hello all, i am alive!
tonight we are celebrating an early cinco-de-mayo, then I’m starting the glorious part of the trip… editing! I’m quite behind on the blog so tomorrow will be blogging day! stand-by for silly stories and such!
Sadly I don’t have much to say about today. I spent most of the day editing and getting images done from the weekend for FOCOS PR. I got to play with the kids in the morning though, so heres all the fun we were having!!!
MONKEY MONKEY MONKEY! I had the craziest day! We drove 3 hours on a tour bus to the Volta Region to Tafi Atome Monkey Sanctuary. It was a tough but gorgeous drive, with a scenic route past Volta Lake. Our guide, Maxwell, is the best at these tours. He is from Ghana but has been working as a tour guide in the US. He is the over-all BA for FOCOS; taking us on tours, showing us the open-air market, telling us all about the region, shopping for souvenirs and bringing them to the guest house in case we can’t go out to shop, and just keeping us all entertained! He told us all about the history of the area, we discussed some politics, and enjoyed the scenery.
When we got there we parked and started into the forest. It felt more like a jungle, with mountains in the background. we hiked a little with our tour guide who was making weird noises. she then took bananas out of a bag and they just showed up out of nowhere! The monkeys starting jumping off the trees and climbed up to steal the bananas! it was such a fun experience, i wanted to stay forever!
We drove back and quickly drove by the Volta Lake. Sadly we had to hurry back to make sure my dad and Diana made their flight. Rena and I went for dinner and headed to back!!
Back to the hospital tomorrow to start FOCOS FRENZY week 2! I can’t wait to see all the patients up and about and having fun!
Saturday was quite an exciting day for all! It was the grand opening of the FOCOS Hospital in which we’ve been working all week. People have been arriving all week to get a tour of the facilities and see the team at work. This was a culmination of months and months of handwork and it all paid off! it was a wonderful ceremony and day.
I did some quick rounds with the doctors just to see the kiddos, who were doing amazing! then I changed into my new dress and headed outside. The parking area had been transformed with huge tents and there was music being played by the drummers with the Legon Dance Ensemble. The sun was quite high and intense today, and sadly my sunscreen just sweat right off. I kept photographing like a ninja though, and it was great! The crowd was made up of FOCOS volunteers, the Hospital staff, VIPs and Benefactors, the former Ghanaian president, J.A. Kuffuor’s wife, the Minister of Health Hon. Alban S.K. Bagbin, chiefs from tribes in the area, and other’s interested in celebrating a wonderful cause. There were also remarks from Chairman of FOCOS Ghana Ambassador Fritz K. Poku, Executive Vice President of HSS in New York Deborah Sale, the CEO of K2M Medical Corporation Eric Major, and an address by Dr. Boachie. There was also an amazing cultural dance display by the Legon Dance Ensemble, which was just incredible because of the exhausting heat.
By the end I had incredible pictures, a wicked sunburn, and possible sun-stroke. I hope it will turn into a wicked tan soon though! I’ll be the only one coming back who LOOKS like they went to Africa!
We just finished with a celebratory party at Dr. B’s house! There was dancing, traditional music and stories, a fashion show, delicious food, and more dancing! I’m totally exhausted though, so off to bed for me! Tomorrow we will be all doing our own thing, a “day off” for most people. Theres a bunch going on a trip to the Cape Coast, where I went last trip. Some are heading to the hospital to do rounds and organizing some inventory. I will be heading to the Volta Region which is north of Ghana to a monkey sanctuary and then driving past Volta Lake!
Lots and Lots of pictures from today!
