A rainy night on the road

On November 19th rain was in the forecast and it has rained off and on since November 20th. Prior to the storms I placed three rain gauges around Uluru; One 500 meters due north, one 500 meters due south, and one 500 meters due east of the base Uluru. I have checked the rain gauges after every rain shower, and to date roughly 50mm (nearly 2 inches) of rain has fallen on Uluru. On November 24th and 28th roughly 10mm of rain fell in just a few hours during the evening. That’s enough to encourage the frogs to exhume themselves from beneath the sandy soils of Uluru Kata-Tjuta National Park. After these rain showers I spend most of my day at water holes at the base of Uluru. However, after dark, the National Park is closed to the public. Other than a handful of park staff returning home from trips to the grocery store, the roads are totally free of traffic. Two nights ago I drove back and forth on a roughly 10km stretch of road, here’s some of what I saw.
Neobatrachus sudelli

Neobatrachus sudelli – Sudell’s Frog-I saw dozens if not hundreds of these crossing the road on the evening of November 28th.
Neobatrachus sutor

Neobatrachus sutor – Shoemaker Frog-There were also hundreds of these out on the road.

Notaden nichollsiNotaden nichollsi with exudate

Notaden nichollsi – Desert Spadefoot – This frog was the main reason I was out driving around. When I was working here from December through May I only saw one of these guys and I didn’t have my camera at the time. When I was out on the 28th I found a couple dozen of these guys. Compared to the other two species, these frogs have attitudes. The other frogs sit calmly while you take their picture, and if you pick them up to reposition them for a better shot, they generally cooperate. However this frog continuously turns its back on the camera, and usually just before the shot is clicked off. The second image is what they do when they are irritated by the cameraman; they puff up their body, pull their legs in and exude a white sticky fluid that is pretty difficult to wash off. Overall I think they are pretty handsome frogs, that is, when they choose not to manifest their irritation with the photographer, .

In addition to the three species of frogs, I found two species of lizards
Pygopus nigriceps

Pygopus nigriceps – Hooded Scaly Foot – Yes it is a lizard, Australia has lots of species of legless lizards. Which is just one among many reasons why Australia is such a fascinating place.Diplodactylus conspiculatus

Diplodactylus conspiculatus – Fat Tail Gecko – There were lots of these running across the road, and for awhile I ignored them as I see them pretty regularly. I got out to investigate one though, and noticed the water that was beaded up on it’s head and back, so I did my best to get a good photo. I’m generally a bad photographer, but this image came out alright.

Tiliqua multifasciata DOR

Tiliqua multifasciata – Centralian Blue Tongue – There are two species of blue tongue lizards in the park. When I was here from December to May of this year I saw a few of the Western Blue Tongue Lizards, but could not find the other species. This lizard has been very high on my “want to see it” list since my arrival to Australia over a year ago. I nearly always stop to investigate roadkill; this guy was laying belly up when I pulled over to investigate. As I approached it, I said to myself “please don’t be what I think it is”, and then I yelled “Dammit!” as I flipped it over. It must have been hit by a tourist or tourist bus leaving the park just after sunset, as it was laying in the outgoing lane and I had not seen a single car go by for a couple of hours. Roadkill is always interesting, but I prefer critters to be alive the first time I see them. Luckily I saw a lively one crossing the road less than 15 minutes after taking a drive to the grocery store on the evening of the 29th.
Tiliqua multifasciata

I saw two snakes while I was driving, but I was only able to get a photo of one

Simoselaps fasciolatus

Simoselaps fasciolatus – Narrow-banded Snake – A very small and very attractive snake.

I only photographed the amphibians and reptiles that were on the road; even then, I didn’t photography two roadkill Moloch horridus (Thorny Devils) that I saw. I also neglected to photograph any of the hundreds of centipedes or orthopterans (grasshoppers, crickets and katydids) that were sitting on the roads. Both the centipedes and the orthopterans that I saw were impressively large and they seemed to be feeding on their roadkill counterparts, which is gruesomely cool. When it rains in the desert, there’s a lot going on, and it’s impossible to take it all in.

I do not have diabetes!

