On Thursday, 11 March, the day after we returned home to Bamako from Abidjan, John took a COVID test. We learned that the Mission President and his wife had just tested positive, and we’d just spent the day before we left helping them.
John’s symptoms included headache, fatigue, fever and body aching. For the next week, we stayed in the apartment, taking things easy, but John’s symptoms got worse, especially the fatigue. Gratefully he had no respiratory problems. By the next Friday, it was getting so bad, he could hardly do anything but rest. He collapsed 3 times during the week, passing out and falling to the floor without warning. He was weak and dizzy when he got up and so shaky and he looked like he’d aged 20 years.
By Friday evening, the 19th, he was not improving–he was sinking. I worried about his oxygen levels. We had no way to check them. We also had no thermometer and his fever continued. I’d been in contact with a couple of my book club friends at home, who alerted all of the others. They were also in contact with our kids. All were ready to intervene to get John to a hospital. Private panicky messages that night flew between my phone and theirs while John slept. I prayed through the night to know what to do. We live 9 flights up. We have no car. And John did NOT want to go to a hospital. “Tomorrow will be better,” was his standard response.
Here is the report I emailed to my friends Sunday, after that frightening Friday evening:
Hello Dear Book Club Friends!!
Several of you have asked today how John is doing and I thought I’d send Virginia an update she can forward to all of you. I’m not sure I’ve got a current email listing for everyone since I’ve been rather out of the loop.
We have good news here—it was just yesterday our dear Bamako Branch President, Sekou helped me find a COVID doctor who does house calls. I contacted Sekou yesterday morning after Virginia told me some of you were ready to book flights over to rescue us!!
Here’s what’s happened this week—in a medium-sized nutshell.
We were in Abidjan last week, finishing up there, working closely with the MP and his wife. They were feeling a little sick—sore throats, fatigue—but weren’t too worried about it. We’d taken negative Covid tests on a Saturday to fly back to Bamako on Tuesday. We spent Monday with the sick MP and wife at the office and they invited us to a send off dinner that evening at the mission home. We flew out the next morning for Bamako.
Tuesday John started feeling really fatigued. Weds we learned that the Bendixsens (MP) were feeling quite sick so they took a rapid response Covid test. Both Positive. Thursday John took a rapid test (we got them from a German Dr in Bamako) and he was also positive. I wasn’t too worried about getting Covid—I had it last month and had a very mild case, testing negative again after 2 weeks (which allowed us to fly from Bamako to Abidjan to Accra to take missionaries to the temple to be endowed). I’ve had 4 negative tests since then—one for each flight we’ve had.
So we sort of expected John’s case to be as simple as mine, but instead, every day got a little worse. I went to church without him last Sunday (Branch Conference with a visiting Authority) and came home to find John had blacked out and collapsed, here by himself. He was shaky and dizzy when he stood up the rest of the day. He just seemed to get more and more fatigued and he was sleeping a lot. I thought he’d turn the corner at any minute and start gaining strength. He passed out 2 more times this last week, crashing to the floor, sometimes hurting himself.
I guess I mentioned that to a couple of you—Virginia and Shelley, and of course to our kids, and by Friday, Adam, our medical student son, was privately messaging me to GET DAD TO A HOSPITAL NOW. We were most worried about his oxygen levels, thinking they were low and he really needed some urgent care. By Friday his mind was also starting to get a little fuzzy. He was really slow to respond, and his reasoning was off. For example, he didn’t want to eat his own leftovers from the day before because he was scared he might re-infect himself.
Well, getting him to a hospital here is easier said than done here. The main concern was that our German Dr in Bamako told that if you go to a hospital in Mali you won’t come out alive. I won’t go into a description of 3rd world hospitals here. The truth is you really don’t want to go there and be exposed to more than you came in with. So John was refusing any suggestion of medical help. We also live 9 flights up at the top of an apartment building and I could see no way of getting him down those stairs and into a dilapidated taxi to get him to a hospital. I also thought he’d turn the corner “any day now” and be fine again.
So by Friday night, I had Virginia planning how to life flight John out of here (well, almost) and our kids privately messaging me to get Dad to a hospital immediately. He was asleep in bed and I was praying to know what to do next. I decided to see how he was in the morning and then get him to a hospital somehow if I didn’t feel otherwise. I slept with an eye on him, making sure he was breathing through the night.
I woke early yesterday. He slept like he was drugged. Before even seeing how he was, I had a feeling to make a plan. I messaged our dear Malian friend, Anounou, who was in town for the weekend. He’s the field director of the Ouelessebougou Alliance (he is home in Bamako on weekends). He is John’s dear friend here and he has a car. I asked him if he could help me get John to a hospital. He was ready to drop everything and come.
