Thursday, 28 May 2015

Fiji drags me to the curb

In my last post I seem to have entertained an illusion that maybe I had settled in to Fiji. I say that it was an illusion because since then Fiji has been trying to kill me.

The tropics are full of nasty surprises. Typically bacteria is the biggest fiend when it comes to health issues.

I reflect on my time in Indonesia. Jakarta is closer to the equator than Fiji so both are tropical. I wonder what the differences are between these two capitals because the primary health complaints are different?

Jakarta is a concrete jungle with plenty of germs. It is not the cleanest place I've been too, in fact, the amount of trash in the waterways and on the roadside was appalling not to mention the rats and flies. And food goes off very quickly in that climate, so I get that the number one health complaint is gastrointestinal issues.

Suva on the other hand has skin issues such as boils. Not once in my time in Indonesia did I see or hear of a person with a boil. But I have come across many here, expats and locals who have suffered the perils.

The biggest difference I can see is that there is a lot of greenery in Suva which may account for the large amount of bacterial infections. Nature's own little hothouse.

The long story for me included a health issue each month for the previous four months (I've decided it is over now, there are no extensions). With most of these came a course of antibiotics which doesn't do the immune system any good.

By the time I've arrived in early May I get a temperature that fogs up my glasses even after paracetamol. Not a good indicator.

A few days later at a doctors visit there was talk of dengue and chikungunya but a wait and see approach was taken. Two days later all the aches and pains had gravitated to my right thigh only. Then there was a diagnosis of onset shingles. On more antibiotics for five days (22 tablets a day). By now my immune system is so confused it is leaving town. The five days comes to an end but the pain is worse, a lot worse. As in it hurts to walk to the bathroom. The following day I couldn't walk.

After much agony, screaming and tears I was admitted to hospital on the Monday. Scans, ultrasounds and blood tests were done. An infection showed up in the blood test.

I'll preface the next bit by highlighting the good things first. I was very lucky to have the doctor I was assigned (despite him being a sadistic brute who smiled when he pressed my excruciatingly painful leg and I screamed and cried in response). He knew what it was before any symptoms were obvious (symptoms other than pain). He has been my only carer, even post op, where he dresses the open wound each day until he is ready to take me back to surgery to stitch my gaping leg up. I left him surgery instructions; next I'm going to ask him if he can embroider Fiji 2015 with the stitches.

surgical instructions - can't be too careful - PS had to edit it later to clarify that it was the bad stuff (not the leg) they had to remove carefully
For two days he drugged me up on mega doses of IV antibiotics and morphine until finally the infection presented itself in an ultrasound and showed as swelling and hardness in the leg muscle. It was a deep muscle infection formed as an abscess, pyomyositis, very close to the bone. He operated that afternoon cleaving my leg open to the bone and even drilling the bone to make sure the infection hadn't gotten in. He told me later sepsis was also a player on the field as well. I was not a well person.

At this stage I am out of hospital three days and still with an open wound. Maybe in two days I will go back in for my surgeon to close it.

I try to temper the horrific experience by flippantly referring to it as my near death experience. But it got me wondering just how much Fiji dislikes me. My eldest son has offered sound advice on future volunteer assignments 'to places that aren't prone to killing you'. Wasn't a box I ticked coming here.

So for the later part of April, the majority of May and into June my time has been and will be spent in some sort of evil health hell house which I am keen never to revisit again.
scrambled eggs

Instead of trolling up bad memories and scarring my readers by sharing photos of my hospital incarceration, I'll share with you my food porn experience while there. I did not spot one piece of cassava or dalo and much better than aeroplane food.

chicken sandwich

aussie breakfast

brought my own avocado 

lamb shank

Health hasn't been the only challenge. I alluded to accommodation issues in my last blog post. That has only escalated in the interim month. I won't go there because it will become a whinge fest. 

So, to relieve some of the pressure I had been under, when I got out of hospital I hunted down players in my life who haven't been playing nicely and gave them all a stern serve. In a nice way of course :)

From insurance companies to landlords, property managers to medical clinics and phone companies, I've shared the love around. Nothing like reasserting yourself as being back in the land of the living with a well written smackdown to ease the tensions inside.

I suppose one of the lessons I'm learning here (again) is that there is a time for patience and then a time to draw the line. And the balance between the two is not the same here as in Australia. Here more patience is required because things move slower. But that doesn't mean there will never be a time to draw the line.

I contemplate what other lessons are to be learned. How far will Fiji push me before I bail out? How resilient am I? What is the depth of my resolution? Or in other words, how much bullshit do I put up with before I finally crack the shits?

black sand beach
mountain views
So on to lighter things.....

A Saturday village visit on the east coast of Viti Levu.

and a bonus sleeper

Carved fern tree stump

A week away for a volunteer conference in a resort on the Coral Coast was pleasant (up until I got sick).

accommodation bure

beach and lagoon views

I'm hoping June will be kinder to me and Fiji can just back the f*#k off with its killer bacteria.

Silver linings are always good to find. I could have been admitted to CWM (Colonial War Memorial) hospital. They hold the title for most leg amputations in Fiji. The government data (not including private sector health) shows that over the last four years an average of 754.25 leg amputations were done per year across Fiji. Diabetes is a high contributor but so is my ailment.

I could have been one of those stats. (In reality I'm not out of the woods yet.)  So send your prayers and loving light this way for the rest of my journey. Until next time.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Why am I not on Fiji time? or am I?

Time has zoomed past so fast I can't recall what has happened.