Brace yourself, there are gross images in the hyperlinks, certainly more gross than this one!IMGP1410

Until two days ago I have been preoccupied with my health. About a month ago two wounds developed on the lower calf and inside ankle of my lower left leg, the photo above is of my leg and the described wounds. I do not know where these wounds came from, they just sort of appeared. Initially I sported these wounds proudly. But after about 3 days the wounds began continuously weeping a gross pussy fluid. Additionally the wounds grew in overall surface area, and my lower ankle became painfully swollen. So I started to get a bit concerned. A few of the park staff who I work with remarked that the wounds resembled the result of a white tailed spider bite. Another park staff member said it looked like I had developed an infection resembling Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), do not do a google image search of MRSA before your next meal.

Naturally I consulted Web-MD as well as a myriad of other personal health web-sites that claim to assist with self diagnosis. This was surely the best way to convince myself that I was going to die, or in my immediate case, at least be an amputee. After Googling and reading about MRSA (that’s some scary shit!), I tried to make my mind settle on a white tail spider as the culprit. A Google image search of white tail spider bites did superficially match my wounds. Also, one park ranger claimed to have been bitten by a white tail spider a few years ago, and he said my wound looked exactly like what he had experienced. But what really lifted my eye brows was reading that the bite of a white tail spider can lead to Necrotising arachnidism, i.e., inflammation and ulceration of skin tissues, where skin grafts are ultimately required. That being said, there seem to be nearly as many web-sites claiming there is little overall evidence supporting white tail spider bites as a cause of Necrotising arachnidism.

White tail spiders are apparently very common in Australian households, and are particularly fond of hiding in piles of laundry as well as rumpled up blankets. Naturally my bedroom offers the ideal conditions for white tail spiders. So I removed and washed all the sheets and blankets from my bed, and hung all my clothes on hangers. I searched my bedroom top and bottom for a white tail spider. Coming up empty handed, I broadened my search to the rest of my domicile, which amounts to a laundry room, kitchen, bathroom and living room. Out of all these rooms, the single couch and two chairs in the living room were really about all that there was to search. I removed the cushions, flipped them upside down, and softly called out “here spidey spidey spidey”. In total I found zero spiders of any kind.

So, I scheduled an appointment to a local health clinic. There are two clinics in this remote part of Australia; the Mutitjulu Health Clinic in the community where I live, and the Yulara Health Clinic in the tourist resort/town, a roughly 40 minute drive away. The Mutitjulu clinic is only set up to receive Australian citizens who live in the local community, meaning they don’t take any money for services. This is great if you’re an Australian resident, the national healthcare plan takes care of it all. But in the eyes of the Australian government I don’t really exist, so I cannot technically be treated at the Mutitjulu clinic. So, I went to the clinic in Yulara. A nurse practitioner looked at my wounds, took some swabs to be sent off for testing, and the conversation went something like this

Nurse: “Look, I know from your accent that you’re not a filthy pom (short for pommy, a slang term for someone from Great Britain), but you need to keep this thing clean, it’s really infected”

Me: “Umm, yeah, I know it’s gross and infected! I shower twice a day and wash my wounds dude, I’m coming to you for a medical opinion that goes beyond basic hygiene.”

Nurse: “Well, we’ll give you a prescription of Doxycycline, some anti-septic soap, and a bunch of bandages. Generally speaking, with wounds like this, you want to keep the area covered with a bandage and do your best to keep it moist. A thin layer of clear or pussy fluid over the wound is a good thing, and if it’s covered with a bandage the skin should grow back faster than if a dry scab develops. All that being said if the results do confirm MRSA, pretty much all of this is not going to have any affect.”

Me: “How uplifting!”

I will admit, I was under the impression that “drying out” an open wound was the proper thing to do. But other than re-learning how to properly dress an open wound, I was charged $77.00 AUD and kicked out the door. Furthermore, I learned that the Yulara health clinic proclaims itself as the only health clinic in Australia that classifies non-residents as “aliens” and that my student health insurance is unlikely to cover the charges. I’m actually not an alien, I have a 4.5 year student visa to be here. The only way I was permitted to receive that visa was by purchasing what I was told would be a very comprehensive healthcare plan (read as: pretty expensive admission into the country), which so far, doesn’t do much for me out here in the remoteness.

