Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Latest installment of an ongoing saga

My wife says I should update you regarding our health and near future. Our last post stated that there was one more test that could be done here Niger and it was performed last Monday. That was an adventure in itself. It’s called a “myocardial perfusion scan”, and involves using radioactive material being injected into the blood stream in order to take images of the heart’s functioning. Two sets of images are taken, one with the heart under exertion, (like a stress test) and the second while it is at rest. The morning started with a regular stress test, peddling away on an exercise bike that slowly increased resistance while strapped up to an EKG machine and another machine measuring my blood pressure every couple of minutes. (According to the second machine I slowly died during the test as the bottom number which is ideally 80 while at rest slowly dropped to about 27!) The other machine apparently kept track of the necessary data as well, for the doctor complained, “Tu es sportif!” as he struggled to get my heart rate over 160.

After my heart was sufficiently pumping I was sent over to the other machine to have scans taken of my heart. As we were walking out the technician said to my doctor, “If nothing shows up on this initial scan, there’s no point in coming back for the second.” Assuming the best I was relieved to think that this would all be over soon. A few minutes later my doctor was called in to view the finished images. She came out with a worried look on her face and said, “It’s abnormal, you’ll have to come for the next round.” Immediately my mind began to race, “When are they going to ship me out? Whose house will I stay at in Canada? Will Jenn and the boys travel with me? Should they stay so Cole can write his exams? Are we going to be able to finish our term in Niger? What about…?” We had to wait for at least three hours before the next round of scans and on the way home I started to verbalize some of my questions to the doctor. She had earlier said that she figured I had about a 5% chance of getting a positive result—the test was simply a means of eliminating one possibility for symptoms that seemed to be lingering. Like most of my experiences with Nigerien medical care, this test seemed to be an ongoing series of mixed messages. We were still waiting for results from blood that had been drawn almost two weeks ago. They would later prove mildly positive but not in the expected direction; my thyroid turned out to be mildly underactive which accords with my lifelong experience but not with the erratic heart behaviour of an overactive thyroid as we had suspected. To my probing questions the doctor refused to speculate preferring to wait to hear the final results though she clearly seemed concerned.

The second round went without incident. Initially the doctor at the clinic said, I would have to wait until Thursday to get my report. (The following day was a national holiday and who knows what on Wednesday). “But I needed to be able to make plans if I’m to be evacuated!” I responded. “Can you not at least give a verbal report to my doctor so we can make some plans?”
“I can’t bring up the images while the machine is in use and someone else is having a scan right now.”
“I can wait until they’re done.” I replied.
The doctor finally conceded and agreed to finalize his report for the next day. A short while later he came out and said, “You have nothing to worry about, the same abnormality showed up in this test as well.” Slightly confused I got him to call our doctor to explain. She in turn consulted with colleagues in the US, who suggest that this was probably a false positive should be ignored and other avenues pursued.

The week before she had commented, “You know, I think your symptoms would be half as bad if you were in North America, for the simple reason that most of the tests we’ve done in the last three weeks would have been done in a day or two with more reliable results. The longer this gets drawn out, the more your stress levels go up, increasing your symptoms.” Final diagnosis appears to be that this is largely stress related, (there may have been some heartburn and a few other things along the way,) and that I should consult with a counselor for some advice. We are working towards making some arrangements for that, but in the mean time Jennifer and I have gotten sick. Jennifer has run a fever along with a chest cold for the last four days straight. The doctor has warned that the cold going around has turned into a walking pneumonia in a couple of cases. While I’ve not had any fever with my cold, we are actively working to prevent Jennifer’s from getting any worse. Please pray for God’s sustaining power in our lives and ministry.

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