Saturday, April 28, 2012

Vacation Of A Lifetime...Nairobi

We departed from Istanbul and arrived 6 hours later at 1:30am Sunday morning in Nairobi, Kenya. Getting through customs even at this time of day was as slow as molasses. And having a woman in our group in line ahead of us giving the customs agent an American attitude did not help the situation.  Once we passed through customs, we made our way downstairs and outside to see our new friends waiting for us with our driver and guide for the week, Simon.  Simon was one of three drivers for our group. They were with a company called Vintage Africa. According to Simon our group had lucked out and has been upgraded to Range Rover safari vehicle like this:

This was our actual vehicle. Each vehicle was named for an animal you might see out in the bush.
Ours was named Kifaru. This is Swahili for Rhino.

When we were supposed to have something like this and were very grateful we did not.

We were driven to the Intercontinental Hotel in Nairobi where we checked in and slept for about 5 hours. After breakfast and a brief welcome from Vintage Africa where we got these:

Our official Vintage Africa safari hats as modeled by me in this photo.

The first stop on our day tour in Nairobi was at the Langata Giraffe Center.
The Giraffe Centre is a Non-Profit making organization whose main objective is to provide conservation education for school children and the youth of Kenya. All our education programmes are offered to them free of charge. The Giraffe Centre derives 90% of its funds from the entrance fee collected and from the sales in the gift shop and teahouse. Therefore, by visiting us and/or making purchase from our shop and teahouse you have contributed towards conservation education to the Kenyan youth.

While at the Giraffe Center, we were able to feed three Rothchild Giraffe. You can see in this video featuring Todd and his new friend.

They were just too adorable

Daisy is a giraffe and resident at the Giraffe Center

There was educational programming at the Giraffe Center. This is a giraffe femur bone. We learned one kick of the leg to a lion will definitely kill it.

Did you know there are three different species of giraffe?  The Reticulated, the Rothchild (endangered) and the Massai.
How can you tell the difference?  The markings.
Girl from our tour. Did you know a giraffe's saliva has antiseptic properties in it?

Bet you don't see a sign like this in America
The Giraffe Center is also home to many other animals such as these adorable Wart Hogs

See the baby in the bottom right corner?  There must have been 6 of them all following their parents, one by one.

We were then off to the Karen Blixen home and museum.  Remember the movie Out of Africa?  Well, it was based on her life.  You can learn more about it here. Or you can buy the movie here.
But just to prove we were there, here are a few photos.

The house in the distance.

The house up close. 

The grounds surrounding the house were stunning

Because several people in our 7 person group were already foster parents to several elephant calf  and rhino orphans, we asked Simon if he would take us to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust for a special foster parent visit.  This was not open to the public as I had prior to leaving America to reserve a time to visit with the elephants, keepers and rhinos. Out of everything we were able to do on this trip, this visit was what I was looking forward to the most.
Simon drove us there, we checked in and then were able to visit with our foster elephants and rhinos, ask questions of the keepers and hopefully adopt more!
After reading to much about the DSWT, I just could NOT believe I was actually here

Stockages/Enclosures as we enter the nursery

Another visitor

In this enclosure is Solio. One of the two black rhinos who have perminant residence.
It was around 5:00pm and I was so thankful we were there to witness the keepers leading the elephant orphans in for the day from the bush.


The keepers are truly dedicated people.  They live, eat, breathe and dream elephant. Each keeper sleeps in an enclosure with one of the calfs and they rotate every 3 days so as to not get too emotionally attached to the elephant and vice versa.  If you weren't aware, elephants are extremely emotional and satiant creatures.

Most elephants have their own enclosure. Only a few shared an enclosure. As we walked in I turned to the right and saw what you see in the photo below. 
A lone elephant trunk scoping out the scene.

Someone has an itch

Each orphan has his/her name on a placque on their enclosure. It states their name which is determined typically by the geographical location in which the calf was rescued, an estimated month and year to their
birth and where they were rescued.

This is Rombo, he is one our foster kids

This is Kasigau.  We stayed together for quite some time.
With Kasigau's 'foster' papers in hand, I posed for a shot at Rombo and Layoni's enclosure.
Rombo and Layoni have both since been re-released into a protected wildlife area where there are still keepers but where they will be in the company of other elephant orphans who have
graduated out of the nursery along with a few wild elephants.
Todd made a connection with this little one, Sasab. Unfortunately, he was quite ill and passed away in early December 2011. We hope and pray he was met in heaven by his mother, who perished by poachers.

