Sunday, September 14, 2008

Earache and Electrical Storms

M has just left for a two-week trip to Cambodia. For work, though he is managing to squeeze in some sight seeing too. I should really have been better prepared. ‘Something’ always happens when he goes away, especially when he goes away to another country.

Sure enough my 4 yo developed earache and a temperature over 100’. So I had a very broken night followed by a huge electrical storm which began at 5.30 a.m (waking me up again). The storm lasted all day until 5 p.m coupled with an all day power cut too. We couldn’t go out, it was chucking it down, my daughter was ill, the flat was very dark, we couldn’t cook, wash, eat toast, or watch DVDs. The washing and ironing I was less concerned about. Situations like this make you resourceful (as well as slightly unhinged)

I was also aware that earache can suddenly get very bad, and one needs antibiotics. The clinic is closed today, and even Albanians tell you to steer clear of the hospital.

I had my “Your Child’s Health Abroad” book and, as you can buy antibiotics from pharmacies I decided I wd self-prescribe if I had to. (And check with my long-suffering brother of course).

Tomorrow is also complicated: I have to go to a government office to get our car insurance verified etc. It took M 2 ½ hrs last week, with all the correct documentation, and he still didn’t get very far. I have a number in the queue and a date, Monday 15th but no appointment. If I don’t go tomorrow I start all over again. So I need A to be well, and I need to NOT need to go to a pharmacy until I get back from there.

So far not so very bad, but when I look back, it is uncanny, or unlucky, how often my other half is away when I have a crisis. First there was the time I went, in the space of a week, from a visit to the dr, to a diagnosis in hospital of grapefruit sized ovarian cysts on my ovaries, (suspected ovarian cancer) to being whisked in for surgery. And yes you guessed it, M was away. In China. He also had no mobile phone then, and I had no way of contacting him. (For the record he was back before the surgery and it turned out to be endometriosis)

Then there was the time my daughter, aged 360 days, turned blue and couldn’t breathe and was hospitalised for a week with bronchiolitis. The Good Man? Philippines this time. With a mobile phone. It was broken, he’d typed in one too many wrong pin codes and it shut down on him. No contact for 9 days. It’s quite hard to explain, in hind sight, to a blissfully ignorant husband, just exactly what has gone on the previous week, and just how isolated and tough it was, when we are there back in the house where he left us, a little pale but otherwise ok, as if nothing had happened. On that occasion at least, we were in Oxford with our support network around us.

Oh and one week after arriving in Sri Lanka on our 1st overseas posting, me feeling more wobbly than a tightrope walker in stilettos, our daughter is hospitalised again, this time with Pneumonia (we later got the diagnosis of a genetic defect Left Pulmonary Sling) On this occasion, only 8 days after arriving in the country, My Good Man was in Kandy 6 hrs away. This time it took me an hr to track him down there and tell him to come home. Being very new in the country we didn’t have mobile phones,

I guess I should count myself lucky he was in the country for the births of our two children. Although considering how long number 1 took to arrive, he would have had more than enough time to get home, even from Australia shd he have needed to. But that’s another story…

Despite being married for 17 yrs, I often feel like a single parent. I go to school event s alone, parents’ evenings, performances. Summers I spend back in the UK with the children (that’s our choice I know, but it’s important to us that we create memories for the children, reconnect friendships, and a sense of where they are from) M only gets 20 days so it’s spread quite thinly over the yr; something you notice more when you are trying to factor in catching up with family and friends (which in normal circumstances you’d do at w/es) as well as being with your family on holiday.

I don’t resent him being away exactly, I think it’s made me very resourceful, though his description of nosing round markets, eating a Khmer chicken curry, visiting Angkor Wat before his conference, did hold a certain allure for me I must confess this w/e), it’s just that I feel so vulnerable with the children, and also weary of dealing with crises alone. After all isn’t that what marriage is about, sharing the crises, and riding the storms together? Somehow regaling him with the edited highlight s after the event isn’t quite the same.

The vulnerability comes particularly, again, from being away from home and support networks and known procedures too, not speaking the language, not having gd medical facilities, being alone often, and having no transport in a city where biking is dangerous, buses are very complex and taxi drivers don't speak English. And roads aren't referred to by names, or indeed rarely have a name. The address of our flat, for example, is a description, not an address, on our rental contract.

For 8 mths. I have been biking everywhere, with my 4 yo on the back of my bike, and my 8 yo on his little bike, dodging the very real hazards of the Tirana roads. Many cars here are stolen, insurance write offs, been in an accident or have inadequate papers. Trying to buy a vehicle is a minefield.

