Monday, April 25, 2016

Not so easy or breezy but definitely beautiful!

I thought this year was supposed to be like the CoverGirl commercial back in the day, "Easy, breezy, beautiful." We were given a wonderful opportunity to come back to Cameroon to live and work with SIL Aviation and be with Sam for his senior year of high school. Win, win, win! What could go wrong?!

I took the scary, exhilarating, brave step to go back to school after a 20 year absence by taking classes online. Steve dove into his assignment with the aviation department with gusto. Sam rejoined his classmates at RFIS after a year long absence. We joined into the community excited to connect with friends and UBAC kiddos. We reunited with old friends and made new ones.

Things were going along swimmingly. I started jogging and ran my first 5k after many years of not having a regular exercise regime. Megan came to visit during Christmas time and we had wonderful time together reconnecting as a family and exploring beautiful new parts of Cameroon.

LIFE INTERRUPTED 

Then Sunday evening, March 13th, Sam came home from the second day of a weekend long soccer tournament at the American School of Yaounde. He had complained of a headache the evening before and we had him drink lots of water thinking he was dehydrated. He spiked a fever Sunday night and was greatly fatigued. We kept him home from school on Monday thinking he needed some rest to recover and regain his health after a very active weekend in the hot sun.

Monday he felt better and didn't have a fever until he was getting ready to go to bed that night. Tuesday morning he woke up feeling rotten so we tested him for malaria with a home test kit. It quickly showed a positive result and we immediately began treatment with Coartem. Coatem is a three day treatment for malaria that generally kicks in almost immediately.  However, Sam didn't feel better at all.

By Wednesday the 16th we went to the Jordan Clinic- a local clinic, here in Yaounde, to seek treatment for dehydration and his continued symptoms. The Jordan clinic gave Sam the first of three IV med treatments for malaria, but refused to give him IV liquids to rehydrate him even though their lab tested his blood and it came back showing he was dehydrated- why? ...we didn't understand.

So, we went home and had two amazing missionary nurses, under the direction of missionary doctor Dennis Palmer from Mbingo Hospital, set us up with saline IV fluids to rehydrate Sam throughout the night (thank you Wilma and Heidi Huizenga!!!). He woke up feeling a bit better and we all breathed a sigh of relief. Nurse Heidi H. came and administered the last two IV med treatments the next day.

RECOVERING?

By this time Sam had missed four days of school and was feeling better but still weak and miserable. On Friday the 18th, the last day of RFIS before spring break Sam and I went to have lunch there so he could say hi to friends and visit a bit before some left for break. He was thin and pale but seemed a bit better.  I thought we were on our way to complete health at this point.

For about four days Sam was weak but seemed better. He hung out with some friends and even had a sleepover. By Thursday the 24th he was back to laying around miserable. On Friday he woke up with significant spleen pain and was feeling lightheaded after just walking from the couch to the bathroom.

During this whole time we had nurse Heidi making house calls and checking in with us as well as regular phone consultations with our long-distance doctor Palmer. Saturday we went back to a local lab (Jordan) and had an ultra sound to check out the spleen pain and had some blood work done. By that evening we knew that Sam's spleen was enlarged and his hemoglobin number was 7.8. I really had no idea what hemoglobin was but quickly found out it is the red blood cell count in the blood. Malaria attacks red blood cells and they literally explode in the blood and disappear. Sam's count of 7.8 out of the normal range of 14 - 16 was very low. The doctor said if Sam's hemoglobin count went below 7 he would need blood transfusions. That is a scary prospect here in Yoaunde.
SIL Aviation pilot Brandon with the trusty Cessna 206- "Tango Mike"

MEDEVAC TIME

By Sunday the 27th Sam's fevers had returned and he was weak and miserable. We thought about flying to Mbingo on Monday but gave it another day. Monday night we decided to fly to Mbingo the next day. I am so thankful for the SIL aviation department and the ability to take a medevac on a moments notice.

Tuesday morning early Sam and I flew to Mbingo. We got there and started with meeting Dr. Palmer and getting some bloodwork done. Sam was pale and thin and very weak at this point. By mid morning we knew that Sam's hemoglobin count was at 3.8 which is DANGEROUSLY low. We checked him into the hospital and I got tested to see if Sam and I were the same blood type. I found out pretty quickly that I was and I gave the first unit of blood to Sam. He ended up needing four units of blood transfused. Three missionary doctors donated the remaining three units Sam needed.
Sam- too weak to walk

TRANSFUSION

We needed to watch for any reactions that might indicate that Sam's body was rejecting the donated blood. Thank the Lord that he had no reactions and began to regain some color by the next day. He had a fever the first night and felt miserable. It was a scary time for me. Sam was very calm through out and though he was feeling pretty badly he didn't complain much and rested fairly well.

