Tuesday, July 15, 2014

In the Hospital Again

I’ll make a confession.  I believe in fate a little bit.  Not a lot.  I don’t chalk my whole life and the way it has turned out up to fate, by any means.  But sometimes, for big decisions or when I’m making plans, it seems like multiple signs will point me to one decision--making one choice much easier than the other, although it might not have been my original choice.  In those instances, when the odds seem stacked against me getting my way, I figure fate is trying to steer me in the right direction.  In the past I have followed those instincts, and the decisions have always worked out for me.  For example, “fate” prodded me to study abroad in Mexico rather than Spain, and I have never regretted that decision. Though at one point in my life, I really thought Spain was where I’d wanted to be, Mexico shaped me in ways I couldn’t have imagined.  I used to get a feeling, after I’d made the right decision--the one fate had pressed me to make--that if I’d been stubborn and chosen the other option, something bad would have happened.  I didn’t know what...but I figured there was a reason I was supposed to choose one option over the other.  

Looking back on it, there were maybe quite a few signs that my sister wasn’t meant to come on this summer’s road trip with me.  Initially, she wasn’t going to come.  But I thought the trip would be exponentially better with her along, so I went to some extremes to make sure she could come along. We changed our trip dates and modified our plans, and she decided to come.  And even after that, more reasons sprang up for Liz not to come as her summer stress levels reached an all time high.  Still, I stayed stubborn, and on Sunday she and I started on our road trip.

I think I have finally experienced the reason I should listen to fate.  The “something bad” actually happened this time.

Monday morning, Liz woke up  before sunrise with severe stomach cramps and nausea.  We thought it must just be a stomach bug, and so Rachel and I left her reclining on the couch as we went to run some errands. By 6pm though, Liz still wasn’t feeling any better.  If anything, she was worse.  The shooting pains in her abdomen started up whenever she moved, and she couldn’t stop vomiting to keep even sips of water down.

Rachel’s mom (who is an absolute saint, by the way) took Liz into the urgent care clinic and made sure she got seen by a doctor.    Eventually, they moved Liz to ER of the hospital, gave her meds for pain and nausea, and took a CT scan to make sure it wasn’t her appendix.  The CT scan showed only an inflamed small intestine, but they kept Liz overnight to make sure her body worked things out of her before they cleared her for the road trip.

Except now it’s Tuesday night, and Liz is spending her second evening on a hospital bed.  They never let her go home this morning; instead they placed an NG tube and put her on steroids to help relax her innards and decided to watch her for a good 24 hours.  

It also doesn’t help that they’re not sure what is causing the inflammation yet.  It could be a virus or food poisoning or a parasite (perhaps another gift from Guatemala), or it could be something like Crohn’s Disease.  If it’s a virus, it should work itself out and leave Liz in some comfort in the next few days.  But if it’s Crohn’s, it could flare up again at any time.  

Finally, we got fate's message.  Even if they tell Liz she’s allowed to leave the hospital in the next day or two, after not having food since Sunday night, she’s going to be weak and sore and uncomfortable.  A trip to go stay in the wilderness and spend her days hiking the Grand Canyon is probably not advisable at this time.

So, unless we get a miracle, Rachel and I will take off on the road trip, just one day behind schedule, and leave Liz here.  Our mom will drive down to bring Liz back to Wisconsin for the week.  And if she’s feeling well enough, Liz will book a flight and meet us in Denver next week to enjoy at least the last half of the road trip with us, after she's recovered.  It’s as good a compromise as we can manage.  Liz is taking her time in the hospital really well, and we joke that she’s developing a bad habit of ending up in the hospital when she’s supposed to be traveling (see Let Down from a few years ago).  Next time, maybe I’ll stop being so stubborn and take a moment to read the signs and listen to what fate has to say before it’s too late.  

Monday, July 14, 2014

Not just any bug bite...

So it’s the first night of our road trip.  Liz and I have safely made it to Kirksville, reunited with Rachel, spent some quality time with her parents, and gotten to know her adorable puppy.  We’re all just about ready for bed, and sleepy time preparations are being made.

