I was intending to launch my Africa series today, but something came up that has been demanding my attention for the past few days.
A little more than a week ago I volunteered to foster kittens for the animal shelter. Last Tuesday, I was offered a pair of adorable kitty brothers who just needed to gain weight before being neutered and offered for adoption. Over lunch Wednesday, I picked them up.
One of the perks of fostering is the privilege of naming the kittens. This is not an obligation if the foster parent is afraid of becoming too attached, but I see it as an honor. I chose to name my first set of boys after the Farnon brothers in James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small series.
As in the books, Tristan is the more sociable of the two. He is the first to greet me after a separation, the first to crawl into my lap purring, the one to try to get into my glass of wine. Even as I write this post, he is jumping on the keyboard to help.
Siegfried is a bit more reticent and studies each situation before leaping in. It took a few days for him to start purring; I think that’s an indication that it may take a little while to gain his loyalty, but once earned it will last forever.
I think these pretty boys may have Siamese or Himalayan in their background giving them their lovely seal ears and the blue eyes that I hope they keep. Siegfried is fluffy, like a Himalayan, and very photogenic. Tristan has tabby markings as well as a ringed tail, like a raccoon.
I think I am going to love fostering. We’ll have adorable kittens in the house as often as we like, have the flexibility not to foster when we wish to travel, and with any luck never have to deal with them dying. I do envy the family or families that end up with Sieg and Tris; I am also honored to have a part in getting them ready for their next adventure.
Visiting Africa was a wonderful experience, one that I am eager to share with family and friends. While I was away, I nurtured the lovely notion of publishing a weblog post every week after returning home. In fact, I still have a handwritten list of title ideas jotted down during the 8-hour flight from Amsterdam back to the United States.
Thus it came as a bit of a shock to realize that it is already ten weeks post-safari. It sure doesn’t seem like that long, but the calendar doesn’t lie. It’s definitely time to own up to my procrastination. I am going to give a Reader’s Digest condensed version of why I haven’t jumped right in to posting. Read on if you’re interested – if not, check back next Monday for my first official safari post.
Coming home to a crazy winter storm (I wasn’t sure for a while if I was going to be able to fly into Kansas City that night), I learned that my mother-in-law was no longer mobile and had entered hospice care. With carefully orchestrated hospice and home health agency visits, Phil and I hope to be able to honor her wish to remain at home.
The following day I was reunited with my beloved kitty, Moses. Several months earlier he had been diagnosed with kidney failure, and his medical treatment meant it would be best to board him while I was away. Skeeter appeared to be stable during his stay at the vet clinic, and we enjoyed a week where he seemed back on the road to his old playful self, cuddling and wanting to go outside for short periods. Then he suddenly stopped eating, and despite increased subcutaneous fluids and appetite stimulating medication, went into a rapid decline. We made the heartbreaking decision to put my darling boy to sleep February 28.
Two weeks later, Phil came home from work to find Daisy in what appeared to be a post-seizure state. Usually she will stagger outside afterward to take care of business. This time, she was unable even to get up. Our vet was fortunately on call, and generously made a house call when she hadn’t recovered after several hours. Daisy’s age and epilepsy complicated diagnosis, but it was clearly some type of neurological event. Basically, time would tell whether she would recover, and how much. We spent the weekend keeping her as comfortable as possible and carrying her outside to try (unsuccessfully) to take care of potty business. At the point when we began to despair of losing two pets in under a month, Daisy began taking a few faltering steps. Then she peed outside! Each day is a little better than the day before. Now she can get around fairly well, although it’s sometimes difficult for her to get up by herself and occasionally she trips over nothing and takes a face-plant on the sidewalk. It’s terrible, but we laugh, mainly with relief that our sweet Princess Crazy Daisy is still with us.
Many of you know that I work at my church. (One of my safari nicknames was “Church Lady” – and I may or may not share an anecdote or two concerning that in the future.) Just as I was leaving for Africa, we welcomed a new senior pastor, also my direct supervisor. Upon my return we reformatted the weekly bulletin, began working toward an electronic version of the monthly newsletter, and my website volunteer resigned. I also immersed myself in learning a new program for service slides. For a normal week there will be two slide sets and one bulletin. During Lent, that increases to three slide sets and two bulletins. During Holy Week: six slide sets and four bulletins. Yeah, it’s been crazy busy.
