Whaddyadoallday? Real Life on a Desert Island Rotating Header Image

Anguilla

Bella Ciao, Anguilla

It is time.

Inertia is easy. Change is hard. This is very hard.

This is the longest I have called anyplace home in my entire adult life. April 18, 2001 seems like a lifetime ago and like only yesterday at the same time. Today we leave Anguilla after 20 years 109 days.

So Whaddididoallthosedays?

Everything and nothing. There were a billion frustrations. And hopefully a greater number of joys. There was even terror (yes, I am looking at you Irma and Covid.) There were lots of those beach walks that I thought would fill my every day until regular life intruded on my time and bad backs and bad knees made walking on sloping sand a tad less enjoyable. But there was always the house and the view and the weather to make it all worthwhile.

And the full moon light on the Caribbean Sea. That was heaven touching earth every single time.

At the end of the day, though, the thing that I will miss the most will not be the sand or the beach. It will be the people. I will miss the friends we made here. The kinship.

When we first moved here and people asked what it was like living on a tiny island, I always said that it was a bit like living in high school…not always in a good way. Small, clique-y. With everyone knowing you and your business. But it was also like being in school in that it was easy to make friends based on the shared experience.

The easy connection with people on island was surprising especially to a couple of generally anti-social individuals like us. But in retrospect it shouldn’t have been. When we first moved here and met multiple people who came here single and found their soulmates, I marveled. How was that even possible? On an island with a total population of, say, 12,000 back then? How many of those folks are in your target demographic? Of those, how many are single and looking for someone like you? That elimination process alone would leave you with maybe, what? 200 possible matches? If I randomly picked 200 people from JFK airport or all of Miami, what would be the odds of finding THE one in that group? And yet, it happened time and again. In fact, for one woman I met just recently, it happened TWICE.

Over the years, however, I have come to realize that the mere fact that a person comes here, to a tiny desert island in the middle of nowhere naturally selects for a certain kind of person. I would say that people who move here tend to be out-going, hard-working, risk-takers who are open to and even embrace change. If they stay, they have to possess a hefty amount of adaptability, patience and good humor. So friendships here don’t just grow out of the shared experience of being here, but they are all rooted in a lot of common, compatible personality traits.

In our days here, we have made friends, good friends, with people from all over the world and from all kinds of backgrounds who we would never have met had our lives stayed on that comfy, suburban, California cul-de-sac. Each and every one of them has contributed to the experience of living here by making it fuller, more interesting, more enjoyable and really just ‘more’ than stunning water and fine, white sand would have been. To all of them I am eternally grateful. I will miss them most.

In parting, here is a picture of the tile that Michael hand-painted and hung next to our front door those many days ago. We will leave it for the new owner, but I have amended the image here. We are so lucky.

Where’s Waldo?

Here we are nearly five months into lockdown, and you might have thought you would hear more from me what with having next to nothing to do but write. However, fiction is not my forte. So without anything happening, there is nothing to write about.

Granted, with our very blessed COVID free status here in Anguilla, I did transition back into saving little dog and cat lives (or more accurately treating their minor ailments). We have been out to eat a few times. We have had a couple of distanced dinner parties on our veranda. And we saw the comet and some meteors. All things that my northern friends would likely be happy to be able to do without worry.  But it has really been pretty quiet down here. And we would very much like to keep it that way in spite of our Government’s recent desire to start opening the island in the midst of what threatens to be a VERY, I mean HISTORICALLY VERY, active peak hurricane season. (Fingers crossed nothing this way comes.)

My current malaise and inertia right now stem mostly from Newton’s Laws of Motion – The first of which states, “A body at rest will remain at rest, and a body in motion will remain in motion unless it is acted upon by an external force.”

That’s me. A body at rest. And now a body at rest for so long that it takes a very significant external force to move me. I may grow roots. It remains to be seen.
That’s why last week I found myself looking forward to witnessing lilies opening. Yup. Like watching paint dry but for one brief dynamic second at the end. This is the time of year that Michael and I actually get into our pool. Usually we are not hot enough to warrant getting wet. But August to October, that area of the veranda that is otherwise an architectural water feature earns its keep. At least once a day in the evening, we get in and hang over the infinity edge and contemplate life.Last week the lilies were blooming just on the other side of the overflow. We could watch the petals start to separate, space developing between them, the little orange anthers starting to peek out at the top, and then “sproing” the flowers would open. Not exactly gripping theatre but something to do nonetheless.Now those lilies are taking a break so it is back to staring at the sea. But last night something new caught my attention.  I saw a flash of bright green in a mass of bright green and magenta in one of the bougainvillea. Very hard to distinguish between the plant and the “other”…

