We opened the HOPE Center almost a month ago, and its been great so far. Currently, we have about 50 people staying with us. Our full capacity is 120 plus babies. That includes patients and caregivers. Some days it is chaos at work, and some days it is really slow, so we hang out and play games with patients and stuff. Every day looks a little bit different, so it is hard to say exactly what my job is. We have some daily tasks and then we are just putting out fires and figuring out how to solve problems.
There are 4 Facilitators. We work about 13 hours a day, so 2 of us will work 2-3 days, and then the other 2 will work 2-3 days. We have 4 teams of 7 local day crew who work 12 hour shifts. They clean, prepare breakfast, play with patients, drive patients to appointments at the ship, and bring any problems to us. There are also 2 administrative day crew who work M-F for 8 hours a day. They tend to be our go-between and translators for patients. They help with a lot of things and are really great.
One of our biggest issues we have is that not all of the day crew speak English really well, so there is a lot of miscommunication, especially with the drivers. Usually we will send a driver in with several patients to take to appointments, and we need them to also drop off our bread box so we can pick up our bread later, or we need them to pick up patients that went to earlier appointments, etc. The funniest thing that occurred was when we asked the driver to go pick up the chaplains from the ship because we pick them up daily to come spend time with the patients. Well, 40 minutes later the chaplains come in our office and say Hi and that they made it, so its like cool, the driver picked them up. Then 5 minutes later the driver comes to our office and says the chaplains weren’t ready. Anna and I looked at him confused because clearly they were ready because they are here. So we spend a few minutes confused and questioning him, and he says he went to the Laundry room on the ship and asked if the Chaplains were ready to be picked up because he thought they were some kind of laundry we pick up. It turns out the actual Chaplain people asked him for a ride, and he said he had a specific task and couldn’t pick anyone up, so they got a different ride even though his task was to pick them up. We laughed and showed him that those people were the Chaplains, and he was like Ohhhhh, but later that day when I asked him to take the Chaplains back to the ship, we said “To the laundry room?” I thought it was a joke and laughed but then realized he was being serious.
Most of the patients we have had stay with us are ones who have already had surgery and need to either stay in Cotonou for dressing changes and rehab because they don’t like there or because they are Plastics patients who require A/C with their bandages, and they don’t have that at their homes. We have gotten a few pre-op patients. They are people who travel from far away for surgeon screening or something and get their surgery scheduled for a few days later and need somewhere to stay.
One of our first patients was a 3 month old baby Bignon who needs the cleft palate surgery but because of her cleft palate she has not been able to latch onto her mama’s breasts so she was very malnourished, and they can’t do the surgery until the baby is healthy and a certain weight, so the dietician from the ship put the baby on small amounts of formula several times a day. The patient and mom lived far away so instead of having them go straight back home, they stayed with us so the dietician could weigh the baby a couple times over a week to make sure the baby was gaining weight, and she did great while at the Hope Center! So they sent them home, and hopefully in a couple months, they will be doing the surgery and will come stay with us again.
This is a very sad story about a patient. A 16 year old boy came from far away with his grandma a week or 2 before his surgeon screening so they let him stay with us. Basically all patients do preliminary screening and most of the time they will get surgery, but when the surgeon flies in because they are usually here for only a short time, they do surgical screening when they first get here, and schedule all of the surgeries they will do. Well, this boy had the worst tumor ever on his face. It was huge and made his eye be on the side of his head, and he had recently gone blind. The tumor was relatively new. The sweet grandma showed someone a picture of the boy at 13 and he looked completely normal. When someone was talking to the boy in French, he was so excited about the surgery and was asking if they thought he would get his vision back. Well, when he went to the surgical screening, the doctor discovered the tumor had grown too fast and gone all the way into his brain, and surgery was impossible. It was devastating. Such a sweet boy and sweet grandma, and they had their hearts broken. And its all because there is not surgical care available here. Two years ago, removing the tumor probably would have been a fairly simple surgery, but instead he is going to die within a couple years.
Our very first patient was this older lady Mathe. She has really bad burns all over but it has made one of her arms basically immovable. They haven’t done surgery on her yet. They wanted to do rehab a while first, so she stayed with us so she could go to rehab every day at the ship. The first day when she was the only patient, we felt so bad for her because it would be boring, so we taught her to play some games, and it didn’t totally seem like she was enjoying it, but the next day when we got more patients she was so excited to teach them to play. She has become like the Hope Center Grandma. She tells kids to behave; if our day crew mess up on giving the right meal to someone, she corrects them. She’s the best. She was only supposed to stay like a week, but each week the ship asks if we would mind if she stayed another week, and we are obviously happy for her to stay.
We have this one 5 year old little boy who has been staying with us almost as long as we have been open, and at first to me he seemed like a little terror. He doesn’t follow rules, he used to come into our office even though he wasn’t allowed, he cheats at games and then gloats when he wins, he throws temper tantrums sometimes. But the longer we have had him staying with us the more he has gotten my heart. His home life doesn’t seem very good, and his caregiver here with him can be mean to him, so all that shows why he has become a terror, but he can be very sweet and funny, and he’s so smart for his age, it’s crazy. He beats adults at Memory multiple times a day. He does better at trying to communicate things than most of the patients (and myself) who don’t speak the same language. His hand had been sorta fused together by burns, so they split it, and it is healing, but he keeps getting sick and vomiting (maybe malaria), and this morning he just looked so miserable. It broke your heart.
(Sorry there aren’t many pictures. It’s a very sticky situation of what we can and can’t take pictures of, and it has to be with a specific camera, so I usually just don’t take any pictures.)