Friday, April 18, 2014

Survivors

The other night I was talking with a friend who worked with Doctor’s Without Borders in South Sudan. She was recounting story after story of women who died in child birth during the short 3 months she was there.  The numbers of maternal death here are staggering.  It hit me so suddenly that the beautiful women on my ward, the one’s who sing me to sleep most nights, are the survivors. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve preached about VVF in the past 2 years, whether through in-services here or church talks at home, but just now it really hit home.  Pregnancy is deadly here. We focus so much on how deadly HIV, Ebola virus, and malnutrition are in Africa, but fail to see how dangerous pregnancy really is. I don’t mean to sound dramatic, or negate how serious the many problems faced here, but it’s a reality for many-especially the VVF ladies.  This hit home when a caregiver's youngest sister died during childbirth on Wednesday.     


This time around the ward has had a few mascots! Meet Beni and Ali:
 

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Thankful

I’m flooded with so many emotions right now as I stand on the dock, waving as the Mercy Ships Land Rover carries Dr. Itengre away.  5 am is not my usual time of getting out of bed, and definitely not a preferred hour of starting my day, but he’s worth it. A long held custom on Mercy Ships is gathering on the dock to say good-bye to those people who enter and leave your life so quickly, but impact your life so deeply.

While I was still in New York preparing to come here, I emailed Dr. Steve Arrowsmith, the VVF surgeon that I thought I would be working with come February.  Dr. Steve informed me that instead of coming for 8 weeks as he originally planned, he wasn’t coming at all.  I have to admit that reading those words were a little disheartening.  I was already going back and forth on whether or not I made the right decision to come back to the ship, and not entirely sure if I was ready to lead another round of VVF surgeries.  In his response email, Dr. Steve told me not to worry because he had arranged for one of the African surgeon’s he trained in Danja, Niger to come instead. He described Dr. Itengre as “amazing” and that I would love working with him.  Trusting in God, and Dr. Steve’s opinion didn’t come easy, but all I could do was trust, and so I booked my plane ticket.

Fast forward a few months, and I’m standing on the dock with tears in my eyes waving good-bye-for-now, knowing that this won’t be our final good-bye, it’s more ‘see ya later.’  Amazing doesn’t quite describe Dr. Itengre fully. Over the past four weeks I’ve watched him gather a group of translators and teach about the importance of consenting patients for surgery; I’ve seen him in the middle of a circle of nurses patiently answering questions about the surgeries he’s performing; I’ve witnessed him praying over patients, and sitting by their bed holding their hand; and I’ve seen the many grace-filled responses to frustrating situations, none of which included anger, only patience and understanding.  There really aren’t words to describe how thankful I am, the English language only has one and it isn’t adequate.
 




The beautiful VVF ladies


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The God of all comfort

Sometimes, well a lot of times, my ladies surprise me.  I spent a good part of my morning talking with one of the ladies (we’ll call her Hope) that just had surgery.  The conversation all started with a complaint of rib pain. As the doctor and I delved deeper to get the full story she revealed that a lot was going on in her life.  About 10 years ago her very well off husband died, leaving her to care for their 3 children alone. As if that wasn’t hard enough, his family took over their house, as is customary here, and left her homeless.  She felt hopeless, and often when she would think of her situation she would consider ending her life.  After praying with her I left her to talk more with the translators.

Later in the day I get a call that one of the ladies I discharged home 2 days ago was back because she was having pain in her leg, and a whole myriad of other problems.  I peeked my head out of the door and saw her hobbling down the corridor with a very stoic look on her face. The moment she entered through the doors of the ward and saw me, the translators, and nurses, she burst into tears.  Mid-sentence of her verbal catharsis of how she hadn’t slept in the past two days because of the pain, none other than Hope runs over to comfort her. Mind you, they have never met before.  This, the very same patient I was talking off a ledge mere hours before. It’s amazing how hope restores, and being comforted enables us to comfort others.

Next time you’re in a situation where you need comfort see it as an opportunity to comfort others. God will use you to comfort someone else--it might be in the next instance, or the next decade, but God will use it.

This came to mind when I saw the hopeless melt from Hope’s face, and in it’s place the beautiful face of compassion...

