Take a wrong turn out here…

There’s that saying ‘a picture tells a thousand words‘. I’ve been known to use well over a thousand words at a time in describing the goings-on in my life since I arrived here in the Eastern Cape a year and a couple of months ago. I thought I’d switch it up a little, and let a few images tell this latest story.

After I wrote that exam at the end of June my girlfriend Meryl came down to Port Elizabeth for a little bit. Having her around, and being able to see her everyday was a welcome reprieve from having to think about medical physiology all the time…

Dinner at one of the very many nice restaurants in Summerstrand. Good view of the beach that evening...

Dinner at one of the very many nice restaurants in Summerstrand. Good view of the beach that evening…

A bench in a little clearing at the bottom of Fordyce road in Walmer is a good place to sit and look out over Settlers Park Nature Reserve which is in a deep valley in between Walmer and Port Elizabeth Central. It was a llittle chilly though, Meryl wouldn't get out of the car so I just took a couple of snaps.

A bench in a little clearing at the bottom of Fordyce road in Walmer is a good place to sit and look out over Settlers Park Nature Reserve which is in a deep valley in between Walmer and Port Elizabeth Central. It was a little chilly though, Meryl wouldn’t get out of the car so I just took a couple of snaps.

Will Shakespeare has a play, I have a theatre. The curtain is yours…‘ It being that time of year we drove out to Grahamstown for the first weekend of the Arts Festival.

We're always roadtripping off to somewhere...

We’re always roadtripping off to somewhere…

Meryl being silly (ie being Meryl :-P ) in front of this cool sculpture we came across in Grahamstown

Meryl being silly (ie being Meryl πŸ˜› ) in front of this cool sculpture we came across in Grahamstown

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I've mentioned the Jittery Citizens before I think. They are an improv comedy act that Meryl and I saw on our first date. So almost exactly 2 years later it was good to catch them at the National Arts Festival.

I’ve mentioned the Jittery Citizens before I think. They are an improv comedy act that Meryl and I saw on our first date. So almost exactly 2 years later it was good to catch them at the National Arts Festival.

The best piece of theatre we saw over that weekend was Body Language II: The Mating Game, a 50 minute solo high energy physical comedy in which Gaetan Schmid animatedly gave us his take on everything from the Big Bang Theory right through to the underlying evolutionary reasons for the roles of the sexes at a traditional South African braai (barbeque) to the subconscious and not-so-subconscious deliberate reasons why a girl actually allows you to notice she’s checking you out. It was fascinating stuff, and a good laugh all the same time.

It's just over 2 years now.  Meryl has added a special spice to my life...

It’s been just over 2 years now. Meryl has certainly added a special spice to my life…

This statistic may or may not be anecdotal but apparently there are more churches in Grahamstown than can be found within the limits of any other town/city in South Africa, a curious fact considering it is effectively a student town, built around Rhodes University.  This particular church is the Anglican cathedral, named after both Saints George,  and Michael.  Also curious,  I thought 😌

This statistic may or may not be anecdotal but apparently there are more churches in Grahamstown than can be found within the limits of any other town/city in South Africa, a curious fact considering it is effectively a student town, built around Rhodes University. This particular church is the Anglican cathedral, named after both Saints George, and Michael. Also curious, I thought 😌

An eerie bell tower on the grounds of St Andrews College, an 'uppity' institution according to a friend of mine :-P

An eerie bell tower on the grounds of St Andrews College, an ‘uppity’ institution according to a friend of mine πŸ˜›

On the weekend of 10 July we were in Knysna. I ran the Knysna marathon, an interesting experience. One has to be in Knysna the Friday night before the race to register and get a race number. The next morning from about 4.30am runners are taken up by minibus to a point up a mountain where we gathered wrapped in cozy red blankets (that were subsequently given away to charities) around little fires, waiting for the 7am and 8am marathon and half-marathon starts. When the starters gun was finally fired we set off on a route that seemed to ascend incessantly through the Knysna Forest.

