So yesterday I heard about something called “Mercy Ships.” In real life, they are charitable ocean vessels that house medical care and go around the world helping people.
In my mind, though, mercy ships are what happen when your best friend loves a pairing that you don’t love but because they are your best friend, you write them a fic/draw them a picture/make them a playlist anyway.
MERCY SHIPS=new favorite fandom term
Totally Bodacious, Most Excellent, Mercy Adventure
Countless hours were spent in May scouring the web for any signs of surf, Bureh Beach came up continuously. What I did not know was that, besides finding a solid point break, I would stumble across a group of solid human beings from Mercy Ships. Over the months of June, July and August I made my way down to Bureh and Freetown frequently to catch some water time and a hang session with this people. At times the conversation would come to what I was supposed to do on holidays as a volunteer. I explained secondary projects and would finish by throwing my hands up, looking around the beach, and give a shrug suggesting “this.”
It sparked a joke about me staying onboard the Mercy Ship for a few days during annual leave. At one point it came close, but things just didn’t pan out. The joke was laid aside until a few weeks past. A friend, Dulce, was in Makeni visiting a patient and trying to figure out where she was staying. I offered her a place in Mapaki at our guest house and she obliged. Several days later I received a text stating, “I need passport numbers, phone numbers, and e-mails for you two.” The two of us being myself and Evan Sommer (Kevin Bummer). I gathered the information, sent it off, and was later a “confirmed” guest aboard the ship - private cabin and all. Thanks to Dulce, Kevin spent roughly thirty-six hours onboard, and I accrued forty-eight.
5:45p.m. October 30th, 2011.
What’s your count?
While waiting to check-in as official guests, it occurred to us that we were staying at the equivalent of the Ritz. There wouldn’t be any soap, shower caps, lotions, or toilette paper to snipe, which allowed us to develop a few games.
“One.” Evan said, standing on the gangway outside the ship.
“One what. Wait, chicks?”
A nod of agreement.
The count began there. Outside the ship were two dispensers of hand sanitizer. Immediately, a new count was implemented. We doubled up with a tie and let the challenge continue.
Official guests need official documents. We were made official, officially. Following some paper work and submission of identity, Rob drew down the off-white, perforated background and poses were struck. I pulled my upper lip up like a chipmunk, adjusted my cap, fanned out some hair and was snapped. James, the front desk attendant processed it and gave a briefing on wearing it at all times. No problem, you see that picture? Evan stepped up and got weird. I made sure to stick my head in the frame during the call of “3.” Retakes were done, far quicker than the turn around from high school portraits. Documents in hand, James gave us a security chat on what whistles do what, when to panic, and where to go.
“Find the card with the first letter of your last name. My last name is S(something). I wouldn’t go here,” he advised us (looking directly at me) in his slightly effeminate voice, that this is the protocol. We mumbled agreements.
Welcome to Cabin 5328
“You two idiots are probably the only two people to ever stay on the ship and not make at least six figures a year.”
True. We don’t even make two figures a year. With the keys in hand, Kevin and I rock, paper, scissors, and shooted for first open. He won. Best two out of three. A quick heave of the door and our palace was unlocked. Rob cruised downstairs to drop his gear from the weekend while we awed at room.
“Did you see the towels?” Kevin asked.
“Oh yeah. I plan to use all four. I don’t know what the middle two are used for, but I’m going find out.”
Two bottles of water laid in the refrigerator. Three glass cups held sugar, coffee, and creamer. A basket of coffee and tea were complimentary. The closets closed with ease. The pillow had a welcome note on it with rules and regulations - no tank-tops allowed. Bummer high. Two-minute showers were mandatory. For any other needs we only needed to dial hospitality. I got first dibs on the shower. Two minutes, three-minutes, six? I can’t remember, the system was new to me. We cleaned up quick and moved out.
