10-7 Jason’s Medivac – before surgery

There have been four medivacs this year.  Both of us have now been included.
The beautiful view landing in Brisbane

Before we left for New Zealand, I had an abscess developing on my leg.  I discussed it with our doctor and the hope was that it would go away while we were on vacation.  Unfortunately it didn’t and instead got bigger.  By the time I got back, it was gross enough that our nurse made a face.  Antibiotics and hot packs were applied to no result.  Then our doc cut it open and we tried to drain it.  A week later and it’s smaller but not gone by any means and still draining.  Now I am in Australia and getting it removed in a real operating room.
My medevac has been much smoother than Gaea’s was.  Much more what we understand to be the typical medevac experience.  There was still a small amount of scrambling involved to get my travel arranged.  The medical stuff was confirmed Tuesday morning.  Wednesday was a public holiday but also had the only direct flight before Saturday.  Bookings and travel expenses all happened Tuesday afternoon.  I wasn’t rushed but the staff was a bit.  Still, there were very few problems getting me out of the country.
My huge, cushy hotel room.  Not pictured: very nice kitchen.
Unfortunately, no internet at the hotel.

Most of my time since then has been spent waiting for things to happen.  Waiting to go to the airport, to get on the flight, for my appointments, and now A LOT of waiting for surgery.  The only “excitement” I’ve had is a few extra questions at immigration.  I’d want to ask more questions of anyone coming for medical treatment too and it really wasn’t that interesting.  I did have time to walk around yesterday and take a few pictures after my preliminary appointment with the doctor.  Those are now sitting in my expensive camera, locked up while I’m in surgery.  I really should have brought it up so I could A) upload the latest photos and B) take a picture of the fantastically stylish surgery duds.

I love the controls on this temperature control

Today is surgery day.  This means I sit around in the hospital.  We do have a woman here who is our point of contact and looks after us at this hospital.  She is quite nice and walked me up to surgery. No food since last night means I’m a bit hungry but that’s what the internet is here to distract me from.  There is also a TV here but I’ve already lost interest.  Now that I’ve found the outlet, I have the internet and I have books.

Hopefully the surgery will go smoothly and I’ll be updating sometime this evening.  Current plan has me out of the hospital tomorrow but I have no idea what that means for getting back to Vanuatu.  It would be great to be able to see a bit more of Brisbane while I’m here but we’ll see.

Send some good wishes for the surgery and I’ll check back in when it’s all over.

3-31 Being left behind for a messy medevac

Gaea has several nice long posts up about her medevac but we’ve gotten some questions about how it was for me back on the island.  This blog is being written a bit further out from the events than may be ideal for capturing my experience fully but it’s not a thing to be forgotten that easily.
In brief, it sucked.  I can’t imagine it being pleasant any time ones partner is whisked away to have surgery in another country.  Unfortunately, this whole thing went above and beyond in its commitment to being less than pleasant.  The pick-up from the island itself was rushed and awkward.  I had a class to get to in Melsisi (which, if you’ll recall, is 45 minutes away) as we were trying to get her down to the airport so I was unable to go even that far.  After she was off the island, the real annoying bits came in.  The reason that the medevac got as rushed and messy as it did was primarily the incoming cyclone which would have frozen travel.  Fortunately, Gaea managed to get out of country before it reached us.  Unfortunately, when it did reach us very shortly thereafter it played havoc with the already flaky communication systems. 

There are two cell companies in country, Digicel and TVL.  Digicel is the carrier of choice for Peace Corps because we have a deal with them allowing us to call each other for free.  However,  there has been only one place in Vansemakul where we can get Digicel when it feels like cooperating, otherwise it’s a 15 minute walk uphill on a good day.  On a good day, the path is a dirt road, on a bad day (like when there is a cyclone) it’s a muddy river.  We’re lucky to get Digicel coverage anywhere in Melsisi and it rarely appears in the same place twice.  Thus, Gaea and I have a TVL phone so that we can actually be reached.  While the cyclone was in the country, the TVL coverage disappeared completely from Vansemakul.  This meant that living in the village primarily, I had to walk uphill any time I wanted to try to find out what was going on with my partner.  Over in Melsisi I did still have reliable TVL coverage.  Of course, no matter how I got service, calling was expensive with her in another country.  Despite the difficulties, I believe we did manage to communicate most days (we are both known for being a little stubborn about making some things happen).  Not that I managed to get a lot of information even then.  It really seemed like I could not manage to get good timing to call.  The doctor would just happen to come in for one of his few minutes shortly into the call or a nurse would stop in to check on her.  It was frustrating to say the least.
TVL remained flaky until after she was already back in country.  Given that her surgery and return were on Monday and Wednesday respectively, these events coincided with me having classes and not being able to get up to Digicel.  Once she was back in country, of course, I no longer had class and TVL was back, too.  Timing continued to be poor here too as she got back later on a Wednesday, fully missing the flight out to Pentecost.  There are three flights a week to Pentecost, Monday, Wednesday and Saturday.  She had classes starting Tuesday so coming back Saturday and heading back to Vila Monday didn’t make any sense. It was another few weeks before she got back. 

