Monday, April 09, 2007

More Health Issues in Heaven on Earth

Okay Joel, this one’s for you!

And thanks very, very much to everyone who takes the time to read my dribble. I’m glad I am sharing this crazy experience with you. If only I could get smell-o-vision for the Internet. I’m sure there is someone at ESRI who can figure that out, right? Topographic information, temporal information, and now, how things smell,..(rhinographic information? Hola!) Anyway. I digress.

And thanks to Teri’s friend who wrote to me – I can’t respond directly because Blogspot keeps the information on who sends messages (But I KNOW WHO YOU ARE,.. Jim). Thanks for making my day!

Yes, I know I need to update more frequently, especially since I keep forgetting my password to edit this site. That is a sure sign I’ve been a big slacker in the ol’ keeping things current department.

Ah yes, spring. Or if you are an expat living in Indonesia, dry season. The mosquitoes seem to have gone away for the most part. The murky swamps that had overtaken empty fields between houses have evaporated leaving mounds of garbage and vast spaces for fort building by dirty little blond California boys (mine.)

Our efforts to become healthy keep getting undermined. I spent the last month attempting to get rid of a nasty bout of bronchitis that finally resulted in a plane ride to Singapore to get fixed. The lengths I will go to for a little shopping, eh?

We are very fortunate to have SOS health insurance. We’ve always had them in the past, but never used them. I’ve made up for lost time, calling them at every opportunity for Dengue, Malaria, eye infection and now this. If I weren’t living in Banda, I’m sure they would think I had some sort of Munchausen syndrome.

I did find it curious that we had to argue with the doctors about evacuating kids – they were ready to send the Lear jet down the minute I mentioned Jared’s eye was red when I called on the last round of “Guess who in the Richardson family has an infectious disease!” – but when I called about sounding like a gas furnace every time I breathed – for an entire month - and many prescriptions of antibiotics not working, all I got was a ‘Drink lots of water!’. Hmm,.. I know I’m not a nubile little kid. I realize I am a woman of a certain age. I do however think I have some worth to my family and they might want to see me fixed up. Instead, I felt like the British doctor on the other end was ticking off the box entitled ‘Send to glue factory.’

I tried getting fixed on my own. I started seeing various doctors; the first at a clinic next to our house. I took Rob’s engineering department translator to ‘run interference’ for me. Since I also brought a couple kids with me (foot fungus and coughing troubles, might as well get my money’s worth) we of course had the usual small crowd of looky-loos in the examining room. The male doctor apologized profusely for having to touch me but did the examination anyway.

As we were driving home, the translator asked me, “Do you feel like throwing up after you cough like that?” I answered yes. She agreed saying, “I remember right after the tsunami crying for hours and that made me want to throw up, too.”

Okay, WHOA! Not the same thing. I have a bit of a cough. Here is this amazing, resilient woman trying to draw a point of commonality between us. She is describing so matter-of-factly being in her family house on the second floor when the wave hits. Watching her mother and sister loose their hold and get washed away.

What do you say to this?

What do you say in your broken pig Indonesian when you are hanging out in the kitchen and your ‘janitor’ tells you about loosing her six year old child in the wave? She is so thankful that her family (one more boy who is 14 and a husband) were the recipients of a house from another NGO in the area. She is not angry and tells me how much she loves working at my house because of the kids. Oh, and she wants CRS to build her house now because CRS houses are big and her house is so small it doesn’t have a kitchen. (She’s bringing a letter to request Rob rebuild her house.)

What do you say when the man who is installing your new bathroom sink matter of factly lets you know his wife died in the tsunami?

My second doctor here in Banda was a lung specialist who spoke wonderful English. The translator took me to the clinic where the receptionist wrote my name down on a list, gave me a registration card that cost 6000 rupia (80 cents) and told me to come back that evening. I came to the clinic myself (Rob, serving as my driver that evening was charged with dropping off my work computer at the local computer store; it too had a bug).

The only expat in a sea of hundreds of Indonesians; I was terrified. It’ll take forever, I thought. I’ll actually finish this new Michael Crichton book I had to black market a kidney to afford at the Jakarta airport.