About to eat dinner? Better sanitize. Count up, plus one. It was the final minute of dinner when we descended on the cafeteria. The catering dishes were barren, the cheese picked over, and the coffee hot. Rob made a call to a galley hand for a little backup chop. After a quick cup of coffee, “Bunny Chow” was served up. A South African term for some sort of chicken curry. The galley staff made half-loaf bread bowels we slumped our chop into, threw a piece of cheese on, and sat down to eat.
“You’re going to want to put the sweet chili sauce on that,” said Rob, giving up some dire knowledge.
Halfway through the meal I needed to bump the coffee count up. I topped the cup up and called it another point five on my end. Kevin took another challenge cup. Juice was mandatory. Juice was delicious. Especially the red and yellow juice combo. Galley crew, your juice is on point.
“Hey, weren’t you going to try and get your nose pierced?” Dulce asked
“Uh, yeah if that is possible, I’m down,” I said.
Exiting the cafeteria, bellies full, veins flowing with caffeine and sugar, we re-upped our sanitizer count and cruised out.
Apre Dinner Cigarette Break
Cigarettes are bad. But they are good after a hot meal. We cut some butts out on the dock under a tarpaulin tent where the Russian staff dominates on the cigarette crushing front. Immediately following cigarettes, hands were sanitized.
Two Injections, One Nose Ring
The girls made a lap of the ship trying to obtain a ring. The Dental Clinic was opened up. A handful of us crowded into the tight, sterile confines of the clinic. I sat in the chair, a monkey with straight teeth in hand for comfort, or humor. Speculations on location of the stud were made. Plenty of Endo-ice was used. The deliberations were made final. I gripped the chair and awaited the puncture of an 18 gauge I.V. needle. It went through. A Cherokee tear was shed. Plenty of blood flowed. The stud, curved like a fish hook at the end and crooked throughout, wouldn’t fit. They called another girl down, rigged up some sort of catheter, and tried again. Another Cherokee tear was shed and a gold stud gleamed out of the left nostril on my nose. The girls cleaned up the operation.
Back in the safety of our pampered cabin. Tank-tops were put back on. Teeth were brushed, at least my set of teeth - Kevin claimed he is not much of a night brusher. I think he took another shower, shaved, and shat. Classic triple enteunt. A few pages of new books were read. The fan was set to “swing,” on the remote. Tucked under a soft, down comforter we called it quits and slept.
6:03a.m. October 31st, 2011
Rob said he’d be up around 7:00a.m to meet us for breakfast. We were stoked on the absolute freedom we now acquired and the prospects of coffee being made in the room. Showers were taken. Coffee was brewed up, and a deck patrol was on the bill for the morning. Up a flight of stairs and out to the seventh deck, the sun was rising over the vast mangrove swamps in the harbor. After a sanitizing session we proceeded up to a part of the ship that warned, “radiation zone.” Being intelligent young men we continued that leg of the tour before scouting out the pool. Up another flight of stairs and to the pool where the sun was penetrating through two open metal slats of roofing where we imagined what we could do from there. Jump? A good sixty feet. Take a few laps? Trunks are in the room? Well, better try and get some grub.
Sanitizing first, we made our way into the feeding line. Options of hardboiled eggs, oatmeal with yogurt, and chafing dishes filled with cereal sucked us in. A fresh cup of coffee in hand, we chomped quickly, sanitized, made our way back to the cabin and grabbed our gear. Rob went off to work and we left for a meeting.
Back in the Cabin
After a meal out to celebrate the leaving of our good friend, and Rob’s gal, Santjie, we went back to the ship. Coming in late, Rob parted ways with us idiots. Cups of tea were made, some light reading, and another peaceful nights sleep.
“Dude, can you imagine what we would do if we were on this ship long term?” Kevin asked.
“Oh man. I don’t even know. All them chicks, coffee…Yeah I don’t know. What do you think is in that ceiling vent?”
