Continuing Journey Into BRCA2 Gene Diagnosis

In November of 2021, my first breast MRI on my new plan to monitor aggressively for any sign of breast cancer yields an all clear result. Yeah, I am free to enjoy life. Another six months goes by and my regular mammogram is scheduled for May of 2022. I have no more than gotten home for a few hours and I make the call back to see if more imaging is needed. “Yes,” says the voice, “you need to call to set up a time for more imaging.” You have got to be kidding me. I return the next day to the clinic for diagnostic imaging of my right breast where they can’t quite make out what they are seeing. Afterall, I have dense breasts which makes for challenging imaging anyway. I am not all in the mood for this. My breasts tend to be sore on a good day without someone putting them in a vise. Now for the diagnostic imaging, a 6×6” plate or even smaller is used to depress that area of breast tissue even further. I grit my teeth and make it through the first round the best that I can. Then I am asked to wait until someone checks the images in case they need some more. Pretty soon, the tech is back again for more. I grit my teeth again and sob my way through the next round of torture. I am about to totally lose any emotional control that I might have had. Whoever said that mammograms are only “pressure” and not pain do not know what they are talking about. All I want to do is get as far away from this place as possible. I mentally make the decision that if the tech comes back the third time, I am going to get up and walk out.

“You can go,” Finally is sent my way.

The images are read as normal, and I am able to push this trauma out of my mind for another six months. I diligently set up for the yearly breast MRI in December. I ask my primary doctor for the pre-medication orders of methylprednisolone and Zyrtec to try to prevent the allergic reaction I have previously experienced. She insists that the protocol is for methylprednisolone and Benadryl, the standard antihistamine. I try to explain to her that this is not what I used the prior time or what worked. Finally, I give in and agree to try the meds stipulated by the protocol.        

The day of the MRI, I do my pre-meds as ordered and proceed through the procedure with no immediate reaction. Well that is done! I breathe a sigh of relief. I am done for another six months or so I think. But as I undress for bed a couple of hours later, I show my husband the red raised rash and hives developing on my arms and legs. They are just beginning to itch. This will go on for several days. So much for the pre-medication working to prevent this.

And then one day later, I read the MRI report. “Interval development of a curvilinear nodular non-mass enhancement in the subareolar right breast, slightly lateral, slightly inferior anterior depth. Differential considerations include an intraductal process such as papillomas or possibly inflamed periductal fibrosis; however, atypia or malignancy cannot be entirely excluded.” Why would I think that I would be home free? It has been nothing but agony since I agreed to this path of aggressive monitoring for cancer. And of course, the recommendation is for a right diagnostic mammogram and a second look ultrasound examination of the right breast finding. If there are no correlating mammographic or ultrasound findings, MRI guided biopsy is recommended. I am in a panic. I can’t tolerate another breast smashing mammogram. Is there no way to escape this lunacy? I ask, if it is going to end in another MRI anyway, if I can just do the MRI in spite of the allergy and get it over with in one fell swoop? “Oh no,” is the response, “we can’t do that without doing the other tests first.” Totally frustrated at the lack of flexibility of all involved, I finally give in to all the pressure to follow the protocol and schedule the diagnostic mammogram and ultrasound. The mammogram shows nothing, but the ultrasound is able to see the area identified by the MRI. “It looks like inflamed periductal fibrosis,” says the radiologist who checks the results. “I don’t think it is cancer. You can have a biopsy now or wait another six months and see if anything develops further. But I don’t think you need to worry too much.” I am relieved. But in the radiologist recommendations, he writes, “recommend an MRI guided biopsy.” Really? So we are right back to doing the test I am allergic to with no real reason to do so at this moment. Didn’t I offer to do this before we wasted money on the mammogram and the US? But no, that just was not possible.

And my breast clinic doctor, whom I have asked to see for her opinion, now gloms onto the recommendation and can’t let it go. If I have to do another reaction producing MRI, I wonder if I can wait the six months until June, have the MRI and do the biopsy at that time if necessary to limit my exposure to the dye. But again, the answer is “No, we can’t do that?” I feel unsupported, unheard, and am left swimming with no acceptable options. I remind her that our original plan was to move forward with the bilateral mastectomies if anything was ever found. “Can I see a surgeon?” I finally implore, “Mastectomies would solve the need for all these tests.”

With resolve that this is the right path, I show up at the surgeon’s office a few weeks later for a consultation. He sits down and addresses my hubby and I, “The statistics show that for a woman your age, intensive monitoring and other interventions we have these days will result in your life expectancy being just as great as if you have the mastectomies. Mastectomies will result in your being numb, can result in infections, and you might not like the cosmetic result. There is no statistical benefit to having mastectomies. If it is the MRI allergy that is your primary concern, there is molecular breast imaging and contrast enhanced mammograms for screening.” Nothing like dumping a bucket of cold water on one’s head. I just stare at him over the top of my suffocating mask.

“You look skeptical?” he questions. I don’t know what to say. I think there is something missing in this research, something this young surgeon is not acknowledging. What I am hearing is that the end point of the research was length of life. The studies have totally missed quality of life. When I get cancer, THEN I can have surgery, then chemo and radiation, and finally I can take the toxic verzenio and aromatase inhibitors for the rest of my life. That sucks! And why would I want a life like that? Is it because I am old? At 65, I am being written off?

 But I cannot escape the bias being thrown at me and I begin to think that maybe these other tests (the MBI and Contrast enhanced Mammogram) might be acceptable options, allowing me to avoid surgery. By the time we leave, I have agreed to hold off on surgery and consult with my breast doctor again about these other options. Maybe there is an answer besides surgery that is tolerable. After leaving the surgeon’s office, I go home and do some research. Both of the recommended alternative tests involve mammograms with injectable substances. One involves IV contrast and the other involves radioactive dye. I suspect that I might also react to these substances as I have started to react with these types of rashes and intense itching to strange and unknown conditions over the last several years – too many mosquito bites in a short time span, sunshine alone, and who knows what. Sometimes, the insanity rousing itching will last for up to 6 to 8 weeks during which nothing provides relief. I am not sure I want to attempt any of these.

