Saturday, October 29, 2016

Making Decisions

If I’d listened to the medium at the temple and decided against going for that operation I’d either have killed myself to stop the pain, or lose the use of my right arm due to the nerve root compression (if I could somehow stop the pain from killing me). Between the devil and the deep sea I’d take a jump. It’s a risk but at least I knew I could swim and pray for help.
The doctor advised not to go hiking because I asked. If I’d ask him if I could climb ladders he’d have said no. By the 3rd month, after I’d removed the neck brace I was already getting on the step ladder going around the house cleaning ceiling fans and air condition filters. Of course I took extra precautions, (like saying a prayer before I stepped on it).
If I’d asked the doctor for medical leave, he’d probably have given me 3 months off from work. But I didn’t. I went back to work after one month with my neck in a brace. (Everyone who saw me the first time did a double-take and asked me ‘what happened’?) And I had to keep reminding myself not to lift anything heavy.
Life is all about living and taking certain calculated risks. Life is all about making your own decisions based on advice. Advice is only as good as how well it helps you come to a decision, nothing more.

Friday, October 14, 2016

2015 Taiwan Trip

Taipei, Taiwan.
I was up early because it's already bright at 6 in the morning. While waiting for the rest of the family to get up, I sat in front of the large window and looked down at this rooftop view & decided I might as well do something with the time, while my eldest girl made me a cup of coffee. Aaahhh.... this is the life I always dreamed about. Doing something according to the mood.

Taiwan city folks prefer to move around on these scooters.

Everybody was reading books... I got bored (very rare few English books to be found in Taiwan's book stores) so I got out my sketch book. This was my 1st sketch at Eslite's.

We sat inside the cool interior of this coffee joint. While waiting for our drinks to arrive I looked out the window at this young maple tree and the scooter parked beneath it.

We went for some pineapple drinks. I spied a father & son sitting outside together having ice-cream. They obviously pretended not to notice while I was sketching them. After they finished their ice-cream, both ambled over to find out what I was doing... We chatted (the father & I) and then they went on their way...

This motorbike accessories shop also doubles as a rubber stamp and duplicate key supplier.

An abandoned stainless steel joss burner standing beside the entrance to the narrow lane to our "Fun Apartment"... where we stayed for 2 days while in Tainan.

I was fascinated by some of these scooters. I started sketching the 1st one in the row of them. While I was moving on to the next one, the owner came out and rode it away.... I used the 3rd one as my model until the owner came and got on it. He then noticed I was sketching. He apologized & parked it back in place and told me to continue. I said, 'It's ok. I'm done.'

While the girls shopped I sat outside and made a sketch of this ladies' clothing & accessories store.

Tainan, Taiwan:
We were waiting for a bus. I took out my sketch pad and started working on this. Just then the bus came. In my haste, I forgot to take a snapshot of the scene. When I finally got home, I went into Google Map's Street View and finished the job...

2015 sketches from here & there

2014 Sketches

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

A Ride in an Ambulance

Within a matter of months this year I already had to experience two emergency trips to hospital.

On the morning of Sunday 5th June, I took a Capirox-20 capsule hoping to get rid of the pain in my middle back which had been there for about a week.  (That pain had been existing a day or 2 after I cut off a few branches from my mango tree because those branches were beating against the car porch roof during a thunderstorm the previous night.  After that I sharpened the saw and put it away.)  The pain did not go away.  Instead, that afternoon after I had my nap my head was spinning and I wanted to vomit.  It took a while and a lot of retching and a tube of ‘five-pagoda’ medicinal powder downed with some warm water.  After throwing up a few bits of duck meat and water, I felt better.  By evening everything was back to normal and I thought I was alright.

Wednesday 8th June, I was at the Perodua workshop getting my car serviced.  I felt dizzy and thought I must be hungry since it was almost 11.00am and I had an early breakfast of kuayteow and black coffee.  So I went to the tea-corner and made myself a 2in1 kopi-o and pressed the dispenser for hot water.  Only cold water came out.  I drank that because I needed the sugar to pep me up.  I munched on a biscuit.  A few moments later I found myself spinning. 

