Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Believe in Miracles

It's amazing how life can sometimes change in the blink of an eye. My last post described a lovely walk through the neighborhood. Two days later all hell broke loose.

Cynthia was experiencing shortness of breath on Tuesday but we didn't think much about it because she had had a couple of similar episodes since we returned to Ecuador in July. We figured probably more altitude adjustment. After she got up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom and lost consciousness we were in the emergency room at the IESS (Ecuador's national health care system) hospital first thing Wednesday morning.

After a l-o-n-g day and many tests an echocardiogram found a blood clot in the right side of her heart. A CAT scan found another on the left side. The official term for this condition is bilateral pulmonary embolism. Then an ultrasound of the leg where she had previously had a clot nine years ago revealed a third in her groin. The level of apprehension and stress we felt were beyond description.

Our dear friend and personal physician Dr. Pablo Parra quickly took charge of her care. She was immediately given anticoagulant injections, oxygen, and pain meds. Because of all the monitoring and medications being administered she was placed in a private room--a luxury since patients in IESS are normally in triples.

There has been concern recently in the expat community about IESS. I can tell you Cynthia received world class treatment that greatly contributed to saving her life.

I'm thrilled to report that after a week of excellent care Cynthia is doing great and was discharged this afternoon. She has now switched to oral anticoagulant medication for the next six months or more. There was no damage to her heart and she'll be able to resume normal activities as her strength improves in the coming days.

This whole episode is really a miracle and we feel so blessed considering the circumstances. We will be eternally grateful for the kind and professional care she received.

Please send healing thoughts and prayers her way as Cynthia continues to recover from this terrifying episode.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Sunday Stroll

So far we've had to "endure" our winter for a stretch of only about ten days. During that short period constantly overcast skies kept the temps uncomfortably chilly. How chilly? Our bedroom registered 58 degrees several mornings. Thank goodness for the heated mattress pad!

Maybe there will be another nippy week or two but in the meantime Cynthia and I have resumed our pleasant Sunday strolls. We've created an hour or so walk that takes us beside the Yununcuay river, down lovely Solano Avenue, then along a beautiful street in our neighborhood called Luis Morena Mora before returning home. After gazing on my gruesome mug shots the past few weeks I thought you'd enjoy seeing something more enjoyable. So come along with us on yesterday's outing.

Remember, we live in the "Land of Eternal Spring." Even when we have occasional periods with lower temps the flowers continue to bloom.




Here's the closest representation of what you consider winter that I could find.


Our walk begins along the Yununcuay less than five minutes from our apartment.


It's so peaceful here, and the views are spectacular.


Sometimes the path takes us beside massive eucalyptus trees.


A new food truck park has opened near Solano Ave. Cuenca's getting hip!!



Solano Avenue is normally very busy, but Sunday is family day here so roads are almost deserted.


We always pass by a couple of Sunday flea markets. Don't think they have much we'd be interested in----



Yesterday we popped into a mercado to see if we could find pumpkin seeds for the granola Cynthia makes.


The fresh food area wasn't very busy, but the "food court" was doing brisk business.


Success! That dinky 2 ounce bag from Supermaxi costs about $3. We bought the 10 ounce bag on the right for $4.


Sunday after church is a popular time for families to eat out. This is an upscale al fresco seafood restaurant on Luis Morena Mora.


Here are a couple of shots just to show you a bit of what our neighborhood looks like. A lovely new condo building


And the mature trees and landscaping add so much to the visual appeal


Looks like a motorcycle club decided to dine at the nearby Mexican eatery.


Back home after a pleasurable walk. Thanks for joining us!




Sunday, August 6, 2017

The End Is Near!

Recently if you were to say that I'm a little flaky I would readily agree with you. Should you comment that I've really got sex a-peel I'd appreciate the compliment. For the past three days I've been shedding skin from my face at a rate that would make a snake jealous. The deep red blotches are now more like a blush, and the godawful pain is no mas.

In short, I'm coming to the end of the month-long ordeal I put myself through, and the results will be well worth the trouble. Here are photos to review the journey I've shared with you:

Three weeks ago (don't look very happy, do I?).


Last week.




Damn it, those look rough! And, tah dah, here's today.




Not perfect yet, but I hope you agree it's a remarkable improvement in only a few short days!

The purpose of me posting these photos the past few weeks has been neither to gross you out nor suggest you take on this regimen yourself. What I've put myself through is unarguably radical and not for everyone.

I do encourage you to be proactive regarding your health. I've never understood why many people take better care of their vehicles than their own bodies. They'll be sure to keep the oil changed and make sure the tires are rotated, balanced, and properly inflated. Yet they avoid visits to the doctor and dentist and ignore common wisdom regarding their weight and fitness.

