Monday, June 25, 2018

Between river wandering in Vermont and New Hampshire

Last Monday, I taught yoga, did some laundry, and came home to Kevin's mountain climbing gear strewn throughout our living room. Kevin was returning from a weekend of mountain climbing with three of his friends in New Hampshire. I was just back from scouting yoga retreats with Christie in Maine. Kevin did a full day of landscaping and taught a yoga class. Somewhere in the night, he woke up stupidly early and repacked. Well, Kevin repacked. Plenty of loose books and clothes wound up throughout the car without the home of a bag.

Early Tuesday we began our return to the northlands. A more westerly route than my trip to coastal Maine, we drove through western Massachusetts before finding ourselves in the greenest Vermont mountains completely out of cell or wifi range.

We compared notes. Kevin told me stories of grown men climbing in mountains and how quickly that descends into bathroom humor. I shared my collection of adventures with Christie in Maine. 

When I contracted Lyme disease, Kevin became my advocate. Twelve days of fever felt like they burned out my decision-making capacity. I was just tired and overwhelmed. In our 16 years together, we've cared for one another when sick. This was different. We changed patterns. We started to figure out some lines about when we seek care-- when we wait it out. We're learning what feels like care to one another and adjusting our behaviors to meet those needs.

It made us feel close. A new level of intimacy. Which, long-term relationships afford. 

It felt strange to set off on separate adventures. Additionally, because radical shifts were occurring in the lives of people really close to us. Some, dealing with their own health crises. Others, unexpectedly finding relief and reunion. Kevin and I had kept close tabs on one another, calling as much as signals permitted, but we still had the details to supply as we drove into Vermont.

We pulled off in Sharon, Vermont, a small town of maybe two country stores and a handful of other shops by the New Hampshire border. Snaking along the White River, we pulled up the mountain to a dirt road that took us to an off-the-grid cabin. The planks smelled of cedar. We put a block of ice in the tray of the cooler to keep our food and climbed the ladder to the little sleeping loft with a big open window to the trees beyond. The outhouse was a little ways along the path and the camp shower fed by cisterns of water stored by the door. At night, we lit candles and put flashlights on our chests to illuminate our novels. Quiet. Green. 

Kevin realized we were near South Royalton, a town he visited years ago during a speaking engagement at Vermont Law School. Best part is that this town is the aerial shot in the opening credits of the Gilmore Girls! It's the model for Stars Hollow!

We passed two evenings in South Royalton, listening to bands in the bandstand and eating in the local restaurants. We could get a signal here to check back in on our loved ones at home as they navigated these life-changing events. 

Our cabin in Sharon was near trails that wound up the mountain to scenic views or down to the big flat boulders shaping the river. Nearby, a brook formed several pools good for dipping. The forest floor was coated in ferns. The light was dappled as the thick forest trees interrupted the hot sun.

We were also near Joseph Smith's birthplace. Given that Kevin loves anyone zealous enough to form a religion and also gets excited about history, which Mormonism has certainly shaped, we had to go. The birthplace and the commemoration were beautiful and peaceful. A bus had unloaded its fill of white, largely blonde, college-aged Mormons. They each found their own spot along the hill or tucked away on benches to read the Bible, Book of Mormon, and fill out worksheets. We wandered through the friendly white kids to the Mormon markers. 

Hanover, New Hampshire was only 20 minutes down the road so we headed their twice. My brother graduated from Dartmouth and Kevin's grandfather did his MBA there in one of the country's first low-residency programs. We sat by the beautiful campus and ate at some of the restaurants in town. Signals remained erratic so some friendly wait staff gave us a tip on a nearby swimming hole.

Down the road, Mink Brook, quiet and tree-lined. An afternoon of novels, yoga, dipping in the cool water, and some Wim Hof breathing.

I kept looking up and feeling the peace of no signal, my rhythm tuned to daylight, and that growing inner quiet. My grandmother grew up in a world that was closer to my few days in an off-the-grid cabin. The world is smaller. Less access. More attention to what's in front of you. It's a two-generation experiment to live the way I'm accustomed. 

