This is one of the first posts I've ever written that will have absolutely nothing to do with adoption. It's a post to get my story out as quick as possible so friends and family are aware of what has just taken place. So, here I go...
As many of you know I left the United States on May 8th to spend the summer in Tanzania, Africa. The trip was set to last until August 22nd but was cut short on June 5th. Before I begin I just want to say that what I saw and what I learned within the short month I was in Africa are lessons and experiences I will NEVER forget. My time in Arusha changed my life as did all the people there. We had an amazing group and I developed some friendships that I'll cling on to forever. I miss that place more than I've missed anything in a long time and I KNOW I'll go back someday.
So, here's the story. And before I give details I have to let you know I may not be telling the story EXACTLY as it happened with every detail included because quite frankly, I don't remember. I hit my head really hard and have been experiencing some hefty amnesia since it happened. So, what I'm writing is a mix of blurred memories and reiteration from my friend Jeff (who witnessed both incidents and could probably tell the story better than I can). But I'll do my best!
Last Saturday, exactly a week ago from today, our group took a trip out of the city to a school for orphans and street children. I remember walking around on the field with the kids but never running or getting tired. With my heart disease I have to watch my exertion as it is and I've become an expert at telling when my heart is racing too fast and when I need to stop. But this time, I wasn't exerting myself and I did NOT see it coming. Jeff said he looked over at me and saw my body go limp and just drop to the ground, hitting my head pretty hard on the dirt floor. He ran over, calling the rest of the group. And I don't know exact details of what took place after that except that they administered CPR and got me loaded into the van. They drove as fast as they could out of the village and back into the city, to the hospital where they got me hooked up to some IV fluid and Oxygen. I am told I came to about 30 minutes after that and was acting myself, joking with the other volunteers. But all I remember is my head throbbing and throwing up, probably due to the concussion. The doctors chose to keep me overnight to watch my condition because I was showing signs of serious head trauma. So, Chanel and I cuddled up on my little bed and got whatever sleep we could (covered in dirt and three shades tanner because of it). Then the next day I was discharged around two p.m. All I remember from that Sunday is showering back at the house. But I know that around 5 p.m. we started walking to one of our favorite local restaurants for dinner. I walked alongside Jeff and he tells me we were talking about the incident the day before and he was worried something else was going to happen and that I wasn't okay. Well, obviously he was right because soon after that I looked at him and collapsed again. Thank goodness he caught me this time because a second blow to the head probably would have made things much worse. He said I turned blue and started to foam at the mouth (lovely I know). The rest of the team was close by so they ran over and got rescue breaths going pretty quick. A lady across the street saw what happened and had the whole team load me up in her car and rush us back to the hospital.
Again, they hooked me up to IV fluid and Oxygen and I came to soon thereafter. I started talking and acting myself but I couldn't tell ya what I said because that entire evening is wiped clean. I do know that we were on the phone with my parents, my cardiologist, and the director of H.E.L.P. for several hours trying to decide what to do. We had two options: the first was to drive straight to Aga Khan University Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya about three-four hours away. The second option was to wait until 6 a.m. and board our flight to Nairobi. The problem about waiting until 6 a.m. was that my condition was time sensitive and I needed a CT scan and other medical care STAT. The problem with driving across the border through Africa in the middle of the night was just that...it's a problem. But I felt good about driving and something was telling me to stop arguing with all third parties and just GO. Even though everyone on the other end of the phone wanted us to wait for the flight.
Also, I have to mention my three life savers that stuck by me the ENTIRE weekend through this crazy adventure. Jeff, Brandon, and Chanel (one of our country directors). When I told Chanel we needed to just go and drive right away, she agreed and quickly hired a van to get us there. Jeff and Brandon ran back to the house and got all our passports and as soon as they got back we loaded into the van and went on our way. At one point my dad called us and was telling Chanel to "make sure ShaNae does not board that van". She handed the phone to me and I said, "Dad, we're already on our way" and with a little more explanation he was on board with our decision and said "drive fast, be safe, we're all praying for you". So, off we went on what turned out to be the smoothest drive I had my whole month in Africa. Yeah, we got stopped a few times and had to cross the border but at every checkpoint the officers sent us on our way as soon as they saw me sitting there with my eyes closed and an IV line hooked into my arm. Note: if you travel through Africa at night, feign illness and you'll make it through;). But luckily we got through quickly because our situation was serious.
Once we got to the hospital in Nairobi they immediately started giving me necessary treatment, including a CT scan. They ran one test after the other which I know was a benefit of arriving at 3 in the morning. Had we arrived around 9 following our flight the hospital would have already been full with patients and their response much slower. So we count our blessings. I don't remember hardly any of that but I do know they kept me over night and I got to see my travel buddies only every now and then. Again, we were on the phone back in forth with several parties trying to make a decision. Long story short, H.E.L.P. chose to evacuate both me and Jeff the night of the 5th at 11 p.m. So, we left the hospital around 5 and drove through Nairobi rush hour traffic to the airport. This sounds cheesy but saying goodbye to Chanel and Brandon at the airport was SO hard. It meant saying goodbye to them and all the rest of Africa and what I thought my summer was going to consist of. It was hard, and I was extremely bitter I'll admit it. After that we waited for our flight, all the while drinking LOTS of water provided by my ever careful (or scarred for life) escort Jeff (you're a champ, thanks a million).
The whole way home I tried to remember what i could but couldn't recollect much. And here's the honest truth. I am extremely sad to be home. I cried a lot in the hospital and I cried on the plane. It breaks my heart to know I won't finish what I started back home in Tanzania. I do not understand why any of this happened. Why dehydration affected my heart so negatively or why the second collapse even took place. I am grateful my defibrillator worked and shocked my heart appropriately on saturday. And I'm grateful for all the wonderful people that took care of me. This is a huge detour I didn't expect to take and the next few weeks we'll be doing more testing and fighting to get me into the Mayo clinic for open heart surgery. I hope it happens because if I came home from Africa, I pray I came home for something big. a.k.a. a surgery that will make it possible for me to travel back to Africa in the future. So, right now I'm just trying to get my life back home in order and figure out what to do next. And, like I said my amnesia has affected a lot. Including my relationships so we're working on that too.
And that's that! Two heart attacks and an emotional week are just the start to an interesting summer I'm sure. So, I'll keep y'all posted and I pray for the best.