Thursday, November 30, 2006

World AIDS Day 2006: 40 Million Reasons to Care

December 1 is World AIDS Day. Our world is sick. Our brothers and sisters and parents and children are dying. The Body of Christ--We have AIDS. Take the World Vision AIDS Test to see how much you know about the global crisis.
  • Almost 40 million people are living with HIV/AIDS.
  • 2.9 million people died of AIDS-related illness in 2006.
  • 2006 saw 4.3 million new infections, with 2.8 million (65%) in sub-Saharan Africa. (Note: "Sub-Saharan Africa" means all of Africa except Northern Africa, so it includes Ethiopia.)
  • 6,000 children are orphaned by AIDS every day. Worldwide, 15 million children have lost parents to AIDS.
  • Every 14 seconds, a child loses a parent to AIDS.
Here in the U.S., where HIV is now considered a chronic condition rather than a death sentence, these numbers mean so much that to us they too often mean nothing. Who do we know who lost their parents? What town have we visited that has been socially, economically, physically decimated by the death of 10 percent of its population to one disease? No one and nowhere. But in Africa--and increasingly in India, China, the Carribean, and Eastern Europe--these aren't numbers. They are names. They are faces. They are memories. And they are hopes and dreams that might have been.

They are counting on us.

Of the 15 million orphan-reasons to care about World AIDS Day, an estimated 4 to 6 million live in Ethiopia. Whether or not the child we adopt has lost a parent or two to AIDS, in many ways they are all AIDS orphans--for without this plague on the land would be millions more to raise the nation out of poverty, to grow crops, to give health care and education, to take all these children into Ethiopian homes to be loved and cared for. But there are too many.

I have begun reading There Is No Me Without You by Melissa Fay Greene, a journalist who has added two Ethiopian children to her family. She writes of her reaction when in 2000 she encountered the UN statistics of 12 million AIDS orphans in sub-Saharan Africa:

Who was going to raise twelve million children? That's what I suddenly wanted to know. . . . Who was teaching twelve million children how to swim? Who was signing twelve million permission slips for school field trips? Who packed twelve million school lunches? Who cheered at twelve million soccer games? (That sounded like our weekends.) Who was going to buy twelve million pairs of sneakers that light up when you jump? Backpacks? Toothbrushes? Twelve million pairs of socks? Who will tell twelve million bedtime stories? Who will quiz twelve million children on Thursday nights for their Friday-morning spelling tests? Twelve million trips to the dentist? Twelve million birthday parties?

Who will wake in the night in response to eighteen million nightmares?

Who will offer grief counseling to twelve, fifteen, eighteen, thirty-six million children? Who will help them avoid lives of servitude or prostitution? Who will pass on to them the traditions of culture and religion, of history and government, of craft and profession? Who will help them grow up, choose the right person to marry, find work, and learn to parent their own children?

Well, as it turns out, no one. Or very few. There aren't enough adults to go around. Although in the Western industrialized states HIV/AIDS has become a chronic condition rather than a death sentence, in Africa a generation of parents, teachers, principals, physicians, nurses, professors, spiritual leaders, musicians, poets, bureaucrats, coaches, farmers, bankers, and business owners are being erased.

The ridiculous numbers wash over most of us. This is happening in our time? . . . How can the rest of us—normal citizens, steering along our paved streets between home and school, work and playground, mall and hardware store, holding open the front door with a foot while maneuvering inside with the mail, the grocery sacks, the purse, a paperback, the children's backpacks—how can the rest of us break through?
Adoption is not the answer to HIV/AIDS in Africa. Adoption rescues few. Adoption illuminates by example: these few once-loved children—who lost their parents to preventable diseases—have been offered a second chance at family life in foreign countries; like young ambassadors, they instruct us. From them, we gain impressions about what their age-mates must be like, the ones living and dying by the millions, without parents, in the cities and villages of Africa. For every orphan turning up in a northern-hemisphere household—winning the spelling bee, winning the cross-country race, joining the Boy Scouts, learning to rollerblade, playing the trumpet or the violin—ten thousand African children remain behind alone.

"Adoption is a last resort," I would be told in November 2005 by Haddush Halefom, head of the Children's Commission under Ethiopia's Ministry of Labor, the arbiter of intercountry adoptions, "Historically, close kinship ties in our country meant that there were very few orphans: orphaned children were raised by their extended families. The HIV/AIDS pandemic has destroyed so many of our families that the possibility no longer exists to absorb all our Ethiopian orphans.

"I am deeply respectful of the families who care for our children," he said. "But I am so very interested in any help that can be given to us to keep the children's first parents alive. Adoption is good, but children, naturally, would prefer not to see their parents die."

I do not adopt to stand on a soapbox. I have in fact had my soapbox enough years now that I may even have learned a bit about where I should and should not set it (a child's crib is no place for it). But as I take up this new vocation of parenting, as my heart's hunger meets the world's deep need, as I perhaps have your eyes on my words and your heart on my child--yes, I will speak of AIDS, I will connect the dots, I will tell the truth on World AIDS Day: Where you live should not decide whether you live or whether you die. I, you, we can make a difference. Keep the promise--stop AIDS.

