a little and a lot

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Pit of Despair

Wednesday through Saturday of our first week in Ethiopia (aka: my first through fourth days with Rhet) go down in my memories as "The Pit of Despair."

According to Wikipedia, Addis Ababa (the capital city of Ethiopia) is roughly 7,500 feet above sea level.  Memphis, in contrast, is roughly 400 feet above sea level.  During our first trip to Ethiopia in May, the altitude did not have much of an effect on Nick or me beyond shortness of breath when climbing stairs.

I kind of have this secret obsession with Mount Everest.  If I had unlimited funds and unlimited physical capacity, climbing Everest is the one thing I would do.  I love to read books, watch movies/documentaries, and drool over the Discovery Channel reality series on climbing Everest.  If you are at all familiar with mountain climbing (particularly the tallest in the world), you've heard of the Death Zone.  This is when you reach an elevation in which the human body is not capable of living for very long.  People have a very limited amount of time they can spend in the Death Zone before...well, you get the picture.

Addis Ababa is nowhere near the Death Zone (it falls about 20,000 feet short of the classification), but on Wednesday, it began to feel like it to me.

Wisegeek.com has this to say about how high altitude affects the human body:
For the average individual, awareness of symptoms and acclimatization to high altitude should be considered over 6,500 ft...If the body is responding properly to the elevation, normal symptoms such as decreased appetite, increased bladder activity, insomnia, slight swelling of hands, feet or knees, temporary breathlessness after exercising will occur. However, the effects on the human body in high altitudes that have not had time to acclimate can range from uncomfortable to life threatening...The most common condition is altitude sickness or “acute mountain sickness." Typical symptoms are...dizziness, headache, nausea, prolonged shortness of breath, prolonged fatigue, vomiting and exhaustion. In extreme cases, the subject may experience agitation, anxiety or mental confusion, lack of coordination or imbalance.
This is the part of my recounting where previous themes return:
1) I am a wimp.
2) The Secret Weapon (my mother) was indispensable during The Pit of Despair.

So it went like this: the agency rep came and dropped the expired fingerprints bomb, all the while my stomach is beginning to churn and sour.  She left and I started feeling dizzy and faint.  Get a grip, I was telling myself,  This will all work out.  I laid down for a little while.

And then I just couldn't get up.  I wasn't hungry, I wasn't thirsty, I had no energy, and any movement sent my head reeling and my stomach churning.  I seriously thought I had the flu.

In the meantime, um, I was a mom.  And I was in the Death Zone.  Okay, not really, but I was inwardly freaking out: How am I going to do this?  There is no way I can take care of my baby girl!  This is going to ruin our attachment plan!  Nick will kill me!  (And for all you "Arrested Development" fans:) I've made a HUGE mistake...

So we did what we could.  My mom became Super-Nana, taking care of Rhet for most of the day.  She brought her up to my bed occasionally, and Little Girl and I would lay and cuddle and giggle and try to make the best of things.  I could not eat--I felt nauseated and had no apetite.  I made myself drink 5 sips of water anytime I would wake up.  At best, I sipped on hot broth from some instant noodle soup we had brought with us.  Every other moment, I was sleeping, sleeping, sleeping.  I could not get enough sleep.  And between drowsy dreams, I could vaguely hear my toddler downstairs expressing opinions and crying for Mama.

And the worst part for me: as mentioned before, anytime I am really sick I usually end up crying and wishing for MY mommy.  I knew I was in the deepest Pit of Despair possible when I realized that I DID have my mom, and it didn't really matter...!  I was sad and sick and overwhelmed and missing my husband, and my mom just couldn't fix that.  That realization REALLY had me despairing...

I hadn't had any communication with Nick yet since leaving DC on Monday.  Finally at the end of the week, we figured out how to talk on a guest house cell phone.  I burst into tears.  "It's so hard!  I shouldn't be here!  I'm sorry I messed everything up!"  Of course he was sweet and supportive and encouraging and empathetic.  Which made everything worse.  I wanted him to drop everything and fly to Addis to be with us...to be with ME.  I was waving the white flag!  I was a wimp who was homesick for her husband!  Surrender!  Surrender!  But alas, the USCIS fingerprints were still expired and the problem still needed to be remedied.  He was doing everything he could.

During this time period, I did get out for the purpose of doing my fingerprints at the Embassy.  I faintly went through the motions, Rhet quietly in the Ergo hanging on the front of me, finishing this all-too-important task.  Afterward, we stopped by the agency's orphanage to visit the doctor so we could see if Rhet's ear-tugging was something or nothing.  Ear infection.  Poor girl.  Here I was moaning and groaning upstairs, and she had not even peeped about her monster of an ear infection.

Later that week, the same orphanage doctor actually came to the guest house to see if there was something more serious going on.  I just wasn't feeling better and the longer it went on, the more I despaired.  Altitude sickness, he declared.  Plain and simple.  Really?  Was he sure?  Yes, he had seen it this bad many times before.  He prescribed some anti-nausea pills.

This entire time, we were alone at our guest house--we had the whole place to ourselves.  It was a wonderful luxury--no one in the bathroom when we needed it, our run of the kitchen and all of the leftovers to ourselves.  Quiet when we needed it quiet, and no one was bothered by our noise.  On Friday, another family came in.

I had ventured downstairs that afternoon, and they introduced themselves.  I felt lame, all sleepy-eyed and hair matted down in my pajamas.  Shortly thereafter, I went up to our room and laid in bed.

Help, I prayed.
I really need help.
It had been my constant prayer through the week.  And nothing was happening.
I was desperate.

The next day in the late morning, I laid in bed praying the same prayer.
I can not do this without you, Lord.  I need you to make me well.
I can not ever imagine feeling better.  I can not ever imagine not feeling overwhelmed.
I need your help. 

I snuggled into my pillow, intending to sleep away all my despair and misery.
Instead, I felt restless.  I could not sleep.
And about ten minutes later, all of a sudden, I thought to myself: I need to get up.

I took a shower, went downstairs and outdoors where my mom and daughter were playing.
I sat in a chair, felt the warm sun and the cool afternoon air, and I took a deep breath.
I knew the Lord was helping me.


Jane said...

I cannot imagine that. Oh my goodness. The end gave me a lump in my throat. WHAT a journey! And now I think I might understand what was wrong with me during some travels in China. ha! I had no idea that was what altitude sickness was.

Anonymous said...

you HAVE to write a book. it's your talent. i was in despair myself when this post ended. i need to know more of what happens next!! :)

Liz said...

Hi Jesse, I'm Liz Phillips, aka Solly's mom. We brought him home from Ethiopia a little more than 3 years ago. I know a couple of other Ethiopian-adoptive families here in Memphis, and we're hoping to start getting together regularly. I'd love it if you and your family could join us. You can reach me on Facebook or at liz@gowithfamily.com. Great blog, by the way! And most of all, great big congratulations!

Adopting Rhet: Click on the timeline above to read more