Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Ups and Downs of Being Sick Abroad





 Many of you have asked how our Easton is doing since we've returned. Thank you for the concern you've shown for him and all your prayers and good thoughts...he's back to his "normal" self. He lost about 10 lbs off his already *ahem* "lean" frame so he needs a little fattening up but he's well on his way, having downed an A&W burger in Toronto airport as a test meal and it seemed to have stuck. If you don't want all the details, feel free to skip down ... there's lots of photos of Easton doing well on the trip. : )

As bad as it was to be sick overseas, it wasn't all sickness and sleeping. We actually had an amazing 10 days in Zimbabwe. We spent four days in Sukubva and then headed up to the Honde Valley for four days. It was an amazing week with so much packed into it, we were exhausted and yet so satisfied by our time in Zimbabwe. Spending time with our Zimbabwean family and friends was amazing and it was great to pick up where we'd left off nearly four years ago. Thankfully,  Easton was feeling great right until the day we drove to Harare to catch our late night flight.

Easton started feeling kinda grim on the road trip up to Harare (and it wasn't my driving, I promise...).
We dropped our stuff at a guest house where Dawson and Bill were going to be staying for the next couple of nights, and then headed out to a game park. On the way there though, Easton started vomiting and then things went downhill. We returned to the guest house, commandeered the bathroom and a bed in the guys' room and hunkered down for a bit, hoping it would pass. Easton and I didn't take a room because we were due to fly out at 2 am to Zambia in time to meet up with my friend Charlene when she arrived from Canada. But, you know what they say about best laid plans....

As evening wore on, Easton grew sicker and was in a lot of pain in his stomach. He had no fever though so we were hopeful that perhaps he would improve after eating...but alas, he couldn't even keep water or Sprite down. By around 10:30 pm, I took a room just on the hopes that he would feel relieved of the pressure of having to fly out but I was still secretly (or not so secretly) hoping we could go. By 11 pm, I was feeling increasingly nauseated myself and we made the decision to take Easton to a nearby emergency clinic.  Talk about relying on prayer and good thoughts....we thankfully were two of just a few patients at that  point and were able to see the Dr. right away. She was lovely and very thorough but adamant that we were not flying out that night. She ordered some meds for both of us and an IV for Easton who was dehydrated by that point and sent us to the treatment room where things got real. For those of you who know me, you know I have a "no one barfs alone" policy that I strictly adhere to. At one point, Easton and I were "sharing" one of those tiny kidney shaped dishes and trying not to barf on one another, laugh or cry.  We didn't cry but failed miserably at the other two objectives. So, now, we're in our travelling clothes that we've been in all day, splattered in each other's vomit. Mother/son bonding at its best. Easton was told to lay on a bed near the window, which was open and unscreened. I'm not sure that the bedding was clean but at that point, I thought perhaps we were beyond that given the state of us. I pulled a chair up next to the bed and then we met Nurse Ratchet. She was an assertive nurse who, while I'm sure she's good at her job, scared both Easton and I to death. She was abrupt and must have chosen to forgo the classes on bedside manner and calming patients. She jabbed a needle in my arm before I could even ask what it was. Thankfully, it was an anti nauseant but I do admit, I did not see where that needle came from or what was in it. By the time I got my head in the game, she was heading for Easton. I stopped her and asked her several basic questions to which she gave me the "I-don't-have-time-for-you-Mama-Bear" look but I insisted. I asked her to open the needle from a sealed package in front of me and I looked at the label on the meds before she injected Easton. She may have wanted to stab me in the eye with the needle when I took a photo of the bottle on my phone. I was in full protective mama mode but to be honest, I was no match in my state. She prepared the IV in front of me and I thanked her but she shrugged me off. She told Easton to lay still and that it would "hurt like hell". I rubbed his feet and told him it wouldn't hurt too bad and she CORRECTED me! She said, "Oh, it hurts. Lay still." I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Clearly, she wasn't going to be proven wrong and Easton's face told me she was right, it hurt.
Sadly, it hurt and MISSED the vein which meant she was going to have to take another run at it. I told her she had one more shot at it and that was it. She looked at me like, "Um, do you see any other nurses around here?" and I realized she was our only shot...pardon the pun.  Thankfully she made it into a vein and taped him up and left us alone. We closed the half hanging curtain so Easton could have a little privacy and hopefully sleep a little but we were in the only treatment room and so there was a constant wave of patients in and out, including a very large gentleman who need my accompaniment in his vomiting. So, I joined him. I'm accommodating like that. I think he felt comforted by my company. I took responsibility for cleaning up after myself but I left that guy on his own in that regard. I'm not sure he ever got cleaned up or if he just took the bucket with him. I was trying not to notice.