It’s not my intention to whine, make excuses, or solicit sympathy; I’m just outlining what I have allowed to demand my attention lately in an effort to shake off the lassitude. Life is life and we are all constantly evolving toward a new normal.
Which brings me to fess up to my biggest obstacle to timely posting – the sheer number of images I brought home from Africa. All told, more than 8,000 pictures over twelve days of shooting – not including the ones that I deleted in-camera before being scolded out of that bad habit. Some of them are easy to discard – out of focus, bad lighting, missed action. For others, though, it takes sorting through dozens of similar shots to pick the one that is just right. And sometimes a so-so picture needs just a little tweaking or cropping to become “the one.” As great a tool as PhotoShop is, it can all too easily become a time vacuum.
That said, there comes a time to kick inertia in its passive rear end and just get on with it. Plus writing is generally very therapeutic for me. So I am returning to my self-imposed yet long-ignored weekly deadline for new posts until I have exhausted my list of ideas inspired while watching The Lion King on Delta Flight 161. Monday mornings, here we come.
I recently participated in a two-week photo tour in Tanzania. This is something I have wanted to do for several years, and I had no intention of allowing high-maintenance eye care to keep me from achieving that goal.
I have traveled overseas with scleral lenses successfully in the past, most recently on a hiking trip in England, but Africa is another matter. I asked M&M Photo Tours to find out about the availability of ClearCare in Tanzania, but as I suspected, it is not readily available. I also considered buying plain hydrogen peroxide, but a Google search turned up evidence that the purity in Tanzania is not to the same standard as in the US, so I quickly discarded that plan.
Next, I thought I would carry on a travel size bottle of UniquePH and a couple of ClearCare, and alternate between the two. However an e-mail exchange with Dr. G (the developer of LaserFit lenses) along with input from the My Big Fat Scleral Lens Facebook group caused me to rethink that approach in favor of packing additional ClearCare in a checked bag.
This is my final packing list, in addition to the LaserFit lenses and progressive reading glasses (no distance correction) that I usually wear:
LaserFit contact lenses – 2 backup pairs in carry-on
Prescription glasses, in carry-on
Ziena moisture chamber glasses fitted with progressive reading lenses (no distance correction), in carry-on
Quartz silicon shield, in carry-on
ClearCare – 2x 3-oz in carry-on, 2x 12-oz in checked bag
Saline for Sensitive Eyes (Target brand) – 12-oz in checked bag
15ml Modudose sterile saline – 16 vials in carry-on, 6 in checked bag
5ml Modudose sterile saline – 16 vials in carry-on, 16 in checked bag
Theratears Nighttime Liquid Gel – 16 vials in carry-on, 8 in checked bag
UniquePH – 2-oz in carry-on
LoBob ESC cleaner – travel size, in carry-on
Muro128 – 1 tube in carry-on, 1 tube in checked bag
Refresh PM – 1 tube in carry-on
Cleaning sponges – 6 cut into 24 quarters, in carry-on
Ocusoft hand soap – 1-oz travel size, in carry-on
Sink catch mat – in carry-on
Travel size cotton swabs – 1 in carry-on, 1 in checked bag
Alcohol prep pads – some in carry-on, some in checked bag
Prose Disinfection case – 2x in carry-on
Small contact lens case – 2x in carry-on
DMV vented scleral cup – in carry=on
DMV ultra remover – in carry-on
I always carry an emergency scleral kit that contains a small contact case, a mirror, a few 5ml Modudose vials, a Theratears liquid gel vial, a tube of Muro128, a DMV vented scleral cup and ultra remover, and some cotton swabs. This was also in my carry-on.
That’s a lot of stuff, but as any photographer will tell you, it’s all in the optics – and that includes eyesight, my friends, And thus, I overpacked.
