Monday, March 26, 2012

2 years later.

I think the honeymoon of ship living is beginning to fade, not entirely but the normal realities of living are coming back into play. The difficulty of finding a place alone to relax... The reality of work which can sometimes be so that you feel like you've just ran all day from one thing to the next.. The reality that if you eat too much you do gain weight (known as the "Mercy Hips" - the food here is really good and generally in abundance..), the reality that sometimes when you want a friend to do something with they are otherwise engaged.. like working or something. And please tell me, why is it that ANytiMe Amber Dennis would like a cup of tea or urgent pick me up coffee... that is the time they are washing the floors in the dining room, with the barriers up, that truly you're not allowed to cross... please, tell me.. why! : ) I smile, but these are the little things out of my control.
These are my main miseries of week number 4.
I dropped in on 'Toast Masters' group tonight, to fill some social need, and the Zumba class to help the feelings of fatness begin to fade : )
That's one cool thing about living in this ship community, is that there is something on almost every evening if you wanted. Tomorrow night is Drum class if you want and ladies B-study by Beth Moore, currently studying 'James' which happens to be titled "Mercy Triumphs". Wish I caught it from the beginning but came in part way through, so only a couple weeks left til it's through.
Wednesday this week is an inservice on Malaria, by our one and only Kirstie, who also hosts Wednesdays 'Breath', a get together for nurses where we celebrate all the joys, victories, stories, etc that have happened this week in the hospital or our personal lives.

Let me just tell you one quick story from last week's breath... (even tho I'm typing on my phone! : )
I believe it was 2 or 3 years ago that a lady came to a screening day due to some sort of a tumor. It was definitely worthy of a Mercy Ships operation and qualified for the surgery, all except one point... She was pregnant. And she was too early on for them to do the type of surgery she needed, so they said yes, we'll do it, but please come back in 3 months. The woman was beside herself, for fear that she may not get the surgery. She said 'I'll get the baby out, please! Just do the surgery!!' She was serious, and desperate. She left that day, not knowing wether she was going to take the babies life or even her own life. That nurse never saw her again...
Until this week. She recognized her and confirmed that it was her and beside her was an 18 month old baby boy. That nurse has plead with her that day not to have an abortion and not to take her own life. It was pretty heart wrenching for her to run across this lady so long later, on a separate Mercy Ships visit to Togo, while she is just here as a caregiver for one of her other children.
Its a small story, but really cool and encouraging to us and I hope to you, that when you fight and advocate for someone's well being or even someone's life, you may get the reward to see it come true. she got that seeing the 18 month old sitting there next to it's mother.
So often lately I have heard about the reward and joy that comes from serving others. Even here sometimes I can be generally self centered, but the glimpses I get of this joy in serving others is beginning to take better shape. Please don't take this as just some religious talk because I am just as sick of that as you. Please try and just see it as life's truths.

Thanks for reading the 'Amblog' and staying tuned with happenings here on 'The Mercy Ship'

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


This title summarizes my favorite place on the Africa Mercy because it's where the people are.  It's where the patients are, it's where you get to be a part and see up front how people's lives are being changed.

Imagine the basement of a ship.  Imagine one ward, broken into two by one wall in the middle.  Imagine nurses passing between the two areas.. Watch them taking vital signs. Sitting on stools next to the bed making notes in the charts, amidst chatting with patients and their 'caregiver'.  Each patient is allowed one 'caregiver' to stay with them while they're here.  They literally sleep underneath of their beds.  We put raised blocks under the bed posts, and thin mattresses rest beneath where the children's mother and possibly young sibling will stay. 
Sometimes health issues come up with the family member so we add a page in the chart for them too.  Although, basic medical problems is not our focus, we'll deal with obvious stuff while they're here.  Little "Jojo" sibling of a plastics pediatric patient, has been needing some TLC this week, but appears to b eon the mend.  He had his first birthday while here on the Mercy Ship with his big brother Abel.

