I believe it was December 2004... yes, it was the last Christmas we were in the jungle. We did not know then that we would be forced to leave before the next year ended, thanks to the decree of President Chavez.
My son, Josh, had flown from the states to spend Christmas with us in the jungle. We flew in the MAF Cessna out to Puerto Ayacucho, Estado Amazonas to meet him and to do our supply buying. All went well and we drove down to Puerto Ayacucho, about an 8 hour trip, on some of the worst roads in Venezuela. The next day we flew the 1 hour 30 minute flight back to Chajuraña
We were excited to fly home and get the tree up and spend Christmas together and with the church people! Lots of big plans and even fireworks for the village. The very next day, Saturday, I began to feel ill but enjoyed watching the children decorate the tree.
Sunday, after the morning service, I made our traditional Sunday lunch...homemade pizza! We always ate pizza on Sunday and had our 2 liter Coke for the week to go with it. Shortly after lunch, I began to feel much worse.
I ended up in bed and by early evening was having terrible pain in my chest. It felt a bit like an ice pick was sticking through me and all the way out the back between my shoulder blades! By early Monday morning, I was not only in pain but was also vomiting.
Clint asked if I wanted to be evacuated to the clinic, but I hated to ruin everyone else's Christmas! I seemed to be feeling a bit better by late morning. He did call the missionary pilots on the radio to let them know we might be needing a flight if I did not improve. There were to be 3 planes in our area the next day.
Late that night, I had even worse pain than before and actually felt a hard, tender protrusion just below my upper right rib. By now, we knew it was the gallbladder. That was the longest, most painful night I have even endured. I also began to pass blood. No pain meds seem to be helping much.
The next morning, Clint began to prepare for a medical evacuation. The problem was that our car was in Puerto Ayacucho and I did not want to have surgery in Puerto Ayacucho! I would not want my dog to have surgery in Puerto Ayacucho! But that was where two of the planes were headed. The other plane, a NTM, plane would be passing directly over us in the afternoon and then flying on to Puerto Ordaz, Estado Bolivar. My own doctor was in Puerto Ordaz and the medical care is much better there...but, they could only take two of us!
So...Clint and the girls ended up flying to Puerto Ayacucho to get our car, Josh and I stayed and waited for the Puerto Ordaz flight. The other pilot flying in the area, Dan Whitehead, did stop by and check on me as I was still in excruciating pain. I remember asking him if he could use his Leatherman All Purpose Tool and just take the gallbladder out then and there!
Finally, my plane arrived. Josh helped me down to the airstrip. I was unable to sit up, so we removed some seats and I laid on the floor of the plane. I never realized how many bumps our airstrip had until that take off! Our pilot was Stefan Pyle and he is still my hero!!
Josh had been given a hand made indian straw sombrero that he wanted to take back to the states for use while working construction in Florida, so he was wearing that. Remembering that our international insurance was not accepted at the clinic, Clint had already given him 3 million Bolivares as well. ($1000 at the time)
The New Tribe missionaries had arranged to have an ambulance waiting at the airport in Puerto Ordaz and a missionary friend met the plane as well. And we were finally off!!
Once in the ER everything went quickly and I finally got some pain relief!!! While I was getting sonograms and tests, Josh was left to register me. He says that they asked him names, etc. but then they asked for a street address....
"Well, we don't exactly live on a street..."
How about a phone number?...
"Uhhh.... you see... we don't have a phone..."
A neighbor's number then???
" No...none of our neighbors have a phone either..."
The poor office girl did not know what to do! She finally found a manager and Josh overheard her say she had "some strange campesino, gringo- in a sombrero" out front. Finally, they said they could not admit me into the clinic without any info, they would need to send me to the state run hospital.
Josh said, " But I have CASH!" Now, he was the campesino, gringo, RICO...in a strange sombrero!
Suddenly, they were able to admit me and find me a private room! Josh spent the night caring for me as Clint and the girls drove all night from Puerto Ayacucho to Puerto Ordaz. A terribly dangerous drive to make at night! Probably more dangerous than my gallbladder attack!
It seems that I had passed several gall stones before arriving, I remained in the clinic for 4 days. Thankfully, our missionary friends made sure that our family had a Christmas meal and a place to stay while I was hospitalized.
Thank God for good friends!