Naturally, I wanted a second opinion. I called the Mutitjulu health clinic and explained my situation. They said that technically, because I live in Mutitjulu and have a Mutitjulu residency card, they can treat me. However, it is simultaneously difficult because I do not have an Australian medicare number, which is how they report who is treated and what treatment is administered, and ultimately how they receive government funding to operate. An exception was made, and I saw an actual doctor who took some blood for testing (I later got a bill of $65.00 AUD in the mail for the lab tests). The conversation with the Mutitjulu doctor went as follows.

Doctor: “Well, if it is MRSA or a spider bite, the doxycycline or any anti-biotic isn’t going to do much, but take it anyway, because until the blood results come back it is the best move, and of course, keep it clean and keep it covered. I am also suspicious that you might be diabetic”

Me: “What makes you think I am diabetic!?”

Doctor: “Latent autoimmune diabetes of adults or type II diabetes can develop in anybody, and wounds that are slow to heal is one symptom”

Me: “What are some other symptoms?”

Doctor: “Are you thirsty a lot?”

Me: “Now listen Dr. Lady (I’m not keeping her anonymous, I called her Dr. Lady), I don’t know if you noticed, but we live in the desert, being thirsty is a lot less symptomatic of some disease I have, and much more a response to the environment I live in”

I do want to say that other than the “thirsty a lot” comment, she was a good doctor, and if future medical advice is needed I’d rather see her than go to the clinic in Yulara. That being said, the whole idea that I might be a diabetic caused a more serious “mind infection” than the infection that was in my leg. I began having arguments with myself that went something like this

Me: “Gee, I am thirsty a lot, and I have to pee a lot too! Isn’t peeing a lot a symptom of Diabetes? I mean I’m pretty sure I saw that on an episode of Scrubs?”

Me Myself and I:  “Dude, you drink roughly a gallon of coffee a day, AND you drink 2+ gallons of water when you’re active in the heat of day, of course you have to frigg’n pee a lot, you can’t cry all that fluid out. Also you never cry, EVER!”

Me: “But dude, you’ve gained a lot of weight since 2009, isn’t significant weight gain related to developing diabetes?”

Me Myself and I: “Dude, you’ve lost 30+ pounds in the last 7 weeks, yeah you were overweight, and you could still afford to lose a little more weight, but as of right now, you’re doing pretty damn good…also, diabetes is a common diagnosis for local people out here, the doctor is probably diagnosing you a Zebra, that is assuming that watching all those episodes of Scrubs has accurately informed you as to what a Zebra diagnosis is?”

So these thought arguments went on for a couple of weeks while I waited for my blood results. During that time I had to get a physical so the park could clear me for an on site training course. The physical was at the Yulara health clinic (the park covered the charges). While it wasn’t the most thorough physical examination I’ve ever had, the results indicated that I am in very good health. Also, it seemed that the doxycycline was working, as my swollen ankle was improving, and the skin was starting to regrow over my wounds. Finally the blood results came, and I went to the Mutitjulu clinic to discuss them with the Doctor free of charge (the Yulara clinic was willing to discuss them with me for $150.00 Australian Dollars). The Doctor said, “well I was wrong, no diabetes and you’re in excellent health”.

So, without question, fantastic news, but dammit, that shit mind fucked me! In 2008 I was in a hospital in Costa Rica for 10 days after being bitten by a dog and developing a nasty infection in my right hand. There was a slight possibility that I would have to have my right index finger amputated. However, I was treated by three collaborating doctors with outstanding medical credentials, and each doctor visited me up to three times a day. In addition to receiving an anti-biotic cocktail via IV drip that was constantly evaluated and customized for effectiveness; I also received hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Without going tangential to my present story, I’ll summarize the Costa Rican medical experience by saying that the level of attention to my infection was amazing. It resulted in me experiencing a very low level of concern about the outcome of the treatment. The experience outlined here left my mind full of doubt about my own health, and what the future of my health might be. To be fair both medical services out here at Uluru are health clinics and they are not equipped to provide the level of attention that I received in Costa Rica. So, while admitting an apples and oranges argument, I must say it might have been nice to have some additional discussion about how an infected spider bite led to the possibility of me being a diabetic, rather than an offhand remark about my level of thirst being a possible symptom.

I think the overall lesson here  is that watching re-runs of Scrubs is a more informative lesson in health than consulting Web-MD.