And this is Maxwell, a blink, black rhino who will live his life at Sheldrick.
He is also one of our foster kids.

Vacation Of A Lifetime...JFK, Istanbul, Nairobi

It has been several months since Todd and I have been back from our amazing African and Turkish vacation adventure. I've shared a few photo here and there but I would really like to share them, at least the good photos, here with you. 

We had never vacationed with a group of people we did not know before let alone through a travel company called Friendly Planet. But we decided to just go for it. The day after Thanksgiving in 2011, we drove to JFK International Airport.  That drive alone, especially on the Belt Parkway, was like taking your life in your own hands. Craziness! However, I did snap a lovely photo of the sunset while praying for my life.

We finally arrived, found Turkish Airways and to our delight and confusion we were the first and only people there.  Not even a ticket agent from Turkish Airways could be found. So what do we do?  We wait.  Little by little other travelers began to fill the line and we started seeing other people with the Friendly Planet tag on their luggage. Introductions were made but we still weren't quite sure about everyone.  We checked in, found our gate, had a few drinks, something to eat and waited.  That was until I found a spa, yes, a spa right there in the airport terminal.  I had such a neck ache for whatever reason and decided vacation began NOW.  Time for a neck massage.  As I was getting myself situated, I noticed and waved to another woman who was traveling with our group.  We hadn't formally met yet, but there was something about her I liked.  Was it because she was also getting a massage? Who knows...but I liked her.

We boarded the plane and settled in for a very long flight to Istanbul, Turkey.  One thing I will say about Turkish Airways, is it was top notch all of the way.  Courteous flight attendants, good food (I went vegetarian and it was good) and tons of in-flight entertainment (and free drinks) to keep you occupied and calm.

We arrived in Istanbul sometime in the mid-afternoon.  Our next flight to Nairobi, Kenya wasn't even on the departures board yet, so we settled in by the food court and began to meet the people who would be our travel companions for the next 10 days.  We met Sue and Tom from Indiana, Curt and Lisa from Texas and Irene, originally from Scotland but living in the Bahamas.  While the whole travel group was 16, the 7 of us stuck together like glue.  We were so sticky that at one point the others thought we were all related due to how we were carrying on with each other.

Todd, me, Sue, Tom, Curt, Lisa and Irene at Sopa Lodge in Lake Naivasha

Curt, Lisa, Irene, our incredible drive for the week, Simon, Sue, Tom, me and Todd at
 Intercontinental Hotel in Nairobi, Kenya
Our journey was just beginning...and what a journey it was!
A week and two days after surgery, my stitches came out and I was beginning to walk just a little bit further each day with the help of the cane. The cane had originally belonged to my mom when she broke her foot and she was kind enough to lend it to me. But it wasn't just any ole cane.  It was a cane of style, poise and design. But then again, I wouldn't expect anything less from my mom.

The form fitting top of the cane fits like a glove in your hand.

 The lovely green, red and orange paisley design.  So chic!

In all honesty, I was and still am very thankful for the cane. It has come in quite handy and is always there for me when I need its support.  

Friday, April 27, 2012

Recovery...and Then Some

Recover has not been easy. The first couple of days after surgery were rough.  My back was sore and the sciatic nerve pain was unbearable.  I was using a walker to get around and, I'm about to get very personal, if I actually made it to the bathroom and had success in the bathroom, it was the highlight of my day.  If you've never taken percocet before, it makes you constipated and that is just no fun at all.  I tried everything from colace to mirilax to a 'smooth going' tea.  It was finally the mirilax that helped to get my system running normally.  If I was successful in the bathroom, it was a good day.  I know that was more information than you really wanted to know but what can you do.  It's the truth!

What I did not expect was the way both of our dogs, Boris and Milo handled me and the situation.  They 100% knew their mommy was down and out and would not leave my side.  Boris more than Milo but I could tell that he cared. 

The photo below is my absolute favorite. This was the morning after my surgery. With his cheek pressed against my head and his arm on my shoulder, I truly felt my
 Boris nurturing me back to health.

  Todd snapped this one as Boris and I were snoozing.

 Always by me...our souls healing.

My spooning boys. This was still week one and how we spent each morning.
Nothing like waking up to cuddling with Milo and Boris.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Over In The Blink Of An Eye

With three days leading up to back surgery, I have to admit, I was nervous.  What if my spinal cord was punctured?  What if I wake up during surgery or worse yet, what if I don't wake up at all?  These were my thoughts as I checked into the SurgiCenter on the morning of my surgery.

