Reconnection – on the road to recovery.

Anne has said that my medical episodes come in twos, heart, ankle etc so that the second detached retina operation will be the last.  The power of positive thinking which Anne has always been good for.  Two weeks after the surgery is my first followup and I have a long list of questions, mostly around understanding the recovery process. 

This must be a question that many people ask after surgery.  Is the level of pain, discomfort, weeping etc within acceptable bounds? You do not want to be a hypochondriac but conversely neither do you want to miss something important.  I was provided a checklist of issues to look out for, but what about other symptoms not on the list?

I am very pleased and relieved, as we both are, to report that the recovery is progressing in a timely fashion and all that I am experiencing is normal. While I still have to undergo surgery next year to remove the silicone oil which has some risks of further retinal detachment, we are on track and will be back for a further follow up in early December to look at my other eye.

I thought that those of you who have been brave enough to see the graphic photos from my operating team might be interested to see, some non surgical photos of the retina pre and post surgery to round out your ophthalmic education.

My retina, detached from the back of the eye.
The bottom of this image shows the retina reattached.

Finally I would like to say a big thank you to all of you who have sent messages, prayed and otherwise wished me well, both via the blog and Anne on Facebook, through this eventful journey. 

– Anthony

Detached again – the Sequel

Since receiving many positive comments about the blog entry “Detached in Rockhampton”, I have been concerned about how to keep that level of excitement and interest in the blog given the lack of travel opportunities. So I have done what film producers do when bereft of ideas, create a sequel.

As I sit in the entrance of St Andrews hospital (last Thursday), I am reflecting that this blog entry was planned to wax lyrical about the marvellous progress I had made since my detached retina operation four weeks ago.  Alas, I am scheduled for more surgery in two hours’ time as the first round is failing. In spite of the great surgery, careful recovery progress, the bottom of my retina is detaching again and will continue to do so unless more radical surgery is undertaken. 

Our first checkup after four weeks saw us travel to the Queensland Eye Institute armed with a list of questions based the next phase in the recovery, when to swim, bicycle, travel etc.  It took less than a couple of minutes for Dr Shama to dissolve this plan after reviewing left eye scans.

Plan B: a rubber band and some 5W-20 or was it 10W-30 given our warmer climes? I believe that the technical term is a Left Vitrectomy, detached Retina with buckling. Yes they use a belt and buckle around the eyeball, what fun.

Seriously, as the gas bubble dissipated and was being replaced by natural liquid, the pressure was reduced and the retina has not stayed stuck to the back of the eye. The gas bubble works in 80% of cases, just not in mine. The planned option is to fit a silicone belt buckled around the eyeball and inject a silicone based oil then in place of the removed gas.  The oil will remain in place for up to six months before a further operation to remove the oil next year.  If successful, I should recover 30 to 50 percent of my left eye’s vision. I got all this news at 11am just before we were due to have lunch with friends. No eating and drinking allowed for me.  I just had to watch, as no food or drink for at leat six hours before surgery, while Anne and our friends tucked into a tasty looking lunch.

I think hospital wards must be a little like aircraft, the crews are always different as no one from my last operation four weeks ago is around this time in the same ward (2F). The paperwork is significant and duplicates all that I did four weeks ago. However it is to ensure I get the right surgery so no complaints here. 

I have the same surgeon and anaesthetist as last time so the team is all together again. Dr Sharma organised the people he wanted on the team again with little notice. A big thanks there.

I just hope the after party blues will not be as bad as last time. Sadly I have been told the procedure will be more uncomfortable than the first time. My discussion with the anaesthetist about how seedy I felt leads to a change in anaesthetic mix. I had been chatting with the anaesthetic nurse and she had enlightened me to all the mixing drugs and monitoring of the patient that goes on during the operation.  I just thought that the mask went on and then it was off to coffee for the anaesthetist. Must be all the old masters paintings I have seen where they anaesthetic was administered via alcohol or a piece of blunt wood.  Science has moved on, thankfully.

Let’s get this show on the road.

I am told I have wiggly veins in my hand so the cannula into my arm near the elbow. Sadly no more commentary as the lights go out pretty quickly so over to my photo team. 

