Ticks, Ticks, and more Ticks

It’s well into tick season and for many, getting outdoors means dealing with ticks.  Not only are they annoying little creepy-crawlies, they are also vectors for many different diseases.

According to the CDC, the following disease/tick species associations are notweworthy in the United States (they are not necessarily exclusive to these particular tick species and there are likely to be more diseases, too): Continue reading Ticks, Ticks, and more Ticks

Garmin Oregon 450: First Hike/Geocaching

5 September 2010 SFAEFI got the new GPS out for a hike and some geocaching on this day. I started out by loading the USGS topos for the Stephen F. Austin Experimental Forest (SFAEF) onto the Oregon from Topofusion. I chose the topos because many (but not all) of the trails on the SFAEF appear on the topos. It also shows the boundary of the forest, locations of some pipeline right-of-ways, and locations of some wetland areas. Important information for what I wanted to do.

My next step was to load some geocaches onto the Oregon. The Oregon supports paperless caching, and I was anxious to take advantage. I have paid for premium membership and pocket queries in the past, but I don’t geocache enough for that anymore. I only go occasionally, and so I used the direct download to GPS function on the Geocaching website to choose individual caches to hunt. The website function didn’t work perfectly, for one. Sometimes I’d have to retry the download because it wouldn’t detect the Oregon. I don’t know if it was because the Oregon was acting up, or because the website was acting up. Either way, it was a minor annoyance, and I was able to get a few caches loaded I could hunt. Here’s a track of my hike and cache hunt.

The Oregon handled things nicely. It is a bit of a pain that when folks use HTML in their cache pages, you see all of that HTML on the Oregon. Plain text is better for this, it seems. I’m not sure if people will ever simplify their cache pages to accommodate this, though.

I did notice one spot where the Oregon was off. If you look at where the track deviates from the road and follows roughly parallel to it, that was the spot. I was on the road that whole time, so I’m not sure what was going on. My wife’s Forerunner 205 showed us on the road the whole time once we downloaded her track. It could have been the way I was carrying the Oregon. I was using the carabiner that came with it to hang it from my pack on my chest, so the antenna was not positioned for optimal reception.

Overall it was a good hike. We were able to find a couple of clever hides out here. It was a good change in pace from some previous caches we’ve looked for that haven’t been very interesting…just a box in the woods hidden under a log or something.

The hike was very good. Although walking on the gravel roads through this area makes for sore feet when you’re wearing lighter trail shoes. The area gets burned regularly, so the woods were pretty open in spots. We saw some wildlife on our hike, too. And, the American Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) was looking great.

5 September 2010 SFAEF

This black swallowtail was the only wildlife I was able to photograph.

5 September 2010 SFAEF

Everything else was too quick, but we also saw an owl (probably a barred owl), a whitetail deer, an armadillo, and a handful of lizards (anoles and skinks).

At the end, we had two very tired doggies. In fact, they’re still two very tired (probably quite sore) doggies today. Tired doggies are well-behaved doggies.

5 September 2010 SFAEF

Kitten Update

Okay, so I’ve got a kitten update for those of you who are interested in such things. We’ve had the kitten awhile now, and just got her spayed along with a front declaw, since she was starting to scratch everywhere EXCEPT the scratching post. She’s been adjusting quite well, though she actually will run away if she doesn’t want to be picked up and held at the moment. I’m working on teaching her her name, Spooky, by giving her treats as I say it. Not sure if she’s interested much, but I’ll keep at it.

She gets along with the dogs great, especially Tex. I keep meaning to get some video of the two of them playing. Tex is over 50lbs and Spooky probably isn’t 5lbs yet. Spooky attacks him, and he pins her to the floor with his paw and nuzzles her. He’s very gentle. I’m quite surprised, since he’s so dumb/dense about so many other things.

Spooky doesn’t play with Biner much…just the occasional swat at his bushy tail. He doesn’t pay her much mind most of the time. And when he does, it surprises Spooky. Can’t blame Biner, though. He’s been living with an ornery old cat who doesn’t want anything to do with him for 5yrs, so he’s mostly lost interest with cats by now.

Anyway, here’s the obligatory kitten pictures.

Spooky cuddling on the couch
Spooky cuddling on the couch
Spooky watching the Colts win...again.
Spooky watching the Colts win...again.

Can it get better?

I found out at my appointment with my oncologist last week that I don’t need anymore chemo!  I got a greatly reduced dose (2 days’ worth) for round #7, and that was it.  No round #8 for me.  I did my 7th round as an outpatient…and I got to experience real chemo side-effects for the first time.  Ugh, now I know what I was “missing”.  I think I know why I missed them, too.  When I got my chemo as an inpatient, I always got loads of fluids when I wasn’t actively receiving chemo.  This time, I got a little, but not nearly as much…and I just couldn’t drink enough to make up the difference.

