This Isn’t Africa
Hey friends! I wanted to take a minute to update you, as I’m sure some of you are noticing that what I’m posting doesn’t look like Africa. This is very true, this isn’t Africa. You may be wondering what we’re still doing in Regina. Trust me, that is a fair question- especially after we told you in June 2016 that we were planning a big move. Life in the last year took some unexpected turns that have kept us here, and I didn’t share much about it as it happened. Not that I didn’t want to, but there was a LOT going on. Allow me to elaborate.
Last summer (almost exactly a year ago actually), I was feeling unwell. I had a cold for over 2 months, and couldn’t seem to shake it. My family doctor had run tests, and everything came back normal. Weeks went by, and things continued to worsen. I ended up in extreme pain in my ribcage, with shortness of breath, and extreme fatigue, amongst other things. I was working at my full time day job, and could barely walk to the printer (which was literally 20 to 30 steps from my chair) without breathing like I’d just run a marathon.
In mid-July, I couldn’t handle the pain anymore. So like any other stubborn person, I worked a full day before going to the hospital- do NOT try this foolishness at home! The doctors ran many tests, one of which was a chest x-ray. X-ray results came back, and they thought that it could possibly be pneumonia, but there was potential of it being a blood clot. They wanted to run a CT scan, just to be sure. The doctor came in with the results of the CT and confirmed they found a “sizeable pulmonary embolism (PE)” in my right lung. No good. I mean, no blood clot is good, but when they keep saying it is a “sizeable” one? Definitely not good. Thankfully, it got caught in my lungs and hadn’t travelled to my heart or brain, as that would likely have been fatal. My doctors kept me in hospital for a few days to help get my pain under control. They started me on blood thinner, which would thin my blood enough to prevent any new clots from forming. They assured me that I would be fine, but would need to remain on the blood thinner for 6 months.
Thankfully after a couple days in hospital, I was sent home to rest. Within a few days, I started having the same pain, but in a different location in my chest. The nurses gave me explicit instruction to return if the pain moved or changed, soooo… back to the hospital I went. This time with no wait time- as you earn VIP, all-star treatment with that “recently diagnosed PE” card. More tests. Different scans. New doctors. More questions. Varying opinions. Test results came back showing that my body was still developing new clots. The blood thinner had failed- I was one of the rare cases where this medication didn’t work. Different medication. Another week in the hospital. More doctors to see. The doctors advised there was nothing medically that they would do to help dissolve these clots, my body would handle that on its own. It would just take time.
The months following the diagnosis were okay. I am SO thankful that we hadn’t committed to any weddings last summer, as I physically wouldn’t have been able to handle them. I didn’t feel overly great, but I slowly started to feel a little bit better than I had when it started, so that was a win. There were difficulties, as I was much more limited in what I could do. Keep in mind, at the same time, we were preparing to move overseas. Our flight was leaving January 23, 2017. We were downsizing our home into what could fit in 15 suitcases, and what we wanted to store. After 6 months of blood thinner treatment was done (which would end in January- perfect timing), I would have my follow ups, but then should be fine and we could carry on with what we had planned.
Cam and I wrapped up work end of December/beginning of January, and dove into moving prep. I was feeling okay, not 100% yet, but I figured my body was still healing. We had a lot going on, a lot of stress in planning an overseas move. Our house was getting emptier- though it didn’t look like it. There were partially packed bags and piles “to pack”, “to sell”, “to donate” everywhere! My first follow up was January 5. The results came back, with completely unexpected results- nothing had changed. The clots were still there. No improvement at all. Over the next two weeks, I had test after test. The biggest concern my specialist had was that the clots could be putting stress on my heart, which could result in sudden cardiac death. The clots were supposed to resolve, but because they hadn’t already, they wouldn’t dissolve on their own. There was no way to get rid of them, aside from surgery. My specialist expressed concern with the elevation in Rwanda, as the higher altitude could make things significantly more difficult on my lung and heart function. On January 20, my specialist advised that he wanted to refer me to a cardiothoracic surgeon in Ottawa, as this was not his specialty. But in order to do so, we would need to be in the country. We were scheduled to fly out January 23.
