Saturday, April 26, 2008

An Engineer's Guide to Cats

Bum Leg A Bit Better

Went to another hospital yesterday, saw another doctor, had another X-ray, this time of the right hip, just to be sure there was no problem there.  Nope, no problem there.  The bill this time was even more amazing, only NT$673 total, which is about US$22.  Unfortunately, if I get the MRI the doctor recommends to find out if there is internal damage that needs repair, that's gonna set me back US$330-US$395 - that's rent for one month!  I elected not to have it, for now.

I can walk without crutches, very carefully and slowly.  The doc said to see if the knee gets better on its own, just keep doing the heat therapy and no walking, plus stretching exercises to fully extend it.  I'm feeling a little more optimistic now and think I'll be OK to make the US trip.

My troubles seem so minor compared to my poor friend, Maddy, who slipped in the shower, broke her tibia, and had to have a titanium rod put in it! I can't imagine how much all this is costing her, because like me, she has no insurance, but unlike me, she's in the US and having to pay the outrageous costs there. Ya think maybe the next president can do something about that? Sure hope so.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Bum Leg Blues

Three years ago, about two days after I arrived in Taiwan, I fell down and slammed my right knee into the sidewalk, hard. It's never been quite right since then, but never really, really bad, just always felt like it was bigger than it should be and uncomfortable sometimes. Didn't stop me from being able to walk long distances or anything.

Over the Chinese New Year holiday I sat on my butt almost every day, with my legs extended either propped up on pillows on the coffee table or on the sofa itself, because it was freezing cold outside and rainy, no incentive to get out and move. Toward the end of my two-week vacation, I noticed my right hip joint had a burning pain, hurt to press on it. When I started back to school and began walking every day, I gradually got a pain that was going down the side of my leg and to the knee, and that seemed to worsen every day.

When I reached the point where I couldn't walk without a lot of pain, I finally went to a clinic that Guoxi had taken me to before for some acupuncture on the knee. The first treatment was a chiropractic type, lots of bending and twisting. This was right before the Hong Kong trip. The doctor told me to go back the next day, but I couldn't because I had too much to do. I ended up hobbling around Hong Kong in pain, but after I got back here, I seemed much better, so I thought the walking had actually helped. Spent lots of time walking around with Carol, and still seemed OK.

But then the pain started again, so I went back to the clinic, where they performed an absolutely awful treatment called fire cupping that hurt like hell, left my leg looking as if it had been attacked by a giant octopus, and did no good. The next week I hurt so much I could hardly walk, so I decided to go to the chiropractor Nat had taken me to in March 2005 when my bursitis was so bad. He'd gotten me well in only two visits, so I was hoping he'd be able to fix the leg.

The first day I went he told me a nerve down the side of my leg was pinched and that I'd waited too long before going to see him, almost to the point where I needed an operation. He may have been talking about the knee, too, I didn't understand everything he said because he spoke so quickly (in Chinese, of course). He twisted me and cracked me and make me yelp and cry, but I felt a lot better after that. He told me to stop walking so much and let the leg heal, and I made an appointment to go back a couple days later. That visit was last week on Friday, and it hurt so much! On Saturday my leg really hurt, but I could tell it was more the pain of muscles that had been pushed and stretched into unfamiliar positions, not the same pain as before. By Sunday I was feeling great, walking normally (I'd been doing a very stiff-legged limping along for quite a while), and happy. I noticed a clicking sound coming from my leg when I walked, but since I'm old and already have a bit of arthritis in the left knee, which makes it creak and crack at times, I figured that's what it was.

On Monday I left for school, happy that I was walking without pain. I wisely avoided the stairs, going through the underground parking area and up the elevator to the lobby of the main building instead. I walked out the front door of my building down the small wheelchair ramp, and something snapped behind my right knee, leaving me in severe pain, completely unable to walk because I could put no pressure on the leg at all. There I was, standing outside on one leg, while other people walked by to catch the bus. One woman stopped to offer her arm, but she was a lot smaller than me, and I didn't think she'd be able to support my weight. I got the security guard to bring out a small plastic stool, which I hunched over and scooted across the ground, hobbling back into the lobby, where I sat on the sofa waiting for Nat (I'd called her with a "Help! I can't walk! Help!"). She took me to the hospital, and I spent the whole day there, because we had to wait there for almost three hours to see the doctor in the physical therapy department (the first doctor who looked at me was a surgeon, and he said it wasn't his speciality). Nat had to go back to work, but she'd called Kennie and asked her to stay with me and help with any interpretation necessary.