Receiving the chemo was interesting, too.  I’d go into one of the outpatient treatment centers (they’d do injections, transfusions, chemo, all sorts of things) and get my dose of fludarabine.  When that was done, they’d hook me up to the cytarabine and this tiny little battery powered portable pump set on a timer to give a certain dose.  They’d send me out the door at that point with the cytarabine set to run at a specified time and the pump in a little shoulder bag.  Then I could go out and do what I wanted…and sleep in a MUCH more comfortable hotel bed.

But in addition to being told that was my last chemo treatment, I was told that in roughly 6-8wks, I’d get my central line removed.  The specific date would depend on when my red cell counts returned to normal.  So when I am no longer anemic (which will be the first time in 10mo), I get the central line out.  Oh that will be a great day!  Furthermore, my oncologist told me it’d be okay to return to classes for my master’s degree program.  Wow.  I was hoping for that, but now that I am allowed to do it, it’s awesome!

I still have some details to iron out to register for classes for next semester, but I don’t think that will be a problem…just paperwork.  Excellent!  Here’s hoping for a permanent recovery!

New Kitty

My wife has been raving about this little kitten that had been housed in her vet clinic for the past few weeks.  It had been found as a very tiny kitten out near the horse barn, and an employee brought it in the clinic.  Kitty has been living in a double kitty kennel the past few weeks just growing up.  My wife dragged me in to show me the little kitten the other day, and it seemed like a very good, well-mannered kitty.  Our current cat is old, cranky, ill, and VERY loud.  I don’t like her.  But this kitten was rather likable.  I told the wife that she’d be allowed to bring the kitty home if certain conditions were met.

1. I HATE noisy kitties.  If this one meowed or yowled excessively, it wouldn’t work.
2. Since kitty is young, kitty will receive training.  Namely, learn to come when called, and learn to wear a collar and a leash.  Old kitty would kill herself flailing if one tried putting a collar on her.
3. Since I am allergic to cats, current rules regarding no cats in the bedroom still apply.  Current cleaning regimes are sufficient but may need a little more work to cut down on cat dander.  Litterbox will need more frequent cleaning.
4. New kitty needs to be able to tolerate dogs better than old kitty.  Old kitty has had many dogs in her life, and she hisses and then goes into coughing attacks if one of them so much as sniffs her.  I would like it if young kitty learns to play with dogs.

We have had young kitty in the house for a couple of days now.  On day 1, she was rather shy and startled easily.  She mostly submitted to lots of petting for the time, enjoying the security of it.  On day 2, young kitty’s personality started coming out.  She’s a playing fool.  If you reach over to pet her, she attacks your hand, like you’re trying to play.  I got kitty an interactive chase toy on a long string at the end of a long wand so I can play with kitty without being shredded.  That would be bad, considering my blood counts resulting from cancer treatment.  Kitty can be worn out sufficiently with this toy that she becomes easy to handle.  Also, it makes it easier to get her used to the leash/harness.  Once she figures out the walking part, she might even be able to go for walks with the dogs.  Haha.  I like that the leash is stretchy for the tiny baby kitty.

First feral cat

First feral cat, originally uploaded by mtbikernate.

I have been having problems with feral cats this year. I first noticed them shortly after I moved into this house about a year ago, but didn’t have any trouble until this spring when I came home from the hospital. One of the ferals had a litter of kittens in the neighbor’s densely wooded lot, and they’d come into my yard to play. The first problem I had was the feral cats raided a wren nest on my porch and at least ate the babies. Not sure if they got the adults or not.

Later in the spring, my wife noticed that mama cat had been hit by a car. We wondered if the kittens would survive. At least some did. We didn’t see them for a long time, as I’d chase them away whenever I saw them. But one night, when letting the dogs out for their evening pee, one of them (now a cranky tomcat) was sitting on the porch. In trying to chase it away, it ran around me and into the house. Boy did that cat reek strongly of urine.

Because of my cancer treatments making me susceptible to disease, bleeding, and bruising, my wife had to take over. She threw a laundry basket on top of the cat and ushered it out the front door with a broom. When she removed the basket, the cat tried to attack her. She had to whack it a couple times with the broom to get it to run away.

It was then I decided we had a problem and set about to fix it. I bought this tomahawk trap, some heavy duty kevlar lined leather animal handling gloves, and the pictured scent lure. I tried catching cats on the back porch for awhile, with no luck. Just yesterday I moved the trap to the front, near my car where there were fresh muddy cat prints on my hood. Today, this was waiting for me.

This cat was a nasty bugger when I took the shade cover off the trap. It tried eating me as soon as I lifted it off and moved the trap to the driveway. The cat continued to hiss and try to attack me any time I went near the trap. Definitely a feral. An owned and socialized cat shouldn’t be behaving that way (yes, my wife and I have a cat of our own…and it’s an indoor-only cat).