I couldn't resist getting a couple of shots of the mountainous scenery along the route

I couldn’t resist getting a couple of shots of the mountainous scenery along the route

What else is there to do early on a Saturday morning? I mean surely shuffling along a dirt road on the side of a mountain is at the top of that list, no? :)

What else is there to do early on a Saturday morning? I mean surely shuffling along a dirt road on the side of a mountain is at the top of that list, no? πŸ™‚

4hours 12 minutes wasn't too bad a return for what was a very tough hilly course, I feel...

4hours 12 minutes wasn’t too bad a return for what was a very tough hilly course, I feel…

Lunch at the waterfront afterwards

Lunch at the waterfront afterwards

We drove across to Jeffrey’s Bay after the race.

Jeffrey's Bay

Jeffrey’s Bay

Leaving Jeffrey’s Bay to go back to Port Elizabeth we didn’t take the N2 highway as we would normally have. Instead we drove along the R102, one of the old national roads. It turned out to be an inspired choice…

An old single carriageway bridge that goes over the Gamtoos river

An old single carriageway bridge that goes over the Gamtoos river

I've been asked why I'm still in the Eastern Cape. What is there to love about this place? I mean look, you take a wrong yurn around here and look where you end up

I’ve been asked why I’m still in the Eastern Cape. What is there to love about this place? I mean look, you take a wrong turn around here and look where you end up

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Same old brain, same old heart…

Down and around on Sparrow drive, left onto Villiers, right onto 14th, right onto Water rd, all the way down untill it turns a sharp right into 5th, then left onto Prospect rd, right into 4th, left into Fordyce, right into 1st then left into Heugh rd. It eventually becomes Walmer Boulevard drive and I have to decide between taking a right onto Forest Hill rd which will take me past the airport then back toward home for what ends up being a 16km run. Alternatively I could keep going on Walmer Boulevard and eventually turn right onto Humewood road and run along the beach front into Summerstrand for what ends up being a 24 or 25km run. Either way I usually end up back on Villiers pushing along the last 3 or 4km, a very slight uphill to the end of my run.

I live in Walmer now, still in Port Elizabeth. It is July and effectively the 3rd month of a new year for me. So new beginnings, new running routes, new legs (kinda feels like that 😌). Same old heart…

It takes me a little over an hour and a half to run a half-marathon (1hr 35mins is the best I’ve ever done). By contrast it took about a year and a half of studying before I felt ready to write the College of Medicine Part 1 exam (Primaries). It wasn’t a full on effort for that entire period of time. I made the decision to start preparing a year and a half ago. Deciding is one thing, executing is another thing altogether, but I did translate mentation into action, albeit intermittently at first. I spent the first two months of 2014 (the end of my time as an intern) studying like my life depended on it. The renal and endocrine chapters of Ganong’s Review of Medical Physiology were put away with aplomb. I then ran out of steam and seemingly motivation. I did continued, though at a more measured pace. I was on and off over the next few months, days and weeks went by when I was very studious, and other days and weeks passed when I was less so. I finished my internship at end of April 2014 came down here to Port Elizabeth for my year of community service. I continued to study intermittently. In about November of last year I pressured myself into making a decision about when to actually sit for this exam. ‘When I’m ready’ was no longer adequate. A definite time line would also serve to put me under a bit of pressure. After the new year I became a little more consistent, measuring my time more and more by what the amount of reading I had or hadn’t done.

On 31 April in the early afternoon I walked out of the medical ward at Dora Nginza hospital for the last time, having completed my one year of community service. I have now done my ‘Zuma years’ as some would say. I no longer owe the government anything in the way of being fully recognized as a medical practitioner. Nice I suppose, and following that, if I wanted to tomorrow I could open my own private practice. Naturally I’ll do nothing of the sort. No I have a much less comfortable, far less glamorous future in mind. Picture a medical registrarship, long hours and an unreasonable work load at Chris Hani Baragwanath hospital. Picture having ample time to read but way too much material to have to cover and master. Picture HIV and TB, and more HIV and TB. Picture me being able to conjure up obscure spot diagnoses in response to a long convoluted set of signs and symptoms blurted out by a fellow medic on a grand ward round. Picture that. That’s my kind of life.

