Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Greetings from Mindoro!

"Knock-knock! Brud! Brud! Someone's sick! Brud John!"

"Ohhhhh," I groaned. It had been a late night on top of a hard week. This
couldn't be happening, not tonight. "Ohhhh," I groaned again. "Is it
really an emergency? Are you sure it can't wait until morning?"

"I don't know, Brud," the voice came back. "She's having an awfully hard
time breathing."

"Oh, ok," I mumbled in a tone that probably wasn't as gracious as is
becoming to a missionary. "I'm coming. Let me grab by stuff."

My summoner apparently hadn't stopped to think that I might not know where
the sick person was let alone who she was, and had left immediately after
making sure I was awake. I paused at the end of my porch, my fuzzy brain
trying to figure out what to do. I was sorely tempted to just go back to
bed on the basis that I had no idea who was sick or which of the seventy
houses that make up the village she was in. No, she had said it was an
emergency, I'd have to just wander around till I heard a commotion.

Stumbling across the village only half awake and barely able to see anything
in the dim light of my dying flashlight, I wandered into an open trash pit.
The family dog, quite uncertain as to why a white boy was standing
bewilderedly in his masters' trash pit at two in the morning, began barking

I finally got my wits about me enough to figure out where I was and how to
get back to the trail, and then stumbled on listening for the ruckus that
was certain to be generated by someone sick enough for them to call me in
the middle of the night. Soon I heard voices and made my way over to Rosa's

What I heard as I made my way into the hut brought me wide awake instantly.
Rosa's labored breathing rattled in her throat so loudly that it was clearly
audible across the hut. A quick check with my stethoscope confirmed a
massive respiratory infection and I wondered to myself, as I so often do,
why she had to wait till two in the morning when she must have been sick for
days or weeks. Unfortunately since she was six months pregnant, and since I
have a limited selection of drugs, I only had one fast acting antibiotic
that would work and no bronchodilators that were safe for pregnancy.

I told them to start boiling water and ran back to my house for the
medicines. At this point God stepped in to counteract my incompetence, lack
of experience, and lack of resources. At that time I didn't even have a
blood pressure cough on the project, and even if I had, I was so busy
thinking about Rosa's breathing that I would have missed the real problem.
While I was gone getting medicines, the local Village Health Care Worker
arrived. Her training had consisted of one thing, and one thing only,
taking blood pressure. Unable to do much, but desperately wanting to help,
the lady took Rosa's blood pressure, and I heard her report just as I
arrived back with the medicines. Her blood pressure was through the roof.
I paused just out of sight in the darkness. Something was tickling the back
of my brain, something else was going on here. And then it hit me. Rosa
had toxemia.

I knew that I was not equipped to handle this in the mountains, and that
Rosa had to get to a hospital. I also knew that the doctors in the hospital
regularly use the same injectable antibiotic that I was about to administer,
and that they refuse to listen if patients tell them that they are on a
medication. Therefore it was not safe to give the medicine even for the
respiratory symptoms as she would almost certainly receive the same
medication as soon as she got to the hospital and would overdose.

I explained to the family what was going on, and that they had to get to the
hospital. I made Rosa's husband memorize the word, "Toxemia," so that he
could ask the doctors in case they only saw the respiratory infection like I
had. Then we sat down to wait for morning when the first transportation
available left from the barrio a half hour away.

I had often tried to convince both the Alangan and Taubuid to use steam for
people with shortness of breath, but they would never try it. They thought
that it would be uncomfortable and ineffective, and they simply wouldn't do
it. Tonight, though, since I didn't have any bronchiodialators that were
safe with pregnancy, and Rosa was in such obvious distress, it was time to
start pushing. I told them that they HAD to try the steam.

They were very reluctant, but finally agreed only if I would let them put
some of their herbs that they use for colds in the water. Of course I was
delighted as I knew that this particular herb was safe and there were no
other medications to interact with. They prepared the water and put it in a
container under Rosa. Within one to two minutes the rattling was completely
gone and Rosa was breathing almost normally again. I was almost as
astonished as the people were. They were amazed at how well the steam
worked, I was amazed at how well the herb worked. I had used it and found
it quite weak in the normal tea preparation. Apparently it works much
better inhaled in steam!

The rest of the story I heard later. Rosa almost died on the trip to the
hospital, but made it there alive. The doctors confirmed my diagnosis, but
unfortunately were unable to save the baby. Rosa is healthy and safe now,
back in Balangabong, and I praise God every time I think of her, for saving
her life through the combined efforts of the doctors, the village healthcare
worker, and myself.

While we are on a medical theme, I would like to ask for your prayers for my
health as well. Since moving to Balangabong I have come down with a mystery
illness which has hit me three times, each time knocking me out for about a
month. It has a wide range of symptoms, some rather bizarre, and hasn't
responded to any treatment. Simply resting, taking care of myself, and
waiting have been the only things that have helped, but the disease
continues to linger in the background.

While in Manila in January to renew my passport, AFM asked me to stay for
about a week and a half longer to try to figure out what was going on, as
well as simply to rest. I submitted myself to a battery of tests, but all
of them showed that I was completely normal. My personal opinion is that I
am experiencing the effects of my chronic multiple drug resistant malaria
that I've had since I grew up here, combined with a particularly tenacious
viral infection that has swept through the lowland Taubuid. My mom, who
acted as primarily healthcare provider for the Alangan tribe during our work
here, is of the same opinion. If this is the case then it will be a matter
of keeping my immune system up and the stress and exertion down. In any
case I'll have a thorough workup when I come back on furlough.

Thank you so much for your continued prayers and support! Sometimes it's a
bit discouraging, but knowing that you are back there counting on me and
praying for me keeps me pushing on. May God richly bless you!

John Holbrook

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