I usually just post things as I go, but I have had a number of posts written over the past few days that I did not get to put up on the blog because of limited access to the internet while traveling. It’s funny how quickly one’s perspective changes though, and then the words from just a few days ago seem irrelevant.
I had thought Wednesday was a particularly troublesome day. Here’s what I wrote about it at the time… I had intended to put up a photo at least for Wordless Wednesday, and then the day melted away in a series of minor problems: Up very early to work on grant proposal about pediatric HIV care program; flat tire delays departure for Kitale clinic; dying fan belt on car further delays departure; terrible traffic jams on the dirt non-road next to the road under construction; long day in Kitale; rush back to arrive late for conference call; finished call late to do a CNN interview about medical myths; late CNN interview interrupted by spilled bottle of wine (Open bottle of wine gifted by the girls who had gathered for a wine night outside, which I arrived home too late to join. Of note, none actually entered my mouth); red wine spill over laptop/blackberry/files/receipts; frantic attempt to mop up wine with toilet paper while silently cursing and attempting to maintain coherent CNN interview; relief that laptop and blackberry still functional, though with sticky keys; realizing that in dark room (overhead light in room not working) my wine disaster and clean-up attempts left red sticky trail across entire room; abandoning huge mess and racing out late for dinner; grabbing purse and locking door to my room but inadvertently leaving room keys, car keys, plus phone on the bed; locked out of room/house; finding someone with a phone to call our office manager at home, recalling our team leader from town to let me into the IU House office, scavenging through series of keys/locked safe to uncover spare set of keys for room; finally retrieving keys & phone… In the end, I could only laugh. Enough small calamities one after another that there did not seem to be much else to do except laugh and go to bed.
Wednesday led to a frantic rush on Thursday to finish up work at the hospital and to get ready for the trip from Kenya back to the US. And then my trip back put everything into a different perspective. I left from Nairobi very early in the morning on Friday, and most of the first long flight passed relatively uneventfully – working, reading, napping… Then came the overhead call for a medical doctor. I have had to respond to these calls on planes multiple times before, and they usually have been handled relatively easily. Most often, people have fainted for one reason or another, and it’s not too difficult to help them feel better. Plus, there is usually an adult medicine doctor on board who is better qualified to deal with the sick adult than I am. This was quite a different case though. A Dutch internal medicine resident and I both answered the call (I was VERY grateful for her), and we ended up working very hard to resuscitate a Kenyan man who had been found unresponsive in the bathroom of the plane. We did CPR and used the defibrillator and did all of the emergency things one can do on a plane, but the man died despite our best attempts. This man was traveling with his wife, and after everything, we had to tell her the bad news, that we had tried everything that we could, but that her husband was dead. Watching her wail over her husband’s body on the floor in the back of the plane was worse even than kneeling in a pool of urine doing frantic chest compressions on a man whose heart was not going to start again. Worse than returning to our seats, dazed and saddened in the aftermath of our futile attempts. Worse than flying with the dead body and dealing with the paperwork and the police reports upon landing. The loss of a spouse, in an instant, on a plane, among strangers. There are no words for that.
I ended up running to my next flight (and to the next), and for the whole of the subsequent 9-hour flight and the trip to customs and the flight after that one, images of the dead man, of the resuscitation, of the grieving wife kept playing over and over again in my head. I slept a little over the course of the 36-hour journey, but whenever I was awake, these pictures were going through my head. I kept looking around me at all of the other passengers and thinking, “I hope everyone is still alive at the end of this flight.” And feeling thankful, in the midst of this blur, for my own life and the lives of my loved ones and even for the lives of these strangers.
When I finally, finally arrived home late last night, my exhaustion was at a new peak for this cross-continental voyage. I’m still kind of wandering in my jet-lagged blur, as I unpack and savor yummy treats and let the dogs snuggle with me on the couch. I can’t forget though. I injured my right hand doing chest compressions, and that ache and my inability to use it properly reminds me with each little movement of what happened yesterday. It feels like Christmas time here, though, in a way that it did not in Kenya. Most of all, it feels like a time to hug loved ones tight and tell them that I love them and to enjoy the days of life that we are given here.