PET

 

When you think of a pet, you think of a cute cuddly dog or cat or fishes in a tank or pond… my younger son had even asked for a pet elephant at a point. However, the only thing I could see were fishes on the ceiling. The pictures of the fishes looked almost alive trapped in colourful glass, perhaps an attempt to cheer patients undergoing the scan.

The full form of the PET in medical parlance is Positron Emission Tomography. One goes through this scan to check for various diseases in the body or the absence of thereof if you have already completed your treatment/ surgery as I had…what they called a follow up scan. It sounds like an intimidating procedure as it involves injecting a radioactive substance into your body and then doing a scan inside a machine, much like a futuristic gizmo. Perhaps, it could be a thing for putting the human body to cold freeze and storing it for posterity like they do in Star Wars! But currently it functions only as a scanner.

When I was called in for the procedure, a pink shirted radiologist (all of them wore pink shirts) came and explained the process to me in a PET suite, a little cupboard of a room with an austere bed and medicine trolley filled with needles, gauze and stuff. The radiologist told me about the radioactive stuff and then I asked him if it was similar to carbon dating… you know the stuff they do to unearth the age of Egyptian mummies and Neanderthal men…he seemed a little nonplussed and told me it was nothing like that!

The most intimidating thing for me was the insertion of the cannula (the plastic needle that is used for multiple injections or drips). They could not find the veins in my hands! It took nearly half-an-hour and a few nurses to complete the procedure. After that, I was given the medication and told to relax… again a hard task as I was also told not to move or turn or sing or read or talk. I was told to sleep. I could twitch my muscles and my mind had the freedom to swing. The nurse offered to turn off the light for me. No, I said, I wanted the light. I tried to rest as I felt the radioactive stuff course through my veins. It would have been nice to have some attractive pictures or tiles on the walls and ceiling to assist in making the atmosphere more relaxed, I thought.

Then there was the explosion of the matter and antimatter in my veins… I was drifting… my sons had told me there was anti-matter in the radioactive stuff… but here I was praying for a long life to the Creator of energy, matter and anti-matter.

I could actually feel the stuff coursing through my body while I lay like a stiffened mummy of the Egyptian genre, my stomach rumbled and grumbled. I had been instructed to starve over night for the scan. This time it was for the radioactive glucose to react exactly to the sugar absorption levels in ones body. Presence of sugars would distract the readings.

After half-an-hour, they toddled me off to the scan as the medicine has a short life of only a couple of hours. The medicine chose or chose not to light up during the process, bright lights indicated a concentration of sugar. The lighted-up part could be cancerous.

I had been thinking of going into the machine with my hands crossed like an Egyptian mummy and pretending to be Cleopatra, instead I went with my hands above my head, trapped by straps with Velcro like a captive prisoner… my turn to be nonplussed! I felt like a princess in harem pants or perhaps princess Leia of Star Wars fame, imprisoned by Jaba the Hutt. I tend to analogize with anecdotes from Star Wars and Harry Potter as my sons are addicted to these. But, then, I think that is a good thing as they have positive messages of hope. In Harry Potter, we are taught to dispel our worst fears (embodied in the form taken by creatures called bogarts) with ‘riddikulus’   and in the original Star Wars, the good always wins in addition to John Williams’s upbeat music. Despite all that, I was a little zapped (or taken aback) to have my hands tied above my head.

And then I noticed the ceiling in the room was like an underwater scenario… as much as it could be. So, perhaps, one could dream of being a prisoner in Nemo’s submarine hold! Or, princess Leia captive during an adventure to JaJa Binks underwater world… a new idea for another Star Wars episode, take note Disney films. Actually, I thought of neither. I just looked around because everything was so strange, so different from what I imagined. I was just very glad thinking this might prove to be the end of my medical journey battling with tumours and rumours.

My imagination could have taken flight across the Egyptian desserts and across vibrant blue skies. But wanting really to live, I prayed, I waited, I sighed… hoping this would be my last ride to realms of futuristic fancy under the influence of medication.

Once I was through with it and the radiologist came to free me, one look at him smiling and I knew I was free of cancer. Earlier, before my surgery, the radiologist who did the Contrast Dye CT Scan had looked so sad when she came to release me from my strapping.

It all happened so fast and I was cleansed off the deadly growth in a jiffy. I found that the journey back was not as daunting as I had feared. It was a matter of how you addressed your fears. I have learnt that the best way to overcome anything is a vivid imagination, laughter and support from family and friends. If one gives in to fear as one does to bullying, one crumbles to ashes. You just have to stand up to it, pray very hard and suddenly you are back to enjoying the sunshine, bird calls, children and life in general. It does take time to recuperate fully, but that is not so bad as long as you have hope, friends, love and happiness.

 

 

 

 

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Looking for lions

One sunny day, we went to look for lions in Kruger National Park in South Africa. We spotted zebras, giraffes, a leopard, a rhinoceros, elephants, hippopotamuses, baboons, impalas, kudus, a variety of birds and more fawns and monkeys and even, warthogs and crocodiles…but not the elusive king of beasts.

We heard four lions had escaped from Kruger during our sojourn. But did we meet any of them?

I think I heard them at midnight as I woke up to the sounds of roars in my hotel room at Kruger gate.

My elder son and our guide heard them too around six in the morning when they were queuing up for tickets to enter Kruger. We had to buy a permit every time we went into Kruger. As lions are supposed to be more likely to be visible in the small hours of the morning, we decided to enter as soon as the gates opened at 6.30 am. The rangers had said the lions were at the bridge in the hedges.

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Lioness stalking it’s prey
We saw a lioness stalking her meal of water bucks around mid-day. Unfortunately, the waterbucks had sixth sense and walked gracefully to the other side of the waterhole, leaving the lioness hungry and lonely. She ultimately disappeared into the bushes.