I cannot tell you how difficult that night was for Cam and I. We spent weeks hoping and praying that the next test would reveal a different outcome. That by a miracle, the clots would be gone. It didn’t happen the way we’d hoped. Unfortunately, we had to talk/reason/pray/cry our way to one of the hardest decisions we’ve ever had to make. We needed to know before we moved to Africa, that I would be okay. If something happened, finding out I required surgery in sub-Saharan Africa would be less than ideal. Cam made the call to our travel agent the next morning to cancel our flights, two days before we were to be moving across the world. We now found ourselves without jobs, without a home (as we had lined up renters for our house), and without a clue as to what in the world would happen next.
Quite honestly, the next few weeks were a blur. We felt emotionally exhausted and confused. From experiencing the sadness of our many goodbyes, to the overwhelming sadness of not actually moving, but now having no concrete plans moving forward. My parents offered to have us stay with them, which was (and has continued to be) an amazing blessing. Life was upside down, backwards, and completely chaotic, but we had somewhere to land and try to regain our footing.
Our video conference call with the cardiothoracic surgeon happened in February. The surgeon indicated that he saw a slight increase in the pressures of the right side of my heart. His opinion was that we come to Ottawa, where they could do their own testing, and prepare for the surgery. The surgery would entail going through my heart, into my pulmonary artery, locating and coring out the clots one at a time- all while I was on bypass. The more we talked about it, the more I realized it was real “Grey’s Anatomy” kind of stuff. No surgery date was given, and no timeline to indicate when we would go. What did that mean? More waiting. But different waiting this time. Thoughts of moving were replaced with those of surgery, recovery times, physical limitations thereafter. Honestly, as hard as it was to stomach the thought of open heart surgery, if it meant that I would finally be able to get better, I was on board.
The University of Ottawa Heart Institute gave me a surgery date of March 21. I needed to be in Ottawa a week prior, to complete the required testing before surgery. I was admitted to the Cardiac Care Unit the week before, where I was the youngest person by at least 30 years, and consistently heard how I was too young to be there. Being a “medical anomaly” wasn’t the most fun I ever had! The testing began. Every test I had in January was repeated, and more. The doctors and nurses were so thorough, and wonderful through the entire process. At the end of the first week, the surgeon came in and told us that he didn’t know if surgery was going to be an option. Yes, my condition was not good, but was not as advanced as what they normally deal with. The surgery itself would do damage, and could potentially leave me in worse condition than I started with. Bam- another shot of uncertainty. Coming to grips with having the surgery was hard, but to then hear that I likely wouldn’t have it? Oh man, emotional roller coaster doesn’t quite scratch the surface of what I felt. Cam and I were in Ottawa for three weeks- not the most restful three weeks we’ve ever had, that I can assure you! They completed their assessment which confirmed there would be no surgery, and follow ups would happen with my specialist in Regina in 6 months. I would need to remain on the blood thinner for the rest of my life, as there were multiple unexplained clots. Not ideal, but would be manageable. When the follow ups happen, they should help us determine whether my condition has gotten worse (in which case surgery would be an option), gotten better (in which case we can begin to proceed with a plan), or stayed the same (in which case we would need to completely re-evalutate what we are going to do).
So here we are- waiting. I think I’ve become more or less patient. Though some days I am WAY less patient. We are being stretched and have been growing through this time. Sometimes the growth happens against our will and understanding, but we are growing! I can’t believe the last year has only been one year. In a lot of ways, it feels like it was nearly a decade.
As Cam and I talked about what we could do while waiting, we discussed how at this point, we could literally do ANYTHING. There was nothing holding us back from trying something completely new and different. Both of us are creative and imaginative people, so we knew at the very least we needed a creative outlet. Our love of photography, and love of the people of Regina has us diving back into local photography. So, though we technically didn’t leave- we’re back! And we’re excited to catch up with you!
We want to document your stories, as from our own experience, life can take some unexpected turns that you just can’t see coming or prepare for. In the last year, we have spent more time squeezing our kids and those we love just a little bit tighter. Making time for those moments together are simply more important than a clean house, or other things we “should” do. We have been intentional about taking photos of us together often. We have had professional photos taken of us twice already this year. I love capturing those moments for people, but sometimes I forget to do the same for my own family. That has been a reminder of an important change for us!
Cam and I are so thankful for you. To those who have journeyed along with us as this unfolded, prayed for us, sent us messages of encouragement- we are so thankful. For your love, your kindness, and the faith you put in us to capture your memories, we count ourselves beyond blessed.