Back in the breast physician’s office a few weeks later, I am met with the same attitude as the prior visit. Behind the scenes, there has been much discussion about my situation between the surgeon, genetics, and her with little agreement between parties about the best approach. Dr. Breast is reluctant to allow me to try the MBI. She mostly is stuck on having me do an MRI guided breast biopsy.

“They didn’t find anything on the ultrasound,” she declares, “so an MRI breast biopsy is necessary.” I am totally frustrated. What part of ‘I am allergic to the dye’ do you not understand?”

“That is not true,” I repeat to her several times, “They did see the area on the ultrasound, and it was not thought to be cancer.” Certainly, I am not the only one with this issue. There must be other methods of doing a biopsy. But the doctor offers no other choices and I feel backed into a corner. I finally agree to schedule the MRI guided biopsy. But I feel like I have totally lost control of my life and am getting closer to refusing any interventions, of just going home and living my life until I die from whatever it is that is my fate. By the time I get home, I realize that I have just gone in a big circle. I am back where I started. I want relief from this craziness. I call to reschedule the mastectomies.

To top off the madness and add stress to the process, I discover that Medicare has denied payment for the visit to the surgeon because “the visit didn’t indicate why it was medically necessary.” I have only been on Medicare for six months and already this. I chose Original Medicare plus a top-of-the-line supplement because one supposedly doesn’t need pre-authorization to see a specialist, and everything was supposed to be covered except a $226 deductible. Now I find out that they can willy nilly deny coverage for just about anything if they can deem it “medically not necessary.” Where does it end? At the grave, I guess. I have begun to question all choices, but I am determined to follow the only path that seems to offer some freedom from constant contact with the medical system and their inflexible protocols. I think I am developing a panic disorder that is activated every time I see the inside of a clinic. I am hoping there is sunshine and happiness on the other side of this surgery.

Surgery is scheduled for Friday, March 31, 2023. My scheduled time to show up is 8:15 a.m. This tells me that I am not a first case, and it will be close to noon before surgery begins. Being a six-hour surgery, this concerns me that I have little time to recover afterward before the outpatient unit closes at 9 p.m. But there is not much I can do about it. I can only hope that everything will go smoothly.

My hubby and I arrive at the hospital around 7:30 a.m. The admission proceeds in an orderly and efficient manner. Then the wait begins. Around 9:45 a. m., I am wheeled to the pre-operative area. I send my hubby home to our daughter instead of sitting there anxiously waiting at the hospital. They will be sent texts periodically as the surgery progresses.

I am surprised when I am offered Celebrex, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agent (NSAID) to be taken before surgery. I have been instructed not to take any NSAIDS for 48 hours after surgery because they can increase bleeding, so I find this perplexing. But I guess I am not to question such discrepancies. I do present my list of requests for the anesthesia side of things to the anesthesiologist. My one request is for Emend, a newer medication to prevent nausea.

“Sure,” he says as he walks out the door. “Can you take a verbal order for that?” He directs his comment over his shoulder to the nurse.

“Yes,” she responds but then discovers that she can’t give this particular drug without a written order due to cost. This necessitates a call to the anesthesiologist again to request that he put the order in the electronic medical record. An hour later when it is time for me to go to the operating room, he still has not entered the order. My assigned nurse anesthetist, in order to keep things moving, pulls the drug from PYXIS and comes to the pre-op area to administer it to me. I love nurse anesthetists. Afterall, this is what I have done for a living for 16 years now. They are that line of defense that is always at the bedside in the OR and providing for those small details that are so important to a great outcome for the patient. I drift off to sleep knowing that I am in good hands and will be well taken care of.

The first that I remember nine hours later is my daughter pushing Doane shortbread cookies towards my hand to eat. My brain is confused. I can’t find the words to finish a sentence, so I sound like a rambling idiot. I am told later that I had an adamant conversation with the surgeon about the pain medication I wanted but I remember none of it and his response was, “You are not competent to make this decision right now.” No kidding! Apparently, the nurses have also done all their required teaching on restrictions, drain care, and who to call if necessary but none of that is stored anywhere in my memory. I am thankful for my veterinarian daughter who has taken charge at this point. I have to ask her to repeat all of this information again at home. Within 15 minutes of finally recovering my faculties, I am walking around the unit and headed home. I think they are eager to send this patient home. I also later wonder what in the world I all said to those around me for those two hours that are totally blanked out even though, I am told, I was awake and conversing.

Recovery at home continues smoothly. I am relieved to know that no cancer was found by the pathologist in the surgical specimens. The only task is heal and get back to life. I take only two tramadol pain pills in the first two days. All I want to do is sleep after ingesting even a half of one, so I soon abandon that for alternating Tylenol and Duclofenac, another NSAID. This seems to control my pain well. By surgery day two, my daughter and I decide to take a peak at the result of the surgery. The Goldilocks reconstruction uses the skin of the breasts to make a small mound on each side. I am pleased with the outcome – not too big, not too small, but just right without any extraneous materials or needing to take from other areas of the body. That is why they call it a Goldilocks. Goldilocks tried the big bed, the small bed, and finally, the medium size bed which was just right.  I think I made the right choice. Well, maybe the right choice would have been to never have joined the Tapestry Study. Maybe not knowing one’s genetic predisposition is the right choice for some. And for me, I think not knowing might have been the better choice from a mental health state, even if the intervention might potentially extend my life cancer free. I keep saying to others, “Think carefully about what you really want to know before joining a medical genetics study.”


Traveling to Upper Peninsula Michigan, Day 8

Castle Rock

Saturday, our final day of exploring, we wake up before the alarm goes off and before the sky has completely brightened. We soon have our gear packed and loaded in the car. It is another chilly morning, but we have had no rain during the three days we have been here meaning we have been able to keep our car at the cabin without fear of getting stuck in mud. Otherwise, we would have had to walk the distance carrying heavy items twice a day.

