Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

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I was contacted by Gunnar Engblom (Kolibri Expeditions), whom I’ve been casually acquainted with online for years, asking me if I’d like to be the “official blogger” for a birding trip to Peru. Yeow, would I?!? This unexpected offer surprised me, to say the least, but it didn’t take too long for excitement to set in after I realized this was a serious offer: I would get to observe and photograph wild parrots!

Unfortunately, I have recently been preoccupied with several seemingly insurmountable tasks, including applying to the USFWS for CITES permits to export my five parrots from the USA, trying to locate a veterinarian in Germany who can help me import my parrots, as well as moving myself to Germany (projected departure: ASAP, but probably mid-to-late November), and I’ve also had the added stress of caring for a seriously ill parrot (she apparently has diabetes), so I’ve been frustratingly slow in meeting all the challenges and time demands that confront me, including preparing for this trip.

But in preparation for my upcoming trip to Peru, I managed to go to the NYC Travel Clinic today to consult with the nurse there about which vaccines I need in preparation for this upcoming birding expedition to Manu (ma NOW) and Tambopata, Peru, which will depart in roughly one month (the dates are estimated to run between 23 October – 1 November). I ended up getting;

  1. Yellow fever (one injection into the fat of the upper arm; stings like hell; booster required every ten years): $140
  2. Hepatitis A (first of two injections into the muscle of upper arm; cold feeling reaching down the arm, followed by roughly 20 minutes of an intense feeling that I would pass out and vomit at the same time; booster required after six months for life-long immunity): $95
  3. Tetanus/Diptheria (one injection into the muscle of the upper arm; then, starting tomorrow and ongoing for 4-5 days, the injection site will hurt as if I’d been punched hard in the arm by someone who deserves to be punched in the mouth; booster required every ten years): $65
  4. Typhoid (live oral vaccine, 2 tablets every other day on an empty stomach for 8 days [four doses total]; booster required every five years): $90

Because I’ve received the Hepatitis B series twice, I did not get HepB ($80 per injection for a series of three over a total period of six months), even though it was recommended that I get a booster, nor did I get rabies ($245 per injection for a series of three total over a period of 21/28 days), nor did I get the influenza vaccine ($30, also recommended — I forgot to ask for this one, but I think I can get it cheaper elsewhere). In addition to the vaccines, I got a DEET kit with sunblock, spray, etc., ($35) to deter biting insects and a diarrhea kit that contains antibiotics ($32).

In total, this visit cost $520! Very expensive for an unemployed person without any form of health insurance. [Between my sick parrot and myself, medical bills have cost more than rent this month, and the month is only half over!]

After all these vaccinations, I went home and fell into bed, exhausted. I am not sure precisely why I was so tired, but certainly my ongoing lack of sleep (due to stress) played a role and I suspect the vaccinations also affected me.

One more thing that has been recommended is that I purchase is a portable water purifier (I prefer battery-free models), but the expense has made me cautious about this purchase, even though the one I am considering appears to be top-quality.


  1. #1 Tara
    September 18, 2009

    You will have an amazing time! I was there in May and it was some of the best moments of my life. The parrots are amazing, amazing, amazing, the rest of the birds fantastic too, but you’ll like the monkeys, camains, capybarras, agoutis, geckos… We even saw giant river otters and a three toed sloth. Now I’m jealous and want to go back to the jungle!

    Don’t skimp on the DEET, don’t step on the fire ants with bare feet, and consider malaria medication too. I had Malarone with no side effects. Our guides said no one had had malaria for 10 years, but I figured it was more of a no one told them about it thing. And I hope your tetanus shot will be like mine – only one day of punching. If I can help you out with any info, let me know (assuming you can see my email…)

  2. #2 military wife
    September 19, 2009

    Wow–does nyc have a health department? in NV the hep A would only cost you the $25 service fee or whatever they call it

    in OK, the DT is free and the hep a or b shots are only $25 each at the HD

    it might be worth a call?

  3. #3 D. C. Sessions
    September 19, 2009


    Those shots suck, but some of them (HepA, for instance) are just good practice anyway. I’m a bit surprised that the DT wasn’t a DTaP since that’s now routine (and pertussis sucks royally, even for adults.)

    As for typhoid, you could ask Tsu Dho Nimh about that one. It was the one immunization she skipped before moving to Latin America — and recuperation took pretty close to a year. Her hair was never the same after it grew back.

    Should the subject come up again, I’ll second the suggestion for checking with County Health. Around here (Arizona) they’re your best bet for reasonably priced polio (etc.) boosters for adults.

  4. #4 Adrian
    September 19, 2009

    There’s no describing my shade of green. The one place I most want to see but can’t afford from the uk. Neotropical birds are amazing.

  5. #5 Bing
    September 19, 2009

    Fab! Congrats. Sounds fantastic!


  6. #6 Bardiac
    September 19, 2009

    I’m sorry the vaccines are such a pain and so expensive, but congrats! I bet you’re going to have the most incredible time ever!

    I lived in Ecuador for a couple years (Peace Corps), and every so often, I’d see a flock of conures fly through, and it was incredible. Also toucans, which really look like they shouldn’t be able to fly.

    Equally amazing were the big blue butterflys. Wow!

    I hope you have a great trip! And good luck with the move to Germany.

  7. #7 Ingrid
    September 19, 2009

    Lucky you! If you’re going to Tambopata, you won’t need water purification stuff there, they take care of that for you. Boiled water is always available & we drank lots of it & never had a problem–Don runs a pretty tight ship. Probably the same in Manu, but not sure. Get ready for cold showers (straight from the Andes) & a wonderful experience. Tell Don hello from Ingrid (AFA trip).
    Have a great time!
    Ingrid & YoYo & CoCo

  8. #8 michellespidermonkey
    September 19, 2009

    I’m definitely green with envy as well! Although I am now appreciating the fact that I’ve gotten all of my vaccines while on insurance/in grad school. If I were you, I’d skip the water filter and go for water treatment tablets (and several liter water bottles) instead. It’s much much cheaper, and should be just as effective.

  9. #9 Michael Kirsch, M.D
    September 20, 2009

    In our experience, some nurses who practice travel medicine advise travel vaccinations that my not be truly necessary. We advise using trained travel physicians. Just because a particular vaccine may be ‘advised’ by CDC for a particular destination, it may not be needed depending upon the traveler’s specific itinerary, season of travel, etc.

  10. #10 Barn Owl
    September 20, 2009

    Congrats! Sounds very exciting, and I’m so happy you got the job for the Peru trip!

    I have to keep my tetanus booster updated for work (not anything exciting like travel, rather for gross anatomy lab and working with rodents), and the injection site always aches for a day or so. Never have that problem with flu shots (which I also have to get for work).

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