Sally Wilder is on board a Mercy Ships medical unit, using her skills as a pediatric surgical use on a “mission of mercy.” Her mother, PVUMC member Maggie Wilder, gave us permission to share this blog post as part of the PVUMC Advent Blog. As Christmas gets closer, we’re reminded of the joy we have even in the most trying circumstances because we are loved and cared for by others and by God. To read this post on Sally’s Blog, Ship 2 Shore, and see the photos, please visit:

Singing Your Song

by Sally Wilder

A few weeks ago, I arrived on the unit as charge nurse for the evening shift. The charge nurse on day shift was frantic. They had admitted a patient from dental screening, not the usual course of events but does occasionally happen if the individual needs a course of IV antibiotics. While listening to report, I look behind the charge nurse to take a peek at the patient. Her whole face is swollen shut, as if you drew a face on a balloon, all definition lost to the swelling. I suddenly understood why the nurse was frantic, facial swelling is followed by airway swelling. This was a crisis. Thankfully, both the anesthetist and physician were at the bedside almost immediately. We rushed the patient to CT and then straight into the OR. Few hours of my shift gone in what seemed like moments.

8 out of the next 10 days, I was working with this patient in the ICU, back and forth from the OR, and then finally progressing back into the ward. She was suffering from an untreated dental abscess. The infection had been able to develop multiple pockets along the jaw and up the right side of her face. She became septic and required multiple antibiotic therapies.

She has had many set backs like emergent surgeries to wash out pockets of infection, bursts of uncontrolled pain and required placement of a tracheotomy tube. Slowly, she began to make small steps of improvement, like no fever for 24 hours, no new abscess formations, tolerating NG feeds, feeling more comfortable while being able to wean pain medicine. Over this time, we became close. She began to trust me and learn I was only there to help her get better. Her father would laugh and say, “Sally, she loves you. She will let you do things but not the other nurses.” This mutual attachment was beneficial when we worked together but she would become anxious and agitated when I was handing over care to another nurse.

This past week she is consistently improving. As she is feeling better, she regains her strength and is sharing her personality with all of the staff. She greets me in the hallway with running into my arms with a hug. I know she is the first patient I have to say hi to when I enter the unit. Even so she calls out my name when she see me with a big smile and usually a “wow! wow! wow!” Probably the nicest way to start a shift.

The other day she asked me if her voice will sound the same after the tracheotomy is removed. I said, it will start off weak but then will return to normal. She responded that once the trach comes out she will sing us all a song. This week I got to hear her song. It was beautiful. The unit, usually loud and chaotic, became calm and quiet with this beautiful melody filling the room. I asked one of the translators what the song meant, the simplified version was that God is watching over us and will continue to protect us, always.

I know I sound like a broken record saying that this patient shouldn’t have lived or this patient would have died but I’m not lying or exaggerating. This patient, my friend, would not have survived without surgery, without the dental clinic finding her, without Mercy Ships being in Benin. I am so lucky that I get to be a part of it, to be a small part in her story. I get to see the healing, work with the patients while they struggle but also when the surpass all expectations. As she heads off for another surgery, another pocket of infection to be drained, I’m exhausted for her. Yet when I visited her this morning she was laughing and smiling. Her strength and joy are unbreakable and I am blessed to be part of her journey.


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