Papaw strolls into town

At the very end of April (4/29) my dad arrived at Changi airport.

He had not ever apologized for yelling at me for his mistake of arriving far too early on the morning of my surgery in Nashville, nor had he ever apologized for skipping town because of his mistake and leaving me to go through that ordeal without him.

Regardless, I was happy he was coming to visit because he’s my dad, flaws and all.  I’ve done many stupid things in my life that I’m sure I never apologized to him for and he has always forgiven me, so it was my turn to return the favor.

I drove everyone over to Singapore on the evening of his arrival, and Carolyn joined Zoe as they waited at the arrivals hall to welcome him.  I circled around the airport in our van with Sebastian and Logan both asleep as they waited, and eventually he came through and we headed back to Malaysia.

My dad would be staying with us for a little longer than 2 months, May and June, with a trip to Bali planned at the end of June just before his departure in early July.

While he was visiting we celebrated Mother’s Day with brunch at NHK, and all the kids were dressed up in new clothes for that celebration.  My dad spent many hours reading to the girls, playing with Sebastian, helping Zoe with her homework and being a great grandfather.  The kids absolutely adore their grandfather, primarily because he spends so much time with them and doing the things they want to do.

Here are a few photos from the time while he was here in Malaysia, including several of the kids shopping for clothes and going to Mother’s Day brunch:

Old sites were new for Sebbie!

We took a long weekend trip up to KL over the weekend just before my dad arrived in April.  The weekend was long because Malaysia was observing a public holiday for the Agong’s birthday.  The “Agong” is Malaysia’s “King of Kings”, which rotates every few years between the Sultans of each of the states making up Malaysia.

Rose joined us on the trip to KL and Carolyn took Sebastian to see several of the sites we had enjoyed over the previous 4 years with Zoe and Logan, like the Petronas Towers and the KL Bird Park.  Sebastian enjoyed it and so did the girls!

Here are some photos from that trip to KL (4/23):

Finally get back into a routine, for a little bit

We arrived back in Malaysia in early April.  My heart had a clean bill of health, so I returned to work and the kids went back to school after being in the US for a few weeks.

We had 4 weeks before my dad was supposed to come visit for a couple of months.  During those 4 weeks we did several things, like dying Easter eggs, shopping at the outlet mall for a gift for my clerk at work (who was very sweet and checked on my several times while we were in the US), Zoe had sports day with her school and we started back to our ritual of Sunday brunch at New Hong Kong.

Here are some photos from the 4 weeks between our return to Malaysia from the US (4/3) and my dad’s arrival in Singapore (4/29):

Great news followed by more bad news

We made our way back to the US in the middle of March so that I could go to Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville to see a cardiologist who would perform a cardio angiogram on me to check for any blockages causing poor blood flow to my heart.  This came on the tail end of months of medical issues, from kidney stones and another myringotomy to high blood pressure and symptoms of pending heart failure.

We arrived in Atlanta and spent one night there.  Carolyn was almost involved in a shootout as she stood in line at the slowest Popeye’s on the planet.  The next morning we jumped through a few hoops to buy a Nintendo Switch, which had recently been released in the US and bought out complete from all stores.  We found someone willing to sell us a brand new one with a reasonable markup (like 15%, not 50-75% like many wanted), and after many calls to our bank (who had canceled our debit card because we hadn’t regularly used it in Malaysia for the past year), we had our Switch and drove north to my mother’s home in the North Georgia Mountains.

We stayed with my mother for a couple of nights and the kiddos got to see snow.  While we were there I started to develop some gastrointestinal issue that would worsen over the next two weeks.

We eventually left and checked into a hotel in Nashville the day before my visit to the cardiologist.  I was obviously nervous as hell because not only was this my first real surgery, but it was heart surgery and I had no idea whether my condition was bad or not at that point.  The evening before my appointment my father came to Nashville and we all had dinner at the hotel room where we were staying.  I told my mother and father what time to be at the hospital and gave them the full information for where to meet.  I went to bed early but struggled to sleep because I was so nervous.