I have flown several times, including overseas, with scleral lenses. I pack two quart bags, one with my regular fluids and one marked “Medical Fluids,” and previously was never questioned. This time, a TSA agent at Kansas City International Airport stopped me to say that I was over my allocation. I explained that one of the bags was for medical purposes, but she remained steadfast. I then offered to show her a letter from my doctor, but before I was able to get it out, a supervisor came over and waved me through, explaining that the excess fluids were clearly medically necessary and all under 3.4 ounces. Disaster averted! In retrospect, I could probably have avoided the situation by putting each bag in a separate bin. It’s always a good idea to have a letter from your doctor listing medications and the need for extra fluids.
Part of my preparation for the trip was to plan scleral wear time during travel. I made a matrix with columns for home time and time at each intermediate stop before Kilimanjaro. I knew that I had 3-4 hour layovers at Minneapolis-St. Paul and Amsterdam, that I would have two 8-hour flights, and would be arriving at Kilimanjaro at night. I prefer not to insert or remove my contacts during flight, and I hoped to get a head start on adjusting my sleep schedule to Africa time. I also don’t want to go over 16 hours of wear time. Taking all of that into consideration, I determined that the best schedule on the way there was to wear them on the flight from Kansas City to Minneapolis, take them out just before boarding the flight to Amsterdam (and try to sleep on that flight), put them in upon arrival in Amsterdam, and remove them after arrival at the lodge in Tanzania.
Sound complicated? Welcome to the new normal for scleral lens patients.
The plan worked great, although the Amsterdam airport had some interesting sinks with footlong drains offering ample opportunity to lose a lens. I solved that problem by pulling out a small quick dry towel that I keep in my camera bag and using it to cover the drain while I inserted my lenses. I was a bit self-conscious about the amount of time and space I needed for all of my lens paraphernalia, but I did what I needed to do. During transit I disinfect with UniquePH rather than ClearCare so that spillage is not an issue.
Another small glitch came when I opened my suitcase at the first lodge and the first couple of layers of clothing in my checked bag were damp. The bottles of ClearCare and saline were intact, so some must have leached out. (I think it was likely the saline since none of the clothing showed signs of bleaching.) The clothing was all quick dry and all was fine by morning. However for the rest of the trip, I stowed all of my larger bottles of solution in a JetBag that I had brought with me. These bags are designed to absorb 750ml of liquid in case a bottle of wine breaks in a checked bag. I’m not sure why I didn’t think of this to begin with, but it is my takeaway travel tip for this trip.
All of my compulsive planning and supply redundancy proved invaluable during the actual safari. Game drives are extremely dusty. The Ziena moisture chamber glasses, which I am wearing in the photo above, worked perfectly to keep as much dust as possible away from my scleral lenses. I had them fitted with progressive reading lenses (no distance correction) so that I could easily see the settings on my camera. At night I used Muro128 to lubricate my left eye, which does not blink fully or produce tears. I took along a Quartz silicon shield in case I should need it, but never wore it.
There were two days when I wore each of the three pairs of LaserFit lenses. I established a rule that I would never reinsert lenses until they had been disinfected. One particularly dusty morning, I changed lenses when we returned to camp at noon, and again when I took a shower before dinner. I make it a practice never to wear my lenses in the shower, and in Africa that is an even more important safety rule. So one evening when I forgot and took a shower with the second set in, I immediately removed them for disinfection. It would have been possible to travel with one or two sets of lenses, but I was glad to have taken three.
I ended up using one 12-oz and one 3-oz bottle of ClearCare solution, and the 12-oz bottle of saline (for rinsing) during the trip. Each day I rinsed my disinfected lenses in the neutralized ClearCare solution, then used one 15ml Modudose vial and one Theratears vial for insertion, plus a 5ml Modudose vial if I needed to squeegee my left lens. I immediately discarded any unused solution in the vials, and used a fresh quarter of a cleaning sponge every time I cleaned my lenses.
On the trip home, we left Kilimanjaro on a late evening flight, so I had already removed my lenses. I reinserted them in Amsterdam (again utilizing my quick dry towel to cover the massive drain), and removed them in Minneapolis before my final flight to Kansas City. I was fortunate enough to be a guest in a Delta lounge, so the bathroom situation was much better.
