Monday, March 29, 2010

Tala Part 2

Next on the agenda - rhinos!
There are two kinds of rhinoceroses, black and white.  These, I believe, are the white.  Their jaws are wide, as they are grazing animals.  The black rhinos, which are endangered, have a thinner jaw ending in prehensile lips, as they eat leaves and plants that they need to pluck from branches.
Here you can see the wider jaw.

We also saw many different species of deer and/or antelope.  I don't remember what each was called, and I haven't been able to find the little book in which I took notes during these trips.  When I went to the hospital for my surgery, we had to pack up our cabin, and we tended to just toss things into suitcases, as we had enough other things to deal with.  We are slowly organizing everything, but the key word is slowly.  When I find my notes, or when someone who knows more than I do helps me, I will add the information.

Here are some birds.  As with the deer, I can't remember what's what.  Sorry.
Actually, I do remember the one above.  It's an Egyptian goose, called this because the black markings around its eyes look like the kohl eyeliner used in ancient Egyptian art.

And this, possibly, could be a cormorant, spending time with his or her turtle friend.

Below is the most I got to see of a hippopotamus.  We were there during the afternoon.  Apparently, in the evening, around 6:30, they come out of the water and they make noise.  They roar, and they do it loudly.  I wish I could have heard them.  In both game reserves, there was accomodation, cabins or rooms.  I hope someday to come back and stay a few days, because I'd love to see the animals at dawn (yes, I'd wake up early for something like this.  Really.)  And there are nocturnal animals, too, so it would be wonderful to go out at night.

A last look at Africa:

Friday, March 26, 2010

Tala Game Reserve

Tala reserve is about an hour bus ride outside the South African town of Port Elizabeth.  It is larger than Addo, and it was apparent from when we first arrived, it has more money.   Buildings were fancier, and more spacious.  There were more people working there, and in a larger variety of jobs. 
  The important thing, though, is that the wildlife in both parks were thriving.
This is an acacia tree.  It has lots of leaves, but also a lot of thorns.  It is the favorite food of:

Girafffe lips are prehensile.  And, they contain no nerve endings.  Weird, but apparently true, as this enables the giraffes to eat their prickly food without suffering constant pain.

Mmmmm, yummy!


This is a vervet monkey.

An ostrich in the wild.  And now, I did not get to sit on him.

South Africa has buffalo and wildebeest.  I think these are wildebeest, but am open to being corrected.

Zebras are beautiful, and each one's stripe pattern is unique.

What, haven't you seen a zebra crossing before?

More wildlife coming soon . . .

Writing while Cruising

I’ve always been a writer who could write only when the circumstances were right.  No distractions at all, no music, nobody talking, no radio or TV in the background.  If necessary, I could handle classical music, or any music without words, but it was still a strain.

 It’s interesting – words as a distraction makes sense.  If I’m trying to find my own words, other words around me will interfere.  I didn’t understand, though, why music, even without words, is also a problem, until I read an article a year or so ago.  It talked about how, in people who begin music in early childhood, the parts of the brain that handle language are also involved in music.  For people who have little to do with music, or who don’t become involved with it until later in life, the music section of the brain is separate from the language part.

The above is probably a gross simplification of the research findings of the article, but it’s interesting to think about.  Music has its own language, and language has music.  Different languages have different music.  I do know that the area of the brain that handles other languages is set up so that all the languages are interconnected.  When I was in Norway and Sweden, unable to understand anything I heard, I started thinking in French.  When I was in Spain, or South America, trying to speak my rudimentary Spanish, sometimes if I didn’t know a word I wanted to say right away, I would hear myself say the French word.  It’s weird, and amazing all at the same time.

Anyway, back to requirements for writing.  I’ve known writers who have no problems with distractions.  One friend could write and listen to CBC radio at the same time.  At the end of a few hours, she’d have pages written and could tell you what talk shows had been on the radio and what had been discussed.  Not me.

Another thing I’ve needed is unbroken time.  I’m a spurt writer, and so usually can be productive for one and a half to two hours before I run dry and need to do something else for a while.  But I always wanted at least a two hour stretch, just so I didn’t feel rushed or that I’d have to cram in material in too great a hurry.

I was pretty rigid, wasn’t I.  Happily, since coming on the cruise, all that has changed.  I can now write in the library on board, which unlike libraries on land, is a major social hotspot, and so is often filled with loud conversations and laughter.  And I hope none of my writing students or book club members are reading this, but there have been times when writing students are working on a writing exercise in class, or the book club members are having lively discussions all on their own and so don’t need me, and I’ve spent five or ten minutes working on a new scene, setting something up, or finishing something I started at another time.

This is fun and exciting, and I am getting lots written, but I do wonder why things have changed so drastically.  It’s not as if I couldn’t arrange a distraction-free couple of hours.  There are quiet places to be, and my schedule is not exactly jam packed.

So I’m not sure why I’ve experienced this change.  It could be that after living on board for so long, I’ve adapted to this environment.  Or, it could be the type of novel I’m writing now, one that’s very different from anything I’ve done before.

I’m working on a retelling of Pride and Prejudice from the point of view of Caroline Bingley.  She’s a minor character, although she is an important and memorable one.  Since she is not present during much of the developing romance between Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy, I’ve developed a new plot line just for her.  This is fun, because it enables me to further explore one of Jane Austen’s themes, the position in society of educated, ambitious women who were unable to use their education and energy in any fulfilling way.  Caroline is one such woman who, because of her position in society and her need to maintain it, cannot shape her life in the way she’d like to.  The only way she can better her life, in her mind, is to become wealthier and the only way she can do that is to marry well.

I won’t go into a lot of detail, as I don’t want to bore you and I don’t want to write about the book instead of writing the book.  But it’s a fun project, and challenging, too, in ways I haven’t encountered before.  It’s easier in a way, because I don’t have to create a story world, or a structure, except for my new storyline.  I am trying to stay as true as possible to Austen’s style, use of language, and characters.  Where I can, I use the dialogue in she wrote.  At the same time, the reader will view my story through different eyes.  Each of us perceives the world through our individual filters, our senses and the way our life experiences have shaped our world view.  Caroline is not a pleasant character in the original book, but I don’t want readers to dislike spending time in her head.  I am trying to show why she is the way she is, show her weaknesses and follies, and that she has many of the same needs for love and attention and security that we all do.  I’ve created new scenes, new characters, and revealed some other parts of the society Austen wrote about.  By using this point of view, the story will change and I have to make sure it’s new and interesting while also being believable within Austen’s context.

