Wow! Its near the end of the field service, and although I have had a range of emotions over the last couple of months (mostly of sadness because I will miss so many people and fear that next year won’t be nearly as amazing), the last week has just been pure exhaustion, and currently I am just feeling relief that my work is over as of a few hours ago. For the rest of the time before I leave the ship on June 20th, I am on PTO, which will consist of a 4 day trip up north to visit patients, then chilling out and planning a couple of the nightly activities for the crew on our 10 day sail, then a few fun days in the Canaries, then I peace out til August.
The last month at the Hope Center was amazing and devastating and crazy all in one. First, my little man was here until a week ago, and if he hadn’t stayed so long I don’t know if I could have handled it all emotionally. Samsdine and his mama came back in early April for his cleft palate surgery, but he had lost so much weight, they scheduled him for one of the last days they could do that surgery, which was in early May. I was so grateful because I got to spend so much time with him. When he had surgery, he took a while to wake up from the anesthesia, and he had to remain intibated (?) until the next morning. I was able to spend quite a bit of time in the ICU with him and his poor mom the day after surgery. The day after that I had to work, but I had multiple people text or call me to say he was back in the Ward and was playing and making noise and back to his normal, amazing self.
He had surgery Wednesday, and I worked alone Friday-Sunday. Sunday I got to work, and baby Djaliou and his mama were sitting outside my office waiting for me. This was the little baby who came to us at 5 lbs at 3 months old with what looked like a tongue tumor. Our doctors saved his life a few months ago, but he had to come back once he had gained weight for surgery on a hernia. He had gotten so much bigger and even cuter but was still super tiny. At his appointment they decided the hernia wasn’t life threatening like they initially thought, and he was still too small, and it was too risky to do another surgery, so maybe next time we are in Benin they will get a 5 or 6 year old Djaliou coming for surgery. It wasn’t a waste for them to travel all the way to the ship though. Our dieticians hooked them up with a lot more formula, and they got to be reunited with Samsu and his mama. It was awesome. Samsu came back from the hospital they day Djaliou got there, and last time they were here the mamas became very good friends. I was up in the clouds, two babies I loved so much back at the Hope Center!
Samsu keeps getting more and more fun as he gets older. He was the most awesome, cutest little guy ever. Saying goodbye wasn’t as hard this time as before because I’m going up north to visit him soon. I cried so much last time, and I feel like I love him so much more now than I did then, but I know its not the end yet. I’m also hoping to find a water filter before going to visit, just in case his mom doesn’t boil the water he gets, since we think lack of clean water is why he got so sick last time he went home.
Meanwhile, the day Samsu had his surgery, another girl who had been staying at the Hope Center got admitted to the ship, and Sarah (the missionary who has been bringing patients down from the north all year for surgery and translates for them) pointed out to me that the girl had all these bumps on her arm, like she had broken out in a rash. Sarah was worried that whatever it was would prevent her from getting her Cleft Lip and Palate surgery the following day because it was the last day the doctors were planning to do any palate surgeries because they wanted a long enough recovery time before our hospital closes just in case there were complications. The next day I got to the ship in time for lunch (before checking on Samsu in ICU), and I got texts from a couple people at the HOPE Center saying CHICKEN POX! Then, I see my boss Martha running up to me (literally) to ask if I have had chicken pox before. I find out that a child who had been discharged from the hospital the day before to the Hope Center has chicken pox (who had been at the Hope Center for a few weeks prior to surgery) and that they figured out that the little girl who was supposed to have surgery had chicken pox. She was currently in the Isolation room in the hospital and was not going to have surgery. They needed to get her off the ship ASAP! They sent her to the Hope Center.
So normally chicken pox wouldn’t be such a big deal. Kids get chicken pox. Then they get over it and never get it again. Who cares! But it creates some complications here. You do not want a person with a weak immune system or who is recovering from palate surgery to get chicken pox. There were a few children we could think of at the Hope Center or on the ship who might not survive if they got chicken pox at that point in time. In addition, we are about to sail to a new country. If a bunch of our crew have chicken pox, they might not let us in. So a lot of drastic measures were taken. An email that afternoon said no one except essential personnel was allowed to go to the Hope Center for the rest of the year. Mercy Ministries, which is just a bunch of crew who go to play and sing and dance with the patients every Tuesday and Thursday, was on their way there and had to turn around. We had to move people out of one of our rooms so we could isolate all chicken pox people in there. They were not allowed to leave the room except to go to the bathroom for 6 days! Additionally us Facilitators and the day crew were only allowed to go into the room if needed or to bring food, so we put some colors and toys in there and barely went in the room for 6 days. The kids were either cold and angry at us or would try to hug us and we would have to back away. We explained the situation and tried to say they were just temporarily contagious and we couldn’t risk spreading it to other patients, but in a place where community is everything, it was so, so sad. We had one little 3 year old patient whose caregiver was her 16 year old sister. She came to the office crying one day because she had chicken pox, and I think she felt like it was her fault, and she knew she would have to stay in that room for 6 days before they could go to their next appointment at the ship, instead of 2 days, when they were probably going to be discharged to go home. Apparently chicken pox has a 2-3 week incubation period, meaning that the people at the Hope Center who had it had been infected with it 2-3 weeks before. One caregiver had it a few weeks prior and never told anyone, so like half of the people who shared the same room at that time got it a couple weeks later. After isolating people, no one else new got it after a few days, but I kept having a fear that they had infected others in those first couple of days before they had a lot of pox, but the 3 week incubation period is almost up, and so far so good!
