Thursday, October 11, 2012

Frog & Flower

Yesterday morning, Mili phoned me:  "Are you at home?"

"Yes..."

"I have something to show you.  I'll be there in a minute."

Within seconds, she was at the door.



"I was preparing the anthus," she said, holding out the huge yellow courgette blossom which she had been getting ready to stuff with a mix of rice, tomato, and herbs.  "And look what was inside!  Usually I find an ant or two and shake them out, but this seemed a little heavy..."

I released him in the rain-spashed vegetable patch and he hopped away with a mellow croak.

Also submitted to The Gallery.  Please follow the link and see what others posted on the theme of 'Yellow'.

Yellow

This week's Gallery theme is 'Yellow', so I flicked back through some Lightroom archives and found some pictures from the swimming classes that Zenon and Leo took with Sue at the International School pool a few years back.  I loved the way that the afternoon light picked out colours in the floats and the pool and asked Sue if I could take pictures.  She was thrilled, and I think used them for her website.  Unfortunately politics, as usual, intervened and the school made it difficult for Sue, a foreigner, to continue working from their facilities.

To see how other participants handled the prompt, please follow the link to the Gallery.







Sunday, October 7, 2012

Friend From Long Ago and Far Away

Several times for different reasons over the last few years I have trembled on the cusp of departing Facebook forever. One thing always stays my hand: it is a wonderful means of finding old friends and then keeping in touch.

Last week, thanks in part to Facebook, a classmate from the Canberra Church of England Girls Grammar School -- whom I hadn't seen for nearly four decades -- stopped by for a visit: Carolyn L and her friend Sharon M were doing a tour of the Middle East and Southern Europe with their teenage sons Chris and Sam, and they stayed in Paphos in for three wonderful days.

Photo thanks to Carolyn
I recognised Caz as soon as she got off the airport bus in Limassol. Of course I had seen FB pictures, but she looked pretty much like a larger, older version of the schoolgirl I had played with so long ago. After introductions all around, we piled into my little Toyota and drove back, via the Donkey Stable, to the villa that I had rented for them from BB's cousin in the village. We yabbered nineteen to the dozen all the way back – mostly about their recent stay in Oman, but sprinkled with many a reminiscence. All four travellers were pretty knackered from an early start and a long flight, but after a swim in the villa's pool and a rest they came over in the evening for a meal and to meet my crew – which was sadly lacking Sophia (at school, of course) and Best Beloved (who had gone to visit her for the weekend).

They spent the next few days exploring this end of the island -- up into the mountains and the coast to Polis, not missing out on Paphos Zoo, to where Caz had sent several parrots a few years back. I  couldn't join them for those trips, but we had two evenings to catch up on the last thirty-seven years. The boys took themselves to the far end of the veranda for ping-pong or out to the fields for whatever boys to in the Great Outdoors. Sam and Chris fit right in with my three despite – or maybe because of – the age difference, while Caz and I rebuilt our long-sundered friendship and I got to know Sharon.

On Sunday I was free and they had until three o'clock when the bus left for Nicosia, so we spent a few hours exploring the Tombs of the Kings before heading to Gavrilis Taverna in Kouklia for lunch.






Without Facebook, without the re-connection that I had initiated two or three years ago when I sent the first tentative message “Are you the Carolyn L that I went to CCEGGS with in the early '70s?”, and that reforging of bonds and rediscovery of what made us friends so long ago, she and Sharon would have made their plans and travelled their route, maybe wonderful nonetheless, but missing the extra dimension of catching up on an old friendship.  Perhaps we would have even crossed paths on the road to or from the town, unknowing...

I wish that they had had a few days longer – that we could have caught up more on deeper family news and what had gone on in our own lives over the last 37 years. I wish I could have got to know Sharon a little better – we seemed to have a lot in common. But three days was our ration this time around, so I drove them to the bus and saw them off to the Big Smoke where city lights and traffic noise would replace the quiet of the Diarizos Valley with its lazy chameleons and emerald green tree frogs.