I started off in a wonderful mood playing with my babies! The kids were starting to be more energetic a few days after surgery so we got to have more fun! most of them are taking small walks and being crazy. A has been out of bed almost all the day to visit all his friends, especially when he uses Lucia’s camera to photograph them all. My girl R was up and eating and smiling like no other! I was nervous after yesterday when they put the halo on, she had been quite a mess still when I left for home. She gave me one of her silly-braclets and gave me a big kiss! she is just so precious! I wanna take her home! please please please! Fine! I won’t…
So today was quite a good day in the ORs. The A/C still hasn’t been working and is driving all of us nuts. I feel like I’m in savannah again and need to shower 3 times a day. Luckily today there was only one case, S. She had a tricky case but she did awesome. I stayed and photographed some great close ups and even did some video. The OR was a ‘Boachie room’ today, with Dr.Boachie’s two sons joining him, Kwame and Yaw. It was a glorious family reunion, haha. We finished quite early, found some official FOCOS chickens(they run around the grounds!), ate some food, and headed home!
Now….IT’S BETTYE’S PARTY TIME!
The ‘Mama of FOCOS’ threw a meet-and-greet tonight! It was a celebration of everyone being in Ghana for the grand opening of the hospital tomorrow, but it was also time for us to all watch the Ghanaian TV show TGIF. A comedian who spent some time in the US but is a huge celebrity in Ghana, KSM(Kwaku Sintim-Misa), came and interviewed people at the hospital. He does the TV show every friday to discuss cultural topics in the area. He wanted to teach a little about what the hospital will be doing, what FOCOS is, who Dr. Boachie is, etc etc. It was a great segment about Oheneba, and even had a bit about Bettye. Bettye has been working for FOCOS since the beginning and honestly is the mama of FOCOS! She greets everyone at the airport, shows you around, teaches about the experience, and even drops you off at the airport. She’s also been there when I was sick last trip, got homesick, and even comes on the wards to see patients.
The rest of the night was a huge dance party! They played amazing music, everyone had great food, and we just had a good time. I headed home afterwards; being a tired old person.. or so I thought, until I saw my dad and all the other surgeons get off the bus to go clubbing! Dr.Ken has been quite a character this trip with his dancing and silliness. I love it!
Today was quite stressful and tiring… Day 6 of FOCOS Frenzy.. and it was an emotional frenzy. It was another long day with 4 cases, even though technically one was just putting on a halo. My day started off with greeting my two favorites at the door, one little boy who is only 6, and a girl from Sierra Leone who I photographed back in 2010. K is a tough little 11 year old who likes to be the drama queen, but we all love her(okay okay, everyone may not love her, but I DO!). They both seemed to have huge smiles on their faces, so i figured it would be okay if i went to go with the doctors to do rounds. well, apparently they both lost it after they got wheeled in and I just felt terrible I couldn’t be there to help. The kids get so scared and understandably so. I remember being scared when I went in for my tonsillectomy and I grew up around the hospital! Anyhoo, I went around and took pictures during rounds. One of the boys attached himself to Diana and wouldn’t let go of her hand… I walked in to find our boy A sleeping with Lucia’s purse while hiding her camera under his covers! This boy has been smuggling toys and candy under his covers! I pulled them back and couldn’t believe the treasures he has taken! He had to go to the bathroom, so I went to bring him, and he wouldn’t leave till he successfully hid everything. I couldn’t stop laughing!
I then ran back to surgery and discovered K’s surgery was going a little longer than they had hoped. She had had growing rods put in last trip I was on and they had to be revised. When they got in there the doctors saw her spine was more rotated then before so there was more work to be done. I stayed with her case till the end, jumping into the other OR every once in a while. I started using some video to explore a little about how the 5D-mark 2 does. I had put it off because I honestly didn’t have a reason to use it last time, but I got curious, and I like playing with my toys! haha. I don’t have all of it worked out, but Ill do more research when I get home.
Between the two cases was when the stress started for me. They brought in my new favorite girl from Ethiopia for installation of a halo. She was so brave and actually slept through a lot of it. I was lucky enough to be right there when my dad did it, so he let me put in some screws and do some tightening! I could never do it by myself, but it was fun!
The last case of the day was so incredible to see. He was on stand-by from Sierra Leone because he was having a possible TB Kyphosis infection from surgery last trip. I stood there waiting for the absolute worst to come out when they cut in, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought. It was an odd experience to see them cut in and find screws and rods, but it made for great pictures!