The hours ticked by and we sent Farai back to the guesthouse to get some sleep. He returned after midnight and was told we wouldn't be out until Easton's IV was empty. Apparently it was in the smallest vein possible thanks to Nurse Ratchet so now our exit time was past our flight time. Around 3 am, we were finally released and we headed back to the room to sleep. We were both incredibly happy to sink into the beds and just go to sleep.

The next morning, we were awake early as the guest house wanted to bring us breakfast...thanks but no thanks, and the housekeeper wanted to clean our room...again...thanks but no thanks. I was feeling much better but tired and shaky. Easton was still feeling very ill but not in as much pain, thankfully. Most of the day, we laid in our beds and dozed off and on, only venturing out to beg the Holiday Inn Harare staff across the street to make us a plain, white bread and cheese sandwich, which they did. At $10 US per sandwich, we didn't care...it was money well spent as it was the first thing we'd kept down in a day.

Farai took the guys out to the game park and I spent the afternoon on the phone with travel insurance and our airline, trying to rebook ourselves out of Zimbabwe. Finally, we had our arrangements set and when Farai returned, he dropped the guys off and needed to head back to Mutare. Farai was meeting us in Zambia in just a few days so it wasn't so hard to say goodbye but we were sad to see him leave just the same.

When we got to the airport at 12 am for our 2:40 am flight, all the power was off and the ticketing agents at the desk were trying to make boarding passes by hand. Of course, they had no record of our tickets, having been changed or rebooked, and they asked us to come back. I refused and ended up risking the hand over of $360 USD cash and our passports to a Kenyan airlines rep who finally figured out how to get us on the half full flight. Unfortunately, his efforts didn't include our luggage and we arrived in Ndola without it. At that point, Easton was perking up and we hoped the worst was behind us.

We met up with Charlene who had braved her first night alone in Africa with the help of our friend, Lisa Dalley, who picked her up, brought her back to the farm at Kachele where they live, and sorted her out for a meal and some groceries.  It wasn't the way we'd planned but thankfully our Hands at Work family are a soft place to land and they made Charlene as comfortable as a first night on a new continent can be when the person who talked you into the whole adventure stands you up at the airport.

By the next morning, Easton was feeling much better and chattering away and ready to go into Mulenga. We spent the day with the care workers there and it was a great first day. Easton saw his sweet little friend, Peggy, who he had been longing to see. We giggled at Pegs because she remembered Easton's name and totally forgot mine! I couldn't even be insulted because she was so enamoured to see Easton, it was adorable. When I asked her my name, you could see her just draw a blank and put her hands over her face. Then she asked, "Kristal?" and I laughed...close enough! When I told her, she laughed and hugged my head. That sassy kid seriously owns us. She just gets funnier and sassier as she grows up surrounded by the love of the care workers and her friends. It's amazing to witness.

We had a good day and headed back to the farm that night.  At dinner, I pulled out one of our 2 "emergency" boxes of Kraft dinner. Easton was excited but half way through his first bowl, he started to fade. Thankfully there were a few Canadians around willing to share the last of the box and so Easton headed for an early bedtime. In the morning, we could tell he still wasn't well but he just wanted to rest, so Char and I headed into Mulenga ourselves, leaving him to rest at the farm.

By the time we returned later that afternoon, he wasn't feeling so good and so we continued to keep a close eye on him. He perked up for awhile and then would feel rough again. The next morning, again, he was not well and wanted to stay behind. I could tell it was hard on him...he loves being in Mulenga and the kids there were asking for him...but he just didn't have the energy or the strength. Char and I decided to skip our overnight in the community that night and come back at lunch time to see how he was faring. It turned out to be the right decision although cutting our time short in Mulenga was painful for me. I always feel like our time there is short but this time, it was excruciatingly so. However, because we knew that it could be cut short if Easton wasn't well, we made the most of it and we had an incredible time with our friends there. As always, it felt like no time had passed and our conversations were easy and meaningful as well. We spoke openly about some of the challenges and issues facing them in the past year and we prayed together and sang and danced as always, if only in an abbreviated version. Watching Charlene as the care workers began to sing was like watching my own reaction years ago. I remember how incredibly moving it was to hear the voices of these women and men ring out. It still moves me today but seeing Charlene's eyes spring up with tears reminded me that it's not only me that feels so completely moved by it all.

