Before we left Matangi Christine informed me she had made arrangements for us to meet with some doctors from the United States that were just at their resort and had left the day before to go to Taveuni. She felt Richard would receive better medical care by seeing the US doctors to get a diagnosis before going to the hospital.
The boat ride to Taveuni was without incident once Richard was finally able to get into the boat. Upon arriving at the dock in Taveuni the new task became getting Richard out of the boat and up the bank to the transport van. Richard complained of needing to urinate immediately yet he was unable to do so once given the opportunity. The van ride to the resort where the doctors were staying was rough and seemed like it took forever. Especially since we had to stop several times for Richard to try to go to the bathroom as Sareli and Tolar, another employee from the resort, helped him in and out of the van and helped him stand up as his legs continued to deteriorate.
After a 45 minute van ride we reached the resort where the American doctors were now staying. Dr. Lance was the first one to come out to the van to see Richard. He asked all the questions doctors usually ask during an exam, he checked his reflexes which seemed to be fine, and then told us he believed it was decompression sickness (the bends). Dr. Lance had treated numerous cases of decompression sickness and one patient only dove in 30 feet of water for 30 minutes. He told us it is very unusual to happen in theses circumstances but it can happen. He also informed us the only way to confirm the diagnosis is to treat it and the only way to treat it is with a hyperbaric chamber and the only hyperbaric chamber in the South Pacific is in Suva, Fiji. Richard would need to be medevac’d to Suva. By this time it was 9 pm and dark. Planes do not fly in or out of Taveuni at night because there are no lights on the runway so Richard would have to be admitted to the local hospital overnight in order to get back on fulltime oxygen. Another member of Dr. Lance’s organization (Loloma Foundation), Linda had received the insurance paperwork from Christine and started making arrangements to have Richard flown out via a low altitude flight in the morning. She asked if I wanted her to find a hotel room for me for the night. I told her I would stay with Richard in the hospital and she responded, “Oh honey, this is a third world country. You don’t want to stay at the hospital.” There were no rooms available at the time so whether I wanted to stay at the hospital or not became a moot point.
Dr. Lance met us at the hospital emergency room which consisted of three walls and a curtain. It was dirty and there were bugs on the walls and flying around the room. I had to swat the mosquitos away from Richard’s head while he laid in the ER. Dr. Lance explained to us nitrogen bubbles appeared to be attacking Richard’s lower spine causing the paralysis in his legs and bladder so he is unable to walk or urinate. By this point Richard had drank so much water (hoping that would help) that his bladder was extremely full, so much so that his belly was freakishly extended. He was in a lot of discomfort. The medical professionals stood around his gurney discussing a treatment plan as Richard lay in pain. I finally spoke up and said, “This is all great but can someone please give Richard a catheter immediately in order to get him some relief, then we can discuss what to do next.”
At that point I left the room so the ER doctor could insert the catheter. Dr. Lance followed me out but several others stayed in the room to watch Richard get his catheter. He felt like he was on display but he was in so much pain he really didn’t care who watched as long as it got done. Richard told me later as the doctor went to insert the catheter her nose was running, she did not wear a mask and she wiped her nose with her hand then proceeded to do the catheter. That is when he started praying, “Dear Lord, please don’t let me get an infection in a foreign country.”
On the other side of the curtain as Richard was getting his catheter Dr. Lance arranged for food to be brought in for us and talked to me about decompression sickness and the treatment. At about that point Richard screamed as the catheter was inserted which sent immediate tears to my eyes. Dr. Lance thought I was crying about the illness and treatment and kept telling me he was going to be fine. In an attempt to distract me, Dr. Lance told me about the foundation he founded which brings medical treatment to a lot of islands in the South Pacific all from volunteers in the medical community. His organization is called the Loloma Foundation which means “love” in Fijian.