As far as your skin goes, think about scheduling that dermatologist appointment or at least be sure to apply a quality sunscreen. And now is as good a time as any to get serious about nurturing the "vehicle" (your body) that carries you through this life.

Thanks so much for all your support this past month. The love and encouragement you freely shared with me meant more than you know.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Red Lobster Comes to Cuenca

***WARNING: WORSE THAN LAST TIME***

No, not the restaurant chain, silly. I'm talking about me.

This recent exchange says it all:

Friend: "Damn, dude, that's the worst sunburn I've ever seen."

Me: "That's because you're looking at every sunburn I've ever had all at the same time."

Last night marked three weeks into my treatment for sun damage. I applied the fluorouracil ointment for the 21st time and once again it felt like I had set my face ablaze. I got into bed and said to Cynthia, "I don't know if I can keep doing this." When water from the shower striking my face this morning made me wince in pain I decided it was time to pull the plug.

The maximum recommended length of time for this treatment is 30 days, so anybody who knows me also knows that was my goal. As one of my readers said in an email, "You go big or go home." In spite of the pain I could have continued but I'm ready to start healing and get on with my life. I'm sure what I've gone through will go a long ways toward removing most if not all of the pre-cancerous skin growth.

Beyond the obvious shock of how extensive my sun damage turned out to be came some smaller surprises along the way. I was concerned that I wasn't going to be able to shave. And between my head and face I've got a lot of real estate to maintain.

You've never seen me with hair and a beard, and you never will for a very good reason. Both look terrible. So the thought of having this surface-of-Mars face and cranium covered with a scraggly coat of gray fur was more than I--and Cynthia--could bear. Fortunately, as long as I take my time, shaving hasn't been an issue.

A real surprise has been some unexpected spots where sun damage has revealed itself to be lurking. Like in the nooks, crannies, and creases of my ears of all places. Thinking back that's probably not an area where I always diligently strived for 100% sunscreen coverage. A couple of open, bleeding wounds tells me that was a bad idea. Ugh.

And it's a complete mystery why the skin on my face right next to my nose is freaking out. No way I missed putting sunscreen there.

So as we say goodbye to my active treatment phase, here's my full face photo from the previous post followed by ones taken today:










Anybody blame me for stopping? Good. I'm not sure what to expect next so I'll update you in a few days. Thanks so much for the many emails and Facebook messages, my friends.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

To Hell and Back

***WARNING---THIS POST CONTAINS GRAPHIC IMAGES***

"What in the world happened to your face?!?!"

I've been getting that a lot recently. And will continue to for the next several weeks.

Was I in an accident? A fight?

Based on the way I look those are both reasonable guesses. But, no, my current monstrous appearance is of my own doing.

Let's back up. I've diligently taken care of my skin for the past 30+ years--cleansing, moisturizing, applying sunscreen. Even occasional facials and microdermabrasion treatments. Since we moved to the land of intense equatorial sun I've been extra careful to never leave the house without first applying SPF 50.

Ah, but in my younger days it was quite a different story. I can remember those sunburns at the beach that were too painful to touch. The baby oil and iodine summers at the pool going for the darkest tan line possible. In college I once made a reflecting contraption out of cardboard and aluminum foil to intensify those rays to the absolute max. Geez----.

And of course, for almost four decades now I've had this shaved head. No matter how careful I am, without a hat on out in the sun that thin skin stretched across my skull is like frying bacon.

Over the years I've spent a lot of time in dermatologists' offices for checkups and maintenance. There have been countless freezings of troublesome spots with liquid nitrogen and three instances when basal cell carcinomas had to be surgically removed. Last spring my doctor recommended that I apply fluorouracil for a week to treat a few scaly areas on my scalp. I followed his instructions and the ointment worked.

Fluorouracil is a topical cream or gel used to treat pre-cancerous and cancerous skin growths. It works by killing fast-growing cells such as the abnormal ones in actinic keratoses and basal cell carcinoma. These cells are drawn to the skin's surface and eliminated from the body.

I recently noticed more of these spots had appeared and decided to repeat the treatment. But before doing so I this time did some Internet research and learned that instead of only a week, the recommended period of application was a month.

OK, then, a month it is. You've seen plenty of photos of me over the years. Overall I felt like my skin looks pretty darned good, so I decided while I was putting the ointment on my scalp I'd go ahead and take care of what little sun damage there might be on my forehead as well.

