Saturday, February 15, 2014

Jakes Creek Trail to the Avent Cabin--- Recovery Hike #2

Avent Cabin Hike for Exercise

Dana & Kenny Koogler
Sunday Feb. 9, 2014

A little over 2 miles

  Sunday afternoon we were sitting around complaining so I said we needed 
to get out of the house. I needed to work on my exercise and rehab program.
I suggested we hike to the Avent Cabin in the Smokies.  So that is what we did.
It was my first hike in the Smokies since getting out the hospital.


We hiked out Jakes Creek Trail and then dropped off the side down a manway to reach this cabin.   It is real pretty and secluded.   It was a fun hike and not too hard.  We had overcast weather, but no rain and it was not real cold.    The uneven ground was a challenge for me. I had to have lots of help. I need to remember to bring my trekking poles always. I need them more than ever now.

Hearth inside the cabin. 

Front porch on the cabin. 

 Above are the foot log across Jakes Creek to the cabin and the creek itself.

    I had a good leg stretcher and got some fresh air.  We both enjoyed the time outdoors.
I appreciate Kenny's patience with me as I recuperate. I am getting better, but my vision continues to be abnormal. It is getting better gradually.  I still have balance to work on.
My gait is not normal on uneven ground, but practice will help.

    I stood there on the foot log across the creek and soaked it in. It was not wasted on me how beautiful the place is. I feel very grateful to be able to get out and do this again.
Thanks be to God!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Back to Black Mountain and Basin Rock--Recovery Adventure #1

Icy crust on the rim of Basin Rock

Black Mountain Area 4x4 and Hike Trip #1
Post Illness Recovery Progress

Dana & Kenny Koogler

Saturday Feb. 1, 2014. 
Ride 20 miles
Hiked about 1 mile. 

Pictures are here:
Basin Rock/Black Mtn Pix

Video Playlist is here:
Black Mountain Trip Videos Playlist

   I was feeling a lot better.  I was bored silly.  Kenny had gotten out with his buddies and gone four-wheeling after I was some improved and stable at home.   Jared looked after me  while Dad got out to decompress with his friends.  At that point I was still sick enough to be going from the bed to the couch, but I was better.  Now I was resenting not being able to get out. I missed getting outdoors. I resented not being able to drive.
My vision was improved to the point that I could see real well with one eye patched.
I could get around without my eye patch, but leaving it off for a long period especially in a moving vehicle made me feel queasy after awhile.     My balance was improved.
My tendon reflexes still pretty much gone.   The only pain I had was an occasional headache.   I was no longer nauseated.  I still had tingly feelings in my arms and legs sometimes.  I think the nerves were trying to return to normal.

    We both knew I was too frail to walk very far. I was able to ride in the RZR with the 
eye patch on.  It did not bother me. I wanted to go back to see Ozone Falls and check the surrounding area for some other waterfalls. Eleanor Hail had gotten me fired up wondering about falls below Ozone Falls itself.  We headed to that area for what was sure to be a beautiful day trip that would be good for my body and soul.  We packed us a lunch and headed out early Saturday morning.  

      Our first stop was to find something new. We located the trail to McCullough Hollow Falls with the help of Tennessee landforms, Sharon Blackstock Sessions, Google Earth, and Chris Oliver!  We had long seen the trail taking off from Bat Town Road on our trips up to Black Mountain. Today we learned where that trail led! Boys howdy! It was worth the short side trip to see.  We heard it before we saw it.  McCullough Hollow Falls 
flows out of a spring and drops into a cave. I think it must be a sump and flood sometimes.   I am not qualified to get down in there to find out.  It was beautiful.
It felt so good to be in the woods. The bitter cold weather had let up a little.
We had a day that warmed up to 52 degrees and sunny. Blue skies, fresh air, waterfalls, and sunshine can do a great deal to heal a persons mind and body.   

McCullough Hollow Falls. It flows out of a hole in the rocks.. a cave spring and re-enters the ground below at another cave. It was flowing pretty well. A neat new experience.

  It is interesting to note that we heard a roaring like water that was too intense to be this little falls.  We did not locate the source of the sound.  We first thought it might be wind blowing down the holler, but it was not. I can't help wondering if there is another cave nearby with water running in it? We may have to go back to see. We went on back in McCullough Hollow just to see what we might find? We followed a trail part of the way that played out. We hoped we'd find a way to go all the way through to Owl Roost Rd.
The trail played out and became not only less defined, but was covered in brush and downfall.   The stream we started along was also splitting into a multitude of different springs! It is quite an interesting place.   All those streams flow down past the falls, but they are not its main water source. Right past the falls that stream goes subterranean.