I had a week-long holiday of sorts at the beginning of May. I spent the first weekend in Johannesburg with my girl, Meryl. We set up house so to speak, at a cool little backpackers on Doris Street in Kensington for 4 days. We spent the days studying believe it or not, she for her midyear exams, the first of which was the following week, and I continued to slog through Ganong’s. I then went across to Centurion, Pretoria to spend a couple of days at my parents’ house.

10 May, 8.05am. I was up. Much earlier than I normally like to be out of bed on a Sunday morning. There were church bells ringing (literally) not too far away, the sun was out and beating down hard. If Long street was a person he, or she (we’ll settle on ‘she’) would be elderly, not frail but hardened and somewhat jaded, with that seen-it-all thousand yard stare. On this particular morning she looked calm, expectant. Breathing easy after the shenanigans that she’d played host to the previous night. I was standing on the corner of Long street and Longmarket street waiting for an Uber. The car pulled up and I jumped in.

Long street, Cape Town

Long street, Cape Town

Grote Schuur Hospital, Cape Town

Grote Schuur Hospital, Cape Town

I had been in Cape Town since the previous Thursday evening for a refresher course for the Primaries organized by the University of Cape Town (UCT) department of medicine at Grote Schuur hospital. A friendly summarized version of ‘everything medical physiology’ with a sprinkling of pharmacology, microbiology, statistics and some other need-to -know stuff. All squeezed into 3 days of back to back two-hour lectures. What we do for kicks eh! 😌

#geekmode

#geekmode

Difficult thing to get used to again, sitting in a lecture hall and having to maintain concentration. It took me right back to medical school, dosing off every now and then, not due to lack of interest but just sheer inability to pay attention for such long stretches of time. “Let’s hope something something sticks…” Dale had said on Friday morning as the first lecture had started. He and Alex, my Dora-mates and fellow Witsies had made the trip down too.

Seagull. Harbour.  V n A Waterfront, Cape Town

Seagull. Harbour. V n A Waterfront, Cape Town

Caught a little bit of comedy on one of the nights

Caught a bit of comedy on one night

Back in Port Elizabeth after that weekend I started a new job, in the ICU at Livingstone Hospital (LVH). It has been a continuous, seemingly non-ending learning curve this last month or two, and I’m really enjoying it, surprisingly. While being quite challenging, working in the critical care unit at LVH has not been as scary as I had thought it would be before transferring across.

It is a high pressure environment with a neat set of rules and regulations. If A happens then we must respond with B. If C happens then the patient must receive D, if X then Y etc… Protocols. Know what to do, how to do it and when it is appropriate to do so. Not so intimidating when looking at it like that but the thing to do obviously, is to determine why or how X happened isn’t it? That is the real art of what we do as medics. The lady is in low output heart failure, she has a valvular lesion. She has had it for many years, so what is different now that has caused her to tip over, caused her to decompensate…? There is a lobar pneumonia and she is in sepsis. What is the offending organism? What is the appropriate antibiotic? If we decide to initiate… Can we wean her off the inotropes? Get her well enough to get off the ventilator? The gentleman in bed 5. Severe pancreatitis, most likely due to years of excessive alcohol. Now a couple of days post-op, and in respiratory distress, tachycardic. Septic markers inconclusive. Antibiotics? Nope. No real temperature spikes, blood cultures haven’t yielded anything. Is there a fungal infection, maybe…

I’m only a few weeks in and am admittedly a slow learner. The goal is to get to a place where one understands rather than just knows the protocol, why do we do B when A happens, and Y when X etc… I have the rest of the year more or less, to get comfortable and to get better. I am definitely enjoying myself and who knows, perhaps I’ll become an intensivist one day after I deal with this minor detail of qualifying as a physician that is :-P. Oh and while we’re on the subject of my current situation, regarding Eazy in the EC: ‘One year in the Eastern Cape’ has turned into two…

In between all of this new learning at work I continued plugging away at the material for the Primaries. I finally got down to doing some statistics (my favorite! 😦 ) Research is how medicine and hence patient care moves forward these days. One can’t be a medic and not have at least a basic understanding of statistics, to my chagrin.

