The pitfalls of being a bald primate

*Banner photo-microscope mosquito, photograph my own.

It is common that things will go awry when working in the field, and my last expedition was by no means an exception. In fact, my body turned into quite the horror show for about two weeks whilst in a field station with no electricity, no running water and the tiniest of windows which meant it got dark at about 3pm once the house was in shadow.

Yet my journey into the medical abyss began two weeks prior to entering this particular field site-whilst I was on a a training course to become a certified field assistant of tropical forest terrain, which was the most amazing week of my life and my first experience of tracking, surveying, and photographing wild primates. Whilst on this adventure I went swimming in a lake with some friends, had the best time but also got bitten badly as mosquitoes flock to water-mosquitoes which up until that point had not paid any interest in me and so I couldn’t really see what all the fuss was about…big mistake.

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Two days after swimming I was suffering with bites up both of my legs but still didn’t give it much thought as although it was itchy it was bearable. One week later we travelled the eight hours back to Chiapas city centre and stayed with some friends-by this point my legs were swelling and I could no longer bend at the knees, my legs had also turned black with bruises from my scratching, which once I showed my friends, a medical emergency was announced. Luckily my friends had their father staying at the house who was a doctor, so kindly he administered a steroid injection, much to everyone else’s amusement-into my bum. Great first impressions ey.

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Needless to say, my swelling subsided as did the bruising and so I made the executive decision to pursue our original travel plans and head into Tabasco to a second and then third field site. Whilst at the first stop off I became lethargic and irritable-I put this down to a mild reaction to the injection and homesickness. Yet after two days of field work I was so tired that I spent an entire day sleeping in my tent feeling rather sorry for myself. And then we were off again-to the field site in the mountains.

We arrived late at night and so slept on the floor of a local families house-to which I awoke at 4:30am barely able to breath. My lips and throat had swollen in the night. Although I felt fine in myself, by 7am I was sat in the back of a pick-up truck making my way back down the mountain to see a doctor. By the time we had made it to the town I could barely see out of my eyes and my limbs had decided to swell as well as my entire body breaking out in hives.

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The next week was somewhat of a blur as I mildly hallucinated and was on a concoction of pills and creams. Needless to say this was a miserable time of my life, unable to contact my family for moral support and left in the dark little house for days whilst the rest of the team were out in the mountainous forests tracking monkeys.

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Although this was an unpleasant experience-the blood tests, bum injections, pills, creams, hallucinations, and homesickness was something I will not forget, this is only one aspect of this story. I also had a lot of fun and learned a great deal whilst my body was trying to be a medical mystery (the doctors I saw had no idea what exactly caused this-most probably an allergic reaction combined with a severe flare-up of a join condition which I have suffered with my entire life). The trips to and from the doctors were very frequent as there was no hospital within the state and so I was unable to stay locally for medical aid- this is a consideration those in the field should remember-there is not always a hospital which means you may not get the rest your body needs, and this also means you (like me) may not be able to claim the expenses on your medical insurance…double ouch.

Nevertheless, we frequently stopped on the dirt road after spotting spider monkeys and hearing howler monkeys, so a quick jump out the back of the truck and a short dive into the forest meant I was still able to see and hear the animals which I so desperately wan’t not to miss! Once I was on the mend I was able to participate in local house visits, cook with local families and sit out in my friends garden looking down the mountainous tropical valley whilst eating coconut freshly carved from their own trees.

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The watery beginning to my medical ordeal did not in the slightest put me off-and a couple of days after recovery I was back in the water again, this time in a boat floating down the river in search of botanical samples and monkeys.

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There is always light at the end of the tunnel, and I love field work. Despite the often hazardous health risks-it was well worth it!…Plus I now also have some sexy leg photos to show off at parties 😛

Unfortunately this was not the last medical issue which I faced whilst working in Mexico, and my bottom was soon to become rather well accustomed to injections-but that’s another story entirely!

 

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