Friday, March 16, 2012


Life Fourways in Northern Johannesburg - you can see, very first-world hospital

Like all things that are thrown at us with a curve, the incident yesterday at the hospital tested our faith.  Yesterday’s hospital visit was supposed to be a couple of hours and it turned out to be a whole day.  

Let me begin by saying that we’ve had had a very stressful week.  We got home from a 4-day holiday, where we relaxed like champions, and were thrown into activity, as most people can attest to in their lives.  A friend of ours, whose twin 15-month-olds had been hospitalized for infection, had lost one of them, and was devastated by grief.  Sepsis, a potentially deadly medical condition, in any country, had racked this poor boy’s body.  His last days were characterized by a whole-body inflammatory state, where the blood infection multiplied too fast for the immune system to keep up. 

Lucky, the father, is a precious man with a strong but gentle spirit, and works at the church.  He asked Mario to do the funeral.  In reality, this means walking through the funeral arrangements, making sure the family is well-tended and comforting the grieving mother.  It was a sad situation, and even the other twin, still in the hospital,  seemed to miss his brother. 

On Tuesday, at the funeral, the service, although well-done, was the saddest I have ever been to.  The baby’s mother, Dineo, collapsed collapsed at the graveside, grief-stricken, and unresponsive.   

It was devastating.  She was later taken to hospital, leaving  Lucky torn between one hospital with his baby, and the other with his wife.  We were on our way to training at church when we asked our friends to pray for this family... It later turned out that Dineo was released from the hospital, much better, and that the baby, Obvious, was getting much better as well. 

Lucky’s message to us that night was so encouraging: “Hi Mario and Janet.  Thank you for all your prayers, because Obvious is getting better as you said and DINEO IS OUT OF THE HOSPITAL AND I CAN SAY GOD IS GREAT.” He asked us not to give up on praying.

 That night, at the training at the church, I was happy to be around friends and listen to great teaching, but I yearned for my bed, exhausted from the events of the day.  At the very end of the night, I don’t even remember getting into bed. 

The next morning, Mario kissed me and said good morning, as usual.  Then he said this weird thing:

“Hey, why not grab a cup of coffee and let’s go sit down and chat.”

I did, half in a fog. 

Morning is not the time to chat with me. 

“I didn’t want to tell you last night,” he began, snapping me into wide-awake mode, “but last night at the training I went out to get tea and felt a weird  tightness in my whole upper body."  

He went on to explain how the incident was strange, but not painful, and that he wanted to call the doctor and be seen.  I completely agreed.  The only plans we had that day was to deliver his car to our mechanic, since it was in desperate need of repair. 

Our doctor suggested that he have an EKG at the hospital.  We went in, and since our (basic, bare-bones) insurance only covers hospitalization (all care provided on emergency needs) we went through the emergency room.  

Mario's wait was unusually long, and he decided to go home and come in the very next morning.  There, in the crowded emergency room, I froze.  I turned to the reception desk and said, “He’s about to go home and he was having chest pains last night.  What would you do if he came in on an ambulance having a heart attack?”   

“Well, we’d take him right in,” the man said, as politely as he could.  I started fuming. 

“This is chest pain, and it is very serious!” 

Mario was there, with me, at the counter, saying “Well, it really wasn’t chest pain, but...”  I flashed him a “talk and die” look, which certainly wouldn’t help in a stressful situation.  He led me outside, and talked slowly to me. 

“I am not going to wait four hours without my ipad or my studies.  If you are that concerned, let’s go home and get them.  I think this can wait until the morning, don’t you?” 

My head was cloudy with panic, and my eyes were heavy with tears, but even in that state I knew that there was no chance swaying Mario's mind when it is made up.  We left, dropping the idea of the EKG for that moment.

At home, we faced reality: Mario’s car, long needing an engine tune-up and brake work, needed to be turned in to our local mechanic.  We delivered it.  Later, we went to our small group in its idyllic location of Lanseria, and had a fabulous dinner, then Mario led us in Bible study.  I tried to act like everything was normal, but I was very concerned. 

The very next morning, Mario got up very early and went to the emergency room (without me).  He was first in line, and was given the test immediately.   The EKG was perfectly normal and showed no signs of stress.  

His only concern, while he was there, was that he had arranged a meeting at 9:00 and it didn’t look like al of the testing would be finished by then.  Jake, an American with a very similar heart as ours, was the guy he was supposed to meet with, so he called him and explained the whole situation. 

Jake ended up coming to the hospital for moral support, since he had just been there a few days before (he missed the baby’s funeral because of it) for an inner-ear infection. 

Even though all the tests were normal, there was still more to be done.  Mario called me to tell me the news.  “They’re admitting me, but talk to the doctor!!” 

The doctor got on Mario’s cell phone, explaining the process and the length of the testing that they would do “just to be sure” that there was no stone left unturned, medically speaking, to answer the question of the chest tightness.  She decided to admit him so that he could see a cardiologist and so our insurance would pay for the barrage of tests.  I asked my basic questions, and then decided to try to get a ride to the hospital to be there. 

 I asked for  a lift from a friend across the way, Terry, who explained that he was on his way to work and could give me a lift if I could leave now.  I assured him I could, and hung up.  As I was leaving, our daughter called.  I was rushing to leave, and explained to her that the only reason I couldn’t talk was that I was “rushing to go to the hospital” and I realized I alarmed her.  The more I tried to explain what was going on, the more rushed I sounded, the more stress was in my voice.   I guess there’s no way to tell your daughter on the other end of the world that the heart tests on her dad are just precautionary measures....

 When I got there, Jake and Mario were chatting it up like they were having a party.  As soon as I came in Mario said, "Hey babe!"  like it was any other meeting I was coming in to.   Everyone seemed so calm, and I soon realized, there was no real cause for worry.

