40 Fish

We were amped up for a snow day today, but alas, while the rest of the eastern seaboard got hit with a blizzard, southern MD and “areas on the coast” just got rain and wind.  Nell was very disappointed to wake up this morning to a non-snow day, but they did at least get a two hour school delay, so they enjoyed a lazy morning and breakfast at home as a small consolation.

We are snuggled up by the fire tonight, so it seemed a good time to catch up on another back blog post I have been meaning to write since, well, Christmas. Because G had a big surprise up his sleeve this year for Christmas — one that he kept even from me!  And I have been meaning to show it off.

You see in 2016, we had zero fish.  We were not a fish family.  And in 2017, we have 40 fish.  Yes, that’s right, 40.  Because for Christmas, G bought a massive fish tank for Guy’s new shark/surf/underwater big boy room.


The tank is gorgeous. While it was a lot of work to get it up and running for the first month or so, it is doing so well now.  And it is a busy, bustling tank that is full of activity!  A picture from the early days before our fish collection had grown (and before Nell picked out the pineapple decoration that really does make the tank):


While Nell started as the early fish feeder, Guy has taken over the job. He LOVES feeding the fish and watching them scurry around the tank for their food. And there are a lot of fish to feed!  The tank currently holds:

1 dalmation molly
3 yellow mollies
2 silver mollies
2 black and orange sailfish mollies (we call them cheetoh mollies)
5 glofish
1 yellow guppy who thinks he is a rockstar and hangs out with the male mollies
3 malibu sunset platy fish (we call them Mickey Mouse fish because of the design on their tail)
1 bristlenose pleco (my favorite!)
2 albino bristlenose plecos
2 spotted corydora catfish
1 emerald cory
1 panda cory (another favorite!)
2 albino corydoras
1 otocinclus catfish (dwarf sucker!)
2 black stripe neon tetras
9 small blue neon tetras
And also two snails, including a tiny zebra stripe one and a huge yellow one that hauls across the tank like a maniac.


But wait, you’re thinking — that is only 38 fish.  Did you count? Really?  Yes, well that is because we now have a second tank.

You can’t have a freshwater tank and not a saltwater tank, right?


Meet Nemo and Stripey, our clown fish, and the reason that Nell handed over her freshwater fish feeding duties to Guy.  Because she feeds these guys in the saltwater reef tank.


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And they have quite a set of fishmates, from snails and hermit crabs, to this shrimp guy who scares me, to some worms that randomly come out of the rocks at feeding time before disappearing again and we pretend we don’t see them.

Seriously, I find the shrimp really terrifying — and it hangs upside down from the rock like a total creeper — but G loves it.


There is also a gorgeous anemone that we got as a host for our clown fish, but they host in the corner of our tank near the filter head, so oh well for that.


And G is slowly building up a bright, colorful collection of corals.

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I think this means we’re a fish family now.

The Eagle

I’ve been watching the tides.  I always watch the tides, even when I am not on the water.  In the morning, checking the weather, the water temperature, the tides, and the wind are as natural to me as checking my email.  Since I started my recovery walking (which is when I replace my early morning sunrise paddle with an early morning sunrise walk and pretend I enjoy it just as much), I’ve walked more than 55 miles on our beach. Most of my walks end in the same spot where the trees have fallen from the cliff and meet the tide, creating an impassable (unless I feel like climbing a tree and going for a wade in 45 degree water) turnaround spot.


But when the tides are very low, a thin stretch of beach appears that connects our community to the town north of us like beads on a string, and one can walk for miles and miles on the shoreline with only a few branches to hop over and some small creeks to jump across.

I’ve been waiting for a super low tide to coincide with my morning walk, and yesterday was the day — bright sunshine, warm morning temperature, and an open stretch of beach from one town to the next.  I knew exactly where I wanted to go — to see if my bald eagle, the one who watches me when I paddle and does a single loop overhead every time (whether he is assessing if I am a threat or if I am food, I do not know), was still on his perch.

The walk started out with a gorgeous sunrise.


My footprints were the only ones on the sandbars and stretches of beach that are normally covered with water.

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He was there, of course, in the same tree where I knew I would find him.  He didn’t fly over me, though — just watched. I must look less tasty on the sand.


As it turns out, he protects more than the cliffs. I found an absolute treasure trove of sea glass on the sand under his watchful eye.  I filled my pockets with beautiful colors that are perfect for some of the sea glass crafts I want to do this summer.  I had to start a new glass jar just for the glass from yesterday’s walk–and I filled it halfway!


I turned around in the spot where I usually turn on my board — my normal short paddle 3 mile marker.  I know the mile markers by heart from the water, and I enjoyed seeing them from the sand.  Though I’d rather be paddling, I am grateful I had the opportunity to walk on the full stretch of beach.  It’s too far for the kids to walk, and it’s something I just may never have done otherwise.


Just keep swimming


It has been more than three weeks since surgery, a little over halfway through my doctor-prescribed surgical recovery and restrictions.  So far as I can tell, my recovery from the surgery itself seems perfect.  I can see the light at the end of the tunnel when my restrictions will fall away, and I am desperate to get back on my board and stretch out the muscles that tighten a little more each day.

