Hiking Devils Lake State Park
In early October, I decided I wanted to get outside and what better way to do that than to go for a hike and check out the fall foliage at Devils Lake State Park in Baraboo? I hadn’t been to this particular park yet this year and since it’s only about 45-minutes from my home, I made the decision that it would be my destination for the day.
Upon arrival at the park, albeit a beautiful drive, I was a bit disappointed to find that the colors weren’t quite as brilliant as I knew they would eventually become but that did not mean that there wasn’t a lot of beautiful greens and yellows with occasional reds and oranges to admire still. After I parked my car, I started to gather and prepare my photo gear and pack for the hike. An older couple holding a trail map walked by and asked if I was familiar with the hiking trails at this park. I explained that I indeed was so they asked some questions about accessing the trails and which was the better place to start the hike given their physical limitations. It always feels good to be able to give people good information and outdoor adventuring is no exception.
After the couple went on their way, seeing as I was in a bit of a time crunch, I decided to hike the West Bluff Trail to pack in the most bang for my buck seeing as the view from the top is spectacular. The hike starts off with a steep incline up a series of rock-stairs. Up, up, and up I went, careful not to twist an ankle or lose my balance while I slowly made my way up the staircase. I came across several other hikers going both up and down the stairs, acknowledging each with a friendly hello and head nod as we passed each other. Once I got to the top, I set down my bag and sat on one of the rocks overlooking the lake so I could enjoy the beautiful fall weather which was full of sunshine but still a comfortable temperature and a light breeze. After catching my breath from the climb up, I stood back up, put my pack back on, and slowly made my way farther down the trail, stopping occasionally to snap photos and sometimes just to enjoy looking up through the tree canopy at the blue sky while the wind-blown leaves made a gentle swaying sound.
Partially through the upper part of the trail, I started to not feel so great. I tried to chalk it up to just being slightly dehydrated so I drank more water. I kept hiking but again I was hit with the subtle realization that I did not feel well. Considering my medical abnormalities of late, I didn’t want to push myself too hard seeing as I was all alone on the trail and couldn’t rely on anyone to help in a timely manner should anything go wrong. Since I was running out of time anyway, I made the smart decision to turn back around and head back to the car. The hike was just as enjoyable as if I had completed the whole trail and it seemed like a good sign of personal growth that I listened to my body and gave myself permission to change course without guilt. It is my opinion that when it comes to the outdoors, any amount of time spent there is valuable.
About 7-weeks or so ago, I started to develop a strange rash of small red dots on my legs. What started as a small patch that faded partially away a week or two later, kept coming back. It started to spread from one leg to the other, then eventually to my arms, stomach, feet and hands. I had reached out to my doctor via an electronic medical messaging system with a photo and asked her if she knew what was going on. She said she thought it was folliculitis and told me to swap out my razor and try washing the area with a benzoyl peroxide body wash and if that didn’t help, she could prescribe me a cream to try. From what I read online, I did not think that folliculitis made sense and questioned her further but she insisted that it was just folliculitis. I tried the body wash she recommended for a few days but it didn’t seem to be helping. After consuming some Culver’s chicken one day during a short road trip, I had an explosion of itchy red spots all over both of my forearms. I knew that some people were allergic to chicken because of the antibiotics used on them so I Googled what the common antibiotics were and one stood out: cephalosporins. I am allergic to those so I thought that this all must be an allergic reaction, mystery solved. No more chicken, ever. No big deal. Unfortunately, even after cutting chicken out of my diet, I continued to get more spots all over my body.
I reached out to my doctor’s office again and made an in-person appointment with a different doctor. After an exam and getting a thorough history of my symptoms, she sent me to the lab to get some bloodwork done. A day or two later, after receiving the results, she decided it would be good for me to see someone in dermatology to get a biopsy. I was lucky to be able to get in the next week for that procedure. The dermatologist performing the biopsy at that appointment suspected that it was vasculitis, an inflammatory condition of the small blood vessels which could be caused by a lot of different things or possibly even nothing they could figure out. After taking two punch biopsies from my upper left thigh, they sent me home with a prescription for anti-itch ointment to wait for the results.
In the meantime, things kept getting worse. In addition to the spots getting more and more extreme in their outbreaks and taking over new areas of my skin throughout my body, I was also getting swelling in my feet, ankles, legs, and arms, not to mention I had never been so itchy in my entire life. I had also developed tightness in my chest and upper back pain as well as waking up daily with headaches throughout the course of my symptoms progression. No one had tested me for COVID yet at this point and I had read that some people experience no symptoms other than skin issues from that so even though I’m fully vaccinated, I decided to go to Walgreens to get a test. Luckily that came back negative but my worsening symptoms continued. Before the biopsy results came back, I had messaged my doctor because I was concerned about things getting worse. After explaining everything to a nurse, they decided that I should be seen in the ER right away to rule out anything catastrophic.
I drove myself to the nearest UW Health ER about 30-minutes away and after waiting a bit in the waiting area, was brought back for a series of tests including a chest x-ray, abdominal CT scan, EKG and more bloodwork. Thankfully everything came back that I was ok from an emergency perspective: no blood clots, masses, internal bleeding, or crazy blood work numbers. They sent me home with a little peace of mind and a new appointment scheduled for the very next day with a new dermatologist. I made the decision at that point to cancel my first of two upcoming house/pet sitting jobs in Oregon this month to allow myself the time to get more information before committing to traveling outside of the state.
The next day at my second dermatology appointment, they ordered more bloodwork to check more indepth to rule out any other potentially more serious causes but felt confident from the biopsy results that I had leukocytoclastic vasculitis, likely brought on by exposure to the same virus that caused Luke’s tonsillitis a week or so before all of my symptoms started. They prescribed me a month long treatment of high dose prednisone to help shrink my blood vessels and stop the new spots from appearing while we waited for the final bloodwork results to come back which eventually did all come back clear. I’m happy to report that I am slowly starting to see improvement after about one-week of the steroids. I’m hopeful that in another few weeks, this will all be behind me.
In other news, my ongoing stomach issues that started back in May have not gone away. I was finally able to have my GI specialist consult the other week and they would like me to have an endoscopy performed to get a better visualization of what is happening in my upper GI tract. I also mentioned my new upper back and right shoulder blade pain that’s been waking me up daily as a possible sign that something may be wrong with my gallbladder, at least from what I understood from talking with a friend recently as well as what I’ve been reading online. My doctor agreed that my symptoms could be indicative of a poorly performing gallbladder but since my CT scan and bloodwork don’t show any signs of acute issues there (like stones, a blockage, inflammation, etc.), I would need a HIDA scan to further evaluate it. There is currently a shortage of the dye needed to do the scan so I can’t possibly have that procedure completed until the New Year at the earliest. In the meantime, I am trying a 2-week very low-fat diet to see if that helps with my symptoms and we are going to move forward with the endoscopy scheduling for when I get back in December from my upcoming trip to Oregon. If the low-fat diet helps my symptoms, then they are going to consider referring me for a surgical consultation.
Never a dull moment here! Stay tuned…