Do you ever feel like your spine is disintegrating? Do you ever feel like it is just dissolving away and you’re going to wake up tomorrow morning and everything will feel fine except you can’t move your head because your spine is nothing more than a line of dust down your back? Do you ever wonder just how your neck manages to hold your head up all day long, every day of your life?
I especially feel like that (like my spine is disintegrating or dissolving – I’m not sure which word I prefer) after days like we had recently.
As you know, Willie has been living large in the US and we’ve been seeing to the church here. That, in and of itself, is tiring enough.
Recently, a close friend of ours who has full-blown AIDS went through a rough patch and we went along for the ride.
First, we learned that her CD4 count was 60. A healthy human has a CD4 count of around 1000, meaning that she was running on 6% of the normal level of this particularly important cell in her body. People with counts of 1000 are doing great. HIV positive patients whose counts fall below 200 are immediately put on ARV drug therapy in a hope to sustain life. Our friend made 200 look nice. Sixty. Six zero. Sixty is not good.
It may have stemmed from the stress she had been experiencing from carrying a child from a man who “forced himself on her”. It may have been the stress that results when one’s own status is declining and one is worried about passing that status along to her unborn child.
We tried to put a positive spin on the CD4 count. We looked for ways to de-stress our friend (a single mother of 3) and Stef offered daily neck massages.
The massages helped a little, but they couldn’t take away the other pain that was bothering our friend. Her stomach/abdomen had been hurting sharply for weeks. When a pregnant AIDS patient has stomach/abdominal pain, it usually isn’t good.
She tells us that the baby is not moving so much anymore.
So Stef and Tiff take her to a clinic to find that the baby’s heart is barely beating, 29 weeks into pregnancy. Also, the baby is very small for how far along it is in the term. Worries mount.
On to the hospital, where a long day leads to a battery of tests and a “come back tomorrow”. All they would say for sure is that the heartbeat was normal again.
Still in pain, our friend and her three children come to stay at the Mission House for one night, so Stefani can be on call in case an emergency room visit is necessary and because we promised that we would take her back to the hospital at 5:30am the next morning. Yup, five-thirty. In Africa, even South Africa, it is first-come, first-served and any mother-to-be showing up at the hospital after 6ish is turned away. The hospital doesn’t even begin to see outpatients until 8am. Africa...
So we welcome the children, buy some polony and bread and make a little dinner. One of the children (the youngest) finds herself in fire ants and Stef rescues her with a nice long bath and her first encounter with a “loofa”.
Then, concerned about our friend and worried about the future of her children, we have the dreaded talk about what happens IF she is not there to be the mother anymore. We struggle to find answers, but at least the subject has been broached.
Slowly, sleep comes and the morning then comes too quickly. We are on our way to the hospital. Then, we return to the Mission House to collect the school-age boys of our friend and we proceed to take them to school. Joburg traffic bites us and we are stuck for an hour after dropping them.
We return home, Stef showers, and it is off to work....
We wait nervously to hear from our friend, hoping that prayers will be heard and the baby will be found to be OK. We hope that her pain will subside. We get the call and when we again see our friend she has brought her file, complete with a sonogram and a heartbeat that looks just fine. She even says that the pain is going away.
Quietly, we are thankful. For now, she is OK. For now, the baby survives. Her AIDS continues to push her and we live with the realization that our friend is dying. We can only hope that it is a very slow process and that years from now her CD4 count will offer proof that she is not exactly dying as much as she is living in spite of her condition. We can only pray.
I now sit in our room typing away. It is maybe 5:30pm. It is certainly not dark and nowhere close to bedtime. Still, I can feel my neck throbbing and my spine slowly returning to the dust from which it came. We are tired...Spine-dissolvingly tired.
Praise the Lord that Willie is back tomorrow. And praise the Lord that we have a holiday only two weeks away. Now you know. And if you need us, we'll be sleeping. :)