Tag Archives: travel

Wordless Wednesday: Congratulations MHS Class of 2015

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Wordless Wednesday: Habitat for Humanity

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Stumbling on the Sidewalk

When in pursuit of sidewalk endings, adventures are bound to pop up along the way. Most of the time, the escapades that seem the craziest at the time, once survived, end up being the best stories and they are the reason we sling on our backpacks as much as possible and go-go-go. But, not all adventures take us down a road we want to travel, and that, my friends, is how I almost became Thad’s personal ACS case last week. (ACS= American Citizen Services.)

It all started on a bright, sunny Friday afternoon, three weeks ago. I had just driven back to the embassy from a going away lunch at a local polo club (great Indian food!) and was settling in at my computer for an afternoon of sorting and scanning diplomatic notes. Strangely, my left eye was super blurry, but I blamed it on the raging sunshine outside and figured it would quickly adjust to the florescent lights of the office.

It didn’t.

All weekend.

By Sunday night, I was doing the worst thing anyone with any kind of ailment can do: I Googled it. Suddenly, WebMD had me convinced I had rare eyeball cancer and was going to die before morning. Thank you, internets. The upside to my internet searching was that it made me realize maybe my blurry vision was a bigger deal that I was giving it credit for and maybe, just maybe, I should pop in to our embassy medical unit to have them take a quick glance on Monday morning.

Which I did. After finishing the visa intake for the morning. (I was really not too panicked about this whole thing yet. I’d get to MED when I go there…) Going in, I told the medical officer that I had only half-vision in my left eye. I would have slated it nearly a horizontal line across my eye, with vision on the bottom. Without much hesitation, I was shuttled off to an ophthalmologist here in Kuala Lumpur for a series of tests, but I still wasn’t feeling super worried about the situation.

That sense of calm would not last much longer.

After a succession of eye tests at the hospital here, the ophthalmologist sat me down and without much ado announced that he was diagnosing me with optical neuritis and that I must be admitted to the hospital immediately for an MRI, as the condition is a precursor to multiple sclerosis. Suddenly, I went from having what I thought was a bit of blurry vision to the possibility of a life-long, potentially debilitating disease. How did that just happen? Not really sure what to think or do in the moment, I told him I needed to check in with the embassy before making any further plans. I was in shock and couldn’t really process what was happening. Had my life just changed in the course of two minutes? I quickly got ahold of the medical unit, who decided if that is the route we were going to take, we were going to take it in Singapore.

Back to the embassy I shuttled to throw together the makings of an emergency medical evacuation. By this time it was Monday evening and I was scheduled on an early Tuesday morning Air Asia flight, with specialist appointments booked for Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning. (All of these bookings happened in the course of about an hour. When MED moves, they move!) Before leaving post, I had to get a few things in order at my desk, I had to top off my cell phone minutes, I had to pack a bag for a week and load up as much school work as I could fit to take along. Things were a blur, and not just because my left eye had quit working!

It was all happening quickly.

Too quickly.

Which is how my crazy medical condition also nearly made me become Thad’s personal ACS case! In the midst of the chaos of prepping and packing to go, as I moved all of my money and cards to the purse I was taking to Singapore, my credit card got left sitting on the dining room table. On Tuesday, I caught the quick one-hour flight to Singapore and headed to the 4 Seasons hotel where I would be lodging for the duration of my stay. The great medical section team in Singapore had the room pre-booked, so when I arrived, I just rolled on up to the counter, ready to sign in. I passed my credit card over and scanned the fancy lobby as I waited for the desk clerk to run it. Soon, he had a worried look on his face. He swiped the card again, but I could tell something was wrong.

Oh no! He didn’t need to say a word. I might be partially blind, but the lightbulb went off.

A few weeks ago, we had some weird taxidermy charges on our credit card out of Texas. (You know how I like to keep stuffed dead things lying around my house!) The credit card company shut off those cards and sent us new ones. Well, the card in the hand of the desk clerk was the old card and the new shiny one was sitting at home, in Kuala Lumpur. Not good.