6:35a.m. November 1st, 2011
Booyaa. Sanitized hands grabbed with tongs for six-inch round buns covered in cinnamon. Sweet buns, no doubt. Liberal amounts of icing were applied, oatmeal was added to the bowel (with yogurt), apples chosen for perfect ripeness and coffees filled up. Kevin was shipping back up-country for a few days before going to the States for his sister’s wedding. I was off to the Embassy to deliver some pro-formas. We made our departure at the top of Saba Square, ending our totally bodacious, most excellent, Mercy adventure.
5328 is Awfully Lonely
Dinner was had off ship at Bliss Patisserie. We arrived late. In the cabin I brewed a cup of tea and sent a forlorn text message to my former cabin counterpart.
“Room 5328 is awfully lonely without you (some text missing)…wish you were here.”
6:50a.m. - 10:40a.m.
“Can you be out after breakfast?”
I did a solo-sanitize session and made for the breakfast line. A good dollop of oatmeal/yougurt, coffee, and an apple. Rob and I ate and discussed plans for the day. He had plenty of work to do. I had nothing. I packed my things, straightened out all four towels, and returned the keys to the front desk clerk. Down in Rob’s cabin I left my gear, took advantage of his computer for an hour, and eventually went back upstairs for a cigarette. Declaring a mandatory 10 o’clock coffee break, I met up with him and some others at the Starbuck’s. We decided on regular black coffee from the cafeteria. When coffee was finished up Rob had some other ideas kicking around for me.
“You want to see if you can fit in for a surgery today?”
“Yeah. I’ve got this thing with my brain. It doesn’t really work.”
“You idiot. There should be some surgeries this morning you can watch”
“Alright, that would be solid.”
“It smells like kaka in here.”
On the medical deck Rob kitted me out in scrubs. A flattering pair of medical blue trousers and a frilly yellow shirt with pink flowers. I was delivered a cap, and advised that they would think I was a chick if I put on a mask. Like the front desk briefing I was given some cues on what not to do. Rule number one; don’t touch anything. Rule number two: don’t touch the blue, sterile areas. Rule number three: Ask the circulating nurse questions before the surgeon. Rules understood, I entered the first operation, a genital hernia. It is not often I see people’s nuts in the village, but the children, and some adults, have hernias in their navels; which made observing this operation anincredible chance to see how a problem so prevalent in the village is alleviated.
In the room I was greeted by the nurses and surgeons, making small talk about Peace Corps and Sierra Leone. The surgeon was utilizing some sort of cauterizing tool to assist in the cutting of the tissue. It had the distinct sent of burnt flesh, urine, and smoke. Watching the surgery was amazing. As the surgeons discussed music, monitored machines, and made incisions, the hernia was slowly being removed and repaired. Time wore on quickly. I stood standstill with my hands in the art-appreciator pose. Hands held back, head bent forward.
The assistant who placed me in the operating room came in and explained that a surgery on a cleft palette/lip was being conducted. They had finished the palette and were now beginning to operate on the lip. I was eager to see this, as cleft lips are another problem often seen in the village/surrounding areas. Similar greetings occurred as I entered the room. In this surgery I was able to observe Dr. Gary, the chief surgeon who has been on the ship for 20+ years; implementing new methods of surgery not common in other areas of practice, like the removal of a floating rib to help repair a jaw. The surgeons worked over the lip, using the same cauterizing tool to remove tissue. From my view it seemed like a rather basic operation that has the potential to change a persons life, both physically and psychologically. It gives the patient a renewed sense of confidence, the ability to better integrate in their own society without a deformity, and the hope/knowledge that there are people in the world working for the betterment of society.
The clock ticked on and lunch was underway. I needed to leave the ship by 1:00p.m. in order to get home at a reasonable hour. Thanking the surgeons I made my way back out, thanked those in the monitoring room, and de-scrubbed.
Skate or Die!