Towards the end of May and through most of June my life seemed to become ever more streamlined. Simplified if you will. Life became work, eat study, study, study, sleep. In that order, in ever repeating cycles. I went through an eerily familiar phase towards the end of June. Everything other than what I was supposed to be studying became interesting. On numerous occasions as I was about to sit down at my desk I would think “What was that thing they said on the radio earlier? Lemme google that, I can’t believe Kanye West would…” or I’d realise that I hadn’t been on Instagram for a little while and before I knew it I’d have spent a whole half-hour of my life perusing through images some pretty, and inspiring but mostly bland pointless and entirely non-contributing to my ambitioned future life as a specialist physician… Then I would eventually sit to study and I’d be quite productive for a while until I would think: “What if they ask a question about this…?” I would fret, and quickly look through my notes again, or “What if there’s question on this…?” and I would stop what I was reading and have a quick look at that too. All these questions about these little things. These little molecules, ligands and receptors, these pathways. “My brain is tired, my backside is sore, my back is aching… ” “My everything is everything!” I said to Meryl over the phone one night (insert sad, self-indulgent emoji) “Maybe I should stop studying and download a movie…” There’s a good way to spend this precious time!

This is not dissimilar to my pre-exam behavior back when I was at medical school. In fact the mental merri-go-round, emotions and sense of subdued-yet-bubbling-over stress I was going through felt exactly like it did when I was a hapless student. “That exam is quite soon isn’t it, you look so calm” my colleagues would say. It is most definitely just a look. People also said that about me at medical school, alas it is very different to what I’m going through on the inside. The older I get, I realise the more I still stay the same. “I wish I could redo the last year and a half with a different brain!” I found myself saying to a friend.

I still ran, but only about twice a week and when I did run I seemed to be squeezing it in between the studying. I’d get home from work and put in a couple of hours at the desk and get out onto the road quite late, knowing full well that it would be dark by the time I got back if I covered 15 or 16km as I felt I had to. I felt sluggish, barely ever able to push myself very far under 5min/km pace. Healthy body, healthy mind, a teacher once told me back in high school. But when the mind is preoccupied the body can but to follow suit.

On Saturday 20 June I ran the Heartbreak Hill 21.1km, organized by Charlo running club. 1hr 44mins and a few seconds. Not a time to rave about but I was coasting mostly. I didn’t hang around after the race, briefly said hello and cheers to some of my running club mates who I hadn’t seen in what seemed like for ever, and promptly went back home and kept at the books. On the following Wednesday myself, Dale and three other aspiring physicians sat in a classroom upstairs from the library at LVH and each of us worked our way through the 150 questions on physiology mostly, some statistics, some microbiology and pharmacology. I walked outta there at 12h02pm having handed in my completed paper, after using every single one of my allotted 180 minutes.

That afternoon I was to the airport to pick up Meryl. It had been 6 long weeks since I last saw her and she looked gorgeous!

That was last week. The Grahamstown arts festival kicked off yesterday. There’s a marathon on next weekend. I’m not in very good physical shape at the moment but I’m gona give it a go

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Write when inspired?

 

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Yesterday was a long day 😐 The kind of day that I normally wouldn’t write about, but precisely because it had been that type of day, I found myself sitting on my bed bored, uninspired and writing. I really shouldn’t have been (writing, that is) but there you go.Β I think that the main reason I was so bummed was that I didn’t study yesterday. I didn’t put in the usual 2-3 hours. There was no valid excuse, not really. What I did do with the time wasn’t nearly as good, or as rewarding.

 

The day had started out well. Alarm clock 5.30am; snooze; out of bed at 5.45am; bathroom (the regularity of my bodily functions is starting to scare me, I’m only 31, why is everything becoming so predictable aaargh! πŸ˜“…) 5.55am (at least ten minutes later than initially planned) push-ups: sets of 32, no… 35 (this was decided halfway through the first set 😐) done with that by about 6.15am; weights: 10km dumbells aren’t much but when you get to about 28 of a set 35 reps there is some pain in the places where you want some gains. Done with all of that by about 6.50am. Kitchen, fix fruit and cereal quick, fix some lunch for work, quick. Shower, then seated at my desk/dining table at 7.15am, quick breakfast. 7.30am Housekeeper arrives, “Aren’t you late for work?” she asks, “Only by a little bit,” I say while chucking the bowl and spoon into the sink. I’m outta there within the next 5mins.