Anne has asked that I include a warning this time for those of a more sensitive disposition. So here goes WARNING – DETAILED MEDICAL PROCEDURES ARE  INCLUDED IN THE FOLLOWING PHOTOGRAPHS.

The team hard at work to save my retina.
Look at the neat stitching.
Just pull the thread a little tighter.
Amazing the skill level to do this. (A Closeup)

Back in recovery and while I drift in and out of consciousness in the first few minutes I do not feel seedy as I did last time. The change in the mix of anaesthetics has worked and I feel good.

Back to my room in ward 2F and a quiet night’s sleep as there is very little elective surgery that day.  I am the only patient for eye surgery.

Taking it easy after a busy evening on the operating table.

Two new things I learnt in hospital this time, firstly some people have  this operation up to five or six times, not me I hope.  Secondly remember, while recovering from the effects of the anaesthetic,  the nurses adjust the bed up and down for treatment and when you get out of bed they have not shortened or lengthened your legs.

Safely home with Anne caring for me.
Day 6

So what’s next?  After a week on my back, opposite of the last time, and a further week of recovery, I return to the surgeon for a follow up.  I must wait for three to six months before the oil is extracted, yes another operation under general anaesthetic, but I am planning for this to be the last of the eye blogs. Again a big thanks to all involved in my treatment and this was all done in the space of 10 hours, two less than last time.

– Anthony

So what did we think of the campervan?

Over the past 7 years, we have travelled on motorcycles around the world and in Australia, in a four wheel drive camper in Australia and Southern Africa, a car and camping equipment in Scotland  and a 7 meter long campervan with bells and whistles in Queensland.  The last one being the most recent and only time we’ve travelled in this way.  I’ve had a dream to travel long term around Australia for some years now so after the most recent experience is a good time to review the pros and cons of each mode.

Motorcycles with camping equipment – in our case, 3 man tent

Pros

  • Total independence
  • Always clean and safe
  • Everything has its place and easily packed
  • Cheap accommodation and meals
  • Can pick remote and quiet spots

Cons

  • Long or hard days’ riding make camping at the end of the day harder
  • Limited space for fresh food and water
  • Exposed to the elements (including evening mosquitoes and flies)
  • Limited space in the tent to keep riding equipment away from elements
  • Awkward to get dressed in the tent
  • Limited recharging capabilities
  • Ground can be uneven/sloping making for an uncomfortable night

    Some days are just exhausting

     

    Remote camping – bliss

     

    Remote camping – more bliss

Motorcycles without camping equipment

Pros

  • Travel lighter
  • Minimal packing in the mornings
  • Can travel anywhere
  • Can dry out riding clothing overnight
  • Easier to do hand washing
  • Can recharge all cameras and devices in hotels/motels

Cons

  • Have to stay in hotels/motels = cost
  • Beds may be uncomfortable
  • Have to eat out = cost
  • Cheaper places might not be the quietest
  • I miss not camping!

    Our recent 3 day trip with just those 2 panniers of stuff.

Car and camping equipment

Pros

  • Can go anywhere the car can go
  • Can take as much as on 2 bikes 
  • Can share the driving

Cons

  • Can’t be quite remote enough
  • Ground can be uneven/sloping making for an uncomfortable night

    Our car was born for country roads

     

    Our week end cabin, the old village school.

     

    Cosy evening by the fire

    One of our camping spots in Scotland – so serene

4×4 camper 

Pros

  • Total independence
  • Consistent sleeping comfort 
  • Can carry more clothes
  • Can carry more and fresh food
  • Can travel anywhere and be as remote as one wants
  • Easy to boil water/cook
  • Can eat out of the elements
  • Can keep devices charged
  • Can share the driving

Cons

  • Roof top tents can be tricky in high winds (as happened to us in Namibia)
  • Some campers might mean cooking outside (with the flies, heat/rain)

    Surrounded by wild animals – the night symphony of animal sounds is unforgettable

     

    In our wild camp spot in Botswana

     

    This where our rooftop tent folded itself over us in Namibia so we spent the night in the driver’s cab. A most memorable night!

     

    The downside of the central desert of Australia when the flies are desperately thirsty and go for your eyes and mouth.

