Good Morning Viet Nam

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Onward and Upward

Saw the doctor for the last time here at Bumrungrad and was dismissed in record time, 11 minutes. Everything looks great. So now it is off to the airport for my 6:30P flight. But seeing how it is only 10:30A, will hang out in the lobby as long as I can stand it before heading to the airport. Not much else to report. Let the journey begin! See you all soon.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Living the High-Life

Nearly burst at the seams, as I was sitting in a taxi and stuck in a major traffic jam near the hospital, when I remembered my original crack-induced thought that I would be completely fine just hanging out in Bangkok for two weeks waiting for the doctors to give me the "Okay" to start building houses down south. Loved observing Bangkok from the 9th floor so much more than actually living it down here on the streets. Wow is all I have to say.

But on the whole, it is so wonderful to be back in the real world, regardless of how crazy this city may be. I honestly don't know why I love it here on Khao San Rd, as it is Bangkok's Bourbon Street full of debauchery and falang, but the people watching is one of a kind here. And that may be due solely to the fact that I am still on heavy antibiotics.

After the taxi dropped me off on this lovely street, I quickly found a room at the same hotel I stayed in last time I was here in December. Wanted to try to find a slightly more upscale hotel, but opted to go with what I knew, and now wonder if an upscale place even exists on Khao San Rd. But I love the fact that I was given the "quietest" room they have by default. While my room is the size of a closet, doesn't have any windows nor AC, and is the furthest from the street, it is clean and rodent-free and definelty doable for 2 nights. Needless to say, showering three times a day is a necessity as it is so bloody hot in my room. And the fact that I have just woken up from a 10-hour slumber, my personal best here in SE Asia, is kind of surprising, given the conditions. I guess my body just really needed to recoup, regardless of any conditions, before the long journey home. And even though I just grabbed breakfast with Peter, I am still out of it and sluggish and have decided to cancel my artistic adventure at the National Museum as originally planned. Just hanging out at cafes slugging down Thailand's yummy fruit shakes and people watching sounds much more my cup of tea for my final day here.

And as for my arm, it's healing nicely, I presume. I can't really see it as they bandaged it up pretty good and water tight. But the fact that I am still in absolutely no-pain has to be a good sign. Am stopping by the hospital tomorrow to have the doctor have a final look before I fly to Saigon for the night. And then I'll be Stateside. That's just a little bizarre.

That's it from here. I will be posting tomorrow from the hospital before I leave for the airport and embark on a couple of blogless days. Off to nap!

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

All Revved Up With No Place To Go

Got the "You're free to roam Bangkok" statement from the doc today in my 6:50A wake up call. Needless to say, I was disturbed from a deep slumber and wasn't processing everything at my normal speed. My reply made him think that I wasn't ready to blow this joint, and thus he added that I could leave tomorrow if I wanted. As I went back to sleep, I was almost certain that I would need a whole day to prep and enjoy my final moments at the Hospital Hilton. I clearly just wasn't awake yet. So it's now 10:45A and all of my bags, so glad that I am back down to the one pack I originally came here with!, are packed but I am still being held prisoner here in the mall area. Am now waiting to hear back from my insurance, as my actual bill exceeds the estimated amount. Hopefully I can meander my way to Khao San Rd sometime this afternoon. But in the meantime, what better way to pass the time than blog?!

When I enquired as to what my phone bill came to, I am happy to report that I didn't even bat an eyelash when I figured that my personal expenses are 1/14th of my total hospital bill. Personal expenses entail phone and net. I am guessing that my insurance will not cover that portion of the bill, as in their fax they said they would be covering only medical expenses, but it can't hurt to try. Perhaps whoever receives my fax will be in a really good mood and decide that I am worth it. But regardless, I cannot tell you how much each of my conversations with you all meant to me. PRICELESS! Who wouldn't take full advantage of a quick, easy, clear phone connection that makes friends and family seem so much closer than they really are?!

Everyone on the 9th floor is sad to see me go. It's very touching. Even the woman who always brings in my hospital food tray was sad to learn that this was my final meal. I truly have been blessed with the most wonderful nurses, doctors, and staff here and can't thank them enough.

Have run out of things to report. No I haven't. Booked all of my tickets last night and it's definetly a go for Saturday. Forgot that Easter was this Sunday, and that being a very big travel day, but luckily got one of the last 3 spots on Southwest's N/S flight from LA landing me in KC at 7:30P.

While actually getting back to KC was relatively a painless process to book, and hopefully the 20 hour journey will be equally so, moving back into my aparment is not so. Just heard from my landlord today that I will have to sign another 6 or 12 month lease, even though there are still 3 months left on my lease, to move back into my apartment that is no longer mine. Argh! So frustrating that they have covered their bases so well. But alas, 6 months puts me out of the Locarno in September, and summer is the best time to be on the Plaza. Always a drama....

Okay, have really run out of things to report. Am signing off, but will check in before I leave BKK Friday afternoon! Swasdee Ka.

Homeward Bound

And no worries, I WILL be bright eyed and bushy tailed and ready to find me some Easter eggs! Just booked a ticket this morning and am happy to report that I will officially be Stateside as of noon this Saturday. Ready for the abbreviated itinerary? It's a doosy, but goes like this:
Bangkok-Saigon(Friday March 25)
Saigon-Taipei-LA-KC (Saturday March 26)
Estimated total flying time: 18hours

Looking forward to that adventure! Save the best for last. Love that. The main thing is that I will be home very soon! Got the docs seal of approval to leave on Saturday and iill send out the official intinerary, with numbers and actual times, before I leave.

