Saturday, September 10, 2016

Stories from Screening

Mom's Point of View:
"Bon jour! 
Tout droit. /tootwah/ (straight this way)
Au Revoir!"

That is about the limit of my French and what I said about 200-350 times each morning I helped with screening for the Mercy Ships first week of field service in Benin, West Africa. 

My job was to catch the eye of the screening nurses as they told me (in English) "exit" or "inside" indicating whether a potential patient is someone Mercy Ships can help or not. It was difficult and heart breaking to say "straight this way" towards the exit to so many parents with children who could not be helped. 

These screening days are long and laborious. The screening team is up at 4:30 for breakfast and down on the dock by 5am to ride out to the screening site which is housed at a local Catholic high school.  We have screened well over a few thousand potential patients these past two weeks (a few more days to go). On average anywhere from 250-350, out of the 1000s (yes, I said thousands lined up for days and nights) of potential patients are allowed inside the screening compound per day. Once inside the compound their temperature is taken to screen for Ebola and Lassa which are concerns here in West Africa. Patients are then given a wristband and directed to another line just outside the entrance to the screening center building. There they are briefly pre-screened by a nurse to determine if their “condition” requires surgery...or not. 

Often times, patients come to these screening days, not knowing that Mercy Ships is a surgery ship. We are only able to assist them if their “condition” falls into one of our surgical specialties. For example, people come that have had a stroke or are paralyzed or cerebral palsy or cancer. Another common example is parents bring children with hydrocephalus. A condition in which there is an excessive amount of fluid surrounding the brain and the child's head is abnormally large. Mercy Ships does not perform brain surgery or treat these other conditions. The purpose of surgical intervention aboard Mercy Ships is to restore or improve functionality. The main types of conditions Mercy Ships treat are orthopedic (bowed legs of children approximately ages 4-14), maxillofacial tumors, cleft palettes, hernias, goiters, burn victims, obstetric fistula issues, cataracts and dental surgeries. 

Screening days are trying and tedious for everyone involved, but especially for our screening nurses. One can imagine how hard it would be to tell about 50% of those in line we are unable to help him or her or their child. And after the first screening there are two other screenings to go through before a patient is allowed to enter the hospital on the ship for surgery. Unfortunately, only 15% of those who come with needs can be helped by Mercy Ships. The need is overwhelming. 

My few days helping the screening team was very sobering. I thought that perhaps this is how Jesus felt as he ministered to the same types of crowds in his day and didn't/couldn't heal all. My heart is heavy for the people of developing nations where some of the issues can be solved by better nutrition and/or availability of medical services. So, now sitting in beautiful Southern California far away from West Africa and the Africa Mercy, I pray and ask Jesus to give wisdom to those serving with Mercy Ships to know how to best help the people that have been sent by Him and to comfort those who can't be helped and to say to both: 

Dieu vous donne la paix   (God give you peace)

My Point of View

After a couple weeks of trying to figure out how to get to a screening (it’s a bit difficult when you have a class of kinders…even when it’s just a class of three), I finally got to go yesterday! We met out on the dock at 5:45am and piled into the land rovers to trek over to the school where the screening has been set up for the last couple weeks. When we got there I got a tour around the screening site, the entrance and exit gates, the ropes set up where the line was to form, the waiting room for the patients who got wristbands (meaning they made it through the first screening and had an ailment that Mercy Ships can theoretically help with), etc. I then got to go up to the top of the building and see the line that was forming outside of people waiting to be seen. I knew it wouldn’t be an easy experience…there are so many people that we have to say no to. 

I was stationed at the exit gate so every person, whether they got a yes or a no, came passed me. I saw one week olds with cleft palates, blind people being led by a friend (and a few shuffling along on their own), kid after kid with bowed legs (a set of precious three year old twins with matching bowed legs), a lady with a tumor that was the size of another head attached to her face, and many more. 
Here are a few pictures of what some of these conditions look like...

It sounds weird, but I was so excited when I saw the lady with the maxillofacial tumor.  was such a privilege, after seeing so many photos and videos of patients like this, to get to look at this lady in the eye and say, “Bonjour!” and somehow let her know that she is seen and she is loved. She is not forgotten. She got a wristband and she will get the chance to see our surgeons. But for so many people who walked passed me, that was not their story. They were wristband-less. They had a problem that we could not fix or a problem for which we have already filled every surgery spot. Some of these people have been waiting years for us to come or have come from very far away, only to be told upon arrival that we can’t fix their problem. 
As I looked at the line of people passing through my gate, I couldn’t help but think, “is this what the lines of people who came to see Jesus looked like? Were they crowds full of little children with bowed legs that Jesus straightened? Blind people that Jesus gave sight? Babies with cleft palates that Jesus made whole? People with massive tumors covered in cloth so others wouldn’t stare that Jesus uncovered and touched and restored humanity to? I have to think that this is the closest I’ll ever get to seeing what those crowds must have looked like…and what a privilege. 
On the other hand, what of the people that Jesus couldn’t get to, couldn’t help, couldn’t heal? There had to have been people who needed healing and couldn’t get it because Jesus was fully human and lived within the confines of twenty-four hours in a day. He couldn’t be in many places at once and He only had so much time in which to work. I’ve never had that thought until I saw the lines of people walking towards me without a wristband. That’s the moment when we all must remember, God hasn’t told us that we need to save everyone. That’s a hard pill to swallow when you have masses of broken and hurting people in front of you, but God has called us to help the people that He has equipped us to help today. With the hospital in the ship admitting its first patients tomorrow, it’s exciting to think of all the doctors and nurses getting ready to help the crowds of patients that are about to board our ship, but in the same way, that is not the group that God has called me to serve today. He has called me not to a crowd, but to a tiny kindergarten kingdom with three little princesses…well, four if you include me. And that’s good. I don’t know why I was born healthy and others aren’t. I don’t know why I was given enough food as a child to grow strong and healthy while others develop bowed legs from malnutrition. I don’t know. But I do believe that the God who made us all is good and He loves us and He is here. He’s in the hospital with the patients, He’s in our little kindergarten classroom, and He’s walking back down the road with the people who didn’t receive wristbands. He is here, and while I can’t always see or understand how He is working,  I’m excited to be a part of His goodness unfolding all around me.

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