We are soon on the way north on M31 and I75 towards Sault Ste. Marie just across from the Canadian border. Our goal this morning is to stop at Castle Rock, a rock outcropping high above the landscape just a short distance north of the Mackinaw Bridge. Like everything else it seems these days, it is commercialized, and the sign says $1 per person to climb. We are early as the entry doesn’t open until 9 a.m. so we have about forty minutes to wait. Finally, after collecting our two dollars, the proprietor directs us towards a set of concrete steps at the far end of the fenced in enclosure. We climb and stumble and climb the multitude of ill proportioned steps that we never count. I am guessing there are about 200 steps followed by a narrow ramp and concrete walkway that leads to the edge of the rock. We are 183 feet above I75. Visible in the distance is Lake Huron, downtown St. Ignace, and acres of trees. After a few pictures, Dave and I clomp our way carefully back down to the bottom.

Our next destination is to be the Soo Locks at Sault Ste Marie. We plug the address into the GPS and are able to locate the locks with no trouble. Our end goal is the observation deck that overlooks the locks. Amazingly, we are hardly situated along the observation deck rail before a huge Canadian freighter, the Captain Henry Jack, approaches the lock. She slowly inches into the lock until the gates can be closed and then the water, and the ship, rises slowly from the level of the St Mary’s River to meet the level of Lake Superior. Within an hour, she is slowly sliding out of the lock and is continuing on her way. We managed to hit it just right today.

We were told by the entry gate attendant that a mile down the road is the Tower of History. This structure is about 186 feet tall and provides a view of the city, the locks, and the Canadian shoreline. There does not seem to be massive crowds of people today and we find a parking spot there easily. This time, we take the elevator most of the way up. There are just a few steps to the top two tiers of the structure which sports an outdoor observation area. It does offer a spectacular view of the surrounding area and the trans-international bridge to Canada. We even spy a picnic table just a block away below us. We know exactly where we will have our picnic lunch on this warm sunny day.

All too soon, it is time to head for Escanaba, Michigan where we plan to spend our last night at a hotel. There we spend an enjoyable evening visiting the Sandy Point Lighthouse and splurging on Kentucky Fried Chicken in the park by Lake Michigan. All good things much come to an end and our Sunday is occupied with driving home to Minnesota.

Sand Point Lighthouse

Traveling to Upper Peninsula Michigan, Day 7

The Arch on Mackinac Island

We both slept much better last night but were awake by 5:30 on this Friday morning, July 15, 2022. We decide we might as well get up and start the day. We are hoping to get to Mackinac Island before the crowds hit. The air is crisp and cool. My phone says the temperature is 51 degrees. The wind, though, is calm making for a peaceful enjoyable morning. Since we have an LP burner stove here, Dave makes the last of the pancake mix even though it takes longer than our dehydrated meals to make. We eat our pancakes while the sun is awakening.

We leave the little cabin at 7 a.m. for the drive to Mackinaw City where we hope to catch the 8:30 a.m. boat shuttle to the island. After a pleasant drive, we are there in plenty of time. “All Aboard” is soon sounded and today, we choose the indoor seats for the 16-minute ride across the straits. Round Island lighthouse greets us off to the right just before we enter the dock area. Even though we are fairly early, the crowds are already arriving. People are pressed together with luggage, dogs in backpacks, bicycles, and every manner of items potentially needed for a day trip, or an overnight stay, on the island. On Mackinac Island, no cars are allowed so one has to walk, ride a bike, or take a horse (or horse drawn wagon). We find out later that several motorized vehicles are allowed – an ambulance and firetrucks. The main street is clogged with horses, and bicycles going all different directions. Dave shocks me by saying that he is willing to try riding a bicycle on this island. Therefore, we stop and rent two- two wheelers. They are wide-tired, large seated, multispeed vehicles. Dave has not ridden for at least five to ten years or more and he is worried about balance most of all but also about a butt ache, knee aches, and a neck ache. The trail around the island is 8.2 miles. It turns out to be fairly easy riding, though, with only one area where we need to work at pedaling. I let Dave take the lead and I think I can honestly say, I never am really working. We make frequent rest stops.

Dave with bicycle

Our first stop is at The Arch, a section of limestone rock that has worn away in the middle leaving a huge arch. Two hundred seven steps greet us on our way to the top of the arch which stands 146 feet above the waters of Lake Huron. After slowly puffing our way up and spending a few minutes enjoying the view, it is time to test the knees and legs for the journey back down. We peddle a way further along this shoreside road and stop by the beach. It is then that Dave realizes that, unfortunately, he has forgotten his spare camera battery in the car. He is hugely disappointed because the current one has taken its last snapshot. We can’t just run back to the car so there will be no more picture taking on this venture. I do press my cell phone into service, but its pictures are not nearly of the quality of the camera. As we ride on, we ride past some bicycles parked along the side of the road. The humans must be off exploring somewhere. In the basket of one of the bikes is a squirrel who is busily chewing on the crackers the rider has left there for later. He is taking advantage of the situation. The trail follows the coastline for majority of the way and provides a spectacular view of the lake. Our total ride takes about 2 ½ hours and almost results in a stroke when I learn the cost is $75 for that ride.

Overlooking Lake Huron

Once the bikes are returned, we splurge on a goodie each. I have milk and a large chocolate chip cookie covered in chocolate. Dave has a gluten free sugar cookie and some popcorn. A decision is made to walk to the butterfly house on Surrey Hill. As we start up Front Street, the grade increases acutely and by the time we hit Huron Street, it is difficult to walk it without significant huffing and puffing. I am tempted to jump on the back of one of the horse- drawn wagons toting people around. Eventually, we make it to the top and take a short cut through the horse stable and carriage museum to avoid walking around the circle drive.

The butterfly house is populated with many colored butterflies twitting around from place to place. I love the butterfly house, but it is soon time to begin our trek back down the steep street. I have to laugh at the sign at the top of the hill, “Walk your bikes down the hill.” Really? Hills are made for flying down on a bicycle. I think it will be easier, too, to walk downhill than up but it puts a different angle of pressure on Dave’s bad knee. We end up stepping very slowly. We do arrive back at the docks in time for the 3 p.m. ferry and are shuttled back to the mainland.

