With a rush of excitement of hearing the news that the Pacific Hope M/V had arrived in Vila harbour, I raced into town, coming up and over the hill, looking down from the top I saw her sitting there in the early morning sun on a crystal calm day. Words simply can not describe the wave of emotion that swept over me , just knowing that she was finally here. It was based in the outer islands of Fiji for one month before arriving here. It has been two years since Marine Reach brought the ship in Japan and started the massive job of completely stripping and refitting the entire ship, transforming it from a commercial fishing boat to a medical mercy ship with an on board medical clinic, a conference room and having the capability of hosting 60 people on board.
We set sail late on Sunday afternoon traveling over night and arriving to Lamumbu Bay in Malekula about 13 hours north of Vila. All 51 medical staff, ship crew and volunteers got shuttled on small outboard boats to the beach we were greeted by many excited locals. They honoured us with alays (flower necklaces) and songs! Such a precious moment. After, all the primary health care and optometry teams climbed on to a massive trailer on the back of a tracker and headed 30 minutes through the cocoa plantations and jungle into the Lambumbu station. We spent two weeks in this beautiful village with one day in the capital, Lakatoro. I was a part of the primary health care team, made up of five nurses, two doctors, one physio and our wonderful translators. We diagnosed and treated 745 patients in ten days. It was an incredible time, working as a united team and achieving what we did. Some days we had over 200 people waiting from 7:30am, some people walked over 5 hours to come see us, others slept outside or on the concrete, waiting up to 16 hours to get their children seen. The most common illnesses we treated was systemic skin infections, ear and chest infections, high blood pressure and blood sugar levels, also back and knee pains.
I was working in the pharmacy and doing nurse consults. The triage team had seen a woman with hand numbness. At the time I had no translator and was trying my best at Bislama (broken English). We had been chatting for a while and I’d been asking questions about the onset and the duration. Feeling puzzled with her answers, it only at night with sudden shooting pains in her hand every morning, I finally asked her how she slept. She showed me, she put her hand on her cheek and rested her head on the table. Suddenly I understood it was numb not because of any illness rather that she had cut off circulation to her hand by sleeping on it, making it numb. With failing Bislama I awkwardly explained that her hand was going to sleep, then waking up, causing both the numbness and shoot pains! This was one of my favorite consults, she was such a beautiful mumma, who just started laughing when I was telling her other ways to sleep. I think she thought I was crazy!
During our 10 days of clinics, including the optometry and dental teams we saw 1696 patients! It was an incredibly amazing time of stretching for me. Finally nursing in Vanuatu, learning more of the language (Bislama) and being pushed to think outside of the box for treatments of illnesses when the usual medicines were not available. It was a great time to work with greatly experienced nurses and learn from them. As for going to Epi, I was the most experienced nurse out of two of us with a much smaller primary health care team.
The dental team had an incredible time in Epi, our second outreach, with one dentist and two non experienced dental assistants. They saw a whopping 90 patients in 5 days. Every morning while waiting for dental patients to be picked up from the shore, they would have a devotion time. On the last day in Epi they were really praying that all the right people would make it, the ones who desperately needed the dental attention. Their last patient of the day was an 8 year old girl, who’s mother had heard that there was a dental clinic running in Lamen Bay. Without a second thought, costing a small fortune, she charted a boat for 5 hours each way to bring her daughter in the hope she would be able to be seen. Many, many patients were on the shore waiting to be triaged to get a ticket to the dental clinic. They saw this girl, and all the patients who were waiting pushed this girl to the front of the queue before themselves and their own needs. The girl and her mother, with the last ticket, climbed onto the runner boat and were taken across to the ship. When the team were assessing the girl, her mother told the story of how for two years she watched her daughter cry her self to sleep in agony. Without being able to do anything, the mother would cry herself to sleep also. The girl had a tooth so rotten that it was completely eroded out on the inside and created a large abscess that had worked its way right through her jaw and out of her chin. This was the kind of patient that the team had prayed for that very morning. They were able to remove the remains of the tooth and gave antibiotics which would now heal the abscess and relieve her of all the pain and suffering. The mothers daily prayer for years was answered that day as she saw the freedom her daughter could now walk in. The team was able to spend time praying with the patient and her mother, encouraging her mother, saying what an amazing women she was to sacrifice so much putting her daughter needs above all else.
A similar story happened to us on the primary health care team on our last day in Epi. We set up for the last time in a class room hall and joined in prayer reminding ourselves to keep pushing through although we were all hot and exhausted. We reminded ourselves that although each patient is called out from the crowd by a number given through triage, they are not just another number, but that one number represented the one medical professional that they would be able to see, maybe for the first or last time in their lives. That that number they held would be a chance to get treatment for a skin disease or a chronic infection. To get a physio lesson to strengthen their aching backs and knees, and to be treated with love and grace by someone who cared enough to listen to their story, their pain, their suffering and sacrifice so that they could put food on their table for their family. We still had some patients triaged from the day before that had not been seen by a doctor or nurse yet. One was a young high school student, that had a raging foot infection, making him unable to walk, and giving him intermittent high fevers. A guy on our team noticed that he wasn’t there and walked down to the boarding school, asking around for the boy. When he found him he was lying in such pain, unable to get up. Two of his friends bent down and picked him off the floor and carried him all the way up to the clinic. He was the last patient to be seen that day. He had his wounds cleaned and dressed, was given strong pain relief and antibiotics that would clear up this chronic infection within 10 days. It was so amazing that we were able to find him and treat him as he was in such great need for care.
Over all three islands, Malekula, Lamen and Epi we saw so many people who were in need of desperate care and were able to receive the level of care and attention they so deserved. It was an incredibly humbling time for all the people involved, and I know I have walked away so blessed and honoured to be a part of this. Including working alongside fifty selfless and inspiring crew, staff and health care providers. I am very much looking forward to meeting the new members of the next team heading up to Ambrym for another two week medical outreach.
Thank you for all your thoughts and prayers once again. Without these I would not be able to do what I am doing here,