Friday, 30 September 2011

All about Alberta

I'm learning.
Learning to use the quiet moments on the ward to sit and enjoy the patients and their caregivers. 
To hear about life from their perspective, and to share my own.
A couple of weeks ago, I sat on a stool, sharing back and forth about lives on different continents, from different cultures.  As I sat and chatted with Mariah, 6 year old Alberta quietly outfitted each of my fingers with a playdough ring, and made a big playdough bracelet for around my wrist.
At 47, Mariah is a beautiful godly woman.  She is married to a man who works in "agriculture" in Liberia.  They grow at least 6 different crops that she listed off for me (corn, peanuts, cassava etc) as we compared what plants grew in Canada to what grows in Liberia.  She has 5 children and 3 grandchildren.  Her children range from 24 to 13, and they miss her. 
You see, she travelled here with her granddaughter, who also lives with her and her husband, for a solution that they had been praying for for over a year.
Back in Dec 2009, on an evening like any other, they were deep frying some plantains after the children had gone to bed.  Alberta got up and wandered over to the pot, groggy and sleepy, the boiling oil ended up spilled down one side of the 4 year old's body, and catching flames from the open fire.  Taking Alberta to the closest clinic, they ended up frustrated at the lack of care.  The hospital they finally took her to had minimal resources, definitely no physio therapy.  So even though the wounds healed... she was left with a problem:
  Months of treatment with "lotions", but now... now her left arm was fused to her body.  They searched and prayed for someone who could help them.  According to Mariah, the children that were Alberta's friends "abused her and laughed at her."  Finally, someone they talked to put them in contact with surgeons from the Africa Mercy who agreed that they could help her with surgery.   A local organization that Mariah helps out with got together and raised money to send her and Alberta to Sierra Leone for surgery.  And finally, in May of this year they arrived to the ship. 
The surgery went well, and her newly released arm is now functional again.  Sadly, the place where they had to take the skin from to fix her arm took much longer than normal to heal.  This extended healing time meant that the lovely Alberta became one of the most well-known and well loved residents of the ward.  Her laugh is contagious and she's one of those children that is everyone's friend.  Mariah told me that Alberta has always been one of those people that makes friends with everyone, just like her father and her grandfather.
There was one day where things were going well on my ward and I needed to chat with a nurse on the ward where Alberta was.  I went over there and was standing and talking to my friend (who was sitting), and Alberta was watching quietly for a couple of minutes.  Then she stood up off her stool and slowly dragged it across the room, shoved it behind my legs, and pushed me towards it.  As soon as I sat down, she climbed up on my lap and snuggled in. 
She doesn't need long to learn names, and when she notices people that she considers her friends (almost everyone) come into the room, she will yell out your name to come over and talk to her.  We attempted to put her on bedrest at one point, in hopes of getting things to heal faster.  The very first day, she was dancing the "waka-waka" dance on her bed.  When reminded that she was on bedrest, she told her nurse "but I'm on my bed!"  I think every nurse who met her was in love with her.
So when we realized her birthday was coming, we had to have a small celebration.  But the celebration took some planning.  African culture is about community and sharing, so we couldn't just do something for her, because that would not only upset the other patients but likely cause issues with jealousy.  So the day before, Noel, one of the nurses, baked cookies.  The day of Alberta's birthday, Sept 26th, I collected the cookies and brought them down to Alberta, who had the job of handing them out to all the other patients.  She was very sweet about it, in general.  But she is a 6 year old, and there was a movie playing (Madagascar), so she needed reminders to hand out cookies at times and not just stand staring at the TV!  Her favorite thing to hand out were the balloons we gave to the kids/adults who had had facial surgery and weren't allowed to eat.  She got really into it and was blowing up most of them! 
That night, we gathered on one of the outside decks and Noel brought her upstairs (which she often did to give her a little fresh air).  When we surprised her, she almost wouldn't come out.  Our social butterfly was suddenly shy!

We did get her to come outside and join us for a cupcake and small party, and after a little while, she was in her element once again.  She loves the camera and suddenly decided that she needed a picture with each and every person there. 

Mariah thanked all of us for the care and love they had received in their 4 months on ship, and left most of us tearing up at the greatfulness to the staff and to God.  In the end, I think the best news is that Mariah and Alberta have gone home to Liberia, just this last week.  And Alberta told someone before she left that when she gets home, she will go to school "and swing my arm like THIS, and speak english to everyone!"

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