Trial Runs

February 27, 2010

Week 1. Clinics: 4. Total crowd numbers: 3,500. Total amount of people screened: 1,400. Eye surgeries scheduled: 199.

My aim is to let you know a lot about little bits, so that instead of feeling like you are looking at a sketch of what I do and see, you feel that you are in the midst of it, if only for short moments. And I would also like to tell you much about the human aspect of this ministry, which is the why of it all. But I will do neither in this post, because the clinic logistics are exciting and fascinating and worth a mention. (And because that’s my job.)

Clinic Day 1: Smooth sailing. An orderly line waits outside heavy gates, opened and shut by the conservative judgements of 2 Togolese security guards. Dr. Glenn, the ship’s chief eye surgeon, joins us for the day in order to train two of our ophthamologists in criteria for appropriate selection of cataract patients. A warm introduction to the field.

Clinic Day 2: And then there was Tuesday. The Assemblies of God church sits right on a busy road. Driving in, the first sight is the mass of people filling the church grounds. They watch our two cars park and shuffle towards us en masse. We walk into the church, and–surprise!–a few hundred loitering around in the sanctuary! Thoughts swirl, we turn to each other, dumbfounded. We agree to try to make it work, and if things get sticky, we will pack up and leave. It takes twenty minutes of shooing, but eventually everyone goes outdoors, and now there is some breathing room to pull out chairs, tables, medical equipment. The first few patients are screened, sent to doctors, scheduled for surgery. Arms and heads reach through the doors and windows, all made of widely spaced metal bars. Bodies push at every door, and the hinges groan under their weight. You can tell when things begin to feel out of hand–when the feel of a group changes, when the decibel level rises a bit, when the simmer looks like it wants to turn into a boil–and that’s when it is time to act. Ok, call for backup. The ship’s security department deploys a “surge team,” which arrives to take over crowd control. Assert authority over the process. Move people away from the doors. The waiting crowd now sees patients flowing through, and tensions relax.

Day 3: Ready for a chaotic repeat of Tuesday (we go to the same church on Thursdays), my spirits soar as we round the corner and see a thousand people, yes–but all waiting calmly, some seated in plastic chairs, a good fifty yards from the church building. Order in the chaos–what a relief! Part of our team has arrived early to sort people into relevant groups (children, elderly, men, women) and distribute numbers. Two ship security personnel monitor the fronts of the lines. Each day and church layout poses different issues, so each day we have utilized different crowd control procedures. Today’s method works beautifully! The only tiff occurs when we announce “fini” and a group eager to be seen rushes the church and breaks in the door. Still, I gladly dub today a success. Don’t worry, we put the door back on its hinges. =)

There was a fourth clinic, but I think the preceding excitement is sufficient to both quell your curiosity and send me straight to bed. Goodnight!


5 Responses to “Trial Runs”

  1. Rafa said

    Hey Alana,

    I love your posts, they are just so interesting, and I am really impressed by your ministry there.

    And really surprised, partially because in this part of the world we are disconnected from the reality of other people and specially of people who require even the most basic needs.

    Best wishes


  2. Tatum said

    Curiosity indeed!
    And to bed indeed! Goodnight, Alana!

  3. Leah said

    Your words paint such vivid pictures. And the tone just begs me to wonder, “what is she doing now, right now, when I’m sitting here at my normal, sane little desk.” 🙂

    Are you learning French? …did those CD’s come in any use?

    Love, love, and prayers!

  4. Mary Tucker said

    I keep tearing up reading your posts! Really, plus they make me want to volunteer too. I’m sending your blog to Joy who asks about you. Love, Mary

  5. Emily said

    Wow, Alana, wow! How long are you going to be in Togo?

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