I could probably write a hundred posts about how life on the ship is different from "real life" as we jokingly call the outside world. For now, I'm going to focus on hospital aspects, since I'm a nurse. I shamelessly plagerized from my friend Deb's blog: http://debsheartinafrica.blogspot.com/2011/09/refreshing-for-my-soul.html . She gathered comments from a bunch of nurses on board about nursing on the ship. All comments in parenthesis are mine, plus the ending part about my own observations.
The main differences between our hospital on a ship in West Africa and others are:
- We hold our bedside curtains up with magnets on the ceiling. (Seriously, walls and ceilings are metal, so everything is held up by magnets!!)
- Our patient’s caregivers sleep on the floor under the bed. (on a mattress... unless it's a small child, then they just join the child in the bed, with a siderail up to make sure the child doesn't fall out. And sometimes the caregiver decides they get the bed and the patient gets the floor. Then it gets a little confusing!)
- Our hospital is floating on the water and we feel it swaying and moving underneath of us. (Took a full week to get used to it, now I barely notice unless we're reeeeeally swaying, or when the ship shudders)
- We use translators to speak to our patients most of the time. (I did use my french today with a patient, but that's quite unusual for this area)
- We are able to pray with our patients and hold church in the ward every Sunday and devotions every morning!
- We have men, women and children all mixed together in the one ward. (And no one even bats an eye when they choose to walk around half naked!)
- Our nurses come from all over the world, often having English is a second language. (Makes for some interesting conversations and miscommunications. And "secret languages" where people can have a private conversation right in front of other people)
- We work in a tiny space with many staff, patients, caregivers, translators and blocks and toys all over the floor! (Tiny is an understatment. The smallest ward is smaller than my apartment yet is set up for 10 patients.)
- My small patients will often ride part of the day on my back as I work (this is called Poepoeing a baby, done by laying them on your back and tying a sheet around... I'll do a picture tutorial later)
- I play games and blow bubbles regularly as part of my work. Sometimes even riding the children’s tricycle outside with patient’s sitting in the back seat.
- My patients eat rice for lunch and dinner every day, usually along with a meat or sauce of some sort.
- My patients can sleep through the drums being played and they don’t complain. (Just the other day, a German crew member came down to jam on the guitar with the patients, playing the most upbeat worship songs he could think of, and had a day volunteer going on the drums, and another that broke out into spontaneous rap! Even the 9 month old baby on the ward couldn't sit still, they were all up and dancing!!)
- If we run out of a particular medication or supply, we change to use something else, because we just don’t have any left and there’s no other way to get it. (And often you can't even read what the label says, because it's in a different language. At which point you're VERY thankful for all those who speak another language!)
- I usually leave work at the end of the shift feeling happy and satisfied that I was able to be part of someone’s life to make it just a little better.
Favorite things about working on a hospital ship are:
- Being able to do free surgeries for these people that so desperately need help and couldn’t otherwise afford it.
- Learning about the African culture from our patients, the patient caregivers and translators.
- Having the freedom to worship and pray with fellow nurses and with our patients during our day at work.
- Playing with the children, cuddling babies and doing crafts that even the old men enjoy doing and learning.
- Watching the interactions between patients and caregivers, even seeing people not even knowing each other before helping each other out and caring for each other. The African culture is so community orientated and we can really learn from them!
- Our patients are joyful in the midst of bad circumstances, pain and suffering, never taking out frustrations on the nursing staff.
- The Doctors, nurses and auxiliary staff are one big team, here to lift each other up and work together Which doesn’t mean disagreements never happen, but we try our best!.
- When you cannot speak a patient’s language and they can’t speak yours, you can still share a greeting through a smile.
Now I'd like to add my own observations to the mix...
You eat, work, play with the same people day in and day out, and yet somehow we continue to enjoy each other's company. There aren't the same divisions between Dr/nurse/admin/cooks/housekeeping that you might see otherwise.
No one questions their care (yup, hefty responsibility there), they seem quite content to do whatever we ask whenever we ask.
Labels have to be peeled off bottles when we're done with medications, since as soon as the garbage goes out people will dig through it and some will try to sell fake drugs in used bottles.
We can care for a patient during the day(my friend Kari got that priviledge), go to a lecture by the doctor who performed his surgery, and finish off the day by getting to see and hold the patient's tumour (brought up in a tupperware container in a paperbag)... and anyone was free to attend the lecture, so not just hospital staff got to learn a little more about what goes on in the bowels of the ship. (My lovely, lovely roommates suggested we take off with the tumour and hang it as a decoration in our room. Ya... )
Hope you enjoyed that random description of how it's special here.