2 Corinthians 1:8-11
8 For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction… We were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life;
9 indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead;
10 who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us, He on whom we have set our hope. And He will yet deliver us,
11 you also joining in helping us through your prayers, so that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the favor bestowed on us through the prayers of many.
It’s time to write a story that needs to be told. It is a story of God’s love, His mercy, and His kindness. In our darkest hour, God has whispered truth into our ears, and we must shout it from the roof tops. Some of you might read this and ask, “Why don’t you just come home?”. Maybe you would ask, “Why do you subject your family to this?”. For us, we are more convinced than ever that we are home. We have seen the hand of God. Whatever the enemy may throw against us, we will not deny our God or walk away from His will and purpose in our lives.
This week started with excitement. It is the week of Third Culture Kid (TCK) Camp. We have lived at a Bible camp on the shores of Lake Victoria in Uganda for a year and a half. Last year, our oldest son, Benjamin was able to attend the camp. Kaiya, however, wasn’t quite old enough. This year they were able to attend together, and everyone was excited.
A very teary eyed girl woke up on Sunday night with a high fever. She was seeing her chances slip away. We prayed against illness, administered a little ibuprofen, and sent her back to bed. She bounced out of bed with optimism on Monday morning, but mom and dad were a bit hesitant.
Having travelled to another region of Uganda the week before, we were well aware that the likelihood of malaria was high. So, on that Monday morning, we took our baby girl up to the Musana clinic to visit the nurse. A rapid test revealed the presence of the parasite, and we started her on the oral medication to treat it.
Over the next couple of days, Kaiya went through the normal process of malaria treatment. At first, her body wears down. Maybe it’s the parasite dying off, maybe it’s the medication, maybe its the parasite itself. Whatever it is, it causes body aches and fever. Energy levels crash, and appetite disappears. Kaiya took part in what she could at camp, but really took things easy. She spent a considerable amount of time at home, and we tried our best to manage.
Since the tests are so cheap and simple, we tested the rest of the family, too. Lo and behold, Staci also tested positive. So the two of them started their doses and battled together.
The three day treatment was as it had been in the past. Both Staci and Kaiya have now had three bouts with malaria. Staci always seems a bit slower to gain her strength. By the third day, Kaiya had to be held back from her exuberance. She was enjoying her friends, the fellowship, and the camp atmosphere. She joined up with her cabin group again to spend the night with them on Wednesday.
On Thursday morning, Staci and I brought the allergy breakfasts down to camp to help with serving. Not even minutes after getting situated in the kitchen, we were beckoned out with urgency. With all the responsibility of running the camp which has been operating on a skeleton crew, I couldn’t imagine what might be waiting for me. A broken sink, a sick camper, an urgent need of the counselors, or what might it be this time?
As I walked quickly up the hill, my eyes met my daughter, being held up by a counselor on either side. She was obviously limp, needing help. My walk turned to a run.
Later, we would learn that she failed to wake up that morning. When the group was getting up for their morning devotions, Kaiya was non-responsive. Her eyes were wide open, but staring somewhere far away. She had to be pulled down from a high bunk, and was carried to help. We don’t know how long she was there, or what started it. We don’t know if she had experienced a seizure in the night, or what other circumstances were in play.
I tried calling her name, tried to get in the way of her stare to the far away place, but there was no response. We brought her aside and laid her down, where my wife called out to our God for help. I raced to the nurse to beckon him out of bed, then raced on the 4-wheeler to find our clinical officer. Driving back to my girl, we got her loaded into her mother’s arms on the back of our machine.
At the clinic, an IV was started immediately. We tried to hydrate with glucose, hoping to bring electrolytes and sugars up. We started IV anti-malarial medication, and I’m sure we did a few things that I honestly can’t remember at this point. Then, we waited. I looked into those beautiful brown eyes that refused to fix onto mine, and I watched them twitch ever so slightly.
Not wanting to waste any moment, and knowing how remote our location is, we asked our clinical officer when we should get our van moving and prepare to move her toward Kampala for help. His mind was already there. He was measuring her blood oxygen and found it at 84. It was time to go.
If you haven’t been to Musana Camps, you can’t appreciate the drive down to the paved road. We were blessed to have not had rain that morning. Our van is 4-wheel drive, but it’s really not an off-road machine. I’m not sure what the record is to make it from camp to the paved road, and I’m not sure what our time was on this day, but I know I did better than just competing with the record.
