Infectious Fear

Photo by Keri DeDeo

In the dark of night, my husband calls to report he’s headed home.

I gather our two dogs and lock them away with me in the back room.

I text him, “Coast is clear,” and then I wait.

The back door squeaks open.

The floorboards in the hall creak.

The dogs whine and wag their tails at the TV room door, but their expectations go unmet.

The reason for this bizarre behavior? To keep my dog Nikko safe. Diagnosed with immune-mediated neutropenia, her immune system is compromised. Already, since her diagnosis two months ago, she has had three rounds of antibiotics for various infections: 1 from an unknown infection; 1 from a small cut on her foot, and 1 from kennel cough. She’s on another round of antibiotics for kennel cough—the first round didn’t do the trick.

We’re not sure where she contracted the kennel cough, but when we started thinking about the possibilities, my brain hurt. I also understand the fear behind Ebola.

I’m not concerned about catching Ebola. The chances of catching it in Wyoming are narrow. I do worry about family members in South Africa because they are closer to the epicenter of the outbreak, but still, they are far enough away to be relatively safe.

Besides, I have my own worries at home. Right now, we’re homebodies and I worry about the consequences of having an outside dog touch me. If a dog touches me or my clothes and has any infections or disease, then I could carry that to my dog. If I touch a person who has dogs, and those dogs are even carriers of any disease, then I could carry that to my dog. Even if I step on a patch of grass where a diseased dog has urinated, I could carry that to my dog on my shoes. If I shake someone’s hand of a dog-owner of a diseased dog, I could carry that to my dog.

If my dog touches noses with a diseased dog through the cracks in our fence, she could get ill. If her nose touches the grass where a diseased dog has urinated, she could get sick. If my other dog, Maiya, touches grass or dirt where a diseased dog has defecated or urinated, she could pass that on to Nikko.

Just like humans, dogs carry disease even if they are asymptomatic, and a compromised dog’s immune system can’t fight even the simplest infection.

It’s the same with humans. Going through chemotherapy, my immune system was compromised. The people around me had to be careful. They got flu shots, stayed away when they were sick, and my mother-in-law scattered hand-sanitizer pumps around the house. In the end, I survived, and so will Nikko.

But in the meantime, my husband and I shower and change clothes after being exposed to dogs and before petting our dogs. I disinfect surfaces, door knobs, shoes, our floors…anything I can think of that we could have touched.

To some people, this may be extreme measures. Yes, it’s inconvenient to undress in the garage and shower before petting her. Yes, it’s strange to ask visitors if they’ve had contact with dogs before shaking their hand or allowing them to come inside. And, yes, at times I feel trapped in my home for fear of bringing in disease, but then I see her sweet face and I remember the comfort and love she gave me while I went through chemo, and it just seems natural to do this for her.

Nikko

Nikko

~K

Backpacking First-Timer: Dos and Don’ts…

Entering the Cloud Peak Wilderness on my first solo backpacking trip.

Entering the Cloud Peak Wilderness on my first solo backpacking trip.

Weighing 280+ pounds, several years ago, I took my first backpacking trip up into the Big Horn Mountains. I went with my husband, and I remember an unrelenting trail. I fell backwards once and needed help getting up like a bug who could not turn itself over. We never made it to our original destination, Big Stull Lake–a regret I had until this year.

This summer, 100+ pounds lighter, I took the same backpacking trip; this time solo but not without my trusty dog, Nikko. My destination was 3.7 miles to Coney Lake with a short stop at Big Stull Lake. Things didn’t quite go the way I had planned, so I thought I would share some of the lessons I learned on my first solo backpacking trip.

#1 Don’t overestimate the amount you can carry. Chances are when you’re hiking, you aren’t going to need a lot of clothing. One pair of shorts, one short sleeve shirt, one long sleeve shirt, rain gear, thermals, and a jacket for high elevations is probably enough. On my first backpacking trip, I ended up with too many clothes and as a result, I could barely lift my backpack. At one point, I tripped on a tiny stump in the middle of the trail and ended up face first in the dirt. With a smaller pack, I could have kept my balance.

