Living Vicariously As A Peripatetic Shutterbug

{ More musings from the Cantankerous Old Mule }

About air, lungs, tar and having a month to live

Speak to the hand, health issues. Speak to the hand.

Speak to the hand, health issues. Speak to the hand.

I think it’s time for an update about my health… For those of you who have heard much of my back-story, I’m sorry. Jump halfway down the page if you like.

I was always a healthy kid. A wimpy kid, but healthy. In high school I became a good runner (with strong lungs). I ran after school, I ran while in the airforce, I ran after girls and ran at university. And then, in my first few years out of university in the 1990s I moved down to the misty hamlet Hogsback, in the Eastern Cape, to work for Outward Bound South Africa. Here I was fitter than ever: kayaking, rock climbing and hiking being part of the job.

For most of my just-over two years at the outdoor programme, I called a tent home. But we did have a rustic base, which we used when we weren’t out with students – first a youth centre, and later an old house, which we rented in the village. And here I come to my point: There weren’t enough bedrooms inside the house, and so I was given a small wooden hut outside. I didn’t really mind because most of the time I was in the mountains working. But then I started falling ill. I had a constant cough and, to cut a long story short, I developed allergies to pretty much everything one could be allergic to. If I drank milk my throat would close up; if I slept on a down pillow likewise …

What we hadn’t been told was that the shack had housed pigeons, held a beer still and served as a garden shed previously. I had never been allergic a day in my life, but over time the tiny, unseen mould, spores and damp crept into my system, pretty much incapacitating me.

Obviously I moved out, and ultimately I had to leave Hogsback, but eventually my body recovered. That was almost 20 years ago. And then it came back with a vengeance the last time I lived in Madagascar. It turns out mould started growing in my lungs – the result of living in a home which became more and more mouldy (unbeknown to me) over the year and a half I lived there.

After being misdiagnosed repeatedly I found a doctor who specialised in tropical diseases. He sent me for X-rays to the only hospital in the city with a functioning machine (which just happened to be in its maternity ward). I quote my blogpost at the time: “I did feel a bit out of place amongst all of the pregnant women, and snot-nosed children, but eventually I had my chest x-rayed … after a while the doctor called me into his rooms, looking perplexed. I half expected him to tell me I was in my second trimester.

He asked me if I was a smoker. ‘No,’ I answered. ‘Never have, and I would never do that to the baby…’ He pointed out my lungs on the x-rays, indicating what was normal, and then showed me a band stretching all the way up the lungs, which ‘was a big big problem,’  to use his words.

‘What’s the problem,’ I asked. ‘I don’t know!’ was his disconcerting answer, ‘but this is not normal’.”

Fortunately the specialist was able to interpret the images. I left the country immediately, received treatment in South Africa and was also tested in Canada, where I got the all-clear: no more mould, no asthma, nothing. What I did have, as a result of the mould, was a raft of allergies again – to grasses, certain foods (including gluten, it seems), the air I breathe … Fortunately my doctor in South Africa believes that I can recover completely – with the right environment and lots of exercise.

… … … …

But now to the present day. Here I am in Madagascar again. In the first few weeks I struggled a bit with my health but changed rooms and got better almost immediately. Then, about three or four weeks ago my chest closed up. I remember it was a dusty day. And it’s been closed since.

And this is the problem. Tana, my city of residence, is dirty, dusty, polluted and poorer than anyone in the Western world could imagine – perhaps not exactly the environment to which the doctor was referring.

Unfortunately I’m tired all the time – partly because I don’t sleep well, and partly because my body isn’t getting enough oxygen. If this feeling of having tar in my lungs, of drowning whenever I lie down, doesn’t go away, I will have to reconsider my options. Because, honestly, I feel I’m absolutely no good to anyone here in this condition.

Of course, I’m hoping that the air quality will improve. I’m hoping my lungs will start working like they should because I don’t particularly want to leave right now. Kim has suggested that we try to build an oxygen tent over my bed. That’s one option.

So there you have it, my update. I’m in good spirits, but at a crossroads. Perhaps I have a month left here. Perhaps less and perhaps more – I just don’t know. Years ago when my lungs were at their worst I asked some friends what they would do if they heard I only had a month to live. Here are some of their answers:

  • Would it be utterly insensitive and self-absorbed if I asked you to write a blog?
  • We could go on holiday for a month. Who’s paying?
  • Can I have your camera and laptop? It’s for a missionary.
  • I’d act sad for a minute, then take leave and go on an adventure with you.
  • Great, we can fit in one last barbecue!
  • Good, that’s enough time for you to come and see us. We do love you. Sometimes.
  • What? At least another month!?! And at most? Where will you do this living?

How about you? What would you answer?

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8 comments on “About air, lungs, tar and having a month to live

  1. madasue
    April 28, 2015

    Let’s have a celebration party! – to celebrate your life, not your death, silly 🙂 I’ll bring the lasagna (we won’t have to worry about gluten any more!) and pavlova, you bring the Fresh!

  2. Trinda McIntyre Lyons
    April 28, 2015

    How bout we all get together and punch you for including “a month to live” in your cutesie title 😛 Talk about freaking people out, Robin 😛 Oh yeah, glad you’re not dead. Turd.

  3. Tish
    April 28, 2015

    Get outa Tana, somewhere cleaner but closeby, maybe we could stretch it to 2 months and then start the ‘celebrations’ Sue promised. Maybe 3?

  4. Lynne Smit
    April 28, 2015

    I’m with Trinda

  5. denisechabot
    April 28, 2015

    j’aurais envie de te voir et de te serrer dans mes bras fort et longtemps, juste pour dire “I care” même si je pense que tu serais gêné, mais au fond, peu importe, je le ferais quand même… hé hé hé…

  6. There_Lot
    April 29, 2015

    What to do when one has only one month to live? The same you did last month..otherwise change the way you live..Trust God of course – the Giver of Life.

    I will leave you with the way the Croatians toast when they celebrate: To health. To each other. To this moment when we are gathered together. Lift your glass — ŽIVILI! To life!

    Raise your tea cup and drink to life. A life full of people and moments to treasure. Enjoy – no matter how long it is.

  7. old man sam
    April 29, 2015

    If it was in fact your last month and you chose to spend it with us we would putter around the country in a pink car, stopping at every Timmy’s, while I glean from you skills for capturing life through the lens and Kasey scolds us for driving too fast.

    Sound like fun?

    By the way if you need to get out of Tana, you can always come to my place. no mould or gluten in the air here.

  8. Geraldine
    April 30, 2015

    My daughter was also distraught about your headline, btw! I, of course, know your sense of humour so didn’t bat an eyelid!
    But anyway, you know you always have a place in SA … and you have nephews and nieces who adore their “funny and fun” uncle!

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