From there communication was stabilized but still not easy as I either had to walk fifteen minutes uphill from the village at a time when she was available or we had to pay for calling.  The worry about what was happening was gone but the very rocky start made me feel uneasy the whole time she was gone.
The community did try to look after me in her absence.  I was brought food fairly often though I did make something of a point in cooking for myself so I didn’t always get as much food as I might have otherwise.  I feel that continuing to show that yes, men can cook for themselves and take care of things like the laundry is a good example.  I did also have plenty of company at the Nakamals any night I felt like going up.  This ended up being a good number of them.  I believe that at one point I was asked about the cause of earthquakes when four shells in and a little buzzed.  Not the ideal state to try to explain plate tectonics but I think I got the point across.
All in all, not an overly pleasant experience.  It was, however, one that reminded me how strong the community here is.  Anyone I saw expressed concern and I was looked after, as always.

3-6 The Last of my Hand Drama, I Swear!

Just to wrap up the end of this story arc, here’s the final analysis of my hand.

This is the original injury. The pen marks up my thumb denote where it is that I have altered sensation. Below the bottom thumb knuckle was altered but not completely numb before the surgery while above that knuckle was completely numb.

Look how TINY that cut is!

This is my hand three days after surgery. I had six stitches, four of which I couldn’t feel at all. The total numbness extended down to just below the incision after the surgery. It goes to the crease of my wrist, more or less. This is probably an issue that stems from repeated trauma to the same hand. By trauma medical talk means anything that alters your body’s natural state, including surgery. Anyway, my thumb was swollen which cut down considerably on the sensation.

And now, it is so much bigger…
I took this photo yesterday. The incision is healed and the only open wounds are where we pulled the stitches out. When I touch my thumb to the base of my pinky, I can feel the skin pull at the incision site but not in a bad way.

Look, all better
The stitches came out on Thursday. I probably should have taken them out a day or two early. I heal fast, I guess. When I went to get them taken out, we got the first two out without too much trouble. I can’t feel that part of my hand, so it wasn’t a problem. The third stitch was a bit troublesome. The knot wasn’t centered which made it hard to find just one side of the stitch to clip. It was really well grown in. Eventually, my nurse pulled up on the stitch while I actually dug into the wound to cut the line. It was great fun.
The last three stitches weren’t as badly covered. The two on the inside of my wrist have sensation, which made them a lot more annoying to take out. The first four are totally numb still.
At this point, below my knuckle is totally numb. I can’t feel anything short of hard direct pressure. Between the knuckles I have some sensation though it isn’t normal. It feels like my skin is covered in a layer of cellophane. The knuckle to the nail is still totally numb.
I’m learning all sort of interesting things about nerve systems and the superficial radial nerve in the hand. If I get feeling back, I will be certain to tell

platypus in brisbane

Now, we’re switching the other bizarre marsupial! Here is a platypus.

The background noise was provided by the Japanese tourists next to me. I didn’t video myself talking to the platypus. I did that off the video.

2-20 Setting the Healthcare Bar or Am I a Rich American?

Part of my struggle with this experience of being medevaced has been the ridiculousness of it. The cut is superficial. The damage is to a very small part of my nervous system, and it isn’t even a really necessary part. The back of the thumb is not nearly as important as the front.

I do understand that the risk of serious damage from infection is there and that Pentecost is not the place to avoid infection. I understand that nerve damage is not to be scoffed at and it could get worse without treatment. I didn’t say it was useless, just that I feel dumb.

Part of that feeling of dumb comes from a sort of shame or guilt about receiving this level of care. What have I done to deserve this? The only reason I have this is because I was lucky enough to be born to middle-class American parents.

I know that no Ni-Van would get this kind of care. No one on Pentecost would be flown out to Vila on a chartered flight and then sent to Australia for surgery. These are the people I live with, this is my community, yet they would never expect the kind of treatment I’ve been receiving here. When one of the men in the next village over broke his leg on New Year’s Day, he was left at the Health Center until the next flight came and then sent to Vila where he is staying with friends until he can walk again. This is not the same caliber of care.

My struggle here is multi-faceted. Part of it is guilt about having access to high-quality care. Part of it is frustration that I have pulled myself out of my community and proved that I am not one of them when I have been trying so hard to be one of them. Part of it is shame that I did this, that I called, that I asked for help even if it was appropriate. Part of it is shame that it is so minor a thing that is having such an explosion of expense and activity. Part of it is shame that I am taking Peace Corps funds away from more useful things and spending them on something I shouldn’t have done in the first place.