The X ray doesn't show any bone problem (the doc wanted to be sure there weren't any bone fragments from that old injury that were poking something), but there's some degeneration of the meniscus in the knee. The doctor said it's possible there's a torn ligament, but without an MRI he can't say for sure. I know that it felt like my hamstrings snapped in two, but since I can use the leg, it's not that, just felt like it. He gave two types of painkillers, told me to rest at home for the next two days, and to immediately go back to the hospital if it hadn't gotten any better by then to see a doctor in Orthopedics (doctors are at the hospitals here, they don't have offices like they do in the US).

I spent Tuesday and Wednesday at home. Monday evening was bad, because I couldn't put the tiniest bit of pressure on the leg, and any small bit of twisting to the side also brought tears to my eyes. I managed to use crutches to get around, but it wasn't easy. I slept badly because I was afraid I'd twist my leg in my sleep. Tuesday I used the heating packets a lot, and there was less pain if I moved the knee. On Wednesday I was actually able to put pressure on the leg and could stand as long as I still propped myself up with the crutches and kept most of my weight on the left leg. I could walk slowly, step by step, using the crutches, instead of hopping on one leg and dangling the other.

I went to school yesterday, but I had to take a taxi from home to the MRT station in Danshui and then take another one from the station by the school. After class I had to go to my bank, which is only about two blocks away, to pick up my proof of sufficient funds letter for my university app and to pay my rent (which was already overdue). It took me forever to walk there, and my armpits and palms were so sore from the crutches. Took a taxi to the station, MRT back to Danshui, then taxi home, where I collapsed, exhausted. My knee is huge, looks like it's totally whacked out of place, quite ugly. That might be because I can't quite straighten the leg completely, I don't know, I just know it looks awful.

I wanted to go to school today, but I just can't do it. I'm afraid if I do I'll end up hurting the other leg, and then where will I be? As it is, and I have no idea if I'll be able to make the trip back to the US on May 10 like I'm supposed to, or if I'm going to need surgery, or what. My landlord is so nice, he's taking me to a different hospital this afternoon (they are famous for their orthopedic department), and I hope they have good news for me. I may end up having to delay the trip, but one way or another, I have to go get my documents stamped and approved for my university application.

On the bright side, I have wonderful friends here to come running to help when I need them. Nat and Kennie really went all out on Monday, Carrie came by on Wednesday evening, did a little shopping for me, and kept me company, and then Nat, Charlene, and Betty came over last night with some dinner and companionship. I know I can call on the landlord's mom if I need something, and he and his wife are taking me to the hospital today. Also, on Monday the hospital visit, the X ray, and the medicine only cost US$37 (I don't have insurance, either)! Isn't that amazing? Sure can't go to the hospital in America for that, not even *with* insurance. Funny, though, the crutches and the 2 heating/cooling packs were about US$20.

Wish me luck, everyone. I hope I'll be seeing some of you in May, but if not, then likely June or July. I already have my plane ticket, so I'll be back, just a question of when.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

You CAN Go Home Again, But You'll Pay For It

Holy crap, I just booked my flight to the US - $1321! Now you know why I don't go back to visit you all more often, hm? That's more than three months' rent, for pete's sake.  Thank goodness for the scholarship, that's all I can say.

I'm sure sorry I won't be able to meet up with good friends like Romita, Carol, and Alice, because they live so far away from where I'll be staying. Ah well, Carol already came to visit me, and I know Romita and Alice will make it eventually, Romita after visiting Korea, and Alice after getting that son of hers married off on the 4th of July!

Friday, April 04, 2008

Boycott the Olympics in Bejing!

Why? China doesn't play nicely with the rest of the world.

From today's Taipei Times:

The number of tactical ballistic missiles deployed by China against Taiwan reached more than 1,400 at the end of last year, said the National Security Council (NSC), which said in May 2006 that the figure would rise to more than 800 by the end of that year.

An NSC report released on March 26 said that China had more than 190 cruise missiles targeting Taiwan at the end of last year, rising from more than 100 a year before.

The council said the deployment “allows the People's Liberation Army [PLA] to launch a nine-wave, 12-hour saturation missile attack on Taiwan and conduct precision strikes on more than 100 key targets in Taiwan.”

