Sunday, 6 November 2016

Some pros and cons of ship life

I am still here.  Still on the ship, working and living a life that in so many ways has become "normal," and thus so much more difficult to describe.  Perhaps if I go through some pros and cons it will lay out my existence in an easier to explain way:

Con: I share a cabin (room) with two people.  This can make it a little more difficult to have privacy or alone time.
Pro: I only have to share with two people, which makes me one of the lucky ones, because a majority of the nurses onboard share with 3-5 people.  I am fortunate to be able to close a curtain to my "itty bitty living space"(approximately 6ft x 6ft, half of which is my bed) and have alone time, or as much as you can get when a curtain is closed.  Also, I don't have a bunk bed above my head, which means I can sit up straight, unlike my first 1.5years on the ship when I was in either top or bottom of a set of bunkbeds.  Those bunks are in the same 6x6 space, just shared by two people.

Con: 2 minute ship showers.
Pro: I can spread out those two minutes by turning off the water, which is always nice and hot.  So you rinse, turn off the water and soap up, then rinse.  (extra on and off for shampoo/conditioner parts of the routine)  It's not as bad as I initially thought it would be.

Pro: My meals are made for me and dishes are washed for me.  All I have to do is show up to the dining room, fill a plate and a cup and sit down to eat.  It's generally freshly cooked, and they even have a menu posted so I know what to expect (most of the time).
Con: I don't have much choice in what I eat.  Breakfast is Oatmeal and boiled eggs and bread, a few veggies/sandwich meat and dry cereal (very basic cereal options).  Lunch is leftovers from other meals or soup/salad.  Supper is one main dish, occasionally with sides, bread and salad.  Menus are on a rotation and sometimes it gets repetitive.  If you don't like the meal, that's your problem.  Meals are also on a strict schedule, and if you don't show up, you don't eat.  Weekends you pick up your cold lunch at breakfast, so sleeping in can be challenging.

Pro: Laundry is free.  I just have to pay for the soap.
Con: You have to sign up for laundry slots.  And some people don't understand the system.  Everyone has to use the same laundry room.  This is the most likely place to have an argument with someone.  It turns out laundry is a easy way to offend/annoy or tick off someone.  People take someone's laundry out before the time is up, steal machines, program too long and don't leave the other person time to do theirs... the list goes on.

Pro: The ship is air-conditioned.  Most of the time.
Con: The air-conditioning level varies.  I've had it as high as 25C and low as 15C with the air-conditioning going.  When it's off it can go as high as 33C in my cabin (some parts of the ship are worse, some better.  The record high was in dry dock when the air-conditioning is deliberately turned off)

Pro: There are some great restaurants in town.  If you are fortunate enough to have a ship vehicle license, you can drive to most restaurants in ten minutes or less.  It's great.
Con: Getting there if you don't have a vehicle.  We aren't allowed to walk through the port, so you have to wait for the shuttle bus, which depending on your timing could throw off your schedule significantly.  Then you can walk or take a taxi.  But taxis aren't plentiful here, so you need to have a phone number and book one.  OR, you can take a zimijohn(local motorcycle taxi), but that's frowned on by the ship, and by insurance companies.  Also, meal prices are pretty much western prices.  Plan to spend 12-25$US on the average meal with drinks such as soda or bottled water.

Pro: My commute to work takes about a minute.  Two flights of stairs, including the gangway, and a walk down the dock before I unlock the tent I work in.  It's really easy to run back inside for whatever I need.  There's no need to leave more than a couple of minutes before I need to be somewhere.
Cons: There is no commute.  I know that sounds silly, but I have realized that there is something relaxing about a commute, where you get time alone to think, a time with no expectations, no one and nothing more than traffic that needs your attention.  As long as it's not an excessively long commute, it is actually really nice to have dedicated time like that where you can gather your thoughts.

Con: There are people everywhere on the ship.  Other than your own bed, there is no space that you can go to and have a reasonable expectation to be alone.  Sometimes you can't even walk from the dining room back to your room without seeing someone who wants to talk or ask a question.
Pro: There are people everywhere.  If you want to play a game, do a puzzle, go to town, just sit and chat over a coffee, you can find someone.  There is no NEED to sit alone in the dining room if you don't want to (this of course means you must be brave enough to join strangers at their table if you don't see any friends around).  There is always someone around to ask if you need help finding something or understanding how something works etc.  In fact, if you are looking for friends and willing to spend the time looking for them, this is a GREAT place.