While that is very exciting news on this end, the highlight of my day today was when a Pai-friend, Peter, came and visited me here in paradise. Needless to say, he experienced culture shock and called this joint beyond first world. Just so surreal to be here in Thailand but feel as though I am in the States. Am wondering if I will experience a bit of culture shock when I spend the night in Bangkok before I leave. But Khao San Rd is uber falang infiltrated as well, reminds me of New Orleans, and thus am expecting minimal shock factor. Hopefully Peter and I will connect, out of the hospital, before we both fly out on Friday. Regardless, it was so so so good to see another familiar face today. And as he can attest, I talked his ear off.

That's all from here. Am loving all of the thoughts and emails you all are sending me! Look forward to being home soon. Ciao.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Clearance, Clarance!

LOVE that flick, as it is one of Chevy Chase's finer moments. That's right kids, all systems are a go and I am proud to report that the gaping wound in my right forearm is now sewn shut with 9 beautiful stitches!! Couldn't remember what they told me last night upon my waking up from the anesthesia, and had to ask several nurses this morning if I got stitches or not. Of course, they all gave me conflicting answers and I had to wait until my dressing was changed to see if I actually did receive stitches or a 3rd debridement. Was relieved when the mirror revealed the stitches.

The "operation" went very smoothly last night and upon my arrival in the patients-waiting-to-be-operated-on waiting room, the anesthesiologist was by my side explaining how the whole procedure was done entirely for my comfort and there was no danger. When I told him my fear/belief about being put under, he merely smiled and told me not to worry.

Today has been a low-key day where I have basically not moved from my bed as my body is recouperating from all the doses of anesthesia it has received in the last 2 weeks. Wut came by to say good-bye, and we all know how those are my forte. He's off to Krabi tomorrow and is looking forward to a vaca. It was a little wierd, as he has taken such good care of me, for me not to have been more animated, but I just couldn't hack it today.

Peter comes tomorrow, so that will be nice to see one more familiar face. Tonight I am going to attempt to tackle the airlines and see when I can fly out of here. The doc said I would be good to fly by Saturday. Here's hoping.....

Saturday, March 19, 2005

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

The surgeon just came in and looked at the wound and told me it looked really good. Seeing how something is definetly lost in translation on that one, as I have yet to look at it without being grossed out, I opted to trust the doctor's judgment without seeing for myself. So, does this mean it can be stitched up today, Doc? I think tomorrow is better. Um, okay. I just decided that I am going back to America as soon as I can book a ticket, and don't want to rush you by any means, but am kind of anxious to get back. No Krabi? he asks. No Krabi. He nods, and then leaves the room. Enter a nurse with two contracts for me to sign. One being for my 3rd operation. I had to clarify that receiving stitches was an operation. Yes, it is. But the second contract for me to sign was for local anesthesia. What?! Um, why do I need to be put under to receive stitches? She didn't know. And thus, since my prior conscious stitch-receiving experience was when I was in the second grade, while that was a lifetime ago, I do remember not being put under for that. Thus I asked to talk to the doctor before I signed anything.

The doctor quickly phoned my room and explained that a 3rd debridement might be necessary since the cut is so deep, but they wouldn't know for sure until I was on the cold table. Okay, so what you're saying is that if the wound looks as great as everyone has been telling me it is, that I will just receive a suture, and not really need to be put under, but if there is still some dirt and bacteria remaining, you will scrape that off and potentially wait a few more days to make sure you got everything before you close up the wound, in which case I will need to be put under, right? Bingo. While I love being put under because it is one of the deepest sleeps I can't ever remember, I do recall my college boyfriend, whose father was an anesthesiologist, telling me that every time one goes under there is a slim possiblity the patient might die. That is why being an anthesiologist is one of the most stressful jobs. But now that I know the big picture and that there is a possibility for another lovely debridement, should it be necessary, I am feeling better and signed the anesthesia contract. Then I quickly tabulated that anesthesia equals IV, but had to ask the nurse for varification. NO! Why am I always right?! Usually it's a blessing, but today it's a curse. Argh. My days of IV freedom are over, and as it is, I only have 20 more minutes left before I have to report back to my suite for them to stick yet one more of my precious veins.

But we are focusing on the positive and hopefully when I wake up TONIGHT, they bumped it up to tonight instead of tomorrow, this case will be closed. Stay tuned.....

Basic Instinct

Did I say August? I meant April, perhaps I'll even be back before March is through if I can swing it. That was a no-brainer. Yesterday was "trying on decisions" and the "Going Home" outfit fit so well that "Staying in Thailand" didn't really stand a chance. Honestly, I was so excited and in such a good mood yesterday that I completely forgot I still have an open wound. Wanted to sleep on it to make sure I felt as happy with my decision in the morning, and am relieved to report that I did.

Seeing how I was a P.E. teacher in my former life, I gave Thailand a fair shot. I did some research for other various volunteer organizations, but when it came down to it, I couldn't ignore the sinking feeling in my stomach that I had when I read the job descriptions. And seeing how I am a firm believer in the fact that one's instincts are ALWAYS 110% correct, I have to follow my gut on this one.

While I was elated to finally come to that decision yesterday, it took me a while to actually be comfortable with it. Before I left, I thought that I could only return when I had intercepted a vision, goal, and direction as to what to do with my life. Seeing how I have none of those right now, I didn't think home was an option. Nobody wants to be a failure, and the fact that I will have been gone for only 5 months instead of my allotted 12, is only one of the many ways, in my head, that I have failed. BUT upon further thought, I have realized that while I don't know what I am going to do when I get home, I do know who I am. That has been the biggest lesson of this trip. Not only do I know who I am, but I am also comfortable in my own skin, which is a very nice change. And I know that what I want to do will eventually fall into place, but for the time being I just want to have some fun.

