Thursday, May 30, 2013

Sick and Tired in Africa

By Greg:


When I started this blog, I determined that I would post what it is really like here in Africa.  That sometimes means posting some stuff the young Elders are told not to tell their mothers about.  I would not tell about this if my mother was still with us, it would worry her to death.  But as she has died, I am not worried about telling it, though I am worried about seeing her sooner than I had planned.

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Several post back I put a picture of my face and the staph infection that I had.  That really freaked a few people out.  It probably did not do a lot for the “Oh you will love Africa message” but it is real.  With the help of my Dermatologist son-in-law, Greg Jacobsen, in St. George, we have gotten a hold of this and I hope it is history.  Sorry if I don’t look that great, but this is the “after” photo of my face. He could not make me look better than I did before, that is the role of another type of skin doctor.


Each morning, except Sunday, we wake up at about 5:30 and are walking around the Temple Square by 6:00.  During one of the power outages I was walking down the stairs in the dark.  My phone has a flashlight “app” and as I was turning it on I saw I had an email.  So, yes, you can call me stupid at this point, I read the email while walking down the stairs in the dark.  Why would they put one more stair on that flight?  Down I went, twisting my ankle a bit and banging my knee on the stairs.  I was up like a gazelle (actually I have nothing in common with a gazelle) but after doing a quick inventory of all my parts, I turned on the flashlight app and made it out of the building.  But my knee was a little sore.


Monday was a national holiday.  I think it was an Africa-wide holiday.  It was African-union day.  The goal of many is to unite Africa into the “United States of Africa”.  Friday night I gave a group of nursing students from BYU a ride to their hostel.  Their other option was to take cabs.  There were 13 of them so I loaded them in our 7 passenger Ford Everest (like an Explorer) and drove them home safely.  On my return I encountered this really cool torch-light parade going down Independence Avenue. It was dark, but the lights from over a thousand torches were really something.  Of course, it stopped all the traffic and Debi was worried that I was lost or stolen.  I did not take the camera, and in my rush to save the “damsels in distress” I forgot to take my phone. 


As I said, Monday was a holiday and the office was closed.  After walking for an hour we then go swimming for an hour.  It is already pretty hot by 7:00.  I noticed that I was feeling strange.  A little weak and a bit faint.  I thought it was just that I had overdone it.  My knee also hurt.


After breakfast (we showered at the outdoor shower at the pool as our power was off) we dressed and prepared for the day, which was to include a couple’s get-together in the afternoon for a movie and some pizza, I asked Debi if she was cold.  The A/C was off, so why would she be cold?  I was, and then I took a heavy chill.  I wrapped up in blankets and tried to get warm.  It is amazing that we actually have some blankets in our apartment.


Debi took my temperature and it was 101+.  We were thinking Malaria.  But I did not have the other symptoms, headache, vomiting, aches and pains.  One of the first things is to start drinking lots of water, which I did.


We called in sick for the party and pizza.  The Area Medical Doctor, Elder Elmer and Elder Cooper, a Temple missionary, came to check on me and gave me a blessing.  Elder Elmer did not want to start the Malaria treatment without more symptoms.  I took some IB and made a bed on the couch.  When I am sick, and it is daytime, I feel better on the couch, for some odd reason. But at night, or when it is close to night, I am heading straight for the bed. My mother always did this as well.


I noticed some pain and difficulty urinating.  We immediately started thinking bladder infection.  The treatment: drink lots of fluid.  We have cranberry juice and so I downed a carton of it as well.  Then the tap shut off completely, not the usual water failure in the apartment, this was the tap inside of me!  If you have seen The Green Mile Tom Hanks and I were in the same predicament.  I wished John Coffey would come and heal me!


I took more IB to fight the fever, but by 1:30 am I was dying, or hoping to do so.  We called Elder Dr. Elmer again.  He is a wonderful man and an Internal Medicine Specialist with extra training in trauma and heart problems. We told him all the medicine we brought that our good Doctor Mansfield sent us with.  We were all starting to think Prostatitis, an infection of the Prostate.  But what I needed was relief from all the fluid buildup. I was in real trouble and like King Henry V who would have given his crown for a sword; I would have given my kingdom for a Catheter.  


It was a very long night!  In the morning we did what we had hoped we would never have to do, go to an African Hospital.  It was actually a clinic, and it exceeded our expectations as a medical facility. We first took a number, which was not the normal African way.  We had number 23 and they were on 12.  We arrived at about 8:00.  When our number came up they said, “Have you been here before?” “No.” “We are sorry, we thought you had, take this paper and fill it out and return it to us.” We did and then we waited while they made up my chart.  When they finally called us for the chart, they were on number 47.  We then had to pay the fee for registration and pre-pay the fee to see a doctor.  We gladly paid.  We were then taken to the “Temperature Room” where we waited our turn based on the order my chart was on the pile.  When they called me, they weighed me (I must have had 10 pounds of fluids) and took my blood pressure and my temperature, then they gave another number card.  I was now 13.  I was told to go down the sidewalk to waiting room number 1.  The Clinic was a campus with open courtyards between all the many buildings.  They were on number 6 and it was now 10:30.  When they called number 13 it was 12:30 and I was in real trouble, having not urinated since the night before.