     

    In one of my favourite places, Docker River, Australia

2 wheel drive hire Campervan

Pros

  • Consistent sleeping comfort 
  • Can carry more clothes
  • Can carry more and fresh food
  • Easy to cook fresh meals
  • Can heat/cool main cabin when plugged in
  • Can eat out of the elements
  • Easy to pee in the night
  • Can recharge all cameras and devices
  • Can share the driving

Cons

  • Need to find powered site every 3 days
  • Cannot drive on tracks/dirt roads
  • Have to empty toilet and refill water every 3 days
  • Length and height constraints 
  • Packing sleeping area time consuming before moving off (the bed is made by placing the table top and some planks over the storage cupboards and moving cushions to make the matress)
  • Storage not that easy to access
  • Powered sites feel like being in a car park
  • You take more than you need and end up filling the storage space!

    Farm stay off grid in Central Queensland

     

    “Car park” camping in a commercial camp ground

On our last trip, we had the opportunity of talking to people travelling with different modes of transport and sleeping arrangements:

  • Motorcyclists staying in cabins/hotels
  • Motorcyclists with Elite camper trailer with Queen size bed etc etc
  • 4×4 towing large caravan
  • 4×4 towing offroad (dust proof) campertrailer
  • 4×4 with home made sleeping arrangement 
  • Campervan with bed that did not have to be collapsed and remade daily

They all had some great features and and tips and more pros and cons.

I think ultimately, the choice will depend on where you want to go and what comfort means to you.  Can you guess my favourite?

I love remote camping but sleeping in a tent is getting less comfortable as we age.  While in Australia, we are very unlikely to hire a monster campervan again but are glad we tried it.  My favourite mode would definitely be a 4×4 camper although nothing beats the feeling of being on the road on bikes, so that would mean bikes with no camping equipment… Luckily, we both feel the same. But that is not going to happen for some time now.  We are glad we seized the opportunity when we could.  Stay happy and safe everyone  🙂

– Anne

Detached in Rockhampton

Here we are again, another of Anthony’s medical emergencies to blog.  As I sit on this Qantas flight to Brisbane from Rockhampton, mask on of course, off to see another specialist with the likelihood of surgery this evening, I have time to reflect on the medical episodes that have occurred while travelling and those that were blogged from 2014. We have seen: 

“Himalayan Heart Attack” (Bhutan 2009)

“Helicopter tours of the Hunter wine region” aka “Medivac to John Hunter Hospital (NSW 2012) 

“Arrhythmia for Beginners” (Brisbane 2015)

“Crushed Ankle across the Andes” (Argentina/Chile 2015)

“Introduction to Nasal Tampons” (London 2017)

Nothing for three years, they all take planning you know, and I am as meticulous as Daniel Day-Lewis in my preparation.  But now, we are pleased to announce a new chapter  “Detached in Rockhampton” staring yours truly in another exciting medical adventure. I will write this as far as possible in real time to capture my feelings as this unfolds. Perhaps I should start at the beginning.  

After a night in Mackay, we planned a leisurely day heading to Rockhampton to stay with our friends Katie and Gus. During the journey, I had noticed an annoying irritation at the bottom of the left eye, like that you get when the eyelid can be a little inflamed.  Annoying but only impacting the very bottom of my vision.  It seemed to worsen slightly during the day and become more pronounced that night. While washing my eye out with saline solution Anne thought that it might be a detached retina and should see a specialist Thursday evening, but what would she know. A good night’s sleep is a great cure for many things, not this however. By morning, almost half my vision in the left eye is affected. 

Change of plans, the leisurely breakfast with Katie is out and at 08:20 I am outside a local optometrist, which seemed like a good starting point. I explain the problem and a quick examination by the very helpful optometrist, Lillian Beech of Lawrie and Taylor Optometrists, and a detached retina is diagnosed. Ouch, even though there is no pain, this is a serious problem.  

The eyes have it, well partially at 08:45 11 Sept 2020.

My limited understanding on detached retinas is that the quicker the surgery is done the better.  The length of time between detachment and surgery can impact recovery of vision.

The optometrist quickly makes some calls to see if a surgeon is available locally and also contacts my cataract surgeon from 2018, Dr Paine of the Queensland Eye Institute in Brisbane. A local specialist is available in Rockhampton, but there is an issue about where I would recover as the recovery process can require one to lie face down for two weeks!. Our Rockhampton friends are moving house in a couple of days and we have to get the camper van back to Brisbane early next week. 