Liz got this bug bite a few weeks ago when we were still in Guatemala that had been giving her some grief.  She’d even gone in to see a doc about it, because it just wasn’t going away.  She’d been given some antibiotics, just in case, and they told her to put a warm compress on it a few times a day.  So before bed, Liz was lying in the room with a warm cloth pressed to the bite.  She asked me to take the band aid off of it to see how it was doing.  (Check if the swelling had gone down, etc.) 

I pulled off the band aid, and sticking almost a quarter inch out of her skin was this little white…thing.  It looked like the oil build-up that forms a blackhead on your face.  We gaped at it and took a picture to send to Mom for her input.  I tried to pull it out, but it seemed to be connected to a bigger mass below the surface, and it hurt Liz to try to pull it out. 

As the three of us were discussing this oddity (amid comments like, “Just tug on it.  Should we clip it off?  Just leave it, I guess.”), Liz reached around and pulled on it herself.

“Oh my god, it’s a bug!”  Rachel squealed, as a look of mild horror crossed Liz’s face and she laid the worm-like bug on a t-shirt next to her, and we squished our faces in close and poked at it.  There was an awful lot of giggling and grossed out squealing, but Liz was remarkably calm.  Even though it was now after 11pm, we called Rachel’s dad (who is an ER doctor) to ask him if there was anything else we should do for the night, or what the possibility was that there were more of them inside. 

As Rachel described the teardrop shaped thing, her dad immediately replied with, “It’s a botfly.” 

And a quick google search will show you that that’s exactly what it was.  Botfly larva, in one of the earliest stages (thank goodness!).

We named it Ted.  And we saved it in a plastic bag for further observation.  And we shivered with the heebie jeebies. 

Apparently botfly larva is transported on other bugs, and when those bugs bite humans, the larva is activated or whatever and starts growing inside flesh.  GROSS.  I’ll save us all the rest of the “ew’s” and stop there. 

Hopefully Ted is the grossest thing we encounter on this road trip.  And on the plus side—it could have been worse.  Apparently it’s not recommended to try to pull botflies out, because they can rupture.  So one point goes to Ted for staying in one piece and not spewing pus all over Liz’s insides. 

Tomorrow we leave Missouri bound for Arizona.  Only time will tell what exotic creatures Liz will bring back from those travels.  ;)  

I intentionally did not include pictures on this post.  You all are very welcome. 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Summer 1/3 Completed

If I were to divide my summer into 3 sections (which is what I’m mentally doing right now), the first section is nearing completion.  I have been back in my hometown for two weeks now.  It has been…rejuvenating, and fresh, and I feel blessed as always that I have this double life and homes in two areas. 

My trips home have changed in mood and style in the last three years since I started teaching abroad.  My trips home used to be defined by the word, “whirlwind.”  I was rarely at home for an entire day.  Sometimes I would meet up with two or even three groups of people in the same day.  It was almost too much to fit into the tiny boxes on my monthly calendar.  I would find myself orchestrating groups of 5-15 people to get together for happy hour or a game night, or being invited to events organized by others.  I loved it.

My trips home now are much more relaxed, however.  The number of people on my “need to see” list has dwindled.  Some of them have moved away, and some I’ve just lost touch with through no intention of mine or theirs.  It’s just too hard to keep in touch with 20 people "back home" while also building relationships with your present co-workers.  So these past two weeks have been comprised of meeting in groups of 2-3 for a drink or a meal and a few hours of conversation with people who really matter to me.  I’ve spent time reading and running and passing time with my mom and my sister (and my dad too, sometimes). 

Frozen yogurt stop with Liz.  Yum. 

Making pie with fresh strawberries...yum.

I also cut my hair off this week.

I’ve gone on some mini-adventures, too.  One or two day excursions of a few hours’ drive to see friends (I spent a day with Kelsey and Kezia, which was an unexpected blessing!), run a 10K, or celebrate the 4th of July.  I guess the desire to keep busy hasn’t completely left me yet. 

Love these two! 

We spent a beautiful day in Wisconsin Dells.

Summers here always remind me what I love about my hometown, and the things I miss (without always realizing I miss them) in Guatemala.  I take simple joy in sweet well water from the kitchen faucet.  And I love that at the grocery store, my mom rolls down the windows and leaves her car unlocked as she goes in to shop.  It makes me smile that driving through my town, it’s not uncommon to see a television or something on a front lawn with a sign that says, “Free. Works.”  I love that I can set my purse on the chair next to me in a restaurant and not worry about it disappearing.  I love that any street or sidewalk is fair game for a run—all by myself, at any time of the day.  It’s nice to pull into a parking lot without taking a ticket at the entrance, or to parallel park downtown without someone trying to direct me with hopes of a tip afterwards.   