Behind all of that mess, is a building rage, too. Yes, I am receiving top of the line care. But shouldn’t this be the standard across the world? Not the first world, not the lucky few who can pay for it, but rather shouldn’t this be an option for anyone any time this sort of thing happens? Isn’t this “appropriate care” that we talk about as being the lowest level of what everyone is entitled to?

I don’t think I should feel shame for having access. I think this level of access should be every baby’s birthright.

2-24 Brisbane on Foot

Brisbane Ferris Wheel in South Bank
After my adventures at the Koala Reserve, I spent the day wandering the city. I like to see a city on foot. My favorite method has been to get a few recommendations of good places to check out and then just start walking. I ask directions along the way and stop to take pictures of anything that catches my attention. I did exactly that through the late afternoon in Brisbane.

These guys are like the seagull
equivalent in Brisbane.

I was told to go check out South Bank and the Kangaroo Point Cliffs, particularly at dusk. So, I started walking in that general direction and made it to South Bank around 4:30. I stopped along the way to get things like dinner and a beginning guitar book. It was interesting to walk through a city again. It feels so unnecessarily large, but in a comfortably anonymous kind of way.

One of the big differences between Vila and a Western city is in how anonymous, or not, it feels. Walking down a busy street in the West, you are just a drop in the river of humanity. Chances are you don’t know anyone around you and it would take a lot of work to find the six degrees of separation. In Vila, you will bump into people you know every block, the person standing at the bus stop next to you is your cousin-brother who you haven’t met yet. It is a very different feel. It was nice to be anonymous for a day.

I love found art. These were made more awesome by
being covered in debris from the flood waters.

The walk along South Bank was pretty. I think if I lived in Brisbane, I would find an excuse to go down there at least once a week for a nice walk or jog. I would have liked to see the Botanical Gardens, but that wasn’t an option, between the flooding and the time constraints. It would have been nice to get some of the plant names in English. I saw a lot of plants I recognized from Vanuatu in Australia and would have liked to get the English names of them. Oh well.

Downtown Brisbane at dusk.

The Kangaroo Cliffs were very pretty, though lacking in Kangaroos. There were a lot of rock climbers out and about. I like the idea of going for a walk in the park, climbing a rock wall and going out for a drink at one of the pubs with a view. Too bad I just went for a walk and a taxi ride to a hotel instead.
Brisbane seems like a nice city. The areas I was in were clean, slightly touristy and very welcoming. At some point, I’d like to go back for a proper visit, not a tour of the hospital.

2-23 Freedom!!

This was a good place

I did eventually get free of the hospital in Brisbane. It took a long time. Once I got my freedom, I went exploring. I left at 11:30. I got to the hotel around 8. I didn’t stop moving through those eight and a half hours.

First, I went to the Lone Pine Koala Reserve. It is a reserve for animals native to Australia. I started by petting a kangaroo. The kangaroos were super chilled out and used to humans. They sell kangaroo food and you can feed them, too, but I walked backwards through the place so I just pet a few instead.

Then I wandered through a lot of exhibits until I found the Cuddle a Koala place. So, I held a koala. The koala was a total ham for the camera. He looked right at it. Then he groped me. I think we had a moment. Then he pooped on my foot. Oh well, still a wild animal.

I’m holding a koala.
My life has these moments of AWESOME!
At the reserve, I saw a couple of cassowary. They look like dinosaurs. I think it is the giant head ridge. I also spent awhile talking to an emu. She was looking at me funny, and no one else around spoke English. I thought it was worth a try.

From there, I spent awhile wandering through the koala exhibits. They separated out the ages of koalas, as they would separate themselves in the wild. They labeled them with things like “Kindergarten” and “Retirement Home” so us unenlightened ones would know who we were looking at. The koalas are very cute, but I can’t tell a huge difference between the old and the young ones.


These guys were pretty lively,
the rest of them were all asleep.

After the koalas, I went and watch a platypus playing for a bit. His house didn’t have good lighting for pictures, but I got a short video. He kept swimming in circles. I think he was just bored and goofing off. There was also a neat skeleton of a platypus that showed the structure of the platypus and how the bits all fit together.

Happy Roo!
From there I went to bird watching. There were a lot of birdies. Most of them were caged. There were a lot of them, but I’m not a birder so I can’t tell you very much about them. The lorekeets were not caged and were very friendly. They have bird feed for them and you can hold the trays up. The Lorekeets come and sit on the edge to drink. I felt like a birdy statue of liberty. Unfortunately there was no one around to take a picture of me being silly. Then a bird peed on my arm and I decided it was time to move on.

And then they peed on me.
Pretty though, aren’t they?

I wanted to see a wombat. Their habitat enclosure was flooded, so there weren’t too many of them out and about. All I managed to see was a wombat butt. He was hiding in a log at the time. I asked him to turn around and look at me, but he wasn’t really interested. Oh well. 
In short, I held a koala and petted a kangaroo. Those were things to check off the bucket list.