Interruption of Service

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In this newsletter:
 
*** Doctor's Visits
*** News and Current Projects

Doctor's Visits

Another month during which I have seen rather a lot of my doctor. Seems like he's in a good way of providing most of the social life he's been prescribing me, if you can call a doctor's visit a social life. I've started to rather look forward to them – I mean you take what you can get. Which probably goes to prove that I have now really and truly reached doddering middle age!

Turns out that the reason I've been so uninspired, and so insanely slow in getting stuff done for the last six month, wasn't just burnout and exhaustion – or the medical profession's favourite diagnosis for anything that might ail a woman over 40, "anxiety" – after all. I had a bug in my brain. I mean, literally.

I've been suspecting ever since December, that I might have caught a case of Lyme borreliosis. I'd been worried about a tick bite I got in late October, which was healing badly and developed a small red rash – I'd been meaning to have it checked out, but I was really busy and stressed out about the approaching Christmas season at the time, and for all I knew New Zealand – unlike Bavaria! – wasn't a high risk zone for tick borne diseases. So I left it.

Then I got what I thought was a case of flu in early November – except that it didn't take the course of a typical flu. I only had a runny nose, and it could have been seasonal allergy, except for the fact that I also felt unwell in the way I usually associate with the flu.

Around the same time, I started finding it really difficult to sit down and work on my hare book, and stay focused on the task. I remember thinking at the end of November, that it was really strange how I'd found it so hard to motivate myself to work on the last few pages of my book, given that it was a task I had been really very much looking forward to! At the time, I was beating myself up for poor work discipline – but as it turns out, it is exactly one of the possible symptoms of Lyme disease.

But the reason I went to see the doctor were some chest pains, which worried me enough to call the medical helpline one Friday night. The nurse advised me to see a doctor within 24 hours, so I drove to the after hours medical service in Masterton, but the doctor there reassured me that I wasn't going to have a heart attack. Still, the pains persisted, and so I went to see my regular GP – who also couldn't find anything out of order except that my blood pressure was really high, but wanted to run some more tests.

Before he even got round to it, I got to spend several hours at the hospital emergency department in Wellington, on account of getting very worried indeed during a trip into town. They ran all possible tests, all of which showed a perfectly happy and healthy heart. One thing I did find out was that stating I had "chest pains" got me admitted to see a doctor faster than I ever have before – which, although appreciated, wasn't exactly very reassuring!

Chest pains and heart palpitations are also one of the possible symptoms of Lyme – and there were others: spells of dizziness, poor concentration, tingling fingertips, red eyes, a general sense of lack of motivation ... all of them very unspecific, and none of them particularly serious, but I did check up on Lyme disease after I got that tick bite, and so I knew that all these things were on the list.

What worried me most, was that I had absolutely no urge to make pictures, or music, or even to work in the garden and plant out all the seedlings I'd been raising all spring. Lacking the urge to create something, for me, is about as normal as if Casanova woke up one day with absolutely no sex drive. I really didn't feel myself – that's probably the best way to describe it. The doctor was quite right about the high anxiety levels, but I think the anxiety was due to having a sense that something was wrong in my body – not the other way round!

I mentioned the tick bite to the nurse, who said that Lyme disease doesn't exist in New Zealand. I also mentioned it to my doctor, who said that he'd never had to deal with this disease, but that he'd ask someone. I don't know if he ever did, but the next time I went to see the doctor, my regular GP was on holiday and I got to speak to another doctor, who had never heard of this disease and was trying to read up on it on Wikipedia while talking to me. He saw fit to treat me as if I was a confirmed mental case, making up "exotic diseases" because I wanted attention, and eventually literally yelled at me. The consultation was so inappropriate in every respect, that I walked out and refused to pay for it, and handed in a formal complaint. Big Drama at the Medical Centre!

My regular doctor, who had been called up in the middle of his no doubt well deserved summer holiday by the staff at the medical centre, was clearly quite upset that this had happened. He asked me to come in free of charge, to talk it over and make sure I was alright. But he agreed with the verdict of his colleague, that Lyme disease did not exist in New Zealand and that my symptoms were far too unspecific to warrant treatment, or even a test. His verdict was "stress and high anxiety" – he put me on pills for high blood pressure, and told me to eat less salt, exercise more regularly, and get a pet that isn't a fish.

