Doing Sick Solo

So… about that stupid joke at the end of my last post…  Well, I got bit all right.  Not by a bear, thank goodness.  By a tick.  I usually save the bodies, wrapping them in a little paper with a date on it.  Then I freeze them, just in case I have to get them tested one day.  The latest addition to my tick morgue is dated 6/1-6/3/17, one month before I came down with classic early Lyme Disease symptoms:  fever bouncing between 101 and 104, headache that painkillers wouldn’t touch, chills, extreme fatigue, rash, etc.  I got better after six days.  Six days after that, I was sick again.  Then better.  Then sick.

I thought this would be a good time to share some thoughts and tips for others who might find themselves in a similar situation:  sick, solo, and away from home.  As a full-time RV traveler, my actual home is always with me, so it might be more accurate to say away from family.  In any case, most of what I have to contribute would apply whether you are on the road or stationary.

You are your own best (and only?) advocate.  I am grateful that a friend reminded me of this early on.  It helped give me the spirit and strength to wrestle with the doctor who saw me at the local urgent care clinic during the first spell of sickness.  Yes, I wrestled with a doctor.  Read on.

You know your body best.  This was different from any flu virus I had ever had before.  I also recognized a rash on my chest as out of the ordinary, including a faint “bullseye” pattern that the literature associates strongly with Lyme’s.  I took a picture of it and showed it to the doctor.  He barely looked at it before quickly dismissing it as just red, ugly, splotchy, old lady skin.  Ok, so he didn’t really say the words “ugly” and “old lady,” but I heard them all the same.  The rash disappeared along with the first batch of flu-like illness.

Take notes, in writing!  Don’t rely on your memory.  There is no such thing as a reliable mental note after the age of 33.  During my doctor visit, they took blood to test for Lyme Disease.  I asked the doctor how I would know if I might have Lyme’s even if the test came back negative (false negatives are very common in the early stages).  He said I wouldn’t get better.  I wrote that down.  The test, indeed, came back negative.

Research, research, research.  And take more notes.  Since I spent so much of my adult life in Virginia, I already knew about the dangers of Lyme Disease, especially when not treated early.  When I felt up to it, I got on the computer and googled (I love you, Google!) for more on early symptoms, late symptoms, tests, and treatment. Consistently, the information warned against letting the disease get established in your system without treating it early, even without a positive blood test result.  It also confirmed my symptoms as highly consistent with early stage Lyme’s.

With all due respect, do not back down…  Wrestle if you must!  When I got sick again six days after the first bout, I called the doctor to ask for a prescription for the antibiotic used against Lyme Disease.  He refused.  He said it could be a hundred other things.  I responded that my symptoms tracked very much with early Lyme’s, including the point he made during my office visit that I would not get better from the initial virus-like symptoms.  He said I didn’t have the rash.  I responded that yes, I did… remember the ugly picture?  He said there was no proof I had been bitten by a tick.  I reminded him that almost one month prior to becoming ill, I had a tick latch on for at least 48 hours.  He said he would “mollify” me by prescribing one week’s worth of antibiotics.  I responded that one week would do no good since proper treatment required one month’s worth.  He finally relented.  Yay.

When you can, DO.  I felt better after throwing up, which usually happened in the morning.  So that is when I would get critical stuff done (rather than climbing back into bed, which is what I really wanted to do), like emptying the RV’s waste tanks, adding to the fresh water tank, shopping, and preparing batches of Dawny’s home-cooked meals ahead of time.  Luckily, my workamping job here is very simple and flexible and I was able to do the minimum to get by.

While you are well, prepare for when you are not.  A list of emergency contacts should be placed in several obvious locations (wallet, glove compartment, fanny-pack if you hike with one).  As a workamper, I give my emergency contacts to the office or head ranger when I arrive at each new job.  I also try to let someone there know how to access my RV in an emergency, which is especially important if you have a pet and/or are unconscious inside.  Make sure your emergency contacts know of each other and have each other’s contact information.  Let them know where your important info is (health insurance card, financial stuff, will, spare keys).

Along similar lines, be a proud, practical squirrel.  RV’ers are supposed to travel as lightly as possible.  Nevertheless, it is important to load up on at least a week’s worth of “sick-supplies” to always have on hand (pain reliever/fever reducer, cough medicine/lozenges, other first-aid basics, ginger ale or whatever helps your nauseous tummy, tea/honey, bread/butter for toast).

Finally, yes, good squirrels save ticks.  Wrap the body of any tick that bites you–especially if it has had a chance to feed for 48 hours–in a dated piece of note paper and file it in a discreet corner of the freezer.  If, after my antibiotic course is finished, I continue to get sick, I now know what to do with that body from early June.  East Stroudsburg University’s Wildlife DNA Laboratory (link:  www.esu.edu/dna) will test that tick for Lyme’s for $50.  It will test for three possible pathogens, depending upon the tick, for $125.  For $175, it will test for all pathogens.  The tick can be from anywhere, not just from Pennsylvania, and even after several years the lab can still conduct the tests.

Thank you for reading.  Wishing all of you good health and tick-less happiness.

(Anyone who would like to contribute a tip on dealing with illness while alone and/or traveling, please feel free to use the comment section.  Keep in mind that each comment needs to be individually approved, so it won’t show up right away.)