On our drive back to Petosky, we stop at the fish hatchery in Oden that we discovered by accident the other day while waiting for our guest to meet us at the restaurant. The evening has grown cloudy, and the air is heavy with moisture. We don’t walk to the actual hatchery because of the distance involved but do make the trek to the big fishpond about .3 miles in. Large trout frolic in the waters and leap into the air when I throw in food I had purchased at the entrance for such purposes. Finally, we return to the car for the final drive back to the cabin. We prepare and eat our supper outdoors, then read by the evening light. We do not light a fire on this last night as we have run out of wood and have no ax or hatchet to cut anymore into burnable lengths. The wind is calm, and in the distance, I hear a rooster crowing, some dogs barking, and a multitude of speeding cars and motorcycles on the nearby hardtop road. It is never really quiet anywhere, it seems.

Round Island Lighthouse

Traveling to Upper Peninsula Michigan, Day 6

Machinaw Point Lighthouse

We set the alarm for 5 a.m. on Thursday, July 14. The GPS says it will take almost an hour to get to Mackinaw City and our boat for the “Western Lighthouses Cruise” leaves at 7:30. The sky is just beginning to lighten, and a full moon shines its beams over our little cabin. I slept very little last night as I never do when I have to get up early to meet some appointment. The jitters about getting there on time is just enough to chase away the sleepy man. We have our breakfast in the car as we drive; Dave spooning the yogurt into my mouth so I can keep my hands on the wheel and my eyes on the road. Our GPS guides us expertly this time and we soon pull into a mostly empty parking lot. A shuttle awaits to take us to the dock where we will board the boat.

Machinaw Bridge

The sky is clear and bright, and the early morning sun is just ascending over the lake. It is a chilly morning, about fifty degrees and the sun struggles to apply warmth to our backs. By, 7 a.m., we are stepping onto the boarding platform and climbing the stairs to the upper outside deck. We have worn all of our meager amount of winter gear we have brought along. Both of us wonder if this choice is a mistake. Soon we are skimming over the totally calm surface of Lake Huron headed toward the 5-mile-long Mackinac Bridge. It is the longest suspension bridge in the Western Hemisphere with 1.4 miles of it suspended in the air over the straits of Mackinac. Even without a wind, the breeze created by the boat is bone numbing cold. Our first slow down is to view the Old Mackinaw Point Lighthouse that sits just at the south end of the bridge. Then we swing around and head under the magnificent bridge for a splendid view from beneath. We tuck our coats around ourselves as we then cruise west on Lake Michigan at 35 miles per hour to St Helena Island Lighthouse near St. Ignace. This lighthouse sits on a small island and is currently being renovated and restored. One can camp on the island if so desired. Our last three lighthouses are built in the middle of Lake Michigan. A wooded platform was built on land and once floated out to the chosen spot, was filled with concrete and rocks for the bases. The white shoal lighthouse, north of Beaver Island, is being restored to be used as a bed and breakfast. It will only be accessible by boat. A team of workers are busy and stop long enough to wave to us. After the captain spins around the light for all to take pictures, we are off across the lake to Gray’s Reef Lighthouse. It sits alone in this massive expanse of water. In the distance, we spot a freighter steaming towards Mackinaw Bridge and a port beyond for loading. Our last stop is Waugoshance Point Lighthouse. It stands forlorn and alone, having been abandoned to the elements.

Soon we are blowing a huge wake as we speed back towards Mackinaw. The wind has warmed somewhat but it is still quite chilly, and the cold has reached deep into our bones. Most people have gone below by now. The sun warms our backs as we debark at the dock.

I plug the address for Mackinaw Point Lighthouse into the GPS and we cruise a few blocks to a park complete with a beach on Lake Huron and sporting shaded picnic tables. Here we enjoy our lunch before walking to the lighthouse for a tour. Climbing the 51 steps to the light chamber is the highlight. The platform offers a spectacular view of Lake Huron, Lake Michigan, and the Mackinaw Bridge. By now, it is 2 p.m. and we are both tired from getting up early so we head back down M31 to our cabin in the woods. A couple of stops are made to buy ice, a camera card, some drinks, and chips. That is followed by a slow drive along the winding path to the cabin. Time for some naps before supper and a lazy evening by the campfire.

A Great Lakes Ship

Traveling to Upper Peninsula Michigan, Day 5

Wednesday morning, July 13, we awaken to a bright sunny clear day. It is time to pack up and move on. Our breakfast is made with boiling hot water, again done in the campground office microwave. Then we head east on M28, south on 66, and east again on US 2 towards Mackinaw and the small town of Oden. There is where we are to meet our friend at a restaurant around 1:30 p.m. While we dine on delicious food, we spend 2 ½ hours catching up on our lives. All too soon, it is time to move on and say Good-bye.

The Cabin

We need to travel just a few more miles to Petoskey to locate our home for the next three days. It is to be a rustic cabin deep in the Michigan woods complete with an outhouse. The proprietor is waiting with a gator to haul our possessions back a minimally maintained field drive through the woods. To me, it looks a lot like the trail we took back to the yurt in northern Minnesota last year. A sign at the opening declares, “Emergency Camp vehicles only beyond this point.” The lady tells us that it is just a five-minute walk back to the cabin, but Dave and I really are not interested in walking in and out each day with supplies and other items. My car will become a “Emergency camp vehicle” once we are alone.

The Outhouse

The little cabin sits amongst shady trees with the Bear River meandering by. It has a king size bed, a wood stove for heat if needed, and an outdoor cooking area replete with a gas cooking grill and all the utensils needed to cook. But where is the water? There is no running water and no coolers or receptacles storing water ready for our use like at our prior summer yurt. I am a little confused as to why you would supply every other necessary essential but no water. We certainly aren’t going to drink water out of the river. The situation calls for some planning. We finally decide to make a trip to town to purchase gas, water, and cold items that can be eaten on our drive to Mackinaw City tomorrow for the 7:30 a.m. lighthouse boat tour we have scheduled. It is a good thing I have an “EV” for delivering the jugs of water through the woods to our little home. The evening is filled with a quiet supper and reading by a crackling fire.