Beneath the noise
Below the din
I hear your voice
It's whispering
"In science and in medicine
I was a stranger
You took me in"...

I've had enough of romantic love

I'd give it up, yeah, I'd give it up
For a miracle, miracle drug
A miracle drug

Snow Falling on Clear Cuts

A quick update on our health saga since my mother says it's all part of the story and I should write a book. (Isn't it bad enough I'm writing a blog? Remember what Anne Lamott says: "Not everything that happens to you is interesting.")

This week we journeyed back to Portland on--go figure--Waldport's annual snow day. The ground was barely white at our house or on Highway 101, but just a few miles inland it started getting white, and then the hills became covered. Since the roads over the coast range of hills are windy and steep, I had to go about 35 mph. As the elevation rose, we crossed into incredible beauty--seemingly the land of Narnia (See the witch's castle between those two hills?). The snow stood on every tree, every twig, every blade. The Douglas fir and Sitka spruce stand at attention in perfect formation to cover every hill with perfect triangular boughs topped with perfectly rounded lumps of snow. These Oregon forests in snow are so perfect they almost seem fake; they look like trees drawn by Dr. Suess. All the little Whos down in Philomath must hold hands around that giant spruce they have lit for Christmas every year.

Despite the weather on the coast, the Valley was dry, and we were only 20 minutes late for Aaron's appointment. His lens and retina still look good, but his eye found a new unique issue to fix: When his eye was dialated, his pupil became larger than his lens, and when it started to go down, the pupil actually caught on the edge of the lens, holding his eye dialated. Strange! The doctor gave him drops to constrict his pupil and had us wait for a while to see if it was working. Today it finally seems to be undialated (and uncaught) all the way. So Aaron was given a fifth type of eye drop (to keep his eye from dialating), but he is down to using just two kinds a day now. And his vision is gradually improving. Hopefully after our visit next week Thursday, he will be cleared to get new glasses/contacts.

Life is returning to the Wetzel version of normal. Aaron is getting back to work in his office and getting together with kids. I was able to finally get groceries, a haircut, and an oil change yesterday. We helped decorate the church and will soon get our own tree. We can stop holding our breath and dream again--of Christmas...of seeing old friends...of African skies...of a family of three.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


For those who may care and because I feel like whining about it, here is the saga of our eventful past week.

After Aaron's surgery last week we spent the night in Portland, lying in a hotel room, Aaron in the bed, nauseous and in pain, me on the floor with a towel as a pillow, jumping every time he moved. He was feeling awful yet when we went back to the doctor in the morning but they pried his eye open long enough to say it looked good, and he got some sleep on the way home. Over the weekend his vision sort of improved, although not as much as we'd expected (based on poor assumptions that the absence of pain would mean the return of vision). We had a few visitors, and on Sunday Aaron attempted to watch the Lions game (based on the poor assumption that they are in fact a professional football team).

Tuesday we had a scheduled appointment to see Dr. Flaxel for a follow-up. His retina still looks good and she was pleased with how much his vision had improved (even though he wasn't!). He will need glasses, but not nearly as strong as in the past. She explained what's making his vision cloudy now--basically blood in the eye--and things like why it seems worse in the morning sometimes. It was the end of the day by then, so she said, "I've got a conference call at 6:00--any more questions? I have 45 minutes!" She was teasing Aaron; she was happy to take the time. It was nice to hear her say how many Marfan's patients she's seen too, both here and in England, where whole families tend to stay put and all go to one main hospital. Our insurance company is moronic if they can't soon comprehend why we went to her instead of "in network." Anyway, we felt great about the visit despite the fact that driving through torrential rain made it an exhausting 9 1/2 hour round trip.

But after that good report came a lousy day. On the way home Aaron felt like his eye was bothering him, but it was so dark and rainy even I could barely see, so it was hard to tell. Wednesday morning he got up early for our YL meeting and could barely see--really sensitive to light, feeling pain, severe fog. Called the doctor's office and they said it wouldn't be the new drops they'd given him; it was most likely the sutures but they should rule out an infection. So at 7:45 we headed NW again . . . in weather that felt like driving through a car wash . . . arrived at 11:00, waited for Dr. Flaxel to get out of a surgery, waited for Aaron's eye to dialate . . . Dr. Flaxel still couldn't see in very well, so we waited for an ultrasound. Yes, they do this much like there's a baby in there.

Dr. Emerson, who helped with the surgery and follow-up came in and looked at it and said it seemed to be bleeding from the sutures, not anything major. He drew for me how the new lens is attached and said probably when they dialated Aaron's eye Tuesday, that caused the iris and eye in general to move and work in different ways and irritate the sutures and cause them to bleed. (Don't worry, these sutures are inside the eye--we are not talking about blood coming out at all.) The blood floating around in the new vitreous layer they put in gets in his field of vision and makes it cloudy. It was clearing up, but now more got in. He recommended sitting upright as much as possible and prescribed a new eye drop--number four--to keep Aaron's eye dialated all the time so it won't be bothered by dialating and undialating.

