Adventures in Breathing

Ringtails

A month ago today, I returned home from a two week vacation on the island nation of Madagascar (off the southeast coast of Africa), an amazingly beautiful yet harsh land. I promise more on the actual trip in future blog posts. Do you love lemurs as much as I do? (I got pictures to share!)

Tonight, as I sit here near the end of my “self-imposed exile” from the office, I want to write about breathing. Any asthmatics out there? Raise your hands! Try not to wheeze or cough — you might make your co-workers think you’ve brought some horrific disease from overseas to infect them all. Got your rescue inhaler handy at all times? Good.

I’ve been pretty fortunate when it comes to my asthma. I’ve never suffered an acute attack (like you see in movies) and I’ve never landed myself in the hospital because of it. But in the last 15 or so years, I’ve experienced about a half dozen asthma “events” (as my doctor calls them) where, for a number of days, my asthma is not under control. The typical remedy has been a round of prednisone. (Only once before have I needed a second round.) Aside from needing to attend doctors’ appointments, I’ve never before missed work because of it.

Now, in the past four weeks, I’ve used a little more than 100 hours of my sick leave (yep – you read that number right – fortunately I’ve not been sick much these last few years and was able to accumulate a decent balance to draw from). I’ll see the final total when I get back to work on Monday. Browsing the internet, I saw a statistic that said asthma is the fourth leading cause of absenteeism from work for adults. Wow. I have now joined those ranks. Never thought I would. But it’s quite difficult to work when one can’t breathe, isn’t it?

You’re probably asking what this has to do with Madagascar. Maybe nothing. Maybe everything. It was one of the harder trips I’ve taken and I was sick in the middle of the trip although that had more to do with sun, alcohol, and stupidity (more on that next time). Maybe that day’s illness set up my immune system for the later failure. Maybe my subsequent drop in appetite for the rest of the trip had an effect on me.

But there I was, four weeks ago, dropping onto my sofa exhausted and jet-lagged after 36 hours of travel (Antananarivo to Johannesburg to New York to Oakland). I’d spent the majority of the day sitting in La Guardia Airport waiting for my delayed flight west…sneezing and coughing. (Thanks to whichever fellow traveler gave me their cold!) It didn’t seem like such a bad cold at first, but then I was pretty much half-conscious throughout the following day. So much so that when one of my cats accidentally punctured my finger with a claw, I did not wash it. (Here’s a tip: even if you’re half-dead and barely mobile, if you get a cat scratch, WASH THE WOUND.)

You can guess where this is headed. That was late Tuesday/early Wednesday. By Friday, my finger was infected and the seemingly mild cold had morphed into a racking chest cough (the kind that hurts, making you cringe). Oh, and yes, I did attempt to go to work – I managed to get through a couple half days – then went to the doctor. She loaded me up with prednisone, some nice cough syrup, and antibiotics for the finger (tests showed it was just a common form of streptococcus something or other that my cat had gifted me with).

While the finger healed and the worst of the cough eased over the next week, my asthma symptoms did not. Back to the doctors the next Friday. More prednisone, change in asthma medications. And, yes, I did try to go to work. But I have to confess my memory is a little fuzzy. I can’t remember if I made it 4 days the first week and only 1 day the next (or if that was reversed). Hmm. I also discovered that some of my co-workers were very unhappy and complaining to my supervisor. (Somebody is apparently convinced I brought the plague back from Madagascar and was spreading it around the office with my hacking & coughing.) People don’t seem to listen when you say “it’s just asthma.”

So when I ended up back at the doctor’s during the third week, I mentioned those concerns. My doctor had already checked with an infectious disease specialist in the event that I’d picked up “an uncommon bug” – they said there was nothing to worry about. By that time I was on my third antibiotic, so not only was it pointless to test me for anything, I had long ago ceased being potentially contagious. (Fourth antibiotic if you count the anti-malaria medication I was on during the trip.) My lung x-rays were clear and all the blood tests (checking things like my thyroid, kidneys, heart, etc.) all came up average. Nothing that explained the extreme fatigue I still felt and the continued stubbornness of my asthma refusing to be reined in. So…more prednisone and a home nebulizer.

When I floated the idea of another week off work (a whole week of nothing – not even trying to do a half day or anything – just resting and recuperating)…yeah…you guessed it. My supervisor and co-workers were more than enthusiastic. Maybe I should say they were very supportive. (Either they really want me to get better or they are truly tired of listening to me cough.)

With one more day to go, I can say it’s been a successful respite. I’m no longer gasping for air when I climb the stairs, No more wheezing and coughing. I still sometimes run out of air when I’m talking and get a little hoarse, but it’s definitely not as pronounced. I think I’ve finally gotten enough sleep too. I know the cats have certainly enjoyed this week. They’ve spent most of it piled on top of me. (Yes, even the one who scratched me.)

So…when I return to work next Monday, if you hear me cough, “it’s just asthma, people” Sheesh. Let me breathe.

 

 

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Planes, trains, and automobiles…

Just kidding! There’s no trains or automobiles in this blog post. There’s barely even an airplane (well, two airplanes).