Tree frogs int he oleander.  Photo thanks to Carolyn

From Nicosia they hit Athens for a day or two, then Barcelona, then back to Oz via Dubai – a lightning trip if ever there was one. I have kept up with them through FB pictures of the Acropolis and Gaudi's Casa Batllo, and will – no doubt – see the Burj Tower shots. Wonderful! I'm sure I'll complain about Facebook again in the future, but the gift of their visit made many of its drawbacks worth the gripes.

Group Shot at Tombs of the Kings.  Photo thanks to Carolyn.



Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Little Lame Donkey



Three or four months ago micro tears in one of my left shoulder's rotator cuff muscles were aggravated by a routine movement in an osteopath's treatment room causing instant pain that flared and quickly died. I didn't think much of it until shadows and whispers of the same pain began to haunt me throughout the summer.

'Swimming will help!' I thought. And hit the beach daily though July and much of August, swimming sometimes up to 800 metres in the sea – except I could not do front crawl; it was too uncomfortable. I switched to breast stroke.

An imagined tarantula in my post-shower towel one evening (imagined that time, they have been known to be real) made me twist my body and shoulder, and a nano-second later I was curled, weeping, on the bathroom floor. Again the pain died quickly, but this time the shadows and whispers of its recurrence gained more form and substance. I knew that the time had come to seek help, but I had had bad experiences with several local physiotherapists and wanted to wait until J, an English lady who used to work with the British athletics team, returned from the Olympics.

Cue a third trauma: when my arm was accidentally pulled over my head, the pain gave a resounding shout. I knew that things were serious.

J returned and I drove fifty minutes up into the hills to her sports injury clinic. 'Tendon tear', she said succinctly, explaining that it was the result of long-term stresses (if I had known when lifting 15 kilos of BCD and scuba tanks over my head day in and day out for three years that I would suffer later, would I have continued it? Huh! But I can't say that I wasn't warned...) probably from overworking or trying to prove that I had upper-body strength equal to a man. She gave me a massage and exercises and sent me home with a follow-up appointment in two weeks.

Ice packs and exercises seemed to reduce the problem and I was regaining some of the mobility and losing some of the pain, when suddenly two weeks ago I turned the wrong way in my sleep and landed, not back at Square One, but at Square Minus Ten.

“Oh pooh!” said J. “Much more swollen, not good at all. And you can hardly move it!” She gave me another lovely massage, and encouraged me, but warned that many times the only sure route to fixing a tendon tear is via the operating table.

“Go and see my mother's orthopaedic surgeon, Manamou,” said Best Beloved. “We need you fixed.”

So I did, but the visit was not a success. I had the feeling that he was a fine doctor, but we did not do well on the personal level. “Frozen shoulder,” he told me, writing a scrip for an MRI and saying: “That needs to be treated first – probably with oral cortisone – and we'll deal with tears and impingement surgically later.” Except that he said it all in Greek, having told me at the beginning of our appointment that he did not speak English, and leaving me at a distinct disadvantage.

I had the MRI and the report returned replete with '-oses' and '-itises' as well as mentioning a 'partial thickness tear of the distal supraspinatus tendon', and that evening, Dr X phoned me back. “It's not good news,” he said in perfect English. “You will need to have a surgery, and although it's not an emergency, I would like to see you as soon as is convenient.”

The last week has been very bad – mostly because of the impossibility of sleep. I took Ibuprofen but it didn't seem to help. Last night I took a combination of Paracetamol and Codeine that had been prescribed for Sophia when her plantars wart was lasered, and at last I got some proper rest.

This morning, I took Best Beloved to my appointment with Dr X – not only as a translator, but as someone who is not cowed by either personalities or terminology, and is not afraid to ask questions.

