Wednesday, March 22, 2023

More Skin Cancer

Because of the two basal cell carcinomas found in my scalp last November, the dermatologist wanted to see me three months following the Mohs surgery. I went in the end of February, where she did an all body scan. She asked about a spot on my left neck, and I reminded her that she had put liquid nitrogen on it the last time I was in. She decided to biopsy the spot, along with one a few inches behind it. They put bandages on both before I left due to bleeding. I left those on overnight as I didn't want to get blood on my pillowcase.

Unfortunately, I have an allergy to latex - specifically bandages, oddly enough. By the next morning the spots on my neck had angry red welts, and they itched like crazy. I put an antibiotic ointment on them, and recovered them with bandages that have paper tape on them. That was also a mistake, as the welts and itching got worse. So I had to leave them uncovered, and used Benadryl cream on the welts.

Both the biopsies came back positive for basal cells, but apparently they are in the very early stages. So instead of having the plastic surgeon in the office do Mohs surgery, she is going to do an ED&C on them. I wasn't sure what that meant, so I had to ask Dr. Google. It stands for electrodesiccation and curettage, and is a procedure where they basically scrape off the cancerous cells. I have not had this done before, despite being on cancer spots number 17 & 18. I'm not sure exactly how they will know if they have gotten all the cells. With Mohs they examine each removal in the lab to make sure that they have gotten clean margins in the piece. If not, they go back and take more. Apparently with the ED&C, they will make three passes over each of the basal cells to try to remove all the cancerous tissue. The procedure has a 95% success rate, so hopefully I will fall into that category. I'm not scheduled until next month, so I'll report back on how it goes.

I'm not sure I followed up here regarding the infection in my scalp. Two weeks after they took a scraping to check for infection, it ended up that my one wound had a MRSA infection. This was definitely a surprise to me, as the most common way you get this type of infection is from a hospital or other health care setting. My guess is I got it when they removed my staples back in December. I opted to continue with the topical antibiotic rather than taking an oral antibiotic. Fortunately after another week of use the infection went away, and was cleared up before we went to Africa. I'm praying the next surgeries will not have any surprises coming out of them. 

Monday morning I got up early and walked down to a nearby point on the lake. It was cold, and fog was rising off the water. I'm reminded that beauty is all around us if we only look for it.

Mountain Island Lake

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Out of Africa Final Thoughts

minimal luggage

packing cubes
As I mentioned in the last post, we managed to take the trip to South Africa with only carryon luggage. We each had one suitcase as shown above. I also had a purse and my husband used a backpack. We had earlier purchased the Away brand carryon suitcases due to their size, weight, and positive reviews. We liked the fact that one of the inside compartments has compression capability, and they sell the packing cubes as well. I wanted to ensure that I got cubes that would fit inside these particular suitcases. The cubes worked great for keeping our belongings organized during the trip. We had no problems with any of the airlines with the items we carried on.

In terms of other advice given on what to pack and wear in South Africa, many things were not true. I'll preface what I'm about to say by clarifying that on our trip we stayed in lodges, and the safaris were in Toyota jeeps. We did not camp in the wilderness, and we did no hiking through the brush. Because of that, we wore tennis shoes on the safaris and they were fine. We did not need hiking boots, which was great because that saved space in the suitcase. Many online articles said to only wear tan, gray or dull green clothes so the animals wouldn't be disturbed by bright colors. Our clothing did not matter one bit. The animals are far more disturbed by the jeeps than what you have on. I did wear a large safari-style hat due to all my skin cancer issues. Our jeep was covered, but the sun still came in from the sides. I was happy to have my hat on for protection. We liberally used our sunblock, and had insect repellant wipes as well. Mosquitos can be a problem, especially since malaria is prevalent. We did not, however, take any malaria prevention medicine as I was concerned about the side effects.

The other thing of confusion for me was the power outlet situation in the areas to which we were traveling. I had read that the outlets are not standard in South Africa or in Botswana. I erred on the side of caution and purchased a power plug adapter kit that would handle several types of outlets, but in the end all I needed was the Type D plug. We did not need any voltage converters.

Covid was pretty much a non-issue on this trip. Masks were not requited anywhere, and the only time we had to prove we were vaccinated is when we landed at the Victoria Falls Airport. Botswana requires proof of vaccination or a negative Covid test. Just like in America, I did see that some Covid signs are still being displayed.

Africa covid signs

The biggest miracle is that we did not get Covid on this trip. Despite being in airports, planes, vans, and restaurants with their buffets (we haven't eaten a buffet meal in over three years!) we came home happy and healthy. To our knowledge, we have never gotten it. So far...