The serum sickness is still there with aches during the day that stay manageable so long as I keep moving around.  But in the late afternoon/early evening, the pain starts to settle back in like an old friend.  By the end of the evening, my back, my knees, my ankles, my wrists last night — but that one was new — all feel shredded.  My doctor prescribed weeks more of steroids and painkillers, but I am not interested in those.  Luckily my resolve to not fill those prescriptions is stronger during the day when the pharmacies are open.  I question the decision every night when I can no longer walk without pain, but then I wake up the next morning, again thinking it’s going to be a better day.

There isn’t so much online in terms of anecdotes about serum sickness — and I think it’s likely an issue of the fact that no really gets diagnosed with serum sickness.  It’s a guess when all the other obvious things — like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, etc — get ruled out and nothing more makes sense.  What there are a lot of, however, are stories of shared symptoms, pain that comes back at night, and a discouraging time-frame that makes me think I am in this for the long haul.

So I’m ignoring the aches and pains as best I can, and I’ve got my eye on all the things that will get better and will change as I get deeper into my recovery — like my restriction on swimming, which makes G the designated swim parent right now.  Normally that wouldn’t be an issue — Guy usually spends all his pool time in the shallow end by the fountains, where I can easily play referee, but on our last trip this past weekend, he was all about all of the pool — including all of the slides.

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But just look at the sheer happiness on Guy’s face hanging out in the deep end with Daddy:

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I think his fountain days are done.


Serum Sickness, I think


For ten days, I had the best recovery. My incisions were healing, my surgical site felt great, and I was walking miles a day and gradually picking up my pace. I didn’t need any of the meds that had been sent home with me from the hospital, and I felt strong and comfortable.

On day 11, everything fell apart.

I could feel it starting in my back that day, a dull ache that splintered if I stretched the wrong way. I thought I had been spending too much time in my desk chair, so I went for a walk. Movement felt better, but by the end of the walk, I could feel the soreness creeping in. So I went home to rest and laid down on the couch.

I couldn’t get up from the couch. With blinding pain, it felt as thought my spine had been severed. I could not sit up or stand up, and as hard as I tried to straighten my spine — holding on to G, holding on to furniture — I could not do it. In tears, I took one of the strong pain meds I had received post-operation, which had been untouched until that point, and G helped me get into bed. What did I do? I was certain it was my fault. I had sat too long, or walked too much, or bent at the wrong angle.

The following morning, my back ached, but the blinding, searing pain had faded. Instead, with every step, pain tore through my knees. Had I overdone it? Had I walked too much? I noticed, too, that a rash was forming across my ankles and feet. Was this all connected to the surgery, or had I done something? I thought through every step I had taken. Did I ever go through any grasses?  Strange leaves? Did I get bitten?  But the rash covered both feet, and I had never gone out in anything but pants, socks, and sneakers. The thought of it being a contact rash seemed unlikely, but I pushed concern away and focused on making it to Monday. On Monday, I could see my doctor.

I tried to have as normal a day as possible, but by the end of the evening, my joints were screaming. My knees, my back, my neck, and my shoulders ached. The rash on my feet was spreading. I took meds and went to bed, hoping for the best.

A few hours later, I woke up with the severed spine sensation again. I was sleeping alone in Guy’s room so I could sleep propped up and not bother anyone if I had to get up or move around. But this time, I could not get out of bed. I finally managed to roll out, but could not stand up. I gripped the side of his bunk bed, but could not stand up, no matter how hard I tried. I crawled to the bathroom, where I knew I was going to be sick from the shocking pain, and I realized the rash was spreading. It had covered my hands, and my ankles under the original rash had started to swell.

Before the sun even came up, I called the urgent care line and was able to connect to my doctor who was on call, and she told me to go to the ER, and so we did. By the time we arrived, everything hurt, and the rash had begun to spread over my knees.

This week, I have seen more doctors than ever before (has it really been less than a week?), given blood, had x-rays and CT scans, and realized that even when you can’t make a certain diagnosis, there is an awful lot you can try to rule out. In the end, my doctors are of the general agreement that this was a case of serum sickness — a severe allergic reaction to something that was administered to me during surgery. I didn’t have all the symptoms (such as a fever) and no one had ever quite seen it manifest like it did for me, but the timeline, the general symptoms, and the fact that the treatment course (steroids, antihistamines, pain meds, and more…) I started in the hospital worked, all point to that being the likely diagnosis.

It has been a disappointing setback, but I think I am on the right track now.  The swelling and the rash have finally faded over the past two days, and I am focused on weaning myself off of meds I never intended to take, and working to get strength back, particularly in my legs and my back. I missed a few sunrises in the midst of all this, but then I caught a few that were worth the wait…
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Sunrises and Healing

I saw the sunrise today. It started out like this.


And then gradually got a little lighter, a little brighter.


Until finally the sun appeared on the horizon and squeezed in for just a moment before it slipped behind the clouds for the rest of the day.