Traveling to Upper Peninsula, Michigan Day 4

Tahquamenon Falls

Tuesday morning, July 12, the clouds hang heavy and light rain sprinkles our yurt dome as we open our eyes to a new day. It looks like it will be a rainy chilly day. A high of 60 is predicted. I make my all-too-common trip to the office to heat some water for a breakfast of scrambles eggs in the yurt. Then we are ready to head out. We decide to head toward Whitefish Point, MI to visit a lighthouse and shipwreck museum there. Along the way, we plan to stop at Tahquamenon Falls State Park close to Paradise, MI. By the time we get close to the falls area, the clouds have wisp away, the sun has appeared and is shining brightly. The air is still cool, but it is a beautiful day for a stroll through the woods. The path is easy and only requires a short walk. Of course, there are 87 steps to the mid-level area of the upper falls but well worth the effort. Tahquamenon Falls is the largest falls in Michigan. It is 200 feet wide with a fifty-foot drop. I take in a deep breath and inhale the magnificence of this day. I relax while Dave spends some time with his camera. Then we mosey back to the car for a short drive to the lower falls area. Here there are several different falls, a couple split by an island, and a couple of more upstream. A boardwalk has been built for our trek along the river and a newly constructed metal bridge allows access to the island where another boardwalk encircles the small island in the middle of the river. The air is crisp but perfect for our .6-mile stroll to view the water tumbling on its journey to the big lake. We spend 2 to 3 hours enjoying this bliss before moving on in search of a picnic spot.

In the town of Paradise, we find a secluded park to devour our lunch before heading to Whitefish Point. The Whitefish Point Road ends at the lighthouse and museum on Whitefish Point which apparently, was a dangerous spot for ship traffic as it traversed into Lake Superior from Lake Huron. Therefore, Whitefish Point Lighthouse was the first lighthouse built on Lake Superior and now houses the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum. The day has turned dark, cloudy and sports a cold breeze off the lake making one shiver while pulling the inadequate outer garments more tightly around oneself. By 3 p.m., we are ready to begin the 2 ½ hour drive back to our yurt at Au Train. A stop in Paradise to buy gas for $5.50 per gallon is a shock to the wallet. Gas is about a dollar a gallon more here than in Minnesota, but it is the only gas station around so unless we want to push, I guess we have to pay it.

One of lower falls at Tahquamenon Falls

Back “home,” we build a roaring fire, cook super, and relax in the glow and warmth of the flames.

WhiteFish Point Lighthouse and Shipwreck Museum

Trip to Upper Peninsula, Michigan, Day 3

Chapel Falls

There is no set time on Monday, July 11 for getting up. It is so nice to just relax. Amazingly, the constant road traffic ceases during the night and all is quiet. We arise around 7 a.m. after a fairly comfortable night. Our first task is making breakfast. The plan is to have pancakes made over the tiny camp stove. We now have fuel to put in it but realize it will be a challenge to pour fuel from a 12×6 can into a ½” diameter hole without pouring most of it on the ground. Dave fashions a makeshift funnel out of tin foil. Even with our fabricated tool, we spill a good portion into the fire pit before we get the stove full. But the next challenge, in spite of the stove working for us last evening, is that it will not hold pressure. The only “oil” we have is butter so Dave tries lubricating the plunger with our “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter.” But in spite of pumping and pumping, it will not maintain a seal. As a last resort, he is forced to build a fire with wood in the cooking grill to crispy burn our pancakes. They are rubbery on the outside and not quite done on the inside. It turns out to be a very meager sad breakfast.

A search of the hardware store later that morning for 3-in-1 oil for the stove plunger yields, “We haven’t been able to get that for over six months.” What is this shortage of strange and random things here lately? We resort to 10W30 car oil which I carry around in my trunk. Dave is able to light the stove one more time after returning to the campground but then it again refuses to hold any pressure. Time to hold a memorial service for this 20 + year old piece of camping equipment.

Our next item on the itinerary today is to drive to three separate falls around Munising. The Munising Falls is right in town just a short distance off H58 so our plan is to stop there first. I need to spy Washington Ave and have Dave follow it to the hospital and the parking lot should be right across from the hospital. I do catch a glimpse of Washington Ave but the sign runs parallel with the road we are on, so I assume that H58 switched over to Washington Ave there. But we drive and drive with no sign of a hospital or Munising Falls. After many miles have passed, I realize we are almost to Chapel Falls which was to be our last stop of the day. Oh well, might as well start backwards.

Chapel Falls are a 1.4-mile hike in along a wide, well kept, obviously well-traveled trail. The path slowly winds through the heavily tree populated forest. The breeze is cool on this cloudy day making for a pleasant walk. Here there are no steps to the base of the falls but a viewing area above which allows a visual through the trees. Just a little further upstream, a bridge crosses over the rocky river above the cascading water.

Yesterday, I had said that I was surprised at the lack of people at these sites. Today is a different story. The crowds have appeared and the peaceful stride through the forest alone is gone. Dave is starting to limp on the way back due to his knee, but we take it slow on this easy path.

We decide to see if we can find a picnic table for a lunch of chicken salad on sandwiches and chips before we tackle the next falls. We drive down the road to Miner’s Falls and beach thinking that certainly there will be a table somewhere near the beach. There is not a table to be found. I had seen a spot in passing where there were five huge rocks marking the boundary to a parking area. That, I decide will be our picnic banquet spot. One large rock becomes our table for the spread. Soon we are revived and ready to attempt the walk to Miner’s Falls.

The parking lot to the falls area is jammed with cars and people but we are able to secure an unmarked spot for ourselves. We set off down the slightly sloping path. Our pace is slow, and we sidestep frequently to allow others to pass. It is soon evident that a “herd” is following us. They seem to be young college students together in a group accompanied by a priest in robes. They laugh and talk, and one plays a boombox loudly. It is almost impossible to get any pictures at the falls that are devoid of humans. We rest on a bench waiting for all the students to come back up the 77 steps from the viewing platform. But they never come back. Eventually, I leave Dave on the bench and walk down the steps to the viewing platform. That’s weird, I think, the students have all vanished. There is no trail, but they have descended by sliding 50 feet further down the side of the cliff to the base of the falls. I can tell Dave is exhausted by the time we get back to the parking lot, but we decide to make the one last stop at Munising Falls anyway as it is just a short walk.

