January 29, 2015

Mercy Ships: Ending My Time in Madagascar

international travel nursing on medical mission

1/29/2015 –

I’m now in my final days aboard the Africa Mercy, and I find myself struggling with what to write. There are so many thoughts, feelings, and emotions going through me as this amazing journey ends and I say goodbye to friends and patients for which I have come to care deeply. It’s hard to believe that 10 weeks have already passed.

When I think about my time on Mercy Ships, there are only a few things I won’t miss. This short list includes sharing such a small space and only one shower with five other women and having to avoid the GI sickness that has been passed around (I’m writing this in a conference room by myself because one of my roommates just came back to the bunk with GI symptoms – I hightailed it out of there fast!) and having the same meals prepared for me at the same times each week. I love to cook and create new recipes in the kitchen, so I definitely won’t miss the routine and repetition of mealtimes here.

The list of things I will miss is much longer. I have loved getting up in the mornings before the sun rises and watching the fisherman start bringing in their catches while I run or walk. When I have run, it has mostly been alone and it is my time to talk with God. When I walked, it has been a time of fellowship with friends. It’s the time we use to sort through our own struggles, praise what is good in our lives, and get exercise all at the same time. Multi-tasking is a must for ICU nurses!

I will miss my “shop ladies” at Bazaar Be. I have taken a friend of mine, Lizzie, with me a few times so she can check up on “my baby” after I leave. I have watched this little boy grow so much over the last 10 weeks! When I met him my first week, he couldn’t focus his eyes at all, but now he coos, babbles, tracks and smiles all the time! I will miss him and I know that his momma will remember “the blonde nurse from Mercy Ships” who came to visit him every week.

I will also miss the sounds of the tuk tuk carts that zip up and down the roads, narrowly missing the pousse pousse drivers and pedestrians. Driving in Tomatave takes a certain amount of courage one can only appreciate if you’ve been a passenger in either mode of transportation. There’s also the sound of the roosters that start crowing at the crack of dawn – I have given up listening to music lately just to hear the sounds of the city waking itself up. And I will definitely miss the year-round warm weather. I promised my recruiter, Donna, that next winter I would take some “cold location” assignments, so this time next year will look very different!

Lastly, and this is the hardest part to write, I will miss my patients. I have nursed these patients in a very different way than I have ever done before. We joke that one is truly a “Mercy Ships nurse” when you have painted finger nails, played Jenga and blown thousands upon thousands of bubbles (part of our cleft lip/cleft palate patients’ therapy). I will miss being “Momma Lee” to young patients who don’t want to eat their food and getting them to clean their plates. I will miss comforting patients in English, Malagasy and the universal language of touch before they go into surgery, and I will miss seeing the bright smiles at the outcome of a multiple surgical procedure.

I’m thankful for the help and support of so many during this adventure. First, I’m thankful for TNAA, whose generosity helped this dream come to life. I’m also thankful for the support of my friends back home who have lifted me up in so many ways, through donations, cards and kind words. Thank you to my dear friends, Ron and Linda, for taking such wonderful care of my pup, Riley. And for all the prayers I’ve received from people I don’t know around the country, thank you!

And thank you for letting me share what has been my life for the last 10 weeks. I will post a short follow-up blog when I finally land at “home.” I will be back in Arkansas for my next assignment. I usually don’t do “repeat” assignments, but I wanted to see my TNAA family and as a travel nurse, I can highly recommend Arkansas Children’s Hospital for those of you who are uncertain where you might want to work next.


Lee 🙂

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.