Walking for wisdom

It is now 2 days till liftoff, exactly 48 hours until I have to be at the airport and only 2 more nights of sleep in my own bed – how exciting!  It feels like absolutely forever and yet also only a very short time since I decided to do this thing.  A spur of the moment decision born of frustration and inspiration that has the potential to change my life, my attitude and my relationship with my body.  We don’t get on well my body and I, we never have and now we are going to be stuck with one another (and our mascot ‘Ding’)  – completely relying on one another to walk 115 – 200km along an ancient pilgrimage across a foreign country where English is not the first language and where we will not be guaranteed a comfortable or quiet night’s sleep.  This could be the stupidest or most intelligent thing I have ever dragged myself into.

I am hoping that with peace, distance and the monotony of trudging feet some form of clarity will come to me.  That I will have time to reflect on what I want from my life, where I want to go, where I want to be in 5 years, 10 years, forever.  Whether I do want to commit another 4 years of my life to studying medicine so I can become a doctor like my mum and have some measure of control and input in to patient care or stay as a nurse and use those four years to explore different areas until I find one that is the right fit – actually have some savings and a life instead of being an impoverished student again, and when I say again I mean that by the time I finish medicine I will have studied at a university level for 9 years in total.  Possibly the most important thing I need to decide is what I will do if I don’t get in to medicine.

I am also hoping that somewhere along the way I will instantly understand and appreciate the way my body works and that it will decide not to be a pain in the ass and respect me a little more and we will come to have an harmonious partnership by the time we reach Santiago de Compostela.  Yes I know I complain about it a lot; I constantly feel like it’s letting me down and holding me back but you know what – they say the human body is a miracle and mine certainly is.  Just the fact that it is still going after all this, that it continues to baffle medical professionals and continues to find new things to irritate me with is certainly amazing – even if it is not entirely the kind of amazing I usually appreciate!  It may only have been a few months since I decided to make my way at snails pace along the Spanish countryside but it feels like a lifetime because those few months have been fraught with disappointment, tears, despair, joy, pain, difficulty, near disaster, elation, excitement and nervous energy.  It has been a roller coaster ride of emotions and questionable health and there were several times when I thought I wouldn’t make it on the plane.  But here I am – 2 days to go and having a better week than I have since my hospital stint in January.

So I would like to gain some insight into myself and my life while I walk, besides that I have no idea what I will find – maybe something profound, maybe nothing at all, but the experience will be worth it just to say ‘I did that, all by myself – if I can do that then I can do anything’.  Oh yeah, and there will be shopping at the end, lots of shopping!

Au revoir!
From now on this is officially a travel blog 🙂


Salsa and storage solutions

In preparation for my trip to Europe and inevitable salsa-ing across Spain I have been listening to the ‘gypsy kings’.  They are fantastic and every time I listen to them my head is filled with images of me dancing (like a pro) either along ‘the way’ with my pack on my back or in typical salsa style – looking gorgeous with cute heels on and a red swishy skirt in a room with dim lighting and, of course, a spotlight on me and my incredibly handsome and talented dancing partner, whoever he is.  The reality of the situation is a little less spectacular – I am a rather crappy dancer.

My attitude towards dancing is a bit like my attitude towards speaking French – I will only do it if I can do it properly so I don’t make a fool of myself (or am rather tipsy at the time so don’t care).  I did take Salsa classes with my brother and a friend (who has been doing it for ages so upstaged everyone in the class) a few months ago and while I am doing the prescribed steps I am fine, fantastic even!  It’s just diverting from the steps makes me feel clumsy and awkward – I can’t loosen up and improvise when it comes to dancing and as you can’t keep dancing the exact same steps all the time it seems I might be limited to one song per night whenever I attempt it.  I can do the basic salsa step and the spin any time but anything more complicated than that needs to be properly choreographed which is sad when there is such awesome music on offer.  You see the Spanish have got it completely right – to prove my point here is ‘Volare’ by the Gypsy Kings and I would be very surprised if anyone can listen to this and not feel the urge for a bit of a hip wiggle 😉

So unfortunately my life is not a musical theatre production or that episode of ‘Buffy’ where everyone is under a demon’s influence and randomly breaks out into song and dance no matter how much I might wish it to be – I may occasionally break out in song randomly whilst walking down the street but I am usually the only one singing and there are no people engaging in choreographed dances around me, only in my head.  If I was a ‘Glee’ character I would be Kurt (but with obvious differences), he gets all the awesome songs.  Another favourite is Jazz, I love to sing it and in my imagination it usually goes a little something like this but with me instead of Julie Andrews (not that anyone could ever replace Julie), coincidentally Kurt also did this song in an episode of ‘Glee’.

