On May 31st, 2012 the Maxwell family boarded a plane and moved to eSwatini (formerly known as Swaziland) to live at Project Canaan. I hope to update my blog on Saturday mornings and share, as honestly as I can, the highs and lows of our life in Africa. We are living on a farm in a remote part of this tiny Kingdom and are serving the community as well as the orphans and vulnerable children of the nation. Thanks for joining us.
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Saturday, January 19, 2013
Good news and bad news.
Baby Nathan arrives at El Roi.
First the good news. Yesterday Baby #24 arrived quite unexpectedly while I was in town with Chloe running errands and preparing for our trip last week. The Grandmother of the baby brought him for help because the mother is not doing well physically and couldn't travel. We will go and check on her today. Thankfully I had an emergency diaper bag in the back of my car, packed with love by Lori Marschall for "such a time as this". Baby Nathan was born on January 5, 2013 and he is now home at El Roi. That's the good news.
Now for the bad news.
This past month I have learned four very bad words:Multi-drug Resistant Tuberculosis (MDR
TB).Maybe it’s only three words,
but they are words that I had never heard in my whole life until I met the
young woman whom I will call “Nomsa” – the mother of our twin girls Leah and
If you read my blog dated December 15th you will
remember how I met this young woman.It was a desperate and heartbreaking meeting as she handed her precious
3-week old babies to me from the back of an ambulance and then tried to be
brave through her TB mask while tears of sorrow and regret poured out of her
eyes.I didn’t think I would see
her again because she was going to the National TB hospital to die.She borrowed a cell phone at the
hospital and called me that same night to see how her babies were doing. I
immediately liked her and thought that I should plan to visit her in the New
Year. My visits have now become a weekly event and usually the high point and
the low point of my week.
Nomsa has Multi-drug Resistant Tuberculosis and is
“co-infected” with HIV.She
is very very sick and has a long and difficult road ahead if she is to live.
When I first went to see Nomsa I had to find my way to the TB hospital. I had never been to
(or heard of) this place, but it was easy to find.It is a huge, multi-building facility that was built in 2009
to provide a safe place to treat this highly infectious disease away from the
general population.The buildings
are well maintained, very open (lots of ventilation) and sterile, as one might
There is a guard at the front gate (not sure if he is to
keep people in or out) and once you pass him you move on past the mortuary
sitting prominently near the entrance (also with a guard outside - ??).Just down from the Mortuary is the
Women’s Ward.After you enter, you
put on a paper mask and then find your way to the patient you are seeing.
The first time I visited Nomsa there were ten women in the
ward with her.She is 24-years old
and most of them were around the same age, except for the 12-year old who was
the youngest one there.Each of
these women are in for very aggressive treatment which includes 18 pills at 10
AM every day followed by a very painful injection in the hip.They get 4 more pills at 10 PM and
those are there MDR-TB medication.All of the patients are “co-infected” so they are all HIV positive and
are automatically put on Anti-retroviral medication as soon as they arrive IF
they are stable enough to endure it.
This treatment is done for a MINIMUM of six months and can
last up to two years.The
treatment has terrible side effects including daily violent vomiting, total
hearing loss and psychosis.While
we all read the possible side effects of various medications that we take, we
rarely see those side effects manifest themselves.In this case, many (maybe even most) have the side effects
of these drugs.It seems that they
all spend time vomiting after their meds.Of the ten women in the ward on my first day, half of them were totally
deaf and my friend Nomsa has ringing in her ears after only a month of
treatment.Of the ten women in the
ward, four of them had extreme psychosis and would yell out for help, talk to
invisible people, crawl around naked on the floor or urinate on the floor in
front of you
I have been to the hospital to visit Nomsa six times in the
past month and I have not yet seen one other person visiting in the ward. I have seen the odd person standing
outside, distant from the patients so as not to catch anything. (It reminded me
of the scene in the Valley of the Lepers in the movie “Ben Hur” when people
would hide behind rocks and peek at their loved ones from afar too afraid to go
near.I can’t say I blame them).Inside the ward there is no radio, no
tv, no books, no sound, no calendar to mark the day, no color and a lot of
death.But it is clean, appears to
be professionally run and is clearly the only hope these patients have of
On Friday I stopped in for a quick visit and to let her know
that I would be away for the next two weeks traveling.I took her some much needed protein and
prayed that she would be alive when I returned.MDR-TB patients who are also HIV positive can take a bad
turn and die in a matter of weeks.In fact of the ten patients who were there at the beginning of the
month, five of them have died.
On Wednesday my friend Wendy was here from the US
volunteering to distribute TOMS Shoes and help out at the El Roi baby
home.We had to take Leah and
Rachel in to be tested to see if they contracted MDR-TB so Wendy agreed to go
in and spend some time visiting/ministering to/encouraging Nomsa while we took
the babies to be x-rayed.The twins
test was negative so we believe they do not have TB and now can come out of the
isolation room at the El Roi Baby home and join the rest of the family.
Nomsa looking at her twins from a distance. A very moving and difficult moment.
When we went back to pick Wendy up I took my usual walk
around the ward to visit and encourage some of the women there.There was one woman who had been very
sick the past few weeks. She was just skin and bones and lay naked with her
boney arm stretching out to us for help. Her eyes were stretched open wide and
white as snow.She cried out to us
and said, “Help me!I am dying!”It was a horrific plea from a woman who
had no hope left in life. We held her hand, rubbed her arm and tried to comfort
her with words that seemed empty, but Nomsa reminded us that the woman was
totally deaf from the treatment and couldn’t hear us. We had large protective
masks on so she couldn’t see us smile or read our lips as we prayed wit
her.We all tried to smile with
our eyes and prayed to God to help her.When I returned yesterday, she too had died.Nomsa said when the time came for the woman to pass away she
started wailing and screaming.Nomsa said it was terrifying, and then she was silent.It was over.
While my heart ached for Nomsa and the other women in the
ward who have now seen six women die horrific deaths in the past month, I can’t
even begin to imagine how the 12-year old girl is processing and surviving this
all.Please pray for her and the
others who are fighting for their lives.
We had the great privilege of meeting one of the founding
Doctors at this hospital. He was more than helpful, informative, educative and
very willing to help us in any way that he possibly could.I look forward to continue learning
from this man as we continue on this journey together.
As I was waking up a few mornings ago I had a random thought
float through my head.I recalled
the book “Tuesday’s with Morrie” and wondered if Nomsa might be willing to allow
me write a blog called “Wednesday’s with Nomsa”.To me, Nomsa represents the women of Swaziland.She has lived in poverty, but had hopes
and dreams. She found love and then lost it. She had babies, and then had to
give them away. She was a vibrant, smart, educated young woman and then became
infected with HIV due to choices that she made or were made for her.There are so many layers to the social
situations happening here in Swaziland that maybe we could peel back many of
them and take a peak inside through this one bright young woman.
I have asked her if she would allow me to sit with her every
second Wednesday and write her story.She is thinking about it while I travel. I hope that you, the reader,
might be interested in doing a little more reading every other week and go with
Nomsa and I on this journey.It
won’t be pretty, but hopefully will be insightful.
On Tuesday Chloe and I will get on a plane and head to Asia
for two weeks. We will spend several days in Taiwan visiting the Morrison
Academy where Chloe will attend school in August. Then we will head to Japan to
officially launch HEART FOR AFRICA –JAPAN. I look forward to sharing all that
God has done and is doing in Swaziland with our friends in Asia, but I will be
happy to get back home to visit my friend Nomsa again.Please join me in praying for health
and safety as we go our different direction this week.