Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Ciguatera



This has to be one of my favorite selfies of all time because of the friendship it represents and because it reminds me of the last hours we spent together the day before we left the Basque Country.

In honor of our Basque friend Edurne's birthday today, I am going to retell an experience they shared that day which impacted me greatly.

In 2000 Alberto and Edurne vacationed in Costa Rica with their friends. Shortly before their departure for home Edurne began to feel sick. By the time they arrived back in Hondarribia she was seriously ill. She could not move. It was total-body paralysis. Even swallowing or speaking were almost impossible.

Keep in mind they are both doctors--Edurne a family doctor and Alberto a neurologist. For days he and his colleagues researched her condition while family members took turns caring for her round the clock.

Meanwhile, one evening Alberto's network of friends from his hometown (kuadrilla) were having dinner and talking about this situation. One of them, a scuba diver, knew immediately that they were dealing with Ciguatera, a neurotoxin from eating fish or seafood contaminated with poisons obtained through the food chain. But, why did the others who enjoyed the same food not experience any of the symptoms? Perhaps because she is so tiny, like extra small. Certainly not because she ate more than them.

The diagnosis made all the difference. They knew this would pass in time and that there was nothing they could do to accelerate the healing process. "Once I knew," she said, "I could just lay there content and wait."

I tried to put myself in their place and imagine what it must have been like for this very active, athletic, involved mother, wife and physician. I pondered the added dimension of empathy that must have come from being totally dependent on others for three to four weeks. Then I said, "¡QuĂ© interesante!" They laughed. Probably not the best descriptor for such a traumatically debilitating condition. I was thinking of Jesus and the absolute empathy He gained from becoming fully human and dwelling among us. Several Bible passages talk about how we can come to Him confidently because He understands completely.

This conversation came about because I asked if her necklace, which I remembered seeing four years ago, had a special meaning. Alberto had it designed and made especially to commemorate that his beautiful wife was restored to them and to full life again.


Can you read the word CIGUATERA, and see the culprit prawn? 

I had a vague memory of Amaia trying to tell me about her mother's serious illness, but I never understood fully at that time. She was very young, only six or seven. This was extremely traumatic for the girls. The day Edurne felt able to go meet them after school was one of those to be remembered a lifetime.

Edurne recalls that when she was able to go back to work she felt overwhelmed with gratefulness to be alive.

Four years ago we visited her doctor's office in a temporary building. This time we got to see the new clinic.


The lower two photos were taken in 2010 and I wrote about it here. One thing for sure, Edurne has not aged at all!

Interestingly, as we walked around San Sebastian on that last day (June 22), we met up with the nurse that still works with Edurne. 

2010                                                                                                    2014

Again I say, "Zorionak, Edurne! We love you and are so very glad you are alive and well."

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