25 October, 2012

Australia adventure

Australia trip




A little while ago I made a trip of a lifetime. Although I was initially pretty nervous about the outlook of 21 hours in a plane, with destination Australia. I was invited by friends, who both also deal with rosacea. One of them had very good results with IPL and laser (v-beam) in Melbourne and I wanted to give the v-beam laser a proper try myself, performed by someone trustworthy, so I could be sure if this type of laser worked or didn’t work for my problematic skin. I also reasoned that before I would inform my health insurance and get the permission (like I had been given in 2005, with the disastrous IPL from Dr. Patterson), it would be a good idea to actually have some degree of certainty already whether or not the requested treatment was working. Otherwise I would have a tough time to have it insured (legally they don't have to), and I might end up again having only one (crappy) treatment and surely I would not get the coverage a third time round then. I have had many test patches of IPL (lumenis One), Nd:Yag laser and some other types of laser/IPL over the years. Dr. Chrouch has been extremely helpful with this, my home based dermatologist in Groningen as well but none of the treatments showed real improvement.. Only the test patch of the Lumenis One IPL cleared up quite visibly, but a full face treatment with the same settings subsequently made me more red again with post-treatment erythema.. Although luckily this time that was only temporary. But after that subsided I had no positive effect, although the test spot still stands out of the rest of my face, so the full face treatment did nothing weirdly enough but a small area did have some improvement.
But noone had the v-beam laser, and more specifically the V-beam Perfecta. Basically the last option I could think of in the current market. My own dermatologist didn't have it, neither did Dr. Chrouch. And when I contacted Candela lasers they gave me some names of European specialists with this laser type, but the ones I called had either no experience with rosacea, or they used it primarily for port-wine stains and varicose veins. Not very trustworthy after the shambles that Dr. Patterson delivered.. I have become quite frightened and wary of any type of laser treatment for my face. So, when I discussed this with the friend, and we had dreamed about travelling through Oz for some weeks, the plan arose to combine the two. But when I looked up the travel time, I scared away again from the idea. Twenty-one full hours on board! With one stop in the Middle East. Even a short flight to the UK or a European destination is a crime for me. When my mom and some family members and I flew to New York in 2006 I was also nervous about the 7 hour flight, but it went pretty well actually. However, this was a whole different ball game, 21 full hours.
Booked the flight anyway, it seemed a small price to pay. And a lot of movie watching on board, not a punishment either. Packing was challenging, as I wanted to bring too many summer dresses (even though it was winter there, expected temperatures would still be around 18 degrees and for a northern girl like me that screams summer dresses). Same for amount of shoes, I wanted to hike, go to a fancy party if possible (never go to fancy parties anymore nowadays but weirdly enough the prospect of going to a place far from home opens totally new doors in that respect..wild horses have to drag me to a party here, but I day dreamed already about parties or dancing’s in the exotic Oz). I would also bring my UVB lamp for the friend, who wanted to try it for his rosacea. 




