An hour later we landed in Suva and Richard was transported into another ambulance. This ambulance had to be 40 years old. This time there was no room for me in the front so I rode in the back with Ming and Richard. We got the full ambulance treatment on the way to the hospital; lights were flashing, siren was going, and the driver was weaving in and out of traffic as if he was in a high speed chase. Equipment was being tossed around in the ambulance as Ming and I held onto whatever we could find to keep from being thrown around. As we dodged in and out of traffic I began to think Richard survived the bends only to die in an ambulance wreck. Richard later told me he could not distinguish how the driver was doing but he saw the looks on Ming’s and mine faces and he knew it was not good. Ming repeatedly told the driver Richard was in stable condition so there was no need to speed but he didn’t seem to listen. I personally think he liked the excuse to drive like a mad man.
By the grace of God we made it to the hospital safely. Richard was taken in the front entrance. The doors of the hospital were propped open because there was no air conditioning. As I walked behind Richard’s stretcher being rolled through the hospital corridor I felt everyone’s stare. There were so many people lining the hallways, sitting in every possible seat, waiting to be treated. We were being quickly whisked through the halls with Richard on the stretcher and we were the only white people so we naturally drew everyone’s attention. Going through the halls of Colonial War Memorial Hospital was like nothing I had ever experienced before. The hospital was built in the 1930’s and had never been updated. The floors and walls were dirty and cracked; there were bars on the windows, and cracks in the ceiling and walls. One of the hospital employees rolling Richard through the halls was barefoot.
We eventually came to a part of the hospital which was primarily used for surgery and Richard was taken into a pre-op room for evaluation. Even though he was not going to have surgery he was taken there because it was one of the few air conditioned rooms and it was where the more serious cases were triaged. I was not allowed to go with him into the room. This was devastating for me. I had to sit outside the room in a broken chair for hours waiting for someone to tell me what was going on. Finally I saw a man walk out of the room carrying a large folder with Richard’s name on it. He did not approach me so I went up to him. He immediately knew I was Richard’s wife since Richard was the only white guy in the pre-op room and was the only white woman in the hall. He was very short with me and only told me they were still doing some tests.
About 45 minutes later the barefoot employee and another woman brought Richard out on the gurney. I ran to them and Kuini, the nurse, told me they were taking him to get x-rays and once those results were back he would be taken to the hyperbaric chamber for treatment. Kuini told me I could walk with them to x-ray but I would have to wait in the waiting room while he had the tests done. When we got in the elevator to go down to x-ray I had another emotional breakdown. Richard asked why I was upset and all I could tell him is they would not let me in to see him in pre-op, no one would tell me what was going on and I don’t like it when he is away from me and I don’t know what is going on. He reassured me once again everything would be fine.
When we got to the radiology department there were more people sitting and standing waiting to be seen. The room and hallway was filled with people needing x-rays. They took Richard in ahead of everyone and I sat in an available chair I found. I looked up at the radiology department sign and saw lizards crawling in and out of cracks in the wall. The loneliness and severity of the situation came crashing down on me and I once again broke down in tears. As I sat with my face in my hands sobbing I felt someone touch my shoulder. A young woman sat down next to me, put her hand on my shoulder and told me, “Everything is going to be alright.”
I proceeded to tell her our situation and how I had nobody to turn to and we are thousands of miles from home and family. She lovingly looked into my tear soaked eyes and asked, “Do you believe in God?”
I nodded and she said, “When you believe in God you are never truly alone. He is always with you. Pray to Him and He will comfort and provide for you.”
Within that very instance I felt peace. God had been providing for me all along and continued to show His mercy through this beautiful stranger who is also a sister in Christ. She continued to talk to me while Richard was getting his x-rays. She told me she had been waiting to get an x-ray on her arm for several hours and how there is always a long wait for healthcare and she was accustomed to it.
