It's been good returning to Liberia and looking up friends from last time - I'm full of admiration for the people who've remained here all the time I've been back at home; it seems such a long time. However, the ship stops operating mid-December and normally sails to Tenerife where repairs are carried out. The volunteers then have a well-deserved break until sometime in January, when Africa Mercy sails on to wherever she is next operating.
An American nurse, Naomi, has headed up the eye team all the time I've been involved, and is here until next June. She's doing a fantastic job; she isn't eye trained, but takes into consideration all the necessary factors when planning how many operations we should plan for each surgeon, clinics etc. Surgeons work at different speeds; the surgeon I worked with last year is FAST - about 14 operations per day. Him and a British surgeon arrive on 5th October. Since Glenn is a fast surgeon he can get us up to date with surgery before the ship stops operating mid- November.
However, surgery isn't the only type of work performed by the eye team. To prepare the patients for surgery their blood pressure needs to be stable and we need to measure their eyes for the correct strength of plastic lens they will have inserted into the gap from which their opaque lens was removed. We currently have days planned where 40 patients at a time come to the ship to have these measurements performed; however, some patients will have to have this done on the day of operation as there are too many to book in on previous days.
The outreach clinics are the means of screening patients who require surgery, but of course, we see patients with medical eye problems. News travels fast, and anyone with a bad eye attends, the queues have not become any shorter! We also screen patients for 3 other types of surgery apart from cataract, some of which require general anaesthetic.
Clinic days are still every day but Tuesday - on this day we fit artificial eyes for people who've had painful, blind eyes removed. Unfortunately, we're now running out of artificial eyes, so we can only remove the eye if the patient doesn't mind having an empty socket. I think I'd prefer that to a painful, blind eye.
Clinics run from 7.30am to when we finish, around 2 or 3pm. Translators have been trained in eye health care, and will go on to be trained as Community Health Educators next year, as per one of the Millenium Development Goals (World Health Organisation) which most Western governments have signed up to. Vision 2020's optiimistic goal is to drastically reduce world blindness by that year.
There have been changes in some clinic locations since I was last here; the New Kru Town clinic was at a local hospital, but corruption was present in the form of officials taking bribes to allow patients to queue. That clinic is now held in a local Church. I was there last Friday, and went along when we'd finished with the translators for a cooked lunch (costing 50p) in a little room just off the Church. I couldn't help being reminded of the WRVS counters in a UK hospital, though the fare was very different! I opted for 'fufu' - a VERY spicy fish soup with a 'mold' of pounded cassaver root. It had the unexpected effect of clearing my nasal passages, which I didn't know needed clearing!
Back to the clinics, which is where I'll be most of the time I'm here as I'm in the field team - 2 of the eyecare translators, trained in basic eye health 'see' patients, along with an eye technician from the States, and myself.
Prayer has been answered - THANK YOU-in that we do have someone in each clinic to pray with each person we can't help. Another service we offer is that Rosie, another US nurse, gives out reading and dark glasses to people requiring them.
Time for my supper, so signing off now!