Thursday, November 5, 2009
An unexpected trip!
Dear Family and Friends,
This is an unusual post. The stories I usually share are about people here in Kazakhstan. However, during the last couple of weeks my life was turned upside. I know there is a bigger plan in all that happened even if I don't understand it all.
On the 18th of October I journeyed to Abu Dhabi in the UAE - and it wasn't planned for or for a vacation. Why did I go? Well, because between the 7th and 17th of October I visited 5 different doctors at 5 different clinics trying to get a diagnosis as to what was happening to my eyes. I woke up Wednesday morning the 4th with both eyes red, sore, and sensitive to light. By Saturday the 7th, the pain was worse so I went to see a local doctor in Taraz. She said I had a cold or virus in my eyes. I did have a pretty bad cold so that made sense to me and my eyes did get some better with the medication.
An American team arrived on Sunday the 11th and I was the coordinator for their time here in KZ. On Wednesday the 14th I was showing the team Ulan orphanage. During the visit I kept cleaning my glasses - especially the left lense - thinking there must be something on the glass to blur my vision. About the 20th cleaning I decided to look at the glass to see what could possibly be there that wouldn't clean off. That is when I realized my glasses were actually clean and something was seriously wrong with my eye. I finished out what we were doing, knowing we were scheduled to go back to the office.
Upon arriving at the office, I looked at my eye more closely. What I saw was my left pupil wide open while the right eye was constricted. I was in a bright room. My heart sank. This didn't seem like a good thing, especially because my vision had been deteriorating during the morning. The film I thought was on my glasses was really a loss of vision in my left eye. We were suppose to be leaving for Shimkent in a hour. There were two stops along the way - one for lunch in a Kazakh's home in a village and the other at the orphanage in Vanovka. I didn't want to delay any of this, but my heart was filled with a sinking feeling. Things were much worse than I had previously thought.
I went to Beth, our director, and asked her to look at my eyes and tell me what she saw. Her face let me know immediately that things weren't good. Thankfully she is a very calm, take care of business kind of woman because at that moment I began to cry. I don't cry often but the pain that had been there for a week and the exhaustion from being sick with a cold hit me. Beth went into action and within 30 minutes I was in another eye doctor's office here in Taraz. After much examining, the doctor said it wasn't glaucoma but the pressure in my eyes, especially my left eye, was very high. He gave me different drops and sent me on my way. He said it was no problem to go to Shimkent and to come back in a week to check the pressure. Okay! I still wasn't sure why the vision was blurry and why my eyes hurt so much, but hey, a doctor said I was okay. The doctor's visit put the schedule for the delegation's trip an hour and a half behind schedule so, as soon as I returned to the office, Beth, Walther, Tim and I hit the road for Shimkent.
I trudged through that day trying to convince myself things were fine. I knew I would be seeing Dr. Lori, an American general practitioner in Shimkent. She handles the medical needs of our teams when they arise. Beth had called her on Wednesday and she agreed she'd like to see me Thursday morning. After an exam she wanted me seen by a eye doctor in Shimkent and she mentioned I might need to leave the country to seek medical treatment. This idea didn't excite me, but I certainly wanted to get my eyes treated properly. She was thinking, because of the high pressure in the eyes, I had developed Acute Onset Closed Angle Glaucoma. I knew about regular glaucoma but nothing about this kind. I didn't like the sound of it.
By going to Skimkent I missed some of the activities scheduled for the team visiting in Shimkent but Beth was able to fill in when I was away. My eyes seemed to be getting worse and the pain was increasing. The eye doctor in Shimkent said I did have Closed Angle Acute Onset Glaucoma and possibly needed surgery to lower the pressure. That didn't sound very good. I prayed and trusted God would take care of what ever problem I had. Thursday evening Dr. Lori said we needed to start calling and see if I could be seen by a doctor in either the UAE or Turkey, the closest places to find American doctors for this issue. My heart sank for I couldn't imagine how I could figure all that out much less pay for it. This all was just not in my plans. As I went to sleep that night, I prayed for God's comfort and wisdom for what to do.
On Friday when I woke I could barely open my eyes and the pain had doubled. Crying, I called my dear friend and mentor Edith. It was 4:30 am my time but I needed some advice because I couldn't figure out the next step. I couldn't think clearly any longer. I was a mess. I had been sick for three weeks and struggling with my eyes for over a week by this point.