On our last day, we saw three lionesses basking in the sun on a sand bank mid-morning. We were so excited that we got off the car and stood on the bridge watching them! Getting out of the vehicle is not something one does in Kruger for one could frighten the animals or become a prey to them incase they are hungry and starved, though they are supposed to be rather averse to human meat.

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Male Impalas
Impalas are popular on the menu for predators. We spotted a leopard stalking a herd of impalas. A drongo let out a warning cry and alerted the impalas. The males stood alert looking out in all directions for the leopard. The leopard was cornered. Our guide told us a leopard is wary of the male impala’s antlers, which could well injure them, thus, retarding their ability to hunt. And if they were not able to hunt, they would starve and die. The leopard tried to go into hiding in the bushes but the impalas got the better of him. Four males with big antlers stood facing him as at least twenty to thirty female and young impalas walked gracefully away… There was no running, no chasing, no roaring… none of the excitement we had thought would be a part of our jungle adventure.

Though we did not see predators chase preys, we did see impalas and wildebeests chase each other in play and we did get chased by angry elephants a couple of times.

Animals by and large liked to cross roads that were made for men to drive on in Kruger. We saw zebras crossing, impalas crossing, monkeys crossing, kudus crossing, wildebeests  crossings rhino crossing… and, we thought, therefore, as a matter of course elephants crossing…

The first time the elephant that was headed for the road got angered when my thirteen-year-old shouted for excitement on seeing a bull come towards the road and the car. Our windows were open. His voice carried and the elephant headed for us and our guide started the car and headed for the far distant reaches…

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An angry elephant
The second time, we queued up with a number of cars to watch a herd cross the road. The big ones crossed. The little ones crossed. The medium ones crossed. But, the biggest one had yet to cross. We were all watching one young elephant that seemed to have turned berserk and rushed every now and then to the road and trumpeted. We wondered what was up? We also wondered what had happened to the biggest one till our guide saw a huge, angry elephant charging towards the car in his rear view mirror as the vehicle was in it’s path. The big bright red object was not an obstruction the giant elephant cared for and she would have it out of her way…Suddenly with a strange purr, the frightened red object ran off at full speed!

The elephant crossed the road and passing cars heaved a sigh of relief and congratulated us on our lucky escape!

Why this sole elephant decided to cross the road where we had parked is an issue on which we still need to ponder and wonder…

One of the best ways for spotting animals in Kruger is to stop where there is a crowd of cars. That is how we spotted our lions, the elephant herds, giraffes and zebras…and a number of other sightings. And our car started the crowding for the leopard that my husband had found stalking the impalas. Other cars followed to watch the drama. In Kruger, humans stay in car cages and view the animals that roam freely. Sometimes, the animals walk right by your car. Occasionally, they walk with your car. Birds hop by. Once a flock Guinea fowls crossing the road held up traffic! Sometimes, it is monkeys…I recall how vehicles containing humans drew to a halt when some baby monkeys decided to play a game of hopscotch in the middle of the road!

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Calf drinking milk
Another time, we paused as not only were elephants meandering all over but also a calf had decided to drink milk from his/her mamma in the middle of a jungle path. Cars waited patiently as the animal finished it’s feed and frisked off merrily behind his/her mother.

Though we spent two-and-a-half days looking for lions in Kruger, we saw very less of the park as it stretches over an area that could contain more than 27 Singapores, and beyond to Mozambique, Zimbabwe and the Limpopo river. We only saw the part around Sabi River and drove out ultimately through the South Gate, close to Nelspruit. The land rolled out for miles beckoning animal lovers. It was relaxing and entertaining to watch crocodiles with their mouth open, waiting for their dinner at the water holes, hippopotamuses stroll into a stream and giraffes munch leaves in the afternoon sun. We even caught two young hippos play and splash water at each other.

A variety of eagles, vultures and birds dotted the landscape. At lunch, we were surprised by a Cape glossy starling waiting for crumbs. At dinner, outside Kruger gate, we had a night visitor from the park, a bush baby. It created a stir among the tourists. It did a round of the Lapa barbecue area and we were all taking pictures of it. Cute would be the right word for this exhibitionist! The next day, we had a picnic breakfast at a hilltop in Kruger and had a yellow-billed hornbill visit us. It even posed for our cameras…

There are many lakes, waterholes and hills. The part that edges Mozambique is very scenic. We saw the Orpen Dam with its lush vegetation, the South African blue crane, Egyptian geese, hippos and crocodiles. We watched the animal and bird life through binoculars as they were unreachable and far…

But we had still not seen a lion. The land with its unique vegetation and animal life concealed the king from us.

I was also wondering if humans had ever inhabited this vast landscape or had it always been home of only animals? There were no clear answers till I googled …The land had earlier belonged to the Tsonga people, who were evicted by Paul Kruger, the president of the Transvaal Republic between 1883 and 1900 and other nature park lovers. The first cars drove into Kruger in 1926. Paul Kruger played a heroic role in the Boer wars and left the country when the Boers faced defeat in the hands of the British in the 1900s. He died in 1904 and was brought back to South Africa to be given a hero’s funeral and buried in Pretoria.

I wonder what happened to the Tsonga people…Perhaps the lions that evaded us through our entire sojourn in Kruger could tell us…

Maybe the lions in Kruger National Park avoided us because we had seen a lion behind a caging of electric wires in the Lion Safari in Johannesburg. That time, we had got off the car on the way to the Cradle of Humankind and the lion was fenced…We did not explore the park as we wanted to experience the wilds in Kruger…instead we went to see the goldmines and were taken around by a Tsonga guide. She told us that her name meant ‘to give’ in Tsonga!

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The caged lion