Obviously I changed my mind and came to my senses – or the trip was already booked and paid for before I realized I must be insane. So yup, I’m heading to Bozeman, MT in about a week with ten students to prowl the terrain of Yellowstone for mountain lions. Everything is going to be great – nothing could go wrong.
Although we will mostly be device-free during this expedition, I am hoping to do a bit of blogging to share some of our adventures - so check back here between March 8-16 to find out if I survive.
I’m geared up according to the packing list provided by the experts at Ecology Project. Three layers plus outer gear to prevent hypothermia. I thought it was important that I verify I could in fact put all of these layers on, so the other night I pulled on my base layer of Redhead Hunting tights and shirt. Covered those with Columbia active pants for winter sports with a final overlay of fleece pants (also Columbia – thank you winter clearance sale). Repeated exercise on top half of body. Next, I coated my feet with merino wool socks and LL Bean Carabasett Boots. Then my snowpants and Eastern Mountain Sports (I have to mention all of these brands because they are entirely novel to people who live in a tropical climate) winter parka. Oh yes, and my turtle buff and Baxter down gloves. In a walk similar to the abomidable snowman I swished my way into the kitchen to show off for my husband. Did I mention it’s 80 degrees here in Florida? In less than 5 minutes I almost died from heat stroke. I literally layed down on the floor and begged my husband to pull my boots off before I combusted, but not before I practiced my snowshoeing moves.
In the meantime, preparations for Senegal are underway – I’ve read every blog on how to survive long haul flights. It has become evident to me there is no way to survive long haul flights. I’m considering my prescription options at this point – except I’m too cheap frugal to pay for a doctor’s visit, so Dramamine or Benadryl will have to do!
I have learned that I need to pack facial spray, also known as water in a bottle, because the plane will dry out my skin. I appreciate the irony here since I’m heading to a place where I need a LifeStraw to drink the water but apparently I should spray french mineral water on my face at regular intervals. The sheer volume of travel tips out there is overwhelming – thank goodness for Pinterest where I can pin them all and never look at them again.
What are your best travel tips? Share in the comments any recommendations for packing, airplane travel, etc.
But I was pretty determined after learning 50% of people who contract yellow fever DIE, and that the virus is endemic to Senegal, that I should probably get this immunization. I mean, who wants to have yellow eyes and bleed out your eyes, nose and mouth while vomiting – this just doesn’t seem like a fun way to explore Africa and would definitely hinder my ability to share food from a single bowl with my Senegalese hosts. I’m confident that bleeding from the eyes is an etiquette faux pas at dinner.
First let’s clarify something about what travel vaccinations you should get, the USA does not require you to get ANY immunizations to enter another country. Some countries do require you to have certain vaccinations and proof thereof to enter. The USA via the Centers for Disease Control does offer recommendations for immunizations depending on your destination country. These recommendations are based on the risk and probability of contracting particular diseases, in other words, if the CDC recommends a vaccine, it means the risk for contraction is high in that country and the health impacts serious and possibly life-threatening. For travel to Senegal, the CDC recommends Hep A, Typhoid, Yellow Fever, anti-malarial medications and all routine vaccinations (MMR, diptheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, chicken pox and flu). Remember, the public health department told me last week I didn’t need yellow fever because Senegal was “low risk.”
Let’s take a look at this little map I borrowed from the World Health Organization (see above left). Follow along with me, find the west side of Africa, look for Senegal, oh looky there it’s yellow. I wonder what yellow on this map means…I’m stumped, yellow yellow yellow, hmmmm, oh my gosh could it be yellow fever?!
I made a few calls today and found this shady urgent care center that also does “travel medicine.” They said they had one dose of the vaccine and that they could take me at 7pm. Right there I should have been suspicious, what kind of health care facility other than the ER is open at 7pm?! But ok, I’m game, I mean, there’s not really a better way to spend a Monday night that hanging out in a cootie-covered clinic so someone can shoot live virus under your skin. I waited an hour and fifteen minutes before the medical assistant called me back. She proceeded to tell me it wasn’t required for me to get the Yellow Fever Vaccine to go to Senegal, seriously, my teacher friends, we are utterly failing at teaching reading comprehension, please see paragraph above on required vaccinations.