No matter what my travel plans, I will always make sure to have at least a few weeks at home to enjoy these little things and reconnect with good friends.

And speaking of travel plans… three days from now, Liz and Rachel and I will take off on an epic road trip which will span 7 states and 2 weeks.  There’s been more compromising in the planning of this trip than I had originally foreseen (on all 3 of our parts), and we’re faced with the task of merging several very different travel styles.  But these two women are my best friends, and there’s almost no one else I could imagine being cooped up in a car with for two full weeks with the expectation of keeping my sanity.  I am really, really excited for this trip.  

Bring on the open road! 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

One Day. Many Events.

Thursday the 19th was…well, it was a day to write a travel blog about.  A day with a story to tell.

The day began at 3:30 in the morning, when our alarms went off in our hotel room at the Tikal Inn, located inside of Tikal National Park in Guatemala.  I turned off my cell alarm and headed into the bathroom for an early shower, per the schedule Liz and Amanda and I had agreed upon the night before.  It was only when I entered the bathroom that I remembered the power and hot water would remain turned off in the hotel until 6am.  (This seems like poor planning for a hotel that offers a free sunrise tour of Tikal to all its guests, in my personal opinion).  So, using my cellphone as a flashlight to illuminate the room, I took a brief, cool shower and readied myself for the day. 

Just after 4am, a group of approximately 15 guests set off with our two guides into the jungle surrounding the Maya ruins at Tikal.  Something in the forest smelled vaguely like pasta.  (It wasn’t pasta; I promise).  We stopped to note a bug with 2 bright green eyes that glowed in the dark, a tiny frog the size of a Puerto Rican coqui, and then later a bigger, older version of the same species.  As we emerged in the Grand Plaza, the sky was just lightening, and we hurried off to climb Temple IV before the sun rose. 

Sitting at the top of the tallest temple of Tikal, I remember not a spectacular, jaw-dropping sunrise over the ancient ruins (the day was cloudy, and the temples are but tiny blurbs on the horizon over the jungle from Temple IV), but the sounds and smells of the experience.  Bug spray from the person behind me.  As the sun rose, the raucous chorus of howler monkeys that began, and didn’t stop, off to the left of the temples somewhere.  The click of cameras and the quiet companionship shared. 

When the sun was fully up in the sky, we followed our guide throughout the site as he shared bits of information about each structure.  I confess—I don’t really remember much information from the tour.  I could say it was too early in the day for me to really pay attention, but I’m a morning person, and my short attention span when it comes to ruins is much more likely the culprit.  It’s not that I don’t find Aztec and Maya ruins interesting.  It’s just that every time I take a guided tour, I find myself largely unable to concentrate on what the guide is telling me. 

Temple V
At 8am, we happily returned to the hotel and ate a hearty breakfast, followed by a cooling dip in the pool.  (We were hot and tired, and our delusions of going back into the park to visit the museums were easily brushed off in favor of pool time).  Favoring my left shoulder, I flutter-kicked laps using a convenient red ball as a kickboard while Liz and Amanda swam.  I felt a little like a trained sea otter playing with my ball, but it seemed to work pretty well. 

We were told at the front desk that our options for transportation from Tikal to Flores, where we would be staying the night, left at either 11am or 3pm, so we opted for the 11am colectivo. 

Colectivos are large vans which work more or less like buses in Guatemala.  You hop on at a stop, or wait along the side of the road along the collectivo route, and one will stop, squeeze you inside (no matter how many passengers are already on board), and continue on its way.  They are, therefore, not the fastest or most comfortable way to get around, but often the cheapest. 