It takes a lot of foresight and planning to travel with scleral lenses, but they needn’t keep us from pursuing our goals. I think the only thing I would have done differently – besides packing my checked fluids in a JetBag – is to forego the 12-oz bottle of saline and 15ml Modudose vials in favor of 5ml vials. They come in connected sets of four flat vials that are easy to pack, and I always ended up discarding extra fluid in the 15ml vials. I think a four-pack per day plus a few extra for insurance would have been sufficient.
So there you have it – sclerals on safari! Now to begin planning for my next big travel adventure.
This morning, I realized that it is six months to the day until I leave for Tanzania. February 1 still seems like a long way off, yet I also feel as if I don’t have nearly long enough to prepare. One of my major goals for the trip is to come home with some amazing shots of my “spirit animal.”
Years ago, when one of my grade-school teachers asked, “If you were an animal, what would you be?” several members of my class piped up with “giraffe” before I had a chance to answer for myself. Even back in the day I was tall, quiet, and awkward. I was fine with the comparison; it certainly wasn’t the meanest one they could have picked. Next trip to the school library, I checked out a book about giraffes and a lifelong interest was kindled.
I read once that this same question is popular during job interviews. I have never been asked, though, which I find unfortunate. Among the myriad of intelligent yet social dolphins, go-for-the-jugular jaguars, and sly foxes out there, a gentle giraffe would be a refreshing change of pace, and not merely because as an adult I am roughly the same size as a newborn giraffe.
Here are my favorite traits of this venerable animal:
Giraffes work together as a team to solve problems and accomplish goals, with no jockeying for leadership
When a goal seems out of reach, the giraffe strives to reach higher (see picture above)
Giraffes are non-predatory, but utilize a strong defensive kick when threatened
These are praiseworthy characteristics in life as well as in the workforce. I also like that giraffes have huge hearts, and that while they may initially appear gangly, there is actually an ambling grace to their movements.
I keep a giraffe figurine on my desk for motivation. When six months seems interminably long, it helps to imagine for a moment I am already in Africa. When I worry about not having enough time to prepare, it helps to remember that as long as I keep reaching, seemingly insurmountable goals become achievable.
Today marks ten years since I awoke from microvascular decompression surgery to left-side facial paresis. Well, paralysis at that time. Single-sided deafness as well. Fortunately over time I regained most of my balance and hearing and enough facial function that most people don’t notice anything amiss. My blink and tear function have never returned, so I have spent a decade finding a remedy for painful dry eye. The solution that has worked best for me is the combination of an implanted eyelid weight and scleral contact lenses. These large-diameter specialty lenses are expensive and require quite a bit of maintenance, but in my opinion are worth every bit of cost and effort.
In past posts I outlined the care routine that works best for me. Since then I’ve discovered a couple more items that make it more manageable.
Several months ago I had to have my collarbone plated following an auto accident. Something went wrong with the nerve block and for a while my left arm did not function. My insertion technique requires both hands – one to hold the inserter and lens, the other to hold my eyelid wide open. For the first couple of weeks my husband helped with the eyelid part. We were both relieved when I regained the minimal movement and grip necessary to hold the inserter relatively steady. It was frustrating at first. My left hand did not have the strength to hold my eyelids, so I could only use it to hold the inserter and lens. Fine for my right side, but very awkward for the left. It wasn’t what I was used to and I kept bumping into my nose moving my right hand across my face to open the left eyelids. The weakness in my left hand caused me to spill the solution quite often. I also had a hard time aligning the left lens in the mirror I used on the counter. I was back to needing ten to fifteen minutes or more just to insert my contacts.
I remembered seeing a scleral insertion system that incorporated a lighted stand, but remembered it as pricey. I also didn’t want to have to wait on shipping. I thought about my craft light box but couldn’t find it, so we went to Hobby Lobby to see what they might have. A store employee directed us to this:
I snapped it up with a 40% off coupon and it worked like a charm. All I needed to do was align the inserter so that I could see a little circle of light. This lasted for a few weeks before it died. I think that even though I blotted up excess saline right away, some made its way into the box and shorted its circuits. In retrospect, I should have put a square of glass or plastic over it to keep the liquid out.
