I felt over this last month that I don't have much to write about as most of my time has been spent at home fighting sickness. But as I slowly become healthy again I have realized that even in the midst of not much happening in life worth writing about, there is plenty going on on in the inside...
So let me start at the beginning.
I joined our students and leaders at MAP school on a mission trip in the village of Bukerekere, about 30 minutes north west of Kampala. Our little house that we girls stayed in for the week had a dirt floor and was open to the outside air at the roofline. Our beds were small mattresses laid on top of papyrus mats on the floor. It was quite cold and damp inside and out as the rainy season had started here in Uganda. The few times during the week that the sun came out and dried up the world a little were welcome and wonderful!
I have had chronic asthma, usually allergy or exercise induced, since I was a young child. For the most part, it has been well maintained with the more advanced medicine we have in the US (which I am increasingly becoming more thankful for). I know that I am more at risk for certain things with just having a seemingly small health problem but one thing I knew, if I ever got pneumonia or some other respiratory sickness, it would not be a good thing. I have never, that is, up to now...
The Monday after our first night in Bukerekere, I started coughing frequently and found it difficult to breath but thought it was just remnants from my asthma having acted up during the night. But it continued through each night and each day as the week went on and though I didn't feel sick at all, the cough persisted and worsened slightly. I still didn't feel too sick after returning home but the cough was wearing me out as it worsened. I started feeling rattling in my lungs and was unable to cough up anything successfully and so decided to go to the doctor. I started my first round of antibiotics after getting xrays. The doctor saw swollen blood vessels throughout my lungs and what he diagnosed as atypical bacterial pneumonia. The initial antibiotics did nothing so he prescribed me something else after a few days.
I just became sicker and sicker. Nothing I took made it better. I couldn’t sleep through the night because I would wake up feeling like I was choking and unable to breath clearly. I would take my inhaler and it would make me cough all the more. I became weak and hot and exhausted. One of the HOP missionaries, Etta who had taken it upon herself to help me, suggested getting tested for malaria and typhoid because of my drastic worsening over the course of a couple days. I tested positive for malaria. After a few days of treatment for that and finishing my antibiotics, I felt much better though still weak, tired, and coughing a lot. I was out and about for a couple days and thought I was on my way to being healthy again.
We are at the beginning of week three now. After those days of feeling pretty good and being up and about a bit, I quickly took another more severe turn for the worse. I ended up finding out about a better doctor with more advanced testing equipment, better medications available, and more experience in a town called Mbale about an hour from Tororo. My wonderful friends that I share a compound with, Michael and Melissa, brought me to this other doctor and agreed that it was likely pneumonia exacerbated by some allergy. He hooked me up with a cannula and some stronger antibiotics via IV push and a bronchodilator to help me breath better. I was on this treatment for four days. During those days of treatment, I was about as sick as I was when I had malaria also; couch ridden, little appetite, weak, exhausted, and feeling so vulnerable. The progress of feeling better was slow but by the beginning of week four, I got to the point where I could sleep through the night and the coughing became more productive and I could breath more clearly. The upswing was there but barely visible.
A couple of days after finishing the IV treatment and continuing with some additional meds, I went to follow up with the doctor again. He didn’t understand why the cough has remained so he did another test to check for TB, at least to rule it out. The test was negative but the diagnosis seemed inconclusive as the cough simply wouldn’t go away. I continued with the antibiotics and bronchodilator another couple of days and added an antihistamine so I could stop taking my steroid allergy meds. I felt mediocre as I had come down with a cold but able to be off the couch and function half way. Week five.
And now here we are, the beginning of week six. I am still on the antihistamine and bronchodilator and still coughing. My strength has not returned but my appetite is coming back. Most times I can’t cough productively and still feel like I’m gagging on myself when I really get going but I don’t feel really sick anymore!
In the midst of all this, it has been an intense spiritual and emotional journey. There were times when I would cough all night long and be in so much pain and unable to breath well that I would just cry out to the Lord saying, take me now if You’re not gonna heal me. I couldn’t tell you how many times I have been prayed over and prayed myself for healing. Over and over I would ask God to heal me and would get more and more discouraged when my prayer wasn’t answered the way I wanted or expected. Some people were very encouraging and supportive while others were absolutely not. I started to question what in the world I was doing wrong that God wasn’t healing me. Why was I so sick? What is the purpose for this? Am I ever going to get well again? There were times that I didn’t want to pray or turn to the Lord for fear of becoming discouraged in my head. And then God would bring me to my knees again in desperation for healing and comfort.
On the outside I tried to not have a negative attitude or be miserable to be around. But on the inside, I was failing at this miserably most of the time. I felt horrible physically and wondered how anyone could stand to be around me at times. The people here have supported me and prayed for me so much though! When I would go several days without being at school, a couple of the students would come to check in and others would commit to praying for me. The other missionary families were so caring and helpful as they brought me to doctors, helped me with groceries and kept me company that proper thanks seems an impossible feat. And my dear roommate Ashley has extended so much grace as I was unable to help with admin at school and have just been sick at home so much. Her prayers and encouragement and company meant so much in the times when I felt so alone.
One significant thing that God has shown me is that His grace must be sufficient for me, in strength and in weakness. Paul spoke of a thorn in his flesh, something that inhibited his ministry in some way but that God’s grace poured out for him was sufficient for continuing to do as God had called him. A friend of mine also shared this youtube video:
I have not been a consistently healthy person for the last 10 years and though I hope and pray that some day God would take physical ailments from me, it is something I am learning from. Learning how to minister to people despite weakness and realizing that no matter how much I try to be independent and strong, the fact is that I am weak and I am dependent and that is not going to change. I am dependent on God and God often decides to use people for His work and this is part of living within the body and community. There were times when I had to sit back and question if the life of a long term missionary is really what God has purposed my life for and always He would remind me, My grace is sufficient for you. Not by your strength but Mine, will you do anything in life.
This last month has seriously been a challenging journey mixed with lots of grief and discouragement as well as depending on the Lord for my, well, everything. There have been snippets of joy, comfort, and truly so much love bestowed. Every time I experience something that results in being so blessed by others, I seriously want to somehow bless them in return and feel that it is impossible to do so adequately. I must however choose to bless regardless if I think it is adequate or not. It’s not about equal repayment it’s about being in community and relationship and loving as we would want to be loved. There becomes this increasing desire to just pour into people’s lives as I have been poured into and I pray that God gives me the eyes to see and the heart to respond when those opportunities come.
And so I’ll close by saying a heartfelt thank you to any of you who were somehow supporting me and praying me through this last month! It was an important part of this walking with Jesus in Uganda and I am thankful.