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What I Did on My Summer Vacation or Don’t Sit on the Sting Ray September 12, 2011

Posted by Bill in Animals, humor, Personal.
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A former boss once introduced me at a staff meeting saying, “Dindy has a love/hate relationship with animals. She LOVES them, and they HATE her.” I can see why he might think that as within the previous six months I had been bitten by a brown recluse spider and had also missed several days of work after my cat gave me a severe concussion by dropping a book on my head. I also have a scar on my stomach from when a different cat tried to eviscerate me when I tried to give him a flea bath. In addition, my current dog has on various occasions broken my glasses, given me a black eye, busted my lip, broken my toe (more than once actually) and broken my collar bone. And after tripping over a previous dog, said dog then proceeded to joyously ride my body down a tall, steep hill as though it were a sled, resulting in several cracked ribs on my part  as well as my losing copious amounts of skin on my knees, hands, face and other exposed portions of my anatomy.

So I can see where some people might get the idea that animals don’t exactly consider me to be their best friend. I maintain, however, that despite my various mishaps at the paws or mouths of various animals, their actions against me are not personal. Take, for instance, my experience with a sting ray in Jamaica. Yes, my husband and I finally celebrated our 25th anniversary with a week’s vacation in Costa Rica– almost. We were only six years late and 734 miles off, somehow managing to end up in Montego Bay, Jamaica instead. However, they say good things are worth waiting for, and this trip certainly was as it will probably be  25 years before we get another one.

From the moment we deplaned in Montego Bay, we were impressed by the beauty of Jamaica. Well, actually, we weren’t really impressed until we got out of the airport because it wasn’t particularly pretty inside the terminal. In fact, it was rather hot, muggy and uncomfortable. However, once we got onto the shuttle to our hotel, we realized we were in paradise. We realized it because our driver told us so. “Jamaica is a paradise,” he said. “Our beaches are better than those in the US because we don’t have anything here that can hurt you. No sharks, no jellyfish, no sting rays.”

During the course of our week, he was not the only one who would tell us that. Several tour guides said the same thing– “No sharks, no jellyfish, no sting rays.”

And they were right about Jamaica being paradise. It’s easily one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen: a lush, tropical garden of fruit trees, ferns and palms, set in the midst of a sapphire sea. Our hotel was on the beach, and on our first day I waded out for a quick swim. The still water felt nice, peaceful and quiet. In fact, it was rather boring because there was no surf. I realized that this was due to a coral island about 40 yards from the beach that served as a barrier to the ocean waves. We could hear the surf but not experience it.

Well, that was okay. There were plenty of other things to do. We went tubing down one of the rivers and took a jeep safari and walked up to a nearby shopping center to stimulate the Jamaica economy. We swam in the pool, splashed in a mountain spring and sat under a waterfall. At night we sat out on the beach and looked at the night sky and listened to the distant surf while we chatted idly about nothing in particular. We noticed that there were Jamaicans on the little coral island, fishing in the surf, and as the days passed, I decided that I really wanted to go out to this little island.

Before I booked our hotel rooms, I read an online review from some travelers who said they had swam out to the little island one day. If they could do it, I decided, we could too, so on our last day my husband and I pulled on our swimsuits and water shoes, pointed ourselves at the island and took the plunge. It was a lovely day for a swim; the water was nice and warm and the pelicans circled idly over our heads and occasionally plunged into the water nearby to grab a snack. Bill and I alternated between the side stroke and a modified breast stroke, not in any real hurry, but just enjoying the water and the experience.

Then we felt something at our feet. It wasn’t fish, we realized quickly, but kelp. The water grew decidedly more and more shallow until we were no longer able to swim but were forced to wade through the kelp. Ewwwwwww! It felt pretty gross, actually, but we figured it was only about 20 more yards to the island so we squunched forward.

Then we hit something worse than kelp– silt. The last 10-15 yards to the island consisted of a thick layer of silt. Deep, oozy, sucky, squunchy, slimy, quicksand-y silt.We’d take a step and our foot would go down, down, down into the mud, mud, mud until we were sunk almost to our knees. We’d pull our foot out- pop! — and then have to bend down and find our water shoe, pull it out of the silt and put it back on our foot. Behind us were 5, 10, 15 yards of silt and then kelp. In front of us was more silt and then island. We discussed turning back but bravely decided we had come so far, we might as well go all the way, so on we went. Step forward. Sink in mud. Pull foot up. Pop out of mud. Feel for shoe. Put shoe on foot. Over and over and over again.

“This is great!” we said to each other repeatedly.

“An adventure!”

“And we’re really getting our aerobic exercise too!”