I found my room down a dark, dirty hallway full of people. Paint peeling off walls. Trash pushed aside next to the walls. Concrete floors and walls. Lo and behold, the man sitting at a little wooden desk outside the doctor’s office actually had my name on his list. He gestured for me to take a seat on a wooden bench in the hallway and wait my turn. I tried reading between little kids sneaking over and staring. I’d look up, smile and they’d run shrieking away. I know the haircut I got in Bali wasn’t the best, but really,.. (My friend, who we will call Michelle because that is her name, told me “You may be past the age where you can pull off bangs.” Ah, the French; so honest.)

Within minutes I was being seen. One of the first things this doctor said to me was ‘thank you.’ Thanks for coming to Indonesia and helping Aceh get back on its feet after the tsunami. It was so nice of him. Embarrassing, actually.

Then he evened out my karma by sending me on a scary adventure to have my lungs X Rayed in Banda Aceh at night.

He instructed me to go to the General Hospital and give them a little piece of paper in an envelope. I thought for sure Rob knew where the General Hospital was. He didn’t. First on the call list was my friend who happens to be the director of another NGO. He basically gave me a talking to for not opening a case file with SOS (I subsequently did) and refused to tell me where the hospital was because he wasn’t certain it would be safe. Next person on the call list was a local engineer from Rob’s work.

We found the hospital. Not easy; they aren’t as obvious here. Not many lights, not a lot of activity.

Walked in to the front area which happened to be the emergency room. People on gurneys crane their necks to look at us. Man in a white shirt says he’ll take us to radiology. He speaks English, has on a white shirt (white is an official hospital color, right?) We follow him. He leads us to an open hallway with mosquitoes, murky lighting and more peeling paint. He says a few Indonesian words to some people who seem very busy and tells us to wait. He disappears.

I’m beginning to feel like I am in all the horror movies I have ever seen. Hanging out in a run down hospital with people you can’t communicate with. I’m afraid I’m going in for an X Ray and coming out without an appendix.

It reminded me of getting my face X Rayed in Cairo (sinus infection there. Beginning to think I shouldn’t be living in these types of places.) While they had me draped in a lead apron about six feet away from me in the same room were a bunch of workers doing remodeling. And smoking.

All of sudden, the busy people started to lock up. Rob grabbed the last of them; a man with a plaid shirt who had a handful of keys. He tells him our plight. The man gestures for us to follow him. We start the trek back to the front of the hospital. Then, the man starts to walk across the parking lot,.. Away from the hospital

At this point I grabbed Rob arm and told him, “On Oprah they say if you are ever abducted never to leave the area where you were first captured.”

Rob gives me a weird look, but asks the man to stop and explains again that we need an X Ray. The man chuckles, nods and gestures for us to follow him across four lanes of traffic. No wait, this is Indonesia. No one actually travels in a nice queue,.. there are about seven lines of traffic including one for chickens and goats.

Rob tells me, “It’s okay. He’s got keys. He’s official.”

We play real life frogger and come to another little store front where there is a bevy of human activity and a big X Ray machine. I pay my money and wait my turn, striking up a conversation with a nice gentleman from the States who had some little chest pains and came to this X Ray toko to ‘have it checked out.’ I’m seeing white noise again. I want to dig in my purse and thrust all my rupia at him screaming, “Get out! This is your HEART we are talking about for God’s sake!”

I get my X Ray and the man in the plaid shirt with the keys turns out to be a radiologist who takes a look at the film and determines allergies are my problem. Very helpful. (Not)

By the time I’ve been through three more doctors in about two weeks and find myself in a lab trying to hack mucus up into a little cup in front of EVERYONE in the waiting room (I am FEMALE. I do NOT do those things. I also can’t burp the ABCs like the four men in my immediate family and I am proud of this.) I decide “UNCLE!” I sit in the truck and call SOS on the handphone and tell them I can’t continue like this anymore. I am sick of feeling like a martyr not caring if I live or die. I want to LIVE! I insist they find me a real doctor. They oblige and start the wheels turning to ship me to Singapore.

Which, as Paul Harvey used to say, is the “rest of the story.”


Teri said...

Hi, Karen-
I often am speechless after reading your entries, and yet here I sit trying to reply. Have to admit I laughed out loud today reading that you quoted Oprah to Rob before following the radiologist across the street. What a world you're living in. I'm proud to know you and keep praying for you. Hope that bronchitis is clearing up.
all the way from Yucaipa (still)

mom2threepks said...

I'm glad you are better!!!! Kinda wondering what they did for you in Singapore that fixed you up? I'm kinda hoping you will tell us that shopping REALLY does cure all ills!

-Magan: my blog is at