The parking lot to Munising Falls is packed and overflowing when we arrive and there also seems to be a charge to visit here. Too many people and needing to pay finalizes our decision to head back to the campground and the yurt. We never do make a trip to this fall.

Flowers by bathroom

Once we are relaxing back at the yurt, I decide to look up the ferry schedule from Muskegon to Milwaukee for our return trip on Sunday, July 17. Our plan is to drive to Traverse City on Saturday to visit a friend from my younger Mennonite days and then take the ferry on Sunday morning to get back to Wisconsin. I have brought along my computer for such a purpose, and we do have WiFi access here. The ferry website now offers a place to book a spot. When I booked this trip in February, the ferry wasn’t even running and therefore, I didn’t make any reservations. I thought we could just drive up at 10 a.m. on Sunday and get a birth. But now, when I click on “Reserve a Ticket,” the only choice I am offered is 11 p. m. Sunday night. That won’t work at all. I suspect that the other times are all booked but I call the phone number listed just in case.

“Do you have a vehicle,” the answering lady enquires.


“We have no more room for vehicles, but you can buy a ticket.”

Well, that’s not a help if we have to leave our car behind. Dave and I are in a panic. Now what do we do? And how many hours does it take to drive around Lake Michigan. Google and MapQuest both say the shortest way home from Traverse City, MI is south around Lake Michigan through Chicago. Who wants to drive through Chicago? Not us. And even then, it is a 10-hour drive home. Going north around that end of Lake Michigan does not seem to be much different. After an hour of analyzing every angle, we decide we will have to leave early around 5 a.m. on Sunday taking the northern route with the hopes we will be home in 12 hours.

I then text my friend to make sure she is still expecting us on Saturday.

“Oh, I have to work until 8 p.m. on Saturday evening,” she says, “But you guys are welcome to hang out here if you like or visit some of Traverse City.”

Well, that is a frickin bummer! Why do we want to drive to Traverse City with the just discovered travel issue if the person we want to see isn’t going to be home anyway? I am totally frustrated and disappointed. I thought we had this planned months ago. I wonder if we could go down there on Friday.

“Do you work on Friday?” I question.

“I work Thursday thru Saturday,” is the response. “Would it work if I would meet you in Petoskey on Wednesday? We could at least get to visit for a bit.

That might actually work, I think. We will need to figure out something different for Saturday night but that solves our problem of how to get around Lake Michigan for the drive home.

After all this brain racking, it is time for supper before our sunset cruise along the Pictured Rocks National shoreline tonight. Our little cooking stove continues to be uncooperative, so we finally resort to asking again to boil a cup of water in the campground office microwave in order to rehydrate our dehydrated meal. One cup of boiling water is all we need. These Mountain House dehydrated food packets are actually working quite well in our situation, and they are even pretty tasty.

The sun has peeked out and is shining brightly by the time we park in Munising and take our spot in the growing queue for the boat ride at 8 p.m. Maybe there will be a nice sunset after all. We have brought our coats as the air contains a chill. Two busloads of Amish people soon unload and join the waiting throng. Shortly before 7:45, the boat steams toward the dock and ties up. It is a triple decker with just enough room to accommodate the passenger count of 300 tonight, the captain informs us. Dave and I choose the upper open deck in the chairs along the rail hoping to get some good pictures.

As we start across the bay, the wind blasts our faces and insists we put our jackets on. Brrr… It is going to be chilly on the water. Our journey is to take us 15 miles out into Lake Superior along the shoreline and back, a two-hour trip. We see a couple of waterfalls, Spray Falls and Bridal Falls. Much of the cliff line along the shore is covered with colored rocks from the minerals contained in the water as it runs into the lake. It makes them look like someone has reached down and painted them with a huge paintbrush. Also, evident are sandstone arches that have developed over time. At one point, as a unique treat, the captain pulls the boat up into a rock encircled bay that is just big enough to accommodate his boat. All too soon, it is time to head back. The sunset we were hoping to see is soon obscured by clouds. In the distance, the sky grows dark and angry. A few flashes of lightning streak across the sky. Just as we are about to return into the harbor bay, a bright full moon peeks out and throws its reflection for a few minutes on the calm surface of the lake. Then it is gone.

   Trip to Upper Peninsula, Michigan, Day 2

Lake Superior from our B&B

Sunday morning, July 10, we wake up at 7:30 a.m. in our room at the bed and breakfast after a restful night. The proprietor had predicted a 40-degree temperature this morning, but we are hit with a blast of warm breeze when we step out into the garden for a morning explore before breakfast. I am guessing it is closer to seventy. The world is peaceful, and we lounge in the strategically placed lawn chairs while we gaze out at the waveless blue expanse of Lake Superior. Breakfast is to be served at 8:30 so we head back in to see what delicacies await us. The tray is embellished with fruit in yogurt, blueberry sconces, egg muffins, sausages, and a cup of cereal. We take our tray back outside to enjoy the beautiful sunny morning while we dine on the treats. After our leisurely meal, we gather our possessions together and set out on the next leg of our journey.

            Our plan is to drive south on County Road 510 along which we are searching for two waterfalls. Yellow Dog River Falls is supposed to come first followed by Big Pup Creek Falls about 2 miles further on. Following the map, we turn directly south where County AA divides from County 510 and continue driving. It shouldn’t be far from here. We look intently for the signs we are sure we should be seeing soon. But we drive and drive and there are no signs anywhere. Could we have missed them?

            “But there were no signs,” we alternately declare to each other.

            “Well, I guess we are taking a drive through the enchanted forest if nothing else.” The potholed gravel road is enclosed by trees that reach for each other above.

            We finally come to a road marked 310 but 510 seems to have disappeared. There is no 310 on the map we have but we have to go one way or the other, so we turn to the right. It soon becomes a “road less traveled” and I insist that we turn around.

            “I think 310 is a snowmobile trail marker and not a route number,” Dave declares.