After Richard finally got his catheter he felt a lot of relief and became very sleepy. The staff got him set up in their version of ICU which had the only air conditioned room on the ward. The walls were dirty and wires were hanging from the ceiling which came from the nurse’s station on the other side of the wall. When I was asked where I would sleep I told them I could sleep on the floor in Richard’s room, but I was told it would be better if I slept in a “paying room.” I had a difficult time understanding the accents of the hospital staff and I thought they were saying I would be staying in a “pain room.” I couldn’t imagine what that could be but I trusted they were putting me somewhere safe.
After Richard was settled in and fell asleep I was escorted to the paying room. It was a small, non-air conditioned room down at the end of the hallway. When I walked into the room I saw a small gurney used as a hospital bed and a lizard crawling across the far wall up to the ceiling. There were bars on the window and a dirty fan hung from the ceiling. I placed my backpack and phone on the small table near the bed and went into the bathroom. Upon entering the bathroom I was startled by a large roach crawling up the mildew covered wall. There were shower mats laid over the shower bar covered in mildew. I was very happy to see a toilet and have running water. The nurse warned me not to leave my cell phone lying around because cell phones tend to disappear when left unattended. He had numerous phones stolen. So I plugged my phone into the charger stretching the cord to reach under my pillow hoping it would charge enough to continue taking pictures and have the ability to use the flash light setting before the power was turned off for the night. As I lay down to try to get a few hours of sleep before our morning flight to Suva I prayed for healing for Richard, strength and wisdom for myself and thanked God for all He had provided for us during this difficult time. I was so grateful for Dr. Lance from the Loloma Foundation for his knowledge and kind words and for the staff at Matangi for helping us this far and providing for our needs. Around 11:00 pm I drifted off to sleep.
At 1:00 am I woke up to check on Richard. I walked down the hall towards his room and saw Tolar standing outside of his room as if he were guarding it. I asked him, “Is Richard okay?”
Tolar responded, “Yes, he is fine. He is sleeping.”
As I peeked into Richard’s room to see him sleeping comfortably with his oxygen mask still securely on his face I noticed a mattress on the floor at the foot of Richard’s bed. Sareli was asleep on the mattress. At this point I was overwhelmed with emotion and started to weep. I felt so alone yet God had sent warriors to protect us. It was hard for me to comprehend how two men we had just met from another country would go out of their way to help and protect us. I returned to my room praising God for His provisions once again and slept for a few more hours.
I returned to Richard’s room at 4:30 am to find everything as I had left it. I sat on a bench outside of Richard’s room and wrote in my journal until he woke up shortly after 5:00. We talked for a while and then Sareli woke up. Richard told me the alarm on his oxygen machine kept waking him up throughout the night because the power kept going off periodically which would cause the oxygen to stop flowing and the battery alarm to go off. I was surprised the power stayed on at all during the night because I was told the power is usually turned off by 10:00 pm. By the time everyone got up and moving it was 7:00 am and time to get Richard to the airport to catch the medical evacuation plane to Suva.
Richard was loaded into an ambulance and we drove 30 minutes to the Taveuni airport. As we waited for the plane to arrive Sareli offered me the cell phone he had been using to communicate with the doctors and the resort. He told me it was a prepaid phone and I could use it to call home or anyone else I needed to contact. I initially declined his offer because I did not want to take his phone, but he assured me it was a company phone and told me how to check the minutes and if I needed minutes added Christine would gladly add minutes. I went ahead and accepted the phone which would later prove to be a very wise decision.
It took eight men to get Richard from the ambulance stretcher onto the plane stretcher. As the men were loading Richard onto the plane, the nurse for the flight introduced herself to me as Ming. Once Richard was loaded up Ming took all of his vitals to make sure he was stable enough for the flight and we were ready to go. Now I was on my own again. Sareli and Tolar were returning to Matangi, Dr. Lance was back with his group and we were on our way to Suva. At this point Richard could no longer walk or stand on his own.
To be continued…