The other possible reason I am writing so well under different circumstances may be excitement.  Once Carl left, I had no energy for anything.   Over much time, as I was able to pick up some pieces of my life, writing remained out of my grasp.  I thought about the novel I had been working on.  It had been going well, was interesting, I liked things that were happening in it, but I just couldn’t find any creative energy.  Then I got the idea for this Pride and Prejudice book.  There are many rewrites of that book, some modernized, some told from the point of view of Mr. Darcy, some sequels.  I haven’t seen one from Caroline’s point of view.  While there is a definite market for books that relate to Jane Austen’s novels, I have no idea if this one will lead to anything.  For the first time in almost a year, though, I was excited about writing again.  This was a major boost to my life, a big step in my recovery.  I’d been frustrated that I couldn’t be creative, and had wondered if I’d ever find that part of myself again.  Now, it’s here.

Probably my change in writing habits is fed by all the above reasons, and some others I haven’t thought of.  Whatever the source, though, I am very grateful.  Writing has always been hard work, especially when I worry about markets and editors but now it’s fun, as I am just writing for its own sake.

And really, that’s the only reason to write.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Addo Elephant Park

It's difficult to feel anything but optimistic about Africa when you're in the bush and see all the vibrant life that is there.  I was fortunate tov visit two game parks, one near Capetown, the other near Port Elizabeth.
  Addo Elephant Park is 13,500 hectares.  It started smaller and there are plans to increase the park by buying adjoining farmlands.  It's about a one and a half hour drive from Capetown.  There are several private game parks, also, and it was a little strange to be driving along in our bus, look out and see fenced fields, not that different from those at home with cows in them, only these had grazing zebras.
  While the elephants are the focus of the park, given its name, there are many other animals there, also.  Here is a sampling:

First, this is what the terrain looked like in this park.  We were there during the dry season, but there were a couple of water holes.
   The second picture is the first animal we saw, and large tortoise who did not look overjoyed to see us, but it also did not let our appearance interrupt its meal.  Tortoises of various sizes were all around the open areas of the park.
   These are weaver bird nests and are quite interesting.  The male bird builds a nest, hoping to attract a female.  Once it is complete, he hangs out in front, flapping his wings until a female comes over to look over the nest.  If she approves, she moves in.  If she doesn't, she picks the nest apart, and the male has to begin all over again.  Don't feel too sorry for him, though, for once a female moves in, he starts the whole process over again, building a new nest to attract another female.
  The nests are cleverly costructed to keep the eggs safe from the birds' main predator, snakes.  There are two rooms, a front and a back one, and the eggs are laid and kept in the back.  A snake that wants a meal has to coil itself around the branch the nest hangs from, lower itself, enter through the opening the birds use as the front door, and then it has to get through the front room and into the back.  As our guide put it, snakes don't have a very strong ability to concentrate, and often by the time they are attempting the third step, the entry into the back, they have forgotten what the first step was, and so they let go of the branch and fall.  Some birds have learned to build their nests on branches hanging over flowing water because then, when the snake falls, it is swept away and so can't climb back up to try again.

These are three young lions, clearly the best of friends, soaking up the sun.

Ok, next on the list are elephants.  Lots of elephants.  This whole herd came down to drink.
The big fellow behind the baby was by far the largest elephant in the herd.  He was called John-Paul, and you will see him again.
African elephants have much bigger ears than Indian elephants.  When they feel threatened, they surround the babies and spread their ears wide, to make themselves look larger.  The three shown here were always near each other, so I think they were a mother and two of her babies, born in different years.
 John-Paul again.  He's big.
Real big.  To make matters more interesting, he's in must.  This means he;s in season, ready, willing, and able to mate.  When a bull elephant is in must, a gland that runs on each side of his face roughly from ear to eye becomes obvious.  It looked at least a couple of inches wide, and reddish.  Also, he can't control his urine, so his back legs are always wet.  As one woman in my landrover asked, "Why would a female want to mate with a guy who's always peeing?"  I guess femal elephants have different priorities.
  A male in must can be unpredictable, and aggressive.  When J-P wandered into the parking area, our guide warned us to be very quiet.  The lady in the blue car kept her window open, making a video.  A moment after I took this picture, though, J-P started sniffing and feeling the car door handle with his trunk.  She kept filming, and when he started investigating her, she quickly closed the window.
Next he decided to investigate one of the landrovers.  The people inside were half-thrilled, half-afraid.  He moved his trunk over the outside of the vehicle, seemingly more interested in it than in the people inside.  He was merely curious, our guide told us.  And eventually he got bored and wandered off.
  The rest of the herd had left the waterhole, but they waited on the other side of the parking lot for him.  Elephants are very family oriented, and like to be together.  I was told that when a close family member dies, they grieve.  Another guide told me that he'd been following a herd in which the oldest matriarch was becoming weak.  As she followed the herd, she kept wobbling, and then falling.  The others waited for her.  After a time, though, it became apparent that she was suffering.  At that point, two males came to where she lay on the ground and stabbed her with their trunks.  The guide said this was a act of mercy, to end her suffering.  I have no idea what to believe, but seeing how the herd treated the young ones in their midst, I can believe I saw affection and even love.

Now for something completely different - some of the other wildlife I saw:
Dung beetles.
And a warthog and her baby.
I never thought I'd use the words 'warthog' and 'cute' in the same sentence, but this baby was adorable.

One last elephant.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Adventures with Ankles - Part 5 The End of the Adventure

The trip back to the ship

Melissa and I had no visas for India, but we very much wanted to meet the ship there, because if we didn’t, there were four sea days before it reached Malaysia, its next port.  I had heard that in India, red tape is tangled around everything, and it’s true.  Melissa spent days, the surgeon who is Indian made several phone calls on our behalf, the hospital administrator spent several hours each day helping us, (and it took three days of concentrated effort), Faiz drove Melissa from place to place, and we were still lucky to get the In Transit visa on time.

Melissa told me the steps she took were full of paper she needed to pick up from one place which closed five minutes after she was told she needed that paper, and then the place that needed the paper assured her nothing more was required, but the next day needed another form signed which she had to pick up somewhere else, and take to get stamped in another place before she signed it and returned it, and, well, you get the idea.

Even with my surgeon, and two other doctors who also made calls on our behalf, and all the other people helping, it still took her at least eight trips to the consulate to get the visas done.

Finally, though, we handed over our passports, the visas were attached, and we were ready to leave.

We’d hoped to reach Mumbai in time to reboard the ship there, but due to full flights (we couldn’t book until we had the visas) and scheduling, we could only reach the city after the ship left, and so needed to fly to the ship’s next and last port in India – Goa.  It turned out that flying from Male to Goa required three separate flights.