Imagine 10 am rolls around, and the "Patient Life Team" show up on the wards.  These are local people who are involved in ministering to the needs of the patients in a spiritual way.  They are an amazing group of folks.  They come into the ward and everyone brightens up including the nurses.  I often feel like they're there to minister to my needs too.  I seem to have developed somewhat of a despise for formal religious stuff lately, so having these guys come in and be so real and genuine with all of us is refreshing.  They don't see just the patients as the ones they look after, it seems like they generally care for us to. They will often translate or stop to have conversations with us.  They are around all day for different things, whether it's holding a limb during a dressing change or praying/comforting someone who is in tears from pain.  But at their 10 am morning round, they stop in each ward for a good 1/2 hr with music; guitars and drums sometimes, and sing... getting all the patients and family involved.  I've seen the patients and families who barely knew the words in the beginning now singing out with every song, up off their beds clapping along.  My favorite is one 20 something year old guy who often breaks into impromptu words, adding words of praising God to the tune that they were singing.  He has a very full heart.  His faith story is pretty interesting too, maybe I'll get a chance to write it out here at some point. 
Continue imagining, 2:30 in the afternoon, all the patients who are able to (ie. those who have had their first dressing change after about day 7) hike up 4 or 5 flights of stairs to get to "Deck 7" where they enjoy the "fresh" (humid, hot) air for about an hour.  One of the "patient life" team members is usually up playing the guitar, so there is singing and dancing, or else there is just children riding the tricycles back and forth with siblings and friends straggling off the edges; which is clearly why they are not allowed out there until a good week following surgery...!

If you can continue picturing the evening, family members come for 'visiting hours'.  Escorted by our 'day workers' down to the ward, the place fills up with extra people for quite some time.  It's nice to see them interacting with family, and get acquainted with more of their family members.  I was gonna say that's such a neat time, but every time that I've described today is actually a good time on the ward.  Ok, so maybe I'm still 'honeymooning' perhaps one day soon it will turn into more of a job. 
It is still work.  We have lots of pain medications, and circulatory assessments to do. But right now those are just constant excuses to interact with the people! : )

Interesting names in Togo: Ramziatou (18 yr old girl), Akunamatata (he tells me it's his real name, he's from Kenya), Mokpokbo (girl), Yaouwi (male), etc, etc.  I'll try to keep throwing some more of these out there as I find names fascinating. Especially now that we're in a French speaking culture.

Ewe is the local dialect as well, although I haven't been picking up much of that. Some of the others are doing quite well tho.  Ak-bay-ka-ka = thank you! That's the only one that's sticking.  Thanks to Andrew for teaching me Ewe ; )

I hope I get a chance to tell you soon about my other favorite place... "The Hope Centre".. next time tho... next time...

Contact Info & Costs

I promised to get my contact info out to my mom weeks ago, and also to some of you! So here it is,

Mailing address:
(it looks US, and it is, but they have people coming from there so frequently that that's how they do the mail here! We do pay a bit to receive it, so please... if it weighs like a brick, it must be gold! ; )

Amber Dennis - Mercy Ships
M/V Africa Mercy - Hospital
Via Crew Mail
PO Box 2020
Lindale, TX 75771

email as usual:
blog: clearly....
phone: 0019545386110   ext: 3431  (that's my room #)
        (it is a US number, so it's like you calling the States.
        I can also call you, cause they sell us fairly reasonable calling cards here, just let me know when!)

Time Zone:
We are I believe 6hrs now ahead of Alberta, since daylight savings.

Some of you have asked about donating and there is actually a very easy way, and it is superly appreciated. 
If you do it through the website, you get a TaX ReCeiT! yay.

You just go to
  --> donate now
    --> donate to crew fees
      --> Project #: 3253 (at some point it will ask you for a project number.  If you quote my project number it helps towards the work that I am doing here.  Once my costs have been reached, it goes towards the rest of the work here on the Africa Mercy.  You can also designate it to other specific needs of your choice.)  Thanks to all of you who decide to pitch in!

