He woke up with a high fever.
He became ill quickly.
He had no appetite. He threw up a couple of times.
And when he complained of dizziness and severe chest pain when breathing, I knew something was wrong.
It was Saturday, just over a week ago, Jan. 14, when he woke up with a very high fever. Usually a dose of ibuprofen will help, but in this case it didn’t help much– he stayed in bed, for hours. Since we are visiting India, I have to keep all illness possibilities in my mind (malaria, typhoid, other viruses, etc.). It seems this is not the typical cold or virus.
In the afternoon, when my nearly 11-year-old son tells me he has severe chest pain when breathing, and the room looks like it is upside down, I thought I had better call a doctor. It was around 4pm, and fortunately I got an appointment for 7pm. We had just seen a doctor the day before for my other son, who was given antibiotics for a mild infection — so we had a clinic already in mind, with a doctor we had just met. It was fortunate– not that we needed the doctor but that we already had a place to go for another child who was much more ill. God prepared the way to the hospital the day before.
By the time we arrived at the clinic, I whispered to my husband that I knew Joshua needed to be hospitalized. I didn’t know the diagnosis, but I knew he was quite sick. Vomiting had become worse; he couldn’t even hold down water. He was becoming more ill while simply sitting at the doctor’s office. He was getting dehydrated. He was slouching in the chair, leaning on the left side since the right side hurt so much. He didn’t want to stand, but lie down.
And the blood tests confirmed it. The doctor was surprised at the results. “When did he first become ill?” he asked me, for the third time.
Again, I told him, “just today.” Just today. In one day. He was fine yesterday, no signs of anything amiss.
We are all surprised at the blood test results.
His white blood cell count was nearly 3 times the normal amount, over 31,000. (The normal range is 4,000- 11,000). The neutrophils were high, at 91.4% (normal is 45-70%). The lymphocytes were low at 6.4% (normal is 20-45%).
His C-reactive protein number was astronomically high, 44.5 mg/L (normal is up to 6 mg/L in adults).
The doctor asked us to get a chest x-ray. I knew my child was getting dehydrated, we all could see the numbers, and the doctor already said he’d need an IV with antibiotics, so I asked if we could get the IV first. But the doctor insisted we get the chest x-ray first.
More time, more dehydration, I’m thinking to myself. To get the x-ray, we’d need to leave the clinic and go outside. Our relative had taken his van to purchase something, and we couldn’t reach him by phone. So we had to call an auto rickshaw to take us there.
We put Josh in the middle, him leaning on the left side, and covered our faces and mouths because of the air pollution, and the driver took us to the clinic. The bumpy ride felt like an eternity, but in reality was less than 10 minutes, maybe even five minutes, I’m not sure, as time seemed warped that night. Am I really in an auto rickshaw in south India at this moment with a very sick boy? It felt like a bad movie.
I walk in the x-ray clinic. A man is by the front desk on the phone. He continues speaking for quite some time, and I don’t understand his language. Finally, he gets off the phone, and I tell him in English we are here for an x-ray. But we can’t communicate. I don’t speak his language and he doesn’t speak English. When my husband comes in after paying for the taxi, the man explains in their native language that no x-ray technician is on duty that night because of the festival (it’s the first day of the Harvest Festival in south India), and we’ll have to go somewhere else for the x-ray. He tells us another clinic is just down the street.
Really? I am frustrated as I sit back down while my husband goes outside to herald another auto rickshaw. Didn’t the clinic check before they sent us here? They said they’d call! I can’t believe it. I feel as if valuable time is being wasted. I am getting worked up, my blood pressure is rising, I am mumbling (rather loudly) about the situation… and my son, leaning on my shoulder, weakly tells me to stop. I stop. I realize — this is not what he needs. My child needs me, and doesn’t need me to be upset at a situation that is beyond our control. I pray silently for speed, for clarity, for a clear diagnosis, etc., while he leans his head on my shoulder.
The taxi is summoned, so out we go again, in another bumpy auto rickshaw ride, a few minutes down the street, to another clinic.
I walk in and head to the front desk. Few people speak English in Vijayawada in places of business, I discover, and I can’t speak Telugu, the language they speak. When my husband walks in, he communicates to them why we are there. In a few minutes we are called back for the x-ray.
When finished, I ask the x-ray technician as he steps out in the hall how long will it take to get the image processed? He says 30 minutes. At least he understands some English– he can’t speak much English, but he understands me. I ask him if he can process it faster, that the child is very ill and is waiting to go to the hospital. He seems to understand and nods his head.
And in fact, the wait is less than 30 minutes, it is about 15-20 minutes. While we are waiting, our relative arrives with his van. We pay the bill — and then open the envelope with the x-ray image.
We see the x-ray picture and read the diagnosis.
Pneumonia of the right lung.