So, there I was, in a foreign country, half-blind and with only the cash in my purse: about $200USD total, trying to pay for a hotel that ran $300 a night. Uhhh…Thad to the rescue! I quickly called him and had him give his card number to the hotel so I could check in. He then had to sign an avadavat saying he would cover my costs for the entire stay (room service, anyone?!), but he quickly sorted it from his end so I was able to drop off my bags before heading to the first appointment.(It is almost as if sorting out unprepared Americans is his job or something!) But, the lack of functioning card did make me basically destitute in what is definitely not one of the cheaper cities on the globe. I spent the next four days, until he was able to join me in Singapore, convincing doctors and hospitals to take my card by just the number, without physically having it in-hand. (Scary how well this actually worked! I was able to put thousands of dollars of medical bills on a card I did not actually carry.)

I felt like such a dunce! Maybe the eye-sight really was a bigger brain issue.

Over the next three days, I had eye tests where I realized that no, I did not have 50% vision in my left eye, but closer to 5% and that I was basically color-blind as well. I had an MRI, which at the cost of that thing, I’m not sure why they can’t add a muffler to the machine. And I was admitted to the hospital for three days of IV steroids to reduce the swelling on my optical nerve. (My nurse friends will attest, I have what must be close to the world’s worst veins, so this was a rather unpleasant period for me. I’m such a terrible blood donator that Red Cross usually sends me away, not able to get enough blood to bother with. The doctors at the hospital in Singapore had to call in the head phlebotomist, who was still not able to get three full vials of blood and then had to poke and prod to find a place to insert the IV. No fun for anyone! Three weeks later, my right hand still has two rather good sized bruises on it from the poking and prodding procedures.)

To make a long story short, the answer to the big question is “we don’t know.” Thankfully, the MRI scans came back clean, no lesions, so for now, no MS. (This is something that will have to be monitored long-term with follow-up MRIs in the future, but clean and clear for now.) The IV steroids and subsequent oral steroids (don’t mess with my right now, man!) have brought my vision back to probably 90% and its improving each day. With nothing to go on, the doctors are leaving the diagnosis as “optical neuritis” and will just monitor. I’m headed back to Singapore in a month for follow-up exams (you can bet I’ll have my credit card next time!) and then it will just be a wait and see (literally!)situation.

Adventures, for the most part are fun, but sometimes the sidewalk gets a little blurry, which gets a bit scary. Over the last three weeks, my sidewalk nearly disappeared but is slowly coming back into focus and is a good reminder to keep searching and enjoying the journey. (It’s also a good reminder to always carry a valid credit card!)

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Wordless Wednesday: Singapore Uniphant

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Wordless Wednesday: Singapore Botanical Gardens

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Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Books I Will Probably Never Read

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Books I Will Probably Never Read

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I love this week’s prompt from the ladies over at The Broke and the Bookish, as let’s face it, even the most bookish of us have titles that we either have good intentions of getting to but always seem to drift to the bottom of the “to read” pile, or we have those ones that we are just well aware that we will never pick up unless we’re desperately stuck with nothing else to read. (Actually, I’m experiences a bit of that now, having traveled without proper bookage and am not forced to choose between the few English channels my hotel in Singapore gets or a terribly boring book I brought along, hoping it would be better. I might be wishing a bit for a few of the books on this week’s list after all.)

Again, in the normal “no particular order” I present you with ten books I will just probably never get around to reading…

50 Shades of Gray by E. L. James I know these were super popular, but they just never held any appeal for me. Not that I need all of my books to be super “literary” but I do think I’d like a bit more plot than it sounds like these offer and honestly, I have a hard time with the fact that that crazy relationship was somehow twisted to be a positive and mutually respectful one. Not really a score for feminism, I’m afraid.

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky– I just never went down the Russian literature road and don’t really see it in my future. I did read Anna Karenina and was so annoyed with her character that I didn’t go any farther with the genre.

