January 13, 2016

Mercy Ships: A Healing Touch

international travel nursing on medical mission

Mercy Ships nurse with a patient in pink with a hatOne morning at 6 a.m., a patient of ours noticed that I looked very tired. This was correct since I had just worked a 12-hour night shift. She then came over and proceeded to give me a 20-minute back massage, right up to the time when we heard the car with the day shift crew pull up at the clinic. She put her arm around me and walked me to the staff break room where we give report and told me, “Sleep well, Hannah!”

For a time this became our standard early morning routine; 20-minute back massage, walk together, say goodnight. I loved it and very much looked forward to it.

Then the time came for her to go home. The evening she departed, I said goodbye and wished her safe travels. Later, when I came into work Monday morning the night shift charge nurse told me this patient refused to leave until she saw me one last time. When I went into the ward, she was all packed up and ready to go. Her face lit up when she saw me. She came running over and told me (via translator) that she waited to leave until I came in so she could tell me thank you for the pictures (we had printed a few pictures for each patient to take home a few days earlier). She then thanked me again for everything I did for her, kissed me, and was on her way.

I hope Angeline made it home safe that day. I wish this for all of our patients. It’s hard to say goodbye when you develop such a close, affectionate relationship with a patient. It’s especially hard knowing we’re sending these patients off on a long journey home that for many, consists of hours of walking, and/or hours of bus, car, or boat rides. In addition to this, we know that nearly all of our patients return to communities that are plagued by chronic poverty, malnutrition, and lack of medical care. We did our best to care for them while they were with us, but we can’t sustain it in their daily lives once they left us.

I find it difficult not knowing whether our patients make it home safely or not. It’s like a story with a missing ending. I’ve accepted the fact that I’ll never truly know what happens to our patients once they go home. I’ve realized in the end, that we, as medical staff, have done our best. Ultimately, we’ve impacted their lives for the better and done the best we could for the short time they are with us. We have touched their lives and they have touched ours.

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.