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.
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.
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!)