Finally we made it to the island. I admit, by that time I wanted nothing more than to fling myself down on the beach and sleep for about ten years, exhausted by my trudge through the silt. However, the surface of the island was not conducive to such activities as it consisted of rocks- large rocks. We couldn’t even sit on the rocks as they all had sharp, spiky, pointed surfaces that promised severe pain to anyone who attempted to perch on one of them. So instead we explored the island. We took 5 steps and were on the other side. There right in front of us, the waves crashed into the rocks, rolling in from the ocean deep. I watched happily for several minutes. Ahhh! This is what I had come to Jamaica for! Now my vacation was complete– crashing waves, the mist from the ocean spattering against my face, the fresh smell of the ocean breeze.

Finally Bill convinced me that it was time to go back. We stepped back to the other side and looked out at the deceptively tranquil surface that lay between the island and the shore. We were about to take the plunge again– 20 yards of hard slogging before we could get out of the silt and kelp and swim unimpeded to the hotel beach.

Bill set out first– seeing as how he is almost a foot taller than me, he didn’t sink quite as deep as I did. While the silt pulled him in up to his ankles, it would grab me and suck me in up to my knees. Consequently he was able to keep his shoes on most of the time and was able to move faster than me. We were both focused only on one thing- getting out of the silt and kelp, so he moved rapidly ahead. He claims that he was unaware of how far behind I was, but it really wouldn’t have made any difference if he had. There was no way he could have prevented what happened.

So there we were again. Step forward. Sink in mud. Pull foot up. Pop out of mud. Feel for shoe. Pull shoe out of mud. Put shoe on foot. Except it was becoming more and more difficult for me to put my shoe back on because I had to lift one leg out of the water while the other leg was busily sinking into the silt, and because I was tired, I was having a harder time keeping my balance. So I added a new element to the routine. I started falling on my butt.

So the new gait went like this: Step forward. Sink in mud. Pull foot up. Pop out of mud. Feel for shoe. Pull shoe out of mud. Fall on butt. Put shoe on foot. Slow? Yes. Cumbersome? Yes. Effective? Actually, yes. Until the sting ray took offense.

I swear, I didn’t know it was there. How could I when all the guides had assured me that Jamaica was a paradise with no dangerous animals? No sharks. No jellyfish. No sting rays. And technically speaking, I guess the sting ray was not actually on Jamaica, it was in the silt surrounding an island off the shore of Jamaica. But whatever,  technically or non-technically, there it was, buried in the silt. The same silt through which I was slowly and tediously slogging with my version of the Jamaican two step. And since I didn’t know it was there, I wasn’t able to avoid it, and consequently I added a new step to my little routine.

Step forward. Sink in mud. Pull foot up. Pop out of mud. Feel for shoe. Pull shoe out of mud. Fall on butt. Sit on sting ray. Feel excruciating, taser-like pain shoot through my entire leg.

Mercifully, my entire leg and the right side of my butt quickly went numb, so I was unable to feel the venom surging through my veins. I decided that wearing my swim shoes for the protection of my feet was kind of a moot point by then so I took them off, and carried them as I rather more quickly slogged out beyond the kelp and silt to where I could swim to shore– albeit rather awkwardly since my right leg was completely useless. I kept telling Bill that I needed him to look at my butt because something had stung me, and while Bill is normally more than happy to look at my butt, for some reason he was reluctant to do so this time. I’m sure that this had nothing to do with the fact that we were about 20 yards off shore in water that was over both of our heads.

Once in our room, a hotel manager came up to render first aid, but when he realized where on my body I had been stung, he refused to look at my sting and started directing all his questions about the injury to Bill instead of to me. He called a taxi to take us to a local urgent care clinic where we received a fascinating tour of the Jamaican medical system. I’ll spare you the gory details of the ammonium bath to which I was subjected, as well as the absolutely delightful experience of getting on an airplane the next day and spending 8 hours trying to avoid sitting on the right side of my butt during the long flight home.

And yes, I am well aware that Steve Irwin died from  being stung by a sting ray. If I hadn’t known before, I certainly would now because every single person who has heard about what happened to me has mentioned it. I’ve also heard every variation of, “It will turn out right in the end,” that you can think of.

But back to the point of my story– the sting ray didn’t sting me because it hated me. It didn’t even know me. It stung me because there it was, minding its own business, taking a snooze in the ooze when I came along and sat on it. And I’m sure if I look back at all my previous mishaps with animals, the animals will all have perfectly reasonable explanations for why they have tried to kill me in various ways.

All except the concussion. That cat was just plain mean, and he hated everybody. Including me.