Christmas was great to spend with the family back in Oz. Caught up with a few people and the (second) wedding saw me catch up with most of the family. It was never going to be an easy day because families fracture over time but we all got through it without blood being spilt. It was amusing to see that the non-formal approach to speeches saw predominantly females stand up and say their piece. It shows I have around me a lot of strong minded women who don't stand on ceremony.

The bride was stunning, the day went smoothly other than a little scud of rain on her arrival via combi van to the headland at Mooloolaba.

Bring on 2015
I departed a day or so later back to Fiji for New Years Eve. This was spent on Beachcomber Island with some Fijian friends.

Two days later the bride and groom arrived with my other daughter. While one couple honeymooned, Stacey joined me in Suva to explore in the lead up to her 21st birthday. Drinks at the Grand Pacific Hotel (GPH) were in order for her and a birthday night at South Sea Island in the Mamanuca group off Nadi.

Goodbyes were said and a week later it was more drinks at GPH to mark my substainial birthday.
Half a century down

In the mix has been a couple of barbecues, a combined birthday party, multiple reasons for drinks at either GPH of Holiday Inn. There has been games nights and book club. A birthday weekend away at Wananavu Resort which was awesome. (There was hardly anyone there and we had the run of the pool.)

And of course, Fijian language classes which I fairly well suck at. Knowledge retention is not what it used to be.

An Australian friend I met in Indonesia came to visit for a few days so that included a jaunt to Caqali (pronounced thangaleye) island and most recently a five day stay on the island of Nanau-ira for Easter. Both lovely and with beautiful Fijian sunsets.

Caqali escape
I've decided the feng shui in my unit is crap. I leave the house for a day or two and the ants move in, and their extended families. When the hot water system in the shower runs out it turns off all the electricity in the apartment and then when it comes back on a minute or so later, the radio and the aircon switch themselves on (when they were previously off). The fridge won't keep cheese or milk cold enough to last more than two days. And the washing machine drains itself whereever it pleases. Maybe it isn't the feng shui, just the unit.

Stacey having a beer with Narayan
Some afternoons I sit and have a beer with my elderly Indo-Fijian neighbour listening to the stories of his life and looking through his albums from the past. He tells me of how his business was ransacked in the last coup, how he nearly found Hollywood fame in India but chose a bride instead to bring back to Fiji. He is housebound so he enjoys the company and I'm being a good neighbour.

Fiji always gives me something amusing. Like the guy walking down the street in Sigatoka with a furry baseball cap on in 32 degree heat, ugly and hot (the cap, not him). The latches on the outside of a window so you have to go outside to close the window when it rains, the ever present bad spelling of signs, whether they are for a business, a street or a government department. And now brochures make an appearance in the bad spelling arena. How, occasionally, I have to tell the taxi driver how to get there even if it is three blocks away. I could have a baby in the time it is taking for work to set up a Paypal account. While Indonesia gave me lots of incidents of feeling like Alice falling down the rabbit hole, Fiji gives me lots of incidents of that-doesn't-even-make-sense head shaking. Both have the underlying WTF theme but there was more intense than here.

Er.... same place
or.... same place

I have more autonomy here having access to work vehicles and friends vehicles while they are overseas. So navigating the island always presents new knowledge. Finding my way through the badly planned streets of Suva is getting easier and I've given up driving like an Australian, around the round abouts, now I do the Fijian thing and drive over them.

I've spent time in villages, unfortunately, having to drink kava, as is the custom. Not my drink of choice but I manage to get across that I want a low tide bowl not a high tide bowl with each serving. The village experiences have been good. There is lots of sitting around to do. Curious kids that stand and stare. Grandmas that want to marry you off to one of the many single men the village has in stock. It's all in good humour.

I did stay a night in a village. One with no running water and no toilets save a rank pit toilet up a slippery slope. We bathed in the river. You do what you have to do and hope you don't get typhoid. I've popped into other villages when I've had a Fijian in tow, for a cup of tea or just a visit.
Beautiful birthday flowers

A croc in the creek
Work has kept me very busy. Trekking up muddy mountain sides to look at water sources and 4wding through paddocks and cane farm lanes to get to places we are building. Definitely seeing the non tourist side of Fiji.

There have been some real gems in the rough mix.

I filmed some Fijian youth for a part in a music video that is on YouTube written by an Indonesian songwriter. Go figure.

I've meet a group of Australian and a group of Japanese volunteers who have come to build houses here with us. It is warming to see the cultural exchange that happens over a 5 or 10 day period. Jokes and tears all come with the package. And I now have a name sake. A baby girl named after me. That is very precious.

My work scope is turning out to be bigger than Ben Hur with 6 major projects I have to research, develop and implement as well as preparing for an end of year campaign. The year won't be enough as there is only six months left for me to do it all in.

And there are so many places I want to get to see off Viti Levu. Vanua Levu, Taveuni, Bega, Kadavu are the big ones.
 Tapa printing
We had a cyclone in the area so schools were closed and people weren't allowed to travel, water or land, because of rough seas and local flooding concerns. Fiji responds well, as I suppose they should being in a cyclone area. My work is still constructing shelters after the last cyclone that hit here in 2012. But Pam headed towards Vanuatu instead and they coped the brunt of her fury. Summer had brought us power outages but Pam didn't.

The days and weeks blur past swept up in my life cyclone of busyness so my posts are becoming fewer and far between. On reflection, I suppose they now arrive on Fiji time so that means I am quite at home here.

Sota tale.