Saturday, January 30, 2010

Sudden Return: The Sandwich of Doom

The last week has been the most difficult and terrifying week of my life. Right now, I'm sitting on my bed in my parents house, relishing my footsie pajamas and battling a seriously enraged stomach infection. Read on, if you dare...

About Thursday of last week, the 21st, I made an amazing discovery! There were not just two other volunteers living next door, not three, not four, but SEVEN other girls right under my nose! Needless to say I was delighted to have some folks who were sharing in my experience to relax with in the evening and learn about the country from an outsider's perspective. I befriended most of them very quickly, and they invited me to journey to Cape Coast with them that weekend. I readily accepted, and Saturday morning we set off with their program coordinator, Richard.

After 3 hours of sitting in a packed tro-tro (a 12 passenger van used as public transportation all over Ghana), we arrived at our hotel. My roommate was Charlin, a young Canadian girl who hated Ghana and was generally unhappy. We found a resort right on the beach, and made that out nesting spot for eating and relaxing. Charlin found some random guy to take her around town, so as I was getting ready for bed alone, I heard yelping from across the hall. Two girls, Mary and Mckenzie, were standing huddled on the bed. apparently, their room was infested. A spider had just crawled across Mckenzie's leg, and as I turned to note what they were staring at, I saw the HUGEST cockroach I have EVER seen. It was serioulsy the size of my Dad's thumb. We strategized on how to kill it, ending up with Mary chucking a shoe at the wall and me standing ready crouched to the floor with flip flops on my hands. Mary missed, the bug went flying and we screamed so loud the desk clerk caming dashing to our rescue, Raid in hand. Then, we saw another cockroach. we turned, and there was another. And another. and ANOTHER. They were everywhere, just crawling around in bright light on the walls. Needless to say, he moved them to a different room. I wasn't too keen on sleeping across the hall from the apocalypse insect form, so I shacked up with them for the night. We didn't sleep much, imaginations full of insects and malaria pills don't make for sound sleep.

The next day was marvelous. We lounged on the beach, played in the ocean with local children, and ate from our beloved "safe" restaurant. Then, I ate it. It sound so delicious, so tempting. Salami and Gouda Cheese on a fresh baguette--what could go wrong? Ooooh was I ever wrong. Just thinking about it now makes my stomach turn. I innocently ate pure doom for lunch, then we caught another tro back to the orphanage. Other than a minor sunburn or two, everything seemed great.

At 1.30 in the morning, all illusions of deliciousness the sandwich had so cunningly conjured were gone. I was sweaty, hot, headachey, and throwing up like there's no tomorrow. After calling my parents for advice, I woke up Cynthia and she gave me some medicine. I spent the morning throwing up all my medicine and water, slept a little, discovered a 100 degree fever, then requested to be taken to a doctor.

Cynthia took me to Kasoa Central Clinic, the local medical facility. I almost cried when we entered, the front room was full of people waiting to see the doctor or a nurse, approximately 50 bodies stuffed in a little room on benches. I sat down. Then, of course, the electiricity went down, ceasing the one fan in the room. Obviously, it sucked. A lot. People were staring, and the little boy next to me was terrified of me; apparently I looked like death itself to him. THe head nurse came up to me and asked me what was wrong, I told I was very sick. She touched my forehead and then moved me up near the front of the line. Finally I was in to see the doctor. He asked me a bunch of questions, then sent me to the maternity room to receive an IV drip for rehydration. The nurse stuck the IV in an seemingly random vein in the middle of my forearm. Another nurse came and for no reason felt the need to adjust my IV, thus dislodging it unknowingly from the vein. After 10 minutes of pain, I looked down and realized my arm was swelling up like a water balloon. Ms. fidget came, took it out, and proceeded to shove the giant needle into a small vein and the BACK OF MY HAND. If you don't know this, that is the LAST resort used because it is incredibly painful and difficult. After watching her miss the vein 4 times, i suggested she place the IV in the huge vein found in the crook of everyone's elbow. This only took her a couple tries, and I bemoaned my fate of wasting away in a clinic where I have to instruct my nurse in IV placement. The took lab samples, then let me rest on the bed receiving drips of fluid and antibiotics. The gave me 4 different medications, said my results would be ready by Friday (4 days later, mind you) and not to worry, I either had malaria or food poisoning.

That evening at the orphanage, they made for me "light soup", the Ghanaian version of chicken soup. Or so I thought. I took off the cover and was staring at a bright orange, spicy concoction replete with chunks of dried fish. I ate some, I threw up. Twice. I took medicine. I threw up. I sipped rehydration salts. I threw up. Then, sleep came.

