“One of the Best Vacations;” Two AAMC ICU Nurses Volunteer in Nigeria

“One of the Best Vacations;” Two AAMC ICU Nurses Volunteer in Nigeria

Intensive Care Unit Nurses Lorraine Antel, R.N., and Miemie VanRooyen, R.N., have many similarities. Both women work the night shift at AAMC, both live in Crofton and both came to the United States from their native South Africa to pursue nursing opportunities. Their friendship spans years, miles and simultaneous patient care.

So it seemed only natural that both women would be side-by-side on a volunteer trip to Jos, Nigeria in May 2009 to assist Edward Zebovitz, D.D.S., who invited the two nurses to help him care for patients in need of oral and maxillofacial surgeries.

The trip was both rewarding and life changing.

Arriving after 15-hours in a plane, both women were saddened by the facilities the staff had to work with. The ICU had no monitor, everything was manual and no wall oxygen was available. Holes in the ceiling allowed rain to come in and linens washed for patients were hung over shrubs and bushes to dry in the sweltering African sun.

“We worked with what we had and made a plan,” VanRooyen recalled.

That plan included operating and caring for 43 patients in a 7-day span, working from early in the morning to very late every night.

“You were absolutely exhausted after 16-hour days,” Antel said. “But the satisfaction of the day overrode any exhaustion. It gave absolute meaning to nursing.”

Alongside an additional surgeon and doctor, and two anesthesiologists, VanRooyen and Antel cared for patients treated for facial dog bites, viral infections, cleft palates and cleft lips. The nurses took before and after pictures with a digital camera to show their Nigerian patients the transforming results.

“It was the most wonderful thing,” Antel said. “We could show them how their face changes. One patient was an elderly man from a village who children were scared of. He was given a new life with this surgery.”

“We often lose sight of what’s important,” added VanRooyen. “The people were so grateful. They cared for us. Even with what little they had, they were so happy.”

VanRooyen and Antel said the patients and families at the Nigerian location were trusting, compassionate and filled with enormous benevolence.

“There were all these families and they didn’t know one another. But they all took care of each other. They cooked together; they depended on one another,” said VanRooyen. “Every morning the patients and families were as happy to see us as we were to see them. We saw so much kindness and good in all the people of Jos.”

“For me it was a real gift,” Antel said. “You were working for no money, but the gift you got back was so much better. It was probably one of the best vacations.”

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