At 0545 we arrived. The police checkpoints were in place - a good sign. Only those potential patients who had been pre-screened and selected by 11 Congolese hospitals and medical centres were to be let in. This would make our job of maintaining security within the screening site far easier throughout the day.
|Potential patients and caregivers waiting patiently and hopefully outside the selection site|
Then as we rounded the corner we saw the queue of potential patients and caregivers sitting patiently, expectantly and hopefully under the tents. My heart leapt. This was why we were here.
|Potential patients dressed in their best clothes waiting to be screened|
The first 10 potential patients were escorted in at 0630. From my station at the exit gate I was able to see the patients and caregivers being greeted by our amazing Academy French teacher, Myriam Kormann. Throughout the day she joyfully and reassuringly greeted every patient and caregiver directing them to the screeners. She told me she took breaks but I never saw her leave her station.
|Myriam in the "maillot jaune" - what a super heroine!|
Then I saw the first patients being directed to registration and my heart soared for I knew this was a sign that there was good chance we could help these people. But of course soon some were directed straight out from the screeners and my heart broke a little every time for these people.
|A potential maxillofacial surgery patient|
Although this was my first screening, I had been preparing myself for the "no's" - those people that we could not help either because their condition was not treatable or not one that we were equipped to treat onboard. But blessedly there were far fewer "no's" and many more "yes's". This was primarily due to the prescreening by the Congolese hospitals and medical centres. Early in the day the yes's seemed to outnumber the no's by 10 to 1 however the final count at the end of the day was about 60% accepted. Still a very high percentage.
|Fellow Australian, Rinnah Fry, was part of the screening team|
Normally Mercy Ships has a prayer team to sit and pray with the "no's" but due to the limited number of people we were able to bring to Brazzaville there was no prayer team. As you can imagine everyone preselected to be screened was full of hope and to be rejected was crushing news. Some were graceful, some resigned, some disbelieving, some broken hearted and a few were angry. So the exit gate team had some challenging situations to manage, with some angry and disappointed people. My French is good enough to answer simple questions and give directions but not up to explaining to a distraught parent why their child could not be treated. But our Congolese day crew interpreters, particularly Saul from the eye team, were fantastically gracious and calm in explaining repeatedly why people were unable to be treated.
Perhaps the ones that I found hardest to accept were the children with clubfeet. This is a treatable condition but is not being done this field service. One mama with her son obviously knew his condition was treatable and was very upset that he had been rejected for treatment. I held him for her as Saul explained that we did not have a doctor able to treat her son. Apart from one foot, he was a healthy boy and I now wonder and pray that he does get a surgery in the future to correct his foot.
|A beautiful Congolese girl who will grow up without a cleft lip|
Throughout the day I was most touched by the parents with their children. I was constantly reminded of my own children and how as a parent I would do whatever I could to seek treatment for them if they were sick or handicapped. I fully understood their motivation and it gave me joy every time I saw one leaving clutching their precious yellow appointment card. But it tore at my heart every time I saw one leaving without that card.
|Very happy Papa!|
Another amazing thing was how well dressed many of the people were. I don't dress up to go to the doctor but many of the Congolese seemed to be wearing their Sunday best outfits - bright and beautiful.
By about midday we had finished screening all the preselected patients and the decision was made to check the street barricades for any obviously potential max-fax or cleft lip patients. There were several of these and then at about 1330 a young man with a cleft lip appeared at the exit gate. He was about 16 and wearing a red shirt. We asked if he should be let in and were given the go ahead. He was the last screened and put on the standby list. I hope he gets his surgery and if he does he will be one of the luckiest guys in Brazzaville. Not prescreened and miraculously let through the barricades in time to be admitted before we wrapped up for the day.
|The Brazzaville Screening Team|
The statistics from the day: 522 potential patients through the gates, of which 294 were scheduled for Surgeon Screening in Pointe-Noire and hopefully surgery onboard.
By 2 pm we were finished and a group of us headed out to check out the Congo River rapids below Brazzaville. These were spectacular but I found I was both emotional and physically exhausted and happy to just sit, watch and unwind. Later that afternoon we headed back to the airport to catch a plane to Pointe Noire and our wonderful floating home we share we so many fantastic and generous people from all over the world.
|Exit Gate Security|