So fast forward, we’re ready to go, she picks up the syringe, flicks it, and then says, “oh darn, this is an 18 gauge needle, this won’t work.” My dear readers, do you know what 18 gauge needles are for? Drawing blood. Oh my god, she almost stuck that in my arm! She returns with a new needle and switches it out. I cannot make up what happened next, she pinched my skin (it’s a subq shot) and MISSES! Yes, misses, and shoots that dose of yellow fever vaccine all over the exam room. Nooooooooooo that is the last dose of vaccine my brain shouts. Now she’s all flustered and I’m trying to remain calm as she apologizes repeatedly. She tells me not to worry, there’s enough left in the vial to mix another dose (really, can I confirm this??). Yep, she mixed me another dose, and managed to actually get in it in my arm the second time – but whether it was actual vaccine or just sterile water I’ll never know. Well I might know, in a few weeks, when I’m bitten by a mosquito carrying Flavivirus and enter the acute stage of yellow fever, at that point we will all know what was actually in that vaccine.
It's going to be great - everything is going to be great. Or everything will be tinted yellow. One or the other.
I'd already had pertussis, diphtheria and tetanus over the summer, so I was caught up there and I planned on getting a flu vaccine in March. I was still up in the air about getting a rabies vaccine - I'd mostly decided against it since I could always fly home for treatment if my some chance a rabid bat swooped down in the middle of the day and bit my nose (ok, more likely a rabid kitten wandering an alley that I couldn't resist rescuing but I digress).
If you've never experienced a County Healthy Department, I highly recommend a visit, it's a great place for people watching - think Walmart but with the added bonus of illness. Bring hand sanitizer, like a lot of hand sanitizer...also you might not want to breathe while waiting just as a precaution you know against getting sick? When you check in they give you a number on a piece of paper and then you watch the television screens for your number to be called, a bit like the DMV in NY if I recall. Then you go to registration, answer lots of questions, fill out paperwork, and then get sent back to the waiting room with your number. When you're number gets called you go to a locked door and show your number through a window to get buzzed in. You have officially left the cattle pens and entered the slaughterhouse, and by slaughterhouse I mean a place where they will jab you with lots of needles with very little warning!
The nurse I met with was wonderful and friendly. She informed me of my choices, for instance, did I want live oral typhoid which lasts for five years, or the two year injected vaccine? Huh, I'm not sure. Can I think about it? Then I find out there is a national shortage on Yellow Fever vaccine, so they don't have any in stock, and where I'm going in Africa is pretty low risk so even if they get some they wouldn't give it to me. Um, what?! If I really want the Yellow Fever vaccine I could call around and see if anyone else has it, but it is a live vaccine so make sure it isn't expired if I get it somewhere else - oh my god, I could be injected with expired vaccine?! Also, it turns out that the Hep A vaccine is a two shot series separated by 6 months, so I won't be fully immune by my trip - awesome, so I'll only drink some water while I'm there...at least I'm already vaccinated for Hep B, so I guess I can always drink blood instead. The nurse cannot believe I haven't received a meningococcal vaccine before, she literally asked me how I survived college without one - dear nurse, it wasn't meningitis that nearly killed me in college, trust me. Lastly, she indicated they'd write me a script for Malarone to prevent malaria, no options on that, that's all they prescribe even though there are three other options. I'll come back to that later. So we agree I'll take the injected typhoid, Hep A and Meningococcal immunizations. Getting the injected typhoid will permit me to get a Yellow Fever live vaccine if I can source some in the near future.
But before they will offer treatment of any kind, they send you BACK OUT to the cashier where you pay up front - I got lucky here since I have insurance they will bill me after they bill the insurance, otherwise it's cash only, my friend. Return to locked door - get buzzed in. I sat down, and that nurse jabbed me three times in a triangle so fast I never saw it coming. However, I felt it, it was like a rocket launcher being emptied into my upper arm, the swelling was immediate and dramatic. It's been 24 hours and my arm is still aching every time I lift it - the price of wanting a little adventure.
So let's recap: I still don't have Yellow Fever, my Hep A won't really be any good, I still haven't gotten a flu shot, and it turns out this script for Malarone is going to cost about $400 for the three week supply I need. Insurance doesn't cover prophylactics, but no worries, if I contract malaria, they'll cover the cost of my treatment for life. A little research indicates doxycycline is a highly effective anti-malarial medication and it costs much less, so I'm going to see if one of my awesome doctor friends might help a teacher out on this...as an added bonus, it protects against some other common infections found in developing countries.
Well I am just about 24 hours from arriving in DC for the Symposium on Global Education where I will meet my cohort traveling to Senegal with me. If they haven't received their immunizations yet, I'm totally willing to do a little back room centrifuging of a blood sample and share my developing anti-bodies - that's the way science teachers roll.
About this Blog:
I am a former Teachers for Global Classrooms Fellow, a program of the U.S. Department of State. I have completed graduate level training in Global Education and traveled to Senegal in April with the program to explore their educational system. This blog is a piece of the global education guide I have created to support other teachers and students in globalizing their classrooms. My focus area is life and environmental science and understanding the interconnectedness of Earth. For more information on the fellowship please visit the IREX website.