I have been aboard the Africa Mercy for six weeks, long enough to adapt to the pattern of life on the ship and to understand the daily routines of the hospital on board.
By Sandy Hewitt BSc.Phm.
Only six weeks in, and already I am taking on the role of senior pharmacist. Thankfully, there is a pharmacist as well as procurement staff to answer my questions back at the International Operations Centre in Lindale, Texas.
Surgeries on the Africa Mercy fall into six programs: maxillofacial, plastic/reconstructive, orthopedic, women’s health, general and eye surgeries. Some programs run for the entire field service and some are limited to a number of weeks when a surgeon with that expertise is available to be on the ship.
Currently, we just finished our orthopedic surgeries. I will miss seeing the little kids learning to walk with their little walkers down the hallways just days after surgery to fix club feet, bowed legs and knock knees. With the hospital as compact as it is, we can often see and hear our patients, even when we aren’t on the wards! These little kids are so resilient. Considering the major surgeries that are being done, they are on their feet within a day or two and need analgesics for a comparatively small period of time. I am amazed at how quickly they are off narcotic analgesics and on to Acetaminophen and Ibuprofen.
It has become quiet on the wards since Christmas is so near. Many of the short-term crew have gone home after serving a few weeks to months on board. Many of the long-term crew have taken some well-deserved vacation time to visit family. A small number of surgeries are still scheduled so some wards will remain open to care for patients post-operatively, but the majority of the crew will enjoy a few days off over Christmas.
Mercy Ships does a very good job of celebrating Christmas and because the crew is multinational, we experience many different traditions. My days are filled with caring for the pharmaceutical needs of our patients and my evenings filled with Sinterklaas (Netherlands), St. Lucia (Finland), Lefse (Norway), Christmas concerts, dramas, carol singing, and even a gingerbread house decorating contest! I will enjoy as much as possible, since we will be apart from our kids for our first Christmas. January will come all too soon and with it, many more changes. Change is the one thing around here that doesn’t change!
Sandy Hewitt will be blogging regularly on PharmacyU.ca about her experiences as a pharmacist on the Africa Mercy ship.