I had an eloquent post saved as a draft in an email to myself, but it’s gone missing. The main point was that I’m grateful for all I was simply born into, including an education and access to healthcare. Opportunities. Safety.
I have a lot to be thankful for, and I wish I could do it all justice, but I just got done with a four-week media team and I’m going to go to bed instead.
I’m thankful for sleep.
Happy Thanksgiving from the Africa Mercy!
During my first two years on board the Africa Mercy, I didn’t naturally get a lot of time to spend with the patients, especially in the regular course of my jobs.
You might not realize this from half of the pictures that we release, but many of our day-to-day lives don’t revolve directly around our patients – even though all of our jobs revolve around them at some level of orbit. In fact, many of us are lucky to see our patients at all without a concerted effort (when I was in our IT department, for example, I hardly saw patients as a part of my work day).
This time around is different for me.
I spend time on the wards almost every day now, and a lot of that awkwardly asking patients to “walk back down the hallway again” for cameras. It gives me a good chance to get to know them a little, and make friends along the way.
Grace is one you’ve seen on here before, she’ll be in a documentary this coming spring, and she’s a spunky gem. She had a tumor that was described to me by one of the attending anesthesiologists as “the size of a chicken” removed from her jaw, and she never missed a beat.
She still wins at pretty much every game I play with her, and I’m really excited to see what her second surgery does for her.
Naomi is another spitfire. I found out today that she’s decided she’s not smiling at the staff any more – but I had to find that out from a few nurses and a physio, because I would have never known otherwise. She smiled a lot for me today.
I don’t say that to brag. If I was bragging I’d post a photo of a smile as proof. I’m not gonna mess with whatever magic I’ve got going. There’s a little girl on the ward who won’t let anyone pick her up, for example, and I’m not about to test myself on that. I just say it to express the uniqueness of each relationship.
There’s a huge privilege in getting to be a part of this process, of being directly associated with a patient’s experience with Mercy Ships. I showed Natasha, a maxillofacial patient, her segment in the piece that France 24 aired last month and asked her some questions about what she thought of it. Whether she found it weird to be on TV. Whether everything they said about her was true.
Because of my French, and this weird job where I follow patients from start to finish, I somehow become a part of it. I connect. I don’t cut anything, or bandage anything up, or clean up after accidents, or administer care to relieve pain. I don’t do any of the truly important jobs in the process as far as the patient is concerned, and yet I get to be a part of what most will describe later as happy memories.
That’s a privilege, and one that I’m really happy to have this time around.
So far we’ve done 511 surgeries, which I think would be easy enough to tie directly into some statistic about how we’ve changed 511 lives so far this field service, but that would be short-sighted. One of the things that makes the impact of our work here on board the Africa Mercy difficult to quantify is the sheer magnitude restoring health to someone can have on the lives around them.
As an example, Paul struggled with deteriorating vision his entire life due to childhood illness, and then one day cataracts started to take what little was left.
Paul is the oldest son in his family. In Congolese society, Paul really is the “man” of the house – he’s expected to provide for everyone. Paul’s also really exceptional – he built his own house in spite of his illness. But long projects like that don’t bring money in.
Give Paul his sight back and it changes more than his life. It changes the life of his family. It affects his community. It adds back into the pool we all draw from. Paul is excited to get back and finish school, and he is so excited to finally be able to provide for his family.
Santurnin is in a similar boat, although much farther down the line. He has so many kids you almost need a third hand to count them on. He’s a soldier, and soldiers (believe it or not) need to see to fight.
Santurnin’s surgery came at just the right time to restore him to his post, and in turn just in time to continue supporting a family. Surgery on board the Africa Mercy changes more than individual lives, it touches entire communities.
I want to encourage you today that you might not have any idea what kind of effect you’re having with the good you do in any given day. You have no idea how far a compliment, a smile, or a generous extension of yourself will go. This is no reason not to give, not to put yourself out there – not to love whoever God puts in front of you today.
We’ve done 511 surgeries to date, but we’ve touched so many more lives. And you’ve been a part of that – so thank you.