This stream is fed by many many spring sources. You can see here it ends and enters the ground.

     Next we headed up Black Mountain to go in the direction of Basin Rock.
I was very excited to be going to visit the rock and the falls. We had never been in these woods in Winter.  We encountered a large very friendly group of other 4x4 enthusiasts.
We stopped awhile to visit with them then started back off in the direction of Basin Rock.
Part of their group was heading back from seeing the falls and we waved to them.
Finding your way around back in these woods is tricky.  The trails are unmarked and
it is just a maze of logging roads going every which way.   We only made one wrong turn
and even that was quickly realized and corrected.

       We pulled up to Basin Rock and decided to go ahead and eat lunch sitting out on the sunny Basin Rock.  We packed all our trash up and grabbed the hiking gear to head to the falls.  Here are some images showing what Basin Rock looks like in Winters grip.

Here is the first basin with the creek flowing in over a small cascade.

Here is the first image of the long chute where Basin Creek flows along cutting through the rock.

Basin Creek flowing along at the bottom of the curved , irregular surface of Basin Rock.
The second portion widens out into another basin and flows over the 40 ft high Basin Falls.

Basin Falls is frozen over.This view cannot be had from the left hand side of the falls heading down the basin. We later went out through the woods on a different trail and approached it from the cliffs on the other side. Beneath this outer shell of ice and snow
the water flowed.  A little further down most of Basin Creek was frozen solid!

   Just past this forty foot beauty is another falls. Saw Mill Falls flows in at right angles to Basin Creek.  It is about 25 or 30 feet high.  Today was a first time visiting it seeing it frozen.  It was quite pretty. 

Frozen Saw Mill Falls only a little water flowing today.  I stood and praised God that
while I am not 100% well.. I was OUT of a hospital bed and standing before a waterfall!

   My balance going across the uneven surface of Basin Rock and hiking along the tiny trail over ice was not great. I walked with a wide stance and pinwheeling arms much of the time.  You don't realize until something like this hits you how many constant, minor adjustments your body is making until you cannot function normally.  My legs and arms were uncoordinated and felt like paper doll arms fastened to me with brass brads.
I kept my eye unpatched and with Kenny's help I was able to make it. I took my time.
I kept a sense of humor about it and so did he.  He kidded me that I'd been on a month long drunk.  We had to leap across two significant gaps in the rocks to make it to Saw Mill Falls.  I was able to do it with his help, but it was terrifying to me and for me it might as well have been trying to leap the Grand Canyon.  I remembered doing this before and leaping across those like a deer.  On our way back we picked a route that did not involve leaping back over those. I was very relieved.

    We spent a little more time exploring the trails but I was nearing my limit.
We wrapped up the ride and decided to head back in the direction of Ozone Falls via Hwy 70.   We had the chance to check from Renegade Mountain about 1/2 way to Ozone Falls for more waterfalls. We did not see any.    If they exist they are in the portion of the gorge in that big sweeping curve on Hwy 70 where the terrain is too deep to see into from the road.   Chris Oliver says he has explored from Ozone Falls down to where the stream becomes so narrow you have to wade in waist deep water.  The stream flowing from Renegade Mtn back to Ozone flows TOWARD Ozone Falls.  The stream from Ozone Falls goes in the opposite direction toward Renegade Mtn. I have a feeling if there were more waterfalls down there of any significance someone would have reported it by now.
That area is heavily visited.  So we got some answers.

    We stopped at Ozone Falls and walked down to see the falls. I am having to learn to take pictures again. I have a new camera I got for Christmas and I don't even know how to use it.  Taking photos with this messed up eye sight is bad enough without adding to it the task of learning a new camera.  Kenny got it out and fiddled with it and showed me a few things about it. It will be a process of learning and healing.  I will just take it easy and
not let it frustrate me. I was wiped out but with a hand to steady me I made it down to see the falls. It was scary walking downhill.  I do better going UPHILL!

Ozone Falls in Winter. Took this with my regular old Nikon Cool Pix P-90.
My new camera is a Canon somethingerother....
 It is HD DSLR.

    Back in the truck I covered up with Kenny's coat and sometime on the way home I slept.  I woke up close to the house to the view of our soft pale blue purple Smoky Mountains. Above them there was pink alpen glow and the soft orange hues of a sunset in the West. Today was a great day for me. I cannot express in words how good it felt to get out and to be on my way back to being normal.

