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Tuesday, 22 September 2020

I'm going under the knife again, voluntarily this time!

I haven’t done a health update in ages, but I’ve had a problem for over 2.5 years. I developed a hernia behind my buttocks which is known as a Perineal Hernia. It could have been fat or guts pushing through. I saw my original surgeon over 2 years ago, but he was very loathe to do anything about it. Back then, the lump was less obvious than it is now, and as luck would have it, every time I saw a doctor it would mostly hide back inside me, so the hardness I could feel was less apparent! I don’t think my original surgeon did laparoscopic (keyhole) surgery as he talked about my original bum scar taking ages to heal, as the skin was more fragile there due to having had radiotherapy. However I’d spoken with a couple of ladies in the USA on Facebook, who had had theirs repaired successfully by laparoscopy. He suggested I did pelvic floor exercises, and we left it like that.

I only did the exercises half heartedly due to my depression, and I couldn’t see how that was going to help where my bulge was. By the way, if you google perineal hernia, you will find there isn’t very much about it, except for medical reports. Look at images though, and they are nearly all of dogs!! Apparently it’s quite common in dogs, but not so in humans. I read that it is a rare complication of the surgery I had. Parastomal hernias, however, are extremely common - these are openings in the abdominal wall where the intestine pushes through. Like many hernias, they are caused by lifting heavy weights or straining, or coughing/sneezing, and after having your abdominal muscles cut through due to surgery, and having a stoma which weakens the muscles on that side of the waist, they are quite easy to get. I was extremely sensible, wearing my corset for the first month as directed, and whilst gardening afterwards too. I also bought some lighter weight hernia belts which were more comfortable and suitable for summer, and wore them when walking up or down hill. So I managed to avoid one of those hernias ....... but what bloody bad luck to get the other kind!

I’ve had to go back to taking my foam donut cushion with me everywhere I go and using it all the time in the house and car. Now that’s a pain in the bum as it is! Anyway, soon as we decided we were definitely moving, we knew there was a new opportunity to find a surgeon who could repair my hernia via keyhole. I absolutely did not want my butt crack cutting open again. It took 14 months before I could start to go out without my donut originally (I’m only on my second one, they are amazing at keeping their shape) and I don’t want another year or so of that again.

So, we arrived at our new house and after a few weeks started searching for a doctor. There isn’t one in the village, and it seemed all the other doctors in neighbouring villages and towns were not taking on any more patients. Never came across that before! Luckily one of these doctor’s surgeries suggested a doctor who had just moved to the area (20 mins drive away) and she was able to take us on. I had to see a doctor first before finding a gastroenterologist to take on my post cancer check ups, and needed a prescription/introductory letter. Then, I would be able to quiz this specialist about potential surgeons.

However, by the time I got to see the gastro, it was the day before lockdown! How lucky was that?! She gave me the names of the two surgeons in the hospital (at Carcassonne) who do abdominal type of surgery. But of course, making an appointment was delayed by the lockdown and then not wanting to go near a hospital for a while after that.


Can't post without a photo - me at Ile Sainte Lucie recently

So, nearly 10 months after moving, I had my appointment with a surgeon! He seemed very nice and clued up, and ordered an MRI scan, where I would bear down at one point to see what happened. I only had to wait a few weeks for the scan which I had on Friday, with the results emailed to me the same day. Oh joy, it seems my insides are a mess. I have a slight bladder prolapse, pushing against the vaginal wall, but upon bearing down, my bladder moved right down and you could see intestines moving down below my uterus (in a side on view). Apparently it’s the intestines moving that have caused the secondary problems: colpocele - hernia projecting into the vagina, and cystocele - bladder prolapse) because everything is all linked together, in some way or other. I saw the surgeon again yesterday and it was a lot easier to understand what was going on, seeing the MRI images on his screen and having what was what explained. I already had all the images in printed form given to me after the scan, but it had taken me ages to even work out which way was up! 😄