When Richard came out of x-ray I ran to his gurney as it was parked against the wall in the corner. Kuini told me we had to wait there for the results and then we would be going from there to the hyperbaric chamber. Richard and I talked some as we waited for the results. Then my new friend who talked with me while Richard was in x-ray approached us. I introduced her to Richard even though I could not understand her name. She then asked if she could pray for him and he readily agreed. She began to pray in Fijian so I don’t know what she said but God does. It was one of the most beautiful prayers I had ever heard. When she was finished praying she told me she had gotten her x-ray and was leaving. She walked down the hall away from us disappearing into the sea of people not knowing what a huge impact she had made on me and how much she helped me in one of my darkest moments while in Fiji.
Richard’s x-rays came back good and we were on our way to the hyperbaric chamber for the first of five treatments. We walked through the narrow, dirty corridor, out a set of double doors onto an outside, covered walkway to another ward, through another hallway then back outside to a small room set off to the side of the hospital marked “hyperbaric chamber.” Kuini unlocked the wooden doors to reveal a small chamber built in the 1980’s in a small wooden room. It was quite a challenge to get Richard into the chamber. He still could not use his legs and the opening was small so he had to get in on his own power. There for a little while we were not sure if he was going to be able to get in or not. Kuini told me most of their patients are Fijian divers and are very small so they take them in on a stretcher but there was no way they were going to be able to do that with Richard. He did make it in and Kuini told me his first treatment would take six hours. She turned on one of the large oxygen tanks in the corner and sat at a small control table. As she started pushing buttons and turning nobs I heard an air compressor on the other side of the plywood wall come on as the procedure started.
While Richard was in the chamber I talked to Kuini about what would happen after Richard’s treatment. She told me he would be taken to a paying room in the hospital if there was one available and I could stay in there with him. After making a couple of phone calls Kuini informed me there were no paying rooms available so he would have to stay in the men’s ward. When I asked her where that was she walked me outside and pointed to an old, dilapidated building with no air conditioning and bars on the windows across the parking lot. She also informed me I could not stay there with him so I would need to get a hotel room. My heart sank. I didn’t know what to do. So many questions went through my mind: Is Richard going to be taken care of properly? How am I going to find a hotel room? How am I going to get to and from a hotel? I know there are taxis but I don’t have any Fijian money, how am I going to pay for a taxi?
After having a minor anxiety attack I prayed. I then remembered the phone Sareli loaned me. Our phones did not work in Fiji but I had been given a local phone to use. I called Christine at the resort and told her the situation and asked if she knew anyone in Suva who could help me? She told me her brother-in-law lived in Suva and she would contact him for me. Within half an hour of speaking to Christine her brother-in-law, Sal, called me and told me he was going to have his personal assistant, Salome, contact me. She would bring me $100 Fijian money and help me find a hotel room. A few minutes later Salome called and asked me to meet her outside so she could give me the money and take me to find a hotel room.
Salome met me in the parking lot outside the hyperbaric chamber room and gave me $100 FJD and told me she had three hotels for me to see. The first hotel did not have an elevator and the only room available was on the third floor. I told Salome this one would not work because I was not sure how well Richard was going to be able to walk when released from the hospital so I don’t think he could manage stairs. The second hotel, Tanoa Hotel, was not fancy but it was clean and had an elevator so I told Salome if I was unable to stay at the hospital I would stay there. Salome spoke to the receptionist in Fijian and she told me we were all set. The hotel was a five minute drive from the hospital but I knew I would still need to take a taxi because I had no idea how to walk to and from the hospital through all the weaving and winding of the city streets.
Salome took me back to the hospital and 45 minutes later Richard emerged from the hyperbaric chamber. He needed a lot of help to get out and onto the gurney. I was so hoping to see him walk out on his own power after six hours of treatment. The first thing he asked me was if he had a room. I had to tell him there were no paying rooms available and he would be staying in the men’s ward for the night and I could not stay with him. Richard took the news better than I did and said he would be fine, but I had my doubts.
To be continued…