“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” – Jeremiah 29:11
When I decided several years ago to enjoy traveling to many parts of the world, I never envisioned myself injured and alone in a foreign country. Since making my bucket list of exciting destinations, I had traveled often with my college roommate Lollie. Finding Lollie again was almost a miracle in itself. After losing touch through years of career building and raising families, we reconnected serendipitously when we discovered our grandsons playing on the same baseball team in Lutcher. Our friendship blossomed again quickly and we became committed travelers and adventurers.
Our inaugural trip was to Iceland. What an amazing trip! We had a grand time even though the sun did not shine for the whole eight days and we didn’t see the Northern Lights. In January 2019, we planned a 52 Grand soiree combining three different tours from New Zealand and Australia, to Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia to Cambodia and Viet Nam. When we arrived home in February 2020, everything was shut down by COVID. All our family and friends had been concerned about the virus affecting us, but we had been entirely unaware of the issue. From there we were committed to continue checking off many fascinating, budget-friendly trips from our bucket list.
Low on that list was an African safari, primarily because of the potentially huge expense. But Lollie and I landed that dream trip after connecting several times with new friends and fellow travelers, Mark and Robin from Florida. They had secured a reservation on an affordable safari adventure. Lollie and I joined the expedition when the travel company put the trip on sale and drastically lowered the cost that matched the budget we had agreed on for any trip. So suddenly I was blessed with three incredible travel companions: Mark is a kind, strong and supportive man, Robin is a retired emergency trauma nurse and Lollie a retired traveling nurse. In hindsight I see two miracles lining up, surely the hand of God at work: reconnecting with Lollie in such a serendipitous way and finding wonderful new friends in Mark and Robin to enjoy travels with.
And so our adventure began. Lollie and I connected with Robin and Mark at the Newark airport and we flew to Capetown, South Africa. Our safari adventure was fabulous! We couldn’t believe the excitement and beauty of that trip: seeing so many wild animals up close, amazingly beautiful sunsets, river cruises in the company of hippos and our wonderful accommodations with mosquito net-draped beds. In the resort, there were even multiple stairs and porches that enabled us to view a watering hole next to the property. The entire group of travelers melded into a close-knit family. Mark, whom we all began calling “Mawk” in imitation of Robin’s Bostonian accent, was always looking out for all ‘the girls’ and encouraging others to do the same. His kindness and concern for others were heartwarming and at the core of the goodwill among the group. In fact, Lollie and I wanted to celebrate the many kindnesses that had occurred throughout the safari and decided to recognize them by awarding special bookmarks made as “Mawk Awards.” At dinner the night before the trip ended, we announced each award with the ringing of a bell and an explanation of the reason for the award to each individual. Great fun, laughter and goodwill! A wonderful farewell celebration!
That evening, after our Mawk Awards gala, I went to take a shower before going to bed. The next morning would be our departure. I was extremely disappointed to find the shower in our outstandingly fine accommodations deliver only a dribble of water and decided to let Lollie know. As I was getting out of the shower, I realized I would have to cross the room to reach my towel. In my typical ‘let’s get things done quickly’ (the ‘G’ in my name stands for ‘go!’), I stepped out and lunged with my right foot to grab the towel. My foot slipped; I grabbed the shower door which shattered and exploded broken glass all over the bathroom as I fell onto my right hip with great force.
At that moment, I realized that my hip was compromised. I whispered a prayer, “O God, please let me be able to get on that plane tomorrow.”
Lollie heard my cries and immediately went to find Mark for help. Everything happened very quickly. Mark was there immediately but upset that I was naked. Lollie threw a towel over me. I held onto Mark’s neck so he could drag me through the glass and out of the bathroom. Lollie called 911. Two very kind and very young medics, Anita and Eddie, arrived with a “papoose board,” like a very short stretcher. As the medics were trying to positon me on the board, Robin screamed “stop!” She saw that my leg was hanging off the board and could lead to major injury or worse unless it was stabilized. Robin and Lollie worked with cuticle scissors to rip a sheet into strips that could tie me onto the board. After I was secured on the board, the two kid medics carried me down three flights of outside stairs. Anita’s braids were flopping in my face the entire trek, and I was afraid she wasn’t strong enough to hold me, but she did!
