Many of you have asked for an update, so here it is!
We made it to our new/old home in Edmonton, Alberta. Took us more than 90 hours of travelling from door to door, but we made it. Nadine and I, the boys, Belle, and 19 checked bags.
We also had brought some unexpected company with us, but I’ll share about that in just a moment.
The word of the day today is trauma. It is something that one can suffer from immediately, through a singular event or experience, but it is also something that can be cumulative.
As one moves through a period of time where they are constantly exposed to stress and traumatic experiences, trauma can exhibit a cumulative effect. We’re at a point now where we experience a stressful or traumatic event, and we just add it to the pile. What is one more thing, compared with everything else we’ve endured?
I am sure that those words will resonate with many of you reading this, going through your own challenges and hardships.
As we prepared to leave Uganda, we recognized that we were moving closer and closer to disaster. While the COVID-19 pandemic is nearing some sort of end here in Canada, in low and middle income countries around the world — most of them on the African continent — it is just the beginning. Populations there have had no hope of equitable vaccine access, and now that new variants like Delta exist that are targeting younger population groups and causing more severe illness, people are dying.
Countries like Uganda escaped severe consequences during the first wave of COVID due to a number of factors. Uganda delayed the onset of its first wave through a total and complete closure of its borders and a severe lockdown. This lockdown crippled Uganda’s economy, and set back development milestones with consequences that will last generations. Millions of children have been kept out of school since the beginning of 2020 – and for many of those students who are young girls, the consequences are compounded with child marriage and a heightened risk of gender-based violence. Ugandans also escaped severe illness and death largely due to their demographics. The median age in Italy (ravaged by the first wave of COVID) is 46 years old. The median age in Uganda is 15. It is a country of teenagers.
But now that delta and variants like it are causing severe illness in younger groups of people, Uganda has been in trouble. They lost the race between vaccine availability and the development of new variants. For our family, it meant that instead of saying goodbye to our close friends and family in Kampala, we isolated for 10 days before we travelled. It also meant that we were under constant threat of having borders closed. In fact, about ten days before we were meant to fly out, Uganda announced that its districts (provinces) would close their borders. We spent those remaining ten days literally wondering if we were going to be able to fly. In the meantime, oxygen shortages in Ugandan hospitals meant that critically ill patients were dying. At one point, the oxygen plant in Uganda’s national referral hospital failed, and dozens of patients died before they were able to get it back online.
I don’t know how many of you have ever been tested for COVID. It’s not fun. I don’t just mean the physical process of getting tested, where a very mean person shoves a stick into your nose and scratches the inside of your brain. I mean the mental process. When Oliver was sick in hospital in September last year, we found out it was COVID only after the fact. Testing positive then changed us. The prospect of having to get tested again, even after having no close contacts for nearly two weeks, was still excruciating. Booking the test, having samples collected, going to pick up the results, I’m guessing I was able to sleep for about 3 hours across those three days.
But we got tested, we got our negative results, and we got loaded up and ready to go to the airport on June 18th. Sure enough, our concerns about what was happening in Uganda were warranted. One hour before our flight departed, we found out that the entire country had been locked down again.
When folks in North America say “lockdown,” most of them don’t really mean it, or understand what those words can mean. When Nadine and I experienced lockdown in Kampala back in 2020, she was detained and nearly arrested by the military for attempting to take a severely ill Finn to the hospital. We could not drive anywhere, and we could not walk anywhere due to increases in opportunistic crimes where we lived. The lockdown made people desperate, and even going outside of our compound put us at risk. The one time in 3 months when Nadine and I chose to go for a walk outside of our house, we were accosted by a group of drunk men. I think the only reason we made it back home without incident was because we had Belle with us. Time to process any of this? No, just toss it on the pile.
So – we exchanged bittersweet messages with our Ugandan friends who were being left behind. Friends shared their sentiments that they were so happy for us, that we were getting out “just in time.” We had booked our tickets for June 18th months ago, but the timing was impeccable. Yet we were heartbroken to leave so many of our friends, and my colleagues at work, in such a difficult state.
We were so shell-shocked and relieved to be on that first flight out of Entebbe, that it never once dawned on me how full the flight was — every seat was taken.
That is where I am certain that I contracted COVID-19 for the second time.
We made it to Canada. Everyone was okay. Our bags were there. Belle was alive (no joke, when you’re dealing with severe anxiety and burnout, meditating on the idea that your dog would die during two international flights was a real issue).
We gave the samples for our arrival testing in Vancouver, then we checked into our quarantine hotel. Oliver and Finn watched Treehouse TV (their first time watching TV) for two days, we got our negative test results, and then we got on our final flight to Edmonton, Alberta.
We arrived to our new home here in Edmonton on June 21st, in the early evening hours. We had been tested three times in the last 5 days… we thought we had made it home “safe.”
The next day I started to feel sore, really sore. I thought I was exhausted, maybe dehydrated. A few days later I was in the ER. That same day, Nadine fell sick. Shortly thereafter we found out we were both sick with the Delta variant of COVID-19. My mom Jan, with one hour’s notice, packed up her car and drove 4+ hours to move in with us and take care of Oliver and Finn while Nadine and I were forced into isolation.
It is hard even now to think about how to rationalize all of this. I have been fighting COVID for my job since February 2020. It’s impacted my life and my family directly, and I’ve had it twice. How does that make sense? Even though we we are 4 weeks past our final date of infection, I am still experiencing “long haul” symptoms. I cannot exert myself without danger of passing out. Taking the boys out for walks feels like running a marathon. How are we supposed to wrap our heads around leaving Uganda, moving to Canada, all of this upheaval and change, if I cannot walk up the stairs without needing to catch my breath? We just add it to the pile.
In the midst of everything, we remain so grateful.
We are so thankful for my parents, where my Mom sacrificed 18 days of her summer to live with us and take care of 2 crazy little boys, two fully grown invalids, and one massive dog. We are so thankful to everyone who dropped gifts/food/toys off, who prepared meals for us – you saved us.
In the midst of what is happening around the globe, with the delta variant and how it is hurting and killing unvaccinated people, we are so thankful to be alive and recovering.
We have a house – we had a home, a safe haven, ready for us when we got here to Edmonton. We had enough rooms to isolate in. We have power that doesn’t shut off, and high-speed internet, and drinkable water. We aren’t suffering through another lockdown in Uganda. We are grateful for so much. When I went to the hospital, I received top-notch care from nurses and physicians who have been fighting this pandemic and their own burnout for more than a year — despite what they’ve been through, I received exceptional care.
But we are traumatized. Living our lives with gratitude is starting to feel like treating a bullet hole with a band-aid. The pile is massive. It just got bigger. There will be a lot of work to do over the coming months as we figure out what recovery and healing looks like for us.
So – many of you have been reaching out and asking us “did you make it home safe?” Yes, we made it home. We did not make it home safely. But we will be okay.
Please pray for us, but more importantly, pray for those around the world who are continuing to suffer the effects of this pandemic through no fault of their own. If you haven’t done so already, please reach out to your local government representatives and ask them what they are doing to address this global vaccine shortage crisis. We are not all going to be safe, until we are all safe.
If you’re reading this and you haven’t been vaccinated, please go and make it happen. Vaccines have been proven to be safe and effective, and COVID will only grow deadlier as time goes on.
Sending our love and thanks out to all of you.