I speak to Dr Paine and he is in the process of organising a surgeon to review me in Brisbane if I can get down today. Today is also a Friday and if we were to drive it would take two days to get back and I would not be able to drive so we would get back Saturday evening. Flight is the only way back, Qantas and Virgin both have flights and initially I am on Virgin, but then need to catch to the earlier Qantas flight which is full. I talk to Ben who is waiting to checkin and he agrees to take a later flight to allow me to travel on the 11am flight.  Thank you Ben.  Qantas do charge like a wounded bull, but the cost is insignificant compared with potential loss of vision due to delay. It is interesting even during the COVID-19 times that airline pricing and ticket change charges are unchanged.

Mr Cool en route to Brisbane.

I depart at 11am, leaving poor Anne to drive the camper van back to Brisbane over the next two days, it must be harder for her as she is out of the loop and we are not together.  An hour later, we are arriving in Brisbane.  We land on the new runway giving a new approach to the airport for me and taxi route to the terminal. Parked aircraft still fill the old cross runway and there is a much smaller number of aircraft in the terminal area, most for Queensland domestic routes.

Virgin Australia B737’s waiting return to lease holders.

New Taxiways off runway 01L/19R at Brisbane.

The terminal is strangely empty for a Friday afternoon, COVID-19 of course, but we have not flown since March so this is the new normal. Taxi to town and we are at the Queensland Eye Institute on time at 12:45. Not bad: diagnosis in Rockhampton at 8:45, in Brisbane some 700km away four hours later.

Dr Paine tells me he has arranged for an excellent surgeon, Dr Sharma, to give me a Left Vitrectomy and Laser, whatever that is.  He explains that the Retina has pealed from the top and is now hanging over the side of the eye blocking my vision. He also says this is delicate operation due to the nature of the retina and it can take a couple of hours.  

As I wait there for the paperwork to be prepared for the operation: it is a strange feeling, not physical but mental, as the retina continues to detach from the top on the vision in my left eye is now, at 13:30 is down to about 20%. 

Admission to the hospital, once I am past all the questionnaires and temperature checks, is decidedly manual, paper forms go backwards and forwards and they physically need both my credit card and medicare card. So much for reduced contact during COVID-19. I use my hand sanitiser to clean my credit card and Medicare card.  

As at 17:00 I am in my room at St Andrews Hospital, have had a succession of tests by a series of people who all look the same in their blue masks, well to me anyway. Vision in the left eye is down to about 5%. Wow the change has come on so quickly. I am so lucky that a surgical team has been assembled so quickly to operate at 19:00 this evening.

Waiting Waiting Waiting Room 15 Ward 2F St Andrews.

Anne has reached Maryborough for the night about halfway back to Brisbane. We talk but is is hard for both of us to be apart at a time like this.

An hour to go before surgery  The ward, 2F, is quiet.  It is the same ward I was in over 11 years ago for my quad bypass operation.  Hopefully they remember that although its a cardiovascular  ward, I am here for eye surgery. Having no food or liquid since 08:00 I am both thirsty and a little hungry. I wonder what the outcome will be and what impact it will have on future plans. I have just used the whiteboard and realised I have no perception of depth as I struggle to put pen to whiteboard and spill water from the jug over the table and not into the mug as planned, twice.

Wheeled down to Operating Theatre 14, a good banter with the team there and I get a nice warm heated blanket mmm… I think the banter helps me avoid thinking (too much) about the possible outcomes of the surgery – will I come through the other side, will I have sight back in my left eye.   We wait for our anaesthetist who is on a heart operation before mine. We should let him finish that first. The same questions are asked and I remember to mention I have restless leg syndrome.  It will be a GA for me. General Anaesthetic to those not it the know. This will stop any body movement while they work in my eye. 

Dr Sharma explains the operation will involve removing the vitreous, a gel-like substance that helps the eye maintain its round shape and repair the retina and insert a gas bubble.

I walk into the theatre, easier than wheeling the bed in, and another nice heated mat awaits me. A few drugs later and zzzzzz…

Dr Sharma and the team at work

Focus on the needle please.

All done. Disconnect the patient and send him to recovery.