 

At 8.05am I parked my car in the doctor’s parking lot at Dora Nginza hospital (actually on the grass next to the lot along with a bunch of other cars as there aren’t enough parking bays for everyone employed at this institution) At 8.10am I walked into the ward. Here we go: 30 patients between myself and another doctor. Our intern had been on call the previous night so she did not join us. I saw 17 patients throughout the day, in addition to three call backs. Call backs are patients that I had seen in admissions the previous Thursday when I was on call, discharged home and asked to come back for review of their condition or blood results or to discuss with the specialist physician who runs my ward.

 

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There are two patients in my ward who have multidrug resistant TB (MDR TB). Both are HIV positive, one also has end stage kidney disease, and the other has cryptococcal meningitis (CCM). Serious stuff. The lady with CCM is one week and a half into her course of treatment, and once she completes the two weeks of amphotericin B we will be able to transfer her to the local TB hospital, a much more appropriate place for someone with her condition. We won’t be able to transfer the other lady, she is very ill, cachexic, with decreased consciousness. Her prognosis is very poor, we’ve discussed it with her family. We’re keeping her comfortable, as pain free as possible. Blood tests every couple of days to review her kidneys and make sure her electrolytes stay in check.Β These two ladies are ‘isolated’ in the side ward. They are receiving the right treatment, a veritable cocktail of pills that would frighten even the bravest of souls. It’s just that they shouldn’t be here in a general medical ward.

 

Our other patients are more of the general medicine variety, I discharged five today. An old hypertensive diabetic lady who had suffered her second stroke. No sense in keeping her here, she needs to be at home with with her family. Regular follow up with physio- and occupational therapy. Another lady who had completed five days of intravenous antibiotics, now no longer dyspneic, not coughing, and overall looking much healthier. A clear sputum sample had excluded pulmonary TB. Off back home you go. The other three were the same simple sort of cases.

 

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Then there’s a 41year old with frightful blood pressure readings despite our escalation of her antihypertensives. She has been in the ward since last Thursday, and also has very bad kidneys. Possibly the cause of her refractory hypertension? Maybe. One could be the cause of the other in this case, and conversely. How does one have bad kidneys at age 41 anyway?! We’re doing a full work up on her, to exclude causes of secondary hypertension, hyperthyroidism for example or some sort of rheumatological abnormality. Once we have all the results together if we haven’t found an obvious answer we will discuss her with the renal unit at Livingstone hospital (LVH).

 

My last bit of work for the day was a lumbar puncture (LP) on an old lady. She is somewhat confused and none of her blood results or her initial lumbar puncture show a possible cause. It could just be good old dementia (pun intended πŸ˜› but she doesn’t quite fit the bill for that diagnosis) The consultant had me do a second LP (unusual as it’s quite an invasive procedure) to look for cytology in cerebrospinal fluid. “Cytology?!” I asked. “Malignancy maybe. What else could be causing the abnormal normal protein levels in the first sample?” He replied, almost shrugging.

 

Done with all of that (work and stuff) by about 3pm. Gotta get some studying in today, I thought as I walked to my car. To follow up with the good bit I did over the weekend. I had spent all Sunday morning and the early part of the afternoon at the books.Β I had to pop by the bank on the way home, then make a quick stop at a sports shop in town to fill in an entry form for the next road race, even as I felt the residual pain in my legs from last Saturday’s marathon. I then stopped at the Spar not far from where I stay, as I had finished the milk that morning. Meryl called. I probably shouldn’t chat to her the phone while I’m driving but hec she’s far away and I miss her. I got home much later than I would have liked and used that as an excuse not to study. Not good. Physicians don’t make themselves man! I mentally scolded myself. It didn’t work on that particular day. It’s ok I thought, it probably means that I’ll hit it extra hard the next day.