They got on like a house afire, and the doctor reiterated J's opinion that the tendon damage had taken place long ago. ("You mean that you were flawed when I married you?" BB turned to me in surprise.  "Can I send you back?  Get a replacement?") Dr X said that that the frozen shoulder needs to be treated before any other issues can be addressed, and wants to do this with oral corticosteroids:  “This is the German protocol,” he said. “I know that the English prefer injection into the joint, but there is a risk of tendon necrosis. You must be careful not to eat too much sugar or salt and limit alcohol. I will see you in two weeks, and I think that you will have a great improvement both with pain and mobility.” I asked him about non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, and he said that they were not as effective, that I would have to take them for a long time, and that they were hard on the stomach. “Nothing is completely risk-free,” he said. “But with this schedule, I will be able to do the surgery in about a month.”

So, I start tomorrow. Five days of 40 miligrams of cortisone, followed by 5 days of 30, then 5 days each of twenty, ten, five, and 2.5 mg. Then a trip to the hospital, and an op followed by physiotherapy...

Watch this space...

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Braying Again

The Little White Donkey has been silent for a while.  Summer can be difficult here -- hot and humid, it is the season of short tempers for me.  I have been engaging in the mid-life wondering of where my life is heading -- including wondering 'do people REALLY want to read about my family (mis)adventures-- dealing with some physical issues (mysteriously torn shoulder tendons), and coming to grips with having only the boys at home.

Earlier this month, Sophia and I flew to Stanstead with RyanAir and spent three days in London preparing to launch her on her boarding school career.  Blessings on Michael and Tony, Sophia's UK guardians, who lent us their lovely flat above their gastro-pub while they were abroad.  Blessings to on my big brother and sister who came from Ireland to support me in shopping, eating, and bidding Sophia  farewell.  We did, literally, 'shop 'til we dropped' -- buying duvet and pillows, clothes (she needs a 'business suit' as, although there is no uniform for the Sixth Form, her school requires that she be 'interview smart' six days a week) for the English climate, toiletries and all manner of sundries.  John Lewis and the charity shops of Marylebone High Street saw a good deal of our custom.
















By bus and train we lugged her two massive suitcases to Hook station, and from there took a taxi to her new school, Lord Wandsworth College.  Blessings on the weather, the sun shone and the sky stayed blue.  Matron made us tea which we had outside Sophia's House (for Madeira friends who are reading this, UK boarding schools don't have 'dorms' as we knew them, they have a more self-contained House system).  Then inside to unpack, and make the small
single room a little home-like.  I hung around for as long as I could, but there was no putting off the moment.  We walked back to the admin building, got staff to call me a taxi, and I left Sophia standing among all that green grass to do what she needs to do.





It was not a happy train journey back to London, but Ruth met me in the restaurant and we had a great meal -- better than Sophia who dined on frozen pizza amid a crowd of unknown faces.  The next day I flew home...



Sophia is working things out.  We have a Skype connection and speak most days.  She understands the International students sometimes better than the English ones, and thrives on the challenge of her studies: English Lit, History, Classics, Physics, and Critical Thinking as A level subjects, Russian as a language.  Her high marks and motivation have also landed her in a group that will be specially tutored for the Oxbridge entrance exams.  She wanted to do horse riding, and has managed to avoid the infamous 'Games' (such a staple of English boarding schools) but is swimming; and her Personal Endeavor is as a visitor in a local old people's home.  She has already asked if she can take part in the school trip to Washington DC next Easter...

She'll do just fine.






So I return to my mid-life crises -- running the house and the garden, playing chauffeur to the Littles (Alex has his driving license now, so is pretty independent), trying to keep up with photography.  I have been thinking about taking a Teaching English as a Second Language qualification, and also working at a dog shelter... so there should be some updates in the coming weeks.



Bray On, Little Donkey, Bray On!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Lessons from Sunday




Over the last few days of thinking about Sunday, a few ideas have settled out of the cloud of action and emotion that followed my finding her, taking her to the shelter, and her death.