Our colectivo ride to Flores was pretty tame, as they go.  The van filled up, surely, but everyone had a seat and after shuffling, seemed to always have enough space.  Also, all of the passengers seemed friendly, and many of them seemed to know each other.  There was the young woman dressed in a pencil skirt and trim vest, the mother who held her small son in her lap, smoothing his recently washed and combed crew cut with her hand.  There was the little boy who fought and fought to keep his eyelids open, until eventually his older brother (still probably under the age of 10) reached over, put his arm around the younger boy, and pulled him close, cradling his small head and letting him sleep.  There was the well-muscled teenage boy who helped everyone get onto and off of the van after he’d gotten on, and helped the van worker stop and haul our bags in from off the roof when it started to rain along the way.  Altogether, it was a quite positive look into rural Guatemalan culture for the three of us.

In Flores, we checked into our hotel and stepped into our blissfully cool hotel room—ah, air conditioning, what a wonderful invention you are—and decided after settling in to follow the recommendation of our tuk tuk driver and explore the street food options along the boardwalk. 

When we went down to the street, though, there was no street food to be seen.  In fact, there was very little of anything to be seen.  Sure, we saw the cute restaurant storefronts, all of them advertising happy hour specials, but there seemed to be no tourists in any of them.  Of course, we knew we were traveling in the “off season,” but surely this was out of the ordinary.  So, we kept walking around the small island in the faint hope we’d find the stalls the driver had mentioned. 

Strangely empty lake-front street in Flores

We found ourselves on the opposite side of the tiny island of Flores within a matter of minutes, and we decided to start exploring restaurant menus.  By this point, all of us were hot (Flores was an overly humid sauna with an insufficient breeze at 1:30 in the afternoon) and hungry and tired.  There was a bit of contention over whether we should go back closer to the hotel or eat close to where we were, and as they tried to avoid a disagreement, we ended up at a less-than-legit restaurant called La Canoa.  It was by no means the grimiest place I have ever eaten, but in comparison to the other cute little restaurants in Flores, this one was definitely lacking.  Electrical wires were strung along the walls.  Angry Birds beach balls hung from the ceiling as decoration.  The waiter was perhaps the most awkward human being I have ever met.  After giving us our menus, he stood right next to our table and stared at us as we perused them.  We had to tell him we might need more than 5 seconds to give him the cue to leave for a bit and let us decide.  Amanda and I opted to share chips and guacamole and a chicken sandwich.  No one could mess up chips and guac, right?

The guacamole came sprinkled with parmesan cheese (who does that?), and the chicken had a sweet sauce that neither of us particularly enjoyed.  But it could have been worse, and none of us got sick after that day’s lunch adventure.

After lunch, we went back to one of the cute places on the other side of the island for a cool and refreshing margarita pick-me-up.  We noticed a couple who had been on our sunrise tour and whom we’d chatted with sitting alone inside, so we decided to go in and join our “friends.”  We said hi, and they were amiable enough, but they definitely did not invite us to join them, so eventually we took the hint and sat at a table with a view of the lake, feeling a bit like kindergarteners who didn’t get invited to play with the other neighborhood kids. 

A much nicer view from stop #2

It had been a long day, and we needed a reset button at this point.  We went back to our hotel room, cranked up the air conditioning, and spent an hour and a half relaxing, reading, cooling off, and napping.  At 5:30, the sun was at that golden point in the sky right before sundown, and Liz and I took off to go on a run while Amanda popped in her Insanity workout dvd. 

Exercise was our reset.  Liz and I twisted and turned through the cobble stone streets—it’s impossible to get lost on an island as small as Flores—and discovered almost every side street in the town, I think.  After 35 minutes, we paused and took a seat overlooking the water to watch the sun set.  We relaxed and were able to laugh about the day’s afternoon antics.  When we returned to the room, Amanda was stepping out of the shower, also refreshed and in a pleasant mood once again. 

Even better, outside on the street, Flores was finally coming alive.  The street vendors were out, the restaurants were filling up, and music drifted out of open doors.  Clean and fresh and ready once again to set out, we visited first a restaurant on the 2nd floor with a view of the moonlit Lake Peten Itza, where we shared a salad.  Then we moved to the street vendors, where we each tried a different sampling of their wares and split everything between us.  We finished with dessert—in part from the street vendor (a mollete—something we’d never heard of, which consisted of flan, wrapped in bread, then fried with egg batter)—and in part from the frozen yogurt shop down the street. 

So, after our reset, after exercise and air conditioning and finally a three course meal in a lively atmosphere, we fell into bed around 9pm, which we all agreed was impressive after being up so early in the day.