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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Life and Times of Louis & Amber - Boetie Boet

In our monthly updates I attempt to introduce one of the children at The Pines. I want to give an update here of a small boy named Boetie Boetie. This is not his real name, but rather a nickname meaning "little brother". This boy is currently 7 years old, although to look at him, you would probably guess he's more like 5.

We received him at The Pines in late May this year, and of all the children we have, he had the most difficult transition. Usually, the children adjust quickly without crying at all. You must remember that the kids we get have usually been neglected or even abandoned, so for them to receive good food and loving care is more than they have probably ever known. Boetie Boet however was a little different. He is a very sensitive boy by nature, and has been through more in his short life than any of us can ever imagine.

He was referred here through a sister organization we work with called Morningstar. Morningstar is a Christian daycare run for HIV+ children who come from the poorest homes. The director of Morningstar had tried to get him placed with us when we first opened, due to his unhealthy living environment, but the government placed him with another person for care. In fact, we were recently looking through some old pictures and found a photo of him visiting here at the grand opening, almost a year before we were able to take any kids at all.

Boetie Boet's family was very unstable and he was not getting the proper care and nutrition that he needed. Fortunately he was receiving some care and nourishment through Morningstar or he wouldn't be alive with us today. I'm not sure the exact timeframe, but I believe about a year or so ago he was orphaned, and went to live with another adult who agreed to take him in. In situations like this, the government gives a small grant for the care of the child, but it is barely enough to feed a small child. Oftentimes people will take in several children in order to collect the grant money for them, but whether or not the funds actually are used for the care of the child is very much a concern. It seems this may have been the case in Boetie Boet's situation.

Finally, in May the government removed him from the place he was staying and put him with us. For 3 days straight he cried, and not just wimpering, but full blown sobbing. Finally he stopped crying, and after about a month we were able to get him to smile and play with other children. Many of the children when they first arrive are infected with TB, and such was the case with Boetie Boet. He began treatment, and doctors tell us that once treatment begins they are no longer contagious. In addition to TB he had other various ailments that frequently accompany an HIV compromised immune system, such as ringworm, common colds, etc... After several months of living at The Pines, his overall condition seemed to improve, but some of these symptoms would not go away, so we took him to the medical clinic for a checkup.

At this checkup the doctors determined he may still have active TB, and they ordered him to be admitted to the hospital immediately for treatment. This was three weeks ago. After initial admission he began treatment but it seemed to have no affect. The doctors began then to suspect he is infected with a resistant strain of TB, which they currently are unsure how to treat. It takes at least 6 weeks for the tests to come back, and after that time a plan will be made on how best to proceed. As far as we have been told he would have to go into isolation treatment at a hospital about 2 hours away from here from 9 months to a year.

At the public hospital patients are given meals, but often not in a manner suitable for small children. For instance, they may receive an orange, but it wouldn't be peeled. Also, between meals they are pretty much on their own. They basically just sit in their small bed with nothing to do. It is the responsibility of family to provide any other needs a child might have. We have been able to send someone every day to sit with him, but obviously if he is sent to the other hospital that may become prohibitive. Since he is already behind the eight ball when it comes to school and development we have made a distinct effort to provide stimulation for his mind. He has a good stack of coloring books, crayons, small toys, story books, and K-level schoolwork. Everyday he is read to and played with. Actually, when I have been there he seems to be the life of the party, even though it is completely contradictory to his normal personality. The whole time I am there children from all over the ward come to borrow his crayons and coloring pages, or return toys he has lent them. It seems he finds more joy sharing with the other kids than playing with things himself.

One day while I was visiting with him we talked about Jesus. He knows what sin is, and he knows what Jesus did for us, and while I was there that day he stopped right in the middle of our conversation so he could pray for forgiveness for his sins. I don't know if he had ever done that before, and obviously God sees the heart, but we pray for each of our kids here that they would know the freedom and joy that comes with assurance of eternal life.

Here is a young boy who has spent more time in his life at the hospital than at school. He has seen friends come and go, some through discharge, others not. When he first arrived at the hospital he went through the same transition as when he arrived here. For the first 10 days whenever one of us would visit he would just start weeping uncontrollably, wanting to come home. Now, he tells the Mama's when they visit that he knows he is sick and doesn't want to leave until he gets completely better. When we visit now, instead of asking to come home, he asks that we bring him this toy or that. One frequent request is that we bring a computer so he can play Mario Bros. (a favorite on the classroom computers here at The Pines). It is still difficult when his friends leave, or when he is moved to another ward, but he is taking it nicely. We continue to pray that he will be healed and returned to us quickly, but we are encouraged by the small progress we see every day. Pray with us.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Life and Times of Louis & Amber - Childbirth 2

First of all, I'd like to apologize for the previous post. Obviously I wasn't in my right mind. Apparently the pain medication I was taking for the delivery was getting to me. Actually, Mama Maggie O'Tool would be proud - neither Amber nor me took pain medication other than the local she received right before the baby came. I guess that spoils the big announcement. Yes, we had a baby boy, officially to be named Drake Thomas O'Tool. He weighed in at 4.17kg's and measured 55cm long. As you can see from the photo, a large portion of that is in the nose. It is the famous O'Tool trademark. I'm really quite pleased about it. Hopefully as he grows it will get flat on the end just like mine. A few months back Meredith actually asked me who bit the end of my nose off.

