Despite Osteoarthritis Complications, There Are Blessings in Life
I feel somewhat, that life has been roaring at me lately - nothing really big or catastrophic - just lots of different doctor appointments and other stressors. I had a complete physical as I usually do when I return from my work in Africa each year. All of the tests came back with good scores, but I haven't been feeling well, so was nervous.
Of course, it was time for my annual mammogram (which has always been fine), but this time, I received a call that the doctor needing to see me immediately because there were some problems! I was a nervous wreck by the time I got there. Different scans were done - then each time, the doctor would look at them and say he'd found more problems and needed more tests. After a seeming life-time of these, they announced that I was fine and could go home - the tissue had changed because I'm getting older!
I also returned to my orthopedic surgeon due to incredible pain shooting from my knee to my ankle. As an osteoarthritis patient (with nine artificial joints), I assumed that I was heading back in for more surgery. Luckily, however, I "only" have severely bruised the bundle of tendons in the lower leg. For treatment, I am beginning warm water physical therapy for several weeks. This was caused when I slipped and fell on a very wet floor in my African home. Unfortuantely, I was also carrying my gear, wherein I managed to hit my face on a corner cabinet knocking me out as I fell. My surgeon friend had me take Bromelain capsules (pineapple enzyme) three times a day, which rapidly reduced the swelling and the bruising! Now, it will just take time to heal (a phrase that all people with OA have probably heard a lot).
Have you ever noticed that when one household appliance breaks down, it will usually be followed by a series of others? When my washing machine began feeling badly, the printer in my office promptly died, and my refrigerator has been making bizarre and scary noises! I realize that I'm fortunate to have these things, but it's frustrating when you are stuck in the middle of repairmen and bills and things aren't working as they should!
I was really starting to feel like one of those machines, wondering what part would "break down" next! Perhaps the scariest thing is that I ended up in an African hospital for a brief stay after my fall, truly an experience I don't choose to repeat. (By the way, they don't provide toilet paper, water, food, or sheets - the family has to provide these, and my diagnosis was "I had a bump on my head, and I was getting a black eye." American hospitals are AWESOME in comparison!)
I returned recently from living, working, and volunteering for a few more months in Tanzania. My life in general there is far more simple with little stress. This year, I taught English to adults in a school designed to help them learn to start and run their own small businesses. My students had all raised their families as single parents (I could relate to that) and were taking not only English, but Business classes and Computers (on the days the electricity worked). I really think that I learned more from my students than they learned from me! I also participated (photographed) a new, and very large women's group in a nearby village. This was founded by a former housemate of mine, and I felt true joy as I watched these women helping each other and growing into new and successful people. I also spent a great deal of time giving cooking lessons to natives (at their request) and trying to teach them how to make their meals more heart healthy - they tend to float everything in oil.
Of course, as mentioned in previous blogs, my most incredible bonus this trip was the time I was able to spend climbing mountains and traveling in the Rainforests of Madagascar. For over 40 years, I had dreamed of an adventure there, and to be able to actually be there to photograph a new world was awesome. The rare sifakas, indri, and nine species of lemurs; even the colorful and unique reptiles all became subjects for me. I met very interesting people as well, although they speak only French and Malagasy, which I didn't know. As usual, though, a smile and a sincere feeling of friendship seemed to cross these boundaries.
In spite of many mishaps, stressors, and frustrations, I am slowly recovering. This was the hardest trip I've ever gone on, and I came back to the US disappointed and upset. The reality is: the problems and challenges I experienced were definitely NOT caused by Africa - I'm beginning to realize - that was just life.
Over many years of travel as a photo-journalist, a tourist, and a teacher, rainbows have become very significant to me. After having my first total hip replacement, my friends and I assumed that my life with adventure was over. With my surgeon's blessing, I traveled to Peru and climbed part of Macchupichu. I wasn't fast (who cares), but when I reached the top, the clouds suddenly cleared from the peak facing us, and there was a rainbow. For me, it was a sign that "it" would be ok.
On Lake Victoria in Kenya, a rainbow appeared as I was rowed back to shore in a cane fishing boat - a blessing. In spite of friends' advice, I recently climbed partway up Mt. Kilimanjaro on the Machame route - again, I wasn't fast - but to me the point is I did it! When we stopped, rainclouds draped themselves over Kili's peak, and we were suddenly blessed with another rainbow. In Madagascar, a gentle rain was falling in the mountains, and was followed by a soft rainbow.
After two weeks of tax paperwork, doctors, and appliances breaking down, I almost felt like "what's next," but then Friday, a glorious rainbow again appeared. It tells me I CAN do it, I will solve the challenges as best I can, I can endure the pain as I heal from yet another round. I will do the best I can, in SPITE of what life sometimes throws at me - WATCH ME!