Thank goodness, he said it was not more complicated now than what we had thought originally (just intestines/fat coming through a hole). It will all be repaired with mesh done laparoscopically and I’ll only have to stay in for a couple of days. I do know that mesh repairs have a bad rep as they often fail, but I think it’s worth the risk. The surgeon seemed very positive. However, I am missing certain muscles inside which were removed along with my rectum/anus/remains of tumour so the mesh has to be attached to something. Whilst we were there the surgeon called a urologist, who said it should be attached to my uterus (which seems to be the only thing still in place!). I think the other end of the ‘hammock’ will either be attached to some other muscle, or bone. It’s complicated for us non medical people to understand, and this is all in French!! The urologist will share the surgery with the surgeon, which I’m pleased about. The only worrying thing is that this is an uncommon surgery, where prolapses involve a perineal hernia and certain muscles not being there and probably scar tissue due to the first surgery. But I’m willing to go ahead because I have been in pain and discomfort for a long time, and have been taking codeine/paracetamol for ages, which I would like to stop taking.

I have a date for the surgery in early November, perfect timing as I should be ok for Christmas, and won’t be missing nice weather. I have to see the urologist and an anaesthestist next month, then do the hospital room booking and admin. My insurance (Mutuelle) will cover me having a top of the range private room like last time. 😄 😁

I feel so relieved that at long last something is happening.

Tuesday, 15 September 2020

Recent outings

Since August we have made a real effort to get out and about before summer ends. This is an area with a lot of bird migration and whilst there are some interesting winter/all year round birds too, who wouldn't want to look for Bee-eaters, Rollers and Hoopoes! I'm also always looking for butterflies, and as well as fauna and flora there is the most magnificent scenery everywhere.

We've just had a visit from a friend who is doing the 'Cathar Trail' in her motorhome, and it's just so exciting to think that we now live here, and can visit most of the places she has been to in a day trip from home! Some of the chateaux and abbeys we have already visited, but there is so much still to see. She had a book about all the places to visit that are related to the Cathars, and we've ordered the book too. Just need to build up some energy to get up to most of those chateaux perched high up on mountain peaks!

Before we go on any outings here on the blog, here are a couple of views taken from the house on 22 August. It looks very brown where all the wheat and barley has been harvested, and the yellowy/green fields are sunflowers. I have loved seeing the sunflower fields - they are so cheery! The few dark green fields are vines. 


Looking towards the Montagne Noir.


Looking towards the Malepere hills in the foreground and the Corbieres in the distance.


In August we bought a new car. We wanted a 4x4 for going up into the mountains where occasionally you come across some rather rough roads. Even down on the flat lands there can be gravel tracks here and there, and our last car was very low slung. Dacia Dusters are very popular as they are reasonably priced for what you get, but we paid extra for this colour to have a complete change from the metallic silver and light blue that we've had over the last 20 years. This car is easily spotted in a car park full of silver cars! 😀 We also have a lot more space in our garage as our last car was a very long estate car. This one is surprisingly roomy though with a decent sized boot, enough room for people sitting in the back AND enough room for a 6'4" driver! It feels nicer sitting higher up like in the Moho; in the last car our legs were stuck out in front of us, almost like being in a sports car.


We had a drive out to the western Corbieres one afternoon. We were interested to see what some of the roads were like, as when we drove through in the Moho we stuck to bigger roads, our road atlas showing many of the roads to be very small on the map. I don't think we would have had a problem on these roads in the Moho, but you never know! Most of where we drove was hilly and forested, but as we got deeper into the Corbieres there were some nice rocky crags and then we turned up towards the village of Montjoi where you drive along beside a gorge, which although not the most spectacular of gorge sceneries, was still pretty interesting.




I didn't know what this mini castle was at the time, but have found it on the map. It's the Chateau d'Arques, a 14th century chateau which was ruined but has been restored and in part, rebuilt. It's open to the public and according to Wikipedia, is one of the Cathar castles.


A view of the Pyrenees looking towards Andorra, with the Chateau d'Arques in the distance on the left.



Keith in the village of Montjoi. We had sort of planned to do a walk through a mostly forested area, but found it was closed due to a landslip! I was very pleased because it was seriously hot (about 35C) and all I wanted to do was get back in the air-conditioned car. Way too hot for walking!