They moved him to cardiac care - a sobering ward. Then, the doctor (a Japanese South African), Dr. Yip came in and asked a BUNCH of questions, making me realize two things: 1.  we were here to do these tests as a precaution; and 2. Mario is an extremely low risk for heart disease. 

 He ordered the tests, and we waited.   It was definitely going to be an overnight stay for Mario.  

They soon started a heart test that was scheduled to take 24 hours from start to finish.  It was a "Portable EKG computer" so small, it looked like Alicia's insulin pump.  
They shaved parts of his chest and slapped about fifteen adhesive sensors that they attached wires to, leading to the portable unit.  After this came a very daunting shot in the stomach with medicines to relax the heart and the lungs (it made him sleepy).  He slept for a few hours while I studied at his bedside.  

By the time he woke up, they had brought him tea and we chatted a bit, but he was mainly restful and relaxed.  “You know,” he said, “It’s actually a very restful day.”

As things in that room became more and more digestible to my soul,  I decided to beat the traffic home, and drove the car Mario had been driving back to our house, where our dogs were happy to see me.  I had picked up a very generous donation for a few families in Diepsloot, the township where we work, and was trying to arrange on the phone, when I could deliver them. 

It was raining...I missed Mario.  As much as I knew the tests were all routine, I wanted to be with him.  I decided to call him and ask if he wanted me to deliver pudding to him (an excuse) that I had made for him the day before.  

 "You're never gonna believe this!” he said.  “I'm discharged!!"  

Apparently the doctor made a second visit to his bedside, just after I left.  He decided to give him the heavy stress test now and put him on a treadmill to test the heart's reaction.  He brought him up to a level on the treadmill that was two away from very top, and was "satisfied" that Mario was beyond healthy in the heart area....his exact words were "You're the oldest person who I have tested at the level with such success."  

I jumped for joy, selfishly happy that I would have the chance of having him back in our own bed that night.  

“I’ll be right there!!”  I yelled, into the phone.  “I just have to make a drop in Diepsloot, and then I’m coming!” 

I drove to the hospital, after dropping stuff with Portia at her place in Diepsloot.  “Hey,” she said, as she came out to greet me, “I just saw the sms!!  Great news!!”  Apparently Mario had sms’ed everyone that he had been discharged... and this was a reason to celebrate.  Inside of her place, Portia and the goup of ladies she normally meets with on Thursday nights, were whooping and hollering celebration.  It was awesome. 

On my way to pick up Mario, I was overcome with gratitude.   The tests were not just normal, but better than...and I would be receiving my husband home to sleep in his own bed. 

Three months ago I lost my brother-in-law, Mario’s brother.  This week, we buried a baby so small that the coffin could fit on the back of a car.   Life is fragile.  Fragile and fleeting and precious.  Life, with all of its challenges and heartbreaks, is ours to enjoy. 

As I pulled up to the hospital, I saw him standing outside, waiting for me under the cover of the turnaround.  As I drove up, he stuck out his thumb for a ride.  I laughed...and cried.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


Dad and Mom on their 50th Anniversary

When I was young she was always there.  She was soft, welcoming and huggable.  She doesn’t like to admit it, but she loved to nap.  She cooked from scratch and baked cool things and spoke to her own mother every day on the phone.  She was the fifth out of seven siblings, and had a strong sense of family.  She watered the lawn with a hose-sprayer after dinner, as if it gave her peace and comfort (What the hell was up with that?  So not me! )   She was beautiful, peaceful and rarely raised her voice to me.    

The list is on autoplay when I think of her.  Hearing the word “mom” rewinds me back to her then and transports me to who she is now.  Still, my list doesn’t really play into why I love her so much.  There is something uncharted in the human heart that makes people beautiful and valuable to us.  My mom is both, and I am so grateful that she is in my life. 

I didn’t always feel this way.  If you would have asked me at 16, I would have said my mom didn’t care much for me.  If you would have asked her who her “challenging child” was, she would have answered that I was.  Her glowing, graceful, feminine persona accepted the of hardships of life as well as its blessings.  I was born outspoken, waiting for someone to ask for my opinion about anything, and giving it readily.  Growing up, I was a classic underachiever, though, with a tendency toward being overly sensitive.   Almost every report card I brought home had notes saying that I “wasn’t applying myself” or that I daydreamed or that I was careless about handing in my homework.  I waited for her to lose faith in me, but somehow, she never did.  She would chew me out between clenched teeth when I crossed her boundaries and I would stand with my hands on my hips and roll my eyes like it didn’t faze me. 

Nevertheless, my mom, over the years, became a pillar of wisdom for me.  She had little by little chiselled out a place of refuge in my life, becoming a trusted ally, even though we were so different.  My first child was born when I was 23 and I instantly had a heart change for her, longing for her to be near. In every sense of the word, she was a natural mother, and when I compared myself to her, I came up wanting.  When I would tell her this, she would almost scold me, reminding me that I shouldn’t compare myself to anyone. 

Being polar opposites, now, has its advantages.   I can count on her to have a viewpoint I respect... one that I need to hear because it’s usually the reverse of mine; and in the balance I find wisdom for the moment. 

I know lots of people – good people – who are not drawn to their mothers like I am to mine.   I can’t explain why, but my mother is the safest person I know.  When I’m lonely for her, I cry.  Sometimes I call her when I do, and instead of asking me to return to my homeland and to my family, she reminds me of my calling here and prays for God to strengthen me. 

She loves me, and I know it.

March is her month, and she just celebrated another birthday without me there.  Some days you just want your mom, no matter how old you are.  Today is one of them.