I sprayed the cat with the hose, blared a loud air horn, and released it. Aversive conditioning has been proven effective for years on habituated bears, and is a technique recommended by the Humane Society of the United States. We’ll see how well it really works on cats. I’ll be keeping the trap in the front yard for the time being. It’s possible the smell of the dogs in back helps keep the kitties away.

Wow, what a year!

Sorry it’s been so long since I’ve posted anything, but I have a good reason for that.  Really, I do.

You see, I got cancer.  Yup.  Acute myelogenous leukemia.  Man, that hit me hard and fast, too.

Here’s how it went down:

Back in February last year, I got sick…flu sick.  Body aches, runny nose, coughing, that sort of thing.  I started taking ibuprofen and some OTC flu meds to feel better.  It never really went away, though.  In fact, it got worse, to the point I was frequently missing classes, sleeping through the ones I DID attend, and generally feeling worse.  I went to see my doctor, saying I thought I had the flu, and wanted to make sure it wasn’t anything worse.  Well, doc thought it was the flu, also, and had me managing symptoms.  They still didn’t go away.  I ended up going in for a second visit, where the doc took blood samples to test.  Well, the samples came back looking really bad.  Unfortunately, when they did come back, my doc was out of town and had another doc filling in for him.  That doc saw my lab results and they were so bad, he didn’t want to get involved.  We’re contemplating what to do about that, actually.  Doc came back a couple days later, called me at 11pm, and told me to go to the ER.  I went in, and I was given more tests, including a bone marrow aspirate, which confirmed my leukemia diagnosis.  Things get fuzzy from here onward.

I remember being put on an ambulance in my little town and being shipped to Houston so I could be treated at MD Anderson.  Once I got there, my memory is gone.  My wife says I was still lucid and all, but I don’t remember it.  From now on, I’m going to go off of what I’ve been told.  I was in the ER for a couple of days, partly because the hospital was so full and it took awhile to get a regular room.  Once I did, I was only there for a day or so.  At one point, I got up in the middle of the night to pee, and I collapsed before I got there.  At that point, my wife insisted on an MRI.  The hospital staff didn’t object…they thought I might have hit my head and got a brain bleed or something.

Well, I didn’t have a brain bleed, but the MRI turned out to be a good idea.  It was discovered that I had swelling on my brain stem.  Not caused by the fall, but serious nevertheless.  So I got moved to ICU.  I spent the next 18 days there, because that brain stem swelling very nearly killed me and I got kidney and liver failure to boot.  I think I had two rounds of kidney dialysis before that resolved, and the liver failure also resolved.  I did suffer lasting kidney damage, but not so severe that I needed a transplant or additional drugs or anything.  Thankfully my values now have returned to the normal range, albeit higher than they were before I got sick.

I remember a few things from when I was in the ICU…but I was gorked out on some serious drugs.  I was hallucinating quite a bit, and all I remember is the room I was in (which seemed excessively cluttered at the time), the TV and computer, I remember bugs all over the place, and I remember cats in the room.  The bugs and cats were not there, but they were certainly in my head.  I also remember some sensation that I was being moved frequently from one room to another.  The reality was that my original room got a leak in a heavy rainstorm and they had to move me once.  The construction activities at the hospital caused the trouble.  But I had no perception of time then, so things were all F’d up.

Sometime during that time, the doctors moved me from being intubated to giving me a tracheostomy…a hole in my trachea where they could pump the oxygen in and I would be able to use my mouth.  Then they started pulling me out of the drug-induced coma and I started waking up.  That period was REALLY trippy.  My mind was doing some crazy shit that I still can’t explain adequately.  Eventually the drugs wore off enough that I could make sense of the world around me.

Of course, the first thing I noticed was that with the trach, I could not speak well.  It took a day or two for the docs to give me a ‘speaking valve’ so I could talk.  Another thing I noticed quickly was that my eyesight was garbage.  I couldn’t see worth a damn, and they sent me to opthamology on an emergency basis to see why.  I had leukemic infiltrates in my retinas, that’s why.  Wonderful.  I also learned that my father had lost his leg in a motorcycle crash when coming to the hospital in Houston to see me.  He rode from Indianapolis to Houston to see me, and got hit by a Mustang a few miles from the hospital in downtown Houston.  Nice, huh?

I spent about another week in the hospital before they let me go.  They had me doing a little physical therapy because I had lost nearly ALL of my physical abilities while I was there, and they wanted me to be able to stand and walk to the bathroom before sending me out.  I did a lot of work standing up and sitting down.  I also did a lot of work with the throat folks.  I essentially even had to learn how to swallow again.  I was started on a liquid diet and as I progressed, I eventually made my way to a regular one.  I still had a hard time getting the food to my mouth, but I could at least chew and swallow it once I got there.  I was also given a spinal tap to see if they could figure out what that swelling was (they couldn’t do it earlier because of the pressure on my brain stem being so great, I ran the risk of rupturing it), and while they had the needle in my spine, they gave me some intrathecal chemo just in case.

