Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Destination Victoria Falls, Zambia

Victoria Falls from a helicopter

The largest wall of water on the planet was veiled in a deep mist laced with a rainbow. Mosi-oa-Tunya, the local name for Victoria Falls, which translates as The Smoke that Thunders, was spot on. The immense power of the roaring and crashing of the water as it plummeted into the deep gorge below was a vision that stopped me in my tracks.

As the falls were at their lowest flow, we could get close up and see the ravines. We spent time walking alongside this roaring sheet of water drinking in its sheer beauty, before going to Livingstone Island, the place where Dr David Livingstone in 1855, first cast his eyes on this magnificent spectacular. He named the falls after his Queen, Victoria. Providing you are not scared of heights a swim in Devil’s Pool is like no other. It is literally right on the brink of the falls. The natural rock wall stops you falling. 

Victoria Falls from Livingstone Island

Dr Livingstone wrote after he first saw Mosi-oa-Tunya: “European eyes had never seen it before; but angels in their flight must have gazed upon scenes so lovely.”  My flight of angels was in a helicopter. Also seeing the falls from the Zimbabwean side and appreciating the actual size of this majestic sight was an exhilarating and unforgettable experience that lifted the spirit and soul.

An elephant ride made my day complete

An elephant ride made my day complete. The beast I was supposed to ride took off as it as I was trying to get on her back – it was huge – leaving me with one leg over it and the other suspended in mid-air.  I was on the brink of abandoning the idea altogether when a cute baby elephant was produced and, although here were a couple of hair-raising moments along the trail when she got a little bit frisky, we seemed to bond well. I was told if we meet again in 20 years, she would recognise me. They say an elephant never forgets.

On the banks of the Zambezi, with the falls in the background and surrounded by the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Wildlife Park, the Royal Livingstone has one of the most stunning hotel settings I have seen. Sipping my sundowner, watching monkeys protectively guarding their babies and zebras and giraffes casually sauntering around the grounds, I suddenly caught sight of a crocodile darting in and out of the water and a hippo basking in the day’s last rays of sun.  It was as if I had slipped through a hole to an era before television and the internet. This was my Out of Africa moment!

By Daralyn Danns

Getting there

South African Airways (
The Royal Livingstone (

Friday, 7 September 2012

I had bunion surgery – part one

“It’s ugly, this has got to go,” my doctor exclaimed when he saw the bunion that I had on my left foot. True, it wasn’t beautiful, but I had had it for years and the main thing was that it didn’t hurt too much, so I wasn’t really worried about it.

My doctor is somebody that I have the utmost respect for, so when he told me to go to see the consultant who had operated on him a year earlier, I agreed.

A few days before my appointment at St Thomas’ Hospital, I had been to see a renowned podiatrist, who had told me, that yes, you can notice your bunion (a prominent head of the first metatarsal with deviation of the big toe) but as I had no pain, she couldn’t see any reason to have it removed. I was, therefore, expecting the consultant to say something more or less along the same lines. So, I was rather taken back when he suggested that I have it removed. 

On examination of my feet, the first thing Ioan Tudur Jones, consultant orthopaedic surgeon, said on seeing, what he called quite large bunions on both sides, was that these were not caused by anything that I had worn. Apparently, they are generally hereditary. If there is a history of them in your family, you are more likely to get them.  Shoes, I was told, can make them painful, but don’t tend to be the cause.

The one on the left was significantly larger than the right. The big toes had also tilted quite a way over towards the other toes, especially on the left, causing problems to the second and third toes.

Mr Jones explained that the main advantage in operating on the left bunion would be to correct the biomechanical abnormality that I had in my foot and, given a more stable and medial column, the lesser toes would be less likely to develop problems and, of course, the width of the foot would be reduced.

I felt from the moment that I met Mr Jones that I was in capable hands. Therefore, if I had to spend approximately six weeks in a surgical shoe and the first two weeks with my feet elevated, I thought I may as well have them both done.

Like all surgery, there are potential risks and complications. Mr Jones explained to me that the risk of both infection and nerve injury would be less than 1 per cent. The risk of arthritis in the joint would also be less than 1 per cent. I was told that the bunions were highly unlikely to come back again.

When I told people I was having them done, I was surprised at the reaction. I didn’t realise how common they were. I even got stopped in the street by complete strangers wanting to know about my experience. Friends and colleagues asked me to write about it as many didn’t know what to do about theirs and also many were taken back when they realised that bunions can be genetic.

By Daralyn Danns

Part two to follow

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

I had bunion surgery – part two

There are several types of operations to correct bunions. Your consultant obviously is the decision maker.

I decided to have my operation done on the NHS as Guy’s Hospital was near where I lived. Having always gone privately, I had to admit I was really unsure about what to expect, especially as I had to stay in overnight. All the horror stories you hear and read –although as a journalist, I should know better than to be influenced – did fill me with trepidation. I reckoned spending one night in hospital couldn’t be worse than a night on some of the long-haul flights I have experienced – mentioning no airlines.

Ioan Tudur Jones, the consultant orthopaedic surgeon who operated on me, was incredible. I felt totally confident with him. The service and care I received were far beyond my expectations. The nurses were amazing. The one that took me down to theatre was so funny that I ended up with tears rolling down my face from laughter. Not how I imagined hospital at all.   

The ward was spotless and even the food was edible and the coffee was far better than you get on a plane. I can’t praise the staff at Guy’s and St Thomas’ highly enough. 

At Tower Bridge, wearing my surgical shoes

I had to keep my feet elevated for the first two weeks and could only stand for approximately 15 minutes an hour. That was the hardest part. My mother and friends rallied round with general support doing shopping and chores. Then it was back to Guy’s to have my bandages changed. Being squeamish I didn’t want to look, but the sister told me my feet were lovely. I nearly wept, when I saw them. Yes, there were scars but the lumps were gone and they looked lovely and dainty, albeit a bit swollen.

The next four weeks I managed to go for short walks aided by a crutch. The advice given to me was: your body will tell you how far you can go. And believe me, it does.

When I finally left home and  once again saw Tower Bridge, which is near to where I live, I felt as if I was a tourist seeing it for the first time. It’s funny how being incapacitated makes you appreciate things differently.

After six weeks, my bandages were removed and the surgical shoes confined to the bin and replaced for the next six weeks with my black soft leather FitFlop Super T Sneakers (£90) which have ultra-slim Biomimetix midsoles, that I find, make them extremely comfortable to walk in. They are also sturdy.

FitFlop Super T Sneaker

I was also told to rub E45 (£1.99, Boots), a non-greasy emollient into my extremely dry feet. It is quickly absorbed into the skin and forms a protective barrier helping it to retain more moisture, so it is rehydrated and softened. I also have to do some exercises, for approximately an hour a day, for my big toes.

The pain, since day one, has been minimal. Every day I feel as if I am making some progress. I am due to go back to the hospital in six weeks, but I am not expecting any problems.

There is so much written about what kind of footwear you should or shouldn’t wear that I asked Mr Jones what are the best kind of shoes to wear once my feet are healed, his answer was: “whatever is comfortable!”

By Daralyn Danns