This was in late January. Next time I came in, he asked me about some rather conspicuous rashes I had on my chest, and I showed him another on my arm. I thought they were insect bites, and failed to catch on to the possible significance. A few days later I looked in the bathroom mirror, and saw that the rash on my arm had now turned into the bull's eye pattern which is the one really specific clinical symptom of a Lyme infection. I looked again in the morning to make sure my eyes weren't deceiving me – then called up to see the doctor again.

His first reaction was to dismiss it – there had never been a confirmed case in New Zealand, I would be the first, it was just too unlikely. I mildly offered to tell him about all the other things in my life that are highly statistically unlikely, and he threw his hands in the air and looked up pictures of Lyme rash on the net. When he had to admit that my rash did look a whole lot like the ones in the pictures, his expression changed to perfect glee – quite oblivious to the fact that I might have this really rather nasty disease! O good, I thought: I have in my lifetime met early music nerds, Tolkien nerds, computer nerds, sound engineering nerds, fantasy and science fiction nerds, special effects nerds, games nerds, and all manner of nerds – so here we have a medical nerd. I can trust this man. Always trust your local nerd.

He was considering to prescribe me antibiotics there and then – but I guess the nerd side won out and he decided to order a test. After all, if I was going to be the first confirmed case of Lyme disease in New Zealand, it would be better to confirm it! The test results, however, were negative – reassuring, but not completely, because the available tests for Lyme are notoriously unreliable, with both false positive and false negative test results being quite common.

Autumn mood in the South Wairarapa Autumn mood in the South Wairarapa Autumn mood in the South Wairarapa Autumn mood in the South Wairarapa Autumn mood in the South Wairarapa Autumn mood in the South Wairarapa Autumn mood in the South Wairarapa Autumn mood in the South Wairarapa

Autumn mood in the South Wairarapa

It puzzled me, why the medical profession would be so reluctant to treat this disease on suspicion, despite the fact that the treatment (antibiotics) is neither complicated nor costly, and the disease is quite curable if treated early on – but the consequences of untreated Lyme disease can be very dire. I have read several case studies of people who were only properly diagnosed four years after the infection, and who had by then developed permanent and irreversible disabilities. So you can imagine why I was having high anxiety levels when I couldn't get my doctors to take my concern seriously!

There was of course the possibility that the doctor was right, and I needed to do boring things like exercise and eat less salt and have a social life, and maybe see a shrink – and that looking for some mysterious disease to blame my unwellness on, was just looking for an easy way out: eat a pill, and you'll feel better!

At this point, I reluctantly decided to ask him to put me on happy pills to help with the anxiety levels – by then it was early March, and I really felt I needed to get back to work. Also, I figured it was a good way to test if the symptoms would still persist ... but initially, the pills seemed to work. The chest pains went away, and I did feel better, though I still couldn't say that I was feeling *well*. I was sleeping badly, I seemed to be permanently tired, and I still didn't manage to get back into work mode: I'd open the files for my hare illustrations, and sit and stare at them, not knowing where to start – I did a bit of work in a rather mechanical and uninspired manner, but often I would just close the file again without having done a thing.

I did manage, somehow, to get all the wallpapering and sanding of floors done – although I never seemed to be able to fit more than a few hours of work into a day, and it kept dragging on. April came and went, the job got finally done, and I thought, *now* I can really finish my book. And I opened my files, and I stared at them, and I closed them again without having done a thing.

May came, and I started my business class, and a few weeks ago I was suddenly feeling very unwell indeed: I was running a temperature, and feeling flu-y again but without any respiratory symptoms, and I was so tired that I could barely keep my eyes open. My muscles ached as if I'd suddenly started training for the Olympics. My business tutor sent me home one evening because I looked so ill, and when I went to see the doctor the next day, he immediately saw that something was really amiss.

He inspected me, and then he asked what I thought the problem was, and I said I think I have a bug in my body. Where would it nest? I think in my brain. Then I told him I was still worried about Lyme but didn't even dare bring that up for fear of being sent to the lunatic asylum, and he immediately jumped in and said we should treat it, bugger the tests.