Me in the same place facing the opposite direction, with the side of the gorge behind me. Down in the bottom of the gorge there is a Roman bridge that we would have crossed at the start of the walk, but again, too hot to do as it was a steep walk down and back up again.

Another day (1st Sept) we took the Moho out for a spin to the coast. The day was a bit of a disaster due to having the Moho with us, because unbeknown to us, there is a low bridge over the road we needed to take to get to the car park to visit the Ile Sainte Lucie near Port La Nouvelle. There was, luckily, a car park very close to the bridge, where a couple of mohos were parked. We knew we would have a long walk from here to the start of the loop walk around the island, which is a nature reserve, but off we set anyway after having our picnic lunch.

However, it was so far it took us 45 minutes to get to the lock crossing to get to the island. By this time I was feeling exhausted, and thirsty. Thank god it was under 30C with a slight breeze, so not too hot for walking, but guess what, two-thirds of the way up the road I discovered Keith had left the drink behind. So the thought of doing a 4.5km walk and then another 45 minutes walking back to the Moho, with nothing to drink either, was just too much to contemplate. On top of this, whilst we were sitting by the old canal way taking all this in, we were getting bitten to death by mossies dropping out of the pine trees above. Eventually I told K I just could not do it as I wasn't having a good day energy wise and that we could come back to visit the reserve. We had planned to visit another place anyway, which was a 40 min drive away around the other side of the lagoons, and there wasn't really time to do both. Funnily enough on one side of the canal were tall reeds and we kept hearing Dartford Warblers in there! I expected them on the island side which is heathland - didn't know they liked reedbeds! So another reason to visit as we have not yet seen a proper view of a Dartford Warbler. We've seen them distantly when we hadn't had binocs with us, as they have a very specific jizz.

After this we drove around to the Roc de Conilhac, which is a little hill with 360 degree views all around which is used by the LPO for their autumn migration count. The LPO (Ligue pour la Protection des Oiseaux) is the French equivalent of the RSPB. However, the road leading most directly was a small narrow one so we decided to go a different way, annoyingly we ended up going through Gruissan and taking a really long route around. This was mostly caused by using Google maps as a satnav as the Roc is not marked on either the Moho's satnav nor Waze which K uses as a satnav on his phone. Google didn't know we were in a 7m long vehicle so it told us to go through the centre of Gruissan (to be fair, all satnavs would probably do the same thing, if they thought it was shorter/faster). Not a problem if you are in a car, but the streets were narrow and in one place was full of people eating out at pavement cafes. Keith kept yelling in horror "Where are you taking me?????" and I could only blame it on Google.... 😂 We did get through with not too much trouble, but I'll remember in future to take the longer road round the outside of the village!

Eventually we made it to the Roc and walked the short walk up to the top. There was a group of people sitting in the shade of probably the only decent sized bush at the top looking out for any migrating birds, but birds prefer a good north-west wind to help them along the way, and we don't like going out on windy days! It was well worth the visit though as the views were stunning, there were flamingos in the lagoons below (and we passed some in a lagoon at Gruissan), and there were a number of information panels giving not only info on bird migration, but also showing the view in that particular direction and telling you what everything was in the distance.

We had a chat with the birders, who turned out to be holiday makers, as the LPO people don't go there every day if there isn't a wind in the right direction. They had seen some birds but not a lot. There is a blackboard there with a list of the birds and the numbers that had passed - about 87,000 Honey Buzzards and something like 5 Rollers! I knew that Honey Buzzards were early to leave but at least those numbers indicate they (as a species) are doing well, I would think.


View from the Roc de Conilhac looking towards Gruissan (you can see these photos better if you click on them to bring them up bigger).


If you click on this photo you will see some flamingos in the lagoons in the foreground!


Looking south from the Roc.


Keith and other birders on the top of the Roc, looking inland in the direction of the Haut-Languedoc range.