The Brave Brave Blasted Cat November 3, 2009

Posted by Bill in Animals, Personal.
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I vividly remember the day that we got the two – brother and sister kittens.  The sister was all black and would soon be named Chibi – the first blasted cat that I blogged.  She came out of her carrier, with a little careful urging, looking around her with suspicion and a hint of fear.

Not so her brother.  He is a small grey cat and as a kitten was even smaller.  When we put his carrier down on the floor and opened the door he came strutting out like he owned the house.  His tail was high, his stride confident, even arrogant.  He looked at the house in front of him with a cool self assurance.  None of our previous cats had ever been so fearless when let loose in our house for the first time.

However we – myself, my wife, and my younger daughter – were standing behind him.  When he then turned to survey the part of his kingdom that lay behind him he saw that we were part of his new kingdom.  And reacted immediately.  With a start and a jump the Brave Brave Sir Robin bravely turned and fled.

He was out of that room and into a hiding space as if a three headed giant were after him.  The only thing faster than his flight was our unanimous decision to name him Sir Robin.

For those who can’t figure out why, I can only say that you have a serious cultural deficiency that you should rectify as quickly as possible.

As the days went by and Sir Robin got used to our presence we started to see him more and more.  He flitted around from behind to couch to behind the chair to peering around the corner, trying to make sure that he did not cross our field of vision.  He ate only when we were not present.  Fortunately between work and school he had plenty of opportunities to eat and did not starve.

As more days went by he finally decided that we were not going to pierce him with our eyes and would boldly go up to the food bowl and eat while we watched.  As long as we did not take any steps or make any moves towards him that is.  Then he would bravely turn and flee.

Soon though Sir Robin discovered that he was faced with a horrible dilemma.  He saw that the other cats would come up for attention and would get skritched and stroked and petted.  Sir Robin wanted some of that.  But he also did not want to be touched.

As a result when we were finally allowed to pet him he would continually twist and turn and contort himself in an effort to avoid being touched while being petted.  He still does that to this day, although now he will come up and sit in our laps while trying to avoid having us touch him.

A very brave blasted cat indeed.

Blasted Cat September 2, 2009

Posted by Bill in Personal.
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Blasted cat.  Spent five minutes this morning looking for her.  I only allow myself 45 minutes to get ready in the morning and I was already on my 46th minute when I started looking for her.  Once I wouldn’t have.  Looked for her that is.   However Chibi, the name of this particular blasted cat ( we have 6 with varied adjectives attached to their names) has gotten into the very firm habit of helping me put my shoes on in the morning.  I place my shoes on the bed ( I am still not sure how she trained me to do that) and while I put my socks on she plays with the shoelaces and then tries to stick her head into the shoe, usually successfully.

Occasionally she will sit on top of them, her black paws (they match the rest of her body) wrapped around the rest of the shoe in a protective or possessive or both embrace.  When I try to put my shoes on she bats at the shoelace as it rises above and away from her.  Occasionally she manages to catch the hand too.  Did I mention that she has very very very sharp claws, the sharpest of all our cats.  Which really makes it a puzzle as to why she is low cat on the totem pole.  Anyway she always gives me a slightly puzzled look as I gently disengage her claws from the shoelace or the flesh of my hand as the case may be.

This morning though I went to go dress and she was not waiting for me in the bedroom.  I put my shoes on the bed and she still did not show up.  I sat on the bed and put my socks on.  Still no Chibi.  I put my shoes on and then went looking for her.  At the 56th minute of getting ready for work I had to leave, still without seeing her.

What makes it more disturbing is that when I wake up in the morning I have a whole herd of cats ( Did I mention that I share a house with 6 cats in addition to one wife, one daughter, and one 90 lb rather confused dog who things he is a mixture of lap dog and cat) just outside my door.  In addition to wanting to welcome me, their god,  to the start of the day (my personal delusion)  they have somehow managed to train me to split a can of canned cat food between all of them in the morning (dry food the rest of the day).  During this morning routine this morning I cannot remember if I saw Chibi or not.

While I know that she is OK and is somewhere sleeping having been tired out by a night filled with sleeping, I still find myself wondering if she is OK or if she managed to slip out of the house as I went to get the paper.  Did she hurt herself when scratching an itch (did I mention how sharp her claws are?) and is now bleeding to death in a corner of our stuffed garage?  Did she fall off the walking machine and bop her head thereby giving her amnesia so that she is wandering lost in our stuffed garage?  Did the other cats grab her in a fit of jealousy for having such sharp claws and are now holding her hostage in our stuffed garage?

While I am not totally sure which of these plausible options is correct I have a gut feeling that the first one is.  Guess I’ll find out eventually.  Unless she really is out in the stuffed garage and helpless.  In which case I will never see her again.