So now I have been eating a rather high dose of doxycycline for the last three weeks. The first day was rough, which seems to confirm the diagnosis – when the bugs start dying off, they release toxins that make the symptoms worse for a while. But two days into the treatment, I woke up feeling properly rested for the first time since, probably, November. It was up and down for another week or so: things like sitting through a 2 hour business class were too exhausting and knocked me down again, and the chest pains came back for a while, but I felt like some fog on my brain had lifted at last, and I was being myself again.

By week two, I started working on my book again, and I finally realized what had been the problem all along: I hadn't been able to see how it was supposed to be. And I didn't even realize that I was missing a capability I have always had! Now it suddenly all seemed evident again. I still found it hard to spend a long time sitting behind the computer, and not jump up again and do something else all the time, but this was definitely progress!

For the first time since New Year, I started a new garden painting, of my apple tree with a harvest load. The painting isn't finished as I write this, and neither is the book – so, I have to apologize once again on account of no new art in this newsletter, but at least now we know why!

I'll still have to stay on the antibiotics for a while, and they don't make me feel splendid: I still want to sleep a lot, but now it feels more like recovery from a severe illness, which is what it (hopefully) is. I've got another few days to go on the high dose, then it will be down to half, and I may have to maintain that for quite a while – I'm not sure what the doctor has in mind, but a friend of mine in Finland, who got treated for late stage Lyme, says that she was on antibiotics for three months, and it wasn't exactly fun. But I feel very strongly indeed that I want those critters thoroughly eliminated from my system, and I'll happily eat the pills for however long that takes.

It shouldn't have taken six months to start treatment: but then again, I am grateful that it didn't take four years. From what I have read, there seems to be some ideological war going on between different factions of the medical profession in the US, which is where NZ doctors apparently look for their guidelines – in Europe, at least in Germany and Scandinavia, this disease has long been known, and usually gets treated prophylactically if there is any chance of an infected tick bite.

While the medical gurus are battling it out – according to my doctor, it makes the medical profession really uneasy that this bug is so difficult to pin down, and the available tests so unreliable, which means there is not enough of what they would count as "hard evidence" – the patients get stuck in the middle. While Lyme is rarely life-threatening, it can severely affect cognitive functions, and there have been several cases of artists, writers and other creatives who have been impaired in the exercise of their profession after catching an infection that was not properly treated: one of them is Amy Tan, the well known author, who has written an account of her experience with Lyme, which sounded all too familiar to me.

As to myself, things probably won't go back to full speed again just yet – but at least I'm working, and I'm reasonably confident that there will indeed be new artwork to show in my next newsletter! Don't forget to hug a nerd today.

Conflicting views on Lyme disease: CDC website (US government organization, playing it down) * American Lyme Disease Foundation * Lymedisease.org (patient's advocacy)

Autumn mood in the South Wairarapa Autumn mood in the South Wairarapa Autumn mood in the South Wairarapa Autumn mood in the South Wairarapa

Autumn mood in the South Wairarapa



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News & Current Projects

I am still in the process of sorting my furniture and belongings back into my recently re-decorated living and dining rooms, but I have by now stocked up on a complete set of Afghan rugs: two more variations of the "elephant foot" design – which I suspect of having some deep cultural or spiritual meaning which I am going to have to investigate sometime, but meanwhile it just looks extra stylish: one for my office, and one for my bedroom. That will be the rug buying done for now!

A shout-out to Rug Bazaar for having entirely the coolest and best value oriental rugs on Trademe (they also give substantial discounts to repeat customers – fortunately). I may still pick up a couple of their smaller ones by and by!

And in case you wondered where I found that gorgeous wallpaper, it's a Swedish brand Duro, which is imported here in New Zealand by the very enthusiastic people at The Inside, whose passion and good taste is reflected in their selection of wallpapers and home fabrics – as well as in the email exchanges I've had with them! And yes, they also offer a discount for repeat customers, which makes it cheaper for me to buy from them, than buy online and have it shipped.