I love Edith for many, many reasons and one is her totally efficient manner. A "small" detail of her life was put in place long before I even came to Kazakhstan. Edith and her husband Rip lived in the UAE for several years and still have many friends there. In my current situation, this is not a coincidence. When I mentioned where the doctor said to go, she picked up the ball and ran with it. I was in the office in Shimkent, Beth came in wondering how I was doing. I couldn't handle any more of anything so turned my computer over to her and laid down on the sofa. These two women are amazing in administration and efficiency. During the rest of the morning, through emails and calls all kinds of arrangements were made while I laid on the sofa listening to worship music in order not to focus on either the intense pain or the despair sneaking into my heart.
It was all quite amazing - Edith started emailing her large network of friends in the UAE. The response is a testimony to the friendships she has and their commitment to show God's love. Edith's friend, Linda Clark, is the head of operations at the Cleveland Clinic in Abu Daubi. She contacted Dr. Chris Cummins who agreed to see me Monday at 1 pm. Linda arranged for me to be met plane side and escorted through the airport to a waiting car. Janie Garrett, a friend of Edith's, agreed to host me. Beth and Marina Tsoy made all my travel arrangements from Taraz to Almaty then to Dubai. Heather Lewis agreed to host me in Almaty. It was absolutely amazing how all these people from Kazakhstan to America and then back to the UAE all came together to get me the medical treatment I needed. When Dr. Lori first said I needed to go out of the country, my mind could not even begin to process how I would figure all of that out. When she said the UAE, I thought "Well, Edith use to live there and knows some people there who may be able to help." What are the odds of knowing anyone in the place Dr. Lori suggested. Not very likely.
Edith and Rip moved to Richmond Virginia about 4 years ago. Edith was assigned my mentor for my application process with Interlink Resources. We became fast friends. All those years ago the foundation for what would be needed here and now were laid. We just never know what series of events will lead. All this was an ordained time and place.
Beth, Walter, Tim, Katie and I left Shimkent Friday afternoon heading for Taraz. We arrived around dinner time. After dropping Tim and Walter off at the team house to enjoy Pizza with Ken and an American family adopting their second child from Kazakhstan Beth took me to Adilya's house were I was staying to repack my bag for my trip. I actually could do very little so Beth pretty much did the work then took Katie and I to the train station to catch the night train to Almaty. Katie is part of the English center in Shimkent and was on her way back to America for a planned furlough. She actually wasn't planning on going to Almaty till Tuesday but agreed to escort me there so I wouldn't have to travel alone. So many people going out of their way. Thank you Katie.
We took a taxi the Saturday morning to Heather's apartment. Dr. Lori had gotten me an appointment at the Eye Institute in Almaty which has the top doctors in the country. Heather who speaks fluent Russian agreed to take me there and translate. Dr. Lori had gotten me a 10 am appointment. I still had the flight out but was still thinking if I could be treated in country that would be best. After many many eye examinations with many different pieces of equipment the top doctor said I did have Acute Onset Closed Angle Glaucoma and needed surgery right away. He was the only one who could do it but he was going on vacation for two weeks so I would have to wait. Wait... that didn't seem like a good idea. He said it probably would be alright and not too much permanent damage would be done. Well, that pretty much determined I would fly to Dubai to seek medical treatment. Heather hosted Katie and I for another night and Sergey who does a lot of work for Interlink in Almaty took me to the airport on Sunday.
I flew out of Almaty Sunday 18 Oct and arrived to Janie Garrett's apartment about 1:30 am Monday morning. Linda Clark had arranged to have someone meet me plane side to escort me through the airport on one of those little carts and a driver to take me from the airport in Dubai the 90 miles to Abu Dhabi. Janie welcomed me with open arms and showed me to a comfortable bed where I collapsed. Edith has the dearest friends and I enjoyed getting to know them, as well as Janie during my time there. Janie drove me all around after taking me to the doctors that Monday to see the many beautiful sights of Abu Dhabi as well as some the harsher realities of how this beauty is built and by whom.