There are now only 6 days to go (counting today) until I leave for Paris and I am crossing things off my ‘to do’ list at a great rate.  Practically all I have left now is cleaning (of which there is a fair bit) and a few little things like buying some Euros and getting a sim card for my phone that wont result in me having a 50 billion dollar phone bill when I get home.  Last time I checked the Australian dollar was worth 0.75 Euros – how good is that!  Looks like I wont be so much out of pocket by the end of my trip as I thought, then again, I’m sure I will find a way 🙂

Up until yesterday my most pressing problem (apart from the whole energy thing and being rather unwell which thankfully seems to have resolved itself) was how to store my medication that needs to be kept at fridge temperature.  I looked everywhere I could think of for a solution – supermarkets, kids stores and online.  I figured a soft-sided lunch box would do me fine but they seem to have gotten bigger since I was a kid and the smallest ones I could find would have fitted my pills, a couple of gel freezer packs and a roast dinner quite nicely with room to spare.  Unfortunately a roast dinner is not a practical thing to be taking on an air plane particularly when I’ve already paid extra for the airline to serve me lunch not to mention hiking across the Spanish countryside.

So I decided to solve the problem myself by taking apart a supermarket cool bag and making it much smaller and considerably more stylish!  Here is the final product – my meds fit perfectly:

The countdown continues and with each passing day my fears about my health recede further and further and my excitement and anticipation grows and grows!  Now I just have to make sure I don’t pack too much so I can fit my shopping in my suitcase to get home again!  That and somehow help my brother source a ticket to Arcade Fire and Mumford and Sons at Hyde Park in lat June so I have someone to go with.  Not that it wont be completely amazing anyway but it’s always more fun to share music and memories!

1 week till lift-off!

Today marks the one week till departure point (well, pretty much, Monday-Monday counts as a week right?!) and it is very exciting.  Well, almost.  Faced with a 32 hour journey including 8 hours worth of stopover in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur on the way to Paris you could say I was a little less than enthusiastic with the ‘getting there’ bit of my holiday.  That was before I checked out the Changi airport website and found something miraculous!  The place not only has practically every shopping option you could ask for but it also has a butterfly house, several different gardens including an orchid garden (as if you could have a garden in singapore without orchids!) and a fern garden, playgrounds and rides for the kids, lockers for your bags, a train to get around and several lounges – yes I did say lounges!  Gone are the days when airport lounges were only available to the privileged  frequent-flying business person who belonged to a special airline alliance club.  Now there are lounges at nearly every terminal available for anyone to walk in to and pay a quite reasonable fee for the privilege (which is considerably cheaper than paying for a club membership that you might use once a year!).  You can have a shower, hot food, surf the web and update your facebook status or tweet about your location (I suggest something along the lines of ‘look ma, I’m at Changi’), have a nap in the little nap rooms, have a snooze in the massage chairs or use the gym facilities.  Wow, just wow!  Check it out and see for yourself.

Last time I passed through singapore airport (in 2003) on an overnight flight we tried to sleep on the floor near the boarding gate because most things nearby were closed due to the late hour and we couldn’t be bothered going to the main terminal in the 2 hours we had.  Then when we thought we were boarding again mum popped a sleeping tablet so she could fall asleep as soon as we took off.  This plan backfired as, naturally, our section was the last to be called on to board so she was falling asleep on her feet.  When we finally got to our seats she collapsed and I could not wake her.  Her compression stockings had been rolled down to her ankles for comfort while we were off the plane, her seat was upright and she hadn’t even bucked herself in.  So it was left to me to take care of all that then put her seat down and tuck her in with a travel blanket once we had taken off – honestly, mothers, the things we do to take care of them 😉

This time around will be far more interesting.  I am actually a little disappointed that I will have to collect my bags, go through customs, check in, check my bags and then go through customs again wasting vital time from my 4-hour stopover because Jetstar and Air Asia are not on speaking terms when I could be exploring a rainforest or having a dip in the pool.  And here I was thinking stopovers were boring – take that Tullamarine airport!  Stuff the in-flight entertainment, I’ll be sleeping and hanging out for the airport stopovers – here’s hoping the check-out-then-in process is fast.