Con: The ship moves a bit.  The current port doesn't have a breakwater, and so we dance up and down, especially when the big container ships come sailing past.  If you are prone to seasickness, it might take you a few days/weeks to get used to it.  I sometimes even find myself noticing the movement at random moments.
Pro: Is being rocked to sleep ever not a good thing? (secret answer: yes.  When it rocks so hard it might throw you out of bed.  That only happens during a sail, thankfully)

Pro: I have friends from all over the world.  I could visit many countries, especially parts of Australia, New Zealand, various European countries, the US and Canada, and not have to go to a single hotel.  I could couch-hop around the world.  You learn so many new perspectives and understand a lot more about what is happening in this great big world as you make friends from different countries.
Con: My friends leave (or I do), and I don't know if I'll ever be able to afford to visit them.  This world is just too big and my friends are so scattered.  It sucks.

Pro: There are constantly new people arriving to fill positions.  Sometimes it is old friends returning, which is cause for celebration, sometimes it is new people that you get a chance to meet.
Con:  New people can be stressful (to an introvert).  The only way new people can come is if some people leave.  Leaving sucks.  At times it feels like the goodbyes are endless.

Pro: We get to visit a new country (almost) every year.  New adventures await, new places to explore, new languages to learn, new people to help, new day crew to invest in.  New kinds of food and fruit, new expressions and ways of saying things, new gestures and new street signs.  It is fascinating learning all about new cultures and ways of life and ways to understand the world we are in.
Con: Every year you start from scratch trying to find your way around, figuring out where the good markets are, who you can trust, where it is safe to go, what is offensive and what's normal.  Every year you start fresh training new staff and setting up to make things work for this place and environment.

Pro: The patients.  We have the privilege of meeting and helping so many amazing people.  From the tiniest baby struggling to get enough food past it's cleft palate, to the elderly grandmother with a goitre that is threatening to cut off her airway.  From the goofy ten year old with burn scar contractures that runs at everyone with the biggest hugs and proclaims them his best friend, to the sullen 20-something that hides her whole head behind a scarf just waiting to find out if we can remove her facial tumour.
Con: There isn't one.  They are the reason we are all here.  From the plumber to the teacher, from the engineer to the admin assistant, from the anesthetist to the preschool children; we are here to help these patients.  There really isn't a con here. Okay, maybe saying goodbye to them is the con.  Except when it means they are going home with freshly healed bodies and hearts.

Friday, 3 June 2016


I am breaking silently
Into just a fraction of the person that I am,
That I was
That I expect myself to be.
Or perhaps the truth is
That I have always been broken
But today I am shattered.
I cannot say another goodbye.
I cannot sit here and pretend it is all okay
Pretend that I am whole and untouched by this season of departure.
For just a moment, or a day, or maybe even a lifetime
I need to pause this life
And hold on to what is in front of me
Because I'm just not ready
To carve new holes in my heart
While the old ones are still bleeding.

We are packing up for sail, and in the process there are hundreds of people leaving, many never to return.  It is a season on the ship that we weather every year, but that doesn't make it any easier.
Hopefully I'll have some patient stories written up for you soon, but this was a glimpse into where I am at today.

