Getting to Scotland

I  must start this posting with a profuse apology for leaving you all hanging for SO LONG!  In my defense, sh*t happened.  You see, the last day of our illustrious European adventure, I started feeling…odd.  And as many of you may remember from earlier thrilling blogs, I have been the frequent victim of some terrible practical jokes paid me by my common bile duct.  And, even from the onset of the wonky symptoms, I knew exactly what was coming and I knew it would involve a lot of pain before it was over with.

My common bile duct had once again seized closed.  I underwent another ERCP with sphincterotomy and my GI doctor was waiting by my bed when the anesthesia wore off.  He informed me that it might be time to consider something drastic.  He told me that each time he went in to re-cut the stupid spasmy muscle that the fibrosis was so bad that it was getting harder and harder to dilate the duct.  But, I thought that I had at least 6 more months or so before it shut down again.  Only, I was wrong, I had only a few weeks.  In a fit of desperation, I called the doctor that had removed half my liver about 8 years ago and he fit me in for an emergency consultation.  As soon as he had all my labs, ERCP reports and imaging studies, he scheduled me for surgery.  On October 10, I had a transduodenal sphincteroplasty.  It sounds terrible.  It was.  They cut open my abdomen (14 inch incision), cut into the duodenum (the thingie that connects the stomach to the small intestine) pulled the common bile duct into the duodenum and sliced it open and sewed it into place so it CANNOT scar closed again…at least not easily.  Knowing my body, this probably just sounds like a challenge.  But, there was an added benefit of the surgery.  The doctor spotted a secondary pancreatic duct…a secondary duct that was massively undersized and appeared blocked.  He went ahead and did that one too and was able to get bile flowing through it.  It is now presumed that I had a permanent state of chronic pancreatitis for years because part of my pancreas was depending on this teeny tiny blocked duct that didn’t show up on the imaging studies.  It’s probably why my pancreatic enzymes were always slightly elevated but not high enough to meet the clinical criteria for pancreatitis.

Any surgery that involves an incision that large also involves a lot of time laying around staring at the ceiling wondering how many days you can go without washing your hair.  Nine.  Nine is the answer.  But people stop coming within 3 feet of you at about day five.  I would have washed it but I wasn’t allowed to get my incision wet yet and bending over a sink was OUT of the question.  Plus, I had a central line in my neck which is also not permitted to get wet because of the risk of infection.  So, I guess when you consider the giant IV in my jugular, the massive quantities of dilauded I was on, and the 14 inch abdominal incision, truth is that dirty hair wasn’t my biggest worry.  After a full 7 days as an inpatient where I instilled the fear of God in the nursing staff so quickly that only charge nurses were allowed to care for me after day 1 (I’m not proud…but I am very loud), the entire transplant unit breathed a sigh of relief as my wheelchair rolled toward the exit door to send me home.

And, I’d be lying if I said I just bounced back all perfect.  I did not.  I don’t think you can.  I feel better from a digestive point of view.  I can eat again without becoming ill.  All my IBS and pancreatitis symptoms have resolved.  But after weeks of recovery at home and still not being up to an energy level that would allow me to win a race against a moderately sedated slug, I had a hard time getting my head back in the game.  I returned to work and came home to fall straight into bed at 7pm.  I spent my weekends horizontal on the couch watching my DVR.  I declined most social engagements.  And because anyone that knows what it’s like to have an autoimmune disorder can probably predict, my body went into full-on revolt mode as a result of the trauma it had been enduring as I healed from surgery.  Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I wasn’t sure I was going to survive the fibromyalgia flare up I was experiencing.  It was like having burning needles sticking into every muscle in my body 24 hours a day. I did what I was supposed to.  I started the necessary medications to interrupt the flare up.  I gritted my teeth.  I tried to lay low as much as possible and after weeks of agony, my body started regaining its footing.  Not to say I’m perfect.  The frequent weather changes have me in a migraine cycle that has been brutal, the muscle pain from my fibromyalgia is still there, but it is significantly better.  And the sleep disturbances are subsiding now that I’ve found a medication that does an okay job of helping me sleep without turning me into a zombie for days on end.  So, I’m on the upswing and I will be fine.

My point in telling you all this is so you know that I wasn’t being lazy.  I was just trying to survive the next 5 minutes for a while there.  And when I mastered the 5 minute time increment, I moved on to surviving the day.  And so on.  And so this past weekend, I finally returned to my kitchen in earnest.  I hadn’t had the energy or stamina to spend time cooking so I didn’t have any culinary fun to share.  I had this blog half-written for months, but I had to find the desire to finish it.  So, my scar is just starting to fade.  My body is getting better at handling the fibromyalgia.  And I want to cook again and share with you my triumphs and disasters.  But first I have to finish this Scotland blog.