Then I messaged our dear Branch President, Sekou, who is a 3rd year medical student (who’s wife was delivering their first child yesterday morning as we were messaging). I just wanted him to pray for us. As I told him what was happening, he said he knew a Doctor at a hospital here who had someone working for him who did home visits just for COVID patients. Wow, Perfect, I thought! So in a matter of minutes, he was able to make some calls and then he told me a doctor was on his way over to our apartment.
Anounou came over, the doctor came (a young single fellow) and for the next 3 hours, he worked with John, setting things up. We had to send Anounou to a pharmacy down the street to get a whole list of medications and medical stuff (syringes and IV stuff, etc.) The Dr spoke no English. Anounou helped us get what we weren’t understanding. By the end of his visit, we had an IV drip hanging from our light fixture. After 5 pokes and buggered veins, he found a good one and John was hooked up to the drip.
The home visits include 7 days of twice a day visits. The cost is about $450 USD. The pharmacy tab was about $200. John’s getting fluids, antibiotics, vitamins, blood thinner and something for nausea. I didn’t mention that his oxygen level was good. That was the first thing the Dr checked and his first words to us were, “He doesn’t have to go to the hospital!” Vitals were good. We could all see John was very dehydrated. His skin looked like an 80 year old man. (He’s also down to 150 lbs at 6’3” so he was looking really saggy.)
After day 2 now with the IV drip twice/day, he looks fully hydrated—better than BOTOX!!. He’s looking like a 66 yr old again! He’s also steady on his feet now. He’s had a fever for more than a week and that’s been much better too. He’s still really tired and he still takes a LONG nap every day and dozes off a lot in between naps and bed, but he’s already his old self, thinking clearly and I think he’s relieved that things are getting better.
I’ll tell you what came to me Friday night as I prayed after Virginia’s not-so-calm messages from all of you. A memory came to my mind that I’ve not thought of in a long long time. It was of our son, Aaron at 6 months in Dec 1995. It was on another Friday afternoon, on the evening of our ward Christmas party. John was at the church setting up. I was at home with Aaron, after a long day of selling DK books. Aaron was feeling sick, but he slept through the whole day in his car seat at my side. I remember thinking what a good baby he was, not to fuss. By Friday afternoon, I had a feeling to take him to the doctor, just to be sure, because the weekend was coming. I’m not one to run to a doctor for any little thing, but I felt I should go. The doctor attending that early evening was Merino Robins, Adam’s wife’s grandpa. He took one look at Aaron and checked his blood saturation. It was dangerously low. He immediately dug a big needle into little Aaron’s wrist to find a vein to pump something into him because he was not just a mild-mannered baby, he was on the verge of death. Aaron didn’t even flinch when he jabbed into his wrist (again, I’m thinking, what a good baby). When Aaron didn’t even flinch, Dr Robins could see he was barely responsive and he called for the Life Flight helicopter to come NOW and fly him to SLC for emergency care. Aaron had RSV. We almost lost him. He wasn’t getting oxygen and his body was giving out. I raced home to get John and we drove FAST to SLC, to Primary Children’s where Aaron was put in ICU for the next week. He pulled through it, but he wouldn’t have without medical care.
Well, that was the picture in my mind Friday night, and it was still there, strong and vivid yesterday morning when I woke and started making phone calls. My feeling was that without medical help, John might have quietly slipped beyond a point of no return. Every day he was weaker. He’s had no breathing trouble at all, but his body was giving out, quietly and gradually while I was thinking what a good boy he was at resting.
SO, thanks to all of you for speaking up and speaking out and pushing Virginia to urge me to take action. She and our kids were yelling at me from afar to DO SOMETHING NOW. I might not have otherwise because John was so dead set against it.
It’s hard to believe that that was just Yesterday. There’s a remarkable difference today and we see nothing but improvement from here on out. THANK YOU for your prayers and for your faith. It’s amazing to be so far away and to feel so close.
The doctor was just here. He’ll be back in the morning, checking on things. We are all feeling very very relieved.
Prayers have been answered.
Thanks to each of you for chipping in with your petitions.
Love from Ann in Bamako
Our young Doctor Souleymane Traore has been here morning and night every day this week. He calls John “Jean veiux” or “Jean, Jean américain” (John the old, or John, John the American). He has taken real good care of John. He’s the same age as our medical student son, Adam. Dr Souleymane is one of only a couple of COVID doctors who make house calls everyday. He works from sun up until after sundown visiting patients.
John is receiving a treatment that includes hydration solution with vitamins C and B, two different antibiotics, a blood thinner (for the IV)a steroid, and acetaminophen for the fever and pain relief. The goal has been to restore his strength and energy. It has worked.
Tomorrow will be Friday again, a week since the panicky messages flew into my phone late at night. This morning the doctor told us John is no longer contagious. He also told us there were 103 new cases of COVID in Bamako yesterday. Like John, those who qualify to receive treatment at home are treated at home. The numbers here are beginning to rise.
This morning we ventured out. On the left is our apartment building. We live on the top floor with the big deck. Things are looking up around here. We hope to be closer to full speed ahead in another week!