Noise and light, seems like I am waking up from an all night party at midday. The recovery room.  Great to be awake but boy do I feel seedy. An uncomfortable night follows as the anaesthetic drugs work their way out of my system.

This what the after party feels like.

As I recover in the morning it is an interesting range of colours I can see out of my left eye. With only the left open, it is like a stained glass window with green and yellow predominant and vague shapes almost indistinguishable in the background.  With both open, my vision is overlayed with a oily liquid which reminds me of a toilet gel with purple specs.  While using the toilet, the bowl appears to fill up with this liquid to overflowing which is very disconcerting.

Dr Shama the surgeon comes to visit in the morning. He says the operation went well. They discovered five tears, four on top and one at the side. The gel was thicker than usual so as you age it the gel shrinks and can pull the retina off the wall. Normally 1:15000 risk now for my second eye 1:15 risk of it occurring – ouch. It may be months before we know how successful or not the surgery has been.

Oh what a night. A successful operation.

I was so lucky, from diagnosis to being wheeled to the operating theatre was about 10 hours, and 520 km by air apart. The gods were kind to me again.  A big thank you to all who made this possible in such a short space of time.  Anne got back to Brisbane at 10am the next day, in time to collect me from hospital with our friend Glen.

Two pieces of advice I can give is:  if you get a single spot that has the appearance of a black hole sucking in all light moving around in your eye or you start to loose vision, go see a doctor straight away. It is also important that your personal medical details, operations, allergies etc are up to date and handy. Mine are stored on my my iPhone but I realised I had not included all details such as restless leg syndrome which affected the method of anaesthetic they would choose.

Just another 24 hours on the road for the 2slowspeeds and now a few months of recovery. No more travel or blog entires I am afraid so the couch will have to go back in the cupboard till 2021.

– Anthony

Drifting back to the coast.

Going back in time, completing our camper van trip on to Rockhampton…

We have travelled almost 1,600 km. / 1,000 ml. to get to Longreach, which will be the furthest west we will travel on this trip. There are almost another two folds of the map to the western Queensland border still to be explored.  Winton amongst many other places will be for another time perhaps.

As we head eastwards, I reflect that each town we go through has made an effort to shine and attract our interest, focusing on one or more attractions.  In Ilfracombe, just east of Longreach for example, it is industrial machinery, historic guns and bottles. Someone commented that it was unguarded but nothing gets stolen.

Anne with an old tractor in Ilfracombe.

Barcaldine is known for its Tree of Knowledge. This famous tree was the meeting place of the strikers during the 1891 Australian shearers strike and Barcaldine was significant in the birth of the Australian Labour Party.  The tree stood for over 120 years since those events until deliberately poisoned in 2006.  The subsequent sculpture that replaced the tree pays homage to the tree in a beautiful way.

One of Barcaldine’s many pubs

The “Tree of Knowledge” monument at Barcaldine.

The Tree of Knowledge, Barcaldine Qld.

Monument to shearers strike of 1891 by Milynda Rogers

East of Barcaldine on the Capricorn highway we see little evidence of dead animals at the side of road leading us to believe that night driving by trucks on the main commercial routes, such as the Warrego Highway we came eastwards on, may be the cause. It gives us more confidence that we could ride our motorcycles out west if we limit our riding hours to avoid dawn and dusk.

For those of you who thought the names Emerald, Sapphire and Rubyvale were the gateway to untold fortunes, think again.  Only Sapphire is named after the semi precious stones found there.  The other two are probably wishful thinking on the part of the towns founding fathers, to attract settlers to their towns. Sapphire itself has a dilapidated air about it, probably because the miners focus on more important things and that a number of the businesses are up for sale. “Pat’s” can be had for 450,000 dollars including stock. We are not tempted to spend even AU $15 on a bucket of stone and sand in the hope of sifting a fortune.  However the date scones are another matter, and I think are a better deal. We meet Raylene and Jim, who we estimate are in their 70’s, who are travelling in a personally converted Land-rover Discovery 3. The interior is spartan but works.  They are also restoring a 12 bedroomed house they have lived in for years. That did not make sense until they mentioned they had 12 children!  Yet another lovely couple and another method of travel to digest.