Dr Chris Cummins, an American doctor living and working in Abu Dhabi, diagnosed my issue after a through exam. His diagnosis: Iritis NOT glaucoma. Iritis is the third leading cause of preventable blindness in the world. Without proper treatment, it does cause blindness. Usually iritis occurs in only one eye. Rarely are both eyes affected, but that's exactly what's happened to me. Iritis results in an increase of white blood cells in the eyes and inflammation, which is painful. Because my condition has gone on for so long the iris have started to deteriorate, sluffing cells off the iris which, in turn, caused my eye ducts to clog and, as a result raised the pressure in my eyes mimicking glaucoma. If the pressure hadn't been addressed it would have damaged the optic nerve but, thankfully, there is no damage now. The dilation of the iris is due to the infection. The doctor prescribed a daily drop to unclog the ducts and then a steroid drop every hour during waking hours to help decrease the inflammation of the iris. It will take time for the infection to clear - about 4 - 6 months. This is definitely a serious eye condition but very treatable and in the long run preferable over glaucoma. He needed to see me Wednesday to make sure the medicine was working. After my Wednesday visit he did think things were improving thankfully. My next appointment is 6 December.
My heart is full of thankfulness to God's faithfulness and all HIS provisions for this entire trip. I was so cared for by Edith and Rip's wonderful friends. I was humbled by their generousity and my heart touched by their kindness. It was a difficult situation yet I have come away feeling refreshed and relaxed. Everyday, no matter what storms rage about me, I am blessed beyond measure and deeply thankful.
My time in Abu Dhabi resembled a vacation. Below are sights from my time there. Because my eyes are so sensitive to light, I didn't make the beach scene but there are many other beautiful things to see in Abu Dhabi besides the beach.
Some of the behind-the-scenes aren't as beautiful. I will not focus on those issues today. Enjoy the beautiful sights.
Workers who are brought in to do all the manual labor for little monies.
Shaikh Zayhed Grand Mosque
Every detail is beautiful
The Royal Grand Palace Hotel
High Tea with Janie and Linda, both dear friends of Edith, who helped with details of my trip.
Thank you, Janie, for opening your home and your heart. Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to show me some of the sights in Abu Dhabi and pampering me at a time I truly needed such.
A beautiful mural in the Hotel. The horses represent the seven colors of sand in the area.
Getting to say thank you to Linda Clark for all she did to organize my trip to Abu Dhabi. We were at Mug and Bean at the Abu Dhabi Mall. I was in culture shock. They had Krispy Kream Dounuts and Starbuck Coffee. Just amazing.
Thank you, Linda, for all you did put all the pieces together.
Thursday morning I had the great joy of going to Shaikh Mohammed's Royal Stables and riding one of his horses. Oh! how this was pure joy for my heart and soul. After a difficult several weeks, this was just what my heart needed - to be on the back of a beautiful horse filled me with great joy.
I had a personal trainer for an hour, a sweet Brit who was raised in South Africa now working in Abu Dhabi. I enjoyed her very much. The next day I remembered her when I awoke with sore legs. After a time of training I got to ride a trail on the grounds. As I rode, I marveled at how blessed I am, what wonderful friends I have, and how faithful God is.
I'm not sure if you can notice my smile in the pictures below. I was beyond happy with this unexpected treat. I went at 7 am and so the sun wasn't too bad for my eyes on the trail. My time training I was in an inside ring which couldn't have been better for my eyes. What a treasured gift.
The horses name is "Link." I am amazed at how many links were in place to get me to the doctor to accurately diagnose my iritis.
I am so thankful for each link on this "side" adventure! I am thankful God worked out all the details and had everything in place long before this event occurred. I am thankful for all my family and friends who were praying as soon as they heard from Edith and Beth the struggle I was having. I am thankful for all Edith's friends in Abu Dhabi who rolled out the red carpet to make me feel welcomed and comforted during my stay.
Thank you, Beth and Trish, for taking me back to the airport in Dubai and for showing me the sights. I can't believe I didn't get pictures of you two.
I am blessed beyond measure with dear, dear friends whose friends take care of me when need be. I am thankful to be home in Taraz. I was gone five days and had a great time but also missed my home here in Taraz.
Blessings to you each, my friends. And a special thank you to all my new friends in Abu Dhabi.