The Maldives is a chain of over 1,000 islands, some so small that they can support only a single palm tree – your typical desert island.  About 120 are large enough for people to live on.  The highest point on any island is only 2.4 meters above sea level, and the average height is 1.5 meters.  Given that scientists are predicting that climate change could result in a rise in sea level of up to one meter, the people here are very concerned about their future.

The airport is situated a close water taxi ride from Male.  It actually consists of three islands, with the area between them build up with landfill.  During the drive from the hospital to the water taxi, I saw a bit of the town.  Narrow alleys, busy streets with many motorcycles and some cars.  Driving was chaotic, and they told me in the hospital that there are frequent injuries of pedestrians and passengers, especially at night when many of the young men like to race down the narrow alleys.  Some roads were two lanes in each direction, but people treated the lane marks as guidelines.

All the women I saw outside wore a hijab and long pants and shirts, and some wore full body robes.  In general among the people I saw, only maybe 15 to 20% were women.  Sometimes a woman was a passenger on a motorcycle, but I never saw a woman driving one.

Again, remember that I saw only a few minutes worth of the town, and so my observations might not be valid for the larger population.

Getting from the car to the water taxi involved going up a large step, a smaller step onto a sidewalk, and then the same in reverse onto the other side.  Much to the befuddlement of the people around, I did this on my butt, which was the only way I could see would work.  Other people helped hand the suitcase to people on the boat, and it all went smoothly.  When we arrived at the airport, I rode for a while on a luggage cart, until someone there brought me a wheelchair.

During the whole trip, men were upset when I or Melissa wouldn’t let them help, as we were two women traveling alone and so were supposed to need men to help us.  I quickly learned, though, that the men who wanted to help didn’t always know how to push a wheelchair without bumping my foot into things or steering so that other people rushing by didn’t brush it.  During the trip it got jostled a lot, and so became very sensitive.  Melissa and I decided, after I’d been jammed into an elevator too small to take me with my leg held out straight (due to the break below my knee, I can’t bend the knee very much at all), that at each time a new situation arose, we would insist on stopping to assess and then make our own decision about what was best.  This meant my doing all stairs on my butt, but that was fine.

We’d let the airlines know that I couldn’t bend my knee and so couldn’t sit in an economy class seat.  I’d tried to book business class, but was told all the flights were full.  I was told at check in that I’d get a bulkhead row.

I was wheeled to the first flight, and asked how I’d get on the plane, because I could see that there were no jetways here.  The man pushing me smiled and said there was a special truck. Sure enough, there was big truck that looked like a panel truck.  It had a platform on the back that I was wheeled onto, which rose until I could enter the truck bed, which was a room with enough space for at least eight wheelchairs.  This whole thing now rose until it was level with the plane’s door.  I asked if this truck was usually used to transfer food or something needed in the passenger area of the plane, but was told this was its sole purpose.

If you ever get the chance to fly SriLankan air, do it.  This is the most comfortable and pleasant airline I’ve been on.  The chief flight attendant, called the purser for some reason on some airlines, met me when I boarded, ready to bring out the special wheelchair they keep on board that is narrow enough to fit in the aisle between seats, but it was easy for me to hop along with the seat backs to hold on to.  He was unhappy when he saw where I was seated, said he had something better, and showed me to the row of seats in the center of the plane, right behind business class.  This was a big plane, with two seats on either side and four in the middle.  Sitting on the end of the four, the business class aisle connected to the one next to me and, as it was wider, I could place my leg out straight.  The foot was in the business class area, but that wasn’t a problem, and once Melissa piled pillows they brought us, I could rest the leg quite comfortably.

The other flight attendants were all female, and they wore saris that had ruffles added to them to look like aprons.

The whole four seats were empty, and the purser told me that they always tried to keep them unbooked, because they got injured people on the flight fairly regularly.  He was a lovely person, interesting to talk to, and he made sure we were comfortable during the whole flight.        

He was worried about us for the next flight, also SriLankan, because it was a smaller plane and so didn’t have the sort of seat I was in.  From what I could see of business class, there was enough leg room there, and he kindly phoned to see if there was a seat available.  There were two in fact, but again the red tape, because  since I’d booked that section on economy class, he couldn’t make me a reservation.  I could change my ticket in the airport, though.

The next stop was Columbo, Sri Lanka.  We asked about upgrading and were told the flight was full.  I knew it wasn’t, though, and couldn’t figure out what was going on.  It was only after much time, when I realized that the airline thought I wanted a free upgrade, that I mentioned I would pay for the upgrade.  After that, everything was arranged quickly and easily.  I’m a bit surprised, though, that even though they knew I couldn’t bend my knee, they wouldn’t offer the upgrade for free, given my situation.  Anyway, things worked out.

At each airport I was met by a person with a wheelchair.  The first flight had a jetway for me to get off, but there were only stairs to get on and off the other two flights.  Each also required a shuttle bus, and I did my butt thing to get on and off the bus.  When we arrived at each plane, some men were there expecting to carry me in my wheel chair up the stairs to the plane, but I insisted on doing it my way, which worked fine.

To give you another idea of how male dominant the society in both the Maldives and India were, in Mumbai airport there was an immigration area that listed the usual categories, you know, crew, citizens, internationals .  One desk, though, was labeled ‘Unaccompanied Minors and Ladies.’   Melissa and I had to be insistent to be allowed to do things the ways we knew would work best, but other than that, everyone was very helpful.  One wheelchair pusher even arranged for us to spent the wait between flights in the fancy lounge, which we were entitled to once we were business class, but hadn’t thought about .

We had to book the flight to Goa once we arrived in Mumbai, but we received help there, too.  We did tip most of the people who pushed the chair and assisted us, but I think that, with one exception, they would have been as helpful without.

We left Male at six in the evening, and arrived at the ship around ten the next morning.  We didn’t sleep at all during the trip, and were very happy to see the ship, as you can imagine.

So now I’m back, and the foot continues to improve a little more each day.. All is well, or as well as can be expected.  I’m actually feeling good enough to feel frustrated at my dependence and lack of mobility.  I’ve started doing laps on the Promenade deck to build up my arm strength and get some exercise.  While in port, I will also practice with the crutches, so I can become comfortable enough with them and not need the wheelchair so much.

Melissa continues to be a great assistant and, as some passengers have pointed out, this is her great opportunity to push me around.  I’m writing this last bit on Thursday, the 18th, and have given one writing class and run two book club meetings.  They have gone well, and so life is becoming as normal as possible.

  Thank you for following this adventure along with me.  I hope you appreciate the lengths to which I’ve gone to have something interesting to blog about!  And now that this is done, I can get back to the really interesting stuff – the wildlife I saw in Africa.     

