A Pain in the Back

Hey there. It has been a while since our last post. Life took a crazy turn back in June and July and we felt sort of like we were in a vortex, being sucked into a place of no return. However, we did return, triumphant even! Here is the story…

The school year of 2011-2012 finished at the end of May, we were exhausted, happy, and excited about what the next two months in Kenya on our “winter/summer break” had in store for us. Anisa and Karen headed off to a week at Blue Sky camp and John and I began our list of things we hoped to accomplish on this break from our full time jobs teaching at Rosslyn Academy here in Nairobi. One of the things on John’s list was to go the a doctor and get his back looked at since it was causing pain.

Dropping Anisa and Karen off at camp Blue Sky

At Turtle Bay Resort, Malindi Beach

Camel ride on the beach!

As the month of June progressed, we spent time here in Nairobi doing things around our home and in Nairobi, organizing thoughts for the next school year, going to the Malindi coast for 5 days, and going to more doctors to try and understand why John’s back pain was quickly becoming very severe and uncomfortable.

Visiting Crescent Island with Beatrice and Joy

As we moved into July with John having increasing back pain and no relief from doctors suggestions, we still attempted to do the things we had hoped we could during this break from school, and in hind sight,  I am really not sure how he managed as well as he did, but John was a real trooper during it all.

At the Kenya/Tanzania border in Masai Mara

The highlights of July found us traveling to Masai Mara  for two nights, taking a day trip to Crescent Island with friends, and having Anisa and Karen join a Kenyan girl’s basketball team for the month.

Karen playing defense on the Footprints Kenyan basketball team

Anisa taking the ball down the court in a Footprints Kenyan basketball game

Sometimes the opposition was quite tall

Towards the end of July as we were gearing up for school to start in early August, John’s back pain was now acting like a monster that was threatening to take over. It was during this time that John finally found out what the pain was from and why it was so intense. An MRI showed that he had three degenerative disks in his lower back and one had prolapsed and was now pressing on his nerve. This explained the numbness and intense pain in his one foot and leg.

During this time normally spent preparing for school, we were now also trying to see a variety of doctors to see how to treat a situation like this. Surgery, we were told, was the best answer. The surgery could be done here in Kenya, we were told by some, and by others we were told to NEVER consider this type of surgery in Kenya. You only want someone doing surgery on your back who does this type of surgery for a living, not on a once in a while occasion. You also want to make sure the surgeon is up to date on their technique and that they have modern equipment available. This is not often the case in Kenya. So, what to do?

I don’t know if you can sense our stress at this point. We both teach full time and the school year was to begin in about two weeks. We had two middle school daughters also preparing for school. John couldn’t do anything without extreme pain except sit in one particular chair we have. In that position he tended to be pain free after a while if he stayed in the chair. Oh, and John was also supposed to be preparing to coach the girl’s high school basketball team once school got under way.

Anisa’s 13th birthday celebration -note weird elephant balloon

It was up to me to get things done because John was quickly becoming immobile. So, eye glasses needed to be bought for Anisa, doctor appointments, groceries, school supplies, the list goes on. It seemed that there was always something that needed my attention to get done. Before the school year even began we were exhausted. John from his pain, knowing he can’t help with family things, and not having a clue how he was going to fulfill his job as a teacher and coach. Me, trying to prepare for school, take care of all family details, and care for John and meet his needs, except for his biggest need, his pain, being one we didn’t know how to care for. And then Anisa and Karen were also trying to understand what was happening to their Dad’s health as they prepared for their next year in middle school.

God was evident in this whole ordeal. It is hard to explain, but over a series of events we were linked to a surgeon in South Africa who was said to be the best and on the cutting edge when it comes to back surgery. Our insurance would only cover us in South Africa or India, not the United States as we had hoped. So, to have a connection occur from a number of reference points here that led to South Africa, a country neither of us have ever visited before, seemed miraculous. It felt like we were finally going to beat this thing, the pain. But then the news came, the South African doctor did not have any openings until the beginning of September, a month away. It felt like an eternity of time, something we felt we didn’t have.

First day of school silliness
School began and we all did our best to make things work. John would drive up to school, get as close as he could to his classroom, walk gingerly to his chair or table, and then stay there as long as he could while teaching throughout the day. Any movement at this time led to immediate, incredible pain- pain that would often not subside for 45 minutes or more after he sat back down. Week two brought basketball tryouts and John attempted that as well, coaching from a chair on the sidelines. However, the days and nights were getting worse for John. Pain was everywhere now. There was no real position anymore where he could find relief from the pain. Pain gained the upper hand and we were scared.

Admitting defeat was hard. John took a medical leave from both teaching and coaching and stayed home while we all continued going to school. His world now revolved around a chair in which he felt most comfortable, which was never very often. He only moved when necessary. Finally September came along with our departure date for South Africa. We had both prepared weeks of sub plans, meal plans, and Anisa and Karen home stay plans. We navigated two airports with a wheelchair and then entered the world of a medical tourist. (That is what our insurance labeled us.)

The next two and a half weeks were hard. Navigating a new country, new money, new people, our new home the guest house, new hospital, surgery, and recovery without family, friends, or our own vehicle was exhausting.

Our guest house

John after surgery

John’s physical therapist

Thankfully the hospital and guest house staff were all friendly and helpful. We missed home and family so much and felt very vulnerable, but during this time God showered us with grace and patience.

Eating at McDonalds just because we could

Visiting the Apartheid Museum

Ann, owner of the guest house

Charmaine, administrator at guest house and our driver

John’s surgen, Dr. Hanlee – our final day in South African when John was given the ok to travel home

The prayers of many were powerful. We returned home to our two cherubs, who actually gave us huge hugs and grins, with John walking! What a miracle. Hard to describe. To God be the glory!

The road to complete recovery is not easy. John has made great improvement already. He can sit, stand, and walk without large amounts of pain. He still has three degenerative disks in his back, but the part that had prolapsed was removed so the pain is much less. John is now working on regaining strength and mobility. The goal is to strengthen his core muscles to help support the three degenerative disks he still has in order to try and keep this from happening again and to minimize any remaining discomfort. We are so thankful for God’s mercy and gift of new life for our family.

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3 Responses to A Pain in the Back

  1. tinaburkholder says:

    Oh Glenda and John – my heart goes out to you reading about these past months. It is difficult to imagine how hard that time must have been. I am so glad the worst is over and will pray for continued strengthening and healing. And I am also glad you got great hugs from the middle schoolers!

  2. jon kk says:

    Thanks, Glenda, for recounting this ordeal. John, you and the family were lifted up in prayers. I didn’t realize how bad it had become, but am glad he’s getting “back.”
    –Jon KK

  3. dk says:

    Wow, what a summer! We will continue to pray for healing…

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