This week I’ve had writer’s block. I’ve stared at a blank screen more hours than I care to admit, ashamed that it reflects what’s on my mind when I finally have a minute to think. Sometimes everything is a lot to write, and anything is too much to tell, so nothing can be said.
I even bothered to save a blank document. “Untitled,” my MacBook decided. Untitled. “Obsolete, not named, no title or right to rule,” per Merriam Webster Dictionary. I googled “untitled,” to give you an idea of how bad things were. And this word- untitled- annoyed me. A blank document has so much potential; so many stories to be told, truths to be shared, and ideas to be put down.
And for some reason, I thought of my patients. I’m not allowed to tell their names or stories without special written permission because of patient privacy acts. They’re “untitled” to you. But they are not obsolete. They have names. Rights. Stories. Truths. Ideas. So today, I want to share with you those patients and their families who gave permission for their cases to be told, and the thousands of people they represent.
Yaya was only 27 years old when she came to Mercy Ships for surgery. She had a facial tumor that had been growing for eight years. Untreated, the tumor would have soon killed her, invading her airway until she suffocated. Unfortunately, the size and type of her tumor isn’t unique. We treat similar patients onboard the Africa Mercy often. People with premature death sentences, who are treated as cursed or outcasts simply because they don’t have access to timely, safe, and affordable medical care. That was Yaya’s story. But hers has been rewritten. Her truth now, as she sees it? “I am beautiful.”
Eleven-year-old Justine suffered from severely bowed legs. She was carried up the gangway to her ward for surgery. Like hundreds of other children with bowed legs, she had trouble keeping up, and risked becoming isolated because of her leg deformities. Many children don’t finish school, and can have trouble finding jobs later in life simply because of the stigma attached to being “different.” Justine has a right to a normal, healthy childhood. And after having a procedure that takes less than two hours, she’s standing taller. What she wants you to know? “There’s nothing I can’t do.”
Baby Samsdine was born with a cleft lip and palate, making it difficult for him to feed properly. Severely malnourished, he also suffered from bouts of malaria, making his chances of ever becoming healthy and thriving nearly impossible. After two simple procedures to fix his lip and palate, though, Samsdine’s chances have changed. The dramatic transformation in him is what we see in all of the babies who come through Mercy Ships for treatment of this condition. He’s fatter and healthier, and his story just is beginning.
Ernest, 27, had a large facial tumor removed. “…my life was already over. Now I have everything in front of me.”
Ulrich, 12, had legs that literally bent backwards. “Before, people would just stare at me in the street and label me a handicap. Now, they will look again!”
Adiza, 63, had a nearly 5-pound goiter removed. Untreated, it had grown for forty years, slowly wrapping around her trachea. Her daughter loves the change in Adiza. “Now, she can breathe. She feels lighter.”
I may not be able to tell you everything about everyone. Everything is a lot. Everyone is too many. But they can’t be left untitled. I could tell you about the tumors, the cataracts, the bone deformities, the burn contractures, the fistulas, etc. that we treat onboard Mercy Ships. But we’ve made those things obsolete. They’re erased. What I want is for you to remember Yaya. Justine. Samsdine. Ernest. Ulrich. Adiza. Save their names to your memory. Because they have the bravest stories, the best truths, and the most inspiring ideas. They define hope, determination, restoration, and true beauty.