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert­- Again, a caveat on this one, as I may end up picking it up by the end of the year since I am currently studying travel literature, a topic I find fascinating, but this one never drew me in. It feels so overly self-indulgent and self-centered. I’m all for travel narratives that incorporate personal growth along the way (a theme heavily relied on in many travel narratives by female writers), but this one just seems over the top. (Again, having not read it, I base that on what I have read/heard about the book, so it is probably not a totally fair summary, but since this week’s list is of books we don’t plan to read, I assume we are all in the same boat on that particular issue.)

It by Stephen King– Just too scary! There is no way I could make it through this book without having to store it in my freezer, a Joey move from Friends. I saw the movie the summer I graduated from high school and didn’t sleep well for weeks. There is no way I could handle the imagines my mind would come up with if I were reading it.

Moby Dick by Herman Melville– This is probably sacrilegious considering I have a BA in literature and am currently working on an MA in literature, but Moby Dick just isn’t for me. I had to read it as an undergraduate and somehow skimmed enough of it to take part in class discussions and was lucky enough to find totally unrelated topics for my term papers because skimming is a pretty generous term for what I did on this book. My undergrad days were before internet was super useful for such searches, so I basically read topic sentences, a paragraph or two per chapter and called it in when it came to class participation. I definitely will not be picking this one up again! The white whale may be been Ismael’s nemesis, but this narrative is mine!

Snow by Orhan Pamuk- I tried. I really did. It was a Nobel Prize winner, after all. And yet, I just couldn’t get into it. I think I stuck it out for about 100 pages before finally setting it aside, something I rarely do with books. I’m a bit of a finisher when it comes to books, even the ones I don’t totally love because I never know when I am going to miss out on something spectacular. Any maybe I am. I must be. It won a Nobel Prize, after all…

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson- The first of these books came out in English while I was in the Peace Corps, so I wasn’t able to jump on the bandwagon early and then they became so crazy popular I was kind of turned off by them. But, the more I learned, the less likely I was to pick up this series anyway. Graphic violence is just not my thing, either in books or movies, and I feel like there was enough of this to make me look other places with my book buying dollars.

The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks- (Or any of his other books, to be honest.) I have a sister-in-law who is going to kill me for this addition to the list, but I’ve just never been able to get on the Sparks bandwagon. I don’t know why. I am not much of a fan of romance novels and judging by the books covers (a no-no, I know) it seems like they all follow a very similar plotline with few characters outside the realms of middle class white folk.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values by Robert M. Persig- I gave this one a shot. Actually, several shots. Over the years this one has been recommended to me time and time again, but each time I pick it up I don’t make it far before being thoroughly confused and bored. I know it is supposed to be deep and meaningful, but I can barely follow the plot/theories and often end up thinking about lunch, a nap, the laundry and just about anything else other than the words on the page. Even if it is pushed my way again, I doubt I’ll give it another go.

Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling– I am putting this one last so that maybe people won’t give up on me until they’ve read the rest of my list. I know for a lot of book-folks out there, this is the be-all, end-all of series, but I just never really go into it. (Please don’t hate me!) I read the first two. Liked the first one a lot, felt indifferent enough about the second I never picked up the third. I saw the first movie and called it good after one there as well and I have no real intentions of going back to the books at this point. I never say never though…

After finishing this week’s list, I’m not sure I’m as enamored with the topic as I was when I started writing an hour ago. I feel so negative about books right now!(In my defense, I had a hard time coming up with ten books/series, so there is much more good stuff out there!) There are so many great ones out there and even those on my list are loved by loyal readers, so I feel bad panning them because they aren’t my cup of tea. In the end, read what makes you happy! This is my list of books I doubt I’ll ever pick up, but as I learned on Reading Rainbow many years ago, “Don’t take my word for it!” Find a book, a series or an author you love and read until there is nothing else to read.

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Officially a Diver!