 Part of me is already normal. We passed a man and woman sitting talking relationships on our way back to the truck at Ozone Falls. He was feeding her a line of B.S. that would choke a donkey.  I kept my lip buttoned, but when my internal monologue is screaming SHUT UP!! when I heard this nonsense...... I'm still in there somewhere. Mean as ever. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

West Prong Hicky Fork Hike

Outhouse on Meadow Creek Mountain.

Meadow Creek Mountain and West Prong Hickey Fork Falls Hike

Nov. 2013

Dana & Kenny Koogler

     The last hike I took before becoming ill and all the other catastrophe that befell me 
and Kenny was a Winter hike.  We wanted to fit in a Saturday hike adventure before the madness of Thanksgiving and Christmas.  I talked him into a waterfall hunt. 
We ended up wandering around exploring in the mountains along the boundary between Tennessee and North Carolina.  

 We found the Meadow Creek Mountain Fire Tower and went up there to enjoy the view.
It was icy and snowy and very cold, but the sun was out and the view was marvelous!
They have installed a privvy for visitors to use.  All the conveniences, eh? The wind was really whipping and it was very cold!

Heading up the trail to the tower. 

 View from Meadow Creek Mtn Tower

   We wound along those back roads into the Shelton Laurel community of North
Carolina. We found the trail head to West Prong Hickey Fork Falls.  It was very pretty back there and isolated.  We ate a quick lunch in the jeep and then hit the trail.
It was only a short, easy hike to the falls. It was prettier and easier than expected. The woods were snowy the entire way. That part of the woods doesn't get much sunlight.
We found the falls and there is another big 100 foot long sliding cascade before the main falls.  The trail here continues and comes out on Camp Creek Bald along the A.T.

Snowy woods of Shelton Laurel. I love the pink gold tinge of alpen glow in the pictures.

West Prong Hickey Fork Falls.  It is very pretty!

Sliding cascades before the main falls.  It was quite impressive!

Foot bridge over the stream at the start of the trail.  Very sturdy.

Friendly deer and horse on the way to the trail to hike.

     We enjoyed our hike. We made it back and decided to hunt up another local falls. Waterfall on Hensley Branch. We missed it by a gnats butt.   We were out in the middle of nowhere. Kenny did not want to drive home on those twisting roads again.  He was tired and cold and had a jones for Cracker Barrel dinner. We got on Interstate 26 East in the middle of someone's back yard....... so it seemed... and off we went.  The new section of the interstate is spiffy. It really was much better than going home the other way!

      We had a good time.  The holidays were messed up for us this year in many ways.
I was glad we did this hike.  I thought back on it as I was in the hospital. Quiet woods 
dusted in snow. Falling water. Murmuring streams and wind through the trees. Fresh air.
Winter sunshine. Icicles. It helped hold me over until I was able to get out again.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Ilness, Death and Pain.. the Lord Beside Me All the Way.

Recovery-- A Continuing Theme in My Life
Miller Fisher Syndrome 

Dana Koogler 

     I recall a story told the family by my great grandfather Charlie Updike Bradley aka Poppy.   He told of a man being taken down the Valley Pike bound hand and foot on the bed of a wagon. They were heading from Steeles Tavern along the pike in the direction of Staunton.  They were taking him to the notorious Western State Lunatic Asylum.  
Some onlookers asked the man where he was going? His reply "To Hell I reckon!".

That phrase... pretty much sums up my life from sometime the first of November right on until after Christmas this year.  Been to Hell and Back.

     Beginning of November it became clear to Kenny and I that our son Jared was no longer maintaining his sobriety from drugs but was in relapse.  Another ugly phrase came to mind from an old demotivator.  "Last time I saw you, you had hit rock bottom. I see you have begun to dig.".  The first time I walked in and took a look around the place he was living I knew that was true.   Hell! Trash piled up waist deep on the back deck.
Dark. Dogs.  Cold. Mud. Rain.  Smoke.  Dank.  Get me out of here.  We had a family
pow wow and told Jared he could come home. He needed to come home. We wanted him to come home. We wanted him to get well. We loved him.  Start over. Let's pull together.
The bright note of it all was that we all still loved each other. No bitterness or recriminations.  The day we walked and and found this scene.. he had already been going to a clinic and trying to get started on getting sober.  He set about figuring out how to time
his return home and transferring to the Knoxville clinic. 