So, return with me to August…we last left off with our heroine enjoying the beauty of Ireland….

In hindsight, we should have flown from Dublin to Edinburgh – as EVERY person we asked for help in getting there informed us.  Our couchsurfing host Francis:  “Why aren’t you flying, it would be faster.”  The bartender the night before we left:  “You should fly, it’s faster.”  The desk clerk at the hostel we stayed in our last night in Dublin: “Why aren’t you flying?”  The information desk attendant at the train station: “You’re not just flying?”  OKAY, WE GET IT, WE SHOULD HAVE FLOWN!  We did quickly check airfare and realized that a last minute ticket would not be a financially viable option.  We were going to do this the hard way.

So, with a bottle of Jameson in tow, we got up at the crack of dawn, caught a train from Dublin to Belfast.  In Belfast we took a taxi to the port where we caught a HUGE ferry to Cairnryan.  In Cairnryan, we caught a bus to Ayr where we caught a train to Glasgow.  Once we arrived, we walked from one train station to another to catch our train to Edinburgh.  It was NOT a relaxing day.

Hello, Scotland!

Once we arrived in Cairnryan, we tried to board the bus to Ayr.  Only, the bus driver informs us that he doesn’t have enough seats for everyone that wants to get on the bus.  He tells us that some of us will have to take a taxi to Ayr.  Keep in mind that the trip to Ayr is about an hour so that would have been one ridiculously expensive taxi.  Michael and I stood among the last people waiting for the bus trying not to panic.  When the bus driver said he could fit 2 more people on the bus, we enthusiastically volunteered.  Really enthusiastically.  He directed Michael to the back of the bus and he pointed me to the “staff only” seat adjacent to the front door of the bus.  I wasn’t about to complain.  In fact, this view gave me great opportunities to take pictures along the route to Ayr.  You’ll have to excuse the smushed windshield-bugs that are featured in some of the photographs.  But the countryside was too beautiful not to document it since I had such an awesome view.  Some of these pictures make up for the trouble we spent by trying to get to Edinburgh without wings.  I’d have been sad to miss out on this drive from my bus seat.  I was spellbound the entire trip.

Hanging out up front with the driver.

Ailsa Craig off in the distance

If you’re a fan of curling, you may have heard of Ailsa Craig – it’s the island where they get the “micro-granite” for curling stones.

I couldn’t believe how beautiful Scotland is.

Like Ireland, there are flowers everywhere.

The bus driver told me to get my camera ready and made sure to point out this building. It was the birthplace of the poet Robert Burns. It still has a thatched roof.

The train station in Glasgow.

Glasgow gets a thumbs up for their firefighter statue adjacent to the train station. :-)

By the time we made it to Edinburgh, I was exhausted.  Luckily, the walk from the train station to the bus stop was all uphill and we had all our luggage to drag along.  Then once we caught the correct bus and made it to the flat of Michael’s friends Agata and Giedrius, we had to lug our bags up 4 flights of stairs.  And a quick freshen up and some food and we were off again…UNTIL DAWN.  At this point, I had incubated my Blarney Castle cold fully and was snarfly and wheezy and Michael was so excited to hang out with G that his energy and excitement was never-ending.  It was at that point in our trip that I may have considered injuring him in his sleep to slow him down a little.  But I refrained and every moment in Edinburgh was fun.  I LOVED Agata and G and I even fell in love with their “old fashioned” apartment (as described by Agata) and I will never ever forget them.  I only wish I had some of Michael’s energy and less of my arthritic hip and wheezy chest cold.   I can tell you that the sunrise over Edinburgh is beautiful…since I saw it…a lot.  I can also tell you that G introduced me to my new favorite drink:  whiskey with apple juice.

Our first night in Edinburgh, I finally crawled into bed about 5:30 am but Michael and G stayed up another 3 or 4 hours.  I was starting to wonder if they were on a suicide mission.  But despite the overall lack of sleep, G was a great tour guide and he took us to Prince’s Garden and to Edinburgh Castle.  Since it was Fringe Festival, the Royal Mile was shocking.  We saw a phone booth full of drag queens…like a lot of drag queens considering the size of the phone booth.  We saw performers with no pants on passing out fliers.  We heard people singing, watched people juggling, and of course, there were bagpipes.  It was the most interesting mix of people I’ve ever seen.  I only wish my camera hadn’t died before we got to the Royal Mile.  Michael said he’d send me a CD of his photos from that afternoon but he’s pretty busy with graduate school right now so you’ll just have to use your imagination to picture the performers without pants and the phone booth full of drag queens.