Next stopover is Kuala Lumpur airport which is not quite as fancy or as big as Singapore Changi airport but they also have lounges, shopping and other leisure and entertainment options.  I plan to have a walk, a shower and a massage at KL, a perfect 4-hour stopover plan if I might say so myself!

Despite all the excitement my stopovers promise I am still a little apprehensive.  It would be quite reasonable to say that my last Jetstar experience was less than satisfactory.  I have flown with Jetstar a fair bit since it started and have been quite happy with what I got for my money – they always score highly in the smoothness of take-off and landing evaluation which are two of my main judging criteria and the flight staff are quite friendly and helpful when you need them.  Unfortunately the experience you remember most is the most recent or the one that had the biggest impact, sucks for Jetstar that they were one and the same; I was flying to Sydney at the most popular time of the year, between christmas and new year and the check-in line was ridiculous.  It went for nearly 100m, back past the Virgin and QANTAS check-in desks that had no line at all and I ended up being called to cut to the front to check in in time for my flight which I only made by 2 minutes, the people behind me nearly didn’t.  That was even after arriving at the airport the standard 2 hours before take-off.  It was disorganisation at it’s best.  Moral of the story; don’t fly budget airlines during peak travel times…

The main question for during the flight is what to take with me in the cabin – So far on my list I have; ear plugs, eye mask, travel pillow, travel blanket (don’t laugh, those things get cold and you’re not always given one on international flights these days), medication supply (regular and emergency), flight compression socks, skinz, mp3 player, phone (iPhone of course) and sudoku book.  Passport of course and ticket printout thingies all to go in my new travel document wallet.  Also; phone charger, camera, camera charger and a change of clothes incase my bags are misplaced in transit.  I will pick up my traditional ‘Terry Pratchett’ book at the airport book store, take some snacks and buy water (once I have gotten through customs) to fill with electrolyte tablets, I wonder if I’ve forgotten anything.

You may think it is excessive to wear both compression socks and skinz on the flight but your blood pressure tends to lower and you get fluid pooling in your legs and feet and retention, particularly on long-haul flights.  I can’t afford to let that happen if I want to arrive at my destination and still be able to stand up and construct sentences – my blood pressure is low enough without assistance and I would really prefer to not be the amazing collapsing woman (particularly on an international level)!

Now I’m walkin on sunshine, woa-ohh

Results are finally here and I’ve only been waiting 2 months for all this…
First the awesome news, I did quite well at the GAMSAT (medical entry exam) and have sent in my application for next years intake at Monash University Gippsland – very exciting!  It looks like I might actually study at Monash after all, just like my daddy always wanted 😉
He tried to talk me into it the first time around but they didn’t offer the course I wanted to do and I thought the La Trobe campus in Bundoora was far prettier!  Then I went back again for my second degree, partly for their reputation and partly because it was familiar.  Monash Gippsland is around 2.5 hours drive from home, that’s a little further than La Trobe was (45 minutes on a good day) and I used to have enough trouble getting there so I think I might see if I can live on campus – but lets not get ahead of ourselves here, I haven’t been offered an interview yet, that happens in August.  Fingers crossed, in four years I could have another piece of paper with a university seal and my name on it but this time with ‘bachelor of medicine/bachelor of surgery’ underneath!

The second lot of results I received were my blood test results for the immune stuff I’ve been having investigated to show why I keep getting sinus infections – they came back fine so now we’re back to square one.  There is nothing wrong with my sinuses anatomically, and there shouldn’t be, I’ve already had 2 lots of sinus surgery so they should really be working fine by now.  My cardiologist has another theory, it could be because of the blood pressure – my low blood pressure condition often occurs with a cluster of symptoms including impaired immune function which would explain why I get sick more easily when I have just recovered or am recovering from something, where my blood pressure is at its most ridiculous.  Oh well, the cardiologist is doing some research later this year with a different type of medication that has been shown to help raise blood pressure in Parkinson’s patients who have that as a symptom and has asked me if I would be interested in being involved; well, if it could make me better then I’m all for it!

