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For a very long time I have thought that something wasn’t right with Neu’s health, but he point blank refused to go to a doctor, just as he refused to cut down on his intake of salt or eat a more varied diet (one that included vegetables). Last month I was finally able to get Neu to take a blood test (well actually my mum, for whom Neu has total respect, ordered him to have a blood test), the results of which have led us on a trail that has ended with a kidney specialist who tells us that Neu, aged 32, has chronic kidney failure due to long standing, undiagnosed high blood pressure (the first doctor who tested Neu’s blood pressure was alarmed to find it registering 200/150, it should be 120/80).

Neu has lost 60% of his kidney function, needs tablets to control his blood pressure and must have a low protein, no salt diet. If his blood pressure can be controlled and he responds well to the diet etc, he should be able to lead a normal life with the remaining 40% of kidney function.

It’s not going to be easy for Neu, he has traditionally eaten a high protein, high salt diet (as do most Brazilians from the North East), mostly fish, chicken and red meat with rice and beans, spaghetti and farinha, he does eat fruit but vegetables put in a rare appearance, he only ever eats potatoes, carrots and onions when they have been cooked for hours in a stew, that’s it, no other vegetables at all.

Although Neu has never been fat, it was his weight loss and loss of appetite that convinced me he was ill, a few weeks back he only weighed 71 kilos. The stress of the last few weeks, combined with the medication for his blood pressure and the low protein diet has brought his weight down to 68 kilos and I think he weighed even less than that for a time. Neu also has incredibly high cholesterol levels, the doctor has ordered more detailed tests for this and to see how his kidneys are coping, if his cholesterol levels are confirmed then Neu’s dietary needs will be difficult to meet, we don’t have a great deal of choice food wise in the village, or the nearest towns and have to go into Fortaleza for anything remotely special.

All of this could have been avoided if Neu had checked his blood pressure regularly, as the doctor said hypertension is a silent killer, many people don’t know they have it, their heart growing with the pressure and getting stronger and stronger, until it can’t maintain itself and collapses resulting in a heart attack, or as in Neu’s case, the kidneys give out.

Finding all this out has been very stressful, but then some things happen to brighten our days, like this lovely visitor to the garden. This tiny hummingbird (about the size of my little finger) is a regular visitor to our garden.

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A less welcome visitor (though I don’t mind them as long as they aren’t trying to bite me) was this snake that I found in the kitchen. It was a small one, probably only a baby. I think its markings are so pretty. I put it out in the pineapple plant to save it from our hunter cats.

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As I came out of our house to come to the Internet, a huge grasshopper leapt off the wall of the house and into my hair. Now that’s something I hate, things, especially live things, in my hair (probably a deep seated reaction to my brother who, when young decided to see what would happen if he threw a lighted match in my hair, the first I knew about it was when he began smacking me about the back of the head to stop my hair shrivelling before his eyes and my mum from killing him).

When I was in secondary school we had to study locusts as part of a biology lesson, I remember feeling so revolted at the idea of having to hold a locust about the size of my little finger, this mornings grasshopper was the length of my palm, and I’m not exaggerating (thankfully I don’t find them revolting anymore, though I still would rather not have one in my hair). It leapt back on to the wall again but unfortunately by the time I had gone back in the house to get the camera, it had hopped off else where.

©Claire Pattison Valente 2009

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