Swans in the channel in Edinburgh! This channel was really close to the flat where we were staying.

The Opera House in Edinburgh

St. Cuthbert’s Church in Edinburgh

Edinburgh Castle.

Looking up at Edinburgh Castle from Princes Gardens

This adorbs little cottage is called “The Gingerbread House” and is located in Princes Gardens.

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Edinburgh Castle is actually not a single building but several buildings. This one houses the crown jewels. Unfortunately, photography is prohibited inside but they were obviously ah-mah-zing!

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This is actually a pet cemetary at Edinburgh Castle.

This is actually a pet cemetery at Edinburgh Castle.

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Meanwhile, in Edinburgh….

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So, as a sort of wanna-be foodie, it was just a matter of time before the subject of haggis came up while we were in Scotland.  And my first surprise was Agata explaining how it is one of her favorite foods.  So, when G steered us to a restaurant to try the infamous dish, I only put up a weak protest.  You see, haggis isn’t viewed by most Americans as desirable cuisine.  First of all, if you look up haggis, you find it’s described as a “pudding” which immediately turns off most Americans.  To Americans, “pudding” is a sweet and creamy dessert and is free from animal organs.  The idea of a “pudding” of meat conjures up culinary conflicts in our heads as we try to conceive of a sweet dairy dessert made with savory meats (bleh).  It’s like a culinary oxymoron.  Haggis is a “pudding” of the organ meat of a sheep that has been ground up and mixed with onions and spices and then it’s put into a sheep stomach and simmered for hours.  So, I’m not going to lie, I was skeptical.  Really skeptical.  And when G ordered plates of haggis for everyone at the table, I protested that we should just get one plate for everyone to taste.  But G insisted that we’d want our own plates.  Michael and I exchanged dubious glances and placed orders at the bar before we were finally persuaded by G to commit to a haggis lunch instead of just a haggis taste.  And the haggis came to the table and honestly shocked me.  There was no stomach. There was nothing that looked like a “pudding.”  Instead, what showed up on the plates looked like ground beef that had been browned with some vegetables served atop a bed of mashed potatoes and turnips with a boat of gravy on the side.  The gravy was actually a really delicious whiskey cream sauce.  And so with slightly less skepticism, I sat back and watched Michael take his first bite.  He nodded at me to try mine as he chewed and seeing that he wasn’t horrified, I brought my fork to my mouth and tried to keep an open mind as I took my first bite.  I have to say, it was delicious.  Not just okay or edible but really and truly delicious.  Both Michael and I cleaned our plates (and those boats of whiskey cream sauce).  Now, I will freely admit, had the haggis arrived at our table still inside a sheep’s stomach (note: most commercially prepared haggis is now made inside a sausage casing in lieu of a sheep stomach), it might have dampened my excitement…a lot.  Let’s face it, there’s not a lot of good ways to present an animal organ stuffed with food on a plate.  Even a birthday cake would look somewhat unappetizing if you had to dissect a sheep’s stomach to get to it.  So, I applaud the modern restaurants that serve their haggis sans casing.  And, now that you know that you won’t have to relive your dissection days in biology to try it, I hope you try haggis if you’re ever in Scotland.  I assure you that you don’t even realize it’s organ meat and it really is flavorful and delicious.  I even googled recipes when I got home.  Surely I can recreate that taste without a sheep stomach…where does one even buy a sheep stomach?

I haven’t made any efforts beyond looking for a recipe but it’s not off the table.  If I ever do attempt it, I promise to blog my results.

When we left Scotland and said goodbye to Agata and G, we headed to England to finish up our trip.  We spent a couple of days in Bath and then went on to London.  We didn’t do much sight seeing in London because we were there for the same reason hundreds of thousands of other people were there:  to witness the Summer Olympics.  We did manage to get tickets to several events and were able to spend a good amount of time inside Olympic Park.  I would love to share England with you but let’s face it, it took me almost 6 months to get this blog completed so maybe I just need to concentrate on some culinary adventures and work on sharing photos and experiences with you from Bath and London later on.

The important thing is that I am finally getting back to “normal” after my surgery.  Sure I physically  healed a while back, but I just didn’t have any desire to get back into blogging or cooking or much of anything really.  I’m finally starting to enjoy my kitchen again and so I do hope to have some new adventures to share soon.  Who knows, maybe one day in a fit of nostalgia for beautiful Scotland, I’ll be inspired to try my hand at haggis.  Crazier things have happened.

2 Comments

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2 responses to “Getting to Scotland

  1. Michael

    AH! wonderful memories, especially with your intriguing dialogue. glad you’re much on the mend. i still have yet to even touch my photos. i hope you can one day recreate the incredible haggis!

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