The first week of treatment nothing happened. Then, oh, my------. To say I was shocked with what happened next would be the understatement of the century. Are you ready for this? Here's the "minor" sun damage on my forehead today, 2 1/2 weeks into the regimen:












OMG, right? As soon as I saw what was happening I decided to extend the fluorouracil application to the lower half of my face as well. Here's what it looks like, a week behind the scalp and forehead:


Put those images together and here's my current frightful appearance:




However shocked you are viewing these images, I am even more so. Outwardly my skin looked so good I had no inkling of the damage that lurked below. Let me answer some of the questions I'm sure you have:

How long will the treatment last? For 30 days. So I'm on Day 17 on the top half and Day 10 on the bottom.

Does it hurt? Once the gel starts working it hurts like hell. Washing my face is painful. Putting on the ointment each night burns like I'm being hit with acid. I've sometimes been on the verge of tears and felt like stopping the treatment almost daily but continue because it's obvious the problem must be dealt with. Thankfully Cynthia remembered we have a container of Aquaphor that has honestly been my salvation. It soothes the inflammation and provides healing moisture to the dry, flaking skin. It feels like every sunburn I've had in my entire life is slowly emerging. Payback for all those foolish choices so long ago.

When will you look normal again? You will look normal again, won't you? Once I quit applying the fluorouracil I expect to look even worse for maybe the two following weeks. Then rejuvenation is supposed to happen rapidly and I'll end up with totally healthy skin for the first time since I was a child. Unfortunately the wrinkles stay----.

Are you glad you did it? Ask me when it's over. Seriously, I sure am. Yes, it's painful and, yes, I look horrible right now but I'm pleased to be doing something proactive that will ward off future potential problems. I've been in semi-seclusion during this ordeal but decided to "go public" and write this post to encourage you to be mindful of your own health. Skin cancer that turns into melanoma can kill you, folks. It's not something to fool around with.

I'll continue to post more pics of my progress as this journey evolves. Thanks in advance for your support, encouragement, and comments.





Monday, July 10, 2017

A Love Story


Two kids fell in love in the summer of 1967. From the start their romance was improbable and unconventional. He was a college freshman; she was a freshman in high school. No one except them gave the relationship much of a chance.

While classmates talked of sock hops and football games, they spent hours planning their future and spoke of growing old together. They patiently waited four years for their June graduations, exchanged vows a month later, and have been joyously married ever since.

Those two kids are Cynthia and me. Today is our 46th wedding anniversary and the amazing celebration of 50 years as a couple. We've grown up together, and now we indeed do have the privilege of growing old together.

Cynthia, my darling, I love you more deeply than words can express. We have an eternal, unbreakable bond that few could understand and even fewer will experience. Your presence has been my life's greatest treasure, and I only wish that time could grant me the honor of spending another fifty years by your side.

Happy Anniversary, sweetheart. May we have many, many more.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

This Is Retirement??

We were catching up with local friends last night over dinner and they asked, "So what's been going on with you two since we last saw you?" I proceeded to rattle off the following:

"Well, at the beginning of May we went to Atlanta for an International Living conference.

Then, since I was born in Atlanta and we spent most of our adult lives there, we stayed over some extra days visiting family and friends. I'm missing my 50th high school reunion this fall so I organized a mini-reunion of classmates which was a blast."

Next we flew to New Jersey and stayed with our daughter and her family for three weeks. While there we took a train into Manhattan to visit friends who live in SoHo.

Before returning to Cuenca we took another train to Boston and enjoyed exploring that beautiful city for four days. Plus we discovered we really love train travel.

After being home only about two weeks we turned around and flew back to Quito for another IL conference, then hung around in the city a few days.

We flew home and spent the weekend before leaving for several glorious days in Yunguilla.

And now we're back in Cuenca."

Our dinner companions own several businesses and have young children so their lives are very different from ours. The husband seemed amazed and remarked, "Wow, you two are really busy for retired people!"

The truth is, yes we are. On purpose.

After this recent flurry of activity we have no set travel plans for awhile because we are working on a massive project that requires us to stay put and focus. That doesn't mean we'll be hermits. We cherish our relationships with close friends and look forward to socializing with them after being away so long.

I'm in no way knocking those who embrace a more reserved approach to retirement. Heck, if you feel like you've worked hard your whole life and just want to putter around, I say more power to you. We enjoy limited doses of chillaxin' ourselves, with our just-completed getaway to Yunguilla I mentioned serving as a perfect example.

We spent an extended 4th of July celebration with wonderful friends eating, drinking, sleeping, playing games, sunning ourselves (the weather is fabulous there--and only an hour away!), and hot tubbing. Sound like fun? It sure was!

Here are a few photos of our surroundings:

This is the view from our bedroom window


And here are a few from the deck looking down into the valley




Yes, this is retirement, Edd and Cynthia style.