The workman cometh

Fixing our bed is a bonding experience. Unfortunately the bed itself is lacking certain elements in the way of bonding, but “fixing the bed” has resulted in a succession of people from church making their way to our house. We have got through gallons of juice, coke, coffee, “mate” (indescribable Argentinian herbal infusion), and bucket loads of biscuits all in the name of “fixing the bed”.
On Sunday afternoon Josecito, wife Silvia, and two of their kids came round. He started the job, but unfortunately he didn’t have any tools. It is possible to do quite a lot with a bit of wire in Argentina, but fixing the bed proved to be beyond the limit. Josecito works three hours out of town in the week, and when he left, he managed to take some of the bolts from the bed with him.

On Wednesday morning, Ana and Chiquito came round with a bag of tools. But they weren’t fixing the bed, they were just leaving the tools for someone else to come later. But Josecito had taken the bolts from the bed, and he’s not back in town till Saturday. So I had to go and buy some new bolts ready for when Oscar came round to fix the bed.

On Wednesday evening Oscar came round. He drilled some holes, and chiseled out some grooves, and prepared all the pieces. When we tried to put it together, the middle bit, i.e the base, dropped out through the side pieces, limiting its usefulness as a means of suspending the mattress. So we took it all apart again, and left it against the wall so that he could come back tomorrow.

On Thursday evening, Oscar came round again. He drilled some more holes, and put a patch over one of the bits that he’d chiseled out yesterday, and fitted some dowling plugs between some of the pieces. And then it went together. It’s a little precarious, he has promised he’ll come back and re-inforce a couple of the slats, but we did sleep on it without incident last night.

On Saturday and on Sunday, they do no work at all,
So it was on a Monday morning that the gas-man came to call.

We haven’t dared tell anyone that the cold tap in the kitchen has stopped working…

And of course, if we weren’t such English plebs, we would just roll our sleeves up and get on with applying a bit of wire like everyone else.

The Snake in the Kitchen Incident

Well that’s kind of it really. A snake in our kitchen. Only a little one, more worm than snake sized, but undisputedly a snake. With a little snakey head. Took me by surprise, I didn’t even know there were snakes in the city of Cordoba. I mean I suppose I knew technically that there might be, even the UK has snakes, but snakes in the UK don’t normally go around disturbing innocent folk at lunch. I tried to put it outside with a dustpan, but it didn’t seem to like that idea very much, because it hid in the skirting board. And it’s still there as far as I know. I looked it up on the internet, and I don’t know what it is really. Probability suggests that it’s not harmful, but I’m still hoping it finds its way outside before it does too much growing.
The dog helpfully made herself scarce. And Martin’s been asleep most of the day. We were out with some friends at a BBQ last night to celebrate his resurrection from the Hospital Privado, which was good fun at the time, but probably falls into the category of running before walking if we’re honest, so today he’s been perfecting his ability to remain in a horizontal position.

Honourable Discharge

Monday 9th October… Not only were Dr Campos and his friend obliging enough to come and find us downstairs in the cafe this morning, but we even had our consultation there around the table, holding up our x-rays to the light from the window while we sipped coffee.
They showed us the x-rays which we’d had taken yesterday, they are very impressive, showing the operation site with the bone-graft, and titanium plate. We weren’t really sure how it all fitted together, but now we can see the bone graft where his vertibrae used to be, and the titanium plate about 8cms long, running over the top of everything down the front of his neck, held in by three screws like medical mecano (cousin of Frankenstein…)

The medics are very pleased with how it has gone, looking at him as an artist might admire their own work. Apparently this is a bigger version of the operation that they normally carry out as it involved replacing three vertibrae where it would usually only be one. They also said that they have never come across anyone who had the nerve to the larynx on the wrong side before. Someone else has already suggested that this might be Martin’s IT wiring.

Martin’s walking is much better, a sort of stiff legged waddle. The hip is causing him the most pain where they took the bone graft. Dr Campos said “we’ll leave him with a sore hip that as a reminder to look both ways before he crosses the road”. Makes us think of Jacob in the book of Genesis (32:25 if you want to look it up.)

And with that, they let us go. We had to go and sign out in admissions, where we were kissed and hugged by the office staff there (only in Argentina… we love it!)

So here we are at home, where the dog was delighted to see Martin. We have to go back to outpatients on Friday to have the stitches removed from the neck and hip, and he will be wearing the neck-brace for the next three or four months while it all solidifies. The next job is to get the bed fixed, we’re currently in “mattress on the floor” mode, after our orange-box bed collapsed a few weeks ago. Someone was going to come and fix it over the weekend, but timing is often kind of fluid around here. MaƱana…..

