The UGLY Side (September 9, 2019)

When I started this logbook, I promised to document the good, the bad, and the ugly parts of our sailing adventures. All of them. I feel like I’ve accomplished this with detailed, honest, and sometimes gruesome accounts of our experiences—with one exception.

The good parts of our sailing adventure are always the easiest to document and the most fun to share—the landscapes, the people, the cultures, the excitement, the accomplishments, the triumphs, the smooth sailing. The bad parts are also easy to share because sometimes bad experiences create good opportunities and even greater possibilities. Sometimes the bad things just mean something great is on the horizon. And, yes, I can honestly say I’ve documented some of the ugly sides of this sailing experience too—the brutal battles with seasickness, the heavy learning curve, the struggles with equipment failures, my homesickness, and battles with heat stroke and heat exhaustion.

But there is one more ugly part that I just didn’t want to make public at the time. Now that I’m close to the other side of it, I’ve decided to share what’s been happening for the past few months that hasn’t made it into any blogs, social media posts, or videos.

I’ve had some health issues, and frankly, I was embarrassed. Simple as that. It’s that ugly!  It’s an honest and fair reason, I realize, but it’s unfair to the full story of our journey to leave it out now. This is most certainly part of it!

I’m currently sitting in Guntersville, Alabama, USA at my parents’ house recovering from a very complex and painful surgery. Quite literally, it’s been a pain in the ass.

This comes after two months of battling the reasons for the surgery onboard Seefalke. I have learned the hard way that a boat is simply not a good environment for healing. And it’s not a good place to be in pain or in physical discomfort. I’ve also learned the value of getting prompt and proper health care.

Flashback to our Passage from Cabedelo to Kourou (June 3-16, 2019)

I wrote a blog about this passage that you can go back and read “Just When We Thought it Was Boring.”

It was an eventful passage, but we did leave out a few details.

If you remember, a few weeks prior to this departure, I had broken my fifth metatarsal on my left foot when Cap’n Jack and Scout chased after a stray donkey and I was not smart enough to let go of their leashes. They dragged me several meters across the dirt and gravel road. I broke my toe, but it affected my entire foot. At the same time, I skinned a lot of flesh from my right foot and right knee. 

Because I couldn’t move much with the swollen, sore foot, I gained some weight due to not getting my usual exercise that is normal for me while in port. At the time of our departure to Kourou, I was still wrestling with the sore foot, and I was still treating the deep, open flesh wounds with antibiotic ointment.  Scout loved to lick those sores. Sometimes I didn’t notice her doing this and sometimes I let her, but most of the time I stopped her.

Around Day 3 of the 11-day passage, I noticed a red ring growing near the area of the large open flesh wound on my right foot. It was a definite circle and it was bubbling around the edges. It itched like hell!  So, I scratched it. I also noticed a couple of these rings on Scout’s belly. I had no idea what they were. We had no access to internet or any medical books that described anything like this. 

Since it itched so badly, I treated it with hydrocortisone cream and continued to treat the flesh wounds with antibiotic ointment. I later learned this was a bad idea and would only make it worse, but I certainly didn’t know it at the time.

Soon, I noticed a few rings in my genital area. I suppose I would scratch the ring around the sore, then when I used the bathroom and wiped myself, I was transferring the mystery wounds to my genital area.  Soon we noticed some rings on Maik’s legs, neck, and head. We were obviously dealing with something contagious, but we had no idea how to treat it.

And that’s not even the UGLY part…

After a few days I began to notice a lot of blood in the toilet when I used the bathroom. I had earned a hemorrhoid when I was pregnant with my first child 24 years ago, and it generally flares a few times a year (usually whenever I put on a few pounds or don’t exercise much). I usually treat this with simple Preparation H, which I had onboard, and these flareups generally react positively to the Preparation H and go away within a few days. But this wasn’t happening this time. It wasn’t going away. It was getting worse.

There was more and more blood with my bowel movements and a considerable amount of pain. Every time I would poo, it felt like I was passing razor blades. This, combined with these odd, itching, red rings were making the passage even more of a challenge.