We had to make a decision on whether or not to go to the clinic that afternoon, which we did. Levy called his doctor and we were in the clinic by 3 pm, with Easton on an IV by 3:30. Again, we pumped him full of antibiotics but added an anti microbial for some additional coverage. By 8 pm that night, Easton was feeling better, tired but not as sore. Unfortunately, he had to keep the port in his arm and return the next morning for another round of IV fluids and antibiotics/antimicrobials. And...so went our time in Zambia. Up and down. By the end of the second day, we decided to cancel our time out at McBrides' camp and stay near the farm at Kafakumba in a small rental house. We moved over there and had a good evening, grilled cheese again...and Easton was feeling a bit better. The next day, we decided to take a small trip out to a local "zoo" and see how Easton fared. He did fine and we could tell as the day wore on that he was again, feeling better. So, we pushed our luck, accepted Charlotte McBride's invitation to join them anytime and booked our way out for the next day. I knew that Easton would be comfortable out there, it would just be the drive there and back that may be rough. He did fine on the way out and we arrived in time to jump into the safari jeep and head out about a km from camp where nine female lions were laying in the dusk, waiting to hunt at the watering hole. Looking at Easton at this point, I was sure we'd made a good decision. He was excited and animated even after a long day of driving. That night, we crawled into our beds in our hut and listened to all the animals and birds settling in around us or coming to life on the fields in front of our verandah and I was incredibly grateful we had made it. We woke early in the mornings at McBrides and went on the river or out for game walks, having Chris and Charlotte virtually to ourselves as we were the only guests in camp, though there were others camping nearby who dropped in. Chris and Charlotte have become dear friends over the years and they were so invested in Easton, it made me want to weep that someone would love my boy so lavishly right from the start. Chris and Easton had incredible conversations about the bush and the animals, Sherlock Holmes and all sorts of other things that I wasn't privy to. I do know that they conspired against me several times to try and invoke what Chris refers to as my "maternal glare". He and Easton hatched plans in which Easton would fetch Chris' rifle and come in sporting it over his shoulder nonchalantly as though he were perfectly at home with a firearm on his back. He is American but still...it was pretty natural looking. Chris gave Easton a radio and they communicated with intensity and a camaraderie that included elaborate radio handles and inside jokes.  It was fun to see Chris' playful side come out and Easton just eating it up.

Sadly, the last day in camp, Easton began his downward spiral and began to feel sick again. We had cruised up river to the Fly Camp where we had a really nice outdoor brunch and relaxed in the new surroundings. The heat was incredible and so finally, I convinced Easton to crawl into one of the tents and nap for a while. Keeping him hydrated was a priority and thankfully he was able to drink a lot and keep it down. By the time we headed back around 2:30, Easton was feeling pretty tired and worn out. He sat up in time to see a large male lion we had spotted on the river bank but other than that, most of the two hour boat ride, he laid down and rested. The air changed halfway back and we encountered some of the first rains of the season, which rejuvenated all of us after a very long hot day. We pulled into camp at around 4:30 and went to rest and shower and change for dinner that evening. Easton made it to dinner but not through dinner, heading back to the room with a guide in the dark. He had the radio so we stayed up at the living area and had dinner and watched Chris entice a small genet to the steps with some leftover meat.

By the time we got back to the hut, Easton was sound asleep. The next morning, we woke and packed up the rest of our belongings for the long ride back. Easton had little for breakfast other than juice and water, and our friend, Stephen, began driving us back. We said our goodbyes and Chris gave Easton a well loved copy of stories of Sherlock Holmes to take with him, which Easton felt very honoured to have. By the time we were halfway to Kabwe, Easton was vomiting again on the side of the road. We were supposed to take the bus from Kabwe to Luyansha (about a 2 hour ride) but with Easton in this state, we asked Stephen to take us which he generously did, easing both our minds and Easton's stomach.

We got back just past dinner time and decided that we should see if the doctor would meet us at the clinic. Because we were staying at Kafakumba, down the road about 1 km, and Charlene would be on her own, Lisa offered to feed Charlene and make a bed for her in their little house. That taken care of, Levy and I took Easton to the clinic where we were met again by Dr. B. He was so good and put an iv in again himself with little discomfort for E. He told us that if we wanted to fly out the next day as scheduled, we'd have to stay the night in the clinic. He would lock us in and come back in a few hours to change out the IV bag. We had little choice at that point so we agreed. Levy arranged with Prag for her to come and stay for awhile with us so around 10 pm, Pragcidence showed up with a bag of fruit, some water and a sleeping bag and pillow for her and I. She hunkered down on the floor outside our room, I took the wooden exam table next to the window and Easton slept in the only bed. I slept hard for the first few hours and woke to the security guard bringing us some juice and settling in for a chat. He was clearly in the middle of his "day" and lonely but Easton and I were fully asleep and groggy. I mouthed to Easton just to roll over and go back to sleep while I tried to be polite and yet still encourage him to come back in the morning. He finally got to the heart of why he wanted to speak to me and it resulted in a long explanation of international adoption procedures and reasons why he couldn't just "write a note" to have his children brought to Canada. Although it was the middle of the night, I couldn't help but hear him out as he voiced his concerns about the state of his country and the limited options for his children in a falling economy. When he left, I had a hard time falling back to sleep, overwhelmed as I was by the choices I had in caring for Easton while this man was struggling to care for his own children. I laid there for a long time until I finally fell asleep again, but it wasn't restful, my mind churning over all that I'd heard.