I found myself navigating some of the pressures of my life better than I often do. I tried to assess what changed, what was I doing that worked? I realized that in the fits and spurts of cell and wifi access the attention I gave the challenges was circumscribed. I paid attention, offered what I could, and then moved on. The rest of the world-- its ferns and rivers-- took up more room. As we made our way home, I weighed that balance. I'm trying to stay with it. Be with what matters. Stay in the world.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Coastal Maine

Some parts of a bout with Lyme disease have been obviously not fun. I had to miss a Restorative Yoga training and eat the cost. I had to withdraw from Prenatal Yoga Teacher Training.

Other parts worked out miraculously well. I had been invited to visit a retreat center in coastal Southern Maine a few weeks ago. I accepted the invitation and asked Christie to join me. When the date rolled around I had a week of antibiotics in me and started to feel like fresh Maine air would actually be perfect.

On her birthday, Christie and I drove up to New Haven, Connecticut. I had charted a restaurant midway up where we could get a nice birthday lunch and I could give her a present. Christie was hilarious and as she saw that we were on Yale's campus, she needed to run across the street and purchase a sweatshirt. As one does.

We continued north and hit tons of weekend traffic but also caught up in basically all the details of each other's lives. As we arrived in the small town of Saco, I parked on the side street as instructed. An older man on a porch watched us steadily. I felt like he was either going to strip our car or help us out. I tried to steer towards friendliness by greeting him. Three times, he mumbled back, "All that glitters is not gold." A 12-year-old smoking a cigarette laughed.


We walked over to the retreat center and found yoga teachers from throughout New England enjoying dinner on the porch. Gerry, the retreat owner, laid out an ambitious plan to show us what the area had to offer. I had already explained that I wanted to see the center to add to my database, but that I was going to have to take a slower pace than the group. (I was tuned into the weekend as I had visited Gerry's center in Stowe, VT a few years back.) We elected to join that evening's visit to some nearby beaches. Two teachers from Worcester, MA invited us to ride with them and a power yoga teacher from Gloucester, MA jumped in as well.

We got the car on the side street and came back to the retreat center to find everyone gone! We drove around and did find some of the lovely Ferry beaches. Texting and calling were getting us nowhere and it was getting dark so we found our way back to the retreat center. I called it a night and Christie shared wine with our new friends by the pool.

The following morning the group did yoga on the beach in Kennebunkport (of Bush fame) as Christie and I got to know the weekend's chef and enjoy breakfast. We went back to Ferry beach and set up a blanket. The beaches are far less crowded and the water frigid. Our neighbors read Stephen King novels and ate lobster rolls. Perfect.

We drove further down to the town of Old Orchard, much more populated with an amusement park and lots of clam shacks. It was biker weekend so hordes of motorcycles roared through the narrow streets between families and sunbathers. We popped in a little diner for lunch and headed back towards Saco.

We picked up Alya, our friend from Gloucester, and went north to Kennebunkport. This area is truly beautiful and not terribly accessible. It wasn't clear, but we somehow stumbled on the daytripper protocol of purchasing a car pass and then parking on the road. Apparently, if we hadn't, it would have been bad. The beach was even less crowded as most were staying in the few mansions along the dunes. Looking out to the horizon, waves were broken by pine-covered islands.

Based on Alya's wonderful recommendations, on Sunday morning Christie and I drove south to the little town of York. We had a fantastic fresh breakfast at a diner counter before winding our way along the lupine covered cliffs along the coast. York is home to several coves and the nubble lighthouse up on a cliff. We found that we were near Shilo Farm, another retreat center that had come highly recommended. 

We pulled into the parking lot under the tall pines. A huge sheep-looking dog named Shasta almost scared off Christie. Shasta alerted the owner, Jonas, who invited us in for a quick tour. The farm and yoga barn sparkled under the dappled light. There's a tiny house in the trees. There are several areas for gathering and bonfires, some by the elderberry groves. Apparently, Ani DiFranco was resting in one of the buildings as we wandered through.