Has she totally gone off the deep end on those antibiotics?! Nope. As they say in Vietnam, "Same same, but different".

Friday, March 18, 2005

Free At Last, Free At Last...

As Dr. King Jr put so eloquently, "Thank God almighty I am free at last!" Can I get a "Whoop Whoop"?! Hell ya, your favorite patient is finally IV-free and running wild all over the hospital. I think there was something lost in translation, however, as 7 days in Thai really means 9 days in reality. But regardless, I am now on oral meds and couldn't be happier, at least for now. The doc stopped by today and asked how my legs felt. Um, fine, but they have always felt fine. Right, what about your arm? It's fine as well. Well the wound looks good and is free of any puss or white stuff. (He didn't actually see my wound as the nurse had changed the dressing an hour before he dropped in). Good, does that mean it can be stitched up? You'll have to ask the surgeon that. Excellent. But no worries, this is not my main doctor, I have only seen him twice, whereas I see my surgeon and other doctor every day. And don't ask silly questions, such as, what are their names? Because I have no idea as to their names or even how to pronounce them. The main thing is that I see the same faces every day and they know my name.

Who knows when I will actually get this puppy closed up, but my self-prognosis is that it will be sometime tomorrow. And then hopefully I will be able to check out of the hotel later in the week.

In other exciting news, I am thrilled beyond belief as to everyone's support and encouragement! Thank you for all of the emails, calls, cards, thoughts, and prayers you have been sending my way. It truly brightens my day and I cannot thank you enough. I've spent the last 3 hours, HAPPILY, responding to emails. Keep 'em coming!

Wut stopped by yesterday bearing gifts, 2 books, tea, and lots of batteries for my discman. I was ecstatic and very touched by the fact that he has taken such excellent care of me. He is now off to Pattaya for a music festival and then will head to Krabi on Tuesday.

What other exciting tidbits can I relay from the hospital? Um, not a whole lot other than the fact that I have received word from Habitat, informing me that for their first disaster relief house building team they are looking for skilled construction workers as the site might be dangerous for unskilled debutantes who are wanting to help. That officially shot down any remaining hopes of my actually getting to fulfill my lifelong dream of strapping on a toolbelt and hard hat. BUMMER! I guess I will have to focus my energy now on my second lifelong goal of being a contestant on "The Price is Right".

While I have gotten the strong vibe that volunteering for Habitat would not be in my best interest, I have explored other options that have been recommended by seasoned Tsunami volunteers. The only thing I found that sounds "safe" for a-newly-stitched-up-arm, and requires virtually no skill, is picking up trash on the beach. But trash has germs, and according to my internist at home, even though my cut will sufficiently be closed up enough to take out the stitches, infection can still work its way in somehow. While I hold onto the belief that my poor internist was held at gunpoint and forced to say such things by my mother who wishes me to return home, I have to admit the thought of coming home does sound rather pleasant. But alas, am going to sit on it a bit more, seeing how I have nothing but time, before I make any formal decision.

Okay, that officially brings you up to speed with me. Thanks again for all of the thoughts and know that I am returning them right back at ya! Cheerios with Fruit Loops and banana flavored milk.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

I Never Thought It Would Come To This...

Prolifick blogging, that is. Of course that was my original intention of this blog, to keep you all updated on all of the wonderful temples, musuems, and monuments that I haven't been to, but since when do I actually follow through on an original plan?! Apparently now, as I have loads of time on my hands and will continue to do so for the next three weeks. So yes, stay tuned as I am blogging once, if not twice, a day.

I am settling into my hotel room well and even placed my Buddha of Peace figurine on the shelf. It's a miniature standing Buddha that was given to me as a parting gift from the LA monk at Wat Tam Wua. All of the nurses have said that it is good luck. When in Rome....

Yesterday spent most of the day enjoying in bed relaxing. So funny that my hospital bed really is the most comfortable bed I have slept on here in SE Asia. Think the adrenaline has finally worn off and my body is in desperate need of some R&R from the last week and a half's activities. Thus I am taking full advantage of the fact that I have nothing to do.

After the accident, when I was still in Laos, I was on auto-pilot survival mode as my body knew it needed to function normally until I got to a BKK hospital. Then when I checked in to Bumrungard, I was hit with a 3-day surge of pure adrenaline as I was beyond esctatic to be in such a first world environment. This is the most first world place I have been to in SE Asia. This is what I have been so homesick for, and thus only enhances the fact that I am taking my hospital stay so well. The dirty bamboo bungalow towns of Laos, that have no electricity, where Lara and I were tromping around just 2 weeks ago, seems like a lifetime ago. But now my adrenaline rush has finally faded and am beginning to think about life after the hospital. Talked to the doctor yesterday about it and let him know that I was in no rush to leave before I am ready. Also let him know that I am scared about life after the hospital. Unfortunately I couldn't keep it together on that statement, and despite my best efforts, the dam broke and a tear escaped. He quickly told me not to worry, patted me on the shoulder, and said that they would not stitch me up and kick me out. They are going to wait a couple of days before they stitch me up, and then will keep me here at least 3 more days after that. In that time, they will be able to see if there is any infection still in the wound, and if there is, take care of it. After that I will be free to go, but will need to come back for some outpatient checkups. I've already checked into hotels, and the hospital really does have a hotel, called the Bumrungard Residence, that is specifically for families of patients and people who come for outpatient procedures as well. They said I could stay there if I wanted. Seeing how it is close to the hospital, and I am sure it is clean, quiet, well-kept, it is a tempting offer. Especially since there won't be any Thai prostitutes with Western businessmen there. Love the booming sex industry here and while I no longer gawk at it, I still notice it.