I moved to a seat next to the entrance to the workshop.  I tried keeping it under control without alarming anyone by breathing deeply and evenly.  I couldn’t keep it down.  The spinning got worse.  I called out to a lady in the office for help.  She said she could arrange for someone to send me and my car home since I was in no condition to drive.  Somehow my condition worsened as I began retching but couldn’t throw up.  I asked her for a plastic bag so that I could throw up into it.  But after a lot of retching nothing came out.  I thought the whole thing was like a scene from The Exorcist.  I retched so hard I felt I was going to die right there. 

The office lady asked for my home number and who I could call.  I hesitated because I didn’t want to alarm my wife.  But as my condition got worse I called my wife and gave the lady my phone so she could speak to her.  A little later my daughter called me.  She had assessed my situation and started taking her own actions to contain the situation.  She arranged for my nephew to send my car home.  She got a friend who is a dental surgeon in the hospital to check on me later and to call her back to report on my condition.

The office lady called for an ambulance.  It was not available, so she called the St John’s Ambulance Brigade.  These guys were pretty professional.  They checked my vital signs and said I needed to go to hospital.  The office lady finally managed to get an ambulance.  Before the ambulance arrived I started to throw up the coffee I had earlier.  This time I succeeded because I was lying back, almost flat, against the back of the office chair and I tilted my head to my right, like how they’d position a drowning victim.  Later while being jostled in the jalopy ambulance I threw up some more coffee.

At the hospital emergency room a whole gang of people swarmed around me and some asked questions about whether I felt pain and where and if I had any heart problem, diabetes, hypertension, and etc.   They poked needles in the back of both my hands.  I don’t know what they were for.  Then a nurse poked another needle in my arm to draw blood samples.  They stuck electronic pads all over my chest and connected me to a heart monitor.  Later another guy connected a pair of lead cables and clamps on my chest and another pair on both ankles.  I thought they were going to apply shock treatment on me, but they didn’t.  Then they x-rayed my chest and belly.

After the flurry of emergency activity the whole gang went off to one corner and chit-chatted among themselves.  I started to retch again and threw up more coffee.  Someone complained, and then called in a couple of cleaning personnel to clean up my mess.  The atmosphere started getting colder.  They pushed me into an emergency waiting room to wait for the diagnosis.  There were rows of beds and every bed was occupied.  Mine was the only vacant space left.  It was really cold and I pulled the blanket to cover me up to my neck. 

Later my wife and younger brother located me and brought me spare clothes and a large bath towel.  I got my brother to put me onto a wheel-chair and pushed me to the toilet.  I had a full bladder by then.  Later in the afternoon I tried several times to get up and go to the bathroom but I couldn’t get on my feet.  Each time I sat up my head started spinning.  My body felt weak and wouldn’t stay upright.  I gave up and waited for my brother to come back in the evening.  By then a nurse had announced that the doctors had found nothing wrong with me and told me to go home.  I called my brother and told him the news.  

I waited for the nurse to remove the needles in my hands.  She removed the ones on my right hand and said she’d remove the others later.  My right leg started to cramp due to the cold.  I moved it about and raised it a few times to keep it from getting worse.  My bladder kept filling up again.  It was a long while later that she came back and removed the other needles.  She gave me a card and told me to collect my medicines from the pharmacy before leaving.  When my wife and brother came in later we made another wheel-chair trip to the toilet.

As we moved out from the ward, I noticed there were beds filled with patients lined up against the walls of the corridor.

Friday, April 15, 2016

She forgot, but it doesn't matter.

I remember the evening when I was scrolling through my Facebook page.  She came by and saw me reading my birthday greetings.

'Oh, I forgot!'  She exclaimed.

She'd already got all the ingredients to cook me something special.  But she forgot today was the day.

I patted her hand and said, 'It's no big deal.  You've done a lot taking care of me the last few months and helped me deal with the pain.  I'm getting stronger now and I'm happy with my life.'

No, I didn't say exactly those words.  I said far less than that.  But those words came from my heart.  And I was referring to the major painful experience and operation I underwent and the post operation healing process that she bore through with me.