For a week before the departure I stuck to my boring diet of salads, veggies, brown rice pasta and some chicken now and again. I wasn't too red or flushed luckily on the day of departure :)
The drive to the airport took forever and ever and by the time I finally arrived there I was red again. Mainly from the excitement and the indoor temperatures of 21 degrees. Then I was told at the check in desk that I had been wrongly informed about my luggage. A lady on the phone from the company had told me I could check in 2 suitcases, as it was an transatlantic flight. But now I heard, with 10 minutes left before boarding time, that that was incorrect, and only meant for flights to the US (couldn't make her explain why the Atlantic Ocean is transatlantic, but the Indian Ocean is not). I had to leave one suit case behind, or pay 1000 euro's for the extra suit case to come. And 1000 euro's for it's return back home later. So I was frantically unsealing them both (we just had them wrapped up with foil to protect me against any possible Spanish or Middle Eastern villains with bad intentions). I swapped content as well as I could but felt the heat crawling up on my cheeks already by then. After that I had to sprint to the passport control and when I finally sat down in my chair I was very hot and red. And nervous. Luckily I had a window seat with proper airco fans in the panel above my head. The first 7 hours to Qatar were ok. Many nice movies were available and I thought it went rather fast. I had cooled off a bit by then and had asked the stewardesses to bring me some ice cubes now and again so I could cool down even more. I had also given my cold packs, so they could store and cool them as well. The second part was a lot longer though, 13 hours. Sleeping seemed difficult, with only a few hours of darkness, before the sun rose again, which was a very special thing to encounter. Food was offered of course, and I had decided the day before, that I would not eat it. Just drink water or nibble on a rice cracker I brought with me. Not that I wasn't hungry or curious to try any of the food that was offered, I just didn't want to make the flight even more of a struggle than I anticipated it to be. Luckily the hot meals they served were way too spicy for my liking. I had asked for a fruit and vegetable only meal online, but something had gone wrong and they didn't have it. That was a bit of a bummer. I let the spicy chicken and spicy stew go past me, and the desserts and chocolate cookies as well. They came round with lots of ice creams and I passed on them too. Grrrrrr. But by then my skin had become less hot and red again and I tried to enjoy that part over the hungry belly. I watched some European movies and when I got too tired for them I watched Limitless en Just go with it, both not very good. But time did fly (lol) during the movie marathon. After dozing off for a few hours, resulting from my remeron pills, I chatted for a while with a blonde girl. She told about her model life in New York and Paris and her home country Australia. Her name was Jade Jackson and I would later unexpectedly walked past billboards with her picture on it. She warned me about the repellent spray they would use in the plane to kill any foreign bugs off the tourists. I was glad with her warnings (I had told her very briefly about my 'sensitive skin'), because the last thing I wanted was poison spray on my face :S  I covered myself up with a sweater when they sprayed but the smell was pretty strong and caused a mild flush anyway. I felt odd for covering up like that, and having to sit like a wrapped up mummy for at least 5 minutes as they came back a second time with the spray and I didn't want to take any risks here) but felt I had no choice if I wanted to avoid a week long flushing attack. Even drying paint has that effect on my rosacea..
  


I was welcomed by my friend and it was a joy. He commented on my palish skin, and I said he would see me red soon enough. We chatted during the car drive to his home and I got some nightly glimpses of Melbourne. The city was looking so grand. Lights everywhere, sky scrapers, busy traffic. I loved it. The next weeks I visited massive malls, got to learn about supermarkets like Coles and Woolworths, about the extremely high prices of everything. A liter bottler of Coca cola was around 5 dollars for instance, a frozen pizza around 9, eggs 5 dollars etc. It was intriguing. I tried to look closely at the Australian people around me, and try to find out in what way they looked different from European people. Or had similarities that made them look 'Australian'. But they mainly looked British. I was taken to an Australian Football game, North Melbourne ('The Kangaroos') against Carlton. The stadium was massive, seats for 80.000 something fans, and I was told this wasn't even the biggest stadium in town. Supporters from both teams sat next to each other or scattered all over the stadium and that was refreshing as well. Being a soccer fan (and former soccer player), I had my hesitations and doubts initially, but I loved it. Fast, gracious, intelligent and so much more goals!! And no one beat each other up over the loss, there was not nearly as much animosity or aggression as in European soccer. It took a little while to understand the rules but once I got through them, it was a joy to watch. 



