Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Oops, I did it again

Yeah, that’s right. After an incredibly long hiatus from blogging the written word, I’m starting this one with a casual reference to a bad Brittney Spears song.

This season, NON-field season—the time of lab work and data analysis and a more boring, sedentary professional life—is tough for me. I took up classic cross-country skiing a few years ago in an attempt to make winter more bearable. I even got to the point where it seemed like an OK idea to sign up for the American Birkenbiner: a ski-marathon of epic proportions. In hindsight, it was sort of like thinking, “Hmm…I really love biking, and I’m pretty good at it. I think I’ll do the Tour de France.”  It seems like everyone I know in Wisconsin either does the Birkie or has a grandma that does the Birkie…so I failed to recognize the full extent of my undertaking.

I made it roughly 5 miles before a bad fall at the bottom of a steep hill left me with 2 torn ligaments and torn cartilage in my right knee. In terms of fruit, we're talking 'small cantaloupe.'  And since this is the second time I’ve ruined a knee skiing, part of me should have seen this coming.  

This injury had nothing to do with field work, but it seemed like a good time to say this:

Field season is hard on the ol’ body.

And while most of my posts (hopefully) express the joy and fun that fills most field seasons, there is an ugly dark side I don’t often mention. I’m accident-prone (FOR SURE), but over the past 10 or so years, I’ve sacrificed much in the name of SCIENCE and data collection!

So here, in REVERSE(!) order, are the Top 6 Bad Things that have happened to me in the pursuit of science.

If you count yourself among the Faint Of Heart, do yourself a favor and sign off now ;).

1. The mystery parasite. 
You may recall that at the end of last field season, a little bit of Africa tried to come home with me. I pulled this guy out of my right calf, but a nice Tanzanian doctor finished the job once my leg became infected. Luckily he numbed it with some Lidocaine after I started to scream...

2. The time my skin and fingernails fell off
Turns out, I'm allergic to Doxycycline. Which made my skin fall off. Followed by my fingernails. Luckily Benja gave me some of his spare meds so I wouldn't get malaria...

3. My angry feet
Chacos are easily my stream footwear of choice, but after this pair tried to kill me, I promptly switched to Keene's (much better grip PLUS toe protection!). This happened on a field expedition back in Idaho during a heroic quest to locate dead salmon. I ended up with a free pair of Chacos after I complained to the company...

4. Ellen vs. the horse
During one of the summers of my Master's research in the Idaho backcountry, my field team and I found ourselves in the middle of a rockslide/rain/lighting storm with 2 pack horses on a scree slope. In an attempt to shield my head from an oncoming kick from a shod-and-very-spooked horse, I threw up my elbow instead. That moment, standing in a downpour covered in blood with my elbow throbbing, was easily one of the worst moments of my life. We then hiked 5 more miles to make it to camp.

5. Just a little case of poison ivy
No biggie, really. But never having had it before, I didn't recognize the signs. By the by, shaving your legs over poison ivy is a Very Bad Idea.

6. My broken face
Which brings me to my final, and worst, field injury. This occurred during my days as a commercial fisheries observer for NOAA on the East coast. I got assigned to a VERY sketchy boat with a VERY sketchy captain and first mate in a small Maine port. The short story is that we were 6 days at sea, the weather got very bad, and we started the long journey home. At some point during the night, I awoke to a hatch cover falling on my face and blood pouring out of my nose. Eight hours later we made it to land, and I (very much later) found out I had a broken face and nose. It took surgery to get my septum back in place.

It's fun. And if it wasn't hard, everyone would do it. The HARD, is what makes it great ;).