By Jess Cropsey
Last Friday was one of the craziest days of my life. My back had completely gone out almost 2 weeks before and I was bed-ridden for a few days. After some time, I was able to start walking again with the help of crutches and even for a day or two without any crutches at all. By Tuesday, the nerve pain in my left leg was so severe that I was only able to lie face-down on my bed. Any movement at all was excrutiatingly painful. I know many people have stories of back pain like this, but I was feeling particularly sorry for myself — I was in the middle of nowhere in Africa with no access to medical care for this problem and the in-laws were leaving the next day. How long was this going to last? I was completely helpless and my husband and teammates were having to take on watching my kids, preparing meals, changing diapers, teaching, etc. After several days of lying face-down in bed (with several pity parties in the mix) and exploring various options, we decided to pursue medical assistance in Nairobi. We had met with a neurosurgeon there several months ago when I was having more moderate pain and he came highly recommended. We consulted our neurosurgeon friend in the States and then decided to take the surgical plunge.
We contacted the insurance company to make the necessary arrangements and they organized an air ambulance evacuation. What?! A whole airplane just for me? I’m thinking this seems way over-the-top, but I also know that I would never have been able to sit on the commercial flight from Bujumbura to Nairobi unless I was under the influence of some serious medication. So, Friday morning, John laid down the seats in the back of our Toyota ProBox, put in a mattress and I made the tortuous 30-meter journey from my bed to the back of the car and once again resumed my face-down posture. After a 2-1/2 hour drive down the windy mountain road, we arrived at the Bujumbura airport and John worked his magic on how to get us back to the airplane. After discussions with several security officials who incredulously peered into the back of the car at this crazy white lady, we were escorted onto the tarmac via the car and I hobbled into the airplane that had a stretcher where I could lay down. John enjoyed the snacks and drinks provided by the healthcare professional while I tried to ignore his munching so that I could be ready for surgery that day.
Upon arrival in Nairobi, we were transported in a brand-new, first-class (as far as I could tell) ambulance that whisked us away to Nairobi Hospital. They even used the siren to get through the horrendous traffic. We had already contacted the neurosurgeon to let him know we were on our way. We settled into a nice bay in the ER, where we waited for almost 9 hours to sort out insurance approval. We met with the neurosurgeon late that night and I wolfed down my first meal of the day after discovering that surgery wouldn’t be happening right away. Around midnight, I was admitted and once again struggled to move from one bed to the next with the Kenyan nurses continually saying, “Sorry, sorry!”
The next morning, I was taken for an MRI and scheduled for surgery later in the afternoon. The MRI showed a ruptured disc in the L5-S1 portion of my spine and this was what caused the nerve pain and numbness in my leg. The plan was to perform a micro-discectomy.
I’m not much of a trooper when it comes to pain, so I was pretty eager to get this taken care of even though I am terrified of all things medical done to my person (I even despise IVs) and having surgery in Africa has always been one of my greatest fears. When the time came to be wheeled away, it all started to sink in. John kissed me good-bye after looking at the scans with the surgeon. I started to cry as the nurse wheeled me down the ramp into a basement hallway area that smelled like a swimming pool. Being in a foreign country, with foreign doctors, in a foreign hospital, and completely unable to move made me feel incredibly vulnerable. At least they spoke English! So I prayed fervently that God would help me be brave, that I would see my husband & kids again, and that I would be able to move my legs & toes when I woke up from surgery. Once I was wheeled into the OR with a single table in the middle of the gigantic cave-like room (that did have some modern equipment in it, thank the Lord!), I was only awake for a few minutes before the anesthesia kicked in. I have never been so thankful to go to sleep.
I woke up in a total fog, observing from the clock that it was 4 hours later than when I left for surgery. What did that mean? Did things go poorly? Check — yes, I could wiggle my toes. Thank God! The doctor asked how my pain was and I said my back hurt. She must have given me more juice because I went back to sleep.
I have had small improvements every day post-surgery. Each of these gave me hope that some day I might actually feel normal again. Words of encouragement from many friends & family members were a huge boost as were the many prayers that were lifted up on my behalf all over the world. I am happy to report that I am able to walk and sit in moderation. Please pray that the remaining numbness in my left leg & foot would completely resolve. I was discharged from the hospital today (Wednesday), have a final follow-up visit with the doctor on Thursday, and then travel home to Burundi on Friday.
I AM SO THANKFUL…For good health insurance and the access that we have to quality medical care, even if it isn’t immediate access. My Burundian friends would never have been able to get the care that I received. But as I sit here in this modern hospital, getting vital signs checked regularly, with access to MRIs, medications, and doctors with specialty training, I know that this is what we are praying for and working towards in Burundi for the future.
I AM SO THANKFUL…For my awesome teammates in Burundi who have cared for our kids while we’ve been away. For my mom who is coming back to Burundi to stay for several weeks while I recuperate. For John who has patiently cared for me and been my medical advocate. For my kids who have taken care of me and who have been so brave while Mommy & Daddy have been away. For the team of doctors and nurses at Nairobi Hospital who have provided excellent care. For a wonderful bed on the ward that has a big window with a nice view. For the visitors (several missionary friends from our Kenya days) who have come with food and flowers. For Java House strawberry milkshakes. For a God who is faithful and loves me with an incomprehensible love and who I can have complete faith in whether or not I regain the same physical strength that I had before.
I’ll leave you with a verse that a dear friend shared with me:
“If the Lord had not been my help, my soul would have soon lived in the land of silence. When I thought, ‘My foot slips’, your steadfast love, O LORD, held me up. When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul.”