After my chat with the doctor, I followed his perscription to take a walk around the hospital and garden, as a means to get out of my head. I even threw on my street clothes and looked so charming in my navy Dic the whale T-shirt, pink capri pants, running shoes, hospital bracelet, and IV receiver in my left hand. But it felt so good to be back in my clothes. Didn't know they were that stinky, though. They never were before, ah, but I was in the backpacker scene when I last wore them and everybody has stinky clothes, thus no one smells. Assured the nurses that I was just going down to McDonald's to get dinner and read my Vogue, and not leaving the building, and would be back in time for my 10PM session with the IV. It was the best escape I could have asked for and felt much better when I returned to my suite at 9pm and went to bed.

Wut is going to Krabi this Tuesday and really wants me to join him. At first it sounded like a great idea, a little R&R on the beach. But even if I am out in time, I discovered last night that I won't be in the zone, physically nor mentally, for Krabi. Ran the idea by the doc, and he said I could go without a problem, and would just have to go to a clinic down there to get my wound cleaned and the stitches taken out. Sounds easy enough, except that I have had indirect prior experience with medical clinics in southern Thailand and know that they all aren't as well run as Bumrungard Hospital. My roomate in Ko Samui, Christy, went to one for the needle that was stuck in her foot, this was before she knew it was a needle, and the clinic said they had taken care of it when in fact, they only made it worse. So that story is in the back of my mind, and along with the fact that I like to keep things simple, and really trust the staff here at BH, I decided I am going to stay here in BKK for the next two weeks until my stitches are taken out. Told Wut that when he called last night, and he understood completely.

Just found out that a friend from Pai is coming to Bangkok, a few days before he flies back to Germany, just to hang out with me. So nice of him to do that as it will be nice to see a familiar face.

So things are good, once again, with your favorite patient. After a good night's sleep am ready for my final day, HOPEFULLY!, on IV antibiotics. I am going to be doing back flips, literally, all over the hospital when they yank this thing out of me for good! You all have been so kind and supportive with keeping me in your thoughts and emails, and have asked to let you know if there is anything you can do. While I am in the best care possible over here and have everything I need, there is one thing that the hospital cannot provide, and that is a familiar voice from family and friends. Phone calls really do make my day, infact they are the highlight. Laughter is such good medicine for me. Wut has been such a good friend and come to see me almost every day. However, he, understandably, has plans this weekend and won't be around. It's going to be a long one, and I have lots of things to keep me busy, but I would love to talk to you. It's a 13-hour time difference from KC, so when it is 9pm in KC it is 10AM the next day here at the hospital. Bruce informed me that some calling plans are as inexpensive as 6-cents a minute. I know that is a better deal than the rate here at the hospital. So if you have a minute this weekend, I would love to hear what you are up to. 011-66-2-667-1981. Got to IV! Peace out, homies.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Rise and Debride

It's a good thing that Wut was in the room, and I was in a good mood, when the surgeon came in and told me that I would be staying in paradise for one more week. That was before the surgery. All things considered, I took the news pretty well, as well as I could. Didn't burst into tears, just went to sleep.

Upon my 6am wake up call by the nurse, she asked me to shower before my surgery. I assured her I would and then proceeded to roll over and go back to sleep. "That crazy blondle falang!" she tittered, in Thai, to her coworker who was also in my suite, "What are we going to do with her?!".

Surgery went well, so I am told, and was pretty quick. I remember being pretty cold when my eyes got too heavy to keep open at 7:35A and the next thing I knew I woke up in layers of warm blankets at 8:45A. After waking up, I, again, rolled over and went back to sleep. I can't get enough of that here and it serves as a great way to pass the time.

Speaking of passing the time, Bruce has definetly done his research and informed me that the hospital offers all kind of plastic surgery "packages" that I can take advantage of this week. Now the question is, what will I enhance first?!

That's really all I have to report from base camp. Some of you have requested a definition of debridement, and, as I understand it, it is when the doctors clean out a really deep wound of dirt, debris, and bacteria. In my case, I still had some bacteria, from the water, in there along with some other things. Wut has taken some photos and he is trying to send them to me so I can pass them along to my fans. They are pretty classic. He even got some shots of my wound. It's pretty wierd to see a photo of me smiling, as I am completely pain free, with a large, grotesque, unclosed wound on my arm. That photo was taken before I snuck another peak of the wound, as I honestly believed Wut when he said it wasn't bad now, but still got grossed out. The only time I am not smiling in the photos is when the nurse is actually cleaning the wound. That still isn't fun.

Off to shower before I make some calls during another 4-hour IV session. Only 2 more days, which converts into 16 hours, the countdown has begun! Then I begin oral antibiotics and they stitch me up. Love talking to you all, but do request that when we connect, you don't ask silly questions such as why I didn't see the wooden plank that was in the water. What's done is done, and the main thing is that I am now safe and sound and in excellent hands. My love to you all! Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Down For The Count

But not for long! After signing off, I promptly escorted myself to the nearest elevator. I was hoping to make it to my room before the dam broke. No luck. Not only did I continue to well up in the vator, but a few tears even managed to escape. And of course the elevator was full of smallThais wondering what this giant, quasi-blonde, female falang in the pink elephant, no joke-the elephant is the hospital mascot, scrubs and kimono was doing, as she looks, walks, and acts perfectly fine minus the fact that her right elbow is wrapped in gauze and has an IV receiver in her hand for some odd reason, nonetheless why is she crying? Love walking around the hotel and catching the natives' gawking. And to top it off, the elevator stopped on every floor. Priceless.