Just to give you a quick idea:
Monthly crew fees: We each pay to be here, around $700 per month to cover our living expenses on the ship.I will be here just over 3 months this time around.
Flight: $1250
Immunizations: $450
Antimalarials: $300
Lost wages... we won't go there, cause that's not what it's really about.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The 3 Week Settle

Wow. I set up a calendar for myself this weekend and realized it'll be 3 weeks on Tuesday that I have been here. Time is flying.  This week I have definitely settled in better and have started to form some 'groupies' for my downtime which really helps.  P90X (workout DVD) in the Queen's or International Lounge is much more fun when you have some 'groupies' to do it with.
I'd like to spend more time doing some running too, as there is a ton of people who are always running 5 or 10k.  There is a "Run Across Togo" at the end of the month, that I'd love to be a part of, as it is just for fun. I'm hoping my back is going to pull through as it hasn't been overly cooperative when it comes to running. For those of you who pray, that is something to petition.  Maybe it sounds minor, but back health is a constant battle for me, and crucial to my overall physical life and strength.

I wish I could drop you into hospital life... In some ways it's definitely nothing glamorous, but in so many ways it's the most awesome thing I get to do here (which is a bonus... since that is wHy I am here : )  I love my shifts there.  We have an open ward of 20 beds, in B Ward at least - the "Plastics" ward.  Open ward concept makes for great community.  I've seen family members of the patients really open up and settle in over the last couple weeks.  I love some of those peeps.  Once again, so cool that I can talk with them, en Francais, because so many of the short term crew feel a bit more disconnected due to language gap.  Plastics is fun cause the patients generally stay 2 weeks or more. Mostly more.  The skin grafting is a long healing process and that's all of what I've been caring for. Old contracted burns, released by skin grafts.  Sounds minor, but when the side of your face has melted/healed to your neck, it's pretty huge when you can live upright again.  Or when your knee has melted/healed into a 90' angle, it's pretty huge when you get a skin graft that allows you to straighten, strengthen, and walk on your leg again.  These are seriously life changing surgeries.
How about a 40 pound growth hanging from your left leg. It's like cutting a toddler off your leg.  That aught a change yer life.  Or how about the same off your back, that grew in the shape of a 40 pound tear drop.  These are actual current cases. These are my patients!
Finger contracture release, toe contracture release, leg contracture release, are some of my pediatric cases.  Release of those contractures means use of those joints again.  Pretty awesome for kids, since they potentially have the most 'lifetime' left. 

There are moments here where I try to remember as I walk down the hall and into the ward, or even to the dining room that already seems pretty normal life now, that I am 'living my dream'.  I challenge you wherever you are as you do some of the things you have wanted to do for sometime, whether it is get the groceries bought, clean the house, visit a neighbor, talk to a friend, travel to another country, finish a class, or whatever.  I remind you as a friend reminded me, to look through an empty picture frame that has the words "Dream" written across the top.. and just place in there the moment you're in.  It has made a lot more moments here, and in my past adventures, special. 

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Let me introduce...

"The Africa Mercy"
The weekend was good for getting to know a few more of the girls here, and also for getting to know what there is to do around this town! Sat included visiting "Grand Marche" which is the local market, and Coco Beach for the afternoon... which is where you will be finding me every Sat! ; ) I feel at home on the beach...  I suppose two months living in Playa Colorada, Venezuela has done that to me. A consequence I am happy to live with ; )

Petra, Jeremie, and Jenn... I have the final conclusion of our debate.  The final results are.... dun dunana.... There IS a POOL on the BOAT!!!! Jenn you win the prize. The rest of us have a small imagination.  Albeit the pool itself is also small, but at least Jenn dared to imagine it : )