Sunday, 13 December 2015


Sometimes I don't know why I am drawn to the underdogs.  To the people with the biggest struggles and deepest hurts.  The ones who wear their scars on their sleeves and admit to all that they have been through and overcome.  There is a strength inherent in the ability to be honest about the things that broke you.  That continue to break you.
In my job as a nurse, every day brings me face to face with the people who wear their scars on the outside.  They come into the outpatients tent and bare their wounds and their scars, and trust us with their stories.
-  The small girl who we wrap up every other day in bandages, who comes skipping and smiling into our tent, giggling at things her mother says, giving us high fives and curling up in a nurse's lap when she's tired.  At every dressing we hear her cry, and every time we say goodbye she thanks us for all we do.  We are trying to teach her to trust again.  I think we're getting there.
- The young woman waiting on a diagnosis, who comes in full of hope and dignity.  Dressed as though she is showing up to work, impeccable other than a tumour that mars her physique.  We dress her wounds and pray and hope alongside her.
- The old man with a face that droops and sags on one side like a stroke victim with a little too much skin.  Tales to tell of an overwhelming tumour that threatened his life and is now gone.
- The small boy who runs around the tent like the ball of a pinball machine, half his face swollen and misshapen, he is oblivious to any deformity, and in love with everyone around him.  He hangs off of the nurses and the day crew, riffles through drawers looking for toys, and giggles at the least provocation.
- The middle-aged woman who has a freshly-drawn scar at the base of her neck, asking if her goitre will grow back.  Smiling and happy to have her blood drawn to make sure her thyroid levels are okay.
- The young man who stretches out his burn-scarred arm to show where the scar has been stretched too far and is now a wound.  Bashfully grinning and admitting to games of basketball that may have been a little more than his arm could handle.
- The family member who sold a cow or a field so that they could pay for the transportation to get their son/daughter to the ship, even when everyone else told them not to.  And now they look with pride on the changes, the healing that has taken place since they were brave and came anyways.
Every day we see 30 or more patients come through our doors.  Every story is different, and yet they are all so similar.  They involve pain, strength, courage, hope.  They involve journeys across country, and overcoming barriers.  They include naysayers who told them no one would help them, it's all a lie, you're too broken.  
We do our best for them.  But our best isn't always good enough.  Some of the wounds are slow to heal.  Some of the tumours are the wrong kind and we just can't do surgery on them.  Some of the babies are too small or the patient is too sick for surgery.    And all too often these are the patients that steal my heart and leave it scarred.  We see some of the more broken ones very frequently, trying to make them ready, strong enough for surgery.   Waiting for a yes or no for surgery after a biopsy.   Trying to heal wounds after surgery.  And in the waiting, or the prolonged healing, we grow attached.  We pray and we hope... and sometimes we end up crying with the patients.  
There have been a couple of "no's" this week that were rather difficult.  Pray with me for these people and their families.  That this time with them would be the seed planted for love, hope, a God that loves no matter the circumstance.  Pray for miracles.

Monday, 31 August 2015

Whale of a tail to tell you!

It all started simply enough.  With a hospital ship that went in for repairs in a South African port.  This ship was no stranger to dry docks and repairs, having started her life as a rail ferry, she was completely refitted a number of years ago in England to become a hospital ship.  And then every couple of years she goes back to dry dock for all the bits and pieces of maintenance that can't be done in the water.  
This year was the year to fix the propellor that wasn't working quite right.  And so into her special tub went the ship, where they drained the water out and removed one propellor, and then the rudder, and finally even the propellor shaft.  Full of surprises and difficult fixes, all the parts were worked on by talented men and women, until finally everything came back together.  It was slow work and in the meantime the ship was refilling with men and women who wanted to work in her hospital, but the hospital wasn't open yet.  So those men and women found other jobs onboard to keep things running smoothly.
After many more days than planned, it was finally time to fill the tub around the ship with water and sail away.
The people onboard cheered as they began their sail to Madagascar.  As they began to sail, they noticed something in the water... the humpback whales were flipping their tails in excitement!

All day long, the whales kept jumping and slapping the water with their tails, as though they wanted to put on a show for the hospital ship! 

Even after the sun set, the whales kept jumping and enjoying the water!

 The next day the ship's crew woke to more excitement, and whales that came by, swimming and jumping.

  And the next day the whales were waving their fins and slapping the water.  The show just wasn't stopping!

Until finally the whales decided to wave one final time, and the ship sailed on full of excited crew who couldn't wait to start work in Madagascar!
After many days on the water, the ship sailed up close to the port of Tamatave where the people were eagerly awaiting her arrival!
 Day crew had a party on the beach and excitedly waved her in!

The port stood open and waiting, while the ship turned around and backed into her spot, the same cosy port as she occupied last year. 

And with crew on the decks watching out, and crew in the port waving her in, the ship finally arrived and was tied to the dock in her home for the next 10months.  Tamatave, Madagascar.

Now the crew of the hospital ship have one short week to prepare get things cleaned, setup and ready to go.  They have patients to screen and evaluate, appointments to make, new crew to train.  

We could use your prayers.  It's going to be a very full week, with no weekend break if we want to be ready to go in time.  Pray for good communication all around.  Pray for wisdom as decisions are made that will impact the rest of the year.  Pray for strength and energy to do all that must be done.  Pray for safety for all involved (and healing for our plastic surgeon who was recently injured and needs some time to heal before coming to the ship).  Pray that we would remember to put God first everyday, no matter the circumstance.