The trek to the hospital in Botswana was rough as the ‘ambulance’ was simply a pick-up truck. The clinic was a concrete box-shaped building. There was no X-ray but the doctor was able to ascertain that my hip was broken. The clinic was not equipped for such a major injury, so it was necessary for me to be flown to Johannesburg.
So it was back to the hotel. I was so grateful that our room was on the first floor. When searching for a way to fly to the hospital in Johannesburg, we learned that it would require an up-front payment of $10,000. Lollie’s efforts to set up a Venmo account on the internet was picked up as a possible scam and shut down. When my friends and family saw that account on the internet, they were afraid that we had been kidnapped and were being held for cash ransom. Finally, with the help from Charles our safari guide, the hotel agreed to advance Lollie the money from her debit card. Even with the money in hand, however, it was a three-day wait until a plane was available.
Finally arriving at the hospital in Johannesburg, the news wasn’t good: if I underwent a hip replacement, it would necessitate a six-week stay there before I could travel again. The doctor suggested a temporary rod to stabilize the hip for travel home.
As I was moved into a ward set up for six patients, Lollie made arrangements for my 23-year-old granddaughter Isabelle to make the seventeen-hour flight to South Africa. Because kidnapping foreign young women was a real threat in this country, she also hired a driver to ferry Isabelle from the hotel to the hospital and back each day. Isabelle was a Godsend! She was allowed to visit only twice a day and then for only two hours each time. This amazing young woman worked constantly to try to arrange all my releases and the locals would miss her appointments. She was determined and persistent and ultimately successful! And then, dear Lollie had to fly home because her diabetic medications had run out. This was a new thing for Lollie because she had never been in a foreign country by herself and then had to fly home alone. I was just surrounded by amazing people!
When Lollie left, everything seemed much more challenging for me. The ward was crowded. The six beds were only about six feet apart. The six of us shared a single bathroom. The attendants were not compassionate and came only occasionally when one of us rang the bell. I came to understand that because of the poverty, job security was very important to the workers. Their pay is about $7 U.S. dollars per week. They had to do only their own job: the food person could not help with water, the blanket person could not help with cleaning, the bathers were only bathers, etc. Each employee had a specific job and was afraid of losing that job to someone else. Every day my food and sponge bath items were left on a table just out of my reach. I tried to stay optimistic. I smiled constantly. The other patients commented on how I could smile so far from home. The six of us became a cohesive group even though we were from different parts of the world. A silent Muslim woman with an elevated broken ankle lay in her bed silently counting or praying some wooden beads. A Zulu woman sang and danced her native tunes. I truly became fond of and took comfort from the other patients. But in truth, I was terrified.
In my terror and pain, I prayed. And I began to hear in my head the beautiful words and music of my favorite hymn:
Turn your eyes upon Jesus.
Look full in his wonderful face.
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of his glory and grace.
One day my attention was pulled to a reflected light in one corner of the ward. The light emanated from the single high window in the room and was there every morning. Somehow the image it made looked like the sign language figure for ‘I love you.’ That reflection became my guardian angel as each day of the two-week stay dragged on. And I quietly sang my song over and over. These two things helped calm me and reassure me that God was with me and watching out for me. As the paperwork for my release was held up day after day, I worked with a wonderful physical therapist, Nehemiah, who was a Christian. Our conversations were comforting. We talked about the love God has for all people and Nehemiah’s own desire to better the lives of his people.
When the release papers were finally completed, a wonderful nurse named Brock accompanied me on my flight home. Breathing the air in America was like tasting freedom and life itself. Returning home to Baton Rouge to await an eventual hip replacement surgery, I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of prayers and good wishes from my neighbors and my wonderful St. John’s community. And when I hear that lovely song, Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus, I inevitably weep as I am reminded of the stream of miracles that occurred during my injury and hospital stay. I remain ever grateful for both dear friends and strangers along the way who helped me overcome such a huge challenge in my life.
God of all creation, I will be forever filled with gratitude to have experienced your loving care in my time of dire need. Thank you for the succession of miracles, both great and small, in the form of caring friends, kind strangers and a beautiful song that showed me the way out of fear by simple trust in your son Jesus. Amen.
(as told to Betty Schroeder)