I had asked my mother and father to meet me at the heart center at 9am because my appointment was at 9:30am.  At 6:30am my father called and yelled at me because he “asked several people and none of them were aware of my appointment” and he demanded that I tell him where the correct location was.  I gave him the exact same information I’d given him the night before, the only information I had for the place and the exact same information my mother used to successfully arrive on time, and I informed him that he was 2.5 hours early and I was still getting myself and my family ready.

When we arrived at the heart center at 9am the receptionist said a man had been asking about me but was very upset and had stormed off hours earlier.  I explained to her that it was my father and he failed to follow simple directions to be there at 9am on the scariest and most nerve-wracking day of my life and decided to yell at me at 6:30am because I couldn’t give him whatever answer he was looking for, even though he was in the correct place just much too early.

I didn’t have the strength or energy to worry about my father not being there for me, so when my name was called a few minutes later I left the kids with my mom in the lobby and Carolyn joined me as I went back to see a cardiologist.  The drew blood and we met with the doctor, who spoke to us for a little bit and agreed with my Singaporean cardiologist, that a cardio angiogram was necessary and they would perform the procedure the following morning.  I did a couple of other tests and was sent home with some instructions, like don’t eat or drink after a certain time, etc.

We left the hospital and I was a ball of nerves until the following morning when we arrived and I was admitted for surgery.  Carolyn and my mom took turns joining me in the room where a funny nurse prepped me for surgery.  I had told them I absolutely did not want the catheter being fed into my heart from my thigh and that if they found my wrist wasn’t suitable then to cancel the procedure because I did not wish to continue.  They did not listen to me and went ahead and shaved my thighs and both wrists.

The nurse was a funny guy, constantly joking and it made me relax some, but I was scared.  Scared of what they would find, scared I would have complications during the procedure.  Scared I wouldn’t live long to see my children grow up.  It was horrible waiting for the surgery to start.

Basically the cardio angiogram is where they make an incision into your wrist or thigh and thread a catheter (tube) through an artery all the way up to your heart, then squirt contrast dye into a series of locations in your heart and x-ray it to see if there is any blockages and whether or not your valves are operating normally.  If they find blockages they will immediately put in stints unless the blockages are too severe, in which case open heart surgery is likely required.  Through this procedure you are sedated but not out cold, so you’re awake but out of it.

I was eventually wheeled into the operating room and moved to another bed and given the anesthesia, which instantly calmed me down.  I watched the nurses buzzing around and saw a doctor and someone else pull up stools beside me, then they asked me a couple of questions and I responded, but I don’t remember exactly what they were asking.  I believe the entire procedure took about 45 minutes, but to me it felt like 5 minutes.

The next thing I know I was back in my room to recover.  They came and told me that they found no signs of blockage at all, which was absolutely fantastic.  Carolyn and my mom were excited about this good news too.  My heart and my wrist, where they put the catheter in, felt strange for several days afterwards.

I took maybe 2 hours to recover and eventually they removed my IV, cleaned me up, I got dressed and they released me with some medications and information on how to follow up.  They suggested that all the pains in my should, neck and jaw perhaps could be from a torn rotator cuff but that it was not due to a pending heart attack from blocked arteries.

We went back to the hotel and I relaxed while my mom, Carolyn and the kids went to some famous chicken place down the road to pickup dinner.  I slept off and on but continued to battle the worsening gastrointestinal issue.  My mom departed the following day and we stayed in Nashville for another night to be close to Vanderbilt Hospital in case I needed to return for any reason.

Eventually we checked out of our hotel and had planned to go spend a few days of vacation at the beach or somewhere fun now that we had good news, but the GI issues were so bad at this point (lots of blood in my stool) that I tried to see an urgent care doctor in Nashville and was turned away so we drove down to Birmingham and asked Carolyn’s family to keep an eye on the kids while we went to UAB Hospital (some offshoot ER near Bessemer) to have me checked.  They gave me yet another IV and put fluids in me because they were worried I would dehydrate, and they took several samples to run lab tests on but said it would be a couple of days before they had the results back.