As our plucky little group packed our belongings to leave our first campsite in the Okavango Delta (Botswana) en route to Zimbabwe, the usual questions arose. (Usual, at least, for Americans familiar with our airport security). Are there restrictions on liquids? Will we have to take off our shoes? What about electronics? Andre, our tour leader, told us not to worry because there was no security. Airstrip1

As it turned out, there wasn’t even an airport. There was one “building” with fire extinguishers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and one sign. (That’s my friend Bobbie reading it.) Airstrip2

There was just an airstrip, a lonely little windsock indicating wind direction, and us waiting for our two airplanes that began as teeny dots in the sky and grew to be, well, somewhat bigger dots once they were on the ground. Would you like to fly in one of these?

TwoPlanes

Because there’s no airport staff either, that’s our guides Josh and Mike (and Andre, not seen in this picture) loading our luggage. On the right, you can see some of the gals walking to the other plane. LoadingLuggage

Before this, the smallest plane I’ve been on was a 20 (maybe 25) seater over the Gulf of Mexico between Cozumel and Cancun. The size of this plane? Here’s an inside shot. (The backs of those two heads closest to me? That’s Wendy [aka Windy] on the left and Andre on the right.) Guess which row I’m taking this photo from? Yep, the back row! InsidePlane

 

 

 

Meet the neighbors!

When you’re on a safari, or other wildlife-centered trip, you can spend lots of time in jeeps on bumpy roads searching for the animals.

But, then, sometimes you don’t have to. Because they come to you….maybe joining you for lunch….Elephant_Neighbor

Or you discover another visitor enjoying the open-air deck of the chalet next door. (Actually, this is why we were told to close and lock [yes, lock] the doors because the baboons know how to open them and they love helping themselves to anything that looks like fun…your camera, your shirt, your bra….) We saw one young guy scampering off with what looked like a turquoise pair of shorts, or maybe a skirt.

Baboon_Neighbor

And then there are the neighbors who “serenade” you at night. These guys and gals congregated in the lagoon at the far end of the lodge property, just outside Wendy’s chalet. (Remember Wendy aka Windy?) The hippos in this photo are looking very chill, but Wendy said their grunting was quite loud at bedtime. Sleeping was a bit difficult, but having a herd of hungry, hungry hippos munching on the grasses just yards away was worth it.

Hippo_Neighbors

An Elephant Dust-up

I love this little five-photo series of two young-ish elephants having a little dust-up over a watering hole. (For those unfamiliar with the term “dust-up” it means a quarrel or argument.) I like using it here for obvious reasons. The dust they kick up helps capture the motion between the photos, as the elephant on the right chases the other one away.

Elephant Dust-Up 1Elephant Dust-Up 2

Look at those ears! All flared out in indignation. My watering hole! Mine!! All mine!!!Elephant Dust-Up 3Elephant Dust-Up 4Elephant Dust-Up 5

These photos were taken at Mfuwe Lodge in South Luangwa National Park, Zambia.

 

Answer to the “mystery bird” photo in my last blog: that was an African Jicana, common to southern Africa.

 

Time for…The Birds!

Well, just one bird tonight, but I think you’ll agree that this little gal (or guy) is spectacular enough to have a blog posting all to itself.

I give you the lilac-breasted roller, one of the more common birds you’ll encounter in southern Africa. (The roller family of birds are so-named because of the acrobatic rolls they perform while flying.) lilac_bird

Isn’t she gorgeous? They’re easy to spot because of their bright plumage and because they like to perch up high in trees like this. I have many photos of these birds from most every location we visited, but this is one of my favorites (even though – if you zoom in – you’ll see the bird is not in perfect focus). There’s a couple of reasons: 1) the soft gray cloudy sky gives it a solid background for contrast and 2) because of the different textures of the two tree branches in front combined with the way they’re blurred because they are not my focal point. I do violate the rule of thirds for photography by having the bird in the center of the photo, but the branches and their textures are in the left third, drawing your eyes that way, so maybe we’ll just think of those photography rules as being more like guidelines anyway.

A leopard doesn’t change its spots…

…and we certainly wouldn’t want them to, would we? Because they are beautiful! This gal certainly is.leopard_drinking1 We encountered her on our last afternoon in the Okavango Delta, drinking from the river. She paused only briefly to check us out (look at that pink tongue!),leopard_tongue2

before sitting down to contemplate her dinner options, or where that handsome male leopard might be, or maybe even the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything [which we all know is 42].

We (our safari jeeps and a couple others) proceeded to follow her for almost a half hour as she leisurely strolled through the bush, apparently with no particular destination in mind or even any concern about us. You can see her pass between jeeps here, stopping only momentarily to look at us and continue on her way. I imagine this happens to this gorgeous gal a lot. (The guides who work the Okavango Delta are very good and know the animals, their habits, and their habitats. They might not be able to find every animal you wish to see, some are too rare or too shy, but they know where the big cats are hanging out!)

She decided she’d had enough of us shortly after this, walking a bit further away (I love this one picture – on the left – because I captured her in the act of lifting her foot and you can see her foot pad). She sat behind a tree for a few minutes and then disappeared into the bush.

It was a wonderful way to say goodbye to the Delta.