 

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So there I was yesterday evening feeling guilty, bored and unispired. So I thought I would write about it, and I did. I did not post it up yesterday though, as I have this idea that I should only really write when I am inspired? Yes and no. I have had a bit of a think about it. To only write when I’m inspired would be to only write the good stuff, the fun bits of my experience here in Port Elizabeth. This was an example of an average day. Average uninteresting day at work. Β Average day in terms of inspiration, or more appropriately the lack thereof. To study I suppose, and to write…

 

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Fun times

I am never leaving the Eastern Cape… EVER!! Those were my sentiments on Saturday morning 2 weekends ago, mostly because I woke up to this view…

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That is what you see from the back of one of the beach houses at Island Vibe backpackers in Jeffrey’s Bay. Having been there once before a couple of years ago this is one of Meryl’s favourite places. She was over for the weekend and we had made the ninety minute drive out there the previous afternoon. Looking around from the moment we arrived it wasn’t difficult to see why she is so enchanted with the place.

Island Vibe beach house

Island Vibe beach house

When you think of a backpackers you think: very basic four-walls-and-a-bed-to-sleep-in, and dirty traveller-type people around (as a friend of mine recently added πŸ™‚ ) This place is very far removed from that, think of something in between a cosy bed and breakfast and a fun island resort and you’re a lot closer to the Island Vibe experience. Now it sounds as I if I’m being paid to write this πŸ˜› No, that is most definitely not the case! We just both thoroughly enjoyed the place. It is situated on top of a small hill in Jeffery’s Bay, and when you’re standing in the reception area you can look down the other side of said hill and see waves crashing down on a beach barely a five minute’s walk away.

Girl and the beach...

Girl and the beach…

 

Perhaps it was just that particular weekend, or the crowd of young traveller-types that happened to populate the place on the night we were there, but the place had an energy about it, a party-like atmosphere. Meryl swears that is it’s permanent state. We (and what seemed like everyone else that was there) spent that Friday evening in the bar-restaurant area.

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We had pizza for dinner (as one does :-P), and met some interesting characters. At one point late in the evening I found myself on one side of the room playing pool with a Namibian guy I had just met and on other side of the room Meryl was playing beer pong with some other people.

 

We had a really good time and I recommend this place to anyone road tripping through the Eastern Cape or just passing through Jeffrey’s Bay for a night or two. We were not in fact on another roadtrip, we drove back to Port Elizabeth the next day but we have a definite plan to go back and hang a little longer, sometime soon.

 

Back in Port Elizabeth we met up with my friends Gareth and Nadisha. They had spent the previous 2 weeks in Cape Town with family and were spending a night in PE on their way back to Zithulele where they are currently living and working.

I don’t really like board games. Yes I know, who doesn’t like board games right? It’s just something about having a plan to sit around a table for an hour (or a few) focussing on the table bothers me. Just one of those things. It is alleged that I always enjoy myself when I’m dragged/forced to play. Of course I deny this, but apparently there is proof. I was up in Centurion with my family over the Christmas weekend, and there was one particular day when Meryl came over and we spent an entire afternoon playing 30seconds with my two sisters and my sister’s husband. I may or may not have enjoyed that, I dunno it’s difficult to say πŸ˜›

 

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Gareth and I settled down to battle Nadisha and Meryl over a game of Cranium. We let the entire male race down and got our backsides handed to us, by an embarrassing margin at that! It may have been my fault, I’ve never played Cranium before and it took me a couple of rounds to get into it. It was Meryl’s first time too but she seemed to catch on quite quickly. There is a theory that says that people couple up with partners of roughly equal intelligence. Based on how things went that night Meryl the law student is sharper than yours truly the medic. Looking at things a little closer though, Gareth’s wife and my girlfriend were two happy winners that evening, so perhaps it is us who were the smart ones… πŸ™‚

 

From left to right Gareth's arm :-P Nadisha, and Meryl

From left to right Gareth’s arm πŸ˜› Nadisha, and Meryl

We had to say goodbye late that evening, Gareth and Nadisha would be driving off again early the next day. I had seen them two weeks previously (again, briefly) when they had passed through on their way down to Cape Town. Our time together is always so short lately.

Gareth,  Nadisha and their two year old twins Jonah and Caleb.

Gareth, Nadisha and their two year old twins Jonah and Caleb.

Meryl and I with Jonah and Caleb.

Meryl and I with Jonah and Caleb.