It was utter magic and we were so grateful to have found it. We hit the road, heading south, back to husbands, animals, and the thick New Jersey heat.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

I affect the world. It affects me back.

Here’s what went down.

Around May 22, I developed a small skin infection identical to one that I’d had over a decade ago. I originally treated it successfully with herbs from a Chinese herbalist, so when I saw the issue recur I went back to Dr. Lu at Shen Nong and was prescribed a 7-day course of herbs to drink. 

The first day I reacted normally. The second day, I spiked a fever, had severe body pain, and began to develop rashes. There was a ring on my right shoulder. I thought of all of this was either an allergic reaction to the herbs, the herbs flushing out a stronger infection than I’d expected, or maybe just a different reaction between my body and the herbs. My fever kept rising and I kept taking the herbs. The original skin infection was responding positively despite the other symptoms.

About 3-4 days in my fevers got high, like 103 at times. They would ebb and flow so Kevin and I would think I was improving. Then they would jump back to 101 or 102. It was confusing. I stayed hydrated and rested as much as possible.

We returned to Dr. Lu. He said the infection was flushing through my lymph system, hence the rash, and prescribed more herbs— these specific to not spike high fevers. On Tuesday June 5 I wasn’t showing much improvement. Kevin and I figured I needed antibiotics so we went to Urgent Care. They took a chest x-ray to rule out pneumonia and took blood. My white blood cells were high and I was anemic but there was no clear cause of the infection. I was told I needed tests that were beyond their capacity and to go to the ER.

Maybe 15 years ago I went to the ER for an ankle x-ray but that’s about the extent of it. It’s always scary and I’m someone who leans towards alternative medicine. We’d heard good things about Virtua Marlton so we headed up. 

A woman in the waiting room was detoxing off heroin while a family slowly amassed to be there to welcome their mother, who had just received a lung cancer diagnosis. We waited and bought water and peanuts from the vending machine. I was brought in for a urine test and given high praise for the light color of my urine. I felt proud! I’d been running fevers for 12 days and really worked to not allow myself to get dehydrated. That was something!

They didn’t have a bed for me so back to the waiting room for several more hours. Maybe around midnight or 1 am we were brought back. I was given an IV— two punctures in one night for someone who is deathly afraid of needles. They took lots of blood and started me on antihistamines, steroids, and antibiotics. Dr. Lee was familiar with herbal treatments. His parents are Korean and big proponents. He understood. Kevin was more coherent than I was and laid out his thoughts and what he’d like to see tested. Dr. Lee was with him— test for Lyme disease. 

We were heard and well cared for. Around 2 am we were discharged. They told us they would call us with the Lyme results. For now, we knew that my liver and kidneys were very healthy and yes, I’m anemic. Everything else tested healthy and normal. I was given prescriptions to continue with antihistamines, steroids, and antibiotics as though I had Lyme disease until we got confirmation.

We were home by 2:30 am. I laid down, deeply exhausted, and at 3 am the phone rang. Dr. Lee had been looking for my test results and saw that I had tested positive for Lyme. I already had an appointment scheduled with my primary physician for the following Tuesday so he told me to continue with the medication and chart a course with my doctor.

Given that my organs are healthy, that my symptoms coincided with a ring 12 days ago, it looks like I was likely infected 12 days ago. I never saw a tick but Dr. Lee tells me I could have been bitten without the tick attaching. Seems like a freak thing. 

Initially, the timing with the herbs felt somewhat confusing but in retrospect, I’m grateful everything unfolded as it did. The herbs may have helped push everything to the surface. They did effectively treat the original condition. Kevin and I second-guessed ourselves about whether or not we should have gone to the ER when my fevers were highest at 2-3 days in, but we learned that at that time I may not have tested positive. Following the timeline that we did let us get really good, clear care. Given that I was diagnosed so early there’s a strong likelihood that I can treat this and move forward without complication.