I was wheeled into the cold, bright operating room and see my surgeon, Dr. Close and his assistant, Justin wave to me as they sit in the corner waiting. They are so many nurses hustling about asking me questions, hooking tubes up and prepping me for surgery.  The next thing I know I open my eyes.  I hear 'He's So Fine' by the Chiffons.  Is this in my head or am I really hearing this song?  I ask the nurses if I am supposed to be awake and they answer yes.  And within an hour and half I had a laminectomy and microdisectomy and was being wheeled into recovery.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A Terrifying Night

I've always had lower back issues, in fact, both of my parents and my brother do too.  It runs in the family. Since December 2011, my lower back began to seriously act up, more so than I could ever remember. On Valentine's Day I had my first lumber steroid injection.  It lasted for about two weeks and then the pain came back. About five weeks later I scheduled another. The day before the second injection, my right two toes, the right side of my foot, my heel, ankle, calf and right butt cheek, started to feel numb and tingly. Not fun at all. I did the second shot and while it did mask the back pain, what it did not mask was the sciatic nerve pain that only grew worse with each passing day.

On March 29th, my husband and I met with my doctor to discuss possible back surgery.  The numbness in my right leg and foot had me develop a sort of limp which made walking uncomfortable and then I started having pain in other areas of my body for compensating for the limp. We left the doctor's office, talked about the surgery and the next day I called to schedule and for some reason, no one called me back even after I left two messages. With the unfolding of the events that followed, I believe God was working in Her ways. 

Even though I wasn't able to schedule surgery, I did get a new prescription for pain, 5 mg of vicoden. FINALLY!  No more tramadol because that was like taking a tic tac for pain. 9pm rolled around and I went upstairs to bed, took one vicoden and off to dreamland I went.

The nerve pain was so intense that it woke me up at 3am.  I checked the clock and knew I was able to now take another vicoden as 6 hours had passed.  But the pain was excruciating. I needed to get out of bed and my husband must have fallen asleep on the sofa.  So I called his cell and told him he needed to get upstairs and get me out of bed as I was in unbelievable pain.

Todd came running up the stairs to our bedroom, turned on the light, and came to my bedside. We did the count, 1, 2, 3 and pulled me up out of bed to a standing position. Even though my feet were on the floor, I had to further support my body by leaning my arms on the bed. All of a sudden, I was sweating as if I just ran for 30 minutes at a pretty good pace. It was dripping off my face. Then the nausea ensued and I felt sick, really sick and dizzy.  I kept telling Todd that I was going to faint. And with that, I passed out.  Luckily, he was standing behind me to catch me.  I opened my eyes to find myself on the floor, in Todd's arms and hearing him call my name, 'Stephanie! Stephanie! Wake up!  Stay with me! Stephanie!'

Focusing on nothing but his voice, I tried to calm myself down.  Little did I know that poor Todd thought I had taken 3, not 1 vicoden.  This is something that I would never do, no matter how much pain I was in. It was hard to convince him of this as I was lying in his arms but I did. By a miracle of God, he got me up and we made it down the stairs and into the kitchen. My tee shirt was soaked with sweat and I was craving water and a cold compress to place on the back of my neck. Both of which helped to bring the color back to my face. Todd later told me that when I fainted my coloring was gray.  Kind of scary.

The pain was still intense and I looked at Todd and told him I needed to go to the hospital. At 4am, we walked into the Emergency Room at Reading Hospital. I couldn't sit and could barely walk, so they grabbed a gurney for me and I was able to lay down. No more than 10 minutes and I was back being seen by a very friendly doctor who ordered tons of blood work, an EKG and a very welcome pain killer that is 6 times stronger then morphine called dilaudid.   Finally, I had some relief but could still feel the pain of that sciatic nerve. About two hours later, I was given another dose of dilaudid and finally, one of my spine doctors came to visit me as part of his rounds.

He ordered up a steroid that typically gets prescribed for patients that have brain tumors.  As the nurse was injecting it into my IV, I immediately felt like I was going to vomit and then it felt like there were 50,000 little needles pricking my genital area.  Not fun.  I looked at my doctor because I began to get scared and he just old me to take deep breaths which I did, and I felt better. Upon me telling him the story of passing out from the pain, he contemplated keeping me overnight for pain management purposes.  But they decided not to.  Instead, my surgery was scheduled for 3 days later and I was finally dismissed from the hospital after about 8-9 hours. 

And my journey continued from there...