At our next stop is Lake Theresa outside the town of Clermont, which is both the local water supply and boating spot for the locals. Here we meet George and Buff who are heading north to take part in the Southern Cross Annual 5 Day Poker Run for charity. They camp next to us with their motorbikes and trailers that have pop up tents with queen size mattresses inside.  Very impressive. Yet another mode of transport for us to consider. 

We are now entering coal country, this part of central Queensland has 24 mines whose coal output feeds into Queensland Rail’s Goonyella system that hauls the coal to the coast for export. As we travel along the Peak Downs highway the only evidence we see of this is the road signs pointing to the coal mines, the massive trains that haul up to 10,000 tonnes of coal at a time and innumerable power lines that provide the electricity to make this all work. 

We detour to Moranbah, a town which was built to house coal workers back in 1969.  Today it has a population of over 8,000 and a good range of amenities designed to attract workers and their families to live in the region rather than be FIFO workers.

Now this is a coal bucket.

Anne in Nebo.

As we descend towards coast through the Clarke Range, which is part of the Great Dividing Range fields of green sugar greet us. We have left the brown landscape behind, we are back to the more familiar green and are closer to the sea.  While I enjoyed the inland, I think the coastal areas are where I prefer to be. Central Queensland has an interesting mix of industries, coal, cattle and cane.  All the “C”s.

Throughout the sugar growing region around Mackay, narrow gauge rail delivers sugar cane to the various mills,  While we crossed a number of tracks and did not see any trains, the white plumes from each of the stacks of the mills we passed showed that harvesting was in full swing.

Mackay Sugar, Marion Mill.

I was surprised to find out that around region, Mackay Sugar have over 850 kilometres or 530 miles of narrow garage tracks that are used to bring the harvested sugar cane to the mills.  It is a very extensive network and keeps trucks off the road. This network extends more that 70km north of Mackay.

Main QR Line and Cane tracks crossing.

Derailing points on cane track crossing main QR line.

Our next stop, Cape Hillsborough National Park, sits across two rocky outcrops with a golden sandy beach connecting them. This park is famed for is beach kangaroos that feature in the latest Queensland tourist ads.The Coastal Eastern Grey Kangaroos – Macropus giganteus aquaticus  Anthony.  Stop this nonsense next you will be talking about drop bears!  These are just normal Kangaroos that live near the beach – Anne.

Eastern Grey Kangaroo at dusk on Cape Hillsborough National Park.

Kangaroo on the beach at Cape Hillsborough National Park.

PS: Drop Bears are a sub species of Koalas known for rather aggressive behaviour and the habit of dropping from the trees on foreign female backpackers who need protection from strong healthy young Aussie males in beer commercials – Anthony.  This it the sort of rubbish that gives Australians a bad name like hoarding toilet rolls. This is nothing but fake news – Anne

OK OK – Anthony

While the beach and adjoining headlands with their walking trails, one overlooking the ocean is where you can see turtles swimming, are beautiful, the caravan park is compact and too close together for us.  We have realised that while the camper van gives one all the comforts of home, in a hired vehicle one is restricted to tarred roads and an extension cord for the fridge.  We are much more comfortable in the open spaces that other forms of transport allow.

Butterfly at Cape Hillsborough.

Wave like rocks at Cape Hillsborough.

Walking in Cape Hillsborough National Park.

Looking North over Cape Hillsborough National Park.

Anne can finally buy an ice cream to eat (she found a dairy free variety).

After Mackay we head to the coast to see where all the coal mined in central Queensland goes. Hay Point and Dalrymple Bay Coal Terminals.  These two terminals exported over 110 million tons of mostly metallurgical coal used in iron and steel making in 2019-20.  This is about three hundred thousand tons a day which is 30 fully loaded coal trains. Impressive statistics. Our photo does not justice to what is there, take a look on Google Earth.

Hay Point and Dalrymple Bay Coal Terminals

The road to Rockhampton only touches the coast at Clairview. Here there are a few houses or beach shacks, no shopping facilities and a huge open beach. We enjoyed the open space and lack of people. No overnight camping is allowed outside the campground for vehicles such as ours keeping Clairview pristine.  It makes me wonder what other gems exist between Mackay and Rockhampton that are off the Bruce Highway. Another trip perhaps to explore the side-roads and see what lies there.

– Anthony