As soon as I reached the door of Suite 981, I had a good 20-minute cry, and then proceeded to prepare myself a cup of tea and regroup on my couch. Doesn't sound like I am in a hospital does it? As soon as I finished my tea, I meditated before deciding that taking a nap was a better option. Upon waking up, I listened to my favorite Scissor Sisters cd, and am now happy to report, that I am back in the zone. And as a bonus, the sun is now shining. Glad to know it hasn't gone out on me.

Think the real reason for this morning's temporary meltdown was the fact that there are so many unknowns right now. The surgeon hasn't visited me yet today, and thus I haven't been able to get any idea of where I stand on things. I haven't even been told for sure that surgery is a go for tomorrow. The doctor yesterday said we would wait and see how the antibiotic worked and then proceeded to look through my chart and noticed that the surgeon had scheduled surgery for the 16th. What a pleasant surprise!

Life after the hospital is the biggest unknown. Wut is going down to Krabi on Tuesday and I would really like to join him, and his friends, to get a little R&R. The beach sounds nice, and I might even be able to don my swim suit without eliciting too many comments from the locals about the handprint-sized bruise that is gradually lightening up from its original deep purple colour on the back of my right thigh. While I won't be able to build sandcastles or ride the waves without a foolproof zip-loc body bag on my right arm, strolling on the beach and hanging out by the pool in the shade sounds just my speed. But I will see what the surgeon says, as he might not be too keen on the heat, dirt aspect of of the south.

Am currently back in the moment, and not stressing about unknowns, and loving the fact that I am in such a wonderful facility, even if it does make me take slightly painful 4 hour IV injections. The main thing is that I am well-taken care of, clean, cool, and able to get loads of rest here. And I know that I'll be back on the traveller scene when the time is right. Have a great day, one and all!

Monday, March 14, 2005

I Heart IVs!

All right, after I thought we had extinguished all useable veins in my left arm for the intravenous meds, I was sure my left leg would be a much more comfortable option. But I was wrong. Miracously the nurse discovered yet another unused legit vein in my left hand. This is getting old fast. IVs are my least favorite part of my hotel stay and now they are giving me so much juice in one sitting that it takes 4 hours to get it all in me. It was a good thing that Wut was here to shoulder the blow last night when the nurse told me that I am scheduled to be on IV meds for 7 days. This is day 4. Ugh. But then she said I would start taking oral meds after my second surgery, which is Wednesday. I'll ask the surgeon for clarification.

Needless to say I am ready to blow this popsicle stand. It's a gray day here in paradise, literally outside, and thus my spirits are a bit gray. But it has been a busy morning. I've managed to wile away most of my IV hours chatting on the phone. So good to hear familiar voices and catch up on all of the latest happenings with friends. Have a correction to make to my phone number, from the States you dial 011-66-2-667-1981.

Ran my plan after discharge past one doc yesterday and when he heard I wanted to build houses he said the only thing I could lift would be papers inside away from the dirt. He didn't quite understand when I tried asking him how long I would have to be lifting papers inside and told me to ask the surgeon today. Have yet to see the surgeon. But if I can only really lift papers inside, I am beginning to think that my days as a backpacker might be limited seeing as my previous lifestyle was one filled with dirt, sweat, and dirty water.

Trying to stay strong and positive and take it one thing at a time, but today is pretty tough. Here come the tears, am signing off. Thanks so much for your thoughts and emails.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

This Just in from the Hilton Hospital

Swasdee Ka, Crew! Hope you all raised a pint for me yesterday! Totally forgot that about St. Patrick's day as the Thais celebrate every other Western holiday except the green one. Wanted to update you all on my progress....

According to the doctor my wound looks really good. However, yesterday I thought it would be cool to see my bone and snuck a peak of the wound when the doc was changing my dressing and not only was disgusted and missed seeing my glorious Radius, but after seeing the wound felt overwhelmed with pain and started to cry. The doctor and nurse did their best to comfort me, but it was just my body's time for an emotional breakdown. Man did it hurt. But an hour or so after the new bandage was applied and my tears had run their course, I was feeling much calmer.

I decided to treat myself with some retail therapy and, upon the nurse's approval, went downstairs and loaded up on magazines, National Geographic, Vogue, and Vanity Fair, and then loaded up on food. It was high time for me to throw my hospital-food-only diet out the window and ordered a double cheeseburger, fries, and coke from McDonald's. You would be silly to think that I would just stop there and not get 2 Starbuck muffins for dessert. Food never tasted so good! The hospital food here is decent, they have quite the varied menu as their patients are primarily foreigners here, but breakfast is their weakest meal. While this food binge came at 5p, I then proceeded to eat my hospital dinner at 7:30p and was fortified to last me through the night.

Also asked the doc yesterday if it was possible for my body to still be in shock as a reason why I feel no pain. He said that I wasn't in shock but on serious antibiotics and painkillers and that was why I felt no pain.D My body has let me know that it knows exactly what's going on and is superstressed out and has given me the largest cankersore I have ever had. We're medicating that and I think my body is now pretty relaxed in the recovery mode.

After the tearshed yesterday, it turned out to be a wonderful leisurely Sunday. Wut came by, and we chilled on the balcony for a bit before taking a walk in the hospital garden on the 6th floor. So beautiful! Then we came back to my pad and sat in the living room area playing cards and eating mango. I heart mango. It is my new fave fruit and I simply can't get enough of it. It was the best Sunday afternoon I could have asked for.

And so this morning have already seen the doc and am happy to report that the dressing change didn't hurt nearly as much and was a tear-free event for me. He says it still looks good, but if the antibiotics can't get rid of the dirt and infection that remain inside, another surgical debridement might be the best option. We will wait until tomorrow to see how it looks. When the wound is completely clean they will stitch it up. Looking forward to showing off my 2 inch long Laotian tattoo to you all when I return home in August, if not before.