But I was dedicated to the task of capturing an image. At least AFTER I (as an external force) convinced Michael to break his inertia to get out of the pool to go get my glasses and the camera.
It should be noted that I am not the photographer in our partnership. And hanging over the infinity edge on my tiptoes with a still healing torn rotator cuff hooked over the side balancing the camera trying to zoom and focus into all that mass and depth of foliage was no small feat. (Self-congratulatory pats on my back with my good arm, thank you.) But smack dab in the middle of that picture, just behind that one 2/3 circle of a tiny dead branch at about 2 o’clock from that center magenta flower was this:Can you see anything yet?  Ok, wait, Mr. DeMille, he’s ready for his close-up.My new COVID friend, Waldo, the baby iguana.

How Cold Was It?

After all of these years living in Anguilla ( as we say in the islands, “I make 17 next month”), I am completely incapable of conjuring up any sense of cold temperatures anymore…..not unless you count crawling out from under blankets in the morning to stare in awe at The fact that the thermometer reads 70 degrees. This deficiency is not a functional hardship at home, but it makes packing to leave island a real crapshoot. And sadly one at which I fail miserably time and time and time again.

I say this because as I write this I am huddled up in a ball wearing a Jean skirt, a long-sleeved shirt, a cardigan sweater and socks with my pashmina wrapped around my legs like a blanket FREEZING on an American Airlines flight out of San Juan. We are ultimately headed to Las Vegas and Denver; and now hours still away from Charlotte, I already know deep in my cold, old bones that I have not packed appropriately.

I can pull out the easy, go-to excuse for this: we just don’t have the right clothes anymore. And that would, in large part, be true. I have a couple dusty pairs of jeans. And a few lightweight sweaters. But even the cardigan I am wearing now is a fashionable, loosely-crocheted, airy number. These are all items I might wear on one of those rare, brisk, 70 degree nights in Anguilla. I honestly do not own a single thing made of wool! Certainly nothing downy or gortex-y. In fact, my only “coat” is a very weathered,(Sonya when did Michael buy that for me when you and Illinois were in SF during a road show of some sort?) short, leather jacket that wouldn’t keep a cow warm anymore.

What good are these things going to do me in Denver in winter? Because yes, my friends, apparently it is still WINTER. Damn you, four season climates! We completely forget. Even as our English friends delight in visiting us during this recent polar vortex cold snap that hit across the pond. Even as we see the reports of a snow storm in New England. We completely forget. We put it out of our minds. Not that winter exists but what exists during winter.

And that is because cold has become an abstract concept to us. How cold is 60 degrees? How cold is 40 degrees? You may as well ask how cold is -100? How far away is the moon? Or why, why, why did I not at least pack a pair of freakin’ tights instead of tossing in that cute, little, flirty, red dress I bought in Dinan, France?

So really the question should be, How dumb was she?

Relativity

First, I know. It has been ages since I have posted on this site. Life interfered. Irma destroyed the island. I could give you lots of excuses, but they would be just that: excuses not reasons. In reality, I just lost touch. But today brought it all back again.

Especially because this is winter. And we endeavor to try to remember that the world is not Anguilla. That we have friends up north who are out in the cold and dark scraping ice from their windshields and stomping snow and slush from their shoes watching their breath turn to mist in front of their sad, red, frozen faces.

Meanwhile, here in tropical paradise, Michael wanted to introduce me to his newest discovery – the best meat patties on island. We planned on going in to the Valley on errands early anyway. So we headed in for 8AM stopping first for sustenance. No sooner had we stepped foot out of the car but the woman at the little restaurant came out to meet us on the street.

“I suppose you are here for patties,” she said.

“Indeed, we are,” we replied.

“Sorry, but they aren’t ready yet. We got a late start this morning,” she announced.

Our disappointment must have shown because then she went on to offer an explanation.

“It was just sooooooo cold this morning. We couldn’t drag ourselves out of bed.”

Now, this might make sense if it weren’t for the fact that the low temperature last night in Anguilla was 73.1 degrees.

Ok, then, at least it was funny and good for a laugh.

In fact, I did laugh. And I tried to convince Michael to overcome his disappointment and frustration and to admit that he thought it was funny, too.

But, in his defense, he had a good point.

It would  be funny if this was a quaint and isolated incident on this charming, little island.

Unfortunately, our lives are chockablock full, every day, of similar little disappointments and frustrations.

And the laughing gets harder and harder.

And that is probably the real reason I haven’t written in a while.

Perhaps, I will see if I can rediscover the humor.