Saturday in the Hospital Privado

“A few years ago, I had a scary encounter with a masked man, wielding a knife. I remember him with gratitude though, since he was an orthopaedic surgeon to whom I paid thousands of dollars to correct some problems with my left foot.” Philip Yancey in “Rumours of another world”
Skills and aptitudes can be used in many ways, depending on circumstance, context and opportunity. While we were waiting for Martin to come out of surgery on Thursday, our friend Ana said that a kid from a villa (shanty town) who proves to be good with a knife might be sent out to hold people up at cash-machines, while the same kid if his parents could afford to wait while they learn a trade might become a butcher, and the same kid if the family could afford to see them through years and years of studying might have to opportunity to make it as a surgeon.

Today I arrived at the hospital to find Martin raring to get out and see the world. So we asked the junior doctor if we could go down to the coffee bar, she said “it’s probably best if you don’t tell anyone”. So down we went. His walking is improving, at the moment it’s a sort of sideways shuffle, a cross between Quasimodo, and a crab with bunions.

Sometime later, Dr Campos and the posse arrived in Martin’s room, and found us missing, so the junior doctor told them where we were, and came to fetch us. We headed up in the lift back to the ward, at the same time as Dr Campos et al were heading down in the other lift to the cafe, c.f. Hoffnung “half way down, I met the barrel coming up…” Unlike Hoffnung’s barrel though, we missed each other completely.

When the medics eventually caught up with us, we were surprised to see them dressed in mufti. Apparently they do a brief round of their own in-patients at weekends unless there’s an emergency, so they called in to see how the walking etc was going, and then they were off for a game of tennis.

Diary from the Hospital Privado

This is a little diary of our experiences over the last couple of days at the Hospital Privado…
Wednesday 4th October

Wednesday afternoon Martin was safely (sanely?) admitted to the Hospital Privado. In the end this was mainly due to good will on the part of the hospital, as the insurance company, a bunch of muppets who shall henceforth be known as “lets go find another insurance provider”, were still messing around until lunch-time today.

Priscilla, Dany and I went with him to make sure he didn’t escape. He has his own room, 302 on the third floor. There was a little picture of a cherub on the wall. Priscilla said “he’s there to protect you”, Martin said “he seems a little immature for the task in hand”.

A succession of medics came and poked and prodded. This was followed by a visit from Dr Campos, who brought the rest of his team to meet us. Martin was delighted when Dr Campos said he was allowed dinner tonight, and fluids till midnight, poor guy had understood he was going on starvation.

Thursday 5th October

We arrived at the hospital at 0700. Priscilla went to give the outstanding unit of blood, I went up to see Martin. He was waiting to be unattached from his line so that he would go for his shower. They took him down to theatre at about 0815, and told us to come back in about four and a half hours.

We went and drank coffee, walked the dog, drank more coffee, and were back in the waiting area at 1230. Ana arrived at 1300. Nothing happened. We asked at the desk, but they didn’t know anything and they can’t communicate with the theatre. Time crawled slowly along. We drank more coffee and played guessing games in English about the other people in the waiting room.

Finally, at about 1645 Dr Campos appeared in his theatre greens. “He nearly killed me” he said “But it went really well, and he’s just been talking to me in Spanish”. “Martin talking spanish?” We said, “That’s not an operation, that’s a miracle”. Dr Campos told us that the operation took seven hours instead of the usual five because they found a nerve running somewhere where the anatomy books don’t, so they had to do the whole operation around it and under it without touching it, like one of those kids’ games. Martin’s never been one for following the rule book…

Despite the difficulties Dr Campos and the team seemed pleased with themselves. Martin was also rather euphoric, combination of the drugs and the sheer relief of finding all his bodily parts intact. They had orginally warned us that he might need some time in intensive care, but in the event, he went back to his room on the normal ward with his various tubes and drains attached, and by the evening he was eating jelly! He has some attractive bruising around his head and nose, where they’d clamped him into place, and his hip is sore where they took the bone graft, but so far at least the neck is not hurting him at all.

Friday 6th October

Today we’re both pretty tired, but things have gone really well. All the positive aspects of Martin’s natural stubborn-gittery have come into their own. This morning they sat him up, and took out most of his drains and attachments, so he’s just left with one line into his arm now, and he’s eating fine. Dr Campos and the guys came to see him this afternoon, they are definitely in self-congratulatory mode very pleased with how it’s gone and how he is doing. They stood him up and tried out some walking, and depending on how things go over the weekend, they’re hoping to be sending him out early next week. Priscilla and Dany came in this afternoon, and we have received so many emails and phone calls from family and friends on both sides of the pond, we feel very cared for indeed.

