Sunday, January 23, 2011

10 Years Ago...

December 25, 2000 - January 3, 2001 (Warning - Looooooong Post about an eye problem)

This is when things started to get very interesting... I woke up on Christmas Day and my eye was still killing me. I couldn't see anything out of my right eye and it hurt to keep it open. Light was especially painful. As early as we could Christmas morning, my companion and I went to an eye clinic to get my eye checked out. The doctors took a look at it and decided that I had bacterial keratitis as well as some sort of infection in the back of my eye or in the fluid in the eye.

We returned back to our apartment and called the President Romney to find out what we should do. He suggested to us to get a second opinion and to then call him back. We went to the nicest hospital in Smolensk and had my eye checked again. They came to the same conclusions and gave us a list of medicines that we should buy from the pharmacy. We returned to another apartment in our district (where the rest of the district was celebrating Christmas) and called President Romney. He told us to wait while he contacted the church doctor (a missionary stationed in Frankfurt, Germany). The doctor finally called us directly and we spoke on the phone about my condition. He advised us to sit tight until we heard back from President Romney.

When President Romney called us back, he was crying and having a hard time composing himself. He advised us to get the shot that the Russian doctors had advised and that the Church would be air evacuating me from Smolensk to Germany. We sent some other elders to my apartment to pack my bags while I went to get a shot (we had to bring our own needles and drugs to the hospital. That's the only way that you know that you're getting sterilized equipment). We returned to the nicest hospital in Smolensk for the shot. My companion had to stand behind me as the eye doctor injected me right into the eye by going through the fleshy spot right in the outside corner of my eye. This was about as painful as anything I have ever experienced. After the shot, I was quite woozy and tried to lay down, but a nurse walking by freaked out and made me sit up and was slapping my cheeks and waving smelling salts under my nose. I was close to passing out but I just had to get out of there. The place stunk like pee, rotting wood, and everything else (remember, this was the nicest hospital in the city), but there were still people walking through the halls moaning, with dripping, infected sores stinking up the place. It has never felt so good to get out into the cold, fresh air of the December evening.

It turned out that the medical evacuation company was unable to evacuate me from Smolensk (in breach of their contract with the Church; I heard the Church was going to sue...), so we had to take a taxi from Smolensk to Moscow. My companion and I left Smolensk at 7:30 PM and took the most frightening drive of my life. It was snowing, it was a two-lane road and our driver was not pleased to be driving to Moscow. We arrived right at 1:00 AM and slept on the floor of the office elders' apartment. After two hours of sleep we were back up and on our way to the Moscow International Airport at 4:00 AM. My Lufthansa plane ticket to Germany had inadvertently been purchased for January 26th instead of December 26th so President Romney had to come along to approve paying whatever the cost to have the ticket changed to the first flight this morning. The whole time I was in a daze, because I just couldn't imagine that my condition was as bad as everybody was saying it was.

The flight was uneventful but when I finally landed in Frankfurt, Germany, I was unable to find the mission doctor or his wife. The only phone number I knew was my parents, but I didn't even have any money with which I could call home. The only thing that I could do was stand and wait, which I did for 90 minutes before the doctor's wife finally found me. It turns out that they were only used to picking up people who had flown in from within the EU and did not have to go through customs like I did. We went straight to the eye doctor.

The mission doctor was angry when he found out that I had had a shot in my eye. Apparently it was supposed to go in my thigh, but that information wasn't passed on to me. He also said that if I had what the Russians had diagnosed me with I would be the first known case in the modern world to have whatever it was I had been diagnosed with (unless my eye had ever previously been punctured, not including the Russian shot). I was diagnosed by the German eye-doctor and given some topical antibiotics and other creams that had to be put on my eye every couple of hours. For the next 4-5 days, I just spent time with the mission doctor and his wife.

As soon as we got back to the mission doctor's apartment, his wife advised me to call home to let my parents know that I was ok. I was a little hesitant as it wasn't Christmas anymore and I had missed my chance to call home. My parents and family had been waiting for me to call home on Christmas Day at around 7:00 AM Utah time. I was somewhat preoccupied at this time (getting a shot in my eye) so my mission president called my family at about 10 minutes to 7:00 and let them know that I was being medically evacuated to Germany. I can only imagine what was going through their minds at the time. Anyways, I called home and was glad that I did because my mom had stayed home from work waiting for my call and my family was fasting and diligently praying for my speedy recovery.

Staying with the doctor and his wife was easily the most difficult part of my mission up to that point. I was bored, I was lonely, I was homesick (for the first and probably last time) and I felt like I was wasting my time for a little eye problem. While in Germany, though, I was able to have a bunch of great experiences. We spent a lot of time with the Area Presidency because they lived on the same street and in the apartment above us. We were able to do a session at the Frankfurt Temple and visit McDonald's. Best of all, for three days I was able to join a couple of Frankfurt elders and go tracting (for the only time on my mission) and go to a New Year's Eve party at the Frankfurt, Germany's Mission President's house. We had to spend most of New Year's Day indoors as the streets were full of celebrating drunkards, but later in the afternoon we went caroling with the district and met people from Kazakhstan, Africa, Afghanistan, China, Great Britain, Turkey, etc. On Sunday we went to the International Ward and met people from Sweden, France, United States, Germany, Poland, etc. It was amazing how diverse the place was.

I originally thought that I would be going back after I had only been there for about 4 days, but my eye wasn't healing as well as they wanted it to so I was forced to stay the weekend. After my visit on the Tuesday following the weekend, the doctors recommended surgery which meant that I would probably have to return home to have it done. I was devastated. I'm not sure that I've ever prayed so hard as I did then. I wanted nothing more than to be able to return to my mission in Russia. Not too long after I had finished pouring my desperate heart out I went out and heard the doctor talking on the phone to Salt Lake City. I thought that they were making flight plans for me to return home, but instead he asked if I was ready to return to Moscow.

I flew Aeroflot back to Moscow and was very excited when the turbulent flight touched down. My heart was in my throat most of the flight from the turbulence and as soon as we were safely on the snowy ground in Moscow, the whole plane erupted into cheers. It's a European thing, but it still made me laugh. I was thrilled to be back in Russia and late that night I was alone back on the overnight train to my home in Smolensk. It's hard to explain how relieved I was for the opportunity to complete my mission as planned. I'd like to think that from that day on I was an especially diligent missionary, because I knew just how quickly the tides could turn.

I also made it a point to always carry a temple recommend with me throughout my mission (and the rest of my life...) even though I was nowhere near a temple. Without it I would not have been able to attend the session in Frankfurt which was something that I sorely needed at the time.

I wore glasses for the rest of my mission and for a time once I was home and after I had gotten new contacts, I would take out my contacts every night just as I was supposed to My eye problem may have been caused or at least exacerbated by me sleeping in my contacts for days on end. Now, I'm back to my old self and tend to leave my contacts in for 2-6 months without taking them out at all. the next step is to save up for Lasik and I won't need contacts at all.

Me and two elders from Armenia (one with a tumor and one with a kidney stone) at the Frankfurt Temple.
At McDonald's in Germany. If you look closely, my right eye is half full of blood from the misplaced shot into my eye.


Rachelle said...

That story still makes me emotional. I remember it like it was yesterday.

Trever and Heather said...

I don't think anyone can read through that without having their eye twitch. Ow!

Cheryce said...

I'm getting all teary eyed reading this, thinking how I thought you were dead so when they told me it was your eye I was so happy. It wasn't until the Whitesides asked how you were that the flood gates burst and I just started bawling telling them that you were going to be blind. That was rough for all of us. More painful for you More emotional for us!