For that I am thankful.

About Toxic People.

Toxic people are indeed worse than poisonous chemicals.

I once worked in a factory making battery separators.  We had to work with Concentrated Sulfuric Acid, Phenol and Formalin.  We dealt with them on a day to day basis.  But none of these chemicals scared me.  I was very careful when handling them.  Sometimes I even did away with wearing protective gear.  And as a direct result, get into minor accidents but none caused me any permanent scars; physically or mentally.

There were toxic fumes when the chemicals were processed in a reactor. After that pulp paper was dipped into the chemical and then had to go through a high temperature dryer.  More toxic fumes were released into the air.

In the next process an adhesive was applied to the pulp paper.  This adhesive contained a solvent called Toluene.  Kids could get a 'high' sniffing this chemical which is also commonly used in glue for patching bicycle tires.  Then a piece of glass-mat is stuck on the pulp paper.

When the glue is dried the product is cut into smaller pieces.  During the cutting, microscopic pieces of glass fiber would fly into the air.

There you are; awful pungent smell of poisonous chemicals, corrosive fluids, and hot, dusty, itchy atmosphere.  But none of these distressed me more than the toxic being that walked on two legs.

And in the end it was his toxicity that caused me to walk away from that job.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

A Pain In The Neck - The Last Resort

December 2014.
I was reading in my rattan ‘easy-chair’.  When I got up I felt this nagging pain in the old spot.  Within a few minutes it got worse and I still thought it was an ordinary pain-in-the-neck problem because I found it hard to turn my head to the right.

A week later (19-12-2014) and still feeling pain, I went to check with a GP.  He gave me some medication.  That finished.  The stiff-neck problem went away.  But the nagging nerve pain that went down to my last 2 fingers came more and more occasionally.  By end of January I was already feeling depressive.  It was getting worse. That pesky problem from ten years ago was back to haunt me.

I called the office of my former Chiropractor who has since moved to E-Gate.  The reception gave me an appointment for 4th March, 2015.  I said I don’t know if I can last that long.  She cheerily said if there’s anyone wishing to cancel their appointment, she’d call me.  I haven’t heard from her yet.  I tried searching on line for another chiropractor in my area with little success.

Days later when there was no other option I asked neighbor the contact number for the Chinese physician he was visiting regularly.  But I had doubts about whether he can help my case.  On the morning when I was supposed to drive over to Penang to see him I changed my mind.  I searched again for another chiropractor.  And I found one in Queensbay.

After the first treatment I felt I was on the right track.  4 treatments later I feel much healthier.  

But it was not to be.  Even though I finally went back to my former chiropractor I realized my neck condition had deteriorated to such an extent that it was beyond fixing by alternative means...

After today’s chiropractic session I didn’t feel much relief.  It seems the tension is rebuilding in my neck.

Sunday.  I felt the pain was getting too intense.  I called my Chiropractor.  Nobody answered.  I sent a message to him via Facebook messenger.  Surprisingly he responded.  But he was in KL.  He told me to see his partner.  I told him I couldn’t lift my head.  He told me to get pain-killer.  I called my bro-in-law and requested his help to send me to chiropractor tomorrow.  I knew I couldn’t drive anymore.  It was too risky.

With my head tilted to the left I went to E Gate, Penang.  We arrived too early, so we had to wait.  The chiropractor tried to fix my neck.  She took extra effort and went through all the procedures.  But the pain remained.  I still had to keep my head tilted to relief the pain.  She arranged for another appointment for tomorrow.  On the way home I told bro-in-law I think the time has come for a decision to go for surgery.  I was still hesitating, still doubtful.

That afternoon the heat in the house was horrendous, especially in our dining area.  It was like an oven.  The heat was coming from the air well as the roof had only one layer of corrugated asbestos sheeting.  The on-going El Nino phenomenon added more discomfort to my condition.  At other times it didn’t seem so hot.  The pain went from bad to worse.  I tried lying down on the cool floor.  No relief there.  I went into our children’s room and turned on the air-conditioning.  I slept all afternoon with ice-pack pressed against my neck.

