As we head to Ladigue this weekend to celebrate our first anniversary I cannot help but recall how we have lived out our marriage vows this year. I would be remiss if I did not share the struggles as well as the bliss. If you believe that I have spent every day on the beach sipping cocktails then here is your reality check. While it was miserable at the time I am grateful for the experience as I can literally feel my body is stronger from having lived through it.
As you may recall, the hairy caterpillar and other obstacles along the way have stopped me in my tracks and reminded me that while I am healthy I am certainly not invincible. Adjusting to a tropical climate is not for the faint of heart. It is claimed by medical professionals that immune systems are built to be stronger in the tropics. This makes perfect sense if you consider the petri dishes from science class. Germs and disease grow more rapidly in heat hence the body needs to be stronger. Having grown up in the frozen tundra of Minnesota I am acclimating one new germ or insect at a time.
MC was called away on a business trip to Nigeria a week after we returned home from the states. When he got back he recounted having caught a bug while he was there and had spent a day in bed with a headache and nausea. The morning after his return I had planned to volunteer with a South African veterinary team on LaDigue sterilizing animals. I got up early only to head straight to the bathroom. I was not going anywhere. I texted a heartfelt apology as I know from my years in management there are few things worse than working shorthanded. I went back to bed at 6am and awoke at eleven feeling better.
The following morning I set out to purchase a new ferry ticket and off I went. In hindsight I was feeling great that morning however I still should have known better. One of the key differences between Seychelles and the US is healthcare. I have spent a lifetime in positions feeling guilty if I ever took a single sick day, much less two. Here there is a sense of strong compassion and humanity involved in health. They respect the body’s need for rest and not only do not question but actually support the recovery time needed. Employees are granted thirty days sick allowance per calendar year which is quadruple that of the average American company. The impact of the climate definitely makes a difference and requires you, willing or not, to slow down your pace. Perhaps having been on a whirlwind American tour recently I had forgotten this important lesson. Nonetheless, my fate having been sealed, I rented a bike upon arrival and joined the team in their roadside shack.
This island does not have veterinary services of any kind yet is home to thousands of animals. I was trained to clean the surgical area, place lubricant in their eyes and pull their tongue out to the side to prepare for their sterilization service. The day was busy from beginning to end including this guy who trusted me enough to hold him tight only to be betrayed by a shot in his behind.
I was astounded at the passion and skills of the team. They were dedicated beyond measure to make a difference in this community. We broke only for a quick sandwich and lots of coconuts throughout the day to stay hydrated. This was definitely my saving grace.
I mentioned to the local coordinator from the shelter with which I had volunteered that if there was a room for me to stay I would spend the night and work another day. She said one of the locals who I had briefly met in passing had offered her place and so it was decided. I accompanied them back to their quaint villa for dinner. I offered to filet their purchased fish and got busy breaking down a few trevaly. In demonstrating for the vet tech how it was done I mentioned I was getting a headache. I wondered if it was just a stiff neck resulting from the odd physical positions of the day. She brought me a pill afterwards and I relaxed on the veranda as they made dinner. When it was ready the vet insisted I eat even though I was not feeling up to it.
We met the young local German tour guide back at the clinic and thankfully she brought me a small light to find my way following her back to her place. After 6:30pm this place goes completely dark. Looking back I recall feeling my body collapsing at this point. She gave me a quick tour of my room and bathroom and told me to make myself at home. Oh, the irony. Moments after she left me I was purging in her toilet! I took a hot shower and collapsed for the next twelve hours. When I awoke my head felt as though it was in a vice. It took me several minutes to remember where I was. I noticed a kind note leaving instructions on how to lock up. With my phone dying and no charger I texted MC and informed him I would try to find a flight home. I really have no idea how I managed the strength to bike to the vet clinic to apologize and then further yet to the jetty. While I dreaded it I found an afternoon ferry and decided it was quicker and more familiar so I booked it. I sent MC a text requesting pick up with 3% charge left on my phone. I made the first leg from LaDigue to Praslin okay but knew Praslin to Mahe would be a different story. After years of assisting others with sea sickness it was finally my turn. I had never felt this horrible in my life.
