October 10, 2016

Mercy Ships: And 3, 2, 1...GO.

international travel nursing on medical mission

Jill on Her First Day of Travel!

8,139 miles, 19.5 hours, 4 countries, 3 continents, and one weird turkey meatloaf airplane meal later… I’ve arrived!

I’ve hit the ground running here in Benin. I threw my bags down, had a photo snapped for my I.D. card (with that fabulous jet-lagged, deer-in-the-headlights look), filled out paperwork, and was handed the keys to my cabin, which I share with four other lovely ladies.

Now, let me be honest – I’ve struggled with what to share. There’s so much. How do I explain what I’ve just stepped into? It’s a different world here, and one I’ve already come to love. Let’s cover the basics first. Mercy Ships is the world’s largest civilian hospital ship providing state-of-the-art care to those in desperate need, free of charge. In Africa, there are only 2.5 physicians per 10,000 people. (Compare that to Europe, where the ratio is 33.3 to 10,000.) In addition, 50% of the world’s population lives

The Welcome Package on Jill's Bunk

within 100 miles of the coast. A ship allows the freedom to bring a hospital – stocked, staffed, and state-of-the-art – straight to areas of desperate need. Thousands of people come to the screenings when Mercy Ships arrives, waiting for hours to be seen.

And, this ship is run solely by volunteers from all over the world. In the operating room alone I’ve had the privilege to work with professionals from Holland, Germany, Ireland, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Benin. On Tuesday the staff had worship and Bible study in the hallway of the OR before the day began. Imagine, all of those medical professionals from so many nationalities worshiping and praying together. It was breathtaking.

A Photo of the OR from the Mercy Ships Website

Right now the OR is working three different services: plastics (but definitely not things like facelifts and Botox), maxillofacial, and general. This week I started in maxillofacial. I’m able to watch faces transform before my eyes. A baby can come in with a cleft lip, and come out beautifully whole again. One young woman came in to have what was essentially a large tumor removed from her face. After her surgery, I overheard the ward nurse say “Her youngest child is 7, and that child has never known her mother without that facial tumor. Imagine when she sees her now!” Imagine. A tumor that was growing unchecked for years, and would have killed her either from malnutrition or suffocation, was taken away in just a few hours. Surgery not only restored her appearance, it restored her hope. This is why I am here, and I am so humbled and privileged to be a small part of what is happening.

I can’t wait to take y’all on this journey with me. More later!

In May 2014, Travel Nurse Across America (TNAA) announced a partnership with Mercy Ships, as part of its ongoing philanthropic activities. TNAA sponsored four nurses to volunteer on a healthcare delivery mission in Africa. Mercy Ships, a global charity organization, uses ships – floating hospitals – to provide free surgery and dental care in impoverished countries. Mercy Ships has been in operation since 1978. The nurses sponsored by TNAA worked for eight weeks each on the African mercy ship docked in Cotonou, Benin. Follow the TNAA blog for Mercy Ships updates.