In 1986 we got an invitation from one of our fellow workers in Egypt to come and give them input. They had arrived in Cairo just a couple of years before and were struggling with how to begin their work. The letter we got invited us to a “Flight to Egypt.”
We had a very positive time, had helpful things to share from our experience and were treated like royalty. Little did we know that this was a foreshadowing of the ministry God had for us down the road.
I brought home a “souvenir” from Cairo, one that nestled quietly in my body for several weeks before showing itself. Then at first I thought I had the flu. After a few days the symptoms subsided, but then reappeared.
We called our doctor friend and he sent me for a blood test. “Just as I thought,” he said, looking at the results, “Hepatitis A. You need to have full bed rest!” That was more easily said than done, for I had to go out to the university and get permission to not work. They said I needed to go to the government hospital for treatment.
Our local friend, Charles, went with Barbara to the infectious diseases hospital to get me admitted. When the preparations were done, Barbara called me to come.
I had company at the time so we all got into a taxi to go to the hospital. I brought along my bucket in case I had to throw up; I was continually nauseous, very weak and staggered when I walked.
The doctor wouldn’t accept the blood tests I brought because they were from a private lab. I had to have another, official one done. The technician who tried to take my blood had a hard time finding my vein, poking me over and over again. I almost fainted. Finally, I was taken to a room where I could get into bed and Barbara went home.
An orderly brought me supper on a metal tray. There were no dishes, just indented areas in the tray for the food. And there was only liquid food: soup, a salad of yogurt and sliced cucumbers and a fruit compost. However, there were no utensils to eat with. It turned out that each patient is responsible for bringing his own silverware, but no one had told me that. So here was my food, but I couldn’t eat it! My response was anger!
I went downstairs to the pay phone to call Barbara, but it would not accept the token I had. Again my anger rose up and I flung the token across the room in a fit like a three year old. This tide of anger was a total surprise to me, uncontrollable as it was. Later my doctor friend told me that such anger was not unusual as Hepatitis lowers our inhibitions so that our emotions flow without restraint.
That night my roommate, an older man, kept the light and radio on all night. Locals in general are afraid of the dark, for that’s when evil spirits are at work; therefore there’s always a light on in their bedrooms. And the noise of the radio helped to comfort the man, it seems. But it didn’t comfort me!
The next day when Barbara came, I forcefully requested that she bring me something to eat! She went home, cooked a nice chicken breast and a vanilla pudding and brought them to me, along with a fork and spoon. I was very thankful.
That afternoon there was a loud crying in the hall. Someone had died and the family from the village were doing their death wail. It was not very encouraging for the rest of us with infectious diseases.
That night was again a sleepless one, with lights on, radio going, and nurses shouting to each other in the hall.
The next day was Sunday. I was having a nice nap in the afternoon when Barbara shook my arm. I opened my eyes to see all seven of the Smith family looking down at me, smiling broadly.
They said I was a nice, bright yellow and looked like an Asian. They also said that they were not afraid of getting anything from me. Although they didn’t know it, once I turned yellow, I was no longer contagious.
The doctors were glad to have me in the hospital because they could practice their English and German on me. But I was not happy to be there–I wanted to get home where I could sleep. After giving me one intravenous infusion on the first day, they hadn’t done anything for me, so why stay?
On Monday when Barbara came with more vanilla pudding, I asked her to tell the doctors that I wanted to go home but when she talked with the main doctor, he was not happy and exclaimed, “Why do you want him to go home?”
Barbara replied, “What can I say? He’s my husband and wants to go home. I have to do what he says!” That made perfect sense to the doctor and he agreed to release me.
However, when she went to sign me out, it came out that I had not been properly registered. So first she had to get me checked in, then get me checked out. Finally, we were able to go home.
Then began a long convalescence with me in bed for several weeks. The good part was that I got to eat lots of vanilla pudding—eating sweet things were part of the treatment–and I had time to read a lot of books—twenty-one, to be exact.
There was also more time to pray and memorize Scripture. As usual, when I was seriously sick, the Lord was calling me aside to teach me new things.
The negative side was that I was physically weak and my brain was not working very well. That persisted for three months. Then one day it was like a switch flipped and my mind kicked into gear again.
That summer we went back to the States. Since we wanted to have continuity for the boys’ education and for ministry, we usually went for just two and a half months. To do this we had to take the boys out of school early and bring them back a bit late because the German school system spreads out vacation time through the year, making summer vacations shorter.
During this time in the US, in spite of my weakness from hepatitis, we did our usual tour of visiting all twenty-one of our supporting fellowships: one on Sunday morning, another in the evening, and another on Wednesday evening.
It was a busy time and we came back to our adopted city tired. We dove right in as I went back to work at the university and the boys got back to the German school.
Picture: me in the hospital with my IV “friend”