Happy Monday! Now get back to work.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Putting On The Ritz

Holy Shit Kids! Hang on for a very long and bumpy ride!....

Left lovable Laos and decided to postpone my Cambodian journey till the end of my trip, whenever that may be. Needed a Cambodian visa, which I didn't have and seemed like kind of an ordeal to get. Was kind of at my threshold for traveling around in dirty 3rd world countries where it was a common custom for me to have rats, coach roaches, spiders, or geckos as roomates. I was itching for the 1st world flavor, and Bangkok was only a hop, skip, and 2 jumps away. But let me share the real reason that solidified my sudden change of plans....

Explored southern Laos where the main attraction there is the 4,000 islands. Stayed on a primitive island that has a low-impact tourism policy called Don Kon. It was very quiet and relaxing. Decided to go on a group tour of the 4,000 islands main attractions: Soumpakit Waterfall, SE Asia's largest waterfall of which I have forgotten the name, and see the Irrawaddy dolphins. After traversing our way through the islands, via speed boat, which are really just small mounds of land with a tree or bush on it, hence there are 4,000, we finally disembarked at the guesthouse bungalow infested island, Don Ket. We then were told by our guide that we had 4 hours to explore the island and the Soumpakit Waterfall and good luck. After paying a small entrance fee, we began the hour long trek to the waterfall. The sight was pretty amazing, loads of rocks and little waterfalls/pools that led to the main powerful waterfall. After taking some photos, we decided to join the loads of tourists that explored around the rocks in search of a pool to cool off in. (Let me take a moment to briefly describe our very international tour group: there was a German Thai Boxing couple, Martin, 32, and Melanie, 22, 2 other German guys forgot their names, 2 French men again didn't catch their names, and 2 Italian women Mariella and her friend who were lab technicians at different Italian hospitals). After exploring around the falls, we finally found the perfect place to take a dip. So refreshing and relaxing. After .5 hours in the sun we decided to seek shade. That meant having to navigate our way back through the rocks. Found an easy path and was in the lead when the path suddenly became quite perplexing. We were almost to solid ground and only had 2 dams to cross to get there. The first one was not a problem, the wooden plank(the top part of the dam) was short and only involved taking one-step to cross and there was a nearby treebranch offering support should one need it. No worries. But then I came up to the second one and pondered as to how I would cross it successfully. The top part of this dam was longer, involving at least 4 steps to cross, and there was nothing to grab onto as a means of support. Oh yeah, and this part of the falls was 5m (10-15 ft?) high. All right, no other way so here we go. As soon as I had both feet on the plank, on in front of the other, I began to seriously wobble. Shit, I am going down. Sure enough my feet slipped out from under me and I began to free fall. But not for long as I was able to catch myself on the lip of the dam with the crook of my left arm. That slowed down my fall, but I felt myself slipping as my feet had nothing to grab on to. Thus my freefall continued. I don't remember too much about it because I closed my eyes and shot up a quick prayer. When I opened them I was stunned to see that I had landed on my feet in a shallow pool of water. Martin was right behind me and I immediately gave him my camera as my bag was totally wet. Um, shock? Most definetly. After letting the group up top know I was okay, I then saw them navigate across the dam via a wider wooden plank that I didn't see as it was submerged beneath the murky water. Martin quickly assessed the situation and we were both amazed that the bleeding on my leg came only from the rock rash on the back of my right thigh. But then there were some big drops of blood on some nearby rocks and discovered a cut in my right forearm as well as on my elbow. After quickly rinsing that off in the river, Martin led me out of the pool and up the rocks to safety.

When I sat down we reassessed my condition and only found the same results. I am so so so so incredibly lucky to be alive! Had I landed any other way I would surely have broken my back, neck, head, or even possibly died. While the group was busy doctoring up my wounds as best they could, I began thanking my lucky stars, Buddha, the Lord, and my guardian angels for sparing me. Mentally I was completely present and was well aware of everything going around me and the fact that I should be in excruciating pain. But my body had gone into deep shock, and I think I am still in shock, and didn't feel too much pain. Up at the restuarant, there were a number of other foreigners who inspected my arm including an older gentleman from Wisconsin who worked at the EMT and has a relative in Prarie Village. That was nice to have home closeby and to know that I was well taken care of.

Meanwhile the Laotians were sitting in the backseat simply observing this all. They gave us Lao-Lao (whiskey) to disinfect the wound and gave me a shot as well. Nobody spoke English well and thus I had to rely solely on the knowledge of my international friends. It was so wierd to mentally process this traumatic event, but feel completely fine and ready to continue on the tour. That stunned the whole group and thus they kept a close watch on me the whole day. Being fortified with a fruit shake, cigarette, loads of water, and with my right arm wrapped in lao-lao soaked kleenex and bound in my red bandana, we began the journey back as there was not a tuk-tuk in sight. Everyone kept a close eye on me the whole day and were stunned, as I was myself, that I was acting completely natural, able to hold conversations, move my right arm through the full range of motion, put weight on it, and even hold my waterbottle in my right hand.

Stopped at the Don Det Hospital, which fortunately was closed. It was the dirtiest rundown hospital with wooden beds and a few random IV stands, but no apparent fresh, clean supplies. Got to love laidback dirty Laos. We crossed the bridge and stopped at a bamboo bar where there was an Englishman gentleman who was kind enough to continue the process of cleaning my wound with his supplies. I am so grateful to all of the travellers and village people who helped me, it was really a very humbling event to observe, one that I will remember for the rest of my life. From his bar, we hopped on the back of a sawngthaew and rode the rest of the way back to the boat. Of course in true Laotian style, the driver wanted to overcharge the falang for the 2 minute ride. I love being a walking dollar bill! We didn't give in, though.