            Maybe he is right. This is getting really frustrating. We go back to the main track and continue south on the dirt path we previously were following. We ask the GPS for help, but she directs us to turn several times where there are no roads in this vast no man’s land. No wonder people end up on railroad tracks and in lakes. After driving for miles, we finally come out on US 41 just west of Marquette. Apparently, finding waterfalls is supposed to be intuitive for Michigan folks. They don’t believe in marking them. We give up on the waterfall hunt and head to our next destination, the Marquette Maritime Museum.

            It is 11:30 a.m. when we park in the lot outside the museum. We have just missed the 11:30 lighthouse tour group. Oh well… We buy combined tickets for the museum and the lighthouse. Senior citizens are cheaper here.

            “What is a senior citizen,” I ask

            “65,” she replies.

            “I just signed up for Medicare….?” I hint. “Is that good enough? I’m just a couple of months short.” I am thinking she might give me the discount, but she doesn’t.

            Dave and I tour the museum, but our lighthouse tour is not until 1:30 p.m. so we go looking for a picnic spot to enjoy our lunch while we wait. Down the road by the marina, we spot some picnic tables. As we park and gather our food, an older man gloms onto the one and just stands there. As we head for the second table, a family stops and sits down to enjoy their meal. We finally secure a table 100 feet away that rests in the sun. We haul it into the shade. There we enjoy tuna salad sandwiches with chips and a trail mix while a light breeze blows off the lake. Soon, it is back to the museum for our tour. The temperature has climbed into the mid-eighties and the sun is beating down with vigor. We hike about 1/3 of a mile to Marquette Harbor Lighthouse and climb the 45 steps to the entrance. I am hot and my legs are protesting from the many steps we have climbed in the last two days. The building does provide a spectacular view of Lake Superior. We end the tour with a stroll along the catwalk to the steps that used to run to the fog house. It is high above the cliffs and only about three feet wide. Off in the distance, the Coast Guard boat plies the waves. Before we leave the site, we walk out onto the rocks and sit on one that teeters back and forth with our weight.

            We head out around 2:30 p.m. on the drive to Au Train Beach Campground where a yurt awaits us for the next three nights. We don’t understand this lack of signage in upper Michigan as we fly by our destination. Even the GPS doesn’t recognize the address. I see some Teepees out of the corner of my eye.

“I bet that is the place,” I announce.

We swing around for the hundredth time this trip.

The check-in lady at the campground greets me with some good news, “The yurt you reserved has been wired since you signed up and now has electricity. It is also $20 more per night now so you got a good deal.”

That solves our problem for the first 3 nights of our vacation on how to run Dave’s CPAP machine on two batteries. Each one only lasts about 2 ½ nights and needs 8 hours of charging before using again.

The yurt is fairly new and very clean. However, we soon discover that there are no cooking facilities in it like the one we used in northern MN. I really was counting on some. So now we have two choices: cook the old-fashioned way over a campfire or dig out the small gas cookstove somewhere in the bottom of our camping gear bag that I brought along. It hasn’t been used in ten years or more, I am guessing. And we brought along no fuel for it. After much effort, Dave gets it started and is able to heat the water to reconstitute our supper. Then it is off to Munising to look for camping fuel. We finish out the day with a stroll along the Lake Superior beach and a campfire outside our yurt. The raindrops that threatened the evening fad away and the evening slips into night without drenching us.

Our yurt

Upper Peninsula, Michigan 2022, Day 1

Sandstone Falls

Today, we embark on our trip through the upper peninsula of Michigan. We left home yesterday on Dave’s 67th birthday, July 8, and spent the first night in a hotel in Ladysmith, Wisconsin. Neither of us slept well so we decide to crawl out of bed at 6 a.m. and get moving. Our goal for today is to reach Big Bay, Michigan between 4 and 6 p.m. “eastern time.” My brain is struggling to calculate that. Is that Eastern Standard Time? Or Eastern Daylight Savings Time? And how does that correlate to our Central Time? I have determined that it should take us about 2 ½ hours to drive to Bessemer, MI where I am hoping to deviate off toward the Black River Recreational Area which sports several waterfalls on the Black River’s course to Lake Superior.

            We have gassed the car and are cruising north on County Rd 513 by 9:30 a.m. That should give us 2 ½ hours, according to my calculations, to drive fifteen miles, stop and see a few waterfalls and drive back to US 2 by noon. Sandstone Falls is our first stop, and it is only a ½ mile hike in. Within just a few hundred yards, we come upon a staircase that descends the side of the cliff to the river. Apparently, our ½ mile hike is straight down the steps. Dave and I look at each other. Do we really want to do this? Finally, resolve takes over and we begin the downward trek. The view at the bottom is spectacular. The water cascades between two chiseled out outcroppings as it flows toward the lake. The spray creates a mist that rises around us. After enjoying the beauty for a bit, we begin our climb back up the hundreds of steps out of the gorge. Time for a rest as we drive south to our next stop.

Steps to Sandstone Falls

            Just a few more miles further down the road, we pull into the parking area for the dual falls, Gorge Falls and Potawatomi Falls. Gorge Falls is also “only” a ¼ mile walk but if we thought this would be easier, the steps descending out of view informs us differently. Again, we question, should we do this? But this time, there are fewer steps as we descend all the way to the valley. The river runs between a narrow gorge of volcanic rock at this point. Looking down at the magnificent chasm with the water thundering into it and over the falls is a glorious sight. After spending a few minutes there, we follow the well-worn trail upstream through the woods along and above the river to the Potawatomi Falls. Potawatomi Falls drops over two domes of sloping volcanic rock making it a unique fall. We can only see this waterfall from above from a viewing platform. By now, it is slightly after 11 a.m. and since we have a considerable distance to go with a stated hard stop deadline or we lose our reservation, we continue south back to US 2.

