Danger and Love

If you were reading my blog two years ago, you heard about Lydia and Jo, Belgium and Senegal.  In December, I’m visiting my friends in Belgium and then we’re flying to Senegal in Africa to visit their twenty foster children.  A grand adventure.

Today I went to the London Travel Clinic to find out what shots I need.  The doctor didn’t pull any punches: “You’re going to one of the most dangerous places in the world.”  Dangerous as in disease.  She described a belt which runs west to east across the middle of Africa … big problems with respect to health.  But I can get the “full meal deal” of vaccines and pills to protect me.

Today I had four injections.  In a month I’ll have two or three more.  Here’s what I’m avoiding:

1. Yellow fever – potentially fatal without protection, widespread in parts of Africa, carried by infected mosquitoes

2. Hepatitis A – contracted through impure water

3. Hepatitis B – contracted through blood or other bodily fluids

4. Typhoid – contracted by eating food or drinking water contaminated with the feces of an infected person

5. Meningitis – inflammation of the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord, due to infection

6. Measles, mumps and rubella – infections caused by viruses

7. Malaria – a life-threatening disease transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito

And here are some other do’s and don’ts for me to contemplate:

1. Put on insect repellent at the beginning of the day and every four hours thereafter. Make sure it has a high concentration of DEET.

2. Don’t pet dogs.  Actually, stay away from dogs.  Rabies is a common cause of death in Africa.

3. To avoid diarrhea, drink only boiled fluids or those coming out of a sealed bottle.  Stay well-hydrated.  Brush your teeth with bottled water.

4. Eat well-cooked meat, rice and peeled fruit, such as bananas. Don’t eat salads or berries since they may have been washed in impure water.

5. Stay well-hydrated to avoid constipation.  Take a supply of Bran Buds with you since African food tends to be low in fibre.  Use a laxative such as Restoralax as needed.

***

Well, this definitely gets me thinking.  Ruth, the doctor at the clinic, told me not to worry since I’ll be well protected.  Still, I need to be on high alert while I’m in Senegal.  Not exactly a “falling asleep on the beach” vacation.  Here comes a dog.  Those greens look yummy but …  Did I take that malaria pill at breakfast?

I’m a bit afraid but then clear thinking returns.  I’m committed to being safe.

I want the trip to be about people – especially Jo and Lydia’s kids, but also the Senegalese adults I’ll meet.  I’ll handle the health details, breathe easy because of that, and open myself to love.

Diarrhea

I went to bed on Monday evening worried about my heart.  I woke up at 3:00 am worried about my nether regions.  You know the story: a drowsy awareness of something unusual becomes an ever building pressure down below, and then the race to the toilet.  I’m so happy I have one!

Not much sleep thereafter but five more visits to my very green bathroom.  Four doses of Imodium didn’t seem to do anything and I started wondering if I should cancel my 7:15 am echo cardiogram in London.  I sure didn’t want to be going with the flow on the highway.

I’m not a careful person.  I’m usually spontaneous and don’t think much about the consequences of blurting out whatever comes into my brain.  But yesterday morning was different.  As I pulled on my coat, I decided to accessorize.  Imodium in the right pocket … and underwear in the left.

I was biting my lip on the way in and I do believe tensing my glutes a mite.  No problems.  I walked into the clinic and told the receptionist about my condition, strategically avoiding the topic of pocket briefs.  She smiled empathetically.  Minutes later, however, out came a nurse to say that my diarrhea could mark the onset of flu and she didn’t want me to infect other patients.  So we needed to reschedule.

Yes, I was disappointed but far bigger than that was a peace about it all.  How strange and lovely.  I smiled, said “Okay” and headed off for breakfast.  Could it be that the setbacks of my day don’t touch me much anymore?  Unless they’re absolutely huge, I guess.  That would be marvelous.

And now back to my heart.  After the tests are completed, I fully expect to be given a clean bill of health and a wish that I enjoy the Tour du Canada.  It seems so logical now that my exhaustion on the elliptical was about loose stools rather than a lousy organ.  I smile again.

On we go.

Scared

Last week my doctor phoned to tell me that my recent ECG had some “irregularities”.  Gulp.  She prescribed an echo cardiogram (happening tomorrow) and a stress test – on a treadmill, I suppose.

For the last few months I’ve been training hard, in preparation for this summer’s bicycle ride across Canada.  The medical news sent fear coursing through me.  I asked myself what’s true.  Well, all this work on the elliptical has certainly increased my endurance.  My performance on the beast has gone up at least 10% since I started working out in earnest in December.  So how could my heart be weak?  No way.

Have I gone at it too hard, sometimes to the tune of several hours a day?  Maybe.  The organizers of the Tour du Canada told us riders that we need to accumulate 2000 kilometres on the bike from January 1 till mid-June.  I’ve figured out an elliptical equivalent for cycling, based on calories burned.  As of today, I have 1980 kilometres in the bag.

So I worried a bit and watched my mind a lot.  My meditation has sure helped me on that score.  How easy it is to create a doomsday scenario, I laughed (Friday).  You’re fine, Bruce.

Yesterday morning I was on the elliptical for two hours, and I felt more tired than I’d expected to be.  No big deal.  This morning, however, I scheduled one hour, and the result was all-consuming.  I was exhausted after 45 minutes and dragged myself to the finish line.  Then I sat down in the locker room, surrounded by “What’s happening?”

Could I really have a problem?

Is it just that I haven’t had enough rest days?

How would I cope emotionally if Julie told me I shouldn’t go on the ride?  Would I abide by her doctorial request?

And so I sit, bathing in uncertainty.  Stewing in fear.  Letting it all fall out of me.

Just now … a small smile.  I’m bigger than this issue, more expansive than the events of my day, not tethered to the earth.  I will cross the bridges that come my way.

Distant At Starbucks

I hadn’t seen my friend Karina for ten days or so and I was missing her.  For the last four days, the only person I’ve seen is Renato, the Italian chef who’s staying at my place for awhile.  That’s because I’ve been sick.  Haven’t left the house.

Karina and I exchanged e-mails this morning and agreed to meet at Starbucks at 1:30.  How I wanted some more human companionship!  As I drove north towards London, however, I realized this was a big mistake.  I was dizzy.  So what exactly was I doing driving a car?  Where’s the compassion for innocent folks on the road who could be killed by my wandering mind?

I was coughing.  So what exactly was I doing, planning to sit down with a dear friend and thereby share my germs with her?  A couple of days ago I was talking to my friend Cathy on the phone.  She’s a pharmacist.  Cathy thought it possible that I’d contracted a virus that some people have seen stretch on for six weeks.  Did I want Karina to experience that unsavory result while I got to meet my face-to-face conversational needs?  No!

I’ve been lonely the past few days … but so what?  We all go through this.  Do no harm, Bruce.

I got to Starbucks, opened the door and saw Karina getting her drink at the counter.  I walked sort of up to her (six feet away) and said:

“This was a bad idea.  I’m sick.  I don’t want you to get sick.  I’m going home.  I love you.”  We smiled.  And out of the corner of my eye, I saw a woman look up from her laptop, perhaps fascinated by the dialogue that unfolded.

Karina and I waved to each other.  No hugging.  No lingering conversation.

“Make sure you text me that you got home safe.”

“I will.”

And I did.