All that aside, today is a good day!  I have more energy than I have had for a while and I seem to be getting over the viral meningitis which is excellent, no more narcotics for me!  So here is a pretty rainbow for a cliched symbol something along the lines of getting through hardship, coming out the other side stronger, light at the end of the tunnel-type thing.  Awww 🙂

My flight to Paris is 11 days away and I have gotten over my transient fears of not being able to even make it to the airport.  Life is good at 09:30am, we shall see how it is later in the day but we’re off to a good start.  I have pretty much everything I need for the Camino with a couple of optional things on my packing list depending on whether I get a payment from centrelink this week or not, I have no idea what they’re doing, why does everything have to be so confusing with them!  On the list is a travel clothes line (my brother has ours but can’t find it), a passport/document wallet thingy because I loose stuff at the moment and that would not be such a good thing, another pair of hiking socks, and finally some fancy, quick-drying, moisture-wicking undies because, lets face it, nobody wants to hike for days on end with a potentially sweaty bum crack – yep, I tell it like it is 🙂

So I think I’m back on track finally, I really only need my flu shot and a letter from my doctor listing each of the enormous number of medications and things I have to take with me for every-day use and for just incase because, for example, I will have to give up on finishing the Camino if I get gastro or anything that could deplete my fluid volume further along the way AND (which seems kinda ridiculous) I need him to write on said letter that I require a gel ice pack to keep my medication at fridge temperature and a bottle of water so I don’t dehydrate.  Airline security, they get so excited about silly things!  I suppose they have good reason but it just seems a little ridiculous.  Hmm, come to think of it, if I wear my hiking boots on the plane I’ll have to take them off each time I go through airport security…

One thing I am really looking forward to is sunshine, Melbourne seems to have used up its quota of warmth and sunshine for now and I can’t wait to get to Spring in Europe, so it wont be quite as warm as an Australian spring but it will still be warmer than our current below-average temperatures – yay sun!  So in honour of all things sunny and walking todays song is a rather obvious choice, cue 80’s dancing – enjoy!

That’s me in the spotlight losing my Religion

I haven’t written anything since Thursday because I was waiting for results and good news.  My blood test results seem to have been lost somewhere between hospitals so I don’t know if I can have the IgG infusion before I go away to prevent me from getting sick while I’m there and I don’t know what score I got on the GAMSAT so still don’t know if I can get into medicine next year or not so there still aren’t any results to update.  I ended up going to the GP about the headache I had last week as it got worse and she thinks I have viral meningitis, well, thankfully it wasn’t all due to the midodrine although I did reduce my dose and after several days of headache and strong painkillers that made me a little bit ridiculous I woke up this morning with a sinus infection.  Go figure.  Still, I haven’t collapsed on the floor once today so the midodrine must be doing good things!  Anyway, I should have known better than to write a letter to the powers that be asking for a break, it’s never worked before and it hasn’t so far this time.

I look around and am a little bit jealous of people with faith.  I had it once, when I was younger I used to love the comforting and spiritual feel of being in a church, belonging to something and believing there was someone out there watching over all of us.  My grandparents were the best models of christianity I have ever come across.  They were generous to those less fortunate, they were kind and understanding and my grandmother tried not to be judgemental of others and saved it up for the members of the family!  They worked with asylum seekers and any other church projects going on, they went to church every weekend and my grandfather sang the loudest of anyone there – yes it was embarrassing being able to hear him over everyone else but he didn’t care, his singing was to glory God and he would do it with his whole heart.  For all the christian ideals I have never met anyone like my grandparents and their church friends – I know I haven’t met everyone but I do know they were a rare kind of people and their lessons and experience has been invaluable, I miss them more than I can say.