Still feeling completely normal and not in too much pain. Loaded up on water and cokes and was good to continue on in the tour. Not much point in going back to my guesthouse as it was too late in the day to make any connecting buses or planes leaving Laos. I also didn't want to leave the group and deal with this on my own quite yet. Next we went to SE Asia's largest fall, but were only able to see it from the tourist veranda. That was perfectly fine with me. It was amazing though, unfortunately as my camera got drenched, and possibly broken, from my fall I didn't even attempt to turn it on to capture the memories. After that fall, we took a boat ride out to island 2, 453 to view the dolphins. Pretty cool to see, but after an hour I was ready to go. Got back to camp at 7p, and after showering, the group redressed my wound and we all had dinner together.

I had met and travelled with a Canadian fellow, Roger pronounced with a French accent, and was thinking I would join him into Cambodia. That was pre-fall and now I was certain that Bangkok would be my next destination instead. He was very supportive and it was nice to see a familiar face when I returned to my guesthouse and recanted my day to him. He opted not to go on the tour, but instead explored the island via bicycle for the day.

It was the best thing that my wound was on the underside of my forearm distal to the elbow and was in a place where I couldn't see it easily, nor could I clean it myself easily. When people passed by and I heard their reactions I knew it was bad. But luckily everyone in my tour group was very positive and knew how crucial that was to my overall reaction. Martin did the best he could with the supplies we had and I guaranteed him I would go to the hospital when I got to BK. Even though he cleaned it, he said it looked like there was some rock and dirt still in there. When I did bend my arm back to examine it at the falls, I had a flashback to the fun times in last year's gross anatomy class, all I could see was a little blood and some subcuteanous fat squishing through. Um, yeah that's deep.

The next day joined the 2 Italian girls to get to Ubon Ratchatani. From there I would get on a 10 hour bus to BKK and they would board a 30 hour bus to Pattaya. I was so thankful that we had smooth bus connections and border crossings as well. The longest time I had to wait for anything was 30min. Such a smooth transition when backpacking in Laos and Thailand is PRICELESS.

Arrived in Bangkok, still feeling pretty pain free other than a little stiffness that is normal with a bad scrape, at 2 am and quickly found a hotel near the Bumrungard hospital. Admitted myself at 10am the next morning, again feeling completely normal, and didn't wait but 5 minutes to see a doctor. Upon his examination he informed me that I had a really deep wound through the muscle and a really bad infection. Up until this point, I had been shockingly okay with everything that happened. Very calm, in control, and pain-free and I think that is because I am just so f!@#ing happy to be alive. I have had nightmares of all the ways I could have fallen and the consequences and feel nauseus right now just thinking about it. But after hearing "very bad infection" my mind snapped out of its calm state and began to fast forward through possible translations. The only one I came up with was amputation. When the doctor saw the tears welling up, keep in mind I had been tear-free up until this point, he told me not to worry it is fixable but it will just take time. Time is something I have, thank God. That afternoon, after getting admitted, I promptly was rushed into surgery and put under general anesthesia. On the door of the OR I read "debridement" and had yet another flashback to my grad school days. The wound unit we studied last year was my least favorite unit in that all of the pictures we saw were super gross and involved the muscle being exposed. I also knew it was going to hurt like a bitch, but definetly worth it.

Before I went under, I called my Thai friend who lives in Bangkok, Wut (pronounced "Wood"), and when I was returned to my hospital room he was there along with a beautiful fruit basket. I met Wut in Pai and am so grateful to have him here in Bangkok. He has come to see me every day bringing delicious traditional Thai desserts that are not only gorgeous but also so yummy! And you know how much I like to eat!

So the hospital. I am at Bumrungard Hospital,, and couldn't have asked for a better place to stay. The facility is so amazing here, not only do they have a Starbucks, McDonalds, Au Bon, and a fancy Italian resturant, but they also have shops! Um yeah, this is a 5 star hospital hotel. When I first walked in the lobby I thought I was in a hotel. I opted for a single room when I learned that I may be here for a WEEK, wasn't expecting that but again time is definetly on my side as my immenent hard hat days (house building) can wait, and it is the best hospital room I have ever seen. A single is ginormous, and I had to clarify that this was not the single deluxe or the VIP, and comes along with a balcony, a leather couch and chair for guests, and most importantly for me, loads of sunlight from ginormous windows. The staff is so positive and friendly here and are so helpful. The doctors and staff speak English very well and I honestly couldn't have asked for a better setup. I am so blessed!

So this, Sunday, the 13th, is my third day in B&H and the accident happened on the 9th. Spoke with the doctor yesterday, when HE came in to clean my wound, and said that the culture they had taken to see if there was any bacteria was negative for now, but they would wait 2 more days to be sure. Wut was in the room when he was cleaning my arm and said he could see my bone. Wow, that's deep. But the doc said there were no fractures or breaks in my bone, thanks to my Flintstone vitamins. That was a close one. Thank you Buddha! Without being able to consult my Netter's, nor having confirmation from the doc, it is my own prognosis that the rock went through my Flexor Carpi Ulnaris as when I flex digits 4 & 5 I do feel something. 10 points for the OT dropout! OTs can you back me up with the origin, insertion, and innervation please?

And brings you up to date on me. I've been poked and prodded out the ying yang and have 5 doses of intravenous antibiotics a day. That's always fun. Yesterday the doc said that the wound still looked dirty and they might have to operate again, ZOINKS! Bring it on, I am ready to have my game back, tennis game that is. And my forehand is my most powerful weapon, right Melinda and Huw?