The next morning, I startled the poor morning nurse who had no idea that we were there. I came out of the ward room and she jumped about 3 feet and stumbled behind the desk. I apologized profusely and explained that we'd been admitted the night before. She'd thought the door was opened by the security guard and hadn't heard me in the other room. I thought I was going to have to give CPR to the nurse who was supposed to be tending to Easton. Thankfully, she recovered well, took a few minutes and regrouped. She set up a third drip and told us that when it was done, the doctor had left instructions that we could go.

While we watched our time in Zambia drip away, our dear friends James and Sukai came and sat with us. They brought their son, Cornelius, as well and it was fun to see how he and Easton had both grown so tall over the past few years. Cornie is the sweetest kid you'll meet and he leaned down and hugged Easton in the bed and the two of them caught up. Sukai and James and I had a good but short visit but regardless of the circumstances, it's always encouraging to be in a room with them and hear the way they take on life and faith and parenting. I always learn something from them and this time was no exception. When it came down to the end of the visit, Easton's drip was nearly done and we were ready to bust out of the clinic. Saying goodbye to James and Sukai and Cornelius is never easy, especially when the time has been so short.  They left and shortly after, the nurse took out Easton's port and we were sprung too. We headed back to the farm to pick up Charlene and then to head over to Kafakumba to grab a quick shower and repack our bags for the return trip home. We were just about to get in the vehicle to head over to our little rental house, that we'd only spent one night in...when Farai came running around the corner, worried that we were heading for the airport without having seen him. We assured him we'd be back and he checked Easton out for himself and made sure his boy was good to go. We promised we'd be back within the hour and we'd find him to say goodbye.

We quickly showered, ate a little, drank a little and then we were packing the van with our luggage and headed back to the farm. We tried to be discreet but when a whole community of people have been praying for your son and they want to greet him and see that he's well, it's not an in and out affair. We were so overwhelmed by all those who wished him well and had been praying...it was actually incredibly lovely and encouraging. We made our way to where everyone was meeting, and sought out our friends to say our goodbyes. I did very well until it came to saying goodbye to our friend, Florence, from Zimbabwe. My time with her is always very special. She's one of the most courageous women I know and I know that this past few months in her life have been very challenging and extremely lonely. Walking with her and spending time with her in Zim had really impacted me again that I need to continue to pray for her and check on her. She is working in a new community and is on her own, away from her own children, caring for the desperate needs of others. I can't imagine how hard it has been and yet she remains faithful and carries on. When we went to say goodbye, I choked on my words ~ how do you tell someone how incredibly proud you are of the work they are doing when you know it's costing her everything to do it. At that point, all bets were off and the tears started and then it was really just time to get out while I could still see. Farai, Blessings, Prag, Esnart...one by one we said our goodbyes and it was difficult to even say the words. I  admit, I felt a bit gypped of time with them and yet, the time we had was so amazingly good. I felt greedy for wanting more of it but I did. I always have a hard time leaving our friends in Zambia...and this was not any better for feeling like our time was too short.

We headed to the van and somewhere along the line, someone handed me some tissue and I pulled it together. Even typing this brings me to tears, that choking lump in my throat resuming its grip. I hate the distance between us and yet I know that it doesn't diminish the relationships we've built.

Somewhere on the way to the airport, my thoughts returned to the task at hand...making sure we made our flights, getting our luggage on the flight and keeping Easton hydrated and mobile. He was feeling okay at this point but the heat and the crowded airport were taking its toll. By the time he sunk into the seat ahead of me, he fell asleep pretty quickly. I was seated a few rows back and I only woke to ensure he ordered extra water and juice from the flight attendant, which he did, and then I fell into a deep sleep, waking only on arrival in Addis. Getting off the flight, I could tell right away he was feeling grim again. Into the terminal and he was cramping up and searching for a washroom, and I was trying to find my Ethiopian contact numbers in my phone. I was seriously considering sending Charlene ahead on the flight to Toronto and hunkering down with Easton in yet another clinic in yet another country. At least I knew a good guesthouse and some good people I could rely on for rides. Just then, around the corner, came Deb Northcott. I've travelled with Deb several times to Ethiopia and her husband is an ER doctor. Knowing Dr. Northcott was on the flight was enough assurance for me to get Easton on the flight and on our way home. Once we finally boarded, it was a 13 hour flight, most of which Easton slept with his head on my lap. When he woke, somewhere near Dublin, he was feeling better again and as time passed, he improved dramatically. Thankfully, by the time we arrived in Toronto 13 hours later, the kid was craving poutine and looking for a Coke.