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Adventures with Ankles - Part 4 Surgery and After

For the surgery I had an epidural and so was awake.  I warned the anesthesiologist, as I always do, that I needed a stronger dose than he would expect and, as usual, I assumed he didn’t believe me.  I am unusual, in that I am female and yet have an insanely high pain tolerance and this high tolerance to drugs.  No one ever believes me.  I’d had an epidural once before, when Jesse was born, given to me after 40-odd hours of labour, when it appeared I might need a c-section.  (I didn’t.)  It’s supposed to paralyze you from the entry point on the spine down, but after it was administered I could still feel my legs and move them.  I was nervous about the idea of being paralyzed, though, and so didn’t ask for more of the drug, since I’d had enough to take the edge off the contractions and the eventual use of forceps.

This time, though, I did not want to be able to feel anything.  I’m not usually afraid of pain, probably because it’s usually not very bad, but I was terrified twice during this experience, when I knew the joint had to be put back in place and about the surgery.  Fortunately either the anesthesiologist did listen to me or what he used was more potent than what I received 28 years ago, because sure enough, I was paralyzed.

He chose vertebrae about halfway up my ribs.  I’m not sure what he based his decision on, but he spent some time feeling my spine before choosing.  He used a local anesthetic first

This was very strange.  I could think about my legs, think about moving them, feel the command go to them, but was aware they didn’t move.  This was scary.  And strangest of all, I was convinced that both of my legs were in the following position: right next to each other, knees bent, feet flat on the table, even when I lifted my head and could see my right foot in a totally different place.  And when the epidural wore off, I felt my knees gradually unbend until each leg lay straight, just as it truly did.

The surgery was to reposition two bone fragments, strengthen the ankle with assorted bits of hardware and, as the surgeon said, clean things up a bit.

I couldn’t see much, which is kind of too bad, as I think it would have been interesting, but since I didn’t have my glasses, I wouldn’t have seen much anyway.  From what I heard, it involved a lot of hammering, sawing, and the use of chisels.  I learned later that while the drill was a power tool, the other tools weren’t.  Indian music was playing, and at times I quite got into it, especially when one or more of the doctors was singing along.

I must have dozed or drifted at times, because the surgery took two hours, but it didn’t seem that long.

After all the drama about the bed, I received some pain medication and figured I’d just go to sleep.  The surgery had ended at 10 p.m., and by now it was close to midnight.  Feiz had helped Melissa find a hotel ($35 a night) and so I told her to go get some sleep.  She has been a rock all through this, and dealing with most of the stress of being in a strange place and all the logistics. 

A little while later I had to pee, and told one of the nurses.  There seemed to be only two on for the night, and the ward was still stuffed with patients and assorted visitors.

I’d used the washroom during the day.  There were only two stalls for everyone to use, men and women, patients and visitors.  The floor was always wet, although we later figured out that the people here use water to clean themselves after using the toilet, instead of toilet paper.  Still, it seemed less than sanitary, and made the floor slippery, which was a problem for me.  During the day, Melissa helped me into a wheelchair, wheeled me over to the corner where the washroom door was, get me as close to a stall as possible, and then support me while I hopped to the toilet.

I was told after the surgery that I should use a bedpan and not get out of bed.  I was told several things, though, that were later contradicted by things other people told me, and so I was never sure what to believe.  I tended to just trust whatever the latest person told me.  And while I was told that I should stay flat on my back for 24 hours after the epidural or I’d get a bad headache, I was shortly after told that I could sit up a bit.  And I was never told about the risk of paralysis that can occur if there is stress on the spine after a spinal injection, which is the real reason I was supposed to stay flat.  Anyway, when the nurses showed up with a wheelchair, I was glad not to see a bedpan and figured that they knew that a chair would be ok.

Fortunately, I did not suffer any ill effects after moving about.  What did happen, though, was that the nurses did not know how to support a patient with a mobility problem.  When I stood on one foot to get out of the chair, a nurse held out her arm, so I rested my hand on it.  As soon as I’d put some weight on it, in an effort to balance on my one foot, she dropped her arm, and I fell onto my just-repaired foot.

I didn’t fall to the floor, though, and I hopped over to the stall and did what I needed to.  I then got myself back in the wheelchair and back to the bed.

After about fifteen minutes, my ankle started to hurt, and hurt bad.  It was bad enough that I writhed about on the bed and made enough noise that people visiting areas nearby became concerned.  The pain was as bad as after the original injury before the joint was reduced.  I had to call out for a nurse, as even if one walked past my area to a neighbouring one, they ignored me.  I finally got one to come over and told her I thought my ankle was again dislocated.  She was very skeptical, but agreed after some urging on my part, to get the doctor on call to see if I could have some more pain medication.  The doctor came eventually, but told me that as my ankle had just been repaired with a pin, it couldn’t have become dislocated again.  I should have thought to ask her why, if that was the case, I had a cast on and was told to stay off that foot, but of course we never think of the right things to say at the time.  Anyway, she agreed to give me more pain medication, but it didn’t come for over an hour.

It was now past 3 a.m.  Visiting hours were still going strong, a radio blared, cell phones rang constantly, people talked everywhere, out in the center of the room, in the curtained areas.  The people next to me, in my old bed without the curtains, pushed my partition over to make more room, but I couldn’t find the energy to care.  I was crying by then, something I don’t do often.  I didn’t cry with my gall bladder attack, or when I first hurt my ankle, but I cried for that whole hour waiting for the pain medication.  A young man, in a nearby area became very concerned.  I saw him walk by several times, each time coming a bit closer and looking in at me.  I finally spoke to him, since it was clear he wanted to see if he could help but was shy to speak.  I told him I was waiting for the pain med and he went off, presumably to speak to one of the nurses.  After another fifteen minutes or so, it finally came.

They don’t give me enough pain med here, and I had to fight to be given anything at all, since I had received an injection earlier and so couldn’t possibly be experiencing pain.  This new one, even though it wasn’t strong enough, did take the edge off, and when the young man returned, I was able to smile at him and thank him.  He was there with his very pregnant wife.  I’d heard a fetal heart monitor coming from their area, and I sure hope the delivery went smoothly.  In that whole ward, he was the only one who paid any attention to me or seemed to care.

I must hasten to say that other than this one incident, people here have been wonderful, especially once I was transferred out of the ward and into a private room.  The on call doctor must have written in my chart that I thought my ankle was dislocated again, because when the surgeon came by the next morning, he was furious.  More X-rays showed that sure enough, one of the loose pieces of bone had moved away from where it was supposed to be, and others had shifted.  He didn’t want to subject me to another surgery and decided to try a manual adjustment, which basically involved him pulling down and manipulating the ankle while two nurses wrapped their hands around my calf and pulled the other way.  He filled my foot with local anesthetic but despite the fact it wasn’t very effective, I finally decided to grit my teeth and bear it.  It was not fun.  Melissa later told me she cried, too, but she bullied them into letting her be present and she held my hand the whole time.  We were both so exhausted and overwhelmed and just had no resources left to draw upon.

