Thursday, 6 September 2012

Screening in Guinea, 2012...

The Mercy Ships screening day was held at the People's Palace in Conakry this past Monday, 3rd September 2012. This important event is when we look for potential patients for our surgical slots throughout the next ten months. Screening day is advertised through radio, partner NGOs, churches, and other media. It usually attracts many people, numbering in the thousands. And when there are crowds of people, security is needed to ensure a calm and orderly situation.

I hadn't attended a Screening Day since Liberia 2008, and I decided that it was certainly time to get involved again! I signed up as a security team member and was one of the drivers for security. I also helped with crowd control - walking the lines and manning different entry points into the People's Palace. We started the day before Screening and covered the event's security - in collaboration with our Ship Security Team (our lovely Gurkhas), the local police and some marines from the US Embassy - throughout the duration of the Screening. I worked the 15h30 until 22h00 shift on Sunday, and then from 05h30 until 15h00 on Monday. It was a long two days!

Sunday was a relatively quiet night, but I had the honour of meeting our first potential patient, and getting him into the line (in position 1). He had arrived at around 19h30 and was prepared to spend the night waiting to see a surgeon to be scheduled for surgery onboard. He spoke very good English, and I talked to him as we walked from my position at the back of the venue, to the front of the line. It was quite exciting to look at his facial tumour and be pretty certain (from what I've seen of facial tumours over the last five years) that he would be one of those scheduled to receive a life-changing surgery. Of course, not being a medical person, I did not tell him this, but I was still pretty excited for him. By the time our shift pulled back to the ship, there were around fifteen people in line.

After a few hours of sleep, we headed back to the People's Palace where our team relieved the night shift. Candace also went early to the venue, as she was the Team Leader for the Max-Fax/Plastic's Physical station inside. My role on Monday was primarily crowd management, and we encountered much desperation as people tried to crowd their way to the front of the queue - especially outside the gate on the road. But despite having to tell people to move or to stop pushing, I was struck that all of this apparent desperation is fueled by genuine need and poverty - and also a very real hope. A hope that finally they will find acceptance and love and lasting healing. I saw many people with facial tumours, cleft lips, burn contractures, the flesh-eating disease Noma, and many others. I saw not only desperation, but also the hope in their faces. And it made my heart swell, for this is why we are here.  

I left the site at around 15h00 after a long day, but others - including Candace - only returned to the ship at 20h30 that night or later. By the time the last Mercy Ships Land Rover drove off, some 3,500 people had gone through the screening process. Praise God and thanks to all involved in the process, including patients themselves, that it was a calm, orderly day and was filled with God's love and healing. My prayer is that all those who were there - not only those who received prized patient cards - will receive spiritual healing through God's love shown at Screening and throughout the next ten months here in Guinea. To God be the glory. 

All photos here were taken by Debra Bell and Michelle Murrey, the official Mercy Ships photographers at the event. Here are some more photos thanks to our Communications team:

 The line outside the screening venue - it went almost 1 km along that road! I was based out here for much of the morning, wearing a bright yellow vest.
 The children were kept entertained with games and chalk drawing.
 Joy is in the eyes of this young girl...
 And in the demeanour of this old man.
 Patient history is taken inside the building.
 Our doctors examine potential patients...
 And nurses take blood pressure and pulse rates.
 Very small, under-nourished cleft-lip baby.
 Children, no matter where they're from, are always huge fans of bubbles!

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