As soon as we made landfall and got a little internet, I jumped online and immediately did an easy, self-diagnosis and identified that the rings were ringworm—a highly contagious fungus that should be treated with anti-fungal cream immediately. We had been dealing with it for 8 days and spreading it throughout the entire boat onto all clothes, sheets, towels . . . and each other. All four of us had them. I learned that the rings in my genital area had formed into good old-fashioned jock itch. UGLY!

I learned online that we had a few home remedies onboard that we could have been using—limes, coconut oil, and garlic—all good for fighting fungus. I began to cover all the rings in a lime-coconut-garlic concoction, which helped a little.

It wasn’t until we found a pharmacy in Kourou that we were able to get some serious anti-fungal cream, anti-fungal soaps and lotions, and all types of home remedy supplies just in case. I also got some extra treatment for my hemorrhoid, but I continued to worry about the excessive blood that I was losing every time I passed those painful razor blades.

I spent three full days washing all our clothes and sheets and towels by hand because we couldn’t find any laundry services in Kourou. I had to boil hot water on the stove to pour into the buckets because we needed hot water to kill the fungus. Maik made dozens of trips in the dinghy from the boat to the pier to replenish the water supply. Soon, the rings on our bodies disappeared for the most part, but the pain in my ass remained.

Continuing from French Guiana to Suriname

When we returned to Devil’s Island and spent two days scraping the barnacles from Seefalke’s hull—a task I thoroughly enjoyed even though it was treacherous work—I developed a strong case of what we thought was heat stroke on the next passage from French Guiana to Suriname. We later realized it was probably heat exhaustion, but it was a tough experience either way. I blogged about this experience and you can read it by following this link. Barnacles, Rockets & Devil’s Island (June 16-July 21, 2019)

I was still experiencing the horribly uncomfortable pain in my ass. There was still a lot of blood.

By the way, I’m starting to realize another reason why I never shared all this in my logbook. Sometimes it sounds like I’m complaining a lot when, in fact, I really enjoy sailing and the sailing lifestyle. In fact, I love it!  The good always outweighs the bad and the ugly. Also, I think Maik gets annoyed with me complaining so much.  Anyway, I will continue…

After just a few days in Suriname, Maik needed to leave to go to Germany for two weeks to work and to visit 9-year-old Ronja. I knew that I probably needed to see a doctor.  Maik was begging me to go get checked out. The pain was unbearable, and especially uncomfortable when combined with the 100-plus degree equatorial heat. But I didn’t want to go alone or leave the dogs alone at anchorage, and frankly, I was in an unfamiliar country and not sure about healthcare there and, well, I just didn’t want to do it alone.

As a bonus, during this time we had a few creepy-crawling visitors. Seefalke had become infested with German cockroaches. I called an exterminator who came onboard and treated everything with a first-step treatment of a gel that was safe for people and dogs. This also allowed us to avoid emptying the entire boat and bombing it with poisonous spray.

I had texted my doctor in Alabama and told him of all my ailments from the yet-unhealed broken toe, to the for-the-most-part healed ringworm, to the toilet full of blood and the razor blade pain in my ass. He suggested I see a doctor immediately.

Meanwhile, the pain I was experiencing combined with the intense heat in Suriname caused me to continue to wrestle with heat exhaustion. One day I was working on an article for a client and felt such a rush of dizziness, I couldn’t even finish typing the sentence I was writing. I knew I had a high fever and chills and could barely move from the bunk where I had collapsed. I texted Maik, who texted our friend Des to check on me. Des came by and did what he could, but there wasn’t much he could do. He got me a cold wet towel for my head and a cold drink and promised Maik he would continue check on me. The sailing community is truly amazing—another one of the truly GOOD parts of sailing.

The dogs and I didn’t leave the boat again for the next week. Each day, I boiled water on the stove and poured it into a laundry bucket to create a homemade sitz bath to relieve some of the pain in my ass. And I worked the internet trying to find a local doctor who spoke English.

