Medical-LiveIamA Nurse who just spent 3 months aboard the world's largest civilian hospital ship... AMA!
May 22nd 2017 by StarGateGeek • 26 Questions • 711 Points
I'm a 27 yo RN from Canada, and just returned from my 2nd tour volunteering aboard the M/V Africa Mercy in the West African country of Benin. The AFM as we call her is the largest ship of her kind outside of military hospital vessels, and is operated by Mercy Ships, an international NGO focused on providing free, safe, high quality healthcare to some of the poorest countries in the world. All of the 400+ volunteers from around the world are paying their own way to be there.
During this past field service in Benin, over 1700 patients received surgery on board, 1800 local professionals received training and mentoring, and over 6000 dental patients were seen.
My job on the patient wards involved prepping our patients for surgery (including a lot of teaching about how things will be done and what to expect), and caring for them after they've recovered from anaesthesia, until they're well enough to return home. I mainly worked with hernia and soft-tissue tumor patients, but my MVP's (most valued patients) were women we treated for Obstetric Fistula. This condition is relatively unheard of in western countries, but affects millions of women worldwide. Lengthy, obstructed labor often leads to a still birth, and on top of that chronic incontinence, which in turn leads to a cycle of shame, ostracism, and emotional pain. I've never met more brave, beautiful, and inspiring women than in my time working with fistula patients.
Ask me anything!
My Proof: http://i.imgur.com/1Wi6B7s.jpg
EDIT: Hey folks! Thanks for all the great questions!
I'm going to take a little break for lunch, and try to get some unpacking done. :/
I'll be back around 1PM EDT.
Edit 2: Forgot my disclaimer.
Although I am currently serving with Mercy Ships, everything communicated here strictly reflects my personal opinions and is neither reviewed nor endorsed by Mercy Ships. Opinions, conclusions and other information expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of Mercy Ships.
Edit 3: Thanks everyone for all the interest and fantastic questions!
I'll continue to answer questions if more come in, but before it gets too late I want to remind people about the Day to End Fistula tomorrow. Spread the word!
Also, keep an eye out on the NatGeo Channel for their documentary filmed last fall, The Surgery Ship. It's out in Australia, and some parts of Europe...no word yet on when it will air in North America.
You're a wonderful person for doing this ! How were you recruited for this and how was your employer during your absence ?
I feel lucky for the chance! It's the most positive and patient-focused work environment I've ever been in. It really doesn't feel like work at all.
My employer has been, fortunately, very flexible and willing to give me a leave of absence when I've requested it.
EDIT: Ah, and as for recruiting, my dad actually saw a documentary about Mercy Ships back when I was in University still...sent me a message saying, "Hey, so, you need to do this."
I looked into it, and ever since then had been working towards having the experience and financial stability to pull it off.
Double edit: Just noticed my blatant missed opportunity for a Benin pun.
Do you have a weird fascination with veins like my RN girlfriend does?
Baahahah I definitely do.
Wow, you are just as inspirational as those women you helped. What is one great thing you learned from these women, and how do you look at life differently after this experience?
I learned the power of community. Most of our patients come to the ship looking apprehensive, quiet, and ashamed. Within minutes of arriving, though, the patient on the next bed over will be sharing their story, explaining what all the weird gizmos on the wall do, and how to use the toilet. The camaraderie that develops between our patients is incredible, and that accepting, supportive community around them does more to heal them than the physical repair ever could.
But this doesn't make sense? I thought they needed staff to work the ship?
All the crew are volunteers, and we all pay crew fees to cover the costs of our accommodation and food.
There are precautions, screening, and protocols in place to protect the ship from infectious diseases, absolutely. The last two field services were in Madagascar because the risk of Ebola was too high in the countries in West Africa, and a ship is like a little powder keg of infection waiting to explode if anything got on board.
There are also reasonable precautions you can take to keep yourself safe. Wear modest clothes, avoid certain areas, never go out alone, don't go out at night often, and if you do only in large groups. I can't speak to Liberia specifically as I've not been there, but these are generally good rules of thumb to follow.