         A few weeks later the news that our handsome, funny, smart, sweet -spirited nephew Matt was diagnosed with bone cancer.  Age 16 and facing this.  His father is my husbands baby brother.  Hell!  Pain. Shock. Anguish. Grief.  Tears. Prayer. Lots of prayer and phone calls.  

         A few more weeks and the death of Kenny's step-dad.  Bucky age 90.
Not totally unexpected, but incredibly sad.  Kenny lost his own biological father at age eight due to a tractor accident. Bucky helped finish raising these boys and fathered them and into their midst brought laughter and a little sister with wavy, Cinderella blonde hair and lots of attitude.  Denise was funny and hung in there with those boys.
Pain. Sadness. More tears.  More Hell.

         Christmas approached with me not really caring about it.
So much to cope with in a relatively short span of time.   Jared made it home for Christmas.  Kenny had gone over and gotten his big furniture items.  Jared and I planned to attend Recovery at Maryville Meeting Christmas Night. I'd been going for awhile by myself to try to deal with codependency problems and anxiety and pain.
He showed me his arm on the way there and he had a massive abscess on there.
After the meeting I took him to be admitted at the hospital where he spent the next three days.   He made it home Saturday evening. Kenny picked him up and brought him home.
Pain. more Hell.

         Friday Dec. 27 @ 1300 I was driving to the hospital to visit Jared.
I walked out of the house and said "I don't feel right. Somethings wrong in here" and pointed to my head.  I got a mile from the house and my vision went double like a thunder clap.   I pulled over. I closed one eye and drove home.  I rested. I ate lunch. I was no better so Kenny took me to the doctor.  He sent me to the E.R. where I had a neurological exam., a cardiac workup, and an MRI of my head.  I did a lot of praying.
I had some time to think while I lay there waiting to go in that scanner. The MRI revealed that I had a real bad sinus infection and blockage but no tumors and no stroke.
I went home.  Then Jared was discharged Saturday.

   Sunday morning I woke up with nausea and vomiting. I was dehydrated. I could keep nothing down.  I was growing more miserable by the second.  I asked to go back to the hospital and to be admitted.   I had quit making anymore than a few drops of urine I was so dry.    They kept me and started me on antibiotics, IV fluids, prednisone. They treated me for the symptoms of vertigo and the raging sinus infection. I was having trouble maintaining my body temperature. My respiratory drive became shallow and my cough reflex was faint.  I could swallow. The nausea was improved thanks to a variety of medicines.  I had a scopolamine patch behind my ear to help with the vertigo and nausea.
I could walk but I was like a reeling drunk.  I had some trouble with my speech and my vision was like looking straight into a nightmare.  It was like a crazy kaleidoscope.

     I spent three days in the hospital.  They discharged me and on the way home took me to see an opthalmologist who had no idea what was giving me double vision and vertigo.
He reassured me that "it always goes away".  I was glad to hear that but it did little to
make me feel better physically. The car ride was more Hell. He referred me to a pediatric opthalmologist in Knoxville and urged them to see me quickly.  I was seen later that week.
Jared took me and they were all so kind to me. The car trip there was more and bigger Hell.  I got out of the jeep and burst into tears I was so ill. Just walking was so hard.  He determined that the problem was not with my eyes, but with my brain.  He wanted me seen immediately by Knoxville Neurology Specialists. They are the best neurologists. It can take months to get an appointment and he knew I did not have that long.
He urged me to go to the E.R. at Ft. Sanders and have them keep me and perform an MRI with and without contrast in addition to a bunch of labs and tests.  

     I did not want to go, but I understood this was going to be what fast tracked me to see
these doctors and get me the needed help.  Jared got me settled there.  I told him to go on home as I knew I'd be there all day and possibly be admitted.  I spent the entire day there.
The entire staff at Ft. Sanders was awesome to me.  They knew I was miserable and so sick and scared.  I prayed and I knew God had me. I thought of my nephew bravely enduring all the horrible, difficulties of chemotherapy and the scare he was facing.
I prayed for him and I thought I can do this with God's help.  I just kept my eyes closed and prayed.  I felt the presence of God's Holy Spirit upon me caring for me. Taking away the pain and nausea. Taking away the fear and filling me with peace. I was warm. I was safe.  I was no longer afraid.  I was totally at peace.   God even provided something humorous to laugh at in the form of a patient nearby who was unruly and cursing and fighting.  I could tell it was in the room next door.  Jerry Spring style.... cussin'/wrasslin match.  I could hear those metal mayo stands flipping over and I just lost it. I was glad
I was NOT having to deal with that.

