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.)

Eau la Tique de la Grrrrrr

“Mmmm, what is that fragrance you are wearing?” you may well ask should you happen upon me and my sweet doggy any time soon.

“It is Eau la Tique de la Grrrrrr,” I shall readily reply, a slight blush of pride at my inside joke spreading across my cheeks and nose… or is that a mild sunburn acquired during sunny summer walks with Dawny Virgil?  Yes, for those of you who have been traveling with us for a while and are curious, Dawny has had a wonderful stretch of good health these past few weeks.  I think the home-cooked diet is agreeing with her.

Dawny and I are now enjoying ourselves in the great state of Pennsylvania.  We have worked our way from the farmland and rolling hills that decorate the southern region to the magic of the Pocono Mountains in the north, visiting with family and friends along the road.

We are also settling into a new workamping job.  It is a nice mixture of physical labor and fresh air.  The only problem is that there is a lot of long grass and underbrush where we walk and surrounding the campsites where I need to work.  And that means ticks.

Did you know that Pennsylvania ranks first in the number of cases of Lyme Disease reported each year since 2011?  I believe it!  I forgot to apply Dawny’s weekly dose of anti-tick/flea spray before we took our first walk upon arriving at the campground near my brother’s house.  Dawny, great huntress that she is, forged deeply into the roadside brush, chasing the scent of Eau de la Groundhog.  Over the next three days I picked half a dozen ticks off of us both and found several more strolling leisurely around our little house.  Smoking tiny cigarettes, no less.

Lesson learned, I sprayed the herbal flea/tick spray that I use to supplement the monthly topical drops I apply to the back of her neck.  My favorite brand is Sergeant’s Green Natural Flea and Tick Spray, but it is very expensive.  Some Walmarts carry a cheaper version, Natural Care Flea and Tick Spray, which has a slight variation in ingredients.

Unfortunately, I continued to find ticks as we worked our way northward.  So I sprayed her every time we went out.  Then I started spraying me.  At this point, I spray both of us at least once a day, from the tips of our toes to the flaps of our ears, including my walking hat and work cap.

These natural sprays have a very strong aroma, consisting of peppermint, clove, lemon grass, and cinnamon oils, leading me to ponder the law of unintended consequences.  Dawny and I are basically strolling around in a thick herbal cloud through an area heavily populated by black bears, who have extraordinarily sensitive noses and curiously inquisitive tastes…

Eau la Tique de la Grrrrrr.

I sure hope my attempt at humor doesn’t come back to bite me.

A Traveling Settler

What is a traveling settler?  Me!  I see it as someone who travels from one location to another, stops in one spot for a few weeks or months–maybe longer–then travels to the next destination, settles for a spell, and moves on again.  If I lived in America a couple of hundred years ago, I would have had a horse, a teepee, and a feather in my hat.

But this is the 21st century, so my home has an engine and six wheels.  My four legged companion is the best doggie in the world, Dawny Virgil Prewash Sassy Generous . . . (like all good Native Americans, her names carry great significance).  And we are at home whether traveling or settled.

We have logged 30 thousand miles in our two and a half years on the road.  That’s not really all that much, if you think about it.  The first 10 thousand miles were clocked during our first six months, traveling from Indiana to Texas to Nevada, then all the way east to Virginia by way of South Dakota, Ohio, and other northern states, finally swinging down to Florida where we stayed at our winter campground for a three-month stretch.

That is when I realized that, at the rate we were going, we could wear out our sweet little house-on-wheels in under ten years.  It was time to slow down.  And it was past time to make a budget and stick to it.  (If interested, you can see more on budgeting in my November 16, 2015 post, “Budgeting for Fun.”)

The greatest assist to both the budget and the slower pace has been workamping.  That is where you get a free campsite in exchange for hours worked at the campground.  In 2015 I workamped three jobs over five months.  Last year, it was three jobs over seven months.  The savings while workamping has been terrific.  Not only is there no camping fee, I save money on gas since I am only taking the house/wheels out once or twice a week to do errands or for local sightseeing trips (I don’t tow a horse so the whole house goes with us).

The beauty of staying in one place for a while is the opportunity it grants to connect with other travelers, to get acquainted with local neighbors and local culture, and to grow some lasting friendships.  Heck, one of my jobs is close to where I lived for 30 years and I get to see many old friends and family.  That is a sweet, sweet time.

Dawny likes our settled-in times very much, especially at our winter camping grounds in Florida and Texas.  She is a master of making friends-for-cookies.  Fellow campers and workers at both of these campgrounds are perfectly willing to spoil her.  As we speak, she is totally smitten with Mr. Mike and Uncle Joe.  Both express their adoration of her by showering her with cookies and love.  Perhaps that has contributed to her being less apt to go on the warpath when we come upon other doggies lately.  The girl is mellowing.

Traveling between jobs or on the way to where we will sit for the winter is our “vacation” time.  That is when I get to map out different routes (yay! maps!), explore fresh countryside, and visit new campgrounds, usually staying just a night or two at each one. If we aren’t pressed for time, we may spend quite a few days at one that is especially nice.  This is also a great way to scope out places for future workamping jobs.

Every traveler has their own rhythm.  This is simply the pace and style that suits me and my girl, our situation and our needs.  Many wanderers retain a home base with a solid house on it, venturing out when the season becomes harsh and returning when the weather welcomes (picture the classic snowbird).  The most hardy souls aim for wide open lands out west where they can boon-dock for days or weeks at a time, their nearest neighbors nowhere in sight.

When I lived in my home that was unequivocally planted in one spot, I loved it.  I loved being so firmly settled.  It felt safe.  Secure.  To an extent, it was also isolating, but that was by my own choice.  It sometimes surprises me that I feel so secure in this nomadic, freewheeling lifestyle.  Sure, our home moves around an awful lot but, with our workamping jobs and winter campgrounds, we also spend plenty of time settled.

I think what I love the most is that our world, our home, our level of comfort (and confidence) has expanded.  Dawny and I are both more relaxed.  Leaving our insular, brick-walled bubble behind, we struck out into the wilds.  Along the way, we have been gathering blessings like precious, smooth-faced stones, with the face of a new friend etched upon each one.  Our tribe has grown.