MC practically carried me to the car and drove home. All I wanted was our bed. By this point all of my senses felt multiplied by a thousand. The diesel from the boat had engulfed me and made me nauseous, the singing of birds seemed to be coming through a megaphone, any glimpse of light blinded me and my whole head throbbed beyond anything I can articulate. For four days I did not move. If you are questioning as MC did why I was not interested in going to the doctor I will share my reasons. First of all I did not think I could physically make the trip. I could barely walk because of the nausea. That being said I did know that my vital signs were okay and I was able to stay hydrated so I did not believe it was an emergency. I felt as though my body wanted only to be left alone. Secondly, I knew that the trip would mean two things. Being around other sick people which frightened my last drop of immune strength. Moreso, however, I believed they would admit me into the hospital which terrified me. Not only have I never been admitted to any hospital much less a foreign one but all I could visualize was loud echoes in a concrete building that would destroy my already throbbing head. Obviously I did not want to be alone there when I could be alone in our peaceful bed.
I do not remember much. I barely had the energy or voice to reassure MC who was extremely concerned. Days began to blur. My faith just told me I would be okay and that all I had to do was breathe. My physical strength had diminished greatly so I took a few falls during the day while MC was at work. In hindsight I can at least chuckle at the thought as I would have gone viral had there been hidden cameras. The thing is when you fall on a tile floor you panic which causes perspiration. A Slip ‘n Slide ensues and an hour later you finally have crawled back to bed because it’s safer than trying to get on your feet. That being said it was of course terrifying for MC to notice the bruises and allow his mind to wander into horrific scenes. This was a very difficult test for both of us. Trusting and believing of this magnitude were obstacles we had not been forced to overcome up to this point in our relationship. He was an angel and I found a new sense of gratitude for his kind and patient heart.
Around day eight I believe I felt I could make the trip to the clinic. My head, although still very sore, had diminished to be tolerable. MC booked an appointment and accompanied me. There are two options here. There is government operated healthcare that is free of charge and there are a few private clinics. MC decided he wanted to be completely thorough just to be sure so we opted for the latter.
Here is where the significant difference comes in between countries. I am sharing this so you can visualize the comparison, not to start a debate. While most Americans will probably agree that the healthcare system is completely flawed at this point, I am not certain they would understand to what extent it is until they have an experience abroad such as this. I will not pretend the technology matches the United States. It does not come close.
The clinic was at the end of a strip mall. It has three rooms with a small attached pharmacy. I checked in and waited approximately ten minutes before being called in to the small nurses room. The woman kindly measured my temperature, weight and blood pressure before taking a sample. She inquired about my symptoms and advised that the doctor would see me in fifteen minutes once the lab results were complete. The physician was a Belgian woman in her fifties. She was quite thorough and asked a lot of questions. Her demeanor was kind and caring. She reviewed the blood test and performed a full physical exam. Her diagnosis was inflammation in the center of my forehead. While I had not noticed anything physically it was quite tender to her touch. She deduced that the area would definitely affect the ears and nose as well as causing nausea and issues with balance. She wrote down prescriptions and accompanied us to the pharmacy to fill them as well as giving me instructions on doses. At this point I was so shocked at the level of care that it took me a minute to compute the currency conversion of what the cashier was charging MC. The blood work, doctor visit and prescriptions totaled $62. As you might imagine, I was speechless.
The antibiotics took effect within twenty-four hours and recovery began. It took another week to feel human again and then I began rebuilding my strength. When I finally had an appetite and was excited about eating I had tears in my eyes. These are the little things we think we do not take for granted and yet we do. We only get one body, one life. I am committed to making mine count. To keep it strong, to feed it well, to move it out of respect for the fact that I can. So many people see exercise as a curse or a chore. They choose to be miserable doing it and it works against their body instead of being in tune with it. I love being outdoors and celebrating what my body is capable of. To breathe in nature, listen to the birds singing and be thankful I have decided that health is my priority. It is an amazing gift I am more grateful for than ever!
The colorful photo above is a reminder that each day we are given is a blessing. Never let a sunset go by without being thankful!