I had slept all night (I mean, I tried to sleep) on my left side without a pillow, keeping my head tilted in such a way that it is positioned lower than my shoulder.   It was the last position that I could maintain to escape the torture.  When morning came, I tried getting up.  I felt hopeless.  I realized the time has come.  There’s no more choice but to go for the operation, in spite of what everybody and the medium at the temple said.  I’ve reached the last resort.  I told my wife my decision.  I got her to call her sister and to prepare ice-packs.

They took me to the SP General Hospital.  Sis-in-law thought she could pull some strings and get a doctor to give me a pain-killer shot or something.  No such luck.  There was no friendly, familiar doctor around that she knew from her nursing days.  The emergency room looked like a morning market in the afternoon.  There was no sense of urgency and no signs of urgency.   After a while I was called in to see a young woman whom we thought was a doctor.  She asked a few routine questions and then told us to wait.  She was probably only an intern.

I lay sideways on a row of plastic chairs.  A Hospital Assistant passing by grabbed a blanket from a nearby wheel-chair and gave it to me telling me to place it under my head.  It was thoughtful of him, but it was of no help.  I was trying to keep my head lower than my body while lying on my side.  I shoved part of the blanket under my shoulder instead.

I told sis-in-law to call my nephew, a radiologist at LGL Hospital, Penang, to ask him if Dr Kazem was in.  Yes, he was there on duty and Dr Kazem was also present.  I said let’s go.  I got into the back behind the driver’s seat so that I could partly lie down on my left side with my wife on the far left of the seat.  We kept changing ice-packs.  Along the way some of the ice had melted.  But the cold wet towels were better than nothing. 

I began to think of other things to dissociate myself from my predicament.   I thought:  If only I had a guardian angel.  I then realized I already have one.  My mother-in-law’s face appeared in my mind.  She’s long gone from this world of turmoil and suffering, but every time I was in trouble I thought of her.  Somehow I felt I was going to be alright.  She was seeing to it that I was being taken care of.  Everything was in place to save my day, like, here’s someone driving me to hospital.  I have a veteran nurse who knew what to do when we arrive.  I do not have a medical card, but I have someone to handle the financial requirements so that there’s no delay in checking in.  And there’s a relative right there in the hospital who was already alerted of my coming and who knew about the seriousness of my condition.  In fact, he’s the doctor who made out my MRI report.

Yet, it was the longest journey I’d ever taken from Sungai Petani to Penang.

When we arrived I walked into the E.R.  A gang of orderlies, nurses and (I assume) a doctor sprang into action.  One lady in blue uniform got me on a bed, checked my blood pressure and asked me lots of questions.   With sis-in-law as my spokesperson, I requested to see Dr Kazem.  I told the reception I consulted him 10 years ago and would like to refer to him again.  They spoke to the doctor and he instructed them to send me for an emergency MRI and wait for him.  That was good for another long painful wait and a nerve-racking endurance test inside the MRI machine.  But I took comfort in that a long overdue relief was coming soon.

Later in the afternoon the doctor came.  He tried something that seemed like humour.  He said, ‘Ten years ago I told you to have that operation but you ran away.  Why?’  I said I was afraid.  Everybody and some doctors told me the operation had only a 50:50 chance of success.  I didn’t want to mention the worst, but sis-in-law spelt it out.  If it was a failure, I could end up as a vegetable.  I couldn’t take a risk with that.

(On looking back, that was when my two older girls were in higher education while the youngest was still in secondary school.  If anything happened to me their future would be affected.   I decided I had no choice but to find an alternative.  And I did find an alternative although that was good for ten years.)

He then explained that there’s nothing to be afraid of now.  He does hundreds of such operations and no one has ever had any problems.  In fact, he said, your risk of facing a mishap on the Penang Bridge is greater than the failure of this operation itself.

After all the admittance procedures and necessary paper-work were done they wheeled me into my ward for the night.  It was to be another long wait until morning.

