Part IV of how Chuck and I met and fell in love on a Teen Missions team. Be sure and read Part I, Part II, Part III!Silhouetted in the beam of my flashlight was the figure of a man, approaching my tent.
My chest heaved up and down and my breaths were ragged and audible…the man was now only feet from the entrance of my tent.
“Renee? Are you awake?” came the voice of our cute Canadian team leader. It was Chuck, checking on me because it was his job as team nurse.
I don’t think I’ve ever been so relieved in my life. Had I not been dehydrated I probably would have relaxed too much and found myself in puddle of warm liquid. As it was, I had already taken care of business just outside of my tent, finding the walk to the bat-infested privy too much for my sick body.
Chuck asked if I needed anything then left.
I was alone again in the jungle. My heart was still racing. I spent the rest of the night in a state of fear and in the morning our leaders decided to move my sick tent back to the circle of girls’ tents. I was so relieved; I wasn’t sure how many terrifying nights in the jungle I could survive.
Within days I tested positive for two types of malaria. Wearing my long-sleeve shirts in the heat of the jungle had done nothing to protect me from the mosquito borne illness, nor had the DEET or antimalarial medications. The antimalarial medication had, in fact, covered the parasite my body was harboring by masking the infection.
Once I had tested positive (along with several other team members) I was moved into the missionaries’ house. In fact, I am pretty sure I was moved into their bedroom, which would have been awkward I’m sure if my fever were about five degrees lower. As it was, I was delirious and not aware of much.
Every single bone and joint in my body ached. No, ache is much too mild a word, each joint burned like it was on fire and hurt with a deep, constant pain. There was no position I could get in that was comfortable. Every sip of water and bite of food came right back up. I fought with everything I had to keep the quinine pills down. The pills caused vivid dreams that awoke me and left such a loud ringing in my ears I could barely hear people’s voices when they approached my bed. I remember our head female leader bringing in a small electric fan. I huddled in my fleece sleeping bag shivering as the cool air blew in my face. I was too cold without the fleece covering but burning with heat and fever without the fan.
One afternoon I drifted off to sleep with the now familiar ringing in my ears. It was loud and constant and in my fevered state I viewed the noise as a comforting friend. I awoke with a start sometime later and heard quiet strains of singing drifting through the walls. Our team was having evening devotions. I opened my eyes to total darkness and realized I was blind! I blinked a few times and then moved my hand right in front of my face; I couldn’t see it at all. The ringing in my ears was one thing, but now my vision? I lay in bed with my heart beating fast. I moved my eyes this way and that trying in vain to make out the outline of something, anything. I had no idea what I was going to say to my Pamela, our head female leader when she came to check on me. I was sick and in pain, had chronic ringing in my ears and now I was blind.
Eventually I head footsteps coming and braced myself to announce my new terrifying symptom. The door slowly creaked open and with it a slant of light shone into the room. I wasn’t blind at all, I had simply fallen asleep in daylight and awoken to the total darkness of the jungle hours later.
Eventually I was moved out of the missionaries’ room and into the room next door with two other malaria-suffering team members, Mary and Sarah. Now that I was a bit better, team nurse Chuck was back in charge of my care, and that of Mary and Sarah. He would check on us once or twice a day. I noticed he lingered a bit longer each day, to chat. I knew enough about male and female relationships to know he liked someone in that room…I just wasn’t sure who. Sarah was too young for him, so he was either lingering to chat with me or Mary.
Chuck had his 23rd birthday just before we left Brazil. Pamela and the team members on KP baked him a cake and we all sang happy birthday. While sick with malaria I missed the completion of our project as well as a boat ride down the Amazon river to see pink river dolphins. I was never well enough to go back out to our work site, but instead spent my last few days in Brazil with our team leaders and a couple of other kids with malaria. This gave me more time to chat with Chuck and get to know him. I learned about his nieces back in Canada and his job as a heavy equipment operator.
We headed back to Florida for debrief without our two head leaders. They were to remain in Brazil where they lived and oversaw the Bible school where were had dug the fish ponds. Debrief was a time of relaxation and readjustment and included a day trip to Disney World and dinner and an all-you-can-eat buffet. Chuck an I continually found ourselves in the same group. On our day of sightseeing in Florida, we walked through a mall where were to have dinner as a team and wandered casually until we found ourself in front of a display of engagement rings. Their was no question in my mind at this point about which female Chuck had his eye on. This knowledge made our standing in front of the engagement rings all that more awkward which is probably why Chuck turned to me and said, “I’m not going to get married until I’m at least 30.”