 
The other friend flew in as well soon for a bit and we went out together: walking through the city center and even the zoo. The friend who came later has even more sensitive skin and she has pain from strong wind too, so we had to take that into account when we went out. I don't handle the sun very well and had my hats with me to shield myself. The temperatures were perfect for me, around 18 degrees C. 
I watched the friend playing in his pool competition, we would practice pool together,  watched movies, listened to a live band, drove around, went to the Great Ocean Road and the 12th Apostles. Flew to Sydney and stayed a few days there. I saw Wollongong and a lot of ocean and coastlines. Tasmania and Tassie Devils. It was so refreshing and special to be around other rosaceans. We joked about how we could have easily ended up as a depressing, symptom comparing bunch, but the opposite was the case. It was really relaxing and comfortable to be with people who might not have the exact same subtype of rosacea, but who have had their fair share of rosacea trouble, isolation and awkwardness, and who didn't need endless explanations when one wanted to walk in the shade and the other needed to scan the menu list in a restaurant. My skin behaved fairly well. I usually find that it is not too bad when I am on holiday, relaxing or upbeat. I did use a small fan at home and had a fan on low in the car. Cold packs and ice cubes in my bag for emergencies. But I only had a few days where I really had to deal with red flushed skin all day long. Usually I could calm it down again in the mornings after some hours of cooling. 

The 12 Apostles
We made it a day trip to drive down the Great Ocean Road. It was a lovely sunny day and not too hot, and the drive itself seemed not too long on the map, but took us in fact over 5 hours! This wasn't a punishment however, as the scenery and coast line were spectacular. Rocky, wild coasts and winding roads and when we finally, around 5 pm, arrived at the 12 Apostles spot, we were thrilled that we seemed to have come just in time to see the light shift from deep blue to sunset orange and pink. We stayed there for a good hour, making many pictures and a small movie. There were only a few tourists luckily and I tried to imagine how far away Europe was from this spot. How far I would have to swim from this shoreline to end up at the other side of the planet. It seems surreal far when you look it up on the map, but when you are actually standing there, it suddenly seems a rather normal place to be. Not as outrageous as the distance would imply. What made it very different from my neighborhood are the special trees, gum trees I think they are. They are gorgeous and very exotic-looking to me. Also the colors are a bit different, more deep reds in the landscape, endless nature scenes, a very wide and natural landscape with far less buildings and cities as over here. And the cities they do have seemed to have a very special mix of older, Victorian style buildings and modern architecture. They looked fresher, younger and more vibrant than most European cities that I know. I loved the typical Ozzie road signs, yellow with animals like koala's and kangaroos on it. And I loved the attitude of the people. Their singing accent and the positive feel they gave. At times it struck me as slightly American perhaps even, like when you come in a shop and the person behind the counter or at the entrance greets you with: 'G'day mate, how's your day been'. I started blabbing about my day to the first girl who asked me this (she didn't call me mate by the way lol) but soon realized that I wasn't supposed to answer it with details. The said goodbye with 'Have a great day' and even smiled. Try finding someone in a shop in Holland to say that to you :) They also said a lot of 'No worries', which I found amusing too, as they really didn't seem like people who would worry too much. Whereas I worry almost for a living. But it did make me less grumpy for a few minutes. I also saw a lot of beach boys and girls, surfing and surf boarding. Blonde hair, big grins and smiles, very friendly. in town I saw many young, pretty businessmen and -women. Everybody seemed to busy and so energetic. No real visible depression or crisis signs in the professional market section either. 

When I wanted to go to the big mall down the road for some shopping, I was advised to take the car. Being a Dutchy I of course wanted to bike. After all, I could virtually see the shopping mall when I left the house. But the roads in Melbourne can be very hilly and steep and this was such a road. Biking downwards lifted my smug expectations that this was an easy ride, but when I had to come back up again, with bags and groceries too this time, I started to understand why everybody drove around in (massive) cars. Even pushing the bike up was a real chore. And it made me flushed of course. I also liked how the people from the pool team were very nice to me. They greeted me when I first came along, very friendly but casual. 'Oh, you're from Europe", but with a tone asif they saw tourists like me on a daily basis. I later understood that many of their ancestors came from Europe and virtually everyone visited Europe now and again, or had relatives flown over from there. I chatted a bit with some of the team players but being a bit socially awkward I felt best when I could just watch the games from the side and shared a smile here and there. but the talks were very nice too actually and not as uncomfortable as I feared. By the 2nd and 3rd time I came there, everyone seemed super relaxed and acted as if I had come there for years. It was so lovely and I could listen to their accents forever. 