No worries though – since the concept worked so well I wondered if combining lights with a mirror I had been using wouldn’t be any better. I started searching at Amazon.com and found this lighted compact:
I highly recommend this for people who have trouble inserting their lenses. I find that it helps immensely to align lenses properly, plus it’s inexpensive and small enough for travel.
Before I regained normal strength and dexterity in my hand, I reverted to using disinfecting solution rather than ClearCare. I did not want to run the risk of snapping a lens, even having moved to PROSE cases with their larger baskets. As soon as I was able, I switched back to ClearCare, but there is a drawback. I have two pairs of lenses that I switch between every other day. Because the hydrogen peroxide system doesn’t seal, when I travel there is a risk of spilling the solution out of the second case. Before our most recent hiking trip to South Dakota, I made an exciting discovery. The PROSE case exactly fits into an empty eye makeup remover jar. (The labels peel off easily.)
Make sure it’s the extra-large 120-count jar. The 80-count is too short for the PROSE case, but might work with a ClearCare case. While a little solution may still seep into the jar, it won’t leak out into luggage.
It amazes me to look back and see how far scleral lens technology and use has come in the past decade. I’m looking forward to seeing what the next ten years bring.
Having pulled the trigger on going on safari, I turned my attention to preparing for it. Whenever I plan to leave the country, I take out travel insurance, and this trip is no exception. I looked for a policy that would cover many contingencies of not being able to go, and maximizing lost luggage since I am taking expensive camera gear.
That done, I started googling safari gear. I had originally thought that I would be pretty well geared-up already, since Phil and I have been on many hiking excursions and I figured quick-dry gear is quick-dry gear, eh? However, the bold colors that make one easy to spot on a hiking trail also make one easy to spot by African wildlife, and not in a good way. Add in my post-accident weight loss, and suddenly I wasn’t so well geared-up after all, except for hiking boots.
The best colors for safari are desert neutrals: brown, beige, khaki, tan, olive drab. Besides the aforementioned bright colors that alarm the animals, black and navy blue draw tsetse flies, and who wants that? So . . . off to amazon.com! Unfortunately I soon discovered that 6L hiking pants are nearly impossible to find and quick-dry shirts have become quite pricey. Time to expand my shopping horizon, and explore alternative payment sources.
Our amazon.com account is linked to our Discover rewards, which I used to purchase a number of items for the trip, mostly related to technology (laptop sleeve, port dust plugs, MacBook port adapter, keyboard cover and such). We also have a policy of directing “found money,” such as product rebates and Ebates, into our travel fund.
We also have a Cabelas rewards charge card, which enabled me to order tan hiking socks, a khaki sun/rain hat, and a “Rite in the Rain” pen and pad – all with points.
eBay became my new best friend for safari attire. I was able to find five gently-used neutral-colored quick-dry shirts, two pairs of long-inseam pants (one new with tags), and a khaki travel jacket at prices ranging from $10-20. I was also able to purchase a Kata camera backpack with a laptop slot. One of my favorite eBay features is “Make an Offer,” where I explained to the sellers that I was going on safari on a budget. Almost everyone was willing to negotiate a lower price. (As a bonus, eBay participates in Ebates at a rate of 2%.)
I am still debating the merits of a travel vest and am watching prices.
I am going on safari in Tanzania next February, where I will see these majestic animals in their natural environment. I am so excited!
This trip has been a long-term dream that started when I began following the work of photographer Jeff Cable. Among his extensive portfolio, he does amazing work shooting Olympic sports, portraiture, and of course, travel photography. The first time I saw him post about his safari excursions was probably 2015 or 2016. I had recently started a new job and it was just not feasible to take extended leave.
Several things happened in 2017 that made me realize that while no timeframe is going to be perfect, now is the time to follow dreams. One was a car accident in which I suffered a broken collarbone, with a subsequent surgery that resulted in an unexpected nerve injury with extended recovery. I also lost three “mother figures” — Arleene, a dear friend and former colleague, Aunt Grace, my beloved godmother, and Ann, my former mother-in-law. I’m sure that each of them would be honored to be an impetus behind this decision.
There is a lot of preparation for a trip such as this, and I anticipate multiple posts related to that in the near future. But for now I will revel in the decision to do this, and the anticipation of seeing my spirit animal, the giraffe, in its native habitat.