 

What are the odds?

First of all our thoughts go out to all of those individuals and families most impacted by the recent devastation caused by Hurricane Matthew. During hurricane season Michael always takes comfort in pointing out that Anguilla is a teeny, tiny island in a very big ocean so that the odds of a hurricane hitting us are very slim. Over the last few weeks, however, I have been struck time and time and time again how connected we really are to so many other places in the world.

First, my good friend, Dianne Norris, sold her home here after 30+ years and moved back to California. This got me thinking about the friends that I have made on this island – people that I would never, ever have met if I had stayed in my suburban life in northern California. In all fairness, some of that would have been my own fault. Back then when Michael and I weren’t working, we were hanging out together – just the two of us. We didn’t hang with our neighbors. We didn’t hang with our coworkers. We didn’t socialize much at all.

Here in Anguilla, however, pretty much the only leisure pastimes that exist are quiet walks on the beach or dinner parties (either at restaurants or at home). The former you can do alone. For the latter it rather helps to be friends with some other people. (When Michael and I eat hotdogs and French fries at home alone it doesn’t really count as a dinner party even if we do pop open a nice merlot.) So now we have a diverse group of friends not only from all over the United States but from all over the world. In addition to enjoying time with them here in the islands, we have visited them in far off places and they have encouraged us to visits still other exotic locations (with and without them).

Which brings me to the second reason I was thinking of how truly amazing my current circle of friends really is….especially in light of the fact that I met them all on a 35 square mile island. Here we are leaving on a one month vacation through Eastern Europe followed by a few nights in northern Norway to hopefully, successfully chase after the Northern Lights, and without any particular effort whatsoever , I have connected with friends who are right now in Austria, other friends from Germany giving more tips on Austria, a brother of a friend living in Prague, and a friend of a friend from little Tromso, Norway.

In fact, Michael was picking up our car at the garage the other day and got to talking to an Indian fellow from Kerala (we have been there) who lived for years in, of all places, Tromso, Norway. What are the odds of that? Well, apparently, mercifully, far greater than for being hit by a hurricane. (Knock wood)

Age Is Not a Disease

Granted, sometimes it feels that way. When my left thumb joint aches from holding pots and pans while my right hand scrubs them. When the first few steps out of bed in the morning are on shuffling, surprisingly stiff feet. When I can’t avoid a glimpse of my sadly lax skin. However cliché it is to say it, though, my age is just a number. It is certainly not a diagnosis.

Medically speaking, age is part of what we call the patient’s signalment. It is a descriptive term. In people that means the patient’s age, sex and race. In veterinary medicine: age, sex, breed and species. We start with the signalment because right away that begins to narrow our focus. For instance, once you know you are dealing with a female, prostate cancer is off the table. No reason to even entertain the possibility. A Doberman isn’t going to have Feline Leukemia but probably has some degree of heart muscle disease. A 12-year old dog with vomiting and a palpable mass in his abdomen is more likely to have cancer while a puppy with those same symptoms and findings is more likely to have eaten a rock.

To illustrate: I will always remember a case in my early years of practice. I was called up to the lobby to triage an emergency because all of the examination rooms were already occupied. The owner was frantically cradling a cat all wrapped up in a towel. What seems to be the problem? All of a sudden he can’t move his back legs. OK, I said. Trauma it is. Let me take him to the treatment area. He was probably hit by a car. The owner protested. Absolutely not, he is 14 years old and never goes outside. Ok, then. Heart disease and a blood clot to his legs. A quick 180 degree turn and I was off and running again. That is why medical professionals are encouraged to obtain the signalment and medical history BEFORE making their diagnosis. Not my finest professional moment, but I think you see my point.

And getting back to that point, age is a starting place. It should not be the final conclusion. Yet I find people using age that way here in the islands. From other medical professionals asking me, “Do you really want to put an old dog through that?” (whether ‘that’ is surgery or a simple blood test) To owners debating, “Is it really worth doing – fill in the blank – at her age?” To the casual conversation with someone on the street discussing their sick pet and concluding with “Well, my wife says he’s just old.” (And here pets can be considered old at the ripe age of 7.) I honestly don’t remember this being the case in my previous practice life in the States. Of course, in all fairness that was 15 years ago. I am older myself now so it might be that (1) I am more sensitive to the inherent gravity (pun intended) of aging and/or (b) I am losing my memory. Nevertheless it bears repeating.

Age is not a disease.