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves received from God. 2 Corinthians 1:3-5

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Peace

You know that verse in the bible that says that God will give you peace beyond understanding? It's a pretty incredible promise, right? But, the underlying premise that accompanies this promise is that you'll be in a situation in which you need peace.  Well that's been my week.  Over the past 2 weeks since arriving on the ship I've been preparing for the VVF ladies to come.  I've educated the nurses, day workers, and just about any one that will listen, about VVF.  I've made their discharge cards, and planned ahead for what they'll need at home.  The ward has been cleared of Plastics patients, cleaned and ready for the ladies.  The surgeon arrived on Sunday (total blessing!) and E ward transformed into the best patient exam screening room ever, and yet here we are Tuesday having only examined 4 patients! Two of which were not candidates for surgery.  The government in Congo has taken on the responsibility of transporting upcountry patients to the ship, which is all the way on the coast.  24 VVF ladies were supposed to have been transported via plane to Pointe Noire on Saturday.  And on Monday they were no where to be found.  The government officials were conveniently not answering their phones. Hmph.  This would understandably be a situation in which one might get frustrated, even angry.  But amazingly throughout the entire day I felt at total peace with it. Granted I wasn't super impressed with the government and their job at transporting the patients, but I knew they would arrive.  Today rolls around and I'm told that the ladies are in Brazzaville and will be put on a flight to arrive this evening, buutttt.....there are only 5 ladies on that flight! Definitely not what I was expecting to hear.  Yet, again I'm filled with peace.  Instead of worry, I was filled with joy because my day was filled with unexpected blessings, like rocking a 5.75 kg cleft lip baby to sleep in my arms; and holding my VVF patient as she was getting her spinal, calming the fears that first time surgery brings; and having our prayers answered that the second surgery would be straight forward instead of the difficult case we thought it would be.  I'm so excited for what God is doing here, even when I don't understand the why's.  Tomorrow 15 more ladies are planned for examinations-I can't wait to meet them and see how their lives are going to change! 


Be at peace ya'll.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Sacrifices

Oh hey, hi! I made it to Congo on Sunday afternoon after traveling for 24 hours! I was supposed to leave on Wednesday, but thanks to booking my ticket in the middle of winter out of New York I was delayed because of the weather.  Ha! Silly woman. Luckily South African airlines rocks, and they called me on Tuesday morning to let me know my flight was going to be cancelled; I re-booked for Saturday right then and there- on the phone, in the comfort of my home and pj's! It was such an incredible gift to get to spend a few more days with my family and especially my sweet niece. I stole a million kisses, giggles, and cuddles in those few days, and I'm so thankful for it! God knew I needed it after all the griping I was doing about leaving her in the first place!

I thought I knew what sacrifice was when I went to Africa the first time. I had sold my car, quit my first ever nursing job, and sold everything in my storage unit. I left my family, friends, and church behind for the first time in my life to go by myself to a big white ship in Africa where I knew no-one. That was a piece of cake compared to now! Leaving my niece was probably the single most difficult thing I had to give up for God. And I did it kicking and screaming! Anyone that asked if I was excited about going back to Africa was met with "Yeah, BUT..." and a big long explanation about how I was being ripped from my niece, and a city where I just started to feel at home. How dare He do that!? HA! God gently reminded me that being a Christian is about sacrifices, it started with the biggest sacrifice, a Life.  Something I had to remind myself is that God is not malicious; He is isn't sitting up there looking for ways to make us suffer or "ruin" our lives. He is good. And it makes Him delighted to give us good things. So I came to the conclusion, pretty much as I was strapped into that plane seat, that if God is good, and He is for sure calling me back to Africa, then this must be good. No matter how much it hurt to leave my friends, family, and most specifically my sweet Harper Lee. 

What have you had to give up for God, and it turned out to be good in the end? Or maybe you haven't seen the "good" in your sacrifice yet...keep looking. 



this is what all the griping is about!


Saturday, October 26, 2013

I'm not in Kansas anymore!

     Well I'm definitely not in Africa anymore! I can't believe my last post was in April, and now here it is already the end of October. The months are flying by!  I am so thankful for my time as VVF Team Leader.  I learned so much about the power of Love in Action and served some of the most amazing, beautiful, and strong women.  After the VVF program finished in Guinea I had some time where I did paperwork and wrapped up my role as Team Leader, but I felt like a mother hen without her chicks. The VVF ladies had all gone home, and the ward was taken over by General Surgery patients.  My wonderful Translator and all around amazing woman, Elizabeth, knew this and planned a surprise party for me and some of the VVF nurses that cared for the ladies!



      The ladies were so excited to see us it felt like we were celebrities and they the paparazzi! They rushed us the minute we got out of the taxi, and in 2 seconds flat we were surrounded by a bunch of women in brightly colored fabric, giant smiles on their faces, and tears streaming down their cheeks.  There was not a dry eye around!  No African party would be complete without a feast of food, dancing, and neighborhood children around. It was an absolute blast!

