Friday, July 14, 2017

$3.10 Poverty Challenge and Healthcare

It all started by eating a simple chapatti, a small flatbread prepared on a skillet. I love chapatti, which is exactly why the pastor purchased two for me to have at breakfast before the final day of our training in Mwingi. I gladly scarfed down both to the great joy of our host, unknowingly saving the other teammates from impending doom.

Within an hour I knew something was wrong but wrote it off as the usual, “That’s what you get for eating food made by street vendors.” By lunch I was begging Pr Ephantus to make excuses for me to the host pastor because I knew that when lunchtime came I would not be able to eat. In African culture, if you don’t eat the food presented you are considered extremely rude. Even with that pressure, I just knew I couldn’t eat or drink a bite.

Thank the Lord for a great team because by the end of the day I almost had to be carried out. Bless another pastor who had come to the training and, rather than dropping us at the bus station, drove us all four hours to my home away from home in Nairobi. Though I’d not said a single word about the dread I was feeling in taking a bumpy squished hot bus ride for five to six hours to reach there, this pastor took it upon himself to drive the entire team that great distance, perhaps for my benefit alone.

Thinking I’d feel better when everything…um…passed through, I was disappointed when that wasn’t the case. Maybe I’d feel better tomorrow. I kept pushing on believing I would soon be well and instead found that I was more miserable than ever. Thanks to a special donor, I flew home (to coast) rather than bussed and promptly landed myself face down in bed…for the next six weeks.

The sweet local doctor lady examined me and recommended a few of the tried and true tests through which we found typhoid. After purchasing the medicine and heading home, I had spent a grand total of $77.00 to address this illness. Relieved, I eagerly took the prescribed medicine despite what seemed to be almost an overdose. Finally, I would be well or so I thought. After that medicine was long gone, I was still sick. Why? Maybe if I eat something. Not! It took a while to realize that single slice of toast I forced myself to eat every morning was like poison to all that was churning around inside me and my body did everything it could to fight against that and any other food or drink I tried.

Ever mindful of my aversion to hospitals here, especially for something silly like dehydration, I managed to keep down a few bites of Jell-O made with orange juice without a fight against the as yet unknown creatures taking over my body. Eventually I hauled out a box of ultra-stale Cheerios and discovered through lots of trial and error that a small handful every two hours would not produce that harsh reaction and would keep my stomach from growling too much. Day and night, I ate that small handful. Maybe tomorrow I’ll feel better.

Ministry programs came, and ministry programs went. Each morning I woke and thought one more night and I’ll feel better so I can go to the program. Yet that morning where I thought I’d feel better never came. Again, thanks to a great team who carried on as best they could completely without me. Maybe tomorrow I’ll feel better.

Six weeks passed and now the big team meeting and two week-long programs were upon us. Obviously one more night and I’ll feel better wasn’t working out for me. A friend recommended a tropical medicine clinic in Nairobi, which could have easily been on the way to the big team program. Again thanks to that special donor, I few back to Nairobi rather than taking the 12 hour bus, and arrived at that clinic way before time. Sprawled out on their waiting sofa, I did just that. Blood test, no problem and typhoid was indeed gone. Stool test? Don’t you have to eat to poop? Sigh.

Back to my Nairobi home to wait, and wait. Finally and unknowing boda-boda driver carried that special package to the clinic on my behalf and that sweet, compassionate lab technician soon reported Giardia (parasite) and Hylicobactor Pylori (bacteria). Along with typhoid, both have water borne origins (i.e., whoever made that chapatti didn't use clean water). I was given a list of SIX prescriptions. Thank God for another friend who went to the pharmacy for me and returned with a bag full of medicines, some of which I am still taking. By now my total healthcare expenses related to this one long illness ran sky high to just over $200 (not including the flight gifts).


Hylicobactor Pylori
Oh how happy that Wednesday report made me. We finally knew what was wrong, had the meds and I would be well! Thursday? Kill me now!!! Thursday was the day of arrival for the team in Kisumu, a mere six-hour taxi ride from Nairobi. Um, I was quite sure I would soon be in the grave so there was no reason to prepare for that long trip. Having my father’s work ethic, and another gift of flight from that same donor, I was dragged from home by a loving taxi driver and delivered to the airport. Less than an hour later another loving couple picked me from the door, fed me (though I scarcely ate), and delivered me to the hostel where the team was waiting.

Now 9 pm, despite having told the team it was ready, the hostel reported that my room was not available. Yes, not available. Now I was to drag myself down the street to another hostel “just for that night.” Oh Lord, I asked, what on earth??? The team made sure I took my meds, tucked me in bed, and left me there alone. The night passed like all the other nights. And then the sun came out!

Friday morning I checked myself as though I had fallen from a great height. Could it be? Could it be that I feel…okay? Was it possible? I carefully dressed and asked the guys to come carry my bag back to the meeting place. I ate more than a small handful of Cheerios (yes, that box lasted forever because I wasn’t eating much). Throughout the day Friday and Saturday I increased my Cheerio intake only as a matter of caution, though I felt quite well. Both days I managed to sit upright for our team meeting (something I hadn’t done for more than 15 minutes at a time while at home) and my brain was somewhat sharp-ish. Sunday, eggs and a slice of toast. Monday, Java House here I come! Our entire 2.5-week program was completely unhindered by my illness and it only took a few days to feel like a new woman---a 25-pound lighter woman.

Throughout this six-week illness, I couldn’t help but reflect on its relationship to the $3.10 Poverty Challenge. Remember that something like 2/3rds of sub-Saharan Africa lives on less than $3.10 per day. If that were my situation, I would have to save my money for 64 days to pay the $200 for doctors and medicines not to mention traveling for that treatment not to mention the small village of people who cared for me in one way or another. That means 64 days without food, shelter, clothing, or anything else. Is that even realistic? Absolutely not; and I think that is exactly the point.

What can you do if you are sick and living on $3.10 per day? Have you ever wondered why the mortality rate in developing countries is so high? Yes sometimes it’s because doctors and healthcare systems are insufficient. More often, I would guess, it’s because people just don’t have the money for treatment and so they lay in the bed until sweet relief comes. Yes, this is what I was thinking about as I lay in my own comfortable bed waiting to see what tomorrow would bring.