Furthermore, age is absolutely not a death sentence. Contrary to popular opinion, nobody ever actually dies of old age. Something else happens. At the very least, their heart stops beating. Even dying of natural causes is the manner of death (as in not a homicide, for instance), but there still has to be a cause. Aging simply shifts the diagnostic focus. Again, it makes certain diseases less likely and makes others more likely; and, as ridiculously frustrating as it may be, as we age there are more diagnoses that don’t have ‘cures’ but only the hope of management and mitigation.

Let’s face it, as the years go by most everything gets harder…. scrubbing my pots and simply living another day included. But age is not, in and of itself, reason not to look or to treat or to try. One might find plenty of other such reasons, but age is not one of them. And as I am lucky enough to get older and older and hopefully older, I personally take comfort in that. Consider that I have been with Michael through lots of doctors’ visits and even two weeks of serious illness in a hospital in New York. Doctors recommended myriad numbers of tests, a few surgeries and prescribed beaucoup different medications, and never once did I take one of those physicians aside and not-so-subtly suggest, “yeah, well, but he is pretty old……..” I’m just saying.Birthday cake

 

Summertime

OK. So it’s summer now. We just enjoyed the longest day of the year. It’s not that much of a variation over the shortest day of the year here near the equator, but one of my brothers lives near Chicago. His defeatist email response to that milestone was to note that he is now ‘on the long, inevitable slog to winter.’ I think he was being sarcastic. I mean, he must have been. After all, my northern friends always tell me that they simply LOVE living where they can enjoy all four seasons. (I could say the same thing too but I would be talking about the hospitality chain.)

Of course, everything is relative. (not just one’s relatives) And nothing is more so than one’s comfort level when it comes to temperature. If this were not true, there wouldn’t be a market for thermostat guards that urge you to: ‘protect your thermostat from undesirable environmental conditions and unauthorized personnel’. The Wall Street Journal even published an article earlier this month entitled “Let the Office Thermostat Wars Begin” (http://www.wsj.com/articles/let-the-office-thermostat-wars-begin-1465319614 ) claiming that “No workplace dispute is as divisive as where to set the office thermostat.’

Some people just run hot while other people run cold. Add in acclimation to your environment and you end up with my Chicago brother happily running around in shorts and shirt sleeves when the mercury crawls up to 50 degrees while I am searching for a sweater if the thermometer drops below 70. You would think, though, that here in the relatively unchanging environment of the tropics, there wouldn’t be much of an issue. After all, average monthly temperatures don’t vary that much here with highs and lows running between 80/70 degrees in the ‘winter’ time and 90/80 degrees in the ‘summer’. It never hits 60. It never hits 100. (Hello, Phoenix!)

Yet, just the other day I was talking to an Anguillian who commented that one of my friend’s dogs didn’t seem to be as stiff in his sad, little, cartilage-challenged, hind legs. I didn’t see the difference myself. But he was adamant. It’s the weather he said. The weather? Sure, the dog’s joints are less stiff because it’s summer time. In the winter when it is cold, he can tell that the dog is more painful and uncomfortable. And he knows this because his own joints bother him more in the winter. In the winter? Here? In Anguilla? (See average temperatures listed in the above paragraph…) Here? At 18 degrees north of the equator?

It makes me wonder if he has a space heater stashed away at home to get him through those cold, tropical, winter nights. If so, I am pretty sure his wife battles with him over where to set the thermostat!

Enjoy the season.

Yes, Sir, That’s My Baby

This will be a quick one. We have been crazy busy and I am exhausted between installing crown moulding in hexagonal rooms where no two walls or angles are the same and practicing medicine. We have been running, running, running.

However, as a follow up to the goat C-section blog (http://whaddyadoallday.com/?p=722) I wanted to show you mom and baby at 3 days in the owner’s yard:Goat 3 days

And then at 2 weeks, here they are out and about strolling the  neighborhood as I took the photo from my car (the baby is not quite as brave out in the real world):goat 2 weeks

Speaking of cars, our Subaru needed a wee bit of body work. Not because of a crash or anything. Just because of the corrosive nature of living on the sea. Michael took it to a guy who works out of his yard. The place is absolutely jam packed with cars. When we returned to pick it up, imagine our surprise when parked there next to our current car was our previous (first) island car. Remember this post (http://whaddyadoallday.com/?p=722) and the one it references? Our Suzuki was dear to our hearts; and just recently, we were commenting on the fact that we hadn’t seen it on the streets in very long. But there she was in her new, tricked-out, purple glory. (No, I do not know the pink car.)

good old carSome comfort, though, I guess that if the guy who did the body work for us has kept the Suzuki from completely dissolving into oblivion, then he probably did a good job on the little rust spots on the Subaru.

Meanwhile, good to see both the four-legged and the four-wheeled babies doing well.