#2 Do pack and repack. If I had followed this simple rule, I would have realized I didn’t need 6 pairs of underwear, three shirts, and two jackets for my two-night backpacking trip. Repacking and packing can help you stick to the minimum requirements as well as give you practice packing. Make sure to try on your backpack so you’re not stuck with a too-heavy bag when you get to the trailhead, and it’s always a good idea to consult an expert about what you should or should not bring.

Stull Lake Campsite#3 Do know where you’re going, and have a contingency plan. Experts say not to hike alone, but I knew the trail, I let people know where I was going, and I had a contingency plan. I planned my trip based on the previous hike my husband and I had taken years ago. We had not planned well, so we found ourselves stuck searching for a camping spot in the dark during a thunder storm. It turned into a pleasant camping trip, but without good luck, it could have been a disaster. On this solo trip, I planned ahead and had a contingency plan. I wanted to make it 3.7 miles to Coney Lake with a short stop at Stull Lake, 1.6 miles from the trailhead. I ended up staying at Stull Lake and hiking on to Coney Lake the next day without my pack. I would not have made it through the steep, rocky switchbacks with my super heavy pack. Instead, I had an easy hike and more “me time” next to quiet Stull Lake.

#4 Don’t forget the mole skin. No matter how much you think you’ve broken in your new hiking boots, there is always a chance of chafing. I put several miles on my hiking boots before this trip, but the rocky terrain and up- and down-hill hiking took its toll on my feet. Thankfully, I had mole skin in my first-aid kit, and I managed to cover the hot spots before they developed into giant blisters.

#5 Do pack water shoes or sandals. I was grateful to have my water shoes. They had nice traction for walking in the lake and on the lakeside trail, and they are nice to have if you have to ford any deep creeks. Luckily, my hike was in late summer, so the creeks were dry enough to expose rocks for crossing. Look for shoes that can be easily attached with a carabineer to the outside of your pack, and pick shoes that are light…again, refer to Rule #1.

#6 Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t think you’re going fast or far enough. Yes, there are hard-core hikers out there who count their miles, and you may or may not cover as much ground. Who cares! It’s about your ability and about taking time out for you. Take time to relax and enjoy the scenery. Focusing too much on your speed or the miles you’ve covered can leave you forgetting why you wanted to backpack in the first place. Remember that it’s not a race. If you plan your time accordingly, you won’t have to rush to the campsite and you can take time for breaks, pictures, and bird watching.

Most of all, be proud of what you accomplished. So what if someone else went farther or faster. The point is that you got outside, you had fun, and you experienced something new.

Happy Hiking!

~ K

Stull Lake

Loss

Kita waiting for a ride up the mountain

Loss is a part of life, but it can cripple us temporarily. This past weekend I lost my pet.

It was sudden. We didn’t even know she was ill.

Apparently, she had liver cancer, and by the time she displayed any symptoms, it was too late.

To some people, losing a dog may not be that big of a deal, but for me and my husband, this weekend we lost not only a pet, but we lost a member of our family–a member of our family who we thought would live at least a few more years.

Sitting on the living room floor, petting Kita for the last time as the sun shone in and warmed her coat, I couldn’t help but think of one of my favorite poems: “One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop.

One Art

by Elizabeth Bishop
The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it
 was you meant 
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan't have li
ed.  It's evident
the art of losing's not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

Part of me feels silly for being so overwrought over a dog. I can hear other voices in my head saying, “she’s just a dog.” But that’s the thing about loss…a pet, a parent, a friend…there is still an absence–a hole–a loss that we grieve.

Eventually, the pain subsides and we continue. This loss, and others to come, will not be a disaster…it will just feel like it for a while.

Kita with her hedgehog. 2002-2012

~ K