Visiting Simba Across the Sea With Joint Replacement Surgery Waiting Back in the States
I awakened this morning to yet another cold and dreary, rainy Fall day and, of course, the "bonus" of my extra pain from arthritis. Early tomorrow I will catch my plane to begin the long flight back to my African home and the volunteer work I will do there for a few months. I will have limited access to a computer, the Internet and even electricity! I hope to blog as much as I can. I am also very much aware that I won't be pain-free, but feel strongly about helping my special friends and "adopted" African family.
My return to the U.S. last Fall began the most challenging year health-wise I've ever had (I HOPE!). In spite of the correct medications, I returned to my home in America with the remnants of malaria, followed by a fractured fibula (compliments of arthritis) and then two more major surgeries on one foot which left me unable to walk for more than two months.
It was hard, painful and, admittedly, scary. As my osteoarthritis has progressed (STILL don't know why they call it progress) over the years, I've had to have several joint replacement surgeries. A few weeks ago, my surgeon said that BOTH of my knees need to be replaced (thanks again to arthritis), but I also have a medical team that is very much in tune to me as a person -- I'm not just another collection of deteriorating joints. My surgeon began a series of Synvisc injections into the knee joints hoping to temporarily alleviate some of the pain until I return. He admitted that he was unsure how long the knee pain relief would last, so he also gave me pain meds "If it gets really bad!"
Arthritis in Africa
Although I previously thought that there was no such thing as arthritis among the African people I work with (I assumed because the average lifespan is only 50 years), I have discovered there actually IS a high incidence of joint problems and they are able to treat them with a different regimen than ours. It was offered by a well-educated friend there that we consider augmenting my American treatments with what is available in Africa. My doctors are whole-heartedly in agreement, and we think "worst-case scenario," I'll have to have both knees replaced when I return (which was going to happen anyway)! I'm taking all of the documentation I can find about my treatments in the U.S., and we'll see what happens.
A few people who obviously don't know me think I'm very "lucky" to spend so much time in Africa. Luck has nothing to do with it. I'm a professional nature photographer and initially wanted to go take pictures of the animals that are well-known there, but the people and their culture have made a major impact on my life as well as many of my grandkids. They don't waste food, they accept ideas from other people, and no longer take everything for granted. I have many special friends and family in the U.S. that are wonderful to help with donations toward my work in Africa.
I also work very hard selling my photography, as well as continuing to do landscape work, as I'm able, to help pay for my expenses. My life in Africa is very simple. I don't have a fancy house, awesome hot car, big-screen TV or wild and crazy clothes. I don't get pedicures, go out to eat or spend my days "shopping" (but then, I don't do this in the U.S. either). I DO have unconditional love and respect from a people who have had a really challenging life, but don't complain. They are grateful for family, friends, and community -- THINGS are just not important.
So I'll arrive tomorrow (well, the flights actually take two days) in a very special place.
Africa has made a huge impact on my life and my thinking. I LOVE the opportunities I have to go on safaris and photograph a life I used to see only on the Discovery channel. I also love the volunteer work I do there -- everything from teaching juvenile street-kids how to grow their own food, to sharing a hug and an ever-ready smile with a shy new friend. I've packed my braces and my cane. I'm anxious to go.
This will be my third Thanksgiving in Africa (no, it's not their holiday, but why not) and my first Christmas on the Serengeti Plains. No, I'm not "lucky" but I AM blessed to have the chance to do the work I do. I REFUSE to let arthritis control my life!
Please have a wonderful and peaceful holiday - I'll write when I'm able -