Wow. Pneumonia. We head back to the original clinic in the van, and sit in the waiting room. In a few minutes they call us back to see the doctor. We show him the x-ray and diagnosis. He tells us that Josh must be admitted to the hospital, for at least 3-4 days, even up to a week.
They draw some more blood for further testing. They do a penicillin test dose to ensure he is not allergic to penicillin. He is not. An IV needle is inserted in his wrist.
They ask us to pick out a hospital room. We march upstairs to the 3rd floor of the clinic and look at a room. It is clean and white and spotless. There are two beds, one for the patient, one for the parent. Some empty shelves are at the front of the room, by the door. A Western style bathroom is attached. The room has an A/C unit and a ceiling fan.
We take the room, #302.
Things are done differently here. We carry our own medical records and test results from place to place. We pick out our own hospital room. But they have processed all test results quickly and despite language barriers, we all understand numbers and pictures.
Josh is moved to the room and his IV medications are begun.
The doctor said 3-4 days, up to a week stay. We process this information.
It is Saturday night. On Monday morning, we are supposed to fly to Bangalore, a city several hundred miles away. Late Tuesday night, we are supposed to fly from Bangalore to Frankfurt, Germany, and then from Frankfurt, to Chicago, and be home by Wednesday.
The doctor says he does not think we can do any of this, that Joshua is sick and must get well before traveling. He continues to tell us of his plans for the next week– that he will be out of town at a conference for a couple of days.
We know we have to take one day at a time. We know we may need to reschedule our flight home. We know that Josh is sick and must get well. So much uncertainty on Saturday night.
I head back to my mother-in-law’s home, while my husband stays with my son at the hospital (the nurses on call do not speak English, only the doctor speaks some English). My other two kids are already in bed- it’s 11Pm. I open the computer and post a message on my personal Facebook page, asking people for prayer. The internet connection is sketchy– it knocks me out every 10 minutes and each time, I have to reconnect; occasionally, I have to reboot the computer, but I’m thankful for this– that I can instantly communicate a message from 8,000 miles away.
That night, I am reminded of Psalm 91, a scripture passage that a friend of mine shared with me just before I left. I found so much comfort in that passage before leaving for this trip, and that night, I am reminded particularly of this:
1 He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
2 I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”
3 Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare
and from the deadly pestilence.
4 He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
5 You will not fear the terror of night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
6 nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
nor the plague that destroys at midday.
7 A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
I had prayed through that entire Psalm before leaving, and tonight these verses give me comfort. And I sleep.
On Sunday morning, Joshua’s fever is gone.
He is feeling much better.
I stay with him for a few hours in the afternoon. We take a nap, and watch some TV. The TV has a zillion channels. A cartoon in English called “Chotta Bheem” provides some amusement and laughs. It feels good to laugh.
His appetite is resuming, he is able to sit up and walk, and his chest pain is greatly reduced.
He eats one “idli” (a steamed rice cake) for breakfast, two pancakes for lunch, and two chapatis (wheat flatbread), vegetables and yogurt for dinner.
And when the doctor said it could be up to a week– it becomes only two days.
The doctor agrees to discharge Joshua on Monday morning, so we can catch our flight, provided he keeps the heparin lock on his wrist and we go to a hospital once we are in Bangalore to continue his IV antibiotics and get injections through the IV needle. All of which we agree to do. (And accomplish. We take him to the clinic in Bangalore twice on Monday and three times on Tuesday before we fly home).
What if I had not taken him to the clinic on Saturday night? What if I had kept him home to keep an eye on him? For the usual types of viruses and illnesses, which is what I usually deal with in my kids, this would have been fine, an acceptable approach–wait and see. I shudder to think what would have happened had we waited– an ambulance in the middle of the night? He had become sick so quickly, the lung pain so severe, so fast, the illness could have progressed much further through the night. Would we still be in India now? How would Joshua be? All I can say is, “God, thank you.”
Because it is like this, God is too good, so good. We could still be in India, Josh could still be sick, we don’t know where we would be… but now, all unknowns and illnesses are transformed into a certain plan and a turnaround so quick, as fast as the uncertainty had begun. And God, He is like this, holding our hands in the midst of uncertainty, and putting our feet on a steady place while we look at numbers on papers that surprise and fevers and needles and IV’s, and try to choose the place of rest and peace.
Late Tuesday night, the heparin lock is removed, and Joshua is given antibiotic tablets to carry on the plane and back to the U.S.
He recovers in one day. Not seven.
We continue on with our travel plans.
We fly home. As scheduled. On time.
We arrive safely.
And here we are.
And we have much to be thankful for: God’s grace and goodness, His healing, His protection and prayers of many friends. I sent a call out for prayer on my personal facebook page- and it was answered by many people– and I was shocked on Sunday to see the response– over 40 people had said they’d pray– it brought tears to my eyes, choked me. They prayed, God healed, quickly, and let us come home on time, and no sicknesses on the travel home.