When Maik got back, I was so happy! So were the Seadogs!  We made an appointment with a local doctor for the next day.

She was very sweet and seemed competent. She took a look and then quickly looked away, practically covering her eyes.  I’ll never forget the look on her face. She made a gesture that was kind of like “talk to the hand,” as she grimaced and said she had seen enough.

She informed me that I had a grade-four, prolapsed, active, hemorrhoid and three anal fissures. She made a comment that she couldn’t even believe I was able to walk into her office because of the pain I most certainly must be feeling. She said there was not much she could do for me except prescribe some ointments and stool softeners. I needed to see a surgeon.

The first ointment burned so badly I could not bear it. It was so bad, we needed to return to see the doctor again the next day. We had to go to two pharmacies to find the right ointment that would relieve some of the pain and hopefully begin the healing process. I had already planned a trip to the US in September to visit family and friends and attend a trade show for work, so I was hoping these meds would help me enough to at least get me through the next month in Suriname.

Meanwhile, Maik and I had the exterminator return to Seefalke as the roaches seemed to like it there with us and didn’t want to leave. This time we removed everything from all cabins and lockers while the exterminator filled Seefalke with airborne poison.

The meds from the Suriname doctor began to help a little. There is a small pool in the marina, and I was enjoying swimming every day, which I also think helped, although the chemicals in the water turned my hair a seaweed green! This was the least of my worries.

The pain and the blood returned as I began to countdown the days until my flight to the US to see my doctor.

Sweet Home Alabama

I made it back to Alabama on Wednesday, August 28, 2019 and immediately went to see my doctor in Birmingham. He also only needed a quick look to refer me to a colon and rectal surgery specialist. I saw him the next day and he immediately booked surgery for the following morning. I was so happy to spend the evening before surgery with my daughter, Shelby, celebrating her 24th birthday.

The next morning (Friday, August 30, 2019) I was put under full anesthesia and underwent three procedures—a hemorroidectomy, a fissurectomy, and a Sphincterotomy. 

I didn’t realize the seriousness of the surgery or the difficulties of the recovery. I spoke to my aunt who recently had the same procedure and she told me the suffering prior to the surgery and during recovery was the worst pain she had ever experienced, and she’s had two back surgeries.

This got my attention and concerned me greatly, but I also knew that how much better I would feel on the other side would make it worth it. I just want to feel healthy again.

The surgery was successful, and I’ve been recovering at my parents’ house on gorgeous Lake Guntersville for the past nine days. So, I am happy to report a lot of GOOD to go with the UGLY!  I’ve enjoyed exceptional care from my loving parents, Doug and Patti Lambert, who I know have missed me so much this past year and who are grateful for this time with me, even if it’s not as fun as originally expected. I’ve enjoyed unlimited ice, internet, and AIR CONDITIONING!  I spent valuable time with my son, Bo, and with my daughter, Shelby. I’ve gotten to watch Auburn football games and U.S. Open tennis matches. These are things I’ve learned to live without, but it’s nice to have them for a little while, I must admit. I no longer take these things for granted—especially this valuable time with family!

I am happy to be here for my recovery and for this time with family and friends, but I miss Maik. I miss Cap’n Jack and Scout’s velvety Beagle ears tickling my face when they cuddle next to me. I miss the fresh salt air in my face, sailing the sea, and the glorious colors of the South American sky at sunset. And I miss Seefalke, my floating home. But I know that a boat is not an ideal environment for healing. So, I will stay here as long as it takes and hope that I also make it home to Gulf Shores to see my friends there. Most important, I need to be sure I’m fully healed before returning to Suriname. I definitely want to be healthy so I can be sailing on that bright orange ship in December when it makes its way to Alabama waters to complete our first voyage.

I have learned the value of good health care and will never again wait so long to seek proper treatment. This is GOOD!

Sometimes the battles within ourselves are tougher than our battles with the sea. Sometimes being on land is harder than being at sea. We continue to learn this over and over again.

Yes, these past few months have literally been a pain in the ass.

It’s been UGLY! But what is on the horizon is so GOOD!