I’m crying now, just thinking of it.  But writing all this is probably good for me, and as I probably will post it on the blog, I am sorry if it is distressing for you.

After the manipulation, the bone piece was closer to where it should be, but not exactly in place.  The surgeon decided to see how things went, saying that I might recover well enough and then, if I wished, I could see a doctor either later on during the cruise or back in Canada.  I am recovering, and the pain is a little less each day.

Anyway, they took me back to the ward, but I now had the surgeon demanding that I be moved.  The first room available was the Executive Suite, the single most expensive room in the hospital.  I do believe this was true, they weren’t just trying to milk more money out of me.  As I said, the people here have been wonderful, going well out of their way to help us.

Moving here was wonderful.  I decided that no matter what the cost, I needed to be somewhere quiet so I could rest.  During the previous night I’d tried to relax my leg, knowing that tense muscles would only add to the problem, but it was so noisy I just couldn’t.  As soon as I was situated in my bed in this room, and it was a bed, not a gurney, I started to relax.

It’s a nice room, with its own bathroom, and a comfortable couch that Melissa can sleep on.  I know she felt terrible for not being with me during the night, but before I told her what had happened, I told her that it was I who had insisted she go to the hotel to get some rest.

I haven’t been allowed to use the bathroom, of course, as I’m still not supposed to get out of bed, and so have become acquainted with bedpans.  Other than that, though, things have been as pleasant as I could hope for.

The nurses here are much better and the room is cleaned twice a day, the sheets changed every day.  I feel somewhat guilty, the white person who apparently needs only the best, and so gets special treatment.  Most people here can’t afford this room, but there had been someone in it when I first arrived, so it does get used by local people.  And Melissa pointed out that most people in the ward were not all that sick.  I still feel bad, but also very grateful that I am receiving what I need to recover.

The nurses have been very respectful and careful.  Only once has someone brought up what happened.  A woman, a nursing supervisor I assumed, came to tell me that her nurses wouldn’t have done anything wrong.  At first she said that I had been told not to get out of bed, but Melissa, who is much more diplomatic than I am, pointed out that I had no reason to mistrust them when they brought the wheelchair. She then wavered, clearly hoping that I would say it was fine, no harm done, but I didn’t.  I did say that it appeared they hadn’t bothered to read my chart and so didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to get out of bed, and she seemed to accept that.

In reality, my problem wasn’t caused by my getting out of bed but by these nurses not knowing how to properly support a patient with mobility problems.  But with the language problem making all communication difficult, because while most people working here know some English, most can’t seem to understand things that they don’t normally discuss in that language, I decided to let it go.  The fact is, though, that this incident caused me an enormous amount of pain and greatly reduced any chance I might have had of being able to put weight on that foot and so move to a walking cast in anything less than a month to six weeks.

My guilt in moving to this room, though, isn’t helped by my realization that the people who are in the ward clearly receive care that is of a lower standard than that received by those who can afford to pay more.  Those of you in the US probably find nothing unusual in this, although I’m curious to hear what you think, as I have no experience with health care in the States, other than an occasional visit to a doctor for one of the kids’ ear infections or something small like that.  In Canada, I’ve noticed no difference at all in the quality of care based on the type of room one is in.  The only difference there I have noticed is between hospitals in Saskatoon, when Jesse was in for issues relating to his Crohn’s.  RUH, which is the teaching hospital and has a good reputation, had too many patients and too few staff on its pediatric ward, while City Hospital was relaxed and fabulous, but he was old enough then to be on an adult ward.  I don’t know if this was a timing issue or what, as Jesse’s other visits to RUH, when he was first diagnosed and during his early years with the disease, were good.

The surgeon talked to us about what we should do when we leave here.  He thought I should return to Canada, but I realized, even before leaving the ship to come here, that there is no better place to convalesce than a cruise ship.  Since most guests are elderly, there are always some in wheelchairs, and the whole ship is designed for easy movement from one area to another.  As I told the surgeon, at home there are a lot of stairs and no room service. On the ship, I can get into the cabin washroom with my walker, as I did before, and use the wheelchair to get to my favorite places, such as the promenade deck and the library.  I can rent movies to watch in the cabin, or I can go to the move theatre when it’s playing something I want to see, as it has areas for wheelchairs. And room service runs 24 hours a day.

Plus, I can continue to teach my writing classes and run the book club.  After the outpouring of love and support I got from so many guests, I feel a need to give back to them.  I know they don’t all take my programs, and would be horrified at the thought that I would risk anything at all for them, but I do know that many of them love the programs and what I can offer.  And there is no reason why I can’t teach a class or run a book discussion from my wheelchair.  Plus, there are those wonderful doctors and nurses on board, and if anything should happen, I can be looked after and return home if necessary.  Frankly, I think the long trip home to Saskatchewan from here would be a far greater danger to me than the relatively shorter flights to India where I can meet the ship.

I assured both surgeon and ship that I would not return unless the surgeon felt it would be all right, and he has agreed.  Melissa will not permit me, at least for the first few days, to get into or out of the wheelchair or move about in it without her being there, and I have agreed to this.  On occasion I can be sensible.  We can order room service for supper and watch a video in our cabin.  Sometimes she can deposit me in one of the very comfortable library chairs, leather with footrests, that I discovered before were perfect for someone with an ankle injury.  I hope that soon she will feel safe to leave me, because I want her to do the things she did before, spend time with friends, go swimming, dance.  She’s been coming to my programs all along, and has been a big help, and so she’ll continue doing that, writing on the flipchart or passing things out, but really, my programs are not very strenuous physically.  My main regret is that I had been going to the gym and now won’t be able to.  I’ll miss those endorphins, but I started thinking about all those fit wheelchair athletes, and Melissa thought that maybe I can start pushing myself around the promenade deck.  Once she decides I’m ready, of course.

Adventures with Ankles - Part 3 The Ward

The Ward

I have been in hospital wards in Canada, a couple of times, after giving birth, and after a small surgery when I was 12 that needed an overnight stay.  The most beds I’ve encountered in one is six, and the maternity wards held only four.  The wards were quiet, each bed had a curtain for privacy, and there was plenty of space inside the curtain for the bed, a night table, a chair for visitors, and for medical procedures.  Nurses and the limited numbers of visitors spoke quietly.  I don’t know if I was just lucky, but the one here is very different.

Disclaimer – my generalizations and overall view of my experience are based on a very small sample, since I haven’t been out of the hospital and so have seen only some of the people here.  This means my view might be skewed.

