Thursday, August 13, 2015

11:00 a.m.

Texas Medical Center in Houston had beautiful padded chairs in their quarantine area.  Gigi felt their smooth upholstered seats while she waited for the nurse to come back.  It was now 11:00.  Her long red hair twisted into a fury of ringlets, and Gigi absentmindedly played with them as she considered her elephant ankles.

Swollen and red, Gigi kept her ankles in the chair in the hopes that something might circulate better and suddenly she would be able to walk out.  At last, the nurse arrived, wearing a paper mask and rubber gloves.  Gigi raised her eyebrows, in disbelief.


“I’m sorry, Mrs. VanDerHaven, you may come with me now,” she said in a sweet Southern accent.  The accent that, just six hours ago, was the most charming sound in the world to Gigi.  Now it was a heckling sound of Satan, forcing her to use self-control.

She followed the nurse to a clean grey room with more padded chairs and a stainless steel table in the middle.  The nurse had her file in her beautifully manicured fingers and Gigi looked at it suspiciously.  “Is this all really necessary?”

“I’m afraid so,” the nurse answered through her mask.  “Please justy be patient with the process.”

“You know I only need a diuretic, right?” Gigi had said this several times this morning to many people.  All of these people were preoccupied with her nationality: South African; and her flight path: Johannesburg-Senegal-Atlanta-Houston.

“Your doctor will be right in,” the nurse made eye contact with her at last.  She didn’t look like Satan, In fact the nurse had beautiful green eyes with just the right amount of mascara on them.  She looked happily content keeping Gigi cooped up in quarantine until her blood tests came back.

“You do know that South Africa is nearly nine thousand kilometers away from any area that had ebola right?”

The nurse looked away and began to close the door.  When Gigi sighed heavily, the nurse looked back at her.

“You might not think this is necessary, Mrs. Van Der Haven, but the hospital does have its procedures.”  The nurse started to leave, but decided to cruelly add: “Senegal is much closer to the infected areas.”

As soon as the door shut, Gigi stuck her tongue out.  Of course the nurse couldn’t see, but she felt better. 

Gigi sang a song she learned in Sunday School; she tried to focus on God’s plan, God’s timing.  She and Carl had taken the cheapest flight available and didn’t even consider the ebola crisis, since it was six months old.  When they arrived in the States, Gigi had a fever and had swelled up like a water balloon.  She was sure she caught Andy’s flu; their youngest child had fallen asleep in their bed the night before they left.

At 11:45 a doctor entered, casually strolling in like Gigi was a normal patient.  

“Good morning, Mrs. VanDerHaven.”

“It’s FUN-nee- Hoffen,” Gigi corrected, impatient and worn out.

“Oh!”  The doctor looked down at his paperwork, then back up at her.  “Okay.”

“So sorry, but I’m out of patience and I just want to go home.”

“Of course,” the doctor was an overweight fifty-something that seemed pleasant, but Gigi didn’t care. All she cared about were her test results and getting out of Houston. “Well, your test results came back negative, which is good news.”

“Meaning I don’t have ebola, right?”

“No, you don’t.”

Gigi nodded angrily.  She had been telling anyone who would listen that she hadn’t been inn contact with ebola in any way.  “And I suppose I can’t have a diuretic, which is why I even came to the hospital in the first place?”

The doctor laughed, as if this were some kind of joke.  When he realized that Gigi was serious, he cleared his throat.  “No.”

There was an unpleasant silence and then Gigi sighed again.

“So I can leave?” She asked, standing up.

“Yes, ma’am!” The doctor took a step back. 

“Alright, good,” Gigi started for the door and realized she didn’t know where she was going.   She had walked down so many corridors this morning; she had lost her bearings.

“Well, then will someone kindly escort me to my husband?”  Gigi asked, on the brink of tears.  “I don’t know where I am.”

The doctor, moved with compassion, opened the door for her and placed his hand on her shoulder.  “Of course Mrs…”

“FUN-nee- Hoffen,” Gigi pronounced for him. 

“Yes, come right this way,” he began to walk with her, stopping by the quarantine lockers to pick up her purse and scarf.  While they walked to the main waiting area, the doctor explained hospital policy and the terrible scare of 2014.  Every fever from West Africa was treated like an outbreak of some kind, he told her.  Of course, don’t quote me, he said.  He was laughing as he said it, but Gigi continued to sob, quietly. 

It was her first time in America and so far her experience had been harsh and heavy.  She had never been separated from her husband in a foreign country until now, and even one as first-world as the Untied States was scary. 

“Now just ride this elevator down to the second floor and you will run right into the main waiting area.  Your husband is there waiting for you…”

At that moment, a woman in a denim jumpsuit hopped on the elevator, almost running into Gigi.  “Oh, please forgive me,” the woman said.  Gigi tried to say “That’s okay” or some polite response, but all she could do was cry.

“Are you alright?” the woman in the jumpsuit asked.  The elevator doors began to close; the doctor waved, clueless about the emotional toil Gigi had gone through that morning. 

“I’m sorry,” Gigi finally said.  “They tested me for ebola this morning.  It was a frightening experience.”

The woman nodded.  “Have you been in West Africa?”

Gigi nodded, pushing tears away.

“Well, then you’re going to be treated like you have the plague until they prove otherwise.”

This struck Gigi as funny and she laughed.  The woman in the jumpsuit handed her a tissue from one of her many pockets.  Gigi thanked her, grateful for the laugh and the tissue from a stranger.

“I’m Gigi VanDerHaven,” she said, offering her hand.

“I’m Carol Semi,” the woman said, shaking it.  “I hope your visit to the United States improves, Gigi, I really do.”

Gigi smiled, just as the elevator dinged and doors opened.  Ahead of her was a busy waiting room; Gigi was overwhelmed with the amount of people.  Maybe it was the transition from isolation to a crowd; but she froze.  Behind her, she heard Carol’s voice:

“Who are you looking for?  I’ll help you find them.”

Gigi was grateful and nodded, thankfully.  “My husband, Carl.  He’s tall and wears square glasses.”

“Is he a red-head like you?” Carol asked.

Gigi smiled again.  “He has dark brown hair and a fair complexion.”

“Is that him?” Carol turned Gigi’s shoulders ten degrees to the right, where Gigi saw Carl, walking speedily toward her. 

Their embrace lasted a good ten minutes; afterward Gigi turned to Carol to thank her, but she was gone.  Had she been an angel?  What a wonderful exchange for such a brief encounter, Gigi thought.  Maybe America wasn’t going to be that bad, after all.