In order to help finance my rug buying spree, and raise funds for future wallpapering efforts, I have now listed some surplus items on Trademe: a couple of items of furniture, some fancy shoes, some plants, and my no longer useful rabbit hutch, which already has a bid. I will be adding stuff gradually as I find the time: there are quite a few items of clothing which I no longer wear, including a couple of formal or stage dresses, and I should also have a look at my books, CDs, DVDs and sheet music! I have far too much stuff cluttering up the place as it is. You can find all my private Trademe listings here.

Of course I also continue to offer posters, greetings cards and CDs on my StarstongStudio Trademe account! I had a first sale of my Spring Comes to Town poster a couple of days ago: along with the Winter Fox, Farewell Song, and of course the New Zealand Film Locations Map, that's now four posters which are actually selling. I am still looking for a lover (or several) for my Tree of Light and Tentacle Love posters. You could be the first! I'll gladly sign them for you if you ask me to. Come on – those loving tentacles are way cool.

When I logged into my CD Baby account the other day, I could hardly suppress a squeal: remember how I quipped that if I managed to earn $ 33 in under a month, my next $ 100 payout might be just two months away, not a whole year? Well, as of this writing the account sits at $73.80. Whatever you guys are doing sharing my music around, please keep doing it! It's awesome.

If you like my music, tell a friend. Share the links to my iTunes account or my page on Amazon Mp3, or of course my CD Baby account, where people can also buy good old-fashioned CD albums. Unless they prefer to get them directly from my website: then I can sign them personally if you wish. For those of you living in New Zealand: I now also sell CDs, posters and greeting cards on Trademe.

On AMAZING STORIES, I finished my survey of magical birds with a look at bird themed Legends of New Zealand. It's nice to go local sometimes, and there are quite a few bird legends on this island of birds! For a bit of light relief, I dedicated Space Rabbit to my two young rabbits. Visit my author page, with a list of all my blog posts on Amazing Stories.

Asni's garden in May: Food for everyone Asni's garden in May: Food for everyone Asni's garden in May: Food for everyone Asni's garden in May: Food for everyone Asni's garden in May: Food for everyone Asni's garden in May: Food for everyone Asni's garden in May: Food for everyone Asni's garden in May: Food for everyone Asni's garden in May: Food for everyone Asni's garden in May: Food for everyone Asni's garden in May: Food for everyone Asni's garden in May: Food for everyone Asni's garden in May: Food for everyone Asni's garden in May: Food for everyone Asni's garden in May: Food for everyone Asni's garden in May: Food for everyone

Asni's garden in May: Food for everyone

Yin and Yang have been doing a whole lot of eating and growing since my last newsletter, and have turned from cute toddlers into cheeky teenagers. They have a quirky rabbit sense of humour: I swear they know when they are pulling my leg! But they are also really affectionate: they enjoy being stroked just as much as any cat, and don't mind sitting on my lap for the purpose. They don't purr, but they make cute little clicking noises and positively vibrate with pleasure. If you ever want to see a blissed out rabbit, sit them both together next to you and stroke them at the same time. Rabbit nirvana!

Sometimes they also pee on me in their excitement, which is a bit less of a bonus, but whoever had them before must have toilet-trained them: they are, on the whole, quite organized about using their litter tray. I even trust them with my brand new carpet! They usually get to run around outside all afternoon, but they also like to have a bit of playtime in the evening and practise their crazy hops on my living room floor. And they are quite good at insisting that they get it!

Yin is the more inquisitive of the two and usually figures things out first, but Yang has a bit of an engineering set of mind and is quite adept at manipulating objects to make noise when she wants attention – or to reach food that is technically out of her reach. She was also the first to discover that she could crawl under a fence! They are smart rabbits, both of them.

We survived our first visit to the vet, where they got the "pretty healthy" verdict, and a vaccine shot to keep it that way. Feeling mightily encouraged by the fact that in four weeks, I have not managed to kill them or make them seriously ill, I decided it was time to add some chickens to the family: meet Tao the laid back Chinese silkie, and Pivo the perky Polish pullet!