The ward here is a happenin’ place.  There are at least fifteen beds , actually gurneys, most of which have curtains.  My bed didn’t.  My space was about 6 feet by 8 feet.  None of the others were much bigger, maybe some approached 8 by 10.

Family and community are clearly very important here, and the bonds are strong.  Most of the curtained areas were filled with visitors.  For a while Melissa and I thought we’d been put in the maternity ward, because several women and newborns arrived over the day, but we later learned it was the general ward and that people were there with a variety of ailments.

All of the doctors I’ve seen are from India, as are many of the nurses.  The doctors here don’t wear white coats.  Some of the women wore beautiful saris, the men wore shirts and slacks.  The nurses wore outfits similar to what we see in Canada, top and pants both in the same colour.  The patients appeared to be all local, and I don’t think I saw more than two or three women who were not wearing hijabs, which are scarves used to cover the hair. 

I saw people outside of the ward only when I was wheeled to and from the ward for various procedures and usually I was flat on my back then.  I did, though, see that the halls were always full of people, and there were women, in the full body robes.  More usually, though, the women wore long dresses or the Indian style loose trousers with a long tunic on top, plus their hijab.  As far as I know, Melissa and I were the only white patients at the hospital, although I learned that tourists are there sometimes.

Dr. Rao was sometimes followed by a med student from Denmark.  He was even more different than we were from the people here, because he must be at least 6 foot 6, and the people here are tiny.  They all have thick black hair and beautiful dark eyes.  Many men are shorter than my 5 foot 5, and some women are smaller still.  Many of the women are incredibly lovely, almond eyes, small bones so they are very slim, smooth skin in varying shades from cafĂ© latte to dark brown.

A few of the people who work here also wear the hijab.  A woman who I assume is the hospital administrator, and who has been incredibly generous with her time in helping us get Indian visas so I can fly there to meet the Amsterdam, wears one.  There seems to be no dissention between those who wear it and those who don’t, but I worried that Melissa and I would somehow offend everyone, especially since we had no curtain to block us from everyone wandering about.  I was wearing shorts and a t-short, Melissa had on a tank top and capris.  I realize my attitude was not liberated, but I was new here, dependent on the people here, and while I might not agree with a religious custom, I have no right to enforce my views on them any more than they would have in forcing me to wear a scarf.

Nobody seemed bothered by us and after a while I was glad to have no curtain, since it meant I could watch what was going on.  There were several children about, perhaps siblings of the new babies, and the smaller ones sometimes toddled about on their own, secure that any person they met would be a friend.  And everyone was a friend.  I don’t know if this is a small enough community that people do know each other.  The island holds 40,000, although Melissa says another source said 12,000, people, and it’s not very big.  More likely, though, is the sense of community that exists here, whether you’ve met someone before or not.

The toddlers had apparently never seen anyone like us, because they would stop dead when they caught sight of us and stare.  They were immensely curious, but didn’t seem frightened.  Melissa and I would smile and wave, and eventually an adult would appear, smile at us, the only time anyone did interact with us, and take the child away.

Visitors came and went, often bringing coolers or picnic baskets.  Radios blared, many voices filled the air, the swirl of different clothing styles showed me a fabric store’s worth of colours and textures.  Twice I saw men wearing what looked like a square or rectangular piece of rough woven cotton wrapped about their waists to make a skirt down to the floor.  With this they wore what looked like a modern style shirt.

There are tourists here, and so most people must be used to people who look different and wear different clothing.  While I was on the ward, most people ignored us, not in a bad way, but simply because they were there for people other than us.

The local people speak their own language, which is a blend of Indian and Arabic, with some English thrown in.  The islands have been Muslim for centuries, although the people are clearly closely related to Indians.  The doctors and others from India speak Hindi, and often English is the best common language to use when they speak to their local patients.

Although I enjoyed all the activity, I soon realized the ward would lose its charm after I had the surgery.  I was in a lot more pain by early evening, and was exhausted.  Our space was next to one in a corner, and its curtain ran parallel to my bed.  For some reason the visitors there, and it got more than anyone else, didn’t enter the space at the curtain end by my feet.  Instead, they walked through my space to the curtain end by my head to go in.

When Melissa met me in the hall right after the surgery, I told her I couldn’t go back to that bed.  I was frantic, probably appeared irrational.  We were told that I would be taken back there and then would be moved once a room became available, but when we were about to enter the ward I grabbed the doorframe on either side of me and wouldn’t let go, even when someone assured me that the visitors wouldn’t be a problem any more.  After much irritation on the part of the people working on the ward, they decided that the next bed over, which did have some portable partitions, was free, and so I let go of the doorframe, probably having to pry my fingers out from where they were embedded in the wood, and went to that bed.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Adventures with Ankles - Part 2

The island/town of Male is a tender port for a cruise ship.  This means that we cannot tie up to a dock, but have to drop anchor and use a couple of the life boats as tenders, essentially water taxis that ferry the passengers between the ship and the shore.  Getting onto the tender from the ship always involves several stairs, and if the sea is anything other than completely calm, the tender bobs up and down against the platform on the ship which, since the ship is much bigger and heavier, is relatively more stable but not necessarily unmoving.

I couldn’t put any weight or pressure on my ankle at all.  Due to the dislocation, all the ligaments were torn or stretched, and so there wasn’t much holding the joint in place other than the temporary cast and tensor bandages.  I spent the days at sea quite happily stoned on Vicodin, using a walker to get around in my cabin.  A walker is much more stable than crutches would be, especially when there is much wave motion.  Four feet are better than two, just as my dogs have been trying to tell me.  The infirmary had a wheelchair for me, also, and once I felt somewhat recovered, or at least less dizzy and weak, I used it move about the ship, Melissa proving a very able chauffeur.

Since I fell in front of a small group of people, probably no more than one or two percent of the people on board, naturally almost everyone knew what had happened within a short time.  Some called the cabin later on the day I fell, which was Friday, others apparently besieged the front desk or called the infirmary.  Some wrote notes, which were delivered to my cabin.  Once my condition was under control, Melissa sent out emails to some friends on board, so they could pass on the news.

I was overwhelmed, and in fact am tearing up now as I write this, by the amazing love and support people gave me.  I truly had not realized I had so many friends on board.  Despite my introvert qualities, I have met many people, writing students, book club members, crew members, people on my trivia team, some who’d just seen me around and so knew of my existence.

I’m going to shed more tears during this next paragraph, I can tell, but this meant so much not only because I realized I was part of a community here, and not alone, but also because of what it showed me of myself.  My self-esteem, never high to begin with, and continually stomped on by my situation in the marriage, was totally crushed when Carl left me.  But if all these people care so much, I must be a good person, at least in some ways.  And that is something worth knowing, even if it took a broken ankle to find it out.