Over a lunch of a ham and cheese panini, salad with an unidentifiable, salty dressing (it looked like balsamic vinaigrette), an apple, and coffee we discussed the surgeries. I explained why I was stoked to see them and impressed by the simplicity of it all. Clearing our table I noticed a few of the surgeons in the lunch line. The clock read 12:35p.m., which meant that they had done the full cleft palette/lip surgery in little over an hour. Back downstairs I picked up my things from Rob’s cabin and noticed a little yellow notebook scrap.
“Thanks for the Weisbecker. See you in the green room next weekend!. Skate or Die - Rob.”
Below the note was a fresh bag containing 16o.z’s of Starbuck’s.
“What is this?”
“Ahh. Don’t’ worry about it”
“Right on. Thanks dude.”
I made my thank you to the hospitality women, had a quick hand shake with Rob, sanitized (twice) on the gangway, and made my way upcountry.
”You two idiots.”
A Little Fighter (http://debsheartinafrica.blogspot.com/)
This is a post from a friend’s blog, an expos’e of her experiences whilst serving (medically) in Africa! It is something which has blessed me and reminded me to always look for the positives; to keep a healthy perspective, and to always persevere, no matter how hard life seems.
“Osman, aged 9, came to the Africa Mercy in May 2011. He presented with a right knee burn contracture with a wound after hurting his knee from falling out of a tree. The family sort medical advice from a witch doctor who poured boiling water on the wound to heal it. Unfortunately, it caused 3rd degree burns to most of his right leg and didn’t heal the wound. His first two surgeries were to clean and debride the wound before a skin graft and contracture release would be possible.Osman was a bright boy, understanding English and responding to the nurses politely and clearly, unlike any African patient I’d ever looked after. One morning at 5am, while I was still quietly going about my night shift duties, he called me over, telling me in plain English, “I need to change my sheets. They have not been changed in three days!” My response was to think, What!? Osman, since when do we change sheets here every three days if they are still clean? Where did you even get the idea that they need to be changed so often? Instead I replied, “Osman, it is 5 o’clock in the morning! Let’s wait until people are awake!”Osman was very particular about the tablets or liquid medications he would take, often telling you to wash his cup out and refill it with fresh, cool water before he would take his medication. Still, he would always say thank you and try to remember your name.The third surgery he was able to have the skin graft and contracture release of that leg. I looked after him in the following days, keeping up the pain relief and keeping an eye on the leg, noticing that his foot was very swollen and he was unable to wiggle his toes and he had no sensation present. His foot was also like this pre-operatively, but we were hoping for an improvement. He was a trouper, not often complaining of pain and cheerfully sitting in bed keen to interact and participate in whatever was going on in the ward.On day three post-op, his leg began to bleed profusely and he was rushed off for an emergency surgery for a popliteal arterial graft (behind his knee). The surgery was completed but we were still unable to find a pulse in his foot. Over the following days, even with antibiotics, and a lot of prayer, his temperature rose and we hoped he wasn’t turning septic! His foot turned black and looked awful. I didn’t see him much of those days as he was moved to ICU where a paediatric nurse could watch over him. He seemed relatively cheerful, despite the circumstances.As things weren’t getting better, we heard the devastating news, “Osman is going to the OR today. He is having an above knee amputation.” We all thought, Oh Osman, above the knee! I’m so disappointed for you!But like the trouper he is, immediately after the operation he asked for a balloon! He coped with the change remarkably well, asking the day after surgery when could he get out of bed on crutches.He is still on the ward now, more than one month after his admission, while we wait for his stump to heal well enough for him to go home. He hops about on his crutches like a little champ. He’ll play balloon soccer in the hallway, standing on his one leg and waving his crutches in the air to hit the balloon. He is also quick to wack someone with a crutch if they are out of line. He is hungry for affection and love too, quick to hug you, sit on your lap or even give kisses (I had to tell him to only kiss on the cheek when he went for the lips!). He is such a beautiful child, also adding to the nursing prayer time by praying himself. Any fears that us nurses may have had for his future without his right leg, have been washed away by his determination for life.”