Thursday, October 25, 2007

Chicken of the Sea

If you know me, you know I love eating, and I love trying new
restaurants.

I never thought I'd say this, but - after an entire month of
eating out at Every Single Meal, I am so tired of it. I'm ready
to get back in my kitchen and cook something of my very own...
without MSG or salt or anything else I don't want.

Today I went to the fancy little tea house in the hotel and I
ordered what was called "special dumpling soup." The waitress
told me it was chicken broth and dumplings stuffed with meat.
At least, I thought that was what she said. It was actually
rather good. But when I got the bill, it said right there on the
receipt, in big, bold letters:

"Shark Soup."

I almost threw up right there on the table. SOOOOO not what
I wanted to eat. Hopefully the dumplings weren't stuffed with
kittens. I was afraid to ask.

It's okay, though. Soon I'll be back in my own shark-free
kitchen, forcing lentils and tofu on my darling little beasts.
And if they complain, I'll threaten to cook up some shark
dumplings...

Monday, October 22, 2007

Motherhood in the Age of Technology

My daughter is 16 months old, which is just the most fascinating age. She's testing everything, learning how the world works. At 16 months, her thoughts go something like this: "When I hold my food out to the dog, he takes it..." "When I drop my food on the floor, the dog takes it..." "When I put my food in my lap, the dog takes it..." "When I put food on the dog's head, he takes it..." "When I give the dog my food, my parents get mad..." (insert 10 second pause here) "Hmmm.... I wonder what'll happen if I hold some food out to the dog?"


As I say, everything is new to a 16-month-old. Everything is fascinating, but nothing is particularly surprising.

She is apparently not surprised, for example, to discover that her mother has turned into a computer.

It's true. She used to come into the office and see me sitting at the computer, banging on the keys. She could never quite understand why I got angry when she banged on the keys, if it was okay for me to do it. But now, for the past month, I appear to have actually taken it a step further and moved into the computer. Every evening, she sits in her daddy's lap while he opens the lid of the computer and bangs on the keys. After he hits the computer for a minute or two, I start talking. So somehow, I must have turned into that computer that I used to gaze at for so long.

It's apparently no big deal to her. Mom's a computer. The dog eats pizza off of the floor. Whatever.

But it makes me realize that it is really and truly time for me to get home. I miss her. I miss them all. I've missed the entire month of October, and I'm ready to be with them again.

So I'm pleased to tell you all that I have been cleared for takeoff, and I am planning to return to Beijing this Saturday.

I hope my daughter recognizes me.

And I'm pretty sure that, no matter how much I've missed her, it is really going to tick me off the first time she dumps her milk on the dog...

Blessings

Today I returned to the ENT for another hearing test.

If there's a doctor out there reading this, please accept my apologies for butchering all of this information. But here, best as I understand it, is what's going on.

Last time I was tested, my right ear could pick up some sounds at around 100 decibels - the sound of a plane flying overhead. That's profoundly deaf. This time, there was only very slight improvement. I could hear some sounds at 77 decibels, which still qualifies me as deaf.

They'd been hoping to get me up around 50 decibels (my left ear, which is normal, picks up noises at 15 decibels). The doctor said that if I had gotten up to 50 decibels, I would've been able to hear someone calling me from my right side. At 40, I would've been able to have some phone coversations, with difficulty. But at 77, I'm still pretty worthless.

I do have a fairly sizeable clot on my eardrum, covering about a third of the eardrum. This is because my eardrum is still healing from the shots. It should heal within two weeks, but even then I'll probably gain no more than 5-10 decibels - still deaf.

The good news is apparently that, should I decide down the road to get a hearing aid, my hearing has improved enough to make this feasible. At 100 decibels, the hearing aid would've had to amplify the sound to the point that it would be painful. At 70, it is possible that it could work.