Gareth mentioned that when they were down in Cape Town he kept asking himself why they don’t live there. It seems to be a serious option for them. This while I wrestle with my own little dilema. I have and am really enjoying my time in Port Elizabeth. My year is almost up. I am all but sold on the slower life, and relaxed atmosphere down here. Why go back up to Jozi? Meryl is in Johannesburg, oh and also Meryl is in Johannesburg. I have an apartment in Jozi. My family and best friend are all back there. Life will be faster. Work will be in a tougher, higher pressure environment. But that is what I always wanted isn’t it? Decision time. Fun times…

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Port Alfred blitz!

“…So it’s not such a big race then?” Meryl said. “Well it’s bigger than a half-marathon (21.1km) race…” I replied. “But it’s not as far as a marathon (42.2km)” she returned. “Yeah that’s true…”

The 27km race that I ran in Port Alfred on Saturday was nonetheless special. I have run countless half-marathons, but only a handful longer than that distance. They are obviously tougher. You have to apply a bit of strategy, that is to say run slower than you would in a shorter race so that you will have enough ‘gas in the tank’ to get to the end. That is what what was so special about this Kowie Striders race on Saturday, 2hrs 8mins over that distance translates to 4min 46secs/km which is almost as fast as I have ever run a 10, 15, or 21.1km race before, I was super pleased with myself. I had a fair amount of PRD (post race discomfort πŸ˜› ) for the rest of the day, particularly my left Achilles heel but nothing could dampen my mood after that effort. I am trying to condition myself towards a roughly 5min/km marathon, feeling optimistic…

Pre-race selfie!

Pre-race selfie!

I had left PE at about 4am that morning, and drove about 2 hours to get to the little town of Bathurst. I got a little bit lost in the ‘outskirts’ of said town (with a GPS mind you!) but eventually found myself at The Big Pineapple at about 6.30am, roughly an hour before the race was due to start.

5.30am Saturday morning. Alongside the R67 to Bathurst

5.30am Saturday morning. Alongside the R67 to Bathurst

No you didn’t read wrong the place is actually called the Big Pineapple :-P. The Eastern Cape is South Africa’s largest producer of pineapples, mostly out of Bathurst.

Pineapples are big in this area! :) The Big Pineapple is 16.7m high, abd it houses a 60 seater auditorium inside on the second floor. There is also an observation deck on the third floor, where one gets an awesome view of the surrounding farm.

Pineapples are big in this area! πŸ™‚ The Big Pineapple is 16.7m high, it houses a 60 seater auditorium inside on the second floor. There is also an observation deck on the third floor, where you get an awesome view of the surrounding farm.

We ran away from this oversized fruit along a 27km route that was mostly a dirt road. The last 3 or 4 km had us arriving in Port Alfred proper, running alongside the Kowie river. There were groups of people sitting in groups on blankets all along the banks of the river, watching the Rhodes University boat races that day. It was an awesome atmosphere to run through, ending the race at the Port Alfred Country club.

I had never been to Port Alfred before, and I was pleasantly surprised to find it is a picturesque little place. After I had freshened up I did the touristy thing and wandered around a little, ending up on Wharf street.

Having run for 2 hours I was in ‘calorie credit’ as my friend Bennie puts it πŸ™‚ and I had lunch at Frank’s on the wharf. This is a cosy little tucked away joint that you have to walk through a little alley to get to. You don’t have a view of the river while you’re in there but it is a quiet little place with a couple of craft shops surrounding a clearing with a little fountain in the middle. Good for a few moments of blogging πŸ˜‰

Wharf street

Wharf street

Kowie river through Port Alfred...

Kowie river through Port Alfred…

Kowie river...

Kowie river…

Someone from my running club had kindly driven my car to Port Alfred and once I was done I drove back to PE in the early afternoon.

Reward for my troubles this weekend :-P

Reward for my troubles this weekend πŸ˜›

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Capture the moment!

When on holiday somewhere exotic, or at any kind of special occasion I’m that guy incessantly taking pictures, wanting to freeze-record the moment and somehow preserve it. I have a rule: Don’t tell me how enchanted you are by what you’re seeing, or what a beautiful view we have. Take a photo instead, so that one day when we are 50 years old we can literally look back at this moment and still appreciate it.

The view alongside the N2 not far from Zithulele...

Alongside the N2 not far from Zithulele…

The view from Nadisha and Gareth's balcony...