On another occasion back in June M was actually with us. We were coming back from a 4 day camping trip to Macedonia, and our son, who gets hay fever, was getting progressively worse and started wheezing. By the next day he was in a very bad way. The Dr's is too far to bike to with children so M took us in a work vehicle. Our 8 yo was given subutanol syrup which made not a jot of difference, and by late that day he was in a real state and really struggling to breathe.
We asked work colleagues what hospital to take him to, they said ‘you don’t want to go to hospital here’. We also discovered my husband’s NGO had not registered us with the clinic (we are only their 2nd ex-pat so induction has been largely non-existent) so we didn't have access to the emergency number. I tried to find out the number, available only to ‘members’, from the 6 people I knew well enough to have their numbers. 5 had left the country for the summer, and one was teaching & her phone was switched off.

In the end, in desperation, I called our son’s Headmaster because his number was on a school letter. I really didn’t know who to turn to. As it happened he was at that moment going to the Dr's for supper, so he called him, he opened the clinic and spent an hr with our son giving him steroids, teaching him to use a spacer and calming him down.

But maybe actually I just have a too Western, 21st century woman’s expectation of how much a husband should be around and helping.

I do know many, many countries, where people work far away or even in other countries just to have a job and feed their families. They may see their families once a yr if they are lucky.

And these medical situations I’ve been in make me realise how vulnerable the poor are, ALL the time. Imagine the stress of knowing you simply can’t be ill, because you have to show up at work to get paid in order to eat, and you literally couldn’t afford the fees of being ill.

The Roma live in leaking corrugated shanty towns, they pick through the bins to find stuff to recycle which they get money for, the Poor Albanians live next to them, and dig for iron on an old factory site to eek out an existence.

I don’t have to consider selling a child, in order to feed my other children. We are warm and secure and eat three times a day.

And then I remind myself that it is actually for these people that we’re here, doing what we’re doing. We didn’t move overseas for a better or easier life but to help those who are in far worse a position than us.

So instead of thinking about the exotic sights, the lie-ins, the buffet breakfasts, stimulating lectures etc my husband is enjoying, I remind myself that this morning my 8 yo mopped up the outside table and chairs from the rain, laid breakfast, got everything ready whilst my daughter and I slept in. He even offered her breakfast in bed and brought her her Dora magazines to read.
After 8 mths we have a car, a solid, old, battered but reliable 4x4, which cost less than half anything else we’d seen. bought from an old missionary who’d lived here for 10 yrs. The day he flew out, he phoned with a few more bits of info about the car and said he & his wife were 'praying it would serve us well and be great for our family'. I mean, how nice is that?

The power came back on after 6 hrs, we watched a DVD together, had sausages and mash, a hot bath and went to bed.

Oh and my daughter’s earache has gone.

So now all I have to do is tackle the government bureau tomorrow. Life's really not so bad.


Almost American said...

Imagine the stress of knowing you simply can’t be ill, because you have to show up at work to get paid in order to eat, and you literally couldn’t afford the fees of being ill.
That's what it's like for a large number of Americans! It is sad that I consider myself 'lucky' to have a job with decent health insurance. My husband's employer offers what they jokingly call health insurance that covers almost nothing - and you have to shell out several thousand dollars a year for it!

I hope your daughter's earache has truly gone, and that the trip to the gov't office goes smoothly!

Iota said...

That "ill when Daddy is away" is a recognised syndrome. (I once booked a doctor's appointment in advance towards the end of a period of time when my husband was away - he's not away often and one of the kids is usually ill when he is - and sure enough, I didn't need to cancel it.)

You draw some very philosophical conclusions from a dismal day. You are made of tough material!

Tanya said...

I hope M makes it to Phnom Penh. Its P'chum Ben at the moment so if he goes to Tuol Sleng or any of the 'Killing Fields' (there is one near Siem Reap and another at Kampong Cham I think) there will be people praying for the dead. Cambodians believe that although most living creatures are reincarnated at death some souls are not reincarnated and remain trapped in the spirit world because of bad karma. Each year, during P'chum Ben, for fifteen days, these souls are released from the spirit world to search for their living relatives, meditate and repent.The living relatives,in turn,remember their ancestors and offer food to those unfortunate enough to have become trapped in the spirit world and pray to help reduce the bad karma and hopefully release the souls.

I dont think there has been a day without conflict in the world since the end of the second world war (which was supposed to be the war to end all wars). What amazes me is peoples ability to bounce back after the most horrific things have happened.

PS I used to hate it when J went away...all the extra work and no down time....

Guineapigmum said...

We get "Ill When Mum's Away" in our house :-) Although, the last time I was going away, I had to clear up sick in the bathroom at 3am the night before I left. Getting my penance in early.

Your life sounds rather more challenging than mine, though! And much more entertaining, if that's any consolation.

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