We left, picked up the kids and went down to Tuscaloosa, where we stayed for a number of days hoping my condition would improve.  It didn’t, and we ended up going to see a gastroenterologist in Birmingham who instantly said the best way to find out what was going on was to perform a colonoscopy.  I finally drew the line in the sand.  NO!  I’ve had kidney stones, many IV’s, heart surgery and several other medical procedures and problems over the previous 3-4 months but I was absolutely not about to have a camera stuck up my ass.  No way.

They argued with me for a minute but in the end decided to take additional samples like the ER a few days prior, and they said they’d follow up on both sets of tests and for me to stay in touch with them.  To their credit, the staff were very kind and both Carolyn and I did speak to them several times over the following days.

After it was clear that nobody had any idea what was going on (the ER or the GI specialist), I decided that my condition was stable enough at this point to move to a location where Carol and the kids could have fun.  We drove down to New Orleans and checked into a hotel in the French Quarter, where we stayed for several days, including for Zobug’s 6th birthday.

Carol went all around the French Quarter and took the girls with her on most trips.  They loved the beignets and enjoyed seeing all the oddities on Bourbon Street.  I really wish I’d felt up to walking around with them because New Orleans is one of my Top 5 favorite cities on the planet.  I mostly stayed in the room, but did manage to take the family to a movie and to get birthday cupcakes for Zoe, which were fantastic.

In the final day in New Orleans I actually started to feel a little bit better and the frequency of my trips to the toilet had lessened noticeably.  We decided to move on, so we packed up and headed to Pensacola Beach.

We stayed in Pensacola for several days until my GI issues finally went away.  Through several phone calls to our GI specialist, Vanderbilt Hospital and others it was decided that the bleeding was likely due to the large quantities of antibiotics I had taken for the past couple of months, which would have assuredly destroyed the natural (and good!) flora and fauna in my intestines and this disruption caused the GI pains and problems I experienced for nearly 2 weeks.  Luckily it went away on its own, but this problem caused us to have to extend our stay in the US beyond what we had originally planned, which means we will be restricted on any other trips to the US later in the year because we can only be in the US for 35 days a year to take advantage of certain tax breaks given to overseas income.  Unfortunately we had to because there was absolutely no way I could have flown back to Malaysia and traveled non-stop for 30+ hours after that heart surgery in the condition I was in for many days following the surgery.

After Pensacola we went through Birmingham to say goodbye, hit The Ark in Pell City for late night fried catfish, and flew out of Atlanta to return to Malaysia.  We had a stopover in Tokyo and stayed in a room without a proper Western bed, but instead slept on a futon in a tatami mat traditional Japanese room.  It was fun for the kids…

The morning we checked out of the Tokyo hotel there was some sort of Lamborghini club get together or something because there were dozens in the parking lot.  Amazing cars!

We finally made it back to JB and were very thankful that my heart appeared to be ok and that my GI troubles were behind us.  I felt great for the first time in many months!

Here are some of the photos from our trip to the US in March:

A big scare

I haven’t fallen off a cliff and I do indeed feel badly about not updating my blog for nearly 4 months now. Truth is, I haven’t felt the same desire to write frequent blogs and post pictures of what we’ve been up to — after doing it steadily for 10 years it began to feel more like a chore instead of an interesting way to update our friends and family with what was going on in our lives.  Hopefully with some new and exciting things coming up in the near future I will again be inspired to update regularly…

I still want to update the blog, if for nothing else it’ll be a diary of sorts that I hope my children will enjoy reading some day.

This entry goes back to the end of February, and even though the details aren’t as fresh now after 7 months as they were then, the events that took place around that time were so stressful that I surprisingly remember most of it quite well.

I last left off at the point where I was suffering from my second kidney stone in a relatively short period of time, and I had been in and out of the hospital multiple times over 24 hours. I had just returned to the hospital in Singapore after a painful period where I couldn’t urinate, but felt like my bladder was about to explode. In a state of pain that I’d never felt before, coupled with exhaustion and fear, I agreed to allow the ER doctor to put a catheter in me to get some relief from what felt like a full bladder that everyone believed was due to a kidney stone blocking flow in my bladder. Sadly, after the catheter was inserted there was no success – nothing came out.