We happened to know a family visiting the area on their vacation and they came to our room and visited with us. It was a HUGE blessing to have familiar people there with us praying for us in person. They also brought us food and water twice that day. Again a huge encouragement since otherwise I would have had to leave the room and hunt down food and water, leaving Sam alone and I really didn't want to have to do that then.
Kato Family- blessing us!

Sam began his fourth treatment of malaria meds that first day there at Mbingo. I'm not an expert on malaria but I have learned a lot about it since this event. There are five different types of malaria ranging from mild to severe and there are three different forms of malaria, R1, R2, and R3. R1 is easily treated, R2 is more difficult to treat and R3 is completely resistant to treatment. We were all hoping and praying Sam did not have R3 malaria. Clearly he didn't have R1 malaria as after three treatments he still had it. Dr. Palmer said we wanted to see Sam's hemoglobin numbers rise and to see the fevers go away and not come back. Those were the signs we were looking for to see Sam begin to heal.

Thank the Lord that Sam's last fever was that first night in the hospital. He never rejected the donated blood and by Saturday morning, April the 2nd, Sam's hemoglobin number was at 8.7! Dr. Palmer allowed us to fly home that day.
The Mbingo Hospital team that cared for Sam

DEBRIEFING

What a scary, exhausting experience. By the time my emotions caught up with me I was physically sick. I think the stress of watching Sam fight malaria for three weeks took its toll on me as well. Steve and I recently made an appointment with the missionary counselor here to help process this challenging event. My emotions sat just below the surface and threatened to spill over at the slightest remembrance.

She allowed me to tell my story and as I told it, all the feelings of helplessness and fear rose up again and my voice grew thick with emotion and before I knew it was was crying just remembering all that had occurred. She very kindly and gently told me about "Immanuel Healing, God With Us." It's a "practice of interacting with Immanuel (God with us) in a way that resolves painful life experiences" authored by E. James Wilder and Chris M. Coursey. She emailed me the information to help me to "sanctify" the thorny painful memories of Sam's illness. Sanctify is my word.

TRADING MY SORROWS
The amazing Doc PALMER!

It's really a simple exercise and truly remarkable in helping one to process well painful memories by sort of sitting with God and allowing his peace to permeate the memories. How we choose to look at life and memories has a great influence on allowing God's peace to envelope us or not. We can choose to be angry and alone and bitter that certain painful events happened or we can choose to look for God in those scary, hard moments. He is with us. He loves us. He wants to give us His peace. However we must choose to seek him in the midst or even after the fact. Sometimes it's really hard to see him in the midst of the storm. When we go back in our memories we can search and find Him there.

When I did this a miraculous thing happened. I saw God everywhere. He was there when nurse Heidi Huizenga and nurse Wilma helped us to rehydrate Sam with IV fluids. He was there when we got to fly to Mbingo in a plane. He was there when we arrived and met Dr. Palmer. He was there when we got the scary results in that Dr. Palmer immediately found blood donors and began treating Sam. He was there when I gave blood and didn't faint and found my way across the hospital to Sam's private room (I have a terrible sense of direction in the best of times) He was there when the family from Yoaunde arrived and brought us water, food and friendship (thank you Kato's!!!). He was there when the donated blood wasn't rejected. He was there when so many were praying for Sam during the SIL conference in Yaounde. He was there when so many even an ocean away were praying. He was there when the last and final malaria treatment began to work and beat back the malaria. He was there when Steve got to drive up with a missionary in a private vehicle rather than riding in a crowded bus with his legs crushed up against the metal back of the bench in front of him. He was there all along. My feelings of being alone and afraid melted away in light of seeing God there with me- Immanuel.


Captain Brandon- Returning to take us back home!
SANCTIFIED MEMORIES

Is this a magic trick or playing make-believe? I don't think so. It's just another way of allowing God to transform my thoughts and feelings. It's another way to allow God to heal. Not only did God heal Sam through the medicine but he is healing my emotions and my fears; those thorny memories that could cut me again and again as I remember the unsanctified version of events. Instead, I can see God and He is so good to me. It replaces fear with peace. It grows my faith and brings great comfort in knowing God loves me and is not distant or unaware of my hurts. And when I retell this story of Sam's nearly dying of malaria, it highlights God's presence and goodness and encourages the listener to experience the same for themselves. Win, win, win.

So this year has not been easy or breezy but it has indeed been beautiful! I have experienced God's profound love and peace in a new way. It has grown my faith and I know I am truly His beloved. I hope this story has encouraged you as well. May you experience the presence and peace of the Lord in the midst of thorny memories!