The doctor suggested that I have my hearing tested in 6-8 weeks, then live with what I've got (or rather what I lack) and decide for myself if it is enough of a disability to warrant pursuing a hearing aid. Right now I'm thinking it isn't. It's just one ear, after all. It isn't like losing your eyesight, or losing a limb, or losing a child. It's just an ear, so in the overall scheme of things, I can still count myself among the lucky ones who walk this earth.

The other night, when I was out looking for something to eat, I happened upon a beggar. I came around the corner, and there he sat. He had apparently suffered severe burns at some point in his life, because he looked as though he had... melted. His skin hung down just like a well-used candle. He had no ears. He had swollen little slits for eyes. Most of his fingers were gone.

The sight so shocked me that I hurried past, giving him as wide a berth as possible. It was only an hour or so later that I realized what I had done. Here I was, living in a nice hotel, visiting the best doctors my credit card could afford, praying for a cure. And there he was, sitting on the street, with not enough money for food, let alone medical care. But I just walked right by.

I went back, but he was gone already. I went back every day after that, but I never saw him. And I was overwhelmed by the sense that I had just royally screwed up. Who was I to ask for help when I'd just passed him by?

Finally, a few days ago, I saw him there again. This time, I gave him a fairly large sum of money, and I felt a tiny bit better. But not much.

There's a wizened old man who sits on the street in the other direction. He's half my size and three times my age. I'm helping to feed him, too. Whenever I give him money, his face breaks into a beaming, wrinkly smile and he says something to me in Cantonese. He's usually there at the lunch hour, and he seems to have more money in his hat than the burn victim did - perhaps because he's so tiny and cute that it isn't as easy to avert your eyes.

And then there's Coco. I was watching CNN the other night, and they were doing some stories on Burma. One of the stories was about a young mother who'd had twin boys. They were six months old when they contracted pneumonia. There was no doctor in the mother's tiny village. After the first twin died, the mother took the other twin - Coco - in her arms and set out through the jungle, heading for a small clinic in neighboring Thailand. When CNN caught up with them, she was in the clinic, and her baby was still struggling to survive.

That's all I know about Coco. As far as I can tell, CNN never did a follow-up story. Did he die? Did he live?

I'm telling you all of these sad stories to illustrate where I'm at right now. I don't have my hearing back, it's true. But I am so, so blessed.

Thanks to you all for stopping to help me when I needed it.

Friday, October 19, 2007

My Own Personal Book Club

I've been doing a lot of reading since arriving in Hong Kong, to fill my spare time. Back home, I have trouble reading anything longer than 5 pages or so, because of the frequent interruptions. Here, I've already plowed through the last Harry Potter, White Teeth by Zadie Smith, and few others that I've long been wanting to read.

Someone gave me a book called "Tai Pan" by James Clavell. I highly recommend that all of you go track down a copy, as it was fascinating. It is about the founding of Hong Kong. I don't understand why no one's made a movie out of it: it has pirates and prostitutes, sword fights and sea battles. Everything you could need in a good movie.

Seriously. I know most of you out there have less time on your hands than I these days, but if you haven't read it, you really need to.

And now I'm off in search of more of his books.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Still Deaf

For those of you who've been wondering: I'm still deaf.

And as far as I know, I'm done with my treatment options. The shots in the ear didn't work, so it looks likely that the deafness is here to stay.

I think I need to stop blogging about it soon. After all, there are only so many posts I can title "Still Deaf" before you all start wishing I'd lose my typing fingers, too.

So now it's time to move on and learn to live with being deaf, instead of whining about it. Here's the good news about being deaf:

When the kids start whining for the fourteenth time, I can sit them down and patiently explain "kids, I'm deaf. The doctor says that means I can't hear it when people whine. So you'll have to say it again in a normal voice."

Also, when my husband calls me from another room, but I'm sitting in a chair happily reading a cheesy magazine and eating potato chips, I can just pretend I didn't hear him call me and keep right on reading.

Perhaps I can blame my inability to speak Chinese on my ears. After all, if you can't hear it, you can't pronounce it, right? So no one can blame me for not learning the darn language.