As I drove us on through tear filled eyes and a prayerful heart, I listened as my wife and the clinical officer took turns administering sustaining breaths, trying to force air down my baby girl’s lungs. The nurse was administering chest compressions to try to open up her lungs as her body violently seized. She seized again and again, and they were too long. As her body would stiffen and her legs extended, she pushed the side window out of the van as we sped down that bumpy road. Between breaths my wife was calling out to God to save our baby, and in the mirror I could catch glimpses of my terrified son who watched over from the next seat.
During that trip, my bride came to the point of feeling that the clinical officer would soon tell her to give up, that it was too late. As I was driving and watching the time slip away, I could feel myself submitting to the fact that she may be gone, but at a minimum forever changed.
As we pulled into the village hospital, we rushed her to the oxygen supply of the trauma room. They were called and knew we were coming. It all happened very fast. Medicine was administered to stop the seizures, and in a few minutes they subsided. As the adrenaline wore off, I called my father to let him know that things weren’t well. I admitted my feeling that the seizures were too long, oxygen was too low, and it may be too late. We worked on getting an ambulance to take us through Kampala to one of the best intensive care units in the country, but I wondered to myself if it would make a difference.
We loaded her into the ambulance after waiting some time to get oxygen equipment to ride with us. I looked into my girl’s eyes, and still there was no response, no focus, and that terrible twitch was still there. Staci climbed into the back with the nurse, and I loaded our boys back into our well ventilated van, and we continued on our way.
Adrenaline surged again. Navigating Kampala can be thrill-seeking without the pressure of delivering your girl to the ICU. This was a new level of driving. I stayed so tight to the back door of that ambulance that I could nearly have a conversation with my wife inside. We reached the ICU faster than I could have hoped, and we took her inside.
The whole way she had been fighting to remove her cannula, the oxygen, or whatever else that was on her. My wife had worked so hard to restrain her, both in our van and now in the ambulance. Tonight, she bears the bruises that prove the struggle. The nurse also had her hands full, just to stabilize the oxygen tank and equipment as the ambulance bounced through the Kampala streets.
Inside the trauma room, it was clear that Kaiya was upset, confused, and her stare was still so far from us. For once, a glimmer of hope arrived as her eyes seemed to dart about the room, and for the first time I saw her pupils adjust. I tried to talk to her, tell her it was okay. I told her to let them apply the oxygen, tried to explain where we were, tried to call her name. I was saying anything I could to help, speaking directly into her ear. I have no idea what else was going on, but I was talking with my baby, and she needed me.
The moment I might never forget was when her eyes suddenly stopped on mine. I couldn’t tell for sure if she was focused on me or through me, but it made my heart jump. I said, “I love you, baby.” Her mouth opened, and a slight smile broke the corner of her mouth as she audibly said, “I love you, too.” My heart stopped. It was 2:00pm. Time suddenly came to stillness. I don’t truly know when all of this started, but it had to be before 7:00am. For 7 hours, we were in darkness. Now, there was light.
A few words continued to come. Eye contact improved. My girl was coming back to us. We got her checked into intensive care, and we breathed.
Staci and I, and our whole family, have been loved so much. Our family oversees has prayed and showered us with their love. Our New Hope family dropped everything to be with us. They handled logistics, loved on a cared for our boys, got involved in the process of diagnosis, they gave us wisdom to walk with. We had support from people we’ve never met, friends we’ve just discovered, and of course our own blood from across the ocean.
Over the course of the next few days, our baby girl bounced back so quickly. The doctors seem to think it was a complicated malaria case. We personally believe that dehydration, too much physical activity, low blood sugar, and other factors contributed, as well. As I write, I am staying with her for what should be the last night in the hospital, and she’s never looked more beautiful. I love her smile, her sense of humor, and her incredible intelligence that she loves to blend with a heart of compassion. Oh, how I would have missed her.
Some day I’d love to write what Staci and I have learned through all of this. I love my wife more today than before we endured this trial. I think I know better what she needs of me. I think I learned how to be a better husband. I believe that my God has already been glorified through this, and I believe that answered prayer is leaving a testimony to those who might not otherwise believe. I also believe that if her life had been demanded of her that day, that our family would still be praising God’s name. I would be celebrating her life, and celebrating that she got to go see Jesus before me.
Sure I would miss everything about this girl of mine. The thing is, I also learned some things about my God through all of this. Control is not something I have. Her days are numbered, as are mine. He is a jealous Father, and He loves His children. Who could blame Him for wanting her to join Him in eternity on this very day? Still, He has something greater in mind. He has a testimony to share with the lost. He has a hope and a comfort that can overflow from this to bring comfort to someone else. I pray that she would be called to such radical obedience as to reach the lost with the truth of His mercy and grace.