Here’s what I want those who care about me to know:

I appreciate how much you care about me! Thank you. Please know that I’m building my immune system back up and part of that is really managing my stress. Scary stories about Lyme disease stress me out. I’m a little too close right now. I’m so sorry for those of you who went undiagnosed and suffered unnecessarily. I’m sorry for those you love who endured that. I know those stories are scary and they circulate. I’m hearing some of them right now. Please don’t tell me. It’s really important that I keep my mind hopeful so I can take best next steps with a clear head. I get scared and stressed when I hear about these nightmare scenarios.

Right now, I don't need advice on Lyme, nutrition, or... anything else really. If you have resources and want to let me know so I can reach out if needed, that's great! Otherwise, it's a bit overwhelming to sift through, especially because there are more context and information than I'm providing here. I appreciate the care and am grateful that you trust me to assemble the care that serves me best!

Know that I’m slow right now. I may be slow to respond when you check on me. I appreciate your kindness and I would be so grateful if you don’t take it personally if I’m not able to be very responsive right now.

Encouragement is great. It’s always helpful to me to hear about hopeful stories like people who were diagnosed early and responded quickly to treatment. Also, things you witness in me! Anything you see in me that suggests health and resiliency make me feel empowered and capable of moving through this. That inspires and calms me. That helps.

Here’s what I think about a lot of this:

Twenty years ago, I contracted malaria while visiting my sister in Zambia. My sister had a bout of malaria years earlier that she contracted in Nigeria, but was treated for in the US. Both of us took antimalarials and we both still got it. My sister was treated with quinine in the US and it was a really slow and grueling recovery. I was treated in Zambia, where malaria is incredibly common. I was given Halfan, which broke the fever quickly and it took about two weeks for me to fully regain my strength.

Now Lyme, which honestly feels kind of similar.

I know it’s popular to hate mosquitoes and ticks. Also, popular to question why they exist or what purpose they serve.

Obviously, I don’t know but I suspect that a large part of their purpose is curbing human behavior. And I’m grateful for that. When human expansion gets out of control, when we eliminate predators that could limit our ability to expand, these tiny insects tend to surge up and hold us at bay. In the northeast of US, the tick explosion is directly related to human manipulation of the environment and animal population.

It doesn’t make me scared of the world.

I affect the world. I eat food. I drive a car. I do so many things that affect bugs and animals and the environment, not to mention other humans. And I am affected. I got caught up. Some little bugger got me. But I also had so many factors that assisted me. I was able to catch this quickly and get treatment. 

And I’m sitting outside. I’m walking barefoot. I want to be in the world. The world is not my enemy. Ticks are not my enemy. I’m a part of an ecosystem. It will affect me. I will affect it. That’s the price of living. I want to live. I want to live fully.

I probably did a whole lot wrong. I don’t use chemicals and DEET. I don’t cover myself head to toe when I go outside. My cats are indoor/outdoor. I failed in so many ways. And I’ll continue to do so. I can’t protect myself against everything and I don’t think I’m supposed to. 

What I am doing and will continue to do is take my time. I’m letting healing unfold. I’m patient with it. I plan to adjust my diet to make it even more anti-inflammatory and richer in iron and protein to stave off the anemia. I do think my immune system has suffered due to stress I’ve endured in the last few years. My circulation has always been a weak spot and I’ve dealt with depression since I was a teenager (I suspect the two may be related but I’m not sure how exactly), both of which compromise the immune system. I’ve developed ways to manage depression and actually made great strides over the years and recently I’ve been more attentive to supporting my circulatory system with lots of garlic, turmeric, ginger, and cod liver oil. After 22 years as a vegetarian (who sought to get tons of protein and iron through eggs, beans, seeds, nuts, all the veggies, and loads of dark, leafy greens), I’m probably going to introduce some animal protein into my diet to boost my immune system and combat anemia. 

I’m affecting the world. It’s affecting me back.