Nat Geo Talks with Hand Therapist Chelsea Darlow

Video highlights from The Surgery Ship

Want to Volunteer For Mercy Ships? This is what's like

Chelsea Darlow
Rochedale, QLD
Hand Therapist
Served Madagascar 2015, Benin 2017

Describe your first days on the Mercy Ship. What was it like? How did you feel?

My first few days on the ship were a bit overwhelming. The ship is a lot to take in all at once but everyone is so welcoming and helpful that it is easy to settle in quickly and make friends. I had been wanting to come for such a long time it was surreal to have finally made it to the ship.

What’s the food and accommodation like on the ship?

The accommodation is different to what I was used to even after living on campus at university. I'm not used to sharing a very small space with a group of other people and it can be challenging not to have your own space at times but it can also be great to have a group of friends to get to know and spend time with. Everyone is in the same boat so we all understand what its like for the people we are sharing with.

The food on the ship is actually really good. We often get spoilt with things like cinnamon rolls or pancakes for breakfast and there are always a variety of options at each meal. We definitely don't go hungry!

It’s hard not to be affected by the poverty in the places the ship visits, how has it affected you?

It’s a very humbling experience. To get to see first hand the conditions these people live in and the lack of medical care especially really opens your eyes to what we take for granted in Australia. We are blessed with access to first class health care. The countries the ship visits have developing health care that is far from the standard we are used to and even then most people are unable to access it whether it be due to cost or location.

What’s the worst case you’ve seen thus far on the ship?

It’s difficult to pick a 'worst case'. We see so many patients who are in terrible situations, most of which would be avoidable with access to appropriate medical care. The worst cases for me are the ones that are completely unavoidable yet have such a devastating effect on the lives of our patients and their families.

What does a typical day on the ship look like? And how long are your hours?

In the rehab team I generally work 8am-5pm Monday-Friday and we have a roster for weekend work. The days vary depending on where we are in the surgical schedule but generally I try to get up early for some exercise before breakfast. We usually have a team meeting at 8am where we discuss important points and have a time of prayer and worship. During the plastic surgery block we will also attend rounds with the plastic surgeon and discuss patients. We then will see what the dressing team’s schedule looks like and do exercises with patients while their dressings are off when appropriate and make any splints needed for patients, usually around 2 weeks after surgery. We will then split our day between inpatients and outpatients making splints, doing exercises, scar management, oedema management etc. And finishing around 5. There is always plenty happening around the ship in the evenings to get involved with as well.

What do you do for fun on the ship? How do you relax?

There are a lot of things to do on the ship. I enjoy attending the trivia nights that are run semi regularly and playing board games in the evenings. On weekends I enjoy going up to the pool to relax or going into town for a walk around. I like to read or watch movies to wind down as well.

What are the patients like on the ship?

Patients on the ship are lovely. They are all grateful for the opportunities Mercy Ships provides them and they are always eager to engage with you and play a game or do a craft. One of the biggest things I notice is patients are usually very reserved and embarrassed when they enter the ship but they quickly become more engaged and joyful once they have had surgery and experience the love of all the volunteers on board.

What was your motivation for joining Mercy Ships?

I wanted to join Mercy Ships for a long time. Growing up in South Africa I had an awareness of the need for medical relief in these countries. I'm blessed to have the skills I do and it’s a privilege to be able to use them to help others who so desperately need it.

Has there been a time where you’ve felt you were in danger? If so tell me about it.
I've always felt safe on board. We have a great security team and are given all the information we need to stay safe when we are off ship in town.

Is there a particular case that has really struck a chord for you?

There are always a couple of cases that really speak to your heart and stick with you. For example I saw a young boy who fell into a fire when he was little. He experienced severe burns to his face and upper body and the resulting contractures meant he couldn't speak and it was difficult for him to eat. After surgery he was able to speak intelligibly and eat properly. Surgery really gave him a new lease on life.  He came to us extremely reserved and timid and left a rambunctious, joyful little boy.

Do you have any final words for those thinking of joining the Mercy Ship family?

If you're thinking about it, do it. It’s a truly incredible experience and a real blessing to be a part of. It never feels like the "right" time to leave everything behind and come volunteer on a ship in Africa but if you make the time you won't regret it!

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