Gorge Falls

            We had turned north on 511 just west of Bessemer and were overjoyed that we had missed the US 2 detour coming up. As we come back into town on 513 further east, we are hoping that we have bypassed the detour. It is soon evident that this is not the case. We run smack into the road closed sign. We turn right onto the only road that seems to run parallel with US 2 but soon realize it is a one-way street going west, the wrong way. Every street we turn on ends up meeting the road closed sign for US 2. Arrrrh! How frustrating!! How are we supposed to get around the closed road? We soon realize that the detour going east is on the other side of US 2 and the detour going west is on our side. Who thought up this scenario? After wasting ten to fifteen minutes of precious time, we finally find a street that takes us east beyond the construction zone and allows us to re-enter the state highway. From there we turn onto MI 28 to Marquette. Maybe, we will have smooth sailing now.

            But navigating route 28 becomes our most difficult challenge yet. We are using a GPS (the modern device), Google Maps, and an old-fashioned map and none of them agree as to which direction we should go. GPS lady keeps trying to make us turn left onto obscure and unpaved roads while Google Maps tells me to follow MI 28 to just before Marquette. Unhelpfully, the paper map does not contain any of the roads GPS keeps spouting out. I do not trust the GPS so we keep ignoring it and just keep driving. Finally, about ten miles from Marquette, GPS gives me an instruction that matches Google. Hurrah!!

Potawatomi Falls

            The matching instructions do finally place us at 3 Lighthouse Road, the address for the Big Bay Lighthouse Bed & Breakfast where we will be staying for the night. It sits high above Lake Superior on a cliff and still watches over ship traffic on the great lake lest they be dashed against the rocks. The building belongs to a private individual, but the light is rented out to the Coast Guard. The gardens are filled with blooming flowers and shrubs. In the quiet of the lawn overlooking Lake Superior, the birds twitter and a chipmunk scurries around. Later, we will climb the winding steps to the top of the tower and look out over God’s creation from its open-air balcony. We finish off the day with a good meal at the Thunder Bay Inn in Big Bay, MI.

Has Critical Thinking Given Way to Rigid Protocols in the Medical World?

N95 Mask

During a busy week at the hospital where I work, it is announced that we need to be fit-tested for N95 masks. It has been two years since the start of the Covid 19 pandemic and this particular yearly task dictated by the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) of 1996 for medical institutions, has been allowed to be extended to two years. We have been wearing regular surgical masks throughout this whole time continuously and also wearing N95s during high-risk aerosol generating procedures and other contacts in the operating room. Covid numbers have now dropped significantly, and Employee Health has the time to concentrate on making sure all employees have the proper fitting N95s to wear.

There are to be several days during work time when we can sign up to be fit-tested at the hospital building. There is only one day available that I actually work. I find this requirement somewhat useless but decide I might as well sign up and get it over with. I try to follow the rules most of the time. One of my co-workers gives me the phone number to make this appointment. I dial the number.

“Do you have a time available on Tuesday for me to be fit-tested for the N95?” I ask.

“Yes,” says the Employee Health nurse, “We have a 12:30 slot that day. But wait… There is a note here that you need to have a medical evaluation before fit-testing.”

“No,” I say, “I don’t. I was fit-tested when I started working here almost two years ago and nothing has changed. I have been wearing an N95 for this whole time.”

“Well, let me check on this and I will get back to you,” she responds.

I don’t understand this. It makes no sense to me, but I let it go for the time being and go on with my day. My cell phone rings late in the afternoon while I am waking my last patient of the day from their surgical procedure. I let it go to voicemail. Once I am done, I call the nurse back.

“Yes, you need to be medically evaluated before you can be fit-tested. I don’t feel comfortable having you wear a mask until you are medically cleared.”

“What…..??? I don’t understand. I answered that questionnaire 18 months ago and no one seemed concerned at the time. Now they want to hold me to some standard from something I answered months ago. “What seems to be the problem?” I am totally frustrated.

“You marked some things on your pre-evaluation sheet that red-flagged you. You marked that you have had broken ribs, an arrythmia, and a stroke. You also marked that you have anxiety when wearing a mask. You should never have been fit-tested a year and a half ago before being seen by a doctor. I don’t know how you got through.”

This is totally ridiculous and now I am angry. My broken ribs were 10 years ago. The arrythmia has existed since I was a teenager with no one being concerned about it. The stroke several years ago was a mild one from which I am totally recovered. I have gone through the Covid 19 pandemic wearing my N95 without a problem. I have done my job diligently. I have never called in sick or even remotely been ill in the last 2 years. I have not contacted covid either but now suddenly I am too ill to wear an N95 without a doctor’s permission. The sheet I filled out 1 ½ years ago should be being replaced by the current one that I have ready for the appointment that will now not occur. What is even more ludicrous is that the medical establishment has been telling the public that they should all wear N95 masks now to protect themselves, but I apparently need a doctor’s approval to do so.

“Apparently, I need to stop being so honest and just check the boxes as you want them checked,” I grumble. “How about you write down that I refuse to be medically evaluated,” I shoot back at her.

“Then you can’t wear an N95 mask,” she follows the script set for her, “you will have to wear a C-papper (a large over the head hood). And I will have to notify your supervisor.”

I don’t know if I should laugh or cry. If the anxiety of mine is one of employee health’s concerns, then how is the astronaut suit going to help? Does she realize how irrational she sounds? I am not opposed to being fit-tested or wearing the mask. I am opposed to sharing my medical history with a physician who has no reason to even question me based on responses from time long gone by. I have proved I can successfully wear an N95 mask and that I am not going to die from doing so. The rest of this process is so unnecessary. I should be able to sign off that I am medically capable of successfully wearing the mask at this point. It is not my fault that they didn’t follow through on their proper procedures in 2020.

So this is what the medical field has come to? It is guided by protocols and algorithms from which one is to follow without question. No one is allowed to think anymore. No one is to analyze a situation or to think critically. The public especially the sickest people are told by the CDC that they should be wearing N95s at all times for protection from this virus, but the medical profession is still following a standard set forth by OSHA 25 years ago. And no one dare change how those who are responding to the pandemic on the front lines are treated or advised. If wearing an N95 is so potentially dangerous to one’s health, why are we asking millions of people to wear them and why haven’t millions of people keeled over from doing so? Have we all lost our ability to be rational? But then maybe I should just go back into my “I don’t care hole” before I lose my frickin mind.

Double masking with eye shield early in pandemic