The most surreal aspect of this whole ordeal for me has been my attitude. I am so happy and energetic and feel the most like my usual self than I ever have over here in the past 5 months. I think I might still be in shock. My mind is completely coherent and knows that when my body actually catches up to my mind I'm probably not going to be as chipper. In lieu of that, after I get released from B&H I plan on spending a week or two at the beach, relaxing, before I strap on my tool belt and hard hat and help the locals build houses. Hope this finds you all well, please know that I am doing great, loving my Bangkok "hotel", and am receiving the best care in SE Asia. I'm in room 981, and the phone number is (2-country code) 6671981, if you would like to call and say hello. I would LOVE to chat, but you by no means have to as I KNOW it is very expensive to call. Wishing you all the best in the upcoming week! Swasdee Ka! (Thai for ciao).

Monday, March 07, 2005

Lovin' Laidback Laos

Saba-dii (Hello) Everyone! Yes, I am still alive and full of stories of my Laos adventures as of yet. While this is only meant to be the highlights of the last 3 weeks I can't promise it will be brief. Better hang on....

Upon my arrival into Laos, which is pronounced "Lao" without the "s" - the french are responsible for that typo, go figure -, I met my travelmate for the past 2 weeks, Lara. Yes, that's right, as in Lara Croft Tomb Raider, and she's just as kickass in that she is 26, from Colorado, a rock climber, AND a Ashtanga yoga (my fave) teacher. The Laotian villagers didn't know what hit them when we struck a few poses after lunch. Priceless. Needless to say, Lara and I were the perfect pair and I couldn't have asked for a better travel companion. Sadly, we parted ways today, as she only has a 15 day visa and thank God I have a 30 day one. But, never fear, our paths will cross again in southern Thailand in a couple of months. Never let the good ones go.

Right, back to our arrival into Laos..... Took the slow boat, which was way too slow for 2 days of sitting on hard wooden benches, from the border to Luang Prabang. LP is a charming town with quite the collection of Buddhist and French colonial architecture clustered together on a small riverine peninsula and surrounded by mountains, as stated in the Lonely Planet. The night market was great and the theme of our Laotian purchases has been scarves. They are gorgeous and so colorful! But let it be known, that I did NOT buy any scarves in LP, and that it was Lara that went nuts first, not me. I just followed suit later on in our trip.

After LP, we grabbed a sawngthaew and headed north to Nong Khiaw. A sawngthaew is my new favorite mode of transport, right up there with a motorbike. It's a converted pick-up truck with two wooden benches down either side. Uncomfortable? Slightly for extended periods of time but well worth the sleep-at-your-own-risk-of-falling-out factor. Talk about rush! It's the main mode of long-distance transport here in Laos. But we were surprised, more like super-relieved, to actually ride in a conventional bus for the overnight journies.

Nong Khiaw was a nice small village in the midst of STUNNING, massive limestone cliffs. Love the mountains in Laos. After 2 days of chilling and trekking there, we boated upriver and stayed in Muang Ngoi for a night, home to what used to be an ethnic Laos village that has since been overtaken by 18 bungalow guesthouse businesses. A bit depressing and surreal to say the least, but Lara and I trekked to some remote villages and mingled with the natives. That was a little strange as well as I could only take so much before I felt as though we were walking through a human zoo. The communication barrier is sometimes overwhelming, even though we attempt to small talk with the villagers, the connection with the people is missing.

We continued eastward visiting several more remote, non-electricity oriented, bamboo bungalow villages. It's amazing how simply one can truly live. Made a pit stop in Phonsovan, home of the Plain of Jars, and decided to forgo the 8th wonder of the world, as no one has any earthly clue as to how the 600kg jars got there, why there are 200 + of them, or what they were used for, and press on instead to Vang Vieng. VV was yet another small town in the midst of some more beautiful empowering mountains. However, it is a town contrived solely for tourists and was a little eerie. Gave me a glimpse of my beloved Pai, but definetly lacked any character whatsoever. The town was full of pizzerias and other resturarants that offered "happy" pizzas and shakes and consequently the falang (Westerners) were perfectly "happy" watching umpteen episodes of "Friends" reruns all day long. Yeah, it was nuts. We blew that popsicle stand after a day and kayaked to Vientienne, the capital of Laos.

Being sick and tired of any mode of transport that consisted of 4 wheels, Lara and I proved our physical endurance in masterfully navigating our way down a river with level 3 rapids. We went with a group and when the guide told us that 90% of his clients overturned on a certain part of the rapids, we were determined that we would be the 10%. The guide didn't even make it in his demo, and we were certain, after seeing the challenge, that we would be toast. But we impressed everyone with our skill and grace in the fact that we not only remained upright, but somehow managed to remain upright while going backwards down the river. Yet another unknown talent that I possess. Love those.

Vientienne is a quaint city that seems anything but a capital. After spending one day of sightseeing, the highlight being dancing at a temple party with monks not only djing but smoking also, we unwound with a BeerLao by the dried up river. Laos prides itself in having SE Asia's best beer, but it actually reminds me of Bud Light, and thus is not the best. Nothing tops a Boulevard Wheat con limon!

After parting ways this morning, I hopped on a bus headed for southern Laos while Lara began the journey back to southern Thailand where she has been rock climbing for the past 4 months. Currently am in Svannakhet and am thoroughly impressed with the neighborhoods here. I almost fell over when I witnessed someone watering their front lawn. I didn't know those existed over here. It's the little things that make home seem a little less than a zillion miles away.

And that's it for me. Tomorrow continuing south eventually to discover the beauty in the 4,000 islands of the Mekong. Chok Di (Best wishes) and good night.