Once they let me out, I still couldn’t go home yet.  I had too many appointments for blood tests, bone marrow aspirates, chemo, and checkups.  I did get to go home on a couple of weekends for a couple days, and that was nice.  We rented a trailer home in Houston for awhile for this.  It was SOOO uncomfortable, but it sure was cheaper than a hotel and better than driving back and forth all the time.  The few steps up to the front door were great for my physical therapy.  I eventually got to where I could walk up and down them without help.  The trailer park was also a good place for me to learn to drive again.  My car is a little Honda Fit with a manual tranny, so that was tough.  I picked it up quickly, thankfully.  My eyesight also improved some during this time.

Before long, I was able to go home on a more permanent basis.  It eventually became clear that I was pretty stable, and my oncologist (Dr. Estrov is my hero) released me to an oncologist/hematologist at home, and permitted me to have my blood tests done at home.  He still insists I go to Houston for my chemo and monthly checkups, but that’s better than daily or weekly trips to Houston.  My wife at this point gave me permission to get a fancy home theater system.  I call it my “cancer survival present” because I soon learned that my leukemia had gone into remission.  I got a 40″ widescreen 1080p Samsung LCD HDTV, a Samsung blu-ray player that connects to the web to also access Pandora, Netflix, Blockbuster, and YouTube, a Yamaha surround sound receiver and speakers, and an upgrade in my DirecTV service to include HD broadcasts.  I also got a subscription to Netflix since it’s so much cheaper than renting blu-rays at the video store.  I certainly use it since I’m at home all the time.

At this point, things started to settle a bit.  At first, my mother, my father, and my mother-in-law were all staying with me, helping me out.  I still couldn’t use the computer well at this point.  My coordination was no good.  I also used a walker and a wheelchair.  My parents bought my wife and I a loveseat to add to our living room (we had been planning to buy one anyway).  My mom soon left to go back home, since she needed to start work soon.  My dad and my MIL stayed awhile, but my dad eventually had to go home, also, because of the physical therapy he needed with his amputation.  Eventually it was just my MIL.  She helped around the house a lot by cooking meals and doing chores to help out my wife, since I couldn’t really do anything.  She eventually went home, too, and my wife and I had to pick up on those things.  I was at a point, however, where I could start taking up some slack so it all didn’t get dumped on my wife.

During this period, I settled into a routine of getting my chemo treatments, and then coming home to deal with the effects.  I’m really lucky that I don’t get severe side-effects of the chemo.  What effects I do get have been quite mild.  I only lost about half my hair, which has since grown back.  Any nausea I get is very mild.  I do get diarrhea, but not severe, either.  The frequency of my bone marrow aspirates also decreased, and so did my MRI frequency.  I still had a little ‘spot’ on my brain stem that we still could not identify, so we kept an eye on it.  Basically it showed up on the MRI as an ‘increased FLAIR response’, which indicated that spot had more fluid than other spots around it.  I had no symptoms, and the spot never got bigger.  Eventually, my Dr. told me that the spot is not of consequence and that its continued presence was partially due to the technique used to take the MRI.  As far as he was concerned, the spot was nothing and that it would go away in time…and he was not scheduling anymore MRI’s to check up on it.  Imagine my relief!

The opthamologist also kept up with my eyes.  I ended up getting two more exams.  The 2nd one did not show leukemic infiltrates, but it did show some hemorrhages, so he did not clear me to update my prescription yet.  My 3rd appointment (about the same time as I got the report on that last MRI), the hemorrhages were healing, there was no new damage, and he cleared me to get new glasses.  He wrote me the prescription (hehehe, I sneakily got an eye exam covered by insurance even though I have no eye insurance) and I got new glasses.  That was really nice, as I hadn’t had new glasses in probably about 10yrs.  I have one pair of old contacts left, but I can only wear them part time at the moment.  Immediately after my chemo, I can’t wear them because I need to frequently take steroid eyedrops so the chemo doesn’t damage my corneas, but that’s okay for now.

Now, I only have two more chemo treatments left (out of a total of 8), and one more bone marrow aspirate.  I really hope to return to my master’s program in the spring, but the timing of things is pretty tight.  In August, I think, I got a septic infection when I went to the hospital for a ‘routine’ blood transfusion, and the fallout from that delayed my next round of chemo.  Right now, it looks like my last one will be occurring around Christmas, which means my return to classes for the spring term will be close.  My Dr. will not yet commit to any timeframe, so we’ll have to play it by ear.