  1. Take tick-borne diseases seriously, and 'prevention is better than cure'.

I paid lip-service to the possibility of one of our animals becoming sick from the parasites that throng to them during the summer: I bought Frontline and wormer but did not use them with the precision and care that make them effective prophylactics. It took looking into Sunday's belly and seeing how her blood could not clot, making her body unable to cope with her surgery to make me realise that taking an extra five minutes to apply Frontline properly really can save a life – or at least the misery and expense of illness. After Lizzie was spayed, the vet said something about her having bled heavily internally possibly because of ticks, but he never emphasised either the seriousness of the problem or how easy it is to combat.

Lizzie
Sputnik had his tests a few days ago and recieved the all clear for leishmania and erlichiosis, and the vet showed me how to clip the hair on his neck so that the Frontline goes directly on to the skin for full absorbtion. “Every month,” she said. “You have to put it on at least every month to be sure that he's covered. And if you see that it begins to be less effective, switch brands. Our ticks and fleas sometimes become resistant if you always use the same brand.”

  1. Educate yourself and ask questions.

I don't blame the vets at the shelter for Sunday's death: they're busy and rely on others to obtain the details of the dogs on which they operate. Sunday left the shelter kennels and went to the clinic for three procedures – a blood test for leishmania and one full blood screening for other parasites or problems, and a spay. She was spayed before she was tested. Had she been tested first, the vets would have been able to tell that she had a erlichiosis. She would have been treated for a month and then could have been spayed safely. I didn't know enough to insist on that. Before your animal goes for a routine procedure, educate yourself as to what is involved and the potential risks, and don't be afraid to ask questions or question authority. You can't know everything, but learn what you can.

  1. Understand your local shelter's policy.


Cyprus has a serious animal welfare problem: far too many animals for the number of available homes. Shelter space is extremely limited, and only one shelter, Paphiakos, will take in any animal with no questions asked. The up-side of Paphiakos' policy is that if you find an animal on the road or in distress, you can count on them to take in without a quibble. The down-side is that that animal will either be quickly euthanised or will cost a lot to extricate.

When I found Lizzie, I took her to the nearest shelter, PAWS. Annie M., whom I had known for years, initially refused to take her on the grounds of having no room. She eventually conceded when I told her that I'd lay bets that I would be back for her within the week. I was, and I took Lizzie joyfully home after paying a donation of ten cyprus pounds. In the days that followed, I took her to be spayed and chipped and vaccinated, and for a few happy weeks, she was a part of the family. But Annie has gone back to the UK and PAWS is only open for two hours each morning, so I took Sunday to Paphiakos. When I mentioned that on a local forum, I took a lot of flak: “any dog, particularly a hunter, taken to Paphiakos is almost immediately killed” and other similar comments. I checked with various long-time pet-owners in the area, and they confirmed this. That's why I decided to try to get Sunday out and give her a chance.

Sunday, the day before her op.

But once an animal is in Paphiakos, springing them is not cheap. The website (click on Re-Homing tab)  states clearly that charges for spaying, chipping, vaccinating, parasite treatment, and municipal license must be met REGARDLESS OF WHAT TREATMENT HAS BEEN DONE TO THE ANIMAL PRIOR before it can be released to its new home. In other words, if you want to adopt a dog that has already been spayed, you will still have to pay the spaying charge (115-184 Euros); a dog might have been micro-chipped by its former owner, but you will still have to pay for chipping (34.50). The management justifies this by saying that it needs to cover all charges incurred in its countrywide rescue service, and also by saying that any potential owner needs to understand that having a pet involves financial commitment, but in reality it means that dogs like Sunday are priced out of a home. There are few people like Rosie who would pay her medical bills, sponsor her (90 Euros for six months minimum) in an attempt to keep her off the notorious PTS (put to sleep) list, and even be willing to pay her rehoming fee should she manage to find someone to take her on. The reality for un-chipped dogs like Sunday, who sometimes come in at a rate of ten per day in the hunting season, is euthanasia – often well-within the fifteen days that they are supposed to have as a window for re-homing or adoption.

