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Medical care at sea


WORLD Radio - Medical care at sea

Life on a floating hospital that brings relief around the world


NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Wednesday, November 9th.

Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day.

Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard.

Coming next on The World and Everything in It: bringing the hospital to the patient.

Mercy Ships is an international charity that runs floating hospitals. They’re fitted up with medical gear and staffed with doctors, nurses, physical therapists, you name it: Self-contained medical centers that bring care to people in need.

EICHER: What’s it like to work on the other side of the world in a hospital that floats? WORLD’s Anna Johansen Brown talked with one young volunteer about her experience.

ANNA JOHANSEN BROWN, REPORTER: Rachel Hooper knew exactly what she wanted to be when she grew up.

HOOPER: I wanted to be a chef until I was 16 years old. So I was convinced I was going to as an 18 year old move to New York City to go to the Culinary Institute of America.

But at 16, Hooper went to visit her great-grandmother. She was in the hospital at the end of her life. Hooper stayed for about a week.

HOOPER: And I watched the nurses that came into her room and said, Mary, have you pooped today, here are your pills and left, and the nurses that paused and said, Mary, how are you today and actually cared about her not just as a patient but as a person.

That’s when she started to change her mind. Or more accurately, God did.

HOOPER: I even told a mentor of mine who told me in my teen years, Rachel, you should be a nurse I said, Who wants to be a nurse? And the Lord said, you do. And he changed my heart.


So at 18, she packed her bags and headed, not to big city lights, but to Boise State University…in her own backyard. She got her degree in nursing, worked two years at the same hospital she was born in, then applied to Mercy Ships. In February, she headed to Senegal.

Senegal is on the west coast of Africa. Sahara sand and grassy savannah in the north fade to green marsh and rainforest in the south. Most people live in the coastal region.


They speak French, but with a mix of local African dialects.The ship the Africa Mercy docked in the port city of Dakar, home to 1.2 million people.


HOOPER: My first day on the ship, I remember being picked up in the Mercy ship vehicle and driving down the narrow port and through the the gate to the port, I could just see where it said mercy.

When Hooper came onboard, she had to relearn some basics. Like how to keep records on a paper chart instead of on a computer. And other, more vital tasks.

HOOPER: What it looks like to care for patients with ebony black skin, when maybe for me, coming from the Pacific Northwest, I mostly start IVs and do blood draws and skills on people who have white skin where I can see all their veins.

A crew of local Senegalese worked on the ship, translating between patients and caregivers.

Hooper started off working in women’s health. In many African nations, girls get married too young. When they get pregnant, they often aren’t able to deliver the baby safely.

HOOPER: So these women after having these complicated pregnancies then losing their babies, there would be shame and isolation because they were considered unclean. They couldn't control their body functions, they would leak urine or poop, whenever they'd walk to the market. Some of them were divorced by their husbands, some of them were kicked out of their families.

Hooper remembers her very first patient. She had an obstetric fistula that caused her to leak urine. The Mercy Ships team performed surgery to fix it, but the surgery was unsuccessful.

HOOPER: And she continued to leak urine after the surgery. I was sitting with her when I was getting ready to discharge her. And I was discouraged. And the Lord convicted me so quickly and said, Rachel, I'm giving you the privilege of weeping with those who weep. And so to sit with this precious patient--to get to look her in the eye and say that I loved her, and I saw her and I cared about her, and that she had dignity and worth because she was an image bearer of a holy God. That was a precious moment.

When Hooper would ask her patients if she could pray for them, they always said yes.

HOOPER: As an American, I would fold my hands and close my eyes. But in Africa, they specifically open up their hands. So it would be common for all of the patients, even in the beds around the patient you were praying for, to then open up their hands because they wanted to receive what you were praying as well.

About 95 percent of people in Senegal are Muslim.


When Hooper talked with the local Senegalese translators, she often asked about that.

HOOPER: I could just say, Hey, tell me, why are you a Muslim? And how has that impacted your life?

Her favorite shift was the night shift. 3am while all the patients are asleep is the best time to have those deep conversations.

HOOPER: And that would just be a huge catalyst to be able to understand more about them and their culture, but then also, in turn, get to share about the hope that I have and my love for Jesus Christ.

She says it was drastically different from the US, where many people get offended if you try to talk about God. People in Senegal thought it was an honor to be asked and in turn to ask their own questions.

HOOPER: I was asked questions like, Rachel, how do you know that Jesus rose from the dead? Or do you believe that the Old Testament contradicts the New Testament? Or do you worship Mary because Mary is the mother of Jesus?

Those conversations led to deep and lasting friendships. When she first left the Africa Mercy, Hooper was devastated.

HOOPER: It felt like my heart was being ripped open, I burst into tears as soon as those airplane wheels took off the ground.

Coming back to Boise, Idaho, left Hooper feeling lost. Where was her home now? Boise or Senegal? And she was confused. Confused by the abundance of Costco and Trader Joe’s.

HOOPER: We have way too many types of things. I remember being in the the baking aisle of Walmart, and there were nine different types of marshmallows.

Hooper is still figuring out what comes next. She’s teaching part time at a local nursing college, and doing in-home care for a three year old boy with a trach. But someday, she wants to go overseas again. Long term this time, not just on a temporary floating ship, but somewhere she can be immersed in the culture and put down roots.

HOOPER: At this time, I don't know where and I don't know when. I believe I can be on mission no matter where I'm at. I get to serve Christ and be an ambassador for the Lord no matter where I'm at. And if that's washing dishes in my kitchen sink with excellence, that brings glory to God. If that's working in Africa, helping a child who had a reconstructive plastic surgery and I do it with a heart to glorify God, then that brings him glory.


Reporting for WORLD, I’m Anna Johansen Brown.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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