As I mentioned Monika's visit at the beginning of this post, I'll put this photo here, of us with her adorable little dog, Olivia. Sadly, Olivia has her eyes closed in this pic! She didn't come into the house because of the cats, but Monika did carry her round to the patio where Olivia sat on M's lap and the cats glared at her, but didn't run away. Amazingly my really nervous cat, Bertie, was friendly to M, whereas Harry the big ginger boy ran a mile every time he saw her. Cats are odd.


In case you wondered, no we didn't socially distance, but neither did we hug, which is really hard when you see an old friend who you haven't seen for a while. Monika was travelling on her own with her dog and staying at aires, not campsites, and not having a lot of contact with other people, and she thinks she had the virus back in January, so we reckoned we could be brave. I'm not sure how you really manage to socially distance when you have someone visit your house anyway; that would be really hard. In any event, we have barely socialised since the pandemic broke out and have kept our distance from people as much as possible in shops etc, and always worn masks. 

I have more photos prepared but think this is quite long enough, so I will do another post of outings. Tomorrow we are planning to revisit the Ile Sainte Lucie - in the CAR!!! 😄😄😄


Thursday, 27 August 2020

More interesting discoveries at home

Have you ever heard of a Southern Gatekeeper? No, me neither! I only discovered recently that they exist. I knew there was a Spanish Gatekeeper, which I'd seen once before in the Pyrenees Orientales near to the Spanish border. I thought then that I was seeing this butterfly in my garden, but having a look through my butterfly book I realised that I had in fact been seeing the Southern Gatekeeper, along with the regular Gatekeeper. There isn't a huge difference in how they look, other than the male Southern Gatekeeper has sex brands on the topside of its forewing, and underneath they lack the small spots that the regular Gatekeeper has. There's also a bit more of a Y shape in the pale coloration underneath. There's a side by side picture on Wikipedia here showing the difference in the underwing pattern between the two species.

You can clearly see the sex brand markings on the forewing above.

The underwing showing a slight Y shape in a pale white colour, and no spots.

The next discovery was really exciting! We had seen Praying Mantises in Provence a few years ago, but I was very surprised to discover one when I was deadheading the geraniums. I'm really finding some goodies in the flower pots around the pool - a wasp spider, Geranium Bronze butterflies, and a praying mantis - you wouldn't expect so much interesting wildlife there, would you?!! Wonder what will be next.... 😀

The following photos were taken with Keith's phone, which was the nearest thing to hand....

European Mantis (Mantis religiosa)

You can really see how well camouflaged they are as they are identical in colour to the leaves! K was amazed that I had even found it, but it moved, which is how I noticed it. It's worth clicking on the individual images to view them a bit closer, as they have an extremely scary alien-like head and eyes, and terrifying front legs (imagine being their prey, or indeed, their mate!).

A few days ago K spotted this crab spider on the tiles in our covered patio area. When I went out with my camera, it of course started to walk, so there I was on my knees, bum in the air, crawling along with it trying to get some decent shots. 😀

It walked along to the drain that runs along the patio stones beside the pool area, and took shelter beneath one of the metal rails. I could still see it though!

It's Heriaeus hirtus, a member of the Thomisidae family of crab spiders. Hirtus means hairy in Latin!

Last but not least, a Hoopoe flew into our neighbour's garden, which was wonderful to see. K had seen a few before but I missed them, so this is the first one I have seen since moving here! I was hoping to see more. Never mind, we have seen Bee-eaters in the vicinity of our village several times, so I'm not too upset. It's bloody brilliant living here! 

(Credit for these photos goes to Keith, who took them through the kitchen window).

Talking of loving it here, we really do. I just love everything, love my new house, love the easy to manage garden, the pool (of course!) and the view. And love, love, LOVE living in the south of France! There is just SO much to explore here. It will take us years to explore just our own department, never mind the neighbouring depts. There's the Pyrenees, the Montagne Noir, the Haut Languedoc mountains, the Corbieres hills, the coastal area... and in normal times there is nearby Spain too! And of course the fauna and flora, so much of which is different. I feel so much better depression wise and feel joy again often. Life is good.