The next morning, the same. still sweaty, still hot, still vomiting, still "running" (Ghanaian lingo for diarrhea). I called my parents, and my dad called Pius my CATO coordinator and instructed him to take me to a real hospital. As I was waiting for him, I contemplated whether or not I was going to die, and how one person could produce so much odd liquid off of nothing. To try to explain my misery, imagine the worst flu you have ever had. Then raise the room temperature to 95 degrees. Add no running water, pit toilets, and sprinkle a few lizards on the wall. There you have it. Oh, and don't forget the possibility of you having a mortal illness. Ooh, and throw in everyone around just telling you you're "tired" and that it's "just the climate".

I arrived at Nyaho Medical Center a disaster. My fever had finally abated, but the stomach problems were still there. It was the same procedure, doctor, lab, IV, prognosis malaria or bad food. However, they had my lab completed in a few hours, the nurse was properly trained, and they had air conditioning. It appeared that I had an ambiguous stomach infection, and after purchasing some antibiotics I was on my miserable way with Pius. Instead of taking me straightaway to the hotel, I instead had to go to another clinic and wait for his girlfriend to finish her appointment. This took 2 hours. I was none too pleased. Finally, at 11.30 PM on Tuesday, I reached the hotel. Wednesday morning came. More barf, more running, more dehydration. By this time I had eaten nothing in two days, and was barely able to keep down water and my medicine. After much deliberation, my parents and I decided that it would be best if I came home. I was too weak to withstand the climate, terrified/unable to eat anything, and was seriously ill and alone.

I had reached the end of my strength, and while it hurts my pride a little to admit it, I just could not bear to keep persevering my situation. I realized the only thing keeping me from coming home was fear of what people would think; that I wasn't strong enough, I give up easy, was a quitter, pathetic, a waste of their resources, etc etc. However, I've always made it a principle of mine to never let anything in my life be ruled by petty fears, and the fear of getting even more sick was real and looming. So, I'm sorry if anyone thinks I should have stuck it out, but well, quite frankly they can just know. Anyway.

Wednesday I went to the orphanage, collected my things and said my goodbyes. Just on a logistical note, I paid up front for my stay, so all the money I raised is still with them and is being used solely for the orphanage's expenses. This makes me happy, that at least I could leave them with the cash! I was very sad to go, however I feel I accomplished much and know now exactly how to help from abroad; what their pressing needs are.

Thursday I waited, my flight didn't leave until midnight. This day I was finally able to keep down some bread and fruit. I spent the whole day just waiting. I probably played about 500 rounds of Solitaire. I talked to myself. I sang to myself. I did word searches. I reflected. And I did NOT throw up. Praise God. That evening I began the long journey home, and Friday night arrived in San Francisco welcomed by the loving arms of my family and Micah after making a stop in the bathroom to puke. I have never been so glad to see them, I cannot tell you how hard it was to be so ill so far from home and with everyone caring for you just telling you it was the weather making you sick, not some evil bacteria.

Though the trip played out completely different than I envisioned, I am at peace about it. I accomplished most of my prerogatives; helping the children, learning firsthand what it was like, challenging my limits, and forming a long-lasting relationship with people who need help. I am equipped with knowldge and contacts so that my humanitiarian urges can have true purpose and direction. I am determined to one day adopt internationally, ideally from Royal Seed Orphanage. I've learned what it takes to make me break. I have a million stories, a few pictures, and a true appreciation for our country and its culture.

I will continue to dedicate myself to assist Royal Seed in their efforts to save children and grow them up into functioning, content adults. I have a thousand ideas, the first being a spring-time rummage sale benefitting the orphanage. Stay tuned for more on that. Also, I want to find proper textbooks and teacher resources for the school, they are sorely lacking in that area. I want to arrange for older students to come study here. I want to adopt a baby one day.

So, what now? Well, first off, I will recuperate. Then find a job. This will be tricky as I have a job settled to start in June. If anyone has/knows about temporary work I could do, please let me know at the contact information below.

Next, I want to organize efforts to aid the orphanage from afar as I begin my adult life afresh.

I will continue to use this blog as a resource for Royal Seed to describe their needs in detail as I learn of them, and also to promote things I will be doing to help them in the U.S.

Thanks to everyone for all the love. My life has changed, so many things have I learned, both about the world and about my own personal life. 2010 is starting out with a bang, and I know it will only go up from here. Stay tuned for how you can help me and the workers at Royal Seed give the children a second shot at life. Oh, and pictures will be up shortly on Facebook.

Susan Marie
707 290 7663


  1. I am happy to have you home and very proud of you!

  2. poor girl! Good for you for being WISE instead of stubborn!