Sputnik the day we found him in June 2011.
He settled in quickly...

I understand why this situation exists, but it doesn't make the decision of what to do with the stray animals that I find on my doorstep – and there have been around 15 in the last few years – any easier.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Sunday




Last Sunday morning, as Best Beloved, Sputnik, and I walked the field looking at vines and trees, BB pointed under the fig tree and said "Is that a dog?"

A dog, indeed. Black, with an amputated tail, she seemed too weak to move at first, but then crawled out from under the shade and lay at our feet. Sputnik whined and wiggled with joy. Li'l Bro appeared on his porch.

“I saw her this morning,” he said. “And she took some water but I didn't want to go near because she is covered in ticks” He gave me a bucket and I put some more water in. The black dog drank a little more, then she and Sputnik wandered slowly away together.

Back at the house, I woke Sophia. “We have a mission,” I said. “There's a dog in the field that we must take to the shelter, and I need your help.”

There was no sign of either dog when, twenty minutes later, we returned to the field in the Land Rover. We searched the cafe parking lot and Sophia ventured into the supermarket store room, and suddenly Sputnik and his new friend came into view. As soon as we opened the back door, Sputnik leapt inside, but the black dog needed help and as I lifted her in I got a good look at the hundreds of ticks gorging themselves all over her.





We arrived at the shelter and I handed her over. “What will happen to her,” I asked the lady who had scanned her for a chip. “Will she be put to sleep?”

“With no chip, she has fifteen days as long as she's neither sick nor aggressive,” came the answer. “But hunting dogs like this are very hard to rehome and she probably won't be claimed or adopted within that time.”

Sophia and I exchanged a look. “No way,” I said. “You know that your father does not like dogs and will not let us have another. Don't even think about it!”




***

I went back to the shelter on Monday to try and increase her chances.

“If I pay her to spay and vaccinate her, will it make her more easily homeable?” I asked Christine, who has run the shelter since 1994.

“You can pay to have her spayed, certainly, but whoever homes her still has to pay our charges,” she answered. “We have to get our money back, and it says clearly on our website that whoever adopts from here has to pay for vaccinations, parasite treatment, chipping, and spaying – about 275 Euros in her case.”

“Even if that has already been paid for that particular dog?”

“Whatever has already been paid for that particular dog.” It seemed a little steep to me, and the likelihood of someone paying that much for this dog seemed very remote.

Then a voice piped up behind my right shoulder. “What if I pay her medical bills and sponsor her for six months? Would that give her a chance?”

I turned in surprise and saw Rosie, a woman of about my age whom I always think of as kind-hearted and spontaneous, with a lot more money than sense. “It would indeed!” said Christine.

“And if at the end of that six months, if I can manage, could I take her home myself?”

But that was too much to ask. “You would have to pay the 275 Euros and 10 Euros for every day that she has been in the shelter,” Christine responded promptly.

I did the maths quickly and reached 2,075 Euros – never mind the cost of bills and sponsorship – another 290 Euros. "Well done, Paphiakos," I thought. “You've just priced this dog well out of a home.”

But Rosie was determined. “I'll find her a home sooner than that,” she said, filling out the paperwork and handing over her credit card. “Now,” she said, turning to me. “I'm off to the UK for a fortnight from tomorrow, so you need to check up on our patient for the next few days while she has her op and when she goes back to the shelter later. Must fly!”

The lady in charge of sponsorship turned to me blankly. “Well I never,” she began. Then: “She didn't give her a name!” But Rosie had gone.

“Sunday,” I said. “I found her on Sunday, so let's call her that!”

Christine made some calls to the kennels to confirm that she was still there and I heard her say: “There's someone here who wants to sponsor her, so take her of the pts list and send her over in the morning for a full MOT and a spay.” Turning to me, she said. “Phone tomorrow for an update, and thank-you very much for your help and interest.”