What I both like and dislike about rosacea, is how it can make you feel like an alien often. I walked around
Oz as if I had been locked down in some basement for the last years. It is a nice thing in a way, because it made me look really closely and suck all the impressions up. I think I might have appreciated everything I saw and did more because of this. But it is also a sad thing to realize that you have become a mere spectator and no longer participate really in the treadmill of life. Everywhere are people who appear successful, on the go, about to go to parties, exciting jobs, endless 'barbie's' (BBQ's) and nights out. The times we went out in the town at night, I felt asif I was in the UK (no offense by the way, I love the UK): gorgeous young girls in tiny skimpy outfits, all dolled up, half drunk, having a total blast. I loved to watch it but it also made me think back of my own teenage years with similar nights (albeit more clothes). Melancholic violin music in the back of my mind, then a dj-like record scratch and back to the present.  

Sydney was great. But not as great as I expected. Which was unfair and unrealistic most likely, but all the day dreaming in advance can have that effect. It was a beautiful city though, but I expected it bigger and more 'big city like' than Melbourne, and it was actually the other way around. Melbourne seemed the real big city and Sydney more of a touristy, snow globe like (but then in a summer setting) beautiful Disney spot, that was all confined under some massive invisible cheese cover. It was packed with Asian tourists and inhabitants and most of the centre we crossed to go to the harbor was part of China town. This was very fortunate as I looooove sushi. And there was plenty of it at every corner. And cheap too! The harbor was fab, we were lucky with the sunny yet fresh weather and could make many gorgeous pictures. We wanted to climb the Sydney Harbor Bridge, but were scared off by the outrageous prices of over 200 dollars per person. For that money I like to be airlifted by a helicopter to the top, thankyou :) So we watched how others climbed it and made very sad pictures of them on the bridge. Not quite the same...  We did take a lovely boat (ferry) trip over the water, to Manly Beach. The view on the Sydney Opera House from the water was just breathtaking and Manly Beach was a nice spot too, with beaches and a holiday-like feel to it. I loved walking around the city all day, eating sushi here and there, making pictures and feeling very far from home. We had visited the Melbourne casino one night, only to decide against using the 50 dollar we had for Black Jack as all the 5 dollar tables were taken all evening, but now we went to the Sydney equivalent on the one day it was pouring with rain. An old Mafioso looking man started talking to me and said he could take us in to the vip area of the casino. I'm not really a sucker for that stuff but I was curious too. The man talked a long time about exciting stuff that happened a few decades ago in his life and was very enthusiastic when he let us enter the vip area, with a grand gesture, but it was not quite the same as in Melbourne; much smaller and not as lux. We played Black Jack with our 50 dollar and lost it within 15 minutes, That was the end of it.