Back to the Beginning – Whaddyadoallday? the Book

Yesterday, April 18th, was the 15th anniversary of the day we arrived in Anguilla to live permanently. We landed at the dock with three cats, carry-on bags and four checked bags weighing 70lbs a piece. (Do you remember when you could check that much? It pissed me off at first when the airlines limited me to 50lbs instead, but my aging muscles now thank the airlines for saving me from my own folly.) Everything else we owned was in a 40ft container enroute somewhere across America.

Amazing how times flies. It has been an interesting journey to be sure. Over the years I made attempts at writing the story in book form. Even submitted it to agents once but without success. It has been written and rewritten a billion times. Somehow ‘posting’ a book is so much scarier than posting a blog. Yesterday,  though, I finally pulled the trigger. Whaddyadoallday? Top Ten Questions People Ask When You Live on a Desert Island is now available as a kindle ebook on Amazon.

http://www.amazon.com/Whaddyadoallday-Questions-People-Desert-Island-ebook/dp/B01EGCW5DC/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1461077893&sr=8-1&keywords=whaddyadoallday

 

Of Goats and Men

So far our small, house call, veterinary practice here on the island has been only a bit different than we envisioned. We thought we would be busy doing primarily routine wellness exams, etc. In reality, however, we have been involved in a disproportionate number of complicated medical cases: unusual cancers, involved metabolic diseases, and major surgeries (performed in the local clinic or across the channel in St. Martin). It is all more of a logistical challenge given the limitations of our mobile, business model. But it is still the standard companion animal medicine we are familiar with so we’ve successfully worked things out on a case by case basis. The other night, though, the call came in that really tested our limits.

At 7PM the phone rang. It was hard for me to understand the caller, but it became apparent that he was calling because he had a goat that was having trouble delivering her kid. He tried to contact other people before us (I have no idea whom), and someone ( I have NO IDEA who) had suggested he contact Pelican Mobile PetCare. I tried to explain to him that I was a city vet. I have exactly ZERO experience with barnyard animals. So he put a woman on the phone to implore me to at least come to see if there was something I could do to help the poor animal. How do you say no to that?

Michael wasn’t home, but I managed to reach him and told him where to meet me by the side of the road….literally by the side of the road. After traipsing through the bush in the dark using my cell phone as a flashlight, we were led to the poor, pathetic, bleating, distressed goat. It turns out she had quite possibly been in labor for nearly 24 hours with the front feet of the kid visible since early that morning. After that many hours, that baby was not coming out in the normal and natural fashion in spite of our noble attempts to the contrary. The kid was likely already dead. (I could feel his teeth and he wasn’t trying to bite me.) And the mother would die too without intervention. She needed a caesarian section, but we are not equipped for that level of surgery. I have instruments and suture materials, but what I have is only really suitable for lacerations, biopsies, small lump removals, that sort of thing. Not sterile, major, abdominal surgery. We tried to explain this to the owner. Who would normally do this for him? Who would have done it two years ago when we were not available? It seemed that nobody else could help.

That’s how we found ourselves doing a goat c-section on a small table on the guy’s back porch under flashlights. We could have given a lecture on how NOT to do things. Local anesthetic only. Intestines spread out on disposable medical pads. Neighbors coming to watch and trying to video tape something that we most certainly did not want documented for posterity sake. It was a circus. When Michael finally pulled out the baby it sounded like a wine cork popping, but damn if he wasn’t still alive. And huge. The minute he was delivered it was impossible to imagine how he could have possibly ever been inside his mother in the first place. But that was only half of the process. We needed to get finished and close up. Unfortunately, the sutures we had were the equivalent of using 4-pound test fishing line to catch a marlin. We could only hope for the best. We rinsed everything with sterile fluids and bathed it all with intravenous antibiotics and put it all back into place. At one point, the mother became weak and barely responsive, so I instructed someone to mix some sugar and water and pour it into her mouth to treat likely hypoglycemia. Damn if she didn’t come around, too.

We tried to impress upon the owner that the mother and the baby needed to be strictly confined….a clearly foreign concept for a free range goat herder. We tried to set him up for the very real possibility that one or both of them would not survive the night. But at least they were alive when we left them. And they were alive the next morning when this picture was taken. (Seriously, I do not know farm animals, but doesn’t he look proportionally large compared to his full grown mother? Yes that is the porch were we performed the surgery, but at least mom was “confined” – i.e. tied to that little chair.)goat

We go to take mom’s stitches out today. We’ll see if someone is grateful enough to pay us something for our hard work and dedication or if this time saving lives has to be its own and only reward.