In a foreign country, in a hospital where a mother cannot communicate to the staff about her child (the staff did not speak English), I appreciated each and every prayer and comment that came my way, and asked God to heal my child, and He answered. With so many illnesses, possibilities, we are thankful for this happy ending. We know that we still have to follow up here in the U.S. with another blood test and another x-ray, but for now, all is well.
Continuing with a list of thankfulness, #592 – #612 :
592. Joshua getting better, after 2 days of hospitalization with pneumonia in India. Quick medical care, quick diagnosis, all by God’s grace– he turns around quickly.
593. His quick recovery meant we could fly home on time, no flight changes needed.
594. A safe, healthy, unventful flight home.
595. God’s protection while in India. Nobody else got severely ill, although my youngest did need antibiotics for an infection (probably strep). Nobody got severe diarrhea, which is one thing visitors do often get when visiting India. We were extra, extra careful– didn’t drink tap water (drank only bottled water) and were careful about what we ate.
596. A wonderful visit with family and friends in India the past 3 weeks.
597. Safety on roads while traveling there. If you’ve been there or other parts of Asia, you know what I mean! (See my previous post, Driving in India)
598. The kids were able to see their cousins and relatives… some of whom they’ve never seen before. It was our first trip in 10 years, when my eldest were only 4 and 1, so for all practical purposes this felt like their first trip. They are all old enough now to remember this trip.
599. We came back with about one thousand photos (digital photography means more pics!) We’ll have to sort through them and make some sort of an album. My daughter, especially, had great fun taking pictures. We have pictures of family, places, and interesting pieces of daily life.
600. Thankful for so many things– that we have a wish list for the next visit. We want to see this, or go there, or visit that, all for “next time”. It’s nice to leave a place thinking that you’ll come back again. After 10 years, I had forgotten so much. I don’t think it’ll be another 10 years before the next time.
601. We were blessed to enjoy 80 degree weather, sunshine, and lush tropical views. When we got back to the U.S., the high for the day only reached 6 degrees Fahrenheit. Brrrr.
602. Easier getting over jetlag than 10 years ago. I’m still not there yet (going to bed at 6 or 7 pm and waking up at 4am) but last time was worse and took longer to recover! Now, I remember why– I had a one year old and a four year old! This time, my kids are older and we are all on a similar sleep pattern!
603. Thankful for kind friends who watched the house, neighbors who picked up the newspaper, and a boy across the street that we paid to shovel snow when necessary. Turns out it was unseasonably warm while we were gone and it only snowed maybe once that required shoveling. But it got cold after we returned, as if the cold weather was waiting just for us. It snowed 4 inches just two days after we reached!
604. Thankful that the kids adjusted easily there. I guess kids can adapt quite easily. Even for my youngest with extensive food allergies, he stayed pretty healthy (except for the antibiotics needed), and we were able to accommodate his special dietary needs. We can’t travel much because of his food needs, unless we stay with family, or have access to a kitchen and a grocery store.
605. Learning– how much I’ve learned on this trip. So much has changed in just ten years. There’s so much to learn and understand of this culture.
606. Coming home and sleeping in my own bed.
607. Hot water! They had hot water, but not everywhere and not always available, and it isn’t always so hot in some places, and you have heat up the water tank each morning. And in one city, the water shuts off for some time each day.
608. Eating a sandwich and a bowl of cereal after coming home. The types of things I get sick of usually– that’s exactly what I wanted after returning. Funny, isn’t it!
609. Stopping for a burger and fries on the way home. The kids wanted Culvers (a burger restaurant in this part of the country that is famous for its butter burgers and custard). Oh, did it taste good. Not that we didn’t enjoy the food there– we did, but some things taste like “home” and are comfort food. I guess in this case, a burger did it. We have a whole menu in our heads, with items like quiche, bacon, tacos, muffins, and more.
610. Thankful for friends praying for us while we were gone!
611. While in India, I fell in love with the Bournville “fine dark chocolate RICH COCOA” chocolate bar. I kid you not, I have not eaten a whole chocolate bar of this size in years. I only ate one. I had to bring a few bars home. It is DIVINE, I’m telling you. I had expected to lose some weight on this trip (I usually do while in India), but I actually gained a little this time. Oops. I don’t think the chocolate bar is completely to blame, though; they put “ghee” (refined butter) on nearly everything. And they eat a lot of rice and carbohydrates. I also brought home a bag of butterscotch candies with some sort of filling I thought were the best butterscotch I’ve had. This is unusual because I’m not someone who typically goes after sweets, candies, and desserts. I like salty stuff. So this is worth mentioning! :)
612. Thankful for a ride home from the airport. We were too sleepy to drive. We were home by 4pm, and we all crashed by 6 or 7 pm that night.