In closing my previous post, I said this horrible moment would get worse.  It did…  After the extremely painful procedure where a doctor and a nurse snaked a catheter into my bladder and nothing came out, providing absolutely no relief from the painful “I have to pee SO badly feeling!”, the doctor and nurse left me alone in my room – crying and completely defeated.  A moment later the door opened and in came Carolyn with the kids; they had been asleep in our van out in the car park for the past several hours and now came to join me since I had been admitted into my own hospital room.

The kids either went back to sleep or started playing on iPads, and Carolyn came over to check on me.  I told her I was exhausted for not really sleeping in two days, and I had pain radiating throughout my entire body from the kidney stone, feeling of an extremely full bladder and the catheter that had just been inserted.

I won’t get into the dirty details of what happened next, but things did get worse because that catheter failed (yes, failed), I called the nurse urgently, and as I was writhing in pain the doctor and nurse removed the tube they had inserted into me only minutes earlier as Carolyn rushed the kids out of the room as the girls started crying and yelling “what’s wrong with daddy?!”.  It was awful…

After the thing was moved and my bed and I were cleaned up, I passed out from sheer exhaustion and woke up a few hours later to a urologist standing over me.  Carol and the kids were back in the room too.  The urologist turned out to be a fantastic doctor and just a super guy.  Unfortunately I had to go through all sorts of tests (ultrasounds, x-rays, blood & urine testing, etc) over the course of the next two and a half days, but luckily the stone passed without having to do surgery.  My left kidney was significantly swollen, so I was put on antibiotics and finally released.

I eventually made it back to work after the kidney stone battles seemed to be over.  When I got back to work we had a serious problem, and during all of that I had an episode in my office where I could literally feel my chest tightening like I’d never felt before and I was short of breath and started sweating.  I was seriously afraid I was about to have a heart attack or a stroke, so I excused myself from the people in my office and got a cold glass of water and took it easy for about 20 minutes before returning to the discussion.

That next weekend I went weekend I went to see my general practitioner, the one who had started helping me control my blood pressure, and we spoke about the symptoms I had been having for the past few months – chest tightness, neck and jaw pain, left shoulder pain, and so on.  She asked me to see a cardiologist to confirm whether or not I had some heart condition that needed to be identified and resolved.

I visited the cardiologist almost immediately, and while I met with him I explained that I have always tried to stay away from doctors and that the past two months, and really 4 years, had been terrible because of all the hospital and doctor visits related to my deteriorating health — many due to allergies I’ve developed since arriving in Malaysia that led to numerous lung infections and ear infections, but most recently the high blood pressure and two kidney stones.  I explained the other symptoms I was having (tight chest, etc) and he said I needed to do an EKG and a stress test.  I asked what was involved in each and when he said the stress test involved pumping fluid into my body through an IV so they could see contrast in my heart to check for blockages, I asked about the timeline to get these done and he said “immediately, right now”.

I almost fell out of my chair.  I told him I had been through enough recently and asked if it would be possible to do the EKG today and to come back the following weekend for the stress test.  He said “no, the symptoms you’ve described sound like there is a possibility of an imminent threat of cardiac arrest, so it really needs to be done now so we know what exactly the condition of your heart is”.

Well, no I was scared that I was going to have a heart attack…

I went through the entire thing – EKG with a bunch of electrodes hooked up all over me, then to another room for even more electrodes, getting on a treadmill and then onto a bed for them to look at my heart with an ultrasound, and yes, I got another IV.  It was not fun, but once it was done I was hoping to get good news and be sent home, but I met again with the cardiologist after all the testing and he said “well, unfortunately the testing was not conclusive so we will need to do a cardio angiogram to be 100% sure”.  I asked what that was and he described a procedure where they stick a tube through your thigh or wrist and snake it inside your artery all the way back to your heart and then pump fluids into your heart and check the fluid flow with a camera.