Tasmania was a great island (and state!) to visit. Beautiful shores and nature parks. We stayed in Hobart and Launceston and visited Port Arthur and the historical site there, were in the old days prisoners from mainly the UK were brought and locked up. The guides did a great job bringing all the stories back to life and the rain didn’t bother me too much. We walked around at least half of the day there. There were memorials for the people killed during the Port Arthur Massacre, when Martin Bryant killed a staggering 35 people. It was a bit chilling to be at that same spot and read about what happened in 1996. To imagine that those victims had been wandering about just like I did probably, only to be mowed down. On the way back we stopped at a small natural camp where we watched Tasmanian Devils and kangaroos and wallabies. The Tassie Devils were the most amazing creatures and the man who told us about them while he was feeding them chomps of wallaby meat was terrific and answered all my nosy questions on top :)  We learned how Tassies live, in groups but
The cheeky Devil I wrote about
quite solitary. How they fight each other for meat, but without injuring the other (unlike kangaroos and wallabies for instance). How they become very defensive and protective when they have a mate and in the mating season. And what devastating effects the mouth cancer epidemic has on the population. The animals in capture are best off, as they are protected against this (it is brought on by a virus and the animals bring it on to each other during mating when they love bite each other). The plan is to let the sick population die, to put it bluntly, and to breed the healthy Devils that are in captivity and in time introduce them back in the wild. It takes massive coordination though, as one sick devil can start the cycle all over again. It was a sad story for an animal that really stole my heart. When the adults were fed, one cheeky older Devil performed tricks for us and tried to steal the meat of another male. When he got hold of some, he ran around in circles over the moon with his meat and it was very funny. The Tassie Devil only lives in Tasmania. I loved the shores,  Bay of Fires, Wineglass Bay etc, with beautiful colored rocks and blue sea and white sands. We also did the Tahoon Airwalk, with massive trees and beautiful forest. Again we were very happy with a wonderful tour guide, again a ranger, who told us about the 'pet Tiger snake' who used to hang around the camp. Size: 2 meters. We drove all the way up to Craddle Mountain, which took us most of the day, only to end up in a rare snowstorm at the summit, so bad that we could hardly see a thing and we decided against the tour, which would take a long time in the freezing cold up this high with little to see. Again the postcard reminders were a sad sight..




There were many moments when my rosacea flared. When I ate pizza in a restaurant, when I went outside when it was slightly sunny and played soccer (very moderate pace) for 15 minutes. When I woke up in a sun filled hot room. When it was cool outside and hot inside. When I ate food that I didn't know and that caused a reaction. I tried to just stick to my regime then: do not stress out, get water with ice cubes, go outside for some fresh air, sit in the airco of the car if needed, use the cold pack (if it hasn't completely warmed up by then, as usual), or just simply go home and sit behind the fan and use cold packs until the worst is over again. I found it hard to be red and hot when I was with new people and I didn't want to tell them obviously about my skin. Usually when I do tell people, and this is very rarely so, they say something like 'Oh, shit' and start chatting about something else. I feel even worse then, so I rather say nothing. Even when I use a cold pack, and this happens only when really really needed, I say to people that I have a tooth ache. I get more understanding and sympathy then, than when I tell the truth. I just focused on doing as much fun and interesting things as possible, and as my body would allow me, and get enough rest and sleep in between. I find that I am tired way sooner nowadays than before I had rosacea and the other immune related conditions. Maybe it's from the inflammation, or from the medication, or from something else. But it is annoying. I did love the newness and freshness of being somewhere completely new. 