My dawn outings began as the only time to paddle that didn’t interfere entirely with family life and our day. In the summer, when it’s light enough out that I can get on the water exceptionally early, I can even manage to slip back inside the house on certain days before Nell wakes up.  (Guy is always up.)

But now, dawn is my favorite time.  I love the sunrise — I can’t count how many I had the privilege of seeing in 2016.  I love paddling toward the light, witnessing the colors, and watching the night give way to morning.

I am not on the water right now.  I am sidelined for 4-6 weeks depending on who you talk to (me or a doctor), but the one thing I didn’t want to lose during this recovery window is my time with the sunrise.  So since I’m not paddling there, I am walking there.

A shot of the pre-dawn light earlier this week.


I never wrote about the surgery or shared anything here in the lead-up to it primarily because it all happened very fast and it all happened over the holidays. In fact, the call that I got from my doctor explaining that the surgery would be a bit more intensive than we thought came while we were at the airport on the way home from Florida.

(If you’re not in the mood to read a surgery story, feel free to skip down to the beach pictures below!  I won’t mind, really.)

It started as a lot of pain that came in waves throughout 2016.  Pain so severe on some days that I couldn’t walk.  The bad days became more frequent, and the good days became less good, until there was never really a day when I was without discomfort.  I told my doctor in December that I thought something was wrong, and just before Christmas, I had an ultrasound that found a tumor that would need to come out, taking one ovary with it.

I had a follow-up MRI (also known as the most expensive procedure ever) between Christmas and New Year’s which confirmed the tumor and also showed that my uterus was sick (unrelated to the tumor).

So, about a month after finding all that out — last Monday — I had surgery to remove the tumor, during which I also had a hysterectomy and an oophorectomy and kicked in my tubes for good measure.  (Going in? Take it all!)

The surgery went really well. There were two major concerns going into it: that I would have too much scar tissue from my c-sections that they wouldn’t be able to perform the surgery laparoscopically and I would need full open abdominal surgery; and that they wouldn’t be  able to save my second ovary, which would have put me into medical menopause.  But neither of those things happened, and so for the last week I’ve been focused on recovery.

I really had no idea what to expect from the laparoscopic surgery.  One of my most vivid memories from my c-sections is of the first time I tried to stand up after Nell’s birth. Moving upright felt like my insides were ripping apart, and I’ve never forgotten that sensation — that awful moment when your body feels like it’s doing unreal things. I had expected something similar, but to a lesser degree, from this surgery, but I was really surprised at how different it was.

Admittedly, it took a while to get pain management under control after the procedure. My blood pressure and heart rate were too low for them to be able to start on the prescription painkillers, and there were several hours post-surgery that were almost unbearable.  But once we got on top of things, all I could think was that I needed to get up.  The bed was making every part of me ache, and I was in a near panic wanting to get up.  I hadn’t been cleared to get up until the following morning, but around 9pm that night, I begged the nurse to call my surgeon and get permission to start moving around, and doing so provided so much relief.  And I was so scared for that first time I sat upright — thinking of my c-sections and the pain in that moment — and it was absolutely fine.

It’s been a week now.  The worst of the pain early on was from the trapped air in my shoulders, which my pre-op nurse warned me about (but which no one could have fully warned me about because OMG, the pain).  But I tried to find a balance between staying active and resting, and within five days, I could no longer feel air in my upper body.

While I wouldn’t say recovery has been painful, it’s hard.  I still get tired easily, I can feel when I overdo it, and I need to lay down for portions of the day to give my body a rest.  Sitting at my desk for too long or standing for too long causes a painful pressure that I can only relieve by laying flat, which is about all I want to do by the end of the day.  But I am definitely getting better.  The incision sites themselves still hurt when they are touched or something brushes against them, so I am limited right now to sweat pants that sit below the incisions.  I am working from home this week and next to recover and regain my strength and my stamina.  I couldn’t wear a single pair of work pants comfortably right now, and I definitely couldn’t walk a mile from the parking garage to my office carrying my laptop and other work stuff.  Hopefully, by the time I return, none of that is an issue!

In the meantime, I am going to try and be the best recoverer I can be!  That means walking slowly twice a day on the beach, which is fabulous for my sea glass collection.  These four handfuls were from my first two days home.  Being slow has its benefits!


It means walking to the sunrise instead of paddling to it.


And it means staying off the water for now.  Admittedly, it’s been hard — we’ve had unusually warm days coupled with low winds (who knew that was even a thing around here!) and the flattest water.  I asked G whether there is a lesson to learn in the fact that almost all of my winter paddling was done on cold, windy days during small craft advisories, and as soon as I am off the water, it’s warm and calm.  He looked at me like I was nuts.

Those aren’t waves; they’re rollers coming in from barge traffic.


Although, if we’re going to have a stretch of calm, glassy water, I am glad it is now, when I am fresh enough in my recovery that I don’t have a single thought to try and paddle.

Random picture of a very small lion’s mane jellyfish I took the other day on my walk. 


However, in a few weeks, when my resolve is less steady, then let the seas rage!