, Madagascar, where the ship has been since October. I am now working for Mercy Ships on their digital media team. I’m based in Houston, but happily traveling this month visiting the ship.

Being back on board is wonderful. It’s been a bit like coming home. Except that my house isn’t in the country where I left it, and, unlike last time I was here, now everyone speaks Malagasy. And drinks out of coconuts. And zips around on rickshas. Don’t you love it when that happens?

Somehow, through all of the ups and downs, uncertainty, fear, and fuzzy future – the remarkable crew here seems stronger. While pieces of our hearts are still in West Africa, volunteers onboard the Africa Mercy are already making an incredible impact in Tamatave.

If the stats from Congo are any indication, in Madagascar we have much to be excited for.

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Here’s to many more stories in 2015!

#obsessed

About three weeks ago, my 2-year commitment with Mercy Ships came to an end. I boarded a plane and flew to the United States of America. Au revoir, ma belle Afrique, I said.

People told me moving home would be hard for reasons I couldn’t anticipate. Reverse culture shock, or some such state. I nodded and said thank you – but I’ve been home to visit in the last two years. No one need worry about me. I’m a pro at hopping across the Atlantic. I can live in a world with traffic laws one week and without them the next.  I’m versatile. I’m strong. I flawlessly be-bop between continents. Watch me fly.

So I completely deserved it when Mr. Culture Shock met me at the airport in New York and kicked me in the derrière.

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Let me tell you what it’s like.

Being disoriented by things in your native country comes in several stages. At first, it’s a honeymoon. Everything is cute and new. The apps are genius. The food is incredible. There is so much new music to download that you could cry. And the wine – oh my gosh, the wine.

After about six days of this, you will be doing laundry when you realize you don’t have a return ticket. Wait, what? I mean, you knew this, of course, but suddenly it’s real. You are here. Now you are a person who has a bathtub. “Home” isn’t 8,000 miles and seven time zones away anymore. Africa will feel real and far, recent but foreign.

For the next two weeks, you will still be doing laundry you will fall into a delightful pattern of alternating confusion and criticism. Why does everything cost so much? How are there stores dedicated to only selling cupcakes? Who are the Duggers? Why do they have so many children? Bitcoins?

Which brings us to Day 21. On this day you will finally want to write about it. Welcome.

Ultimately, I am grateful for the emotional side of coming home. These three weeks have revealed ways I’ve changed. They have been valuable for reflecting on the journey that brought me to today and the world I’ve come back home to live in.

That world is different in many ways. Actually, if there is one thing that has stood out to me more than anything else so far, it is how often I hear and see people use the word “obsessed.”

People in America seem to be #obsessed with a lot of things – photos of baby squirrels, new shoes, guacamole, a tiny rainbow seahorse, a new shade of lipstick. The tag has more than six million hits on Instagram. I am fascinated by this.

 

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Now, I appreciate hyperbole. I understand that the use of “obsessed” by my Millennial peers is intended to express love of something, it shouldn’t be taken literally, like: “I find my thoughts continually preoccupied with Game of Thrones to a troubling extent.” Right? (Although, as it is said in a favorite quote, “watch your words, for they become your actions…”)

In Africa, no one says they are obsessed. People profess love for each other, but I didn’t hear them professing love for their belongings. The Africans I know are made of experiences, not possessions. I want that for me and you. In Africa I saw that loving people fulfills you in ways loving objects cannot. This is one of those principles that is easy to know, but forgotten in practice.

What if we were obsessed with restoring sight to children blinded by congenital cataracts? Or ending poverty? Or educating girls in developing nations? Can you imagine a world where people are more obsessed with taking care of each other than taking selfies? That’s where I want to live.

In the last phase of culture shock, I guess the dust will settle and the little things will be forgotten. So here I am to write as much of it down as I can. Because really, this isn’t about taking issue with a trendy word, it’s about the lessons I want to remember and carry forward. 

So friends, please don’t let me forget it – and I promise I’ll try to do the same for you.

Happy International Nurses Day!

To be a nurse you have to be an all-around remarkable person.

I’ve seen our nurses at work in some of the most challenging scenarios imaginable, they leave me in awe. I’m happy that today, the anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birthday, we take the time to acknowledge and appreciate nurses around the world.  