The dream of Sister Josefina

Hospital Rawson is one of the last places on earth that I would want to end my days. It is the public institution for long-term and terminal conditions here in the city of Cordoba. Hospice care has not yet taken off in Argentina, so many people with cancer, AIDS or cardio-pulmonery disease will spend their last few months in a hospital ward, even after treatment has been stopped. The government health system is strapped for cash, they spend as little as possible on “hopeless” cases, so in the Hospital Rawson it is normal not to be able to find a working wheelchair, or blankets and pillows.
Just across the road in the children’s hospital, churches and secular charities fall over each other to stock the playroom and put on shows for the kids, but at the Hospital Rawson volunteers are a rare commodity. Our church has had a programme of hospital visiting for a couple of years, which has not been particularly well supported, but Patricia and I have been going together to the Rawson once a week. Recently we had a campaign to encourage more church members to join the “team”, and it was thus that five of us met in the doorway of the hospital last Thursday.

As we were sitting on a bench giving our new members a brief introduction to the hospital, an elderly nun approached and asked what we were doing. When we told her, she said “my dream has been realised” and the tears poured down. What was her dream? This amazing lady has been walking these corridors on her own for more than twenty years, sitting with patients as they die, praying with people, befriending the families, helping to find basic resources like clothes and toiletries. She even used to live here, until she lost her sight and moved out to a convent, but she still walks these corridors. Her dream and her prayer is that there might be a team to take over her work when she has gone. I don’t think we could even begin to match her single-handed perseverance of the last two decades, but may God send workers and make us faithful to the tasks he has prepared for us.

The Muppet Show

In the wee small hours of the other night I found myself musing on cancelled operations, Argentinian titanium plate companies, and English insurance companies. It was thus with an ironic smile and a sense of national pride that this little thought came into my mind:
Argentinians might be experts at creating chaos, arriving late, leaving stuff till the last minute, and general disorganisation, but if you want a proper Muppet Show to screw things up completely beyond all possible redemption then you still need to BRING ON THE ENGLISH!

When Ruben, our pastor here, started apologising for the disorganisation on the Argentinian side, I shared this with him. He said “my idol is falling”. “Let it fall” said Martin.

More titanium plates

The Tale of the Titanium plate, part 2. I walked into town this afternoon to finalise the purchase of the titanium plate. When I produced our insurance certificate, the secretary (different secretary to this morning, but obviously trained in the same place..) said “Oh, I understood you were paying in cash”. We’re talking about a thousand English pounds here, which is five thousand Argentinian pesos. So I said “no, our insurance company are going to do a transfer directly into your account”.
And she said “But we don’t have a contract with this insurance company so I can’t allow you to do that”. So I said “If you don’t want to accept our business, I have another quote from another company that I can go with”
Then I left her with my mobile phone number and she said she’d get back to me. And I said you have one hour or I’m phoning the other guys. And then I left.
When I had got about three blocks up the road, my mobile phone rang. And she said “If you just come back a minute I’ll give you our account details”. So hopefully now we really might have a titanium plate, but only if the insurance company manage to get themselves together to make the payment on Monday. Watch this space…

Titanium plates

The tale of the Titanium plate. I got on my bike and went round the city and collected three quotes for titanium plates. Or rather two quotes, as one of companies has their stock held up in customs in Buenos Aires and aren’t sure when it will ever be released. Customs in Buenos Aires is a whole other topic of conversation. Anyway, waving my quotes triumphantly, I continued on my bike to the Hospital Privado to ask the doctor which one we should go ahead with. At the door my way was barred by the secretary, so I explained what I wanted. To which she said “But the doctor doesn’t choose, you have to decide”. At this, I wondered aloud whether I should base my choice on tossing a coin, or on this seasons colours… “hmm” she said “the doctor’s not here right now, but maybe his colleague can help you”. Luckily the colleague decided that the thing to do was in fact to phone the doctor. And now we have a titanium plate. Or rather we will do when I go back into town to complete the paperwork this afternoon.

Into the Ark

The spring rain started with a bang yesterday. Or rather with lots of loud bangs and flashes of lightening. After being dry for the last four months the predominant atmospheric ingredient has become brown dust, so the coming of the rains is very welcome. Rain here isn’t half hearted, you have about three seconds to get under cover before being completely soaked to the skin. Our road floods to about a foot deep in half an hour, and bags of rubbish can be seen floating merrily down. Luckily we have a slope up to our front door and it hasn’t yet reached futher than half way up! And because Cordoba is in a bowl, the storm is all around us, making the forked lightening all the more spectacular.