For the last two or three months we have heard numerous reports of an increased number of cases of chikunguña in our area. Chikunguña is a viral disease spread by mosquitoes. The word chikunguña means, “that which bends up” and those infected by the illness experience strong joint pain or stiffness, muscle pain, headaches and inflammation of the eyes. We do not have a great many mosquitoes around our home, but, nonetheless Mary and I have been extra careful to apply insect repellant and to burn coils at night.
Now, just as the number of cases is dropping and the imminent danger is passing, I (John) got hit by a case of chikunguña. Without any need for an incubation period the expected symptoms hit. I was, “bent up” with strong muscle pains and one hugely inflamed eye. I also had a gaping hole where my left cheek bone used to be and my left eye hung loosely in a badly damaged socket. But, my case was not mosquito borne!
At about 11:30 last Wednesday (June 10th) I went out for a ride on my bicycle. I was heading northbound on our town’s principal road passing a small tienda where two pickup trucks and a small car were parked. Without any warning I suddenly found myself violently projected forward, over my handlebars. For just an instant I discovered that, like Buzz Light Year, I could fly! But, I lacked the ability to land properly. I “flew” directly into the rear of the parked car striking the bumper with my left cheek just below my eye.
Like I said, the bent up feeling of severe muscle and joint pain was upon me as I tried to unravel myself and slowly stood up. I felt up to where my cheek used to be and realized that it was going to take more that a few butterfly bandages to fix this mess. So I proceeded to pick up my damaged bicycle and carry it toward my home.
Luckily cooler (more rational) heads prevailed and my friend, Juan led me to a bench and got ice packs for my eye. I literally had to push my eye back into place with the ice pack. Our friend Patricia was summoned and arrived with a truck load of Ecuatorianos who took over from there. An ambulance was summoned, Patricia got Mary and brought my bike up to the house, police responded and I laid back and surrendered my fate to some fine Ecuadorian doctors and medical personnel.
(Let me take a moment to explain the chikunguña reference. I was hit from the rear by a motorcycle. The driver of that motorcycle was a young man who had been suffering from the disease, but who had gone to work that morning. When his fevers and aches returned he left work early and was driving home when he momentarily wiped his eyes. In that fateful moment of inattention, he rear-ended me at full speed. So, no I did not contract chikunguña, but I was contacted by chikunguña and experienced many of the symptoms of the illness.)
Now for the miracle!
Ecuador has a very affordable and comprehensive medical care and health plan available to all residents who have cedulas (government ID cards). Mary and I signed up for that insurance called IESS (EE-ess) at the end of last year. Prior to the ambulance arriving, I took my wallet out of my pocket and retrieved my cedula to identify myself to responders. I gave the cedula to the police and ambulance personnel and told them that I had IESS insurance.
Mary arrived just after I had climbed into the ambulance. I quickly assured her that I would heal before our vacation which we have been planning (and paying) for now for over a year. We are scheduled to leave on the first of July. I could tell from Mary’s worried look that she doubted that I would be healed that quickly. And no one would blame her. I have seen only glimpses of what I looked like at that point but it was bad.
Mary and I were transported to a large IESS hospital in Portoviejo where we were met by Ramon and Nura and our friend Roberth. These dear friends helped Mary and I immeasurably proving once again the infinite value of true friendship. The doctors at IESS were sure that I must have suffered a concussion, neck injury, spinal chord damage, or other broken bones, so they kept me in a neck brace while numerous x-ray images and a modern CT scan eventually proved that I was bruised up and abraded, but had no additional injuries other than the obviously crushed cheek bone.
The plastic surgeon specialist for that hospital was on vacation, so, within four or five hours the top-rated surgeon in Ecuador was contacted in Guayaquil. Copies of my x-rays were electronically transmitted to Guayaquil and IESS arranged for another ambulance to transport me to a private clinic (called Kennedy Clinic) in Guayaquil where this team of doctors worked. I arrived in Guayaquil in the middle of the night.
I had to wait until Saturday morning for the surgery as the doctors needed to make a bunch of measurements and fabricate a metal (I believe it is titanium) insert to replace the crushed bones of my left cheek and to allow time for the swelling to subside. At one point on Thursday or Friday my left eye was at least double its’ normal size! I was operated on for more than four hours during which time the surgeons made incisions under my left lip between my front teeth and lip. Through this incision they removed the fragments of bone and inserted the molded metal.
In the heat of the moment Mary did not grab a camera and we had a new phone with which we were unfamiliar, so we have few pictures of the gruesome before photos. But here is a blurry photo taken of a picture on a telephone. It is very blurry, but shows a little of how I looked just before surgery after I had been cleaned up and most of the swelling had gone down.
About seven hours after the above photo was taken Mary took these two pictures after I returned from surgery.
I was held at the hospital over the weekend and returned home on Monday evening. Here is what my restored face looked like on Tuesday morning after I had showered and gingerly shaved.
And today (just ten days after the accident and seven days after the surgery) I look like this.
I still have a bit of a shiner and the nerves in my cheek. lip, and nose on the left side are still recovering, but it looks like I will have minimal (if any) scarring.
My chest and arms were bruised and scraped, I think the motorcycle drove over my right hand bruising my right thumb, and my left calf muscle was injured somewhere during the ordeal. But, all lingering aches and pains are healing quickly. I do not believe I would have received any better care from any other doctors in the world (including my own son) than that I received here in Ecuador.
It is absolutely unbelievable that I did not suffer any brain or spinal injuries or have additional broken bones. As far as Mary and I are concerned, the only reason I am healthy today is thanks to a gracious and loving God and Savior who have sustained and protected us both through this latest experience in mortality.
We have a lot more to say about the support and love we received from our family, friends and neighbors and will be posting more information about that soon. But for now suffice to say that the Good Shepard lives and watches over His sheep even way down here where…
Life is good in Ecuador!