I have good friends at home, too, and I don’t want you to think I don’t value all that you’ve given me over the past year and more.  You have been my lifeline for many years, and will continue to be.  I know that, at my deepest level, how much you all mean to me.  I’ve never had a lot of friends, but those I do have are very special and very important to me.  In this case, I think it was the sheer volume of love I’ve been given on the ship, because of my injury, that finally reached critical mass and so was able to penetrate my silly and fearful brain.  I am a very lucky person to have found all of you, on ship and on shore, and I can only hope that I can and do give you enough in return.

Okay, brief pause to blow my nose.

Back to the tender.  There were discussions about how best to get me on the smaller boat.  Carrying me, carrying me in my wheelchair, lowering me in a bosun’s chair (this last was my suggestion, as I thought this might be fun,, but for some reason no one took it seriously.  A bosun’s chair was originally a sort of sling used to hoist the bosun, who was in charge of rigging, when for whatever reason he couldn’t climb the rigging.  Today a harness is used, and all four of us in my immediate family have been hoisted up Arioso’s mast, for fun, or to repair one of the instruments at the top of the mast.  The mast is 60 feet high, so the view is wonderful. ) were all suggested, but I decided that the best thing would be for me to be wheeled to the platform outside the Amsterdam, where I would be helped to sit on the floor.  I would then go down the stair on my butt, holding my injured leg out in front of me (just think of the strong thigh muscles I’m going to have!).  At the bottom, people would help me stand and I could be passed, hopping as best I could, onto the tender.  Fortunately the sea was quite calm that day, and this all worked fine.

At the other end, on shore, there were more stairs, so we did the same routine in reverse and it worked well.  There was an ambulance to meet me, which seemed a little like overkill, but I guess taking a taxi might have been a problem, since as well as not putting weight on the ankle, I can’t bend my knee much.  This is due to the other break higher up, which no one knew about yet, since on board the ship, since all my pain was in the ankle, we didn’t worry about anything else.

So I was lifted onto a gurney, tied on with a belt across my chest and rolled inside the ambulance.  I’d never been in one before.  Unfortunately there weren’t any of the good-looking EMTs that are so common on shows like ER and Grey’s Anatomy, looking after all the tubes that would have been there but taking time to flash a dimple as they smiled reassuringly at me.  Also, there were no tubes.  I did have company, though, Melissa and one of the ship’s doctors who accompanied me until I was handed over to the hospital.

I received care very quickly.  Lots of X-rays were taken even though we’d brought the ones taken on board, because the ship’s machine is much smaller and so doesn’t have as good resolution.  The surgeon somehow suspected the other break, because I was soon taken back to the X-ray room and had a couple more taken, higher up on my legs.  (I later learned that the sort of breaks in my ankle is unusual, and is often associated with the fibula break.  The doctors on board mentioned this once I returned, and were a little embarrassed, but also very interested in the opportunity to learn.  They mentioned a name, something syndrome or whatever, and the name started with M, but I don't remember what it is.)  Dr. Rao, the surgeon, spent quite a bit of time with me, showing me the pictures and discussing what needed to be done.  At first he hoped to do the surgery that afternoon, but because of some more serious cases, it was put off until the evening.  I didn’t mind waiting, because after all, I had waited three days and nothing had grown worse.

HollandAmerica’s port agent had assigned a guide to us, something Melissa knew about.  His name is Feiz, probably not the right spelling, but it rhymes with ‘dice’ only the final ‘s’ sounds a little like a ‘z’.  He has been a very great help.  His English isn’t great, but he and Melissa have learned to communicate pretty well.

At first he worked to get me settled somewhere while I waited for the surgery.  I was pretty sure my insurance covered a semi-private room but somehow in all the frenzy of leaving the ship, no one knew where the forms Bud had had faxed to us from the insurer had ended up.  Feiz told us that the ward cost $38 a night, other rooms were $115, and a private was $250.  The hospital was willing for me to pay up front, and I wasn’t sure what to do.  Making decisions has been difficult since all this began, and I’m lucky and grateful that Melissa stepped into the breach so ably.  As it turned out, no decision was needed as all the rooms were full so I went to a ward.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Adventures with Ankles - Part 1

On the island of Male (pronounced Malay, as there should be an accent over the ‘e’ but I can’t find the way to get my computer to do this), which is one of the Maldives, most women are considered immodest if they don’t cover their hair and their arms and legs.  And here I am, wearing nothing but an open-backed hospital gown.

A few days ago, I tripped and fell.  I was carrying a full plate of stirfry, and when I felt myself going down, the only thing I thought about was keeping the plate level so it wouldn’t break and the food wouldn’t spill.  This wasn’t out of any concern about losing the food, because there is always more than enough on a cruise ship, it was simply my innate Canadian need to be neat and tidy.  I succeeded in that goal, only a couple of pieces of green pepper ended up on the floor, but because of my keeping my upper body straight up, I fell badly, landed on the outside of my right ankle, dislocated it and broke two ankle bones and, for some strange reason, the upper part of my fibula, just under my knee.

The medical staff on the ship is wonderful.  That’s an understatement.  The guests, too, were there for me.  After I fell and looked at my ankle, I knew something was seriously wrong, because there was a large bulge where there hadn’t been one before, but it didn’t hurt much yet.  I became very dizzy and nauseous, and lay down on the deck.  Our silly brains, or mine, at least, after worrying about something spilling, my only concern at this time was that I was going to be sick and I didn’t want to do it in front of everyone, especially since they were just about to have lunch.

Someone crouched beside me, probably saying something, but I suddenly remembered that Melissa was waiting for me at a table and I asked if she could be told what had happened.  The watching crowd became a Greek chorus, repeating, “Her daughter is nearby, go and tell her.”

I might have blacked out for a moment, but I became aware of Paul, one of the book club members, standing by me, holding my hand.  I looked up along the line of my arm to where our linked hands were, and the line shone bright and golden.  (I know, this is rather clichĂ©, but that’s what I saw.)  The human contact was a lifeline keeping me from sinking, our two arms joined together.

I then don’t remember the next couple of minutes until I heard a voice, telling me there was a wheel chair and I had to get up.  I lifted my head but felt dizzy and told him about my fear of grossing out all the other people and asked for a bowl.  I’m pretty sure I heard exasperation in his voice, but he kindly got me a towel, said I could use it, and told me that I needed to get to the infirmary if I wanted help, and I did need help, so I should get to the infirmary.  I thought about this, decided it made sense, and sat up enough for people to lift me into the chair.