We didn’t stay the entire case, so a bunch of us went back to the guest house and went down the street. Theres a mall a street over and they have a great restaurant. Slow service, but good food and we had some beers and relaxed. It is always nice to hang out with everyone outside of the hospital, when everything doesn’t have to be so stressed and crazy. We got home sort of late and I honestly passed out. Its funny that I always bring a book on these types of trips, and I NEVER GET TO READ IT! I even brought “the hunger games” and I CANT WAIT FOR IT! haha. I read maybe 10 pages last night and can barely remember them, its quite sad. Getting only 5 or 6 hours of sleep a night does me in.
Today began the phenomenon called “FOCOS FRENZY”… 5 hours was the most amount of hours of sleep anyone got; some decided to not even sleep. The van this morning was quite a hoot, to say the least. A few of us have started a ‘buddy system’ so no one gets left behind, and we were being so goofy that we were convinced someone wasn’t there… even though they were just in the other car. We also have been cracking up all week at a sign that says “Body Snatcher Fitness”. We’ve decided its a gym where they teach to you to be the “snatcher” or to be safe from snatchers. They do scrimmage class together.. hehe. Lack of sleep brings weird things out of people, and we are all prime examples.
When we got to the hospital, the FRENZY continued. Dr. Paps did rounds so I followed him around, as he stole all of Diana’s(my dad’s PA) pens. After seeing all our awesome patients, who are absolute rock-stars, I scrubbed into surgery. It was quite an exciting day. We had a crazy rain storm and have been losing power all day. This is quite typical in Ghana, and FOCOS is always ready. We had head flash-lights and a few of us were put in charge of standing by with them. Tom, Catherine, and I were in one OR and the doctors in the other had them. Thankfully they had generators in each OR so it wasn’t ever out for more than 30 seconds. Sadly though, when they are on there is no A/C, so we were quite sweaty…
There have been three cases per day, and today had quite a tough one! Above are the before-and-after, and I swear THEY MOVED A MOUNTAIN! haha, Dr. Akoto, one of the surgeons from Ghana, said it was “quite biblical”. I stayed in the ORs on-and-off, took a little nap on a chair in the corner with neuromonitor Rena, fell off said chair in corner during my little nap, and took some AWESOME pictures after that nap and caffeine like no other. This 15 year old male from Ethiopia had scoliosis which was apparently “fixed” by another surgeon, but it was definitely needing to be fixed. They had to go in and sort of undo what had been fused and then took out part of his spine to be able to bend and fix the curve. Its a lot more complicated than that, but I am WAYYY too tired to explain all the details right now, haha.
After surgeries were all done I went to see all the kids in recovery, and then got to see my first halo being installed! The FRENZY continued to this fun as we had a ridiculous amount of people involved. As the picture above shows not only was there a photographer(me); there was an engineer(catherine), two anesthesiologists(Dr. Wulf and Eric #1), three surgeons(Dr. Akoto, my dad, and Dr. Boachie), and Mazza(the machine!)! we were all giggling, telling jokes, and being a mess in general.
By the grace of God we have finished early tonight! It is 8pm now and we are finished with dinner and are about done with rounding! Woot woot! Boachie has decided its a perfect night to go back and go swimming at his house. I’m exhausted, but just might take him up on it! It’s only halfway through the first week, but I am starting to get homesick, especially for Jason, my kitties, and even Starbucks! I’m also having some pain from being on my feet for so long for days, but it is all worth it to see these amazingly resilient people! Its 9:40 and we are home! The internet decided to work nicely tonight for this, but Skype and Facebook still aren’t working! I’m going to organize some photos then head to bed early!!! what a concept!