Hidden Gems… and a Cautionary Note

One of my favorite resources when planning a journey from Point A to Point B is the website www.uscampgrounds.info.  You can access a fairly comprehensive set of public campgrounds (they do not include private campgrounds) from the national and state level to city and county parks.  They also cover TVA, BLM, COE, and military-only campgrounds.  One of the things I like best about it is that it is map-based, giving you clear, easy access to camping options along your route.

Once you zoom into an area on the map, a variety of colored symbols show you the location and types of parks in that area.  If the symbol is white, that is an indicator of a low nightly fee.  When you click on a park, basic info appears to tell you things like the nearest city or town, the park’s phone number, what kind of facilities/hookups are available, and links to weather and reviews.  Elevation is even included, which I have found useful when seeking a campground where summer nighttime temps have a chance to cool down or, in the winter, when I want to aim for lower elevations.

Here are three gems that I found by using the US Campgrounds website:

McLeod Park and Campground in Kiln, Mississippi is run by the local water authority.  I like it because it is extremely convenient to I-10.  It is also in a very pretty area, situated on the Jourdan River.  All of the sites are full-hookup for $24/night.  It is a fairly large campground, though, and only has one bathhouse, which could be a problem if it is crowded and you rely on park facilities.

The Dead Lakes Recreation Area near Wewahitchka, Florida is a county-run park and campground on the western side of the Apalachicola National Forest.  For just $14/night, they have electric and water hookups in a small, charming campground overlooking a pond that leads to the Dead Lakes.  There is a public boat ramp to the lake nearby.  They even have a couple of laundry machines on the premises.

Sopchoppy City Park (a.k.a. Myron B. Hodge Park) in Sopchoppy, Florida is a small city park located on the Ochlockonee River in the southeastern corner of the Apalachicola National Forest.  It is one of my favorites.  For $15/night, you can have an electric/water site overlooking the river.  Full hookup spots are available along the fence line by the road.  The only downside is the condition of the bathrooms and showers, which are pretty unclean, at least when I was there.  But if you are in a self-contained RV with all of your own facilities, that shouldn’t matter much.

I would like to offer one cautionary note.  It is always wise to read reviews of any park you might want to visit, but with these small, locally run parks it is even more important.  I have steered away from a few after reading reviews that mention lots of local traffic, especially kids at night.  Some of these parks do not have a camp host or any kind of staff member on the premises after business hours, which could leave you vulnerable in case of trouble.  In the above three cases, only McLeod Park did not have after-hours staff or camp host presence, but the park seemed nice enough, so that didn’t deter me.

Also, keep your options open and leave yourself enough time to find another campground in case you decide not to stay at a park you picked.  This trip, I bypassed a city park in Louisiana because of the extremely trashy condition of downtown and its pothole-ridden Main Street.  Another time, I left a park in rural Ohio after feeling very uncomfortable with its seedy atmosphere.

Bottom line, there are lots of really nice campgrounds out there and the US Campgrounds website is a great way to expand your search.

Happy, safe travels one and all!

(The photo at the top of this post was taken near the boat ramp into the Dead Lakes.  All I could think of at the time was an alligator bursting through the calm of the water to grab me or Dawny.  Did you see the recent news story about the Florida alligator that tried to drag a man–not a child, not a puppy, a man!–into his pond at a golf course?  The man got away by jabbing the gator vigorously and repeatedly in its eye with his golf club.  I have no golf club.  Just a wimpy limpy leash.  And my iphone/camera.  Should Dawny and I have some kind of terrifying mishap, future paranoids at the Dead Lakes boat ramp would not hear a faintly eerie tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock keeping time with their imagination’s stroll on the wild side.  No.  They would hear Siri’s calmly professional, dark and bubbly voice… “Sorry, I missed that….”)

The Brilliance of Bath Mats

For anyone who doesn’t mind looking a bit loony, here is a hopefully helpful hint to protect your windshield (whether on an RV or a stand-alone vehicle) from hail damage.

My rig is not a strict class-C, which would have a large overhang over the drivers cab containing a bed.  It is considered a B+ class.  It is built on a cutaway Ford van chassis with an 8 foot wide body containing the house behind the cab, but the area over the cab is streamlined, with the entertainment center and some storage in it.

This leaves the front windshield totally exposed to potential hail damage.

Enter the bath mat.

The tiny suction cups hold the mat to the windshield very nicely, as well as provide a little extra cushion beyond the rubber surface of the mat itself.  While a hefty wind would likely rip them off of the windshield, at least they will provide some protection up until that point.

After the storm passes, it is very easy to dry the mats either outside or by tossing them onto the shower floor.  Indeed, that shower floor may be a good place to keep them until they are needed for double-duty up front.  Alternatively, they roll up to a fairly compact size for storage.

The picture at the top of this post shows three mats that I slapped onto the windshield this morning before a severe storm hit.  The suction cups worked well and there was no slippage even in heavy rains.  Tomorrow I will go to Walmart and buy a fourth so that I can cover the entire windshield with no gaps.

Loony?  Yup.  Simple?  Yup.  Brilliant?  Nah, but not too shabby!  🙂