So, back to more information on the delivery. As common as childbirth is on my side of the family you'd think it would be old hat by now, but every time another one joins the crowd there is a mad rush to hear all the details. I'll spare you most of them, but to satiate the appetite of who long to know, I will fill in a few of the highlights. We went to a checkup on Monday morning and the doctor told us the baby would be there by Wednesday, but just in case, he wanted us to schedule an appointment for Thursday morning. On Thursday morning he told us he was leaving town for the weekend on Friday afternoon, so he wanted us to come in Thursday night so he could monitor Amber. At 9:45pm we left our apartment and headed downstairs to drop Meredith off with Brian & Lois. Halfway down the stairs Amber stops and says "my water just broke" Fortunately, it was just a small leak, so we weren't slipping and sliding the rest of the way down.

We arrived at the hospital around 10:15, and by 11:00 Amber was feeling her first contractions. These were relatively minor (I know, easy for me to say) but they were light enough that she was able to catch a couple hours of sleep. My contractions were also light enough for me to sleep as well. About 4:00am the nurses came to check on Amber and that's when the adventures described in detail in a previous post took place. Serious contractions started around 5:00, and by 6:00 our conversation died down and it was pretty much just me talking to her.I couldn't really tell if I was being more irritating, or if it was helping, but she never told me to knock it off, so I just kept yammering away. At about 6:50 the doctor showed up and did a quick exam, telling us that Amber was 5cm dialated. At 7:15 he came back and checked again, and it was at 9cm. He told us that there would be a baby delivered within half an hour.

Around 7:30 Amber started getting the contractions where she had to push, but they made her wait for a few contractions. Finally, she put her foot down - figuratively of course, because they don't really like you're feet to be down when you're delivering - and she told them she was going to push.It took 4 good contractions with her pushing, but the Drake finally popped his little head out to meet the world. About a week ago I spoke with Maggie on the phone, and she gave me some tips on what to say to help coach Amber through. I figured with the vast experience my mom has with this sort of thing I would follow her advice. On the third contraction, I broke out the patented Maggie coaching techniques, and for whatever reason this made Amber laugh. So I guess it accomplished the objective of taking her mind off the pain. Apparently I need more practice.
Anyway, for those of you who need some brushing up on your metric conversion tables, the measurements are as follows: 9 lbs. 3 oz. and 21.5 inches long. Not the cutest baby in the nursery, but we'll keep him. Hopefully he grows out of it like Meredith did. I was never so lucky.

Through the whole thing Amber was really a champ. The doctors and nurses were impressed with her demeanor. And I found out later that she really did appreciate me talking so much, so that's nice to know. I'm also happy to report that I am recovering nicely. So is Amber.

The Life and Times of Louis & Amber - Childbirth

As many of you know, and the rest soon to find out, Amber has been pregnant for about the past nine months. All things considered, the pregnancy has been quite uneventful, at least relatively speaking. There have been so many other “events” in our lives in the past nine months that it takes a pretty substantial level of eventfulness to really qualify as eventful. But I digress. Amber has been quite a trooper throughout this whole process, with nary a complaint filed, except for the common emphasis upon whom the blame for her current condition lies. Of course, that would be yours truly. But I emphasize that she was more involved with our cross-continental transplant than I was, and since then she has adjusted quite nicely with a positive disposition at almost all times.

Part of that transplant and adjustment related to the medical field. Within the South African medical community there exists a dichotomy. On the one hand, there is the government funded healthcare and hospitals. On the other there is private healthcare for those who can afford it. Without getting into a discussion regarding government sponsored healthcare and the politics that go along with it, suffice it to say that the private industry is quite superior here.The private healthcare tends also to be quite reasonably priced as well. In fact, the full bill for an office visit here is often less than a normal co-pay would be with an American corporate insurance policy. Another time I will share with you the intricacies of the public healthcare system.

We then, as a couple, have gotten to know Dr. Fourie and the pre-natal division here at the local medical clinic. I highly recommend Dr. Fourie’s services, and we couldn’t be more pleased (up to this point) with the care we have received. However, there are a few differences of note between medical customs here, and medical customs on the other side of the Atlantic. One of those is the enema. What a lovely experience these are and I encourage you all to explore this option fully; quite healthy, really. The enema is standard procedure, the modus operendi – or M.O. if you will – whenever an expecting mother is admitted to the medical clinic. Our friend who had a baby here in May was able to strategically avoid this portion of the experience during her labor, as she was too far advanced when she actually arrived at the hospital. Amber was hoping to employ the same scheme in order to bypass this procedure as well.

