Christmas 2015, A Christmas to Remember

It is funny the things that stick in our memories. Really the only Christmases that I remember from my childhood were the ones in Thailand as an earliteen. Our Ekamai Adventist Church Choir would go caroling to the big 5 star hotels in Bangkok. We had uniforms, cool green vests specially made for the Christmas eve event. Dad and I were in the choir together.

I remember the special Christmases in Tillamook when the kids were little and all three grandparents were with us. Dad and I had a special tradition of giving each other a jar of almond roca candies. The last 10 years have been wild. Bekki and I looked back and I don’t think we have spent Christmas in the same place 2 years in a row since about 2003-2004. We have celebrated Christmas together in some pretty wild and exotic places in that time, and we are grateful for the memories.

This year, though was shaping up to be a bit of a bust. It would be the first year without Lindsay, and only the second Christmas without Jon. Our only consolation was we would at least have Diana. Someday maybe I will learn that when things seem the worst they often turn out to be the best, or at least one of the best.
Our Christmas started 2 days after getting back to Moundou. We had brought with us a Jewish physical therapist from Switzerland, Namoi, who would spend two weeks with us, doing PT and staff education. Turns out Hanukkah started two days after we arrived. What a beautiful privilege and blessing it was to celebrate Hanukkah with her, as each night we lit candles and listened to the blessing.

Naomi and Diana at our little Hanukkah celebration.

Naomi and Diana at our little Hanukkah celebration.

But God was not done with our Christmas yet.

The afternoon of December 23 Bekki got a phone call from some evangelical missionary friends of ours who run a print shop on the mission station just north of Moundou. Their grand-daughter, 15 year old Alyssa, was sick, with a high fever. They started her immediately on malaria meds, but were worried nonetheless. Christmas eve morning, Bekki called back to see how Alyssa was doing. They were just leaving the house to come to the hospital. Her temperature was 104, she had been vomiting all night and she was lethargic. Thirty minutes later they arrived and Victor had to carry her into the house she was so weak. Alyssa was scared, her grandparents were scared. Malaria can be wicked, and she was worse even after starting treatment.

We quickly got her blood tested confirming both malaria and typhoid, and just clinically she was dehydrated. Diana got an IV going and we started treatment with fluids, antibiotics and quinine. We got them all set up in the two guest rooms and Diana and Bekki kept her IV’s and IV meds going over the next 60 hours. She was one sick little girl. Lots of prayers around the world went up in her behalf.

Our Christmas gathering, Bekki, Nancy,  Jack, Alyssa , and Diana.

Our Christmas gathering, Bekki, Nancy, Jack, Alyssa , and Diana.

Bekki still had plans for Christmas eve. She and Diana spent all day baking cookies, something like 300. She made snickerdoodles and Christmas sugar cookies. She has some cookie cutters and started out making Christmas trees with green sparkles. Unfortunately Tchadiens have no context of understanding of Christmas trees, to them it looked like arrows, so she switched to stars and bells. They made gallons of punch spiked with 7-up. And promptly at 6 pm we headed to the hospital to throw a surprise Christmas eve party for the patients and families and any staff who wanted to come. A party complete with punch, homemade cookies and a movie. It had been a long time, too long, since we had shown the Jesus video, but what better time than Christmas eve, when the whole Christian world celebrates His birth. It was a lot of work but a huge success as over 100 people watched the film in their heart language, Ngambay.

The birthday cake for Jesus that Nancy made.

The birthday cake for Jesus that Nancy made.

By Christmas morning Alyssa was feeling better, but still not eating or drinking and throwing up when she tried to walk, but definitely improving. Nancy and Jack, her grandparents had brought homemade Christmas cookies with them and a killer stuffing for Christmas dinner. The ladies went all out and Friday afternoon we were treated to as traditional a Christmas dinner as you could ask for. We spent the evening reading Christmas in my heart stories and fellowshipping together. We were able to get Alyssa connected by skype to her parents, Nancy and Jack’s daughter and son-in-law.

Late Christmas morning a family came into the hospital with their little 5 year old girl, Ramadji. She was crying and screaming and clutching at herself in the universal, “I gotta go” sign. She had been like this for 2 months as her parents tried to find help for her. Abba the consultation nurse immediately knew what she needed, and for the first time in 8 months we had the equipment to do it. He suspected a bladder stone, and she needed an ultrasound. I had just received one from our French speaking group AMALF and had gotten it working the day before. A five second look was all it took to see the bright white crescent with the black shadow in her little bladder. It was huge, no wonder she was screaming. She had to be having constant bladder spasms.

Little Ramadji sleeping just after surgery.

Little Ramadji sleeping just after surgery.

Her bladder stone

Her bladder stone

We treated her with antibiotics, pain meds and sedatives to get her (and everyone else) through the night. Normally we don’t operate on Sabbaths, but there was no way I was going to make this little child of God suffer any longer. The stone was at least an inch and a half in diameter, and rough. I can’t imagine how she suffered. Thankfully we aren’t in the US as we had to tie her hands and feet to the bed as she woke up so she wouldn’t pull out her catheter and hurt herself. By sundown she was calm and quiet and the nurses were able to untie her safely.