We left there at about 2:00. Traffic was bad. We needed food. Aaron could hardly see so restaurants and restrooms were not much fun. (I've sure been in more men's rooms lately than I'd like.) With the traffic we knew we'd be getting home late so I thought to call the pharmacy and make sure they weren't closing early for Thanksgiving and that they had the prescription. They didn't have the drops so they'd have them Friday--that's no good. So I called the doctor's office to have them call the prescription in to the larger pharmacy in Newport. Based on our Rite Aid passport photos experience we should have known how that'd go: they didn't have the order when we got there. So I called the doctor's office and they said they'd page Dr. Emerson, who incidentally appears to be a member of Clark Kent/Superman's family tree, but he never takes off his glasses to reveal his true identity. After 10 or 15 minutes I decided, screw this paging system, Dr. SuperBoy gave me his personal cell phone number for a reason, I'm calling him. He spoke to the pharmacist and made sure they had what we needed. After that nice 40-minute delay, we made it home at 7:00.

You see, I've gone to the Valley once a week for the last 5 weeks. Usually I go every six days (Monday, Friday, Thursday, Wednesday, Tuesday), but this week we thought, Nah, 9 1/2 hours of driving in one day isn't enough. Let's go the next day too so we can drive 17 hours in one 36-hour period! And then let's go back in six days! Michigan people, this is like driving from Grand Rapids to Detroit or Chicago. That would have seemed nuts to us when we lived there, but we're somewhat used to it now. Sometimes it really is annoying being so far from a big city and these specialists, though. Especially when driving through a stinkin' monsoon. (At least I have been able to enjoy some real fall color.) But perhaps Stacie is right: God knew we'd need Dr. Flaxel and actually put us close enough to find her.

What would be really nice would be if we would receive our immigration form in the mail so we could drop our adoption paperwork at our agency on one of these trips--and this blog could get back to talking about our family instead of me whining about doctors and driving! I promise I will get back on subject soon--as soon as I am done administering blue-, pink-, purple-, and red-bottled eye drops four, six, three, and two times a day respectively. Good practice for being a mom?!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Surgery Report

Good news from the Wetzels--well, the one who is awake . . .

Aaron's surgery went very well. They did not have to do anything to the retina. Praise God! Thank you all for your prayers! They took out his lens and the vitreous layer and put in a new lens. Hopefully his vision will be much better and other than being a couch potato for a couple weeks his recovery should not be too bad.

Please do continue to pray, though. Aaron had a hard time coming out of the anethsetic (nausea meds made him more tired) and the pain was quite bad. After trying a couple different things the meds seemed to start kicking in. The drive from hospital to hotel was pretty bad for him, though, and he fell asleep immediately. I'm not sure how long he can expect to have some pain. We have a follow-up with the doctor at 8:15 a.m. Please keep praying for protection for his eye as he recovers and indefinitely, as there is no guarantee retina problems will not come up later. But for now I am relieved, grateful to you all for your love and prayers, and thanking God for always watching over us.


Monday, November 13, 2006

Prayer Request - Eye Surgery

Please pray for us this week.

Aaron is having eye surgery on Wednesday. His vision has been badly affected lately by the lens in his right eye being mostly dislocated. It blocks his vision and makes strange shadows. They will remove the lens and implant a new one. That procedure is relatively routine, but Aaron is a high-risk case. First of all, he already has no vision in his left eye due to a detached retina, which is a common problem with Marfan's syndrome (because it affects the tissues which hold it in place). The risk of surgery is that it could disturb the retina and cause it to detach (now or sometime down the line).

The doctor hopes that while she's in there the retina will look good enough that she can avoid doing anything to it at all (in which case Aaron's recovery will be nice and easy). But if it looks too loose she may try to strengthen the connections. Pray that the retina looks good and is not bothered at all by the surgery.

Surgery is Wednesday; we're not sure yet what time so we will probably go up to Portland on Tuesday night. We will spend Wednesday night in a hotel in Portland and go back to the eye center for a check on Thursday morning.

On Him we have set our hope that He will rescue us again . . . so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.
2 Corinthians 1:10-11

Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. Relent, O LORD! How long will it be? Have compassion on your servants. Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, for as many years as we have seen trouble. May your deeds be shown to your servants, your splendor to their children. May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us; establish the work of our hands for us--yes, establish the work of our hands.
Psalm 90:12-17

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Please Vote! (It's not what you think.)

Citizens, mobilize! It's time to vote! No, not for politicians. That's over for while (oh, how we miss the 15 phone calls per day). Please vote for my new funny photo on I could win $50 to go straight into our adoption fund account.

Go to this site: and vote for photo B3. It's a couple of pirates we know, who of course never use silverware. (But why are they so grumpy? They just ARRRRRRRE!) Vote only once or my photo will be disqualified!*

Thank you, pirate Benny, for dinner the other night and for your sweet comment here last week. We have missed you and were so glad to see you!

RMM, your little pirate should be on the cute photos section!

I've had many thoughts but no time to post them lately--sorry. I will be posting again soon, though, so check back.

*Even though it's a huge flaw in the system, I would never, ever support voting more than once for the currently winning photos to disqualify them...Shame on you for thinking of that!