The view from Nadisha and Gareth’s balcony…

The value of eye-catching scenery cannot be overstated. Some of my happiest moments have been when standing on top of some hill after a hike, or on a beach somewhere watching and listening to the ocean, or even at a good viewpoint that catches the skyline of the city somewhere. These instances in time are soul-restoring when you’re there, and inspirational when you look back on them. I have felt like this over the last few days, going through the snapshots that I took 2 weekends ago out at the Wild Coast.

Gareth and I always end up on some or other hike...

Gareth and I always end up on some or other hike…

If this is what they mean by 'rural' then I'm all in!

If this is what they mean by ‘rural’ then I’m all in!

The wildcoast at it's best I think!

The wildcoast at it’s best I think!

Hole in the wall... think we could've gotten a better shot maybe, this doesn't quite do it justice!

Hole in the wall… think we could’ve gotten a better shot maybe, this doesn’t quite do it justice!

I drove for about 8 hours to meet up and stay with 2 of my favourite people in the world, my friends Gareth and Nadisha. They are both doctors working at Zithulele Mission hospital near Mquanduli not far from Coffee Bay and Mthatha, on the so-called wild coast of the Eastern Cape.

We have been friends for many years. Gareth was the first person I spoke to on my first day at Wits Medical school. He and Nadisha were a tentative couple at the time, they grew ever closer over the next couple of years, as I grew closer to both of them. They got married about 5 years ago. I drove from Johannesburg to the Midlands in Kwazulu-Natal to attend the ceremony. I flew down to Cape Town to visit them in Seapoint when they were down there for medical internship at Somerset hospital. I drove to Kimberly in the Northern Cape when they worked at the provincial hospital over there, and now I found myself doing yet another trip to see them. I have gone far and wide to be able to spend time with them, I chase them because they provide the best conversation I have ever had πŸ™‚ I am godfather to their twin boys who are almost 2 years old.

Caleb... :-)

Caleb… πŸ™‚

Father and sons. Gareth and Caleb in the background, and Jonah in the foreground

Father and sons. Gareth and Caleb in the background, and Jonah in the foreground

The other reason I went out there was for the birthday of a mutual friend of ours, Amy. She is an artful soul that I got to know towards the end of my time at medical school. Myself and a few other friends of hers who were able to make the trip, and some of her family all converged on this idealic little spot to celebrate her birthday.

Zithulele hospital, originally a mission hospital and now a government funded district hospital, is a small institution (approximately 150 beds) serving the surrounding community. I have mentioned before that life in the Eastern Cape is lived at a somewhat lesser pace than I was used to up in Johannesburg, but out at the wild coast as my friend Bennie puts it, people literally move in slow-motion πŸ™‚ and stress is a foreign concept. It is an interesting location to choose to live and work. Gareth and Nadisha have worked at a few different places across South Africa, but Gareth has always fancied the idea of practicing general medicine, and the very rural nature of this latest placement just adds to the adventure that has been their lives together up until now. Amy is out there doing her year of community service.

Lubanzi beach in the distance...

Lubanzi beach in the distance…

Lubanzi beach

Lubanzi beach

Lubanzi beach

Lubanzi beach

Caleb and I. Gareth in the background

Caleb and I. Gareth in the background

We all had a really good time πŸ™‚ I kept thinking that Meryl would love it out there! The weekend was like one long interesting conversation interrupted by the 2 nights of sleep and the moments looking around in awe at the absolute beauty of the setting! I particularly remember the lot of us hanging out at the beautiful Lubanzi Beach on Saturday morning, then all gathering later that evening in a house Amy had rented for everyone. The house was on top of a hill overlooking a beautiful beach on either side of it.

Amy pretending not to know that I was taking this pic :-P

Amy pretending not to know that I was taking this pic πŸ˜›

Left to right Amy, Nadisha...

Left to right Amy, Nadisha…

Hangin' out

Hangin’ out

Gareth on acoustic guitar,  Nadisha on vocals... :)

Gareth on acoustic guitar, Nadisha on vocals… πŸ™‚

The weekend 5-7 September was like a special stretched out moment, well worth the trip, and definitely worth capturing! πŸ™‚

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