Tao the laid-back Chinese silkie Tao the laid-back Chinese silkie Tao the laid-back Chinese silkie Tao the laid-back Chinese silkie Tao the laid-back Chinese silkie

Tao the laid-back Chinese silkie

Pivo the perky Polish pullet Pivo the perky Polish pullet Pivo the perky Polish pullet Pivo the perky Polish pullet

Pivo the perky Polish pullet

Late autumn isn't exactly the best time of year to shop for chickens: availability of young hens or fertilized eggs is at a seasonal low, and everyone is just trying to get rid of their surplus roosters. I did a bit of googling, and soon decided that I didn't want any old hen, but was going to have a mix of heritage breeds: after all, my garden is all about cultivating old-fashioned fruit trees and other edible plants, so why not have a chicken flock along the same lines. Besides, some of those birds are seriously beautiful! I am after all an illustrator. I don't just want chickens for their eggs.

I was on the point to reluctantly postpone my chicken buying efforts to spring, but then I found a breeder right here in Featherston, who had some Chinese silkie pullets for sale. They are cute fluffballs which are said to make excellent pets, but they also have a reputation for being dedicated mother hens and are often used to hatch other bird's eggs.

Perfect! I could have a chicken with a cute factor high enough to make my doctor happy, right here right now, AND I had solved the problem of how to hatch fertilized eggs (which according to my investigations, seemed the most affordable method of building up a small flock of heritage breed chickens), without having to shell out for an incubator. Plus, they also do lay eggs, I'm told. Tao, at five months old, isn't quite there yet but should start laying any time.

The breeder also had one leftover young pullet from a batch of Polish chickens – a breed that like the silkie, is mostly bred for looks, but they are supposed to be decent laying hens at least some of the time. They seem to have been really popular around the 17th century, and they do have a baroque-y look about them: I'm sure I have seen birds like that in wood prints and heraldry from the time.

Pivo is, at 10 weeks old, the youngest of the family and has just barely come into her adult feathers, but she is really perky and lively: I wasn't sure if I was going to want a Polish hen with my silkie, but she immediately won me over, and anyway it's not good to keep one chicken on its own. So hey, I took her too.

When I brought them home and put them in the pen with my rabbits, Yin and Yang were initially completely spooked. Tao they might have accepted as a sort of honorary rabbit – she's a similar size, and she's also white and fluffy, and from the back she almost looks like a rabbit – but little hyperactive Pivo completely freaked them out. I felt quite flattered when they came running to me to hide between my legs: apparently in their eyes I am some sort of protective über rabbit mom, and most definitely less scary than a little chicken less than half their size.

The chickens, of course, were nervous anyway about their new surroundings, and their new human. Initially, I had to supervise the introduction closely and make sure the rabbits didn't attack the chickens and the chickens didn't peck the rabbits, but over the next couple of days they started to get used to each other.

Yin's and Yang's curiosity was winning over fairly soon, and once they figured out that hopping right up to them at full speed, scared the chickens to bits, they started to approach them more gently. I spotted Yin cautiously sniffing Tao's bum, which in rabbit, apparently means "hello how are you, nice day isn't it". Tao reacted much like an indignant young woman to a clumsy attempt at picking her up!

Last night, I didn't take the chickens inside until after dark, and I swear Yin and Yang were fussing over them to make sure they were alright, if that silly human wasn't going to take proper care of them! Tao, meanwhile, is busy practising her mothering skills on little Pivo. Here are some pictures from this Close Encounter of the Third Kind.

Arohanui, from Asni

The chickens have landed! Close encounters of the Third Kind The chickens have landed! Close encounters of the Third Kind The chickens have landed! Close encounters of the Third Kind The chickens have landed! Close encounters of the Third Kind The chickens have landed! Close encounters of the Third Kind The chickens have landed! Close encounters of the Third Kind The chickens have landed! Close encounters of the Third Kind The chickens have landed! Close encounters of the Third Kind The chickens have landed! Close encounters of the Third Kind The chickens have landed! Close encounters of the Third Kind The chickens have landed! Close encounters of the Third Kind The chickens have landed! Close encounters of the Third Kind The chickens have landed! Close encounters of the Third Kind The chickens have landed! Close encounters of the Third Kind The chickens have landed! Close encounters of the Third Kind The chickens have landed! Close encounters of the Third Kind The chickens have landed! Close encounters of the Third Kind The chickens have landed! Close encounters of the Third Kind

The chickens have landed! Close encounters of the Third Kind



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Autumn evening in Featherston Autumn evening in Featherston Autumn evening in Featherston

Autumn evening in Featherston