This is a week of “Very Important People” visiting the ship. Yesterday, the president of Sierra Leone visited the Africa Mercy and he addressed the crew who wanted to hear him. The Vice-President and the Minister of Health were also here. As is often the case based on my past experiences with other heads of state visiting the ship, the President arrived three hours later than originally scheduled. I did make rounds on the hospital ward shortly after it was announced that he had left the premises. The president had shaken hands with my two post-operative patients (age 8 and age 13) in the ward. They were truly excited – as well they should have been.
Having such dignitaries here certainly interferes with the usual ship routine. We had to pack lunches yesterday because we couldn’t have the cafeteria open during his scheduled visit time and we could neither go by reception nor use half of the mid-ships lounge. That eliminated our usual traffic patterns to get about the ship. Additionally, this weekend is the visit by the international board of trustees for Mercy Ship who are holding one of their business meetings on the ship. That generates a lot of fuss and bother. We have to pack lunches today and tomorrow as well (as we usually do on the weekends) but we only have 30 minutes for supper tonight because of some special meeting at 7:00 PM. On the plus side, I have noticed over the years that the food seems to pick up considerably in quality while they are there. There is one truly special experience for me in all of this. Lord Ian McColl, the retired head of surgery at Guys Hospital in London and now a Lord in the English House of Lords, is here. I always enjoy my short visits with him. I have mentioned him several times since 2001 in these newsletters. He is such a class act and a true gentleman. I have invited him to scrub with the PAACS resident on Monday and I hope that he can find time to join us before he returns to England early next week. This morning, I also had the chance to have an informal conversation with the chairman of the Mercy Ship board and a couple of the members and to tell them in detail about PAACS and the surgical situation in Africa. I took the opportunity to thank them for Mercy Ship’s involvement with this training rotation.
We were also very pleased to have Glenn Strauss and his wife, Kim, come back on the very same flight that brought most of the trustees. Glenn is a superb ophthalmologist who is now working on a computerized system to teach open cataract techniques. He is back on the ship for the next month. The eye case load will jump from less than a handful a day to 35 or so a day. We always enjoy our long, and rambling, conversations which attempt to fix everything wrong in the world.
There have been even more visitors this week. There was a Dutch vision team here early this week and throughout the week, there has been an accreditation team present as well. This week has been a crucial one for the academy on board. They have been undergoing an accreditation visit by one of the organizations that accredit Christian schools and they have put in a huge amount of work in preparation. The academy also used our spare bedroom as a closet so they could “neaten up” their workspaces. We were pleased to hear yesterday that they have been recommended for full, dual accreditation for all grades.
This week, a main water main in the town of Freetown broke and the ship was caught without adequate water supplies. We received the usual speech on the loudspeaker system about conserving water – paper plates and plastic utensils in the cafeteria, no laundry access for the crew, no hot water at all, very brief cold ship showers (get wet, shut the water off, soap up, rinse) and limited flushing. Sean was totally grossed out by the advice from the captain, “If it’s yellow, let it mellow; if it’s brown, flush it down.” I suggested the old “save water; shower with a friend” but that was shot down, at least as a general policy. We were all set psychologically for a several-day malodorous experience. However, much to everyone’s delight, they were able to fix the problem in town by the next day and we escaped the worst. Micky immediately did our laundry to make sure we were not caught short of clothes again.
This week has been rather slow for us from a surgical standpoint. They are short of nurses on the ward, and we (the resident, Philadelphie Dembele, and I) have only done 25 cases, about 60% or less of our general surgical capability. I understand that it will not improve this coming week and do not know beyond that. The nice thing is that we have been done by lunch on most days. Sure seems a shame, however, to have this expensive platform and not use it maximally. We did have our scheduled surgical topical lecture on Monday night and our PAACS Bible study on Hebrews on Tuesday. The residents are enjoying their time on board and learning a lot.
The break in the OR schedule did come at a convenient time for me, however. We were in the process of getting our PAACS annual exam in final form and so I could spend about 20 hours this week doing the final editing, formatting and analyzing. It has been sent to two of our missionary surgeons for their impressions and then it will be ready (after any last-minute tweaking) to send out to all the program directors. It is nice to have that task behind us.
I received an e-mail today reporting that the PAACS program in Cameroon was favorably looked upon by the Minister of Health and he forwarded it to the Ministry of Education with the recommendation that it be approved. That would be a great boon if it were to happen. God’s hand remains on PAACS.
Speaking of PAACS, I realized recently that I have been the CEO for five years now. I thought it was fitting to write a brief summary of what has happened in the interim and I published it the May PAACS Bulletin. The five years have been a very short and a very long time – it has certainly been an interesting ride. God is good and He is faithful. I made an interesting chart, comparing the last full year before I became CEO and this past year (duplicated below). Please be aware that I do not take the credit – it has been the work of others: all of the Commission members, those fantastic program directors and residents, plus thousands of days of work by the short-term faculty.
- Pray for the residents and me as we continue to serve. Pray that we will be a testimony of Christ’s love and goodness to the patients and to the crew.
- Pray that the Ministry of Education in Cameroon will approve the training program at Mbingo Baptist Hospital. Pray also that the report submitted by Soddo Christian Hospital to the Ethiopian authorities will be found satisfactory. Pray that the similar process in Gabon will gain traction.
- Please pray that sufficient nurses will come to the ship to allow us to regain full production of cases.
- Please continue to pray for my father’s health and for my mother who is carrying the load. His bladder cytology has turned positive again, his neurologic deficit has yet to improve, he has again lapsed in to mild congestive heart failure and he is tired of all the problems.
- Please pray for my (Bruce’s) daughter Bethany as she returns to school for a mini-semester during the month of June. This is a big step for her and an answer to our fervent prayer on her behalf. Please keep her in prayer during this month. Daily, if you would. This is a father’s heart asking you to intercede for her.
Yours, for the people of Africa,
Bruce for Micky and Sean