I asked a few nurses here what being a nurse means to them. Our fabulous photographer Ruben Plomp put these images together. I’m glad I can share a glimpse of what nursing onboard the Africa Mercy looks like with you.

Mercy Ships relies on more than 700 volunteer nurses over the course of each 10-month field service. Without each and every one of them, we couldn’t do what we do. In fact, I think I’ll go down to the hospital right now and high-five as many as I can find.  

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Photos by Ruben Plomp

Marcel

Next time you have 4 minutes to spare, I’d love to tell you an incredible story about a fashion designer in Congo who once was blind.
(Happy Ending Alert: he isn’t anymore.)

Eyes of the Beholder on Medium.com

Photo Credit: Catherine Clarke Murphy

 

 

The Beauties of Ward B

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There are parties, and then there are parties.

On the Africa Mercy, no one does a party quite like Ward B.

You may remember that I’ve written before about VVF (vesico-vaginal fistula) – a childbirth injury sustained in regions where emergency obstetric care is unavailable. A very rough description would be that, often after several days of labor, women develop a hole in their birth canal that leaks urine. In short, these women need C-sections and when they can’t have them the damage leaves them incontinent, if not dead. They almost always lose the child they were carrying from the trauma of the birth. There are approximately 2 million women in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia who live with VVF, according to the WHOTwo million.

When you are incontinent, you smell. When you smell, people avoid you. In several days’ time, these young women go from being expectant mothers to grieving, injured, and outcast. Over and over again I hear from VVF patients that they have been left by their husbands and rejected by their communities. In all my time in Africa, nothing has moved me as much as the plight of a woman with VVF. She has suffered in ways few of us will ever understand. I think these women must be made of God’s strongest fabric.

After obstetric surgery, our VVF patients stay on Ward B for several weeks recovering. Do you know what happens when you place a bunch of women who have suffered for years in solitude together in the setting of a great big sleepover? While they rejoice over the fact that they’ve just won the healthcare lottery and will receive free surgery that will change their lives forever? Can you imagine this? Well, I’ll tell you: it is a non-stop musical hen party. They braid hair, do crafts, and parade in the hallway singing. I walked in a few days ago to find that they had pushed their beds together. Seriously. Like in The Parent Trap. Then they redecorated the entire ward. If we don’t leave soon there will be a sorority house where the hospital used to be.

When these incredible women are ready to be discharged, we throw a hell of a party. We call it a Dress Ceremony. With full hearts and dry skirts, the patients sing and dance and celebrate their re-entry to society and the emotional restoration they have found through the care and counseling of our amazing medical staff. It’s the happy ending after  a long road of suffering that began because they needed a doctor and didn’t have access to one.

This week, we celebrated the journeys of eight patients who no longer suffer with VVF. I’m writing a story about one of these patients named Gisele, so I followed her day from start to finish. Gisele has lived with VVF for more than 20 years. When I saw her yesterday morning, she hugged me and said, “aujord’hui, c’est bon.” Today is good. And  it was. It was so good.

It is my great honor to introduce our debutantes, the Beauties of Ward B. 

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Photo Credit: Catherine Clarke Murphy; Dress Ceremony 30 April 2014

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Photo Credit: Catherine Clarke Murphy; Dress Ceremony 30 April 2014

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Photo Credit: Catherine Clarke Murphy; Dress Ceremony 30 April 2014

Photo Credit: Catherine Clarke Murphy; Dress Ceremony 30 April 2014

Photo Credit: Catherine Clarke Murphy; Dress Ceremony 30 April 2014

Photo Credit: Catherine Clarke Murphy; Dress Ceremony 30 April 2014

Photo Credit: Catherine Clarke Murphy; Dress Ceremony 30 April 2014


Photo Credit: Catherine Clarke Murphy; Dress Ceremony 30 April 2014

Photo Credit: Catherine Clarke Murphy; Dress Ceremony 30 April 2014

Photo Credit: Catherine Clarke Murphy; Dress Ceremony 30 April 2014

Photo Credit: Catherine Clarke Murphy; Dress Ceremony 30 April 2014

Photo Credit: Catherine Clarke Murphy; Dress Ceremony 30 April 2014; Gisele

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Thanks for reading.

Photography by Catherine Murphy
(+ nifty behind the scenes footage by Josh Callow)
Copyright Mercy Ships 2014

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