Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Surgery - November 3

Sabbath morning...I was still feeling awful. Greg started me on antibiotics for the Typhoid fever. I threw up during the night and was still taking morphine as often as I was allowed.

Greg called James and Sarah over at the Koza Hospital in Cameroun to ask them to come with Gary in the plane, in case I needed to be evacuated. It was a long day. Liz stayed at the house with me during church while everyone went to listen to Hans preach.

James, Sarah, & Gary, the pilot, arrived in the evening in the plane. We could hear the whole village running to see the plane again. James came right in to assess me with Greg...lots of pressing and prodding. They left to discuss among themselves and soon reappeared to talk to me. They told me that if I was a local they would have already operated on me with the symptoms I was having. Clearly, the only thing holding them back was that I wasn't a local, the conditions at the hospital, and the possibility that I didn't even need to be operated on, since they can't do any tests hardly except an ultrasound.

They gave me 2 choices, stay in Bere and be operated on by them, or be flown out to Europe. I had one hour to decide to make the flight in time in N'djamena. Gary informed us that medivac would take a whole day to arrange with all the paperwork, so they told me that the plan would be for Cristina and I to fly to N'djamena, the capital, with Gary in his little plane. We would hopefully arrive in time for the one flight out to France at midnight. Cristina would load me up on antibiotics and pain meds. and somehow hide my IV under my shirt for the flight and then she'd help me to a hospital since she lives in France.

It sounded a bit iffy to me. Travel always seems to end in disaster in Africa. If I couldn't get on the flight to France, I'd be stuck in N'djamena. James told me that he wouldn't trust any of the other hospitals in Tchad.

I called my parents, talked it over, and still didn't know what to do. They, obviously, were more comfortable with me being in better conditions in France. But if I had a serious condition, it could be dangerous to try and go so far. My ultrasound didn't show much, just possibly something down in the pelvic area. My thoughts at the time were, "It's just stomach pain! Why do I have to be cut open?" James & Greg mentioned appendicitis a couple times which would mean I should be operated on immediately, but it didn't seem to match the pain I was having across my entire abdomen.

After praying a lot by myself and with the others and thinking through both choices, I made the more unlikely decision to stay here in Bere. One of my fears was just the likelihood that I would have to go home if I went to France instead of coming back to Tchad. I'd only been here 2 months so far. And I decided that I'd feel more comfortable around people I knew here than in some foreign country, especially if something went wrong.

Right away, everything started moving quickly towards preparing for the surgery. I talked to both of my parents briefly, informing them of my decision. Then I got online and quickly sent a short message out asking people to pray. Liz, Hans, and Cristina went over to prep the OR, dousing everything in bleach over and over. Audrey, Sarah, and Sonya helped me get ready. Right before we went over to the hospital, Greg asked to check me over one more time. The pain was worse and as I looked up into his eyes, he nodded to me and quietly said that he felt that this was right. The fear started to ebb away and I smiled back at him and told him I felt the same.

They had brought a stretcher to carry me over, but I begged to be allowed to walk. It hurt a lot as I shuffled along with Paul and Gary supporting me on both sides, but I felt a strange calmness around me as I glanced up at the stars and moon filtering through the mango trees.

I got to the OR and put on an old hospital gown. We gathered in one last circle for prayer, an all Caucasian staff for once, except for Anatole, my African father, who was faithfully waiting outside in case he needed to find blood for me.

Audrey, Liz, and Sarah went in with me and helped me climb up on the operating table. James & Greg came in to give me the spinal anesthesia (big needle!) and then left while I was covered with betadine and draped with blue sterile cloths. As I lay there, my arms getting tied down with the old ratty pieces of rope, I glanced up at the ceiling covered with nasty blotches and peeling, and thought, " O God, what am I getting myself into!" This is the room I've worked in, watching other people get cut open and now it's me! We had always just teased about how funny it would be if one of us had to be operated on...not so funny anymore. And have you ever been completely exposed and operated on by all your coworkers?!

James and Greg scrubbed in and got ready with the scalpel. They had planned on keeping me awake with just the spinal anesthesia, but it wasn't working fast enough, so Sarah gave me Ketamine and soon I was out cold.

The next thing I know, I'm awaking out of some weird dream trying to figure out where I am. Soon the blue haze clears and I can see that it's actually a mosquito net. Then the pain I mumble unintelligent words, Sonya and Liz's heads appear above me. I don't remember much except that I could only get one-word questions out at a time. They told me that I kept asking about one of the Tchadian patients I'd been taking care of before. I don't think I even remembered I'd had surgery in the beginning.

Sonya & Liz assured me that the surgery had gone well with no complications and that they had found a very angry, big appendix about to rupture. It had moved down under my uterus, causing the confusion of pain all over when they pressed my abdomen. I am so thankful that I stayed here since James is sure it would have ruptured mid-flight to N'djamena or France which could have caused worse problems.

As Liz went to get Greg while I woke up. Sonya told me later that she kept telling me, "you're so brave, so brave..." She says I looked back at her in my drugged state and mumbled out, "No, God's brave." So true!

I am now quite healed, over a month later, and am working again at the hospital. I stayed for a month with an Evangelical missionary couple down by the airstrip. They took great care of me and fed me wonderful food! I was amazed with the luxuries of butter & cheese, which I haven't had since I left the States. They have solar power set up allowing for fans, light, & a refrigerator!
I officially became the first white person to be operated on at the Bere Adventist Hospital! One Tchadian told me that he was amazed to hear I could be operated on here, he thought white people's insides were different than black people's, so they had to have surgery in Europe or the US. James says it has raised people's view of the hospital to know a white person lived through a surgery here. "God works all things for the good..."
Another thank you, a day later, the generator broke in the middle of a surgery, thankfully during the day. If it had happened during my surgery, at night....a bit of a disaster.
If you want to read a Drs. account of the surgery, James has written an account of it in his blog (Bere Hospital link on my blog). That way you can get a true picture of what my insides are like from his view :)


  1. It is amazing that even while you were sick God made you a witness. Bere Adventist Hospital seems to be a really interesting place.

  2. Oh Sarah! I'm so glad you're better and back at work. Praise the Lord! Carol B

  3. Sarah it is really good to hear that you are doing great. Miss you and will continue to pray for you.