Monday, June 30, 2008

Fire at the Jewell House

Two nights ago I was awakened by the ceiling fan. The steady hum of the motor was interrupted as the fan spun faster then slower out of rhythm. "Oh great," I thought, "the fan is broken," and went back to sleep. The next morning the lights were shining at half capacity. Life here is very different so we didn't think much of it. A little later I told John I thought something was burning and wasn't sure if it was coming from outside or inside the house. Our windows stay open all night and all day so it's hard to tell.

We searched the house and couldn't find the source so we decided it must be coming from outside. Just as John was coming down the stairs from checking our bedroom there was a loud bang and sparks rained down the stairs and onto the back of his neck. The light fixture on the wall had exploded into fire and a long flame was licking the ceiling (entirely made of wood). John threw a towel over the burning heap on the stairs and I fetched flour to douse the base of the flame. This is what you do when you don't have a fire extinguisher.

John shut down the main breaker and called the electrician who helped us when we moved in. While we were waiting for him to arrive our neighbor called to ask if we were having any electrical problems. He said he tested his outlets and the voltage - which is normally 220 volts in northern Brazil - had reached 380 volts. No wonder our light blew up. The electrician confirmed what our neighbor told us and said the city would have to fix the problem.

We lost an alarm clock, our radio, our cable box, and our washing machine but, thankfully, no one and nothing else was harmed. Between the sunrise at 5:00am and the large rooster population, we can live without the alarm clock. Though we would like to keep up with Fox news election coverage, we can read the local paper. The radio is a bummer but we can listen to music in the car, and since we got our boxes from the States recently, we have a lot more clothes to go through before we absolutely have to do laundry.

Now may be a good time to invest in some smoke detectors and fire extinguishers. We're also thinking about surge protectors but our neighbor assures us they wouldn't hold up against a surge that great. The good news, they say, is that it only happens once in a while. Hearing that makes me glad we didn't buy top-of-the-line appliances.

Thanks to all of you who pray for us regularly. We are very aware that this could have been much worse. Had we been away from home, we might have lost everything. Had we been asleep, we might have lost everyone.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Baseball Party

Each Thursday the church hosts a party for its LST students (people studying English using the Bible).  Last week's theme was baseball.  Here's Jonah checking in at the name tag station by the front door:
Here are the students and some folks from church, ready to learn how to play baseball: 
We separated into teams:
and showed them how to man the field:
Then we played home run derby:
This guy wanted to claim the American boys for his team:
And he was right to do so.  They knocked it out of the park:
Of course, we had to teach them the wave:
and how to sing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game":
which they were happy to practice in front of everyone:
And what would a ball game be without hot dogs?
Jonah and Andy were especially proud to share their whiffle balls and plastic bat with people who have never played the game. 

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Brazilian Valentine's Day

Brazilians celebrate Valentine's Day in June on Saint Anthony of Padua's Day because he is considered the patron of those who are seeking a romantic relationship.  They call it Dia dos Namorados, which means Day of Lovers.  In our experience, Dia dos Namorados has about as much to do with St. Anthony as Valentine's Day has to do with Saint Valentine.  Instead, it's a time for husbands and wives and boyfriends and girlfriends to exchange gifts and celebrate their love for each other.

The church hosted a dinner for couples to celebrate this unofficial holiday.  We had seventeen visitors.  That number is odd because one of the visitors was the husband of a church member.  John and I sat at their table.  It was nice to get to know Alex because we spend so much time with his wife and daughter.  He seemed reserved at first but warmed up to us as the evening went on.  
We played a game where each couple was tied together and had to figure out how to separate without untying the strings that held them together.

Dinner was delicious and it seemed like everyone had a great time.  We hope to make it an annual event.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Discovering Health Care in Natal

We were racing into town at 5:00am with both of our groggy children to find a hospital emergency room to treat Andy.  He had been up all night complaining about pain in his ears. Not wanting to overreact, we gave him Tylenol every four hours and decided to ride it out.  By sunrise, his pain had not subsided and he was vomiting.  We loaded up the car and went on the hunt for a hospital - any hospital other than the one we had been to for my asthma attack.
Among the first things we did when we arrived in Natal was sign up for medical insurance, because we knew we would have to wait a month before we could use it.  It seemed as soon as the month was up we needed it, and "finding doctors" was pushed to the top of the list which, as we soon found out, can be very difficult in a foreign country. 

I have asthma but haven't had any major episodes for over a year.  I carry an emergency inhaler but have not taken daily medicine for some time - mostly because it costs almost $200 each month.  Last month while my brother was visiting, I started having trouble breathing.  (A buggy ride through the sand dunes isn't the best thing for an asthmatic.)  I used my inhaler three times but to no avail.  We went to the nearest emergency room at a hospital called Promater to seek help.  I waited in a packed waiting room for almost two hours to see a doctor.  When I was finally admitted, John and I walked into a small room where a young man was sitting behind a desk.  I say "man" because I'm not at all convinced he was a real doctor.

When I told him my problem he looked baffled, so I helped him out by telling him about the medicines I have taken in the past.  He had never heard of them so he looked them up in a medical catalog of sorts.  He pointed to something and asked if I thought that was what I had taken.  I wasn't sure but he wrote me two prescriptions anyway.   Then he sent me across the hall to a room lined with chairs and spigots.  A nurse entered and mixed the medicine that was written on the order I handed her.  She attached a mask and hose to one of the spigots and handed it to me on her way out the door.  "Wait a minute," I said.  "How long should I do this?"  She told me about fifteen minutes and asked if I had a watch.  I didn't but John took out his cell phone and timed what seemed to be a nebulizer treatment on that.  

 I did not fill the prescriptions because my intuition told me otherwise but, thanks to God and good insurance, was able to seek out a competent pulmonologist who took a chest x-ray and a breathing test the very next day.  She assured me that I am healthy and, if I can avoid certain irritants like chemicals, mildew, and sand dunes, I probably won't need daily medicine because the air quality is so good in Natal.  She said it was a wise decision not to take the medicines the Promater doctor prescribed and gave me others to fill instead to get through the crisis.  She gave me her cell phone number and said to call with any concerns.  She also suggested that we avoid that hospital in the future.  I am breathing fine now and Andy, who also has asthma, has not had any problems breathing.

His problem that morning was something else.  We pulled into the parking lot at the hospital where I visited the pulmonologist.  They told us at the reception desk that they don't see children.  They recommended Promater - the one I swore never to visit again.  We drove through the city and found another ER.  John ran in and right back out.  Bad news.  They only see adults here.  By that time Andy was throwing up again and we headed straight back to Promater. 
 We waited for about forty-five minutes.  The "pediatrician" mumbled something about a green thing in his ear.  I told her it was tubes we had put there because he had so many ear infections.  She was visibly relieved to know what it was.  The fact that she had never seen tubes in a kid's ears didn't earn my confidence.  Then she said he had a double ear infection and started to write him a prescription. She stopped short and said she should probably know how much he weighed.  She sat there and waited for us to go find a scale.  Before we finally walked out of her office with the suspicious prescription in hand, she stopped us saying she forgot to listen to his heart and that would probably be a good idea.

We gave him the medicine only because we knew what it was.  The next day we found a reputable pediatrician for a second opinion.  He changed the dosage of the antibiotic, saying it was a bit much for a three year old.  As it turns out, Andy had the beginnings of a respiratory infection with a lot of congestion.  The medicine cleared it right up and he is well.  We were both very thankful that this was not a grave emergency and have since done much research to find competent pediatricians and hospitals for our family.