I was very happy to meet the doctor who sat at a desk with a nurse there to aid her.  She was the first person to ask me what was wrong.  I could have died by now.  There was no triage program.  She was all over the problem, and I am so grateful for her.  After lots of questions, she took me behind her to her exam room and examined my abdomen. She then filled out lab orders that looked similar to those in use in the US.  They sent Debi back to the cashier and pharmacy to purchase the supplies needed and pay the fees.  They took me across the courtyard to another building and room. There was no phone communication between offices.  Everything was done by a courier person.  Also there were not computers at all.


We had to buy our own catheter before they could “install” it.  They did begin an IV and gave me some medication in the IV.  There were four women in my room (workers) and they had me take all my clothes off and lie down on the table.  They then covered me with a blanket.  When Debi arrived with the catheter, a male attendant came and inserted the catheter while the women nurse held part of me still.  The relief was quick and worth the pain I felt while it was inserted.


The interesting thing (as if all of this is not interesting) was that Debi then had to take the blood and urine samples to the Lab herself and pay for the Lab fees.  Good thing we brought a fist full of money.  They do not take credit cards.


I got a pain pill and started to relax.  At 3:30 the Professor arrived.  I called him Doctor, and he corrected me and said he was a Professor, which I realized is a step or two up from a Doctor.  He is an Urologist.  He took over my case with a fury.  When he found that I had had this before, and that I also had a history of Kidney Stones, he ordered more tests.  He wanted a CT scan of my abdomen and an ultrasound of my prostate.  He did his own exam and was even more concerned.


When a specialist is concerned, that is the good and the bad part:  Bad, because if he is concerned, it is serious; Good, because if he is concerned enough, he will see it resolved.  I got home at about 6:00, very tired, with the catheter still in, and thanks to Debi, we had a couple of fresh bags.


We had some dinner. I had not eaten all day, or really drank anything.  After dinner I was gone.  Debi sat down and mapped out the treatment plan and all the medication.  She also e-mailed Doctor Mansfield what was happening and also called and reported to Elder Elmer.


At about 1:30 I woke in a chill.  I started shaking so hard.  I could not even call Debi’s name to wake her.  I thought, “If I were on the Willie handcart trek, I would be dead by morning!” She woke and put all the blankets on me and gave me some IB and held onto me so tight.  I was burning up but I felt so cold.  Actually I was so hot (not the kind of HOT I wished I was).  Finally I calmed down and eventually went to sleep.


The next time I woke I was all wet.  My clothes, the sheets and pillow were wet with sweat.  I had to change and put towels under me so we would not have to change the bedding.


In the morning we went back for the CT scan.  We did not have to do the registration again, and Debi had paid the day before, but we had to wait our turn.  They took us back, but then they delayed us because they had a sedated baby that they needed to do first.  We were happy to wait.  The look on the young mother’s face was one of total fear.  When the baby came out it was alert and everyone seemed more relaxed. It is so frightening to see a really sick infant, anywhere, but it must be so much more of a concern here where the result is usually not good.


I went in for the CT.  They have a 2 year old General Electric machine that “is very expensive” but extremely up to date.  They did not buy it used.  It was in a very clean room, but the actual buildings are about 25 years old.


Tomorrow we will go back in the afternoon and pick up the results and pre-pay the Professor’s fee and see him again.  We are hoping for some good news.  In-between pain pills I feel pretty good.


I am so grateful for everyone’s concerns and prayers.  I am especially thankful for Debi’s watchful care and concern.  All of our family knows she is a diligent assistant medical advisor/follower-of-the-treatment-plan person.


My African friends are also very concerned.  I missed the Open House last night and we had a crowd.  Our Brother Paul can think of nothing else but to pray for me.  The other missionaries are so kind and concerned. My name has been added to the “sick and the afflicted” list in the Temple and it is humbling to feel the love and concern of my fellow laborers. 


Sorry, this is not my normal post.  But the good news is that I am saving money on my car insurance!  My cars are parked and in the garage, so the insurance is very low.


  1. Prayers by others for the sick can literally bring miracles. I am also a big advocate for singing 3 hymns a day, which I learned from the Africans and which I personally believe saved me when we were in Ghana. (I still do this!) Please consider that option. And, keep us posted. I love your honest blog.

  2. Dad,
    Thanks for the detailed post. We are thinking and praying for you constantly. We love you so much!!


  3. Ohhhh... This WOULD worry Grandma to death, because I am worried half to death. I feel like my own bladder might burst just reading this. Thank you for all of the details. You are humorous even when sick. When you stop being so cleverly funny, then I'll truly be worried sick!! We love you and are praying for you. Take it easy and bless mom's heart: she's the best!