A few remarkable first week things:
Note worthy is that... my French actually works! : ) French immersion education pulls through. Although it is not perfect, I am able to converse quite comfortably in many cases.  My medical terminology needs a bit of work, along with my grammar, but hoorah for having a huge advantage here in Togo.
Note worthy number two: I do not get sea sick. Which is an asset because there are times when you actually feel this huge ship swaying/moving. The higher you are the worse you seem to feel it, and it's definitely not all the time. 
Ever since I've been "all grown up" (if I'm even there yet) I've always wanted to be rocked to sleep, so, um... I guess dreams do come true!  : )

Let me give you a quick glimpse of the rest of the boat, just so you know that I'm not exactly suffering : ) ... at least not physically.
I wish I could include hospital pictures because that is where the action really is, but we are restricted from taking photos in hospital due to patient confidentiality.  Apparently there is a designated photographer who releases photos that we're allowed to post, so I'll have to figure out how to access those. 

In the meantime, please get to know my space, so you can connect with me! and imagine life here a bit.  We have slow wireless connections many places on the ship.  But no Skype is allowed : ( as it takes too much bandwidth.  No major downloads either, so no itunes or video clips. 

Deck 6 - Recreational or relaxing area

Reception Area
(if you ever get lonely on the Africa Mercy, taking a walk by reception seems to help : )

Internet Area & Couch lounge areas

Cafe & Starbucks (down), up the stairs to Internet area (above photo)

Our "Birth" (room) 
6 of us girls fill up this space quite well

My Space : )
That I try to share with my bunkie Amy : )
Top bunk makes me feel youthful.

 The kitchen area was closed when I was doing my photo rounds.
I will try to get more pics from the doc at some point too. 

Please send letters! I'm always happy to hear from you.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Fresh On The Boat

Amber Dennis is fresh on the boat. Check out for her official introduction ; )  ... Actually, pretty sure this is the link:
First day on the ward yesterday. Went in with a bang... as in, I broke a bottle of antibiotics on my first day.... : / Which means I'm somehow gonna have to go out with a bang too... I'll try to make that one somehow a little more appropriate.
Other than that and a few first day nerves, I liked the ward. I'm a Ward B nurse, which I think I'm happy about my placement. Nice variety of patients as in adults and peds, and the cases seem quite interesting.  B Ward is the "Plastics" Ward.  So I see lots of burn skin grafts.  It's pretty amazing really but pretty sad too.
My first patient that I scrubbed and sent to the OR was a lady who had been burnt 4 years ago. Her whole face was disfigured and burnt to her neck; as in she couldn't turn her head etc.  I saw her today, but won't know what kind of results she'll get for about 9 days when her bandages can come off.
Day 2 today was my dressings orientation.  Next week is going to be tons of dressings so they wanted to give me a day just to observe a bunch. Somehow I love wound care. It's always fascinating.  So I think I saw about 5 major wounds today.  Each wound is of course accompanied by a graft site.  Hard to explain, it's definitely things you would never see at home cause they would have been taken care of at the time of injury. 
Ward A, is general surgery (loads of hernias etc), Ward C (is B ward's overflow, which I'll likely work at some point), and Ward D (is Maxo-Facial surgeries, so any cleft palates or facial tumors). 

A few social events have helped get acquainted with a few people this week. Canada night was Wednesday out on the deck.  Apparently there is 47 of us!! Which is a lot.  (I was the minority in my Venezuela group, not so here : )  Thursday night was community night out on the dock.  Which meant everyone who lives on the ship plus all the "Day Volunteers" (locals who work on the ward in the day times) all joined for dock BBQ hotdogs and icecream.  The music team played and everyone got involved.  Was one of my favourite times so far. 

Well, I've been invited to check out some live music this evening,and we're meeting momentarily.  Please drop me notes when you have time. They're my favourite things to get : )

Pics to come soon! I promise ; )
Pics are here. These are of the BBQ on the dock! Hope it gives you a bit of a glimpse.