It should make it easier to tune out those annoying political ads when I'm back in the States.

And of course, I can just start ignoring boring people and pretend I can't hear them.

Anyone out there have any other things they want to add to my List of Things That Are Good About Being Deaf?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Brain in a Bag

Yesterday was a marathon day of doctor appointments, including my Last Shot In The Ear. At some point during the day, one of the doctors gave me a huge white plastic bag to take home - in it were the pictures from my recent MRI, along with a full report. So I hurried through Hong Kong, from one appointment to the next, swinging my brain in a big white bag, just below the knee. Talk about vertigo.

My hearing has not improved since last I wrote. I need to have another hearing test next week, just to measure any hearing that might be coming back. And I'll need a few other tests as well, so it looks as though I'm stuck in Hong Kong for at least another week and a half.

Don't get me wrong - HK is a great place, and in some ways I'm enjoying myself. But I miss my kids and I miss my husband, and I think, right now, I'd really rather be home again with them.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Just a Smidgen

Yesterday was shot #3. This time they put a shot in my ear to numb it first - don't know why they didn't think of doing that sooner. The doctor told me that if the shots were going to work, I would likely notice a bit of a change after shot #2 and more after shot #3. After this shot, he sat me down and talked about what will happen if this doesn't work. Short answer: nothing. No other treatment options available in the world of western medicine.

After that shot, I left the world of western medicine for the east. I had my third appointment with Dr. Paine, a great guy with an unfortunate name for someone who spends his days plunging sharp needles into other people.

This is the first time I've ever tried acupuncture, so I wasn't sure what to expect. It's strange - while he is sticking needles in me, it seems to help. I lose the nausea, lose the dizziness... it even changes the ringing in my ears, quieting it down a bit. But as soon as I sit up, it's over, and everything comes rushing back.

This time, he stuck some needles in my jaw and around my ear, then threaded wire around them and hooked them up to a little device that sent small electric shocks into me - it felt as though someone was tapping on the needles. While he was doing this, it felt so strange. I could feel my ear, which has been numb since this began. And the ringing in my ear almost disappeared entirely.

After more than an hour, I got up to leave, still feeling a bit woozy and odd. On my way back home, I noticed that I could feel the wind blowing past both ears. I still couldn't hear it in the right side, but I could feel it for the first time. By evening, I could feel my actual ear - normally, it feels numb, the way your mouth feels after the dentist shoots you up with novocaine. But now I could feel it a bit.

So when Bart called last night, I had him shout into the phone. And do you know - I could hear it, ever so vaguely, like a wave off in the distance. If I press the buttons on the phone, I can hear them, too, far away somewhere.

So. Something is working, don't you agree? Either the shots, or the acupuncture, or the prayers you've all been shooting my way, from places as far away as Cuba, Egypt, Armenia and the U.S. It's not a lot - just the teensiest smidgen of noise. But I'll take it, for now.

Keep those prayers coming, please. Just make sure they're Really Loud.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

No Tumor

Last night I had an MRI.

Now, in and of itself, an MRI is no big deal. I mean, it isn't painful. It isn't scary (unless you're claustrophobic). It doesn't require any special skills to complete.

But - suppose you're suffering from vertigo and partial deafness. Then, for good measure, throw in a nasty cough. Now, imagine someone asks you to lie flat on your back, perfectly still, for about an hour. Lying flat on your back makes you nauseous, but okay, you can do it. Then imagine they start blasting noises at you - not sure why an MRI has to be so noisy, but it is. Well, the noises will of course hurt that poor deaf ear of yours. And then, the noises will rattle your body a bit, triggering a vibration in your throat and causing a desperate need to cough. But if you cough, they have to start over.

So let's just say, if this were you, you'd be glad to get it over with.

I staggered home last night, post-MRI, gulped down some anti-nausea meds, and basically collapsed.

The good news is, I brought the disc of images from the MRI to the ENT this morning, and there is no sign of a tumor there. So that's one possibility ruled out.

