Some people have asked me about the process of how patients get to Mercy Ships so I decided to give an explanation of how the process works.
When Mercy Ships decides to go to a country for a field service an advanced team goes and assesses the need before the ship ever arrives. This team meets with the Department of Health and, with our core capabilities in mind, determines what programs we will have in that country.
Mercy Ships advertises through local churches, local hospitals and on the radio. A lot of our patients are also referred from doctors at missionary hospitals throughout Africa. The network of doctors working in Africa is pretty amazing---many of them from the US or Europe have been doing this work for a long time.
When the ship arrives in the country, the first order of business is screening. We hold massive screenings where hundreds, even thousands of people wait in long lines for their chance to see a doctor. Their hearts are filled with hope that they will get chosen for surgery because for many of them, free surgery on the Africa Mercy is the only way they will survive. Also, some have been waiting for years with the hope that the ship will come to their country. I have heard day volunteers talking about people they know in Sierra Leone that have been desperate for the ship to come back there. Lucky for them, we will be there in February 2011!
Screening days are extremely tough on the crew. Not only because they are very long, tedious days, but the reality is there will be many more ”nos” than “yeses.”
Once a patient makes it to see a doctor, they will assess the severity of the patient’s condition and if they can operate on them. If it is decided that yes, we can operate, they will be given an appointment card that tells them what date to come to the ship for surgery.
For patients who live far away we provide housing for them at the Hospitality Center. This is a government building that has been loaned to Mercy Ships for the field service. Each patient is allowed one caregiver to stay with them at all times—so it’s usually a parent or friend. For adults, sometimes it is their child. The caregiver and the patient are able to stay at the Hospitality Center before surgery if they travel a far distance to get here.
Patients are checked in as Pre Ops the night before surgery. They are given a bed on the hospital ward, and they will sleep here one night before their big day of surgery. The patients are given an IV that night, and for most of them, it’s the first time they have ever had blood drawn or a needle in their body, so they are pretty scared! They try and sleep a little before the next day when the Mercy Ships doctors will change their lives forever J
The next day they have their surgery. Other crewmembers are able to scrub in and watch surgeries if they want to. I hope I get to do this before I come home! They go into recovery until they are stable and feeling good enough to go back into the ward. Usually patients stay on the ship a couple days after surgery. Then, they are discharged from the hospital. If they live close by, they will go home. If not, they can stay at the Hospitality Center. They are given a Post Op appointment for a check up in a few days. Patients will come back routinely for post ops to get their dressings changed, stitches/staples pulled out and given meds to take home. The post op room is truly amazing how many patients they cycle through there each day!!
The post op doctors decide when its time to let the patient go for good. They are always told that they can come back to the ship if they are having any complications, however.
The surgeries will end at the end of July. We don’t perform surgeries up until the day we leave because need time to take care of the patients as they recover. On Aug. 15 the ship will sail to South Africa where it will be for 4 months getting a new generator. Then, in January 2011, the ship will sail to Sierra Leone for a 10-month outreach there.
So, I hope that description helps people understand the process here at Mercy Ships a little better!! Now, I’m off to watch the England/USA football match----GO USA!!!!!