Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Black Mamba

And still, the anxiety mounts.  Finally, FINALLY I have actually reached the level of anxiety ( No... not panic...not yet...) that has motivated me to attempt some of the tasks on the ever-expanding To Do list Dave and I have created.  For weeks we have spent date nights drinking wine and writing lists (well, we are usually drunk by the time we get to list-making, and realize we do not have a pen or paper, so the lists are often theoretical).  This last week when Dave suggested that we spend a romantic Saturday evening sitting at a bar with the computer making lists I broke down, suggesting testily that perhaps it was time to stop theorizing and planning and start DOING, as we have only 55 days until we have to be ready to leave the house. 
This forces me to confess that I have:
1. Begun counting down the days until we leave (which is harder than it sounds, as it involves counting backwards by 7's).
2. Become very testy lately about a lot of things.
I think that the testiness is because I have so many emotions, that sometimes it is simply overwhelming.  I asked the kids at the table the other day how they felt about our upcoming adventure, and Eamonn said "Happy, but sad", which I think really sums it up for me, too.  For weeks now in clinic I have had to say goodbye to families, give farewell hugs to children whom I have truly grown to love, and begin to unravel the tapestry that has intertwined my life with theirs.  Tonight, after a weekend of packing, I walked through the downstairs of our house and saw bare walls where family pictures had hung, saw boxes of belongings stacked neatly by the door, and felt a dizzying wave of unpreventable, inescapable, impending change.  The thought of taking my children away from their extended family (grandmas and grandpa, aunts, uncles, and cousins) breaks my heart.  I have truly been aware, almost constantly lately, of all that we will be leaving behind, all that I am giving up, and all that I am asking my children to give up. 
I'm not saying that I am bitter or resentful, and only sometimes am I even sad. Often I am excited.  There is a class at UNC on Malawian culture and language which Dave and I signed up for.  I went to my first class last week, and have been teaching the kids how to greet each other and ask someone's name in Chichewa.  We walk through the house bowing or curtsying to each other (as is the custom in Milawi) and saying "Moni!"  "Zikomo!"  I have been sneaking away to study in the morning sometimes, and am 200 pages into a manual on TB and HIV in kids in the developing world.  I am very worried about how much I am actually retaining, as much of it is completely foreign to anything I currently do or have done, but I am hopeful that some will stick, and looking forward to being trained in Houston in July by Baylor.
They say that every physician has a closetful of ghosts that they carry with them, and (spoiler alert) I'm about to share a particularly tragic one with you.  When we lived in Belize (some of you may remember my writings from that year, and may have already read about this) I took care of a little boy who ended up dying of malnutrition and dehydration after having a diarrheal illness.  In an effort to save him I had driven two hours into the village to try to help refeed him, as the parents refused to take him to the hospital (I did not entirely blame them, as it was often less safe to be hospitalized).  I returned to town only to learn about 36 hours later that the baby was dying in the hospital.  After a long, impossible attempt to resuscitate him and a longer voyage overnight to Belize city, he died.  I was faced with the task of driving his body back home in a tiny wooden coffin, sliding in the back of my pickup truck for 4 hours, with his bereft mother wailing in the arms of her husband, sobbing the child's name the entire way.  I am still tortured by the thought of all that I could have done differently.  This regret, which I have carried with me for years, is part of my motivation for reading and trying to educate myself.  I am so thrilled for the opportunity I will have to learn, and to be mentored, and to have knowledgeable colleagues.  Dave and I often felt very alone in Belize, and frequently faced situations where we felt unprepared and inadequate.  I do not want any new ghosts...
On the lighter side, I recently got up the courage to Google "snakes and malawi", and instantly regretted it.  It turns out to be the home of the deadliest and fastest snake in the world, the Black Mamba.  The bite of the Black Mamba injects enough venom to kill 144 men in an hour, and requires that anti-venom be administered within 20 minutes in order to prevent excruciating death.  Given that there is no Emergency Response team to speak of and given the scarcity of medical resources, I am fairly certain that a Black Mamba bite would mean certain demise.
 I often gauge my emotional response to new information by comparing it with Dave's.  Dave is, for the most part, a pretty level-headed guy.  If something stresses him out, then it is definitely something that I feel justified being terrified of.  After I shared my knowledge of the Black Mamba with Dave, he made the mistake of doing further Google searches, and discovered the story of an unfortunate gentleman who came across a Black Mamba in his dryer.  That night Dave had a horrible nightmare that the snakes were coming in every door and window, attacking him and our family. 
I have begun shopping fervently for all-weather knee-high boots for every member of our family.
I still haven't found the nerve to Google "bugs and Malawi".