By Shih Hsiu-chuan
STAFF REPORTER, The Taipei Times
Friday, Apr 04, 2008

March Blew Away

OK, I've put off updating my blog for far too long! Let's see if I can actually remember what the month of March was like.

First big news is that I got not one, but two scholarships! The school gave me the monthly one (for 4 months only) that they give to students with high grades. That's NT$12,000 x 4 = NT$48,000 (approx. US$1576). I've already gotten the money for that one. The second one is offered by the government to American students only, and it's a refund of tuition after completing a semester and attending class like I'm supposed to. I'll get at least NT$16,000 (approx. US$525) for that, but I may get it twice (I hope!).

Second is that I'm tickled to have made NT$3228 (US$106) during my first month of business with the landlord. It's easy work, and so far in April I've already made almost half that, so by the end of the month I'm expecting at least NT$5000.

Carol visited from March 16 through March 25, and we had a lot of fun. First we met up in Hong Kong March 13 and attended two Wu Bai & China Blue concerts on the 14th and 15th (I don't need to write about the shows, they were the same as the ones in Taiwan, basically). That was a blast, despite some after-concert stuff that still has me a bit angry with certain people and still in need of some confrontation with one to air it all out. We spent a little time hanging out with Terry and Cheryl, who took us to Sai Kung for the afternoon, and then just shopped around a bit at the jade market and the handicrafts store. It's not easy finding vegetarian food in Hong Kong, so Carol was delighted to find such an abundance and variety here in Taiwan. She said it's a vegetarian's paradise! I took her to Jiu Fen and to Ying Ge, and she graciously paid my way up into the observation deck at Taipei 101 so I finally got to see the city from way up high. We went up just as it was getting dark, and it was fun watching the city lights slowly come on all over.

On February 29 we went to see ABS play, and at dinner before the show I was eating some simple penne pasta with pesto sauce, bit down on a miniscule hard something or other, and broke a piece off my already cracked molar. That was fun. I haven't been to the dentist yet, because the tooth doesn't hurt, and I'm chewing on the opposite side for now. But, I have to go, can't ignore it forever. At the show that night, Nat and Charlene gave me a birthday cake (oh yeah, I had a birthday on March 4, nothing much to say, got older and feel it), which was unexpected. Dino got one, too, but I don't think he appreciated it as much as he liked the bottle of alcohol someone else gave him. I didn't want to spend money on a cab home, so I asked Xiao Zhu if I could catch a ride home with him and his wife, since they live in Danshui, and he said sure, but I'd have to wait a long time. So, Charlene and I ended up going with the guys to some other tiny little bar so they could continue drinking (since Du Du was driving, she abstained, thank goodness), and once Xiao Zhu had his fill, we took off, me in the back seat with Da Mao, who also lives in Danshui. By the way, his little daughter is simply adorable! His phone was full of photos that he proudly showed us. I got home around 4:00 a.m. and only slept for about four hours. I'm too old for this!

On my actual birthday I went out for pizza with Shannon, to the all-you-can-eat place. We stuffed ourselves, and it was great. Other than that, it was a pretty average day.

March 22 was election day in Taiwan, and the KMT party won. Phooey. I hope it's not the death knell for democracy here, we'll have to see what happens. I don't trust the new prez, Ma Ying Jiu, one tiny bit. He takes office in May.

I'm on a semester break this week, and damned if the weather hasn't been sucky since day one! Why is it that every time I have a vacation, it's rainy and cold? I hate being stuck inside. And the weather report says that it will clear up on Sunday and be stinking hot. So far today doesn't look so bad, so maybe I'll get out for a walk. I took a walk on Wednesday and ended up buying a new computer desk, so maybe staying home isn't such a bad idea. :) Yesterday my landlord and his wife took me to Costco, where I loaded up on cat litter (3 30-pound containers) and cheese (5-pound block of cheddar, 2-pound block of pepper jack - it freezes well!). Couldn't resist a box of Act II microwave popcorn, but I managed to NOT buy all sorts of other tempting treats.

I'll be making a trip back to the US in May, as I have to take my transcripts and diploma to TECO in San Fran to get them stamped. Leaving Taiwan will probably mean that I once again will have no visa, but I can just do the monthly trip to HK until I get my acceptance letter from the university and then apply for a new one.

Well, heck, I can't think of anything else right now, and the tummy is saying it's time for food, so I'm outta here.