I have had many questions about why we ended up coming home two weeks early, so here it is, finally!!
At the end of September, after months of great health, Charlie and I came down with a nasty cold. It was hardly surprising as every other kid and mum in the village seemed to have it too! And Charlie and I had got caught in a sudden downpour a few days before, a common hazard when going for a walk in Tanna.
We sniffled and snuffled for a few days, but seemed to be getting over it. We were mostly focussed on the urgency of having only two and a half weeks until we left! The only funny thing was Charlie had these insect bites popping up round his neck. We had a few fleas from time to time in our hut (especially when Charlies puppy sneaked inside!) so we thought it was that, and then we thought it might be bed bugs. He woke up one morning and the bites had exploded into a rash all over his chest and neck, so we decided to take him to the hospital to get it looked at by a doc.
We live in the bush, and there are a few clinics nearby (as I have talked about in an earlier post) but to see a doctor we needed to go down to Lenakel hospital. The hospital has one Tanna doctor, but he because of his skills at eye surgery it's rumoured he has been transferred up to Santo island, so there is a huge lack of trained doctors on the ground. However, for the past decade at least, Tanna has benefitted from a great program where Canada sends a doctor for a six month stint. These Canadian doctors will spend six months seeing patients, training staff, and using their skills to provide invaluable assistance to the people of Tanna.
Unfortunately we turned up at lunchtime and Tanna follows the European system of having long lunchtime breaks where everything closes- including the hospital! But some friendly nurses who were having a BBQ lunch outside directed us to the doctors house- he lives onsite with his wife and two girls. Luckily we had met this family before, and were able to go to their house and say hi, and chat about expat life on Tanna!
Jeff the doc had a look at Charlie's rash and straightaway said that it wasn't just your typical run-of-the-mill childhood rash. It was a petechiae rash, caused by burst blood vessels under the skin. It's the kind of rash that doesn't disappear when touched or pressed, and is known for its connection to meningitis or meningococcal. Because Charlie was running round playing and laughing, he wasn't too worried that Charlie had either of these things, but he did want to get it checked out.
We had his blood platelet count checked up at the hospital, and that came back normal, and Jeff said he would talk to some other doctors and paediatricians in Canada and get their opinion too. So we went home, and the next morning found that the rash had really spread round Charlie's body. We were also worried that he was a bit subdued and his tummy was a bit upset. So after talking to Jeff on the phone and discussing at length, we decided to be extra extra cautious and fly home. We decided this about Tuesday midday, and that afternoon I packed wildly while Andrew zoomed round the island getting some antibiotics and booking a flight. We got on a flight to Vila at 5 that night, and then left for New Zealand at 7am the next morning. Home in 24 hours! We went straight to the doc in NZ who said it was concerning, and to be really watchful of Charlie during the night. He said if his condition worsened at all, to go straight to starship. It felt great to be so close to medical care!
Charlie got better really quickly, so it was probably a virus that had a really strange immune reaction. But we felt like we had made the right call in bringing him home- we would much rather be safe than sorry.
However it did mean leaving was quite a whirlwind and there were lots of tears in the village. Not having a proper goodbye was quite hard for us, and there were lots of loose ends that we would rather have tied up.
It also made the contrast between Tanna and Auckland feel very marked, and we missed out on the family time we had planned to have in Vila- where we would have debriefed and talked about the big changes about to happen!
Luckily kids adjust quickly and Charlie has settled in really well on the whole. He is still absolutely fascinated by electric lights, and can't quite believe how many toys there are everywhere. He has reverted to mostly speaking English, with a few Tanna words peppered in for good measure. Andrew and I have also settled back in, but we miss Tanna too. It's a confusing feeling to face culture shock in your own country, but at least we have done this before and therefore know what to expect a little.
So that's us for now!!
PS. The Canadian doctors we saw are the last volunteers from their charity to be coming. They just don’t have any more doctors willing to relocate on the other side of the world for six months. This could leave Tanna with no doctor and could be very detrimental. If you are a doctor in NZ or know of some who might be interested in doing 6 month (or more) placements please get in contact with us, as we can link you with the Canadian charity who is set up with housing (suitable for a family), a vehicle, bank accounts, funding ect. It would be great to keep this scheme going!