Archive | April, 2012

1-Year Anniversary!

30 Apr

It’s been pretty much a year to the day since I was medically evacuated out of Ethiopia and brought back to ‘Merica, to the land of the free and the home of the crazies (I spent my first month in a psych ward in a hospital)…Times flies when you’re sick, and a lot has happened in the past year! I left without getting a chance to say goodbye to my Peace Corps friends and family, as well as the townsfolk and family where I lived and worked. I thought I was going to Addis Ababa for a few days to visit the doctor, but surprise! I came back to the States instead.

3 brain surgeries because of a small tumor that tried to ruin my life. A weird thing called Cushing’s Disease. 85 lbs of weight gain due to the aforementioned – who saw these things coming? Not me at all. This time last year, I was going into the final stretch of my service as a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) and if you’d told me that this is the turn my life was going to take, I would have looked at you as if you’d lost your mind.

I was uprooted from a life that I had come to enjoy quite a bit. Living in Ethiopia was at times very taxing, but for the most part, it provided me with much happiness. Coming from a country where everything is so comfortable, to a land where that term doesn’t really exist in the way I once knew it, proved to be a challenge that I quickly overcame. Moving from my own apartment to a room in a house shared by an Ethiopian family was at first a big shock. Learning to use the bathroom without the lavishness that is a Western toilet also threw me for a loop at first. Heating my water for a bucket bath soon became quite a luxury in my life as a PCV. Hand-washing my laundry became therapeutic to me. Getting sick out of both ends at the exact same time was humorous. Life without creature comforts, or modern conveniences in general, became the norm in my life. I didn’t have anything to compare it to, so I just took in my surroundings and tried to make the most of my situation.

And now that I’ve been back to the land of choices for a year, I still feel overwhelmed whenever I leave the house. My simple life in a small Ethiopian town doesn’t translate to living here. For real – we take things for granted on a daily basis because America is so comfortable. Until you’ve lived in a developing country, you might not notice that there’s an entire aisle at the grocery store devoted to toilet paper, and another one just for salad dressings and other condiments. In my small town, we had one choice for toilet paper, or “softi” as the locals called it. Condiments didn’t exist, and there was one option for salad dressing – oil, vinegar, and a squeeze of lime. I do miss the simplistic nature of living in Abyssinia, but life in America ain’t all that bad! It is nice to be back in a place where people understand me when I speak. And I will not complain about the never-ending supply of hot water and the multiple toilets that are in my current home!

I learned so many invaluable lessons while being a PCV, both from my fellow PCV friends/colleagues and the locals, that I could write a whole different blog, or even a novella! I want to commend all of my Peace Corps friends and colleagues, past and present, on a job well done. You guys truly are all amazing and I’m glad to be back in touch with most everyone from my original group. You’ve all touched my life in so many different ways and I’m a much better person after having met each and every one of you. And to my Habesha friends and family – I love and miss you all! I am planning a return trip just to visit and say “Dahan dikum” to you all, but I must first be medically stable for a few months before my doctors will allow me to travel to the developing world.  I can’t believe it’s already been a year since I left…So on the 1-year anniversary of my homecoming, I have been reflecting over my service, and I want to thank everyone who was a part of it, from the bottom of my heart. I couldn’t have made it through without your love and support, and the same applies to my medical nonsense. You are all awesome!

With love and a return trip to Ethiopia in my somewhat near future,

Laura

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Brain Surgery Numero Tres

8 Apr

It’s weird to say it, but in the past year, I have had more brain surgeries than menstrual cycles. True story, as my hormones are wayyyyyyyy out of whack with this Cushing’s Disease nonsense. My body produces too much cortisol, which is caused by a small tumor on my pituitary gland, which kind of sits behind the eyes, right on top of the optic nerve in the brain. A few days ago, on April 4, 2012, I had my third brain surgery, or transsphenoidal pituitary tumor resection, if you want to get technical. Hopefully this one will have done the trick and will prove to be 100% effective this time around.

Looking at me, you’d have no idea that I just got out of the hospital after having had an operation on my cranium. No head shaving or skull cracking for this girl. My neurosurgeon operates through the nose! Thank some higher being for modern medicine, as this operation used to be done through the upper lip/gum area or through the skull. With the exception of a sore left nostril and a forearm that looks like it belongs to a heroin junkie, I am feeling great. However, I never really can sense when my body is way out of balance (hormonally speaking), so lab tests will have to tell. I have to get lab work done 4 times in the coming 2 weeks – my doctors are wanting to test my cortisol and a bunch of other hormones, to see if my pituitary is still functioning as it should. I go back to Shands for my first post-operative follow up appointment in 2 weeks.

I got good news from my neurosurgeon that the tumor he removed was indeed an ACTH (adrenocorticotropic hormone) – secreting one, which is what they were going for. ACTH is the chemical from the pituitary gland that stimulates the production of cortisol in the body to come from the adrenal glands. Too much ACTH in turn means too much cortisol! Endocrinology 101 for you. Kidding – I don’t know the half of it, but have come to understand a bit about what’s ruining my innards. It is still crazy to me that something the size of a BB or pencil eraser can have such a negatively profound impact on one’s health and general well-being. Before going into this round of surgery, my blood cortisol level was 15, and the day after surgery, it had dropped down to 1.2. Anything under 3 is ideal, so my neurosurgeon and his nurse were rather excited by the extreme drop in my hormone level. Cross your fingers that it stays down and doesn’t spike back up, as it has in the past.

So now it’s back to my old routine – no nose blowing, sneezing, drinking out of a straw, or swimming for two weeks. Don’t want to blow my brains out. Literally! Anywho, I’m really thankful that I came out of surgery alive and [hopefully] better off than before. I’m just really ready at this point to get on with my life and for all of this to be over with. I hope to goodness that this is the last surgery I’ll need and that this past one is the beginning of the end that I have had in sight for awhile now. I genuinely thank everyone for their love and support, calls, texts, emails, cards, etc, etc…You’re all rock stars in my book 🙂 Especially my family – you guys have been nothing short of amazing throughout this whole ordeal.

With love and a brain tumor no longer in tow (doesn’t that have a nice ring to it?!),

Laura

Out of Surgery