   The second MRI came back normal.
I was grateful for no tumors or lesions and no stroke!  My sinus infection was resolved. 
My labs all looked good.  Kenny came to the hospital that evening and was there when Dr. Wheatly visited me.  He was thinking the diagnosis was myasthenia gravis or ocular myasthenia. He started me on Mestinon which is a medicine to try to help strengthen my eye muscles and clear up the double vision.  The ride home was not bad and I even felt like eating dinner.  He recommended I come in to see his partner in a week or so.
He wanted to see if the medicine helped.   

     My first visit with Dr. Thomas a week later.  I still had double vision.
I still had serious balance problems.  I felt very weird all over.  I learned that day
that all my tendon reflexes were gone.  He had me stop the mestinon since my response to it had not been real impressive. I could not pass a field sobriety test that day. I staggered
wildly trying to walk and could not do it.  I had to be taken to the bathroom by a nurse.
It was dreadful. More Hell. He laid out  four possible diagnoses for me: Ocular myasthenia, a clot in one of my sinus arteries, a stroke, and something called Miller Fisher syndrome.  I had labs run that day for the antibody to Miller Fisher syndrome.  
He planned to have me come back in two weeks.  I was to have an EMG,a lumbar puncture, an MRv and MRa. I was dreading the lumbar puncture. I was thrilled to go off the mestinon since it was griping my belly.

            I read up on Miller Fisher syndrome and learned that it is a rare form of Gullain-Barre syndrome. It is an autoimmune response to an infection.  I'd gotten a flu shot in early September. That was one possible culprit.  I had been treated for mycoplasma in November just before Thanksgiving.  It is another possible culprit as to how I got it.   Mycoplasma is tiny and lives within the white blood cells.. the macrophages.
It is a parasite.  The body produces macrophages to respond to the initial infection and as it delivers helper cells to clear the infection it also delivers more enemies to the body.
I had been treated with antibiotics which killed it, but the damage was done. My own body was killing a certain type of brain cells which affected my balance, my vision, my reflexes and more. 

       I went back a few weeks later to have the EMG done.  The car ride there was not horrible. I no longer had to wear a scopolamine patch. The vertigo was gone. I still had some balance problems, but it was better. I still had double vision,but by wearing one eye patched I was able to function some.  My limbs were tingling and rather numb. Tendon reflexes still gone. I had been noticing a twitch in the neck muscles near my right collar bone.  The EMG showed up "normal". You have to have two abnormalities to consider it an abnormal study.  The one thing that was abnormal generated that same twitch in the right neck/collar bone area.    I prayed to get through that EMG test. It was being electrocuted and poked with needles.  It was concentration camp type stuff. Ugh.
But now I had the diagnosis Miller Fisher syndrome instead of one of the worse problems. It is self limiting. I would make a full recovery in time!  I was pleased and I appreciated the doctor and his staff for their help.

            I was anointed for healing at church prayer meeting.  My family, my pastor Tom Waring and my Rocky Branch Missionary Baptist Church family were wonderful.  God is truly good every day.   The whole ordeal was a journey of growing my faith and trust. The Lord used a child who had been on the wrong track in his life to help care for me. He gave me my son back.  He is healing Jared. He is healing me.  I have come under great conviction that this year I will work on maintaining that sense of deep gratitude toward God for his blessings.  I have put that old anxiety down at the foot of the cross and I will leave it there.  I will work daily on never allowing that old anxiety to ensnare me again.

     My tendon reflexes at returning.  My balance is improving. I no longer have any pain or nausea.  No more vertigo.  My vision is greatly improved.  I only wore the eye patch for an hour yesterday and about an hour today.  It still needs to get better to be 100%, but it is on the way.  I am driving a little now.  I am in the process of trying to figure out  how I can return to work in some capacity.

     Thank each family member, friend, church family, pastor, nurse, doctor, all hospital staff, online friends from, Facebook, ....... for your love, care, prayers, help.  Thank you Father God for your love, mercy, healing power. For sending the Holy Spirit to wrap me up and carry me and hold me and fill me with peace as I have traveled this path.    I had  planned many things, but this was not among them. I look forward to whatever the Lord has in store for me next.

*edited to add: Other great things that have come out of this is to learn that my nephew Matt is saved! He accepted Christ as his personal savior a few years ago. No matter what happens in this life... his eternal soul is saved. It is my prayer that all my family be saved.
If you have not accepted Christ.. the only prayer he will hear from  you is that sinner's prayer... ask Him to come into your heart?