Open Water Dive #3-

Day two of our SCUBA weekend dawned early as every rooster in the vicinity was keen on letting us know the sun would soon rise. I was a bit sore from the previous day’s long swim (you know, the one where we damn near died) and my coral scrape was redder and angrier than the day before, but my biggest complaint was my feet. The big toe on my left foot had a giant blister, and I couldn’t imagine shoving it back into a flipper. When I got to the dive shop, I asked one of the workers about trading for a new pair of fins, thinking at least if they rubbed, they would rub in a different spot. Taking a quick glance at my fins from Saturday, we quickly realized why only one foot was sore- my fins were two different sizes! The one on my right foot was the correct size, but the left flipper was a size smaller. No wonder if rubbed so badly! After getting matching fins (and a pair of socks to help lessen the already painful blister), it was time to head out for a day of boat diving.

The first task of the day was to get our equipment ready to go, something we had done numerous times before, but never with the added challenge of a boat bumping over waves as it made its way to our destination.  It took longer, but eventually we all had our BCDs strapped to our tanks, our weight belts on and our masks ready to go. There is only one way to exit a small boat once your equipment is on- the back roll! We had not practiced this at the pool and it took me a couple of deep breaths to psych myself up for the maneuver, but with one final draw of air, over I went. Thank goodness for an inflated BCD! I quickly popped back to the surface, ready for another outing.

Convincing myself to deflate the BCD and head under the water usually takes a few extra seconds. Each time the teacher would give us the signal to descend, my classmates all quickly disappeared below the surface, but because I had been having ear problems, I was always more cautious about the decent. As I worked on getting myself ready to head under on Saturday morning, my little routine was immediately sped up when I saw a sea snake, just inches from my face. He was black and white striped and came swimming along right in front of my eyes. I’m not talking about an arm’s length away or ever a comfortable foot away. He was in my space bubble 100%. Not wanting to spend any extra time with him, I dropped at a rate faster than I ever had before. Goodbye surface. Goodbye snake! (I learned that evening that he was a particularly poisonous sea snake, lethal to those he bit. And he was inches from my FACE!)

For some reason, I had no equalization problems with my ears all day on Saturday. They easily popped and I never got the shooting pains of Friday’s dives.

This third dive was the last one where we had to check off skills, which we did in quick succession. The reef we were swimming near was full of fish, so while each person when through their various checks of removing their mask, using the compass (a skill I am sure I didn’t really pass, as I pretty much just swam in a circle, but whatever!)  and demonstrating proper buoyancy, the rest of us enjoyed swimming around in the world’s largest aquarium. Apparently, a few people saw a turtle, which I am hugely bummed I did not see, but I did see lots of brightly colored fish and sea urchins. (This weekend also taught me that those sea cucumbers that I thought were so rare and exotic when I did my 4th grade research report on them are really not nearly so special. They sea floor was covered with them, looking not unlike certain parts of male anatomy, scatter hither and thither.)

On this third dive, we went down to nineteen meters, the maximum regularly certified divers are allowed to go. (Technically, we are certified to eighteen meters, but when our instructor checked her dive computer that evening, it showed we made an extra couple of feet before hitting the ocean floor.) I think one thing that stunned me the most about this dive was how it didn’t feel like we were nearly sixty feet below the surface of the ocean. Amazing!

Open Water Dive #4-

Finally! The final dive of the weekend. A week ago I would have told you I was not sure if I would make it this far, but there I was. Off the boat I bailed, not even the last to back roll into the sea.

The final dive was really about just enjoying SCUBA. We had no skills to check off, but rather a start point and an end time and away we went. We swam through coral reefs and saw fish of all types, including the dreaded trigger fish. (Stay away from that one!) We wove our way through rock formations to which clung spiky urchins and wavy anemone. We spent forty minutes under the sea, all of which passed much too quickly, as there was always something to see around the next corner.

And, it was done.

I am now a certified diver! A few years ago, it would not have even been on my radar to get certified (not a lot of cool SCUBA to be done in Idaho, after all) and a year ago when I first saw the classes offered in the embassy newsletter, I was skeptical. A month ago I was a nervous wreck. But today, I am a SCUBA diver. While I am never going to be the Sportiest of Spices, I do have a few tricks up my sleeve!

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