When we reached the elevator, a couple of other people were about to get in, but the person pushing me gestured towards me, and they stepped back.  Wow, I thought, a staff person taking precedence over guests.  I worried for a moment about this, but then forgot about it.  Melissa had joined me by then, but I gave up on being aware of anything, choosing to bend down over my knees, towel clutched on my lap.

Things happened fast.  We got to the infirmary, I was lifted onto a table.  Someone asked if there should be photos, I saw some flashes go off, and then an X-ray machine appeared.

The ship has three doctors and two nurses on board, and the clinic can do basic medicine, but no surgery, mainly due to the lack of an anesthesiologist and the necessary surgeons.   Still, the level of care I experienced was astonishing.  At least one doctor, the only one I asked, has a lot of experience in Emergency Medicine, which is probably good preparation for working on a ship, because they see a wide variety of problems, as do doctors working in the ER of any hospital.  The clinic seems bigger inside than it does from the outside, and holds several consultation rooms, offices, a reception area, storage rooms, and other mysterious places.

My ankle by now had let me know it was unhappy, and I was told I’d get pain medicine as soon as possible.  I warned them that I needed higher doses of drugs, my body just needs more to feel the effect.  To emphasize this, I said I’d never been able to drink enough to get drunk, and the nurse, Bud, (who’d been the voice telling me to get in the wheelchair), gave me his sympathy.  I’ve discovered that no one ever believes me about this need for higher doses, but they did do what was needed.  I ended up with something whose name I can’t remember, maybe Thorazine, then 10 mg of morphine and then, since I could still feel the pain, just less so, and I was frightened of how bad it would get when they put the joint back in place, they gave me something more.  This was apparently risky, as I could, and actually did, stop breathing, but they were prepared and it helped me get through the reduction.  I am forever grateful to them for listening to me.  I might have a high pain tolerance, but I’m a wimp when it comes to severe pain.  As I suppose just about everyone is.  (I’m not sure why putting a joint back in place is called a reduction, but it probably has something to do with the big bulge I saw when I first fell, and how much smaller my ankle was after the procedure.)

I was able to move in and out of consciousness while they worked on the ankle.  By now they knew about the breaks in the ankle, which made the reduction much more difficult, but they pulled it off.

Disclaimer - my medical knowledge is very limited plus I wasn’t at my best during all this, so don’t believe anything I say about the practice of medicine.  Especially - kids, don’t try this at home.

I remember being nagged, someone kept telling me to breathe.  I got quite indignant, because obviously I was breathing, but the nagging worked, because here I am.  One doctor told me he’d slap my foot if I didn’t breathe, and since the lightest touch was awful, that threat was effective.  Clearly they had different bedside manners, nagging and threats, but it all worked out.  The doctor who threatened to slap my foot is the one I’ve since found out laughs the most during practically any type of dire moment, which lightens the whole atmosphere.

Anyway, I shook off the effects of the third drug, and the pain was much less.  I could begin to look around and take an interest in what was happening.  Melissa was with me most of the time, although she went off at times to provide necessary information.  I remembered that I had bought extra medical insurance before leaving Canada, something I always do when leaving the country.  I had no idea what I’d done with the little card they gave me, but I did remember I’d got it through my Visa card.  I told her where the card might be in the cabin, but thought it might also be on my desk at home, which meant it was somewhere in a box in the basement, since I’d cleared off my desk so one of the renters could use it.  Melissa was just a wee bit stressed at this point, and couldn’t find it, and didn’t want to spend more time away from me searching, but she went on line to find the number to use so we could call the insurer, and then Bud made the call.

Bud is Canadian, the Chief Medical Officer on the ship.  One of the doctors is also Canadian, living in Halifax.  Come to think of it, I don’t think that any of us once mentioned the Olympic hockey game.  Amazing.

I spent several hours in the infirmary, most of which passed in a reasonably comfortable drug haze.  Eventually it was explained to me that I was most likely going to need surgery on my ankle, and that as we were currently in the middle of the Indian Ocean, the next port, the Maldive Islands, was three days away.  India was another three days from there.  India is known for the excellence of its education system, and in particular, its medical education and quality, but Bud had done some research and learned that there was a hospital in Male, our stop in the Islands, that was very highly rated, and there was also an orthopedic surgeon there who was supposed to be very good.

Thus, my stay in this mostly Muslim city, and the hospital gown.

Another disclaimer – Please forgive me for not letting any of you know about my injury until now.  Melissa was able to phone Jesse and Matt from the ship, but we decided to wait until we saw the surgeon before sending out a mass email, so that you didn’t have to wait and worry until we could tell you more.   And once we arrived and saw the doctor, we had no internet access.  So I am writing this from my hospital bed, and will send it once I’m back on the ship.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Yup, that's me sitting on an ostrich.  A little weird, I admit it, but I'm never one to pass up an opportunity to try something new. These birds are strong and fast.
  Ostriches are wild in South Africa, but they are also farmed, and I sent on a tour to visit a farm.

Ostriches, as you provably know, are the planet's biggest bird.  The smallest egg in the picture above is a hen's egg, the kind you eat for breakfast.  The largest one is an ostrich egg.  These eggs are very strong.  The shards I saw were at least half a centimetre thick.

  The babies that come out of these eggs are pretty big for baby birds, but tiny next to the adults.

Ostriches can't fly, but they can run very fast, and they use their clawed feet to protect themselves.  An ostrich kick can be lethal.   They are also very curious, and came to see us when we stood by the fence.
Male ostriches are black, and females are grey.  In the wild, they both help keep the eggs warm.  The female sits on the nest during the day, when her lighter plumage helps reflect the sun's heat, and provides camouflage.  The male takes over at night, when his black feathers make him harder to see, and it also helps keep him warm.
  Ostriches have very small brains, as you can probably tell, but they do not bury their heads in the sand.  When frightened, they run.  They spread out their small but feathery wings and bounce across the land.

After the tour, we returned to Capetown, and spent some time wandering around the waterfront.  This is a very pleasant area, filled with tourists and locals enjoying the many outdoor cafes.
This being a tourist area, there are of course many shops, many carrying local crafts.  Creating dolls and sculptures out of beads is popular here.  This elephant is made completely out of beads and wire.

Capetown's most famous natural formation is Table Mountain.

It is, as you can see, flat, thus the name.  There is a curious weather phenomenon here, which is that even when the sky is completely clear of clouds, there often are clouds on top of the table.  They are called the tablecloth, as often the clouds spread over the top and down the sides.
While in the area, we visited the local aquarium.  I love aquariums, especially when they have jellyfish.

These are not jellyfish.

Neither is this.  It is Melissa being a frog.

It's difficult to take pictures of tanks full of water, at least I find it so.  This isn't a good picture, but it's kind of surreal, so I like it.