Afrikaans is the primary language spoken in this area of South Africa. It is a derivative of Dutch, and since coming here we have learned it is almost completely identical to Flemish. As you well know, Flemish is one of the official languages of Belgium. Belgium is a small European country bordering France and they are renowned for their chocolates, diamonds, and Flem; hence the term “Flemish”. And as you would imagine for a language named after throat mucus, when spoken, the speaker often sounds as if they are clearing their throat. It comes out with kind of a “hoch”-ing noise. Anyway, neither Amber nor me speak a lick of Afrikaans (although occasionally when I clear my throat it is mistaken for a term of endearment) and when we first arrived at the hospital on the evening of delivery most of the nurses were not aware of this predicament. Thus they continued to speak Afrikaans almost exclusively.

It was not uncommon for them to carry on entire conversations of which we were left totally in the dark. I was impressed with myself when I deciphered they were talking about Amber’s water breaking. I knew this because she said “whoosh” while simultaneously thrusting her hands down and outward (just imagine how you would mime water breaking). So I didn’t exactly understand Afrikaans, just the sign language that went along with it. Later however, I did pick up a word that is universal in any language. In the midst of string of conversation that sounded roughly like this – “adhalv alieru hoch ahsldk hoch hoch hoch ahsdklf Metamucil ahlka hoch hoch ahslkdj hoch” – Take a close look at that sentence and see if you can find the one word familiar the world over. Let me give you a hint: It’s in the same family as prune juice. That’s right. The word is Metamucil. Here we experienced another dichotomy. While overjoyed by the identification of a single word, there was also the disturbing realization of what exactly that word would mean.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Life and Times of Louis & Amber - Entry 2

This past week a few interesting things happened here on this side of the ocean. Let me regale you with the tales:

So last week I got a little lazy and decided to skip shaving my entire face, instead leaving a small patch known commonly as a Goatee. Now while I'm no wolf-man, I have since reaching the adolescent stage of life consistently grown more and more facial hair. Not to get into the specifics, but for about 3 years now I need to shave every day or I start to look like a hooligan, what with the patchy growth and all. After two or three days of fighting the Abe Lincoln/Ken Hamm cheek beard or uncomfortable neck beard while neglecting my manly chin and mustache sections, I have a noticeable level of growth on my chin and upper lip. It is at this time I decide to shave it all. This maneuver on my part does not escape the notice of some of the children here. Several of the older girls decided to give me the 5th degree on why I would choose to remove the goatee. One girl goes so far as to say that when I do have the mini-beard it is the same as a pig. I query her on this description and she proceeds to tell me that when you skin a pig, the inside of its skin is about the same as my 3-day growth, and you have to work and work to scrape it off. Huh.

Along the same lines, I must relate to you a story that although it did not take place this last week, must be shared while we're on the vein of follicular growths. I believe it is common knowledge that most people of African descent share the common trait of tight, curly hair. Most of them have little to no hair on their arms or legs. So they think it odd that white people have hairy arms and legs. For example, I was at a house in Thabong recently and there was a young boy about 7 years old or so. He was fascinated by my arms and stayed close to me, petting my arms as one would pet a puppy, rabbit, or other such cuddly creature (which would fit, because if I am anything, it is cute and cuddly). So the children here one day told one of the American team members that white people take dog tablets to make their hair straight and to grow hair on their arms and/or legs. The team member was somewhat taken aback, as you would imagine. It turns out that some African people really do take dog tablets. I'm not sure if the tablets are made of dog, or if they are intended to be given to dogs. I suppose this would be a classic case of six of one, half dozen of the other, as one may not be any more desirable than the other to a western mind. And with the holidays coming up, I thought this would be a good time to mention that if you are looking for a unique gift for that special someone, and if that special someone needs more hair on their arms and legs, I would be more than happy to acquire dog tablets and ship them to you for a minimal fee.

The third event that I must make known to you all relates to the staff here at The Pines. We employ a gardener named Leonard. Leonard lives here on the property with his wife Temperance and daughter. Temperance has been expecting for quite some time now: About 9 months to be exact. So it came as no surprise when, on Sunday morning, her water broke and she needed to go to the medical clinic. Leonard notified Brian & Lois of the new turn of events, and they graciously offered to drive her to the clinic. Leonard declined, as he determined the ambulance was sufficient transportation. The problem is that no one is ever able to find our facility without substantial searching. Because of this, Brian & Lois took Temperance in their vehicle and found the ambulance. I'm not sure if it is a cultural thing or what the reasoning is, but Leonard refused to go the the clinic with Temperance. I can understand this, as for centuries men were not allowed in the birthing room and probably for good reason. No one needs to go through what us fathers go through during the birthing process. It is really quite agonizing. And so Leonard wisely avoided this, and therefore avoided the undue blame and crushed fingers that go along with it. Before we all laud Leonard for his wisdom, I must continue my narrative. Temperance, by all accounts, made it to the hospital and through delivery admirably. She then conversed with Leonard via the telephone, telling him of the birth of their child. When we, the missionaries, spoke with Leonard later that day we asked him how things were going. He told us the baby had arrived. Of course, the logical question that follows relates to the gender of the child. It was at this point we learned Leonard had neglected to ask Temperance the gender of the child. Again, maybe this is a cultural thing. Leonard was later happy to learn that he is now the father of a healthy little boy. And we were happy as well.

The End.