      Leaving Guinea was bitter-sweet. I was filled with sadness to leave the sweet friends I made from Guinea, but so excited for what God had ahead.  It's an odd feeling to want to be fully present in two places at one time!  From Guinea I headed to New York for two weeks to see my brother and sister-in-law who was 6 months pregnant with my very first niece!! I could not be more thrilled!  When I first found out I was going to be an aunt my heart immediately screamed "I need to move to NY to be close to her!"  So it was then that I started praying, and planning to move to New York for when she was born. 

      It's amazing how much God blessed those plans!  The timing was perfect in so many ways. First, in August my brother informed me that right upstairs from them a room was opening up in September and I would be able to stay for the four months I would be there. And second, my friends from the ship, Sarah and Jeff, were getting married in Texas the week before her due date.  I would just stop off on the way to New York, do Sarah's hair and make-up for her wedding, and leave the next day (hopefully a day or two before she was born).  HA! That baby decided she would come two weeks early and give her mom and dad some alone time with her before all the family started pouring in (including myself). 
Ms. Harper Lee Fiduk~~Born September 30, 2013






















































































































 
The proud parents!


So what's next?
I have the privilege of watching my sweet Harper Lee grow up for the next 4 months, and then I head back to Africa!  It's going to be hard leaving her, but I'm also excited to serve another group of VVF ladies, and show them the love God has for them.  This time around it will be a true sacrifice to the Lord for me to go to Africa.  Pray for me as I soak in all the time I can get with Mike, Sabine, and Harper Lee and prepare for the next journey to Africa that I have ahead of me.  This next time will be in Congo, Brazzaville from January to May.  Thank you so much for your support, and even being brave enough to read this blog!
    

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Renewed

Eeek...it's been a long time since I've blogged! It's amazing how "normal" things become here.  I forget that it's not everyday that someone sees transformation and new life like I get to see here daily.  Burned limbs released from their strangling scars;  noses, eaten away by Noma, newly formed from flaps of skin; children walking normally after "making cuts and putting in iron"-the way we explain orthopedic surgery to the patients.

Although I'm sad that I don't get to see my VVF ladies anymore (although two came to the dock yesterday looking for adult diapers!), I've been really loving getting to be a "real nurse." It's amazing how God has answered my prayer for this.  Just a few months ago after VVF ended and I felt like my job was done here, I asked God to give me back my passion for being a nurse. Somewhere between running around like a chicken with my head cut off, and trying to keep track of patients, I thought I had lost it--that love and compassion for caring for people.

One day as I was in charge on the ward, but helping out the nurses because they were busy, I had my ah-hah moment! It stopped me in my track, and I relished in that moment of "I absolutely love being a nurse." And since that moment, God has kept up the momentum. On Good Friday, the day we "celebrate" Jesus' death on the cross, I was flooded with another ah-hah moment. I was sitting with a Max-fax patient who had had a recurring jaw tumor that we removed. She had a plate put in place of her jaw bone and was recovering on the ward. As with most of the jaw patients, she drooled a lot. A LOT.  If she tipped her chin down just in the slightest, a puddle of drool would come pouring out. So I decided to get her a Yankaur suction...they look something like this:
I was sitting by her bed, and we were reading Henri Nouwen's devotional of the Lent season together (she spoke some English--soooo nice--don't ever take that for granted!), when out of nowhere she started playing the song "Hallelujah" on her phone and using the suction to "conduct" the rest of the "choir" (ie. the nurses and other patients singing along!) It was hilarious! The chorus only interrupted with our laughter...it was the perfect way to "celebrate" Jesus death, by singing Hallelujah engulfed with joy.


Something else that has taken me by surprise is my love of the peds patients! It may not surprise those who've known me since I was young, I've always loved babies. But loving babies, and taking care of them is an entirely different ball game! My friend Jill (and Jaclyn)-avid peds nurses- have been trying to talk me into switching to peds. I've been reluctant, mainly because it's sooo different and scary, but I've got to say, those kiddos are capturing my heart, one shift at a time!




the lovely Jill and beautiful Kristy

the lovely Jill
The hospital is almost closing, and things are winding down here, but my heart is quickening as I prepare to go back to the states for 6 months & I get to be a real nurse :) Thanks for your prayers during the past 8 months, I've felt God's presence ever so closely. If you are faced with change, or in need of direction rest your soul on these words:

The Lord will guide you always (continually);
He will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land & will strengthen your fram.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose water never fail.
--Isaiah 58:11

and finally some words of wisdom and truth from Charles Spurgeon...

Like Enoch, walk with God, and you cannot mistake your road. You have infallible wisdom to direct you, immutable love to comfort you, and eternal power to defend you.

Thanks Charles, I needed that.

xoxox