Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Final Week of Surgery, 2012

I hate finals. Final exams, final projects, final goodbyes. Perhaps I represent the sentimental portion of the human race, but at various points in my life when I've come face to face with "finals" of anything, I have felt absolutely heartbroken that whatever it was, was coming to an end. I couldn't bear the thought of not seeing a person or experiencing a certain activity ever again. How ironic that the last 2 1/2 years of my life have been spent in constant transition and change, with more "finals" than I can count on two hands.

These next two weeks aboard the Africa Mercy will be no different.

I have never been with Mercy Ships for the end of an outreach before. Previously, my goodbyes to nurses, day workers/translators, and patients always took place during the middle of the outreach, when the hospital was in full swing. Now, as surgeries aboard the Africa Mercy are coming to a close, there is a strange sense of finality hanging in the air. While we've said goodbye to our VVF (vesico-vaginal fistula) ladies and plastics patients weeks ago, there remain a few slow-to-heal patients with complications left in our care. One of these little patients was my friend when I left the ship in March, was (delightfully to me) still on the ward with his father when I arrived, and is living in B Ward up to this moment. He, and a handful of other patients on B Ward are those who I'm asking God for miraculous healing.

This week (today, Thursday, and Friday) our Operating Rooms will be be finishing their final cases with double general and double max-fax (two general surgeons, and two maxo-facial surgeons). We are performing all of our smaller surgeries to allow enough time for each patient to heal after their perspective surgeries. The wards themselves will be open one more week after surgeries, with our final discharges and goodbye's to our patients on Friday, June 8th.

My heart aches just thinking about that final goodbye. I keep crying out to God for miracles, knowing that we may very well leave many patients not fully healed, needing to follow up with local doctors and hospitals.

One of the Patient Life dayworkers caught me in the dining room yesterday, and as we were talking, she looked me in the eyes and said, "you know, the patients are not just those lying on the beds. We (as dayworkers) are, like the patients, blessed by your love and greetings. You all come to provide physical healing, but you also bring emotional healing; more than you know. We (dayworkers) are also the patients, and our hearts are so heavy to think that we must say goodbye to you very soon."

It nearly brought me to tears. How amazing is God's intricate design of how interpersonal our lives and relationships truly are. To think back at each person we have met at the specific times we have met them; that our lives collided together to cross paths into beautiful complexity. All the individual people who have loved us, challenged us, or been touched by us is mind-blowing. Even those we recognize are a very small fraction of the impact we have in the lives of those around us. If we try to stop and think of how we have been changed and moved, I would venture that many have been because of specific meetings, specific conversations, and specific challenges that have brought us to the places we stand today. What a measure of peace knowing that God had this all orchestrated before the dawn of time, and that He delights to watch each specific interaction unfold. Our time is precious and impactful. We will never know how much so.

So, as this final week of surgery, and then next week, our final week the wards will be open, I invite you to join me in prayer- to intercede for so many of our patients who are in need of miraculous healing. As I was spending time with two of our patients, I asked permission from their father's (who came as their caregivers) if I could share their names and stories for you to be praying specificially.

First, we have Komla

He was one or our plastics patients who received surgery for a burn contracture to his left knee when I was first on the ship in March. His father came on board to care for him as his wife stayed at home to care for their other four small children. Komla's surgical recovery was going well until infection took over the healing donor and graft sites. His vivacious personality left him (and us) full of life and energy, but also created expressions of frustration, creating further detriment to his healing process, during the intense therapies and dressing changes after surgery. One thing is for sure; he is a fighter! He certainly has the potential to be a dynamic leader in his family and in his community in the future. I pray that Jesus get's a hold of his heart and shapes him into a man of strength, love and integrity in the years to come.

One avenue of postive expression the ward nurses attempted, was when Komla needed multiple IV starts for prolonged IV antibiotic treatment for his infection, they decided to let Komla "practice" finding veins on them. It turned out he had been watching much closer than they had thought. As my dear friend, Laura Coles stated- "His technique was amazing, but he nearly stabbed that plastic practice catheter through my skin!"
He is one of our pateints who has come so far, but still needs so much healing. He currently has little to no feeling in his left foot/toes, and is still receiving dressing changes onboard the ship. He has become like the hospital puppy, making his rounds to greet us; knowing each nurse by name. Please pray for miracles in that boy's life; for healing and protection on whatever road is ahead. I am praying for a miracle and testimony of God's amazing power in his life, his family, and his community.

My second patient is sweet Hougno (Hoon-yo)

This 15 year old patient has a life-long diagnosis and battle with neurofibromas. Neurofibromas are benign tumors of nerve tissue in the body that slowly and continually grow over time. The only treatment is symptomatic; when a tumor gets to big, you remove it so that it doesn't impair function. This is not the kind of situation you want for your child in West Africa, where health care access is poor and funds for surgery even moreso. Hougno, I am certain, waited a very long time before finally being able to have a debulking surgery for his left leg aboard the Africa Mercy.

 Also accompanied by his father, Hougno has had many battles with poorly healing graft and donor sites. He and his father have also been here many weeks, and are now just seeing the results of their patience and hard work- they will be going home in the next couple of days. In addition to teaching Hougno's father to perform Hougno's wound care and dressing changes (which are minimal at this time, praise God!), we also are fitting Hougno with a platform shoe to help balance out a significant difference in leg length to improve his gait and overall function. Hougno's shoe is due to the Africa Mercy tomorrow, with Hougno and his father set to leave for home the following day. While this may seem like a cut and dry situation, the risk of future infection, especially now at the start of rainy season, and overall healing and provision of surgical needs for Hougno's future are all concerns that are heavy on my heart.

 I would like to invite you to join me; to come, for just a few minutes, and sit down in B Ward, between these two boys beds, hold their hands, play a game of Uno, and hear their giggles and bits of English phrases they continue to try out on us (my personal favorite being the song "Tomorrow" from the movie "Annie" that I found mimicked back to me after I sang it to them one night when I came in to give them goodnight kisses). My desire is that, through prayer, you may experience a small part of their hearts and lives. May their joy be your joy and their challenges, your challenges as together, we partner in prayer for their lives. These two boys only represent a portion of those who we will leave behind. May our hearts be ever moved to continue to pray for miracles upon miracles and provision upon provision in this country of Togo for months to come after Mercy Ships work is complete. Because, you see, God's work is not yet complete.

How amazing how we each get to be a small part of it, no matter where we are.


  1. Beautiful, Anna. What a wonderful gift it is for you to be a presence in these lives - both for them and you. God bless.

  2. I am praying, for them and you.