Today, Sunday, has seen our eventful Christmas come to an end. Alyssa was eating and drinking well this morning and so she, grandma and grandpa all finally got to go home. Little Ramadji ate a normal Tchadien breakfast of bouille this morning, and was lying peacefully and quietly in her bed on rounds. Things were quiet at supper tonight, with just the three of us once again as we ate leftovers and cookies, but it was a happy quiet.

It had not been the Christmas we planned (other than the party for the patients and families), but it turned out to be a Christmas we will always remember with great fondness. It is not often we are given so many opportunities to be a blessing to others in such a short time period. And for me even less often that I seize the opportunity when it is presented to me. It really is true, our greatest joy is found in service to others.

For those of you new to our blog please look around at the other pages, the “About” page tells a bit of who we are and our background, the “Definitions” page explains some terms that are used that some of you may not be familiar with, such as GC or AHI. The “Timeline” gives an idea of where we will be throughout the year, and the “Video” page has a video Bekki made of Koza Hospital as well as the videos she has made of Moundou. There is also the Surgical Pictures Page, but be forewarned, it has some very graphic pictures, so if you don’t like blood and guts, stay away from that page. You will also find links to other missionary blogs such as Olen and Danae Netteburg and others. Finally, if you like our blog and want to receive each new post directly to your e-mail, please sign up with your e-mail in the subscribe box. It doesn’t cost anything, there is no commitment, it just makes it easier to follow us.

We welcome volunteers.

-Scott Gardner

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THINGS ARE DIFFERENT HERE

Note: I haven’t written for a while. We were on vacation in November and spent most of our time doing nothing and really enjoying it. The one seven day vacation you probably don’t want to hear about, only thing worse than telling you about it would be making you look at pictures. But we are back in Tchad and have been for two weeks. We got to spend two extra days in Paris courtesy of Air France, but I picked up a cold there, which has been making the rounds of the missionaries here, so none of us have felt well since we got back. But now I am starting a new series on things that just don’t happen in the West. Hope you enjoy it.

“Docteur, le malade-la, il a envie de rentrer avec son sang. »

It was David, my administrator telling me that the patient whose surgery I had just cancelled wanted to take his bag of donated blood home with him.

Now, this is not the first time I have heard this. Before major operations we have patients find someone to donate a pint of blood for their surgery, especially before the orthopedic cases. That way when we lose a lot of blood (typical) we have a unit of whole blood to give back to them. Now Tchadiens are very bright and very observant and very cost conscious. It comes from paying for your own medical bills, I guess. So they watch and when they don’t see that red bag dripping red fluid into their vein they want to know where their blood is. Often they don’t lose too much blood, and since there are lots of studies which demonstrate the inhibition on the immune system from blood transfusions, we don’t transfuse unless it is necessary.

Sooooo….I have frequently had the following conversation at discharge.

“Doctor, the patient wants to know where his blood is, he never received it.”

“I know he didn’t receive it, by the grace of God he didn’t lose much blood and didn’t need the transfusion. So it is still in the blood bank.”

“He would like to have his blood.”

“Ok, it is his blood, he paid for it, and if he really wants to he can take it home, or he can leave it here and we will use it to save someone else’s life.”

“OK”

And that is usually it, the patient decides to leave the blood here and go home basking in the glow of knowing he had a part to play in saving someone’s life.

This particular patient that wanted his blood, had been scheduled for a big ortho surgery by Samedi the nurse-surgeon who covers for me. However, I didn’t agree he needed surgery, so I cancelled the case (the only great thing about being medical director, sole doctor and sole surgeon). The patient had already done all his blood tests and a relative had donated a pint for him. So the nurses took out his IV and prepared to discharge him.
That is when he decided he wanted to take his blood home. I started negotiating. If he kept his blood with us, we would reimburse all his money. We had kept the cost of doing the labs. I figured he would go for that.

His answer was OK, we could keep his blood for him, so it would be ready should he need it down the road. Now not even considering the fact the blood is only good for 30 days, we are not going to be someone’s personal blood bank.
I said no, and repeated the original offer. His answer was a first. He turned down the money and took the blood. I could not believe it. I asked if he was going to put it on his mantle, so he could see it every morning when he gets up.

This whole interchange took place in my office with David and several nurses, as well as a patient and her two daughters. Everyone was laughing over the mental picture of this guy going home with his bag of blood. One of the daughters speaks French so she followed the whole conversation. She was trying to be polite and HIPPA compliant, but was laughing along with the rest.

Somewhere in the southwest of Tchad there is a house with a bag of coagulated red blood inside. I just hope someone doesn’t think it is tomato juice.

For those of you new to our blog please look around at the other pages, the “About” page tells a bit of who we are and our background, the “Definitions” page explains some terms that are used that some of you may not be familiar with, such as GC or AHI. The “Timeline” gives an idea of where we will be throughout the year, and the “Video” page has a video Bekki made of Koza Hospital as well as the videos she has made of Moundou. There is also the Surgical Pictures Page, but be forewarned, it has some very graphic pictures, so if you don’t like blood and guts, stay away from that page. You will also find links to other missionary blogs such as Olen and Danae Netteburg and others. Finally, if you like our blog and want to receive each new post directly to your e-mail, please sign up with your e-mail in the subscribe box. It doesn’t cost anything, there is no commitment, it just makes it easier to follow us.

We welcome volunteers.

-Scott Gardner