Today I decided to share a few random things. Us volunteers spend almost 24 hours a day together, so you really do get to know people quite well during trips. Volunteers come from all the world and a variety of different specialties. I’m one of the only “non-medical” right now technically, but we have an engineer, nurses, neuro monitors, scrub nurses, physicians assistants, spine surgeons, anesthesiologists, researchers, etc etc. We live and breath FOCOS for as long as we can and have a great time doing it. To get to the hospital we all pile into these tiny vans, packed like sardines, sometimes three or four to a long seat. We take obnoxiously bumpy roads that are constantly filled with traffic; cars and pedestrians. Hopefully an hour or so later, we arrive at the hospital soooo ready to not see that van for a long time. The doctors are performing one long case in one theater, and in the other two shorter cases. Rounds are done in the morning, checking in on the kids in recovery and pre-operation.
This morning the patients from yesterday were still quite out-of-it so I didn’t bother them with the flash and decided to move on to pre-op. They seemed all quite cheery and ready to go! A room of girls had balloons which they were playing a game of volleyball with from their beds. Another was sitting watching soap operas in english, which he doesn’t speak. This wasn’t stopping him from giggling away.
During the afternoon my dad called me to the Clinic saying he wanted to talk to me. I honestly got quite nervous that something wrong had happened, but there was no need to be paranoid. A FOCOS patient, lets call him G, had come for his check-up. He got into a conversation with my father about him being a photographer and wanted to talk to me. He likes doing fashion and seemed so energetic about it. I’ve been so lucky to meet the people I do during these trips. The Ghanaian people are just so full of life and happiness, I hope to bring some of that back with me to the States.
A great example of this is Dr. Boachie himself. As the founder of FOCOS, he has his hands in a little bit of all surgeries. I love being in the OR with him, theres just an aura of greatness around him. He wants everyone to have learning experiences, and he is always ready to let me take pictures close up; i.e.: over the body. He has two research assistants on this trip and I’ve been able to help them out too which is always great.
I spent the rest of the day running between the OR and the ward where the recovery and pre-op kids were. It ended up being a frustrating and tiring day after lunch, and we got back to the house around 11:30. I’m going to upload this and fall asleep, hopefully it’ll work. If not, expect pictures during breakfast haha. 5 hours of sleep at most… here I come.
The smell. It will forever be the one sense in surgery I wish I could turn off. It sticks in your nose the minute you enter the room, and seems to follow after you. If I could describe it I would say metallic and acidic. The next thing you notice are the bright lights. The new Hospital is just incredible! In Korle Bu I had to rely on a tripod, hoping people didn’t move a lot, and cursing the architects for not installing more windows! In “Our House”, as Bettye Wright would call it, we have been blessed with windows, spacious rooms, and light! When I explain what this trip is about most people ask if all the blood makes me sick. I do get sick from some things, but not blood. I look at the body when it’s all laid open and it just intrigues me. I’m trying to figure out what I’m looking at, what exactly they are doing to fix the problems, and what the difference will be once they close. Also, it is just SO COOL! haha, can’t lie about that one.
Honestly, this area of photography gives me such a high. I have been in a euphoric state since I got here! Back in the States I’ve been having severe acidity problems in the stomach, but here… I haven’t had to take more than one dose(I was up to 3 back home). My body loves Ghana, what can I say! I’ve already taken over 700 photos and it’s only my 2 1/2 day here. Granted I will probably be cursing the amount of editing I’ll be doing for who-knows-how-long, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
In the new ORs there are two theaters, or rooms. In theater 1, there was one case which took about 5 hours. FOCOS qualifies their patients into severity categories, 1-5. This sweet 9 year old girl from Ethiopia was a 5, a very severe case of scoliosis. I was lucky enough to get some great close-ups, which isn’t always possible. In theater 2, there were two cases. The first case, a 7 year old male from Ethiopia, took all of 3 hours. He was a level 2 scoliosis case. The second case, a 16 year old male from Ethiopia took about 4 hours.
My favorite part of the day was playing with each patient before they went into the OR. When asked they all admitted to being scared, two of them even started crying. Even though they were open to this, they were so strong and I was so humbled by their bravery. Thankfully, I had my camera with me the whole time and was able to use it to cheer them up. I even got some more pictures ‘taken by them’.