He's back to school and feeling good again, though his friends pointed out that he looks disgustingly thin. He's working on eating regular meals and has finished his meds so hopefully the worst is behind us. I can't even tell you how strong this kid was in the face of this. I would have crumpled into tears more than once along the way if I'd felt like he had for as long as he had. However, Easton was really good about it all. Of course he was in pain and sad to miss out on some of the time in Mulenga, but he really didn't complain or whine or get frustrated. He only exerted a small stubborn streak when it came down to me trying to force him to please eat anything...he refused and as long as he was staying hydrated, I tried to back off and let him call the shots. I did nix the idea of poutine as his first meal back but I'm not sure I won that battle when he came sauntering back with a teen burger....but alas, he kept it down so it's not worth revisiting.

All in all, I think he had a great time in Zimbabwe. He ran hard. Played hard. Walked long distances and sat through long and difficult home visits with others in our group. We never actually went on a home visit together, not by design, but I was proud when I heard how well he had done and the kinds of questions and comments he asked and made, showing his compassionate side.

Even after all the illness and downtime, I realize he was deeply impacted by one of the home visits he had made in Zimbabwe. High in mountains on the border of Mozambique, he had visited the home of a family who was so far behind in their rent, that they were due to be evicted. Their landlord had given them until the first rains came to find a new place. However, even as the arrival of the rain loomed imminently, they had no place to go, no place to plant their crops, no real hope for a solution.

Days later, sitting on the Kafue River, a country away and far from that community, the first rains began to drop on the river and cool us off. We celebrated being part of the arrival of the rains and then Easton remembered that this signified the eviction of that family he had visited the week before. Suddenly sobered, he reminded me of them and then lay back down to sleep. I know that there are those who would believe that taking your kids overseas opens them up to heartaches and sickness and all sorts of detrimental things that may scar them. I'm telling you that in that moment, I knew that he had experienced heartache and sickness and he was in the midst of both colliding...but I also could see the compassionate person he is growing to be because he has seen and known and experienced it. I'll never regret taking my boys into the communities and into the homes of those who share their stories with such heart wrenching truth. Does it change them? Of course it does...growth hurts. And this is growth...of their knowledge, their world view and their compassion for those who share this world with us. There's not an ounce of regret in that.

Easton playing with the kids in Sukubva

Easton, Florence and Sam ride back from the community in the back of the bakkie.
When in Africa....





Easton and Sam, the field coordinator in Mutare, really enjoyed each others' company. Lots of laughter
between these two for the whole time they were together. 

Uncle Chips and Easton recreating a photo from 2012...next time Easton will be
supporting Farai on his shoulders!

Easton, completely at home in the community we stayed in for four nights. It was like watching him
just find his place and his role in the work that we're so privileged to be part of. 
Easton, Shamah, Patience and Marley....we shared a house with this beautiful
family in 2012. They've all grown and yet remained friends...picking right back up where
we left off nearly four years ago.

Easton and the Gunhe kids play the game of Trouble we brought...it's universal.
Small Fry (Farai Jr), Easton, Shamah, Patience and Marley.
We were just missing Rumbizai who is away at school. 

Mama Mildred says goodbye to our Easton

Dude, there's a zebra behind you. 

When he was feeling good, he did his homework. Thankfully, he got it
all done before we returned...without nagging on my part!

Sporting a safari hat at McBrides' Camp

Following Charlotte and Fidalius as we tracked lions. Why were we doing that again?

Easton, feeling pretty good this day, on the Kafue River

"Velvet Thunder" calling "Your Worship"
Easton and Chris McBride has some unusual radio handles.
The last day at McBrides' found Easton feeling pretty grim again. 

And we're back...an early morning visit for a second day of IV
Still smiling but not having the best time...



Our last night in Zambia. Locked in the local clinic...Easton and I spent the night.
Our friend, Pragcidence, joined us. Sleeping on the floor because she didn't want us to
be alone in the clinic. 3 IV's later that night and Easton was again, well enough to travel.

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