Caver’s Disease and Exploring

I have a passion for adventure and love going places no man has gone before. That’s a difficult passion to quench, considering just about anywhere you go these days you have a line to wait in.

I purchased Ox Ranch three years ago for the sense of adventure, to play with guns, and of course, to discover a past that has since been lost with time. In this period, I have made many new discoveries. To name a few…

  • I have found ancient human remains.
  • I have spotted species that aren’t supposed to exist in Texas, such as the Marmot.
  • And I have discovered dozens of caves and caverns.

One of my first major finds is what we call the Bat Cave. In order to enter this cave, you have to hike half way up a mountain and rappel over 24 feet into a small hole. After a few feet of crawling, the room begins to open up into a ginormous cavern with 60-foot-high ceilings!

This cavern is filled with all kinds of wonders. It has stalactites, an old wooden ladder that disintegrated in my hands, wires, and a giant 30-foot-high pyramid of dirt. I was told numerous times that the “dirt” was actually bat guano; however, I refused to believe this since we hadn’t seen any bats. I also found it much more palatable to tell myself that it was dirt than to deal with the reality that I was swimming chest deep in bat poop!

Tony, Rhonda, Chelsea, and I eventually decided to enter the cavern at night to see if there were any bats. It was incredible! Thousands of bats were flying all over the place! They would fly within an inch of our faces before darting in a different direction. It was one of the coolest experiences of my life watching all these bats fly around. It became even more exciting when we went deeper into the cavern and began to see the walls and floor covered with incandescent looking snakes. We witnessed two separate snakes strike and rip their prey right out of the air! The whole experience was an amazing adrenaline-filled night. The only downside was that the bats were stirring up the “dirt” which got into our eyes and throat.

It turned out that the dirt pyramid was, in fact, made of guano. The four of us awoke the next day with a case of Histoplasmosis, also known as caver’s disease. This disease is acquired from breathing in bat guano! Yes, we were all sick from bat poo, and its fungal spores were spawning in our lungs!

I immediately began to Google everything I could find on the disease. The results seemed pretty grim, with almost every article mentioning blindness, death, and other long-term debilitating effects. I couldn’t find a single article that showed anyone ever making a full recovery from this disease.

I also read that the anti-fungal medications doctors prescribe are a last ditch effort. In the case of Histoplasmosis, the cure is often worse than the disease!

The first few days of life with Histoplasmosis weren’t too bad. It felt like your typical flu. Day by day, however, the disease progressed as the fungal spores spawned in our lungs. On the fourth day of the disease, I started having severe migraines, shortness of breath, fatigue, loss of appetite, and sore muscles throughout my body.

A week into the disease, I began to feel dizziness, nausea, and blurry vision. I truly thought I was going blind between my symptoms and everything I read on Google. I continued to have these symptoms until the 15th day when I began coughing up what felt like a lung. This is about the same period I began having night sweats and found myself shivering while being in a 104-degree hot tub.

I thought I was getting worse, but in reality, it was my body finally fighting the fungal invaders off. The night sweats and shivering lasted about 2-3 days before I slowly began to feel better and more like my old self. It took a few months to kick the cough, but I eventually had a full recovery. In fact, we all did!

I Learned a Valuable Lesson………

I learned that I’m not Batman and that I shouldn’t be playing with bats. Instead, I find myself attempting to be Spider-man! I recently explored a cave in which I was bitten by four Brown Recluse spiders. That, however, is another story for another time!

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3 comments

  • Amanda

    This is awesome! My brother speaks mounds about you and your family! I love your spirit of adventure and am currently living vicariously through your blog. I look forward to visiting my brother at your ranch!

  • Victoria Schwartz

    I am a painter and grew up on a farm. I love to be outside and paint horned animals. You are living the dream!!!! Your adventurous spirit inspires other to believe they can do anything. I stumbled here after looking for markhor references on google for a big new piece and basically have now spent three hours all over your website in awe. Truly amazing! One day you should offer packages for painters and sculptors etc etc to come and live paint the animals. Itd be a small revenue but itd be amazing to have artists preserve the wild beauty of your ranch to live on forever.

  • Scott Serur

    Which is why It’s always good to wear a respirator when entering an active bat hibernaculum. At least you were aware enough to know you may have contracted Histo and did your research. I’ve been caving for over 20 years and all too familiar with histo as well as the gambit of venomous fauna (snakes, spiders, scorpions and centipedes). Tick born diseases like relapsing fever, RMSF, and lyme are another hazard that’s stricken a number of us over the years. Most all can be successfully treated. As funny as it might sound, wearing nylons can be a lifesaver if you’ve got a lot of chiggers, ticks and other crawlies that might find their way in your clothes. An ex-Army ranger taught me that trick and it works. At least on the lower half.

    I am a board member of the Texas Speleological Survey and if you are ever interested we’d love to come out and map, push and document your caves at no charge other than admission. We’ve been doing this for decades with tremendous success and positive landowner feedback.

    Additionally, if you’re not already familiar with the equipment used for caving, we’d be more than happy to show you the equipment we use and demonstrate the correct methods of rigging pits, rappelling and climbing in and out safely. 90% of our state is private property so we rely on landowner invitations to allow us to expand our knowledge of what lies under our great state. To date we think we may have only documented 5% of the caves and we’ve explored some pretty amazing places. South and West Texas have always been the biggest challenge as ranches are large, locating owners difficult, and distances are far. But as difficult as it is, the largest and deepest caves lie out there and from the limited successes we’ve had, we’ve documented some massive caves, spectacular formations, unknown critters and even some underground rivers..in some of the driest hottest parts.

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