So yes, I was religious, devoutly so, at one stage.  Then life happened.  Before you read on you should know, the views expressed from here on are not meant to offend anyone they are based on my feelings, experience and observations.  A friend of my family died quite young, it was tragic and I tried to make sense of it, she was funny, bright, beautiful outside and in and had so much potential.  At the funeral the catholic priest was thanking God for taking her and looking after her and I just couldn’t understand – if God truly was so compassionate and all-powerful etc as I had always been lead to believe, then why would he cut her life so short, why would he put this wonderful family through such grief?  And why (for God’s sake), why on earth would we thank him for it?  It made no sense, suddenly everything I believed in made no sense.  Thinking about it I was drawn to history, so many wars fought for religion, so many people killed because one faith believed theirs was the only way and that everyone else should believe and were lesser beings if they did not and I couldn’t condone it.  I couldn’t be a part of it any more.  Even Joan of Arc, my historical heroine couldn’t change the way I felt and she was a formidable woman – she stood up for what she believed in and wouldn’t change or give in even in the face of death.  I saw people around me living with one rule for themselves and one for everyone else.  I am better because I have faith, God will forgive me for my sins and I will go to heaven because I believe.  In my world, in my view of my faith, that didn’t work.  I don’t care if a murderer or anyone else who causes harm to others is religious, someone causing harm to other living beings does not deserve a place in heaven no matter what they believe or how much they placate an angry deity.  Getting into heaven should not be as easy as just acknowledging God exists and is the master of heaven and earth, that he had a son named Jesus and yes I have sinned but I really didn’t mean it, honestly…

So I lost my faith.  I never lost the feeling that there was something out there that started it all, the world is such an amazing place I would be surprised if there wasn’t but the christian God no longer had a place in my heart or my scientific logic.  I never bargained, ever, not when I was facing any of the many obstacles I have faced did I bargain – ‘I’ll believe in you again if you make me well’, that seems a bit disingenuous to me.

For what I have always understood about the bible it seems a little fluid and open to interpretation otherwise how can one denomination find one meaning in a passage and another denomination find a completely different one?  But try telling that to someone who is completely convinced that whatever their church tells them is the law – the beauty of being human, of being able to think and reason is that we can question what we see and hear and chose for ourselves.  It all reminds me a bit of one of my favourite trashy movies – ‘Saved’ – set in a born again high school in America where the main character falls pregnant because she has a vision of Jesus telling her to do whatever she can to help her boyfriend who has realised he is gay.  Well worth a watch if you like that kind of thing, it’s highly amusing and an interesting commentary on adolescence, devoutly religious schools and the born again christian community in America.  I am not against religion, I think that the idea of it is a beautiful thing I just think it often gets misinterpreted or the message gets lost.  You can’t expect others to ‘do un to you’ if you do not ‘do un to others’ but it seems a lot of people do.  The message (from what I can see) is to help people, be charitable, be kind, be caring and if you want someone to do something nice for you then it’s more likely to happen if you’re nice to them and everyone else – not graffiti the houses of people who disagree with you blow them up, or attack them in the street verbally or physically or shun them, make fun of them and judge them.  Like I said earlier, one rule for us and another for everyone else.  Just because someone calls themselves christian doesn’t mean they act like it.  I measure all christians against my grandparents because they were what I believe christians are supposed to be like.

Time has moved on since then, several years actually, but those experiences cemented my mistrust in religion.  It’s absence has left a bit of a hole in my life and my choice phrases – I mean really, how can you say things like ‘for God’s sake’ etc if you don’t believe in a God?  I don’t know if this will be my way for ever, maybe I will find something magical along the Camino that will restore my faith, who knows (I have to get there first and it’s getting harder to every day!).  It puts me in mind of one of the stories I liked best as a child (actually it’s the only one I remember); A man was walking down the beach with God/Jesus, he looked behind him and on the sand there were footprints stretching out for his whole life.  In some places there were two sets of footprints and in some there were only one, he noted that the times there were only one set of footprints were the most difficult times in his life.  He asked God/Jesus ‘why did you leave me when I needed you the most?’  To which God/Jesus replied ‘I never left you, the times when you needed me the most, when there is only one set of footprints is when I carried you’.  Looking back over the last few years of my life they have definitely been tough, this year in particular, so you know what?  If this is what being carried is like then put me down and I’ll walk myself!

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