The laser treatment



 
I booked my laser treatment initially for the middle of my stay. But I later postponed it to a later time, as I feared that the usual 3 week downtime I have (even with test patches, they also cause general flushing) would spoil too much of the plans we had to travel around. Dr. Goodman's office was in an affluent area of Melbourne, I think it was in Toorak, or bordering on Toorak at least. The drive up there was nice: very attractive houses, in 30's and 40's style, big mansions and lots of green. The sun was shining and I was nervous. I was told by J that Dr. Goodman was good, but professional and slightly 'cool' in his manners, He was correct. Dr. Goodman had a good look at my skin and I told him my history in 2 minutes. He suggested a test patch with the Nd:Yag and with the v-beam Perfecta and I said I rather had just the v-beam perfecta. As the Nd:Yag had done nothing in the past. He looked reserved at me and took a pause and then said casually, 'as you wish'. He wanted to treat half my face and again I felt like a pest to tell him no, and that I preferred the lower 1/4 of my cheek instead. Better safe than sorry and I learned my lesson some years ago. He said that I was the patient and should decide, which was good to hear. But he wasn't showing much warmth or compassion in his face when he said it. But, I didn't mind that actually, as he came across as a very practical, to the point specialist and the fact that he was a professor too calmed me down even more. The treatment wasn't very painful, I believe he did a double pass. I still have to call for the specific settings so I will add them asap. It burned a bit and I felt the zaps, but nowhere as painful as the IPL treatments. When he finished I could use an ice pack and I felt my skin burning, with a very deep rooted 'hotness'. In the car we put the airco on full blast and because I wasn't flushing apart from the red area, we decided to drive to the city for some sightseeing and picture making. But, just as we passed the big bridge in the center, I had a flash back of the rice I had cooked that morning. I saw it in front me and the fire wasn't turned off. I had put it on low. I freaked out and told my friends straight away. J was shocked, it was his house, and asked me if I was really sure. No.... I wasn't. But I had the feeling that it might still be on. We raced back with the car, and the 30 something minutes seemed hours. When we parked the car in front of the garage I rushed in and found the pan already blackened and smoking terribly. But not yet on fire. I cooled it in the sink with water and we had to open all the doors and windows and put the fans on (they were quite handy now actually) to get rid of the smoke and bad smell of burned rice. I expected my friends to be livid with me, as I was with myself, but thank goodness they were really cool about
it, saying I was stressed that morning and we had been rushing around to be on time. Still, what a lousy guest I would have been if the house had burned down. With stress in my knees we decided to go back to the city once there was same visibility again in the house. I was a bit pink and still had one sore cheek, but I wasn't too flushed. We took pictures at the bridge and walked through town. Luckily they could soon make careful jokes about it and I accepted them all happily. In the weeks that followed, I didn't have major flushing. I was a bit more flushy than normal, but nothing too major. I saw some improvement in the general redness, although during a flush the area filled up like it used to do. I had another area treated, on the other side of my cheek and it had the same effect. I think overall it cleared up a slight shade. It is definitely something that I will look into for the longer run, although I am afraid of a treatment of  my upper cheeks.... They are so much more affected by the rosacea and so much more red and sensitive. But the fact that there is some slight effect after one treatment, is promising I guess and I am everyone who helped me so immensely grateful



 

 






                                     

Sydney Harbor Bridge

Manly Beach

Sydney skyline




 
Wollongong area




Flight from Sydney to Melbourne
Massive tempel complex near Wollongong


 

Red and sore during the flight


In a Melbourne zoo

Port Arthur historical site



Near Craddle mountain






Updated. And here are some very short Movies from the trip :) :)

4 comments:

  1. What a wonderful post! I loved reading about your trip and how nice it must be to go with others who have rosacea so there is no need to explain or feel like you have to make excuses. You can just be yourself. You are very brave. I am wondering if I will ever get the courage to travel somewhere far away. I am curious if you ever went back and had more of the treatment with that doctor higher on your cheeks? Take care, Pippa.

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  2. Thank you Pippa, it wasn't so much bravery but more being in the very happy and lucky position to have such caring friends over there who wanted to put up with me for 2 x 5 weeks :) Yeah I did go back a 2nd time and Dr Goodman and I treated the other cheek, but because I did not see any improvement from the first v-beam, and I was still too scared from my bad full face treatment experiences from the past, I requested for another partial treatment. But then on the other lower part of the cheek. I did not have a lot of down time, apart from the first day, but also no visible results. It was so expensive that I did not have a 3rd try. But the trips, wow I am still till this day grateful for the hospitality and friendship and the opportunity to see the other side of the world and spend such good weeks with them. No arguments, no annoyances and so much space and understanding for my rosacea (airco in the house, a fan, cold packs, fragrance free washing powder, the plant I am allergic to could go to the garage etc etc) that it really was a great experience and it did give me a bit more confidence that despite the rosacea and problematic daily flushing, I can still travel under the right circumstances :)

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  3. I just noticed that the video links no longer work :/ I'll upload them on youtube tomorrow, and will replace the links here. Some video's are so good, shame you couldn't see them, or those interested in Australia.

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  4. I uploaded some short videos we made in Australia on youtube, I will also upload the links in this blog post, but for a shortcut, here they are all: http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCPnMxL8MA60JBkrJ7ecWDtg/videos

    ReplyDelete

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