Sunday, March 5, 2023

Out of Africa Final Day

Thursday, February 23rd was our day of departure for home. Fortunately, we could take it easy in the morning as Mehluli was not picking us up until 11:00. We had a leisurely breakfast before finishing our packing. We drove the short distance to the Victoria Falls airport, where we bid a bittersweet goodbye to Mehluli. He took great care of us while we were in Zimbabwe, and was a wealth of information about the country.


flying into Cape Town
We boarded a Fastjet plane to Johannesburg. The flight time was 1 hour 35 minutes, so it was a quick one. We had a couple hour layover in Johannesburg before getting on our Delta flight. After we had booked our trip, Delta unfortunately decided that instead of flying direct to Atlanta there would be a stop in Cape Town. That added a 2 hour flight to Cape Town, with a 2 and 1/2 hour layover there. They did not let us get off the aircraft, which pretty much sucked since we still had more than 16 hours to go on that plane. Not to mention the fact that there were numerous children on the flight, including an infant in the row ahead of us. Suffice it to say that I got very little sleep on the way home.

We then had a 4 hour layover in Atlanta before boarding our final flight home. Going through customs in Atlanta was a breeze because we did carryon luggage only, and we both have Global Entry. From the time we left our lodge at 11:00 in the morning until we landed in Charlotte at 1:30 we had been traveling for over 34 hours.

To summarize the trip - it was fabulous! It exceeded all of our expectations. My recommendation to anyone going is to do carryon if you can, and add time on to either the beginning or end of the trip. The number of days we spent in each location was perfect for our needs, but that is a lot of flying time. Had we known Delta was going to change the return flight, we would have stayed a few days in Cape Town for sure. I highly recommend South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana as travel destinations.

Saturday, March 4, 2023

Out of Africa Day 7

Chobe River
We grabbed a to go box breakfast at our lodge as Mehluli picked us up at 7:00 AM to drive us to the Botswana border. There he handed us off to another driver who would take us into this country. We had to go through the border post at Kazungula. 

We first had to disinfect our shoes, followed by an inspection of our passports. We then proceeded to a second building where our Visas were reviewed. It was all a relatively quick process. The driver proceeded on to a dock on the Chobe River for the first part of our day's adventure.

our boat
It was just the four of us on the boat in addition to the captain. That was very nice as we could stay with any birds or animals as long as we liked to take pictures. We saw many birds and ducks. crocodiles, hippos, water monitors, and lots of elephants. It was fantastic!
Chobe River wildlife
After a couple hours on the water we were treated to lunch before our next guide came to pick us up for a game drive in Chobe National Park. It is Botswana's first national park, and covers 4,500 square miles. It is noted for its wildlife, particularly its large elephant population.

On this drive we encountered impalas, giraffes, baboons, hippos, warthogs, and many more elephants. It was a wonderful way to wrap up our last day of this trip. 

Chobe National Park

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Out of Africa Day 6

Baobab tree
Following breakfast, Mehluli picked us up at 8:15 to take us to Victoria Falls. First, though, he drove us to see a 1,200 year old Baobab tree. It was huge, with a girth of over 74' and a height over 78'. Nicknamed the tree of life, the baobab trees provide food, water and shelter to various birds, insects and reptiles.

Victoria Falls is located along the Zambize River between Zimbabwe and Zambia, and is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World (the others being the Northern Lights, Grand Canyon, Paricutin, Mount Everest, Harbor of Rio de Janeiro, and Great Barrier Reef). It is the largest waterfall in the world, with a width of 5,604' and a height of 354'.

Mehluli guided us on a walk along the falls, providing us with a rich history of the falls and the area. Thankfully we were provided with large raincoats, and we certainly needed them as the spray from the falls was like being in a rainstorm. It was quite an experience to see the falls from a distance as well as close up.

Victoria Falls
From the falls we were driven to the airfield of Zambezi Helicopters. Jim and I have never been in a helicopter before, and we were not sure how we would like it. Dubbed "Flight of Angels", the name did not inspire confidence in us. We selected the shorter 15 minute flight plan, which gave us several passes over Victoria Falls and one over a national park. We absolutely loved it! There is really no way to grasp the magnitude of the falls from the ground. An overhead look really put the falls in perspective. I would not hesitate to take a helicopter ride in the future.

Next Mehluli took us to a bridge where we could walk above the Zambize River from Zimbabwe to Zambia and back again. While the scenery was beautiful, the experience was marred by the street vendors hawking their wares. They just would not take no for an answer, which forced us to do the walk at a faster pace than we would have preferred.
bridge over the Zambize River
We retired back to the lodge to rest up a bit before dinner. The next day would begin early once again.