Thursday, February 24, 2011

Bayou blues

As I sit here on a February morning at my home computer, which is parked in front of an expansive window, I find myself thinking of Betty’s RV Park in Abbeville, La.
It’s high on my list of “Places we’d rather be right now” as I sit mesmerized by the falling snowflakes.
It’s not supposed to be like this, not here, at this time of year. The daffodil crowns are six inches above the ground and finding themselves surrounded by snow, instead of spring sunshine. But we are no exception to what has been happening across North America this winter. Weather has been unusual and now it’s our turn.
And those groundhogs, with their silly shadows, don’t know a thing about weather patterns.
We have been home since Dec. 15, and since that date, I have tried to think of a way to wind up our blog. I thought I’d write more about the trip, filling in some of the details, but as yet, I haven’t found the passion to do that.
Our 18-week journey was the ultimate escape of our life to date. We simply left our lives and hit the road, an appealing thought this morning even though we’d have to haul Harley through some snow to get to the ferry. But even though we dreamed we could leave all responsibilities on our front step and pull out, we knew we’d carry much of it with us — and we did.
We have two daughters and a son-in-law and although they are in their mid-20s, they do need us now and again. Skype helped immensely with that but sometimes the girls were unwilling to discuss some of the bigger things in life in a virtual face-to-face setting. It wasn’t until we were home that one of them broke off her engagement, and came to us for support over the Christmas season.
We knew we would return to our everyday life, and work, as property managers here on Pender Island. The work has been steady for Ian, sometimes a good thing. But on other days, the winter depression he has always fought seems to win the battle. Doctors are again part of his life, hoping to regulate the brain chemicals he lacks.
I — and there is a reason this is the first time I have used the first person on a blog entry — too have been busily seeing doctors. When we were in Quebec in September, my cousin Brian died after a long battle with kidney cancer. A little further down the road, we learned his younger sister had announced she would be having a kidney containing a tumour removed, an operation that took place in January.
When in Quebec, I spoke with Brian’s wife who told me this all started a few years ago with a simple sore back, nothing really at the start, but persistent until it reached the point that it was more than simple.
Part way through our trip, we talked about long days driving in our truck and about the mattress on our bed in the trailer, whether it was the culprit. After a month at home, sleeping in our own bed, we knew any mattress had little to do with this so I went to the doctor.
The surgery to remove my right kidney, which encompasses an almost-certainly cancerous tumour, is scheduled for March 29. The cancer is fully contained in the kidney and rated as stage one, making for a wonderful prognosis. My doctor was surprised that I didn’t think two cousins with kidney cancer qualified as a strong family history, that is until Ian pointed out there were 46 of us in my generation. My doctor was surprised at how many first cousins I have.
And bless the advent of the social media. My eldest brother set up a sub-group on Facebook of the Gauley family (my mother’s maiden name) so I could let other cousins know my diagnosis. Many of them have gone to their doctors, seeking an ultrasound or CT scan of their kidneys.
And they all know I still would say I have a bit of a sore back, not enough to even take a Tylenol.
It wasn’t until we put the word out to our American friends, some made during this journey, that we thought of one of the major differences between our two countries. My surgery is not an insurance matter and not a financial matter in this home. As a Canadian, I need the surgery and will have it, covered by national medicare that is available to all. This is not a political discussion, simply a fact of Canadian life.
The kidney cancer, even cured, will affect my ability to obtain private insurance for coverage in the United States on future trips. I believe I will be able to get it, but it will cost more. And still, we talk of our next trip and are so thankful we set out on our “big” journey when we did — thankful that Manon, my cousin Brian’s wife, told me about his simple sore back; thankful that we had such a healthy, happy trip exploring all kinds of new-to-us places in our own vast country and the United States; thankful that we had reached a point in our lives that we could make this trip; thankful that we said (to a degree) to hell with money, we’re going.
And after this surgery is done and finished, I have no doubt we’ll say to hell with money, again.
So, how are things going at Betty’s? Off to Touchet’s for the music and food on Saturday? Is there still room for us?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Cane, now able

No one wants to take an unwanted companion along on a long voyage but MS was coming along, whether Ian and Vicki wanted it to, or not.
So, it was best to work MS into what little plan we had for this trip. And sometimes, luck plays a large part in the planning.
In Vicki’s case, Lady Luck reared her head just over a year ago when a chance encounter at a Montana motel’s complimentary breakfast brought a device called a WalkAide into our lives. The woman enthusiastically sang the praises of a similar device she had found in the U.S., and put hers on her leg to illustrate just how important it was. This woman, whose name Vicki never did learn, had limped badly in that distinctive MS way into the room and when she put the device on her leg, she got up and walked away, straight as an arrow.
Vicki and Ian were driving back from a Winnipeg wedding, and the heat was doing its usual damage for Vicki. She’d already been using a cane for the better part of a year and with the added heat, was thinking the long-hoped-for trip around Canada and the U.S. was plainly no longer possible. The way things were in August 2009, both Ian and Vicki felt it would simply be too difficult to manage the trip we have enjoyed so much.
Weeks later, Vicki found Island Orthotics in Victoria sold the WalkAide, which through computer and electronic magic, compensates for the foot drop that plagues many MS patients. Since then, there has been no cane and she walks where she wants, when she wants.
As soon as Vicki and Ian knew the WalkAide was working, the trip was being planned.
Initial thoughts of the big ramble came after a too-young friend died over two years ago, when we realized we’d reached an age where we should think about making some of our dreams materialize. At that point, we bought our trailer because we knew one thing was certain with Vicki’s MS and travel. She has to have her medication, a form of beta-interferon, and it must be refrigerated. It seems silly but the trailer grew around a small refrigerator, which started the trip with five months of that prescription safely tucked away.
The fridge was nearly half-filled with Vicki’s drugs alone. There is always the fear the fridge might fail so a 12-volt cooler, that can work off the truck’s electrical system, was purchased just in case.
Vicki injects her drugs once a week, on Friday nights. That means Saturday often can be a less-than-ideal day for her as the drug takes affect. She rarely plans to do anything important on a Saturday because it may or may not happen.
On a Saturday, Vicki spent six hours traipsing up and down the hills and stairs of Quebec City, quite possibly the least MS-friendly city there is.
Yes, she was tired at the end of the day, but not ridiculously so. Yes, her WalkAide was firmly strapped to her right leg, contributing to every step. No, there was no cane helping her walk. Just over a year ago, she would have told you a day like that was not possible. And she would have been right.
MS is still an unwelcome companion. It makes plans tentative. Since spontaneity was one of the goals of this trip, that’s less of an issue. We may have thought we were going to travel 500 kilometres one day, but at the first sign of any discomfort in the passenger seat, Ian was looking for a campground. Some of those 500 kilometres may have passed rapidly on the back of Vicki’s eyelids as naps could be frequent. Sometimes there were more stops made so legs could be stretched out with a walk to alleviate some cramping before we were back in the truck. Or the day may have started later than we’d anticipated since a long sleep was needed.
But we made our trip.