I called over the next few days and went to the clinic on Wednesday morning, just before Sunday was due  for her operation. She looked so much better! She had put on some weight, and all the ticks were gone. I took her out for a walk and she eagerly sniffed though the dust as we walked the perimeter of the parking lot and ventured into a grove of olive trees. She was unaccustomed to a lead and kept tripping and tangling her legs and mine.  She would lick my hand and wrinkle her nose at me every time I had to crouch to untangle her, clearly thrilled to be out of her cage and receiving some attention.  After fifteen minutes, I took her back and gave her a drink. “She'll be ready to go home on Friday,” the nurse told me. “Right as rain!”





Back in the parking lot I dialled BB's number.

“Yes, Manamou,” he said. “What can I do for you?”

“If you say yes to this,” I answered. “I promise that I will never ask you for anything else...”

“Get to the point!”

“You know the dog we found on Friday...?” I heard his “Oh, no!” before I had even reached the end of the sentence.

“Please, darling,” I continued, despising myself for falling back on feminine wiles. “You know I don't ask for very much, and she won't be a problem --”

“Tomorrow,” he growled. “I'll tell you when I get back tomorrow.”

I spent the rest of the day trying to figure out rehoming strategies and spoke with a friend who has contacts with shelters that rehome strays on the Continent. I brainstormed with several people linked to the animal welfare world and we came up with various possibilities to save Sunday without having to pay too much.

***

The next morning I called the clinic to find out how she had weathered the surgery and find out when she would be returning to the kennels. “Just hang on, Asproulla,” the receptionist said. “The vet needs a word with you.”

Within a minute, Doctor Nefeli was on the line. “I'm sorry,” she said, in her gentle Greek accent. “Your dog didn't make it.” She explained that the surgery had gone well, but that Sunday had been found dead in the clinic earlier, and that the post-mortem had shown haemorrhaging from the sub-cutaneous capillaries and internal bleeding. The ligatures, Nefeli said, had all held and the surgery had been successful: the bleeding was probably from erlichiosis, a tick-borne bactirial infection that attacks the white blood cells and prevents clotting. “I have her body here,” she said. “So if you want to collect it you can.”

'I'll bring her home,' I thought, dialling Rosie's mobile number. She answered on the third ring, confirmed that I should, and that should I be offered the money back I should use it to check Sputnik for the same disease, and roll the sponsorship over onto some other unfortunate animal who might benefit. “Fat chance of that!” I told her. “You'll get nothing back from Paphiakos!”

But I was wrong. At the clinic the vets put Sunday's body on the table, her head and forelimbs covered by a towel. As they opened the incision and showed the ligatures all in place but the sub-cutaneous layer full of blood, Christine came in. “What shall we do with Rosie's money, do you know what she might want?” I explained, and she sniffed, her eyes beginning to tear. “You'll have me crying now,” she said. “What a kind woman... Don't worry, I'll find another needy dog who will benefit. And you bring in your Sputnik to be tested just as soon as you can.”

One of the vets carried Sunday to the car and I drove her home. Nick and Stellios, Alex and Sophia's friends who had been at the house since the early morning had dug me a beautiful grave up at the top of the upper vinyard, and as I was getting her body out of the bag, Best Beloved walked up between the rows of vines and helped me to put her in the hole. I pulled back the corner of the towel and looked at her face for the last time, her brown eyes half-open, her tongue slightly out, and I remembered her as she was on her last walk the day before, eyes laughing, stumpy tail wagging hard enough to move her whole skinny body.

“Bye-bye, sweet Sunday,” I said, arranging her limbs against the squared off walls.

We shovelled the earth back in and as we headed back to the house.

***

This experience has taught me a lot – which I will go into in later posts: this one is already long enough. For now, though, please, dog owners among my readers, correct use of Frontline or other anti-tick products is an easy way to avoid a disease that can kill your animal. I had only just met Sunday, and losing her was painful out of all proportion to the length of time I had known her.