Which leaves us with the virus, and the shots in the ear.

Shot #3 is tomorrow, and the final shot will be on Monday. Keep your fingers crossed that it starts to work, as I'm still not quite sure what happens if it doesn't. At some point, I suppose, the State Department doctors will stuff some cotton in my ear and shove me back on a plane bound for Beijing, with or without my hearing. But who knows? I imagine right now cables are being sent between DC, Beijing and HK, as somebody somewhere tries to find a solution that will get me back to my family.

There's at least some comfort in that thought.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

What Mothers Do

Since I've been here, my mother has been calling me every 15 1/2 minutes just to make sure I haven't dropped dead. My Other Mother, who is actually my Aunt Ann in the biological sense of the word, calls my mother every 15 1/2 minutes, just to see if there's any news. (nope, there isn't - I'm still deaf as a post.)

I myself have lots of time to contemplate motherhood, seeing as I'm no longer an active participant in it on a day-to-day basis. Instead, I find myself thinking about my kids (about every 15 1/2 minutes), wishing I were there with them instead of here, half deaf, in Hong Kong.

Menawhile, my long-suffering husband has become a single dad. Poor guy is trying to juggle an extremely demanding job with three extremely demanding kids. Plus a hellish commute. And his crazy workout schedule. I imagine, when I return to Beijing (assuming he's still alive), he'll be able to give me some insight into which is harder - being a stay-at-home mom or a go-to-work dad. I'm pretty sure he prefers his own job to mine right now, especially as Aidan is not handling the transition well. Last night, he brought all of his stuffed animals to his dad and said they all had "bloody ears." Guessing he's worried about me.

Bart's a great dad, he really is. He's always the one who remembers to bring home movies for family movie night. He's the one who takes the kids on bike rides to the ice cream store. And lately he's also mastered the ability to say "Don't talk that way to your mother" in such a way that the offending little person shuts his snotty little mouth. But let's face it: a Dad is a Dad. That's a whole different beast than a Mom.

For example: Bart was fretting the other night because the kids have gone off their food since I left. Aidan, in particular, has given up all foods that might have some vague nutritive value in favor of nasty Chinese chocolate milk in a box. So I explained to Bart that he probably just needs to make the food look prettier. If you slice the veggies and arrange them artfully on a platter, making sure none of the various types of vegetables accidentally touch another type, then the kids are more likely to eat said veggies. Similarly, if you slice the banana into wheels and arrange the wheels in a pattern on the plate, Aidan gulps it down. Skinless pear slices are good, but the apple needs to retain its skin - and no slices, please - the kids prefer their apples halved. I continued on in this vein, waxing poetic about spinach with just a touch of garlic and Ritz crackers with peanut butter slathered inside (smooth, of course, not crunchy).

I said all of this to a man who was just finishing a long day of: work out, make breakfast, dress little ones, walk to school bus, commute, work, reverse commute, oversee homework, make dinner, serve dinner, argue about why no one will eat dinner, clean up dinner, pack school lunches, bathe kids, read books, put to bed, put to bed again, "get back in that bed right now, so help me god," better call wife to see if she's still deaf, please go to bed right now and finally I can go to bed.

I'm pretty sure he still isn't color coding the vegetables. That's just not his job: it's mine.

So, my point is: my kids need me. My husband needs me. But there is no end in sight: I'm here until they cure me or give up, I suppose.

Shot # 2 was yesterday, but so far, no change in my lack of hearing.

So I wait.

And think about veggie platters.

And worry about my babies.

Every 15 1/2 minutes or so.

It's what we mothers do.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Wise Woman

Yesterday I was wandering through the mall, looking for a shop that sold face lotion (mine was confiscated at the airport in Beijing). I went into the Body Shop and was checking out their lotion when a sales lady approached to my right.

"Bzzzz bzzzz bzzz," she said to me. I turned toward her, cupping my hand over my good ear so I could hear. "That is for dry skin," she informed me.

"Thanks," I smiled, and turned my attention to another product.