There was a nurses’ station right outside our 4-person ward.  Music, singing and some broadcasting was blaring away on a radio or TV.  Occasionally someone was yelling out in pain or some people were quarrelling among themselves.  Nurses discuss jobs, off-day activities, or something.  It was like a market place.  The door could not close by itself.  The automatic door-closer had broken down.  Every few minutes someone would enter the room for something or other.  My room-mate had endless visitors or talk loudly on his mobile phone to well-wishers.  That night I tried to sleep but it was impossible.  And it wasn’t just because of the noise.

At one point I managed to summon the nurse for an ice-pack.  She brought me one.  Before dawn arrived I had already used up several ice-packs.

It was around 6.00am when a nurse entered the room and asked me if I could get up and take a shower or should she give me a bath.  Thrown off by that awkward question, I said I’ll try but I need another ice-pack.  She refused to oblige and ordered me to get the shower first.  Always being independent and doing things for myself, I wasn’t about to lie back and let a nurse do such personal things for me, as long as I could get up and walk, I could do it.  I forced myself up in spite of the terrible stabbing pain in the neck and headed for the bath-room.  I couldn’t locate anything that looked like a shower. 

The nurse said, ‘That’s not the shower room.  Shower-room’s next door!’  It sure was difficult trying to recognize things in semi-darkness while you’re viewing things from a horizontal angle.

I stripped and hastily showered (if you could describe wetting your head and body haphazardly, a shower), shivering, hissing and groaning in pain through my clenched teeth.  Quickly mopping off my wet head and body, I struggled to put on the operation gown.  That gown was made like an apron.  There was no covering for the back.  Only strings to tie it back.  It was as good as wearing nothing, so I struggled and managed to get my pants back on.  By the time I got back to my bedside the hissing and groaning noise level coming from me had increased by several more decibels.  The nurse told me to get back in bed. 

With her ‘job’ done, she left.  I lay down on the bed and let myself go, overwhelmed by the helplessness, frustration, more than a year-long of nagging pain and all that tension.  I let my tears flow and my nose to run into a towel I managed to grab.  My uncontrollable sobs came so loudly I thought that the racket should have woken up my room-mate by now.  But there seemed to be nothing coming from him.  Not even words of comfort or encouragement.  Here I was, feeling old, helpless and totally undignified, sobbing like a baby.  I felt like a mortally wounded survivor they somehow managed to salvage from a disaster site.  After a while of lying motionless, the pain subsided and I drifted off to sleep.

Later another nurse showed up and gave me 2 tablets I assumed to be pain-killers and allowed me a sip of water to get them down.  No more food or drink intake other than that, she said.

At around nine am, they wheeled me into an X-ray room.  Then a nurse gave me a shot I thought to be another pain-killer.  I looked around at what looked like factory store-room with grilles separating several enclosures.  There were production machines and workers moving about busy with their work.  I thought this was supposed to be a hospital…

A while later, someone said, ‘It’s over!’  (It was actually 4 ½ hours later.)  They wheeled me out of the operation room.  I noticed some familiar faces lined up outside the door but they were blurry and I couldn’t figure out who they were until I heard Chen Yee greeted me with a hand wave and a ‘Hi…!’  I opened my eyes again later and she was holding my hand and I managed to squeeze hers in response feeling grateful and comforted that things are going to get better from here on.   

When my lunch of fish porridge came I tried to get up and eat but I couldn’t manage.  My right hand wouldn’t cooperate.  There was a heavy blockage in my throat.  I found it hard to open my mouth and I couldn’t swallow.  And worse of all it was difficult to breathe.  Chen Yee fed me.  I forced myself a few mouthfuls drank some water and lay back exhausted.

Later when my wife and daughter heard about what happened the night before, Chen Yee managed to get me moved to another room.  This one I shared with a guy named Ganesh who was suffering from diabetes and some other renal problems.  He was a quiet chap who loves to watch TV thrillers (like Mission Impossible) around midnight with the full sound system.  After the movie ended, I told him if he wanted to watch some more TV, go ahead, but please turn down the sound.  He said, ‘No’.  And he went to sleep.

to be continued...