The last few weeks were mostly hard because I felt like we were surrounded by death and darkness and bad news, but there was plenty of good news and good outcomes with patients. It just gets easy to feel like the bad piles down on your sometimes. One day we got to work and within 5 minutes we heard screaming outside. We went outside and a woman was crying and screaming because she had just received a call that her husband died. This woman had just brought her baby to get surgery the night before knowing her husband was terminally sick but had no idea he would die so soon. This woman was so amazing and strong she stayed to get her baby’s surgery even though she was obviously devastated. I can’t imagine having to choose between staying by my husband’s side when he could die any day or taking my baby to be healed. About 10 minutes later we received a call with some very bad news about a child who had stayed with us a little while that we wouldn’t be able to help.
Another day the caregiver of a sweet, obviously traumatized little girl was sweating and freaking out, and I thought he was sick and needed to go to the hospital, but the other people said the hospital wouldn’t fix his problem. Apparently he was going crazy because he has these little “idols” or statues that he “feeds” by sacrificing animals, and he wasn’t there to sacrifice anything, and he believed they were mad at him and trying to pull him back (according to him and many others). The craziness came and went throughout the day. He would randomly freak out and try to run out of the Hope Center. Benin is the birthplace of Voodoo. Most people here believe its a real thing but think its evil. I don’t believe it, but the effects of it still exist. If people practice an evil religion and believe it, then they will imagine and do bad things. I think this dude was either on drugs or insane and has been sacrificing for his idols, so of course he would freak out if he believes they would be mad about it. When it happened, everyone was just trying to get him to calm down and to diffuse the situation, but I went to find the traumatized little 3 year old girl as she stared into space as she often does. This poor little girl has gone through so much, between her ginormous tumor on her face and family practicing voodoo. Some days she just stands outside (or even in) our office and just starts crying and screaming for no apparent reason, and nothing will make her stop.
Then, the day before Samsu was supposed to leave, someone came and said your baby’s mom is crying. I went and found her sitting alone silently crying, which is crazy because Bariba people are taught from childhood that you do not cry. If a kid cries, they just hit them. Apparently her sister died during childbirth, but the baby lived. I felt so bad. I don’t know if she will end up raising the baby (on top of her 3 children) or if she baby will even survive unless there is another woman in the village who can breastfeed it.
This past week has been a combination of packing and moving everything at the Hope Center, packing and moving the Team House stuff to the ship, planning and having our Day Crew end-of-year party, unpacking and getting situated on the ship, and helping one of our Day Crew to become Crew and helping him figure everything out and shop with him and move onto the ship and all that. It has been so exhausting, but there was the light at the end of the tunnel because now I can just chill!
Tomorrow 2 friends and I will take a 12 hour bus ride up north to visit Samsu and a few other patients that touched our hearts! It is only for 4 days, 2 of which are travel days. Normally I wouldn’t think that it is even worth it, but I would probably do anything for this little guy.
Infant Feeding Program: The 3 babies who stayed with us the most while trying to gain weight and seeing our nutritionists regularly.
Bignon: Came to the ship at 3 weeks old with a double cleft lip weighing around 4 lbs. She was discharged after receiving surgery at 8 months old weighing 17.7 lbs.
Djaliou: Came to the ship at 3 months with some kind of rare tongue thing that mad it hard for him to eat or breath, weighing about 5 lbs. We tried to help him gain weight for over a month at the Hope Center before he had to have emergency surgery. He left us only a week or 2 after surgery with lots of supplements. He came back to see us at 8 months weighing 10.5 lbs.
Samsdine: Came to us at 10 months weighing only about 9 lbs with cleft lip and cleft palate. He stayed at the Hope Center 3 months to gain weight and got up to over 15 lbs before his first surgery. He went home after surgery at 14 months weighing 17.5 lbs. He came back 2 months later about an inch taller but weighing only 15 lbs because he got very sick back home. In the 6 weeks he was at the Hope Center or Ship for surgery, he gained 3.5 lbs, ending up at 18.5 lbs at 17 months when he left.
If you would like to partner with me in helping patients next year, please consider donating. I can only do this through the support of all the incredibly generous, awesome people who have supported me this far.