"Bzzzz bzzz," I heard again, so I cupped my hand over my ear and turned to face her. She looked puzzled, but repeated "that is for oily skin."

"Thanks," I replied, and turned away.

Then again: "bzzz, bzzz." Again I turned toward her. This time she motioned me to the back corner of the store. She picked up a box, and as I cupped my hand over my ear again, she explained, "This product is for, how you say," and she pointed at the label.

"Wise Woman," proclaimed the label, and underneath, in smaller type, "for mature skin."

"Yes," the saleslady said into my left ear, "this will tighten, firm, the skin."

She smiled.

What? No really, What?

I'm deaf, I wanted to tell her, not old. In the doctor's office, they had said "you're still young, these steroids will probably work." But here, out in the world, where it matters, the saleslady had just said "You're deaf, therefore you're old."

As I stared at her, my life sorta flashed before my eyes. I saw myself sliding down that slippery slope toward pureed food through a straw and Depends. All before I hit forty. I grasped at an imaginary walker, trying to get my balance, as I took all this in.

Then, Dear Reader, I fled the store. I went straight back to my hotel room and checked myself out in that magnifying mirror hotels seem to think you need in your bathroom.

Maybe my face could use some firming, some tightening. I don't know. It could definitely use some lotion, that's for sure, but I won't be showing my saggy ole face in the Body Shop again. I'll have to buy my lotion elsewhere.

And I really have to stop cupping my hand over my ear like that old lady in the Tweety Bird cartoons.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Shot #1

I had shot #1 this morning. They put some drops in my ear to numb it up, then stuck a tiny needle through my eardrum and stuffed my inner ear full of steroids. The doctor said it would hurt "just a bit" when he put the needle in, and he was right. It did hurt just a little bit, in the same way as setting your head on fire would likely hurt just a bit.

He tells me that if I am to have any improvement, I'll likely notice it somewhat after shot #2, which is scheduled for Monday,or shot #3, a week from today. So for now, I'll remain deaf and ring-y. Though I do notice the nausea seems to be subsiding a bit, which is nice.

I've found a coffee shop down the street from my hotel that allows free internet access if you buy a cup of coffee, so I can satisfy my two addictions at once. I'll update you all when I have something new (hopefully good) to add.

Thanks for the thoughts and prayers - it means a lot to Bart and me.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Deaf

Sorry I've been away for awhile. Here's the story:

Last Friday night, as I bent over to get Kyra out of the tub, my ear started ringing and I got quite dizzy. I put myself to bed right away, thinking I could sleep it off, and when I woke up the next day, I couldn't get out of bed without falling over. My head was spinning, my ear was screaming, and I had gone totally deaf in my right ear. Here it is Thursday night, a week later, and I've been medevaced to Hong Kong to figure out what has gone so horribly wrong. I met with a couple of hearing specialists today, and they confirmed what I already knew: I'm deaf. As in, can't hear a single sound in my right ear, other than that otherworldly ringing and buzzing known as tinnitus.

After running a few tests, they determined that the problem is likely that my inner ear was attacked by some sort of virus. The only possible cure is to inject steroids behind my ear drum, which apparently works in some cases; not all.

I will be in Hong Kong for the next two weeks while they inject steroids and run some other tests. They tell me that even if my hearing never does return, which it doesn't in at least 30% of cases, the nausea and vertigo should eventually pass - which is good, because right now I'm drugged up just to get out of bed in the morning. They hope the screeching in my ear improves, too. They hope; I pray.

This is just the slightest of updates, as I've had a full day of tests and stress and what ifs. This on top of the last week of utter and complete illness. And I've left poor Bart behind to manage all three of the kids in Beijing - along with managing his own rather stressful job. I will not have regular access to a computer over the next few days, but I promise to look for an internet cafe as soon as I feel well enough to brave the noisy streets outside.

Please think good thoughts for me, would you? But think them into my Left Ear, otherwise they'll pass me right by.
Please. Write your own stuff.