I can’t describe the fear going through me at this time.  He explained how it is a safe procedure, but if they find blockages in my heart they may have to put in a stint or worse case scenario do open heart surgery if the blockages are too many, and he mentioned that like all surgeries that there is a risk of cardiac arrest during the procedure.

Hell no!  I did not want any part of this.  I asked again what kind of timeline he was talking about (this was a Saturday) and he said “I could get you in here for the procedure on Monday or Tuesday.”  WHAT?!  I had hoped he would say we would schedule it for the following month or so, and when I told him I wasn’t ready for it he said I could have a heart attack immediately and they needed to find out what was going on.  I felt like I was going to throw up — I went and talked to Carolyn about it and she looked as shocked as I was.  I eventually made an appointment for last the next week and we left.  Shell shocked.

That night we spoke about it and decided that it would be best to return to the US for this surgery.  Children aren’t allowed in most ER areas, so Carolyn wouldn’t be with me and I didn’t want to be alone through this if possible, and if something did go wrong we thought it would be better to be in the US that Asia for pure logistics — how would Carolyn get my body shipped back if the worst happened?

I spent the next several days making hundreds of calls — insurance, different heart surgeons at Duke, Vanderbilt and Emory, airlines for flight arrangements, etc.  It was even more disheartening that out of maybe our top 20 heart surgeon choices none of them were available or taking new patients.  Eventually we found a surgeon at Vanderbilt in Nashville who had done thousands of these cardio angiograms for decades and would see me.  My Singaporean cardiologist was very understanding, but asked that I not return to work until this procedure was done because any added stress could maybe cause serious problems.

I took it easy at home for several days and then we finally boarded our flight to return to the US on March 11th.  I would be at Vanderbilt Hospital on March 15th.

The pain continues

My last post left off with us arriving at home around 8pm after a very LONG day in Singapore, where I almost passed out from the pain of a second kidney stone while giving a urine sample at my doctor’s office before heading to the ER at Raffles Hospital for a bent IV and CT scan.

We got home and I was exhausted, so I went straight to sleep while Carol got the kids ready for bed — baths, teeth brushed, etc.  I slept for around 4 hours and woke up at midnight and had to pee really badly.  I went to the restroom and tried to go but nothing came out, just a trickle.  It felt like I’d drank 8 beers within the previous hour because my bladder felt like it was about to burst, so I tried a second time and the same thing – trickle.  I shrugged it off and got back in bed, but within 10 minutes it was so uncomfortable that I tried to go a third time.  Same thing, trickle and no relief.  Again I got back in bed and again I was only there for about 10 minutes before I went back to the bathroom.  When nothing came out I started to get nervous that the kidney stone hadn’t actually passed but was now in my bladder and stopping me from being able to urinate.

I was frantic.  I told Carolyn what was going on and I tried over and over and over to go but nothing would come out even though my bladder felt so full that I was afraid I’d pee on myself in the car ride to a hospital.  By 1am I had decided that there was no way I could sleep like this so we loaded everyone back up in the car and drove back to Raffles Hospital.  I should have learned my lesson from the IV because their ER was just about to give me even more pain…

We got to the ER around 2:45am.  The kids were all asleep in car and Carol was exhausted, so I went in by myself and I left the car running in the parking lot so they could have some air and get some sleep.  I was taken into the back and left there in a bed alone for quite a while.  They said the urologist wouldn’t arrive until the morning, around 9am.  I made probably 50 trips from my ER bedroom to the restroom, trying to pee, and still nothing would come out.  Eventually they decided to put in another IV, which was the second in my life but also the second one in a 24 hour period.

After they had the IV in I asked whether I was going to have another CT scan or what and was told the IV was so they could give me fluids.  WHAT?!  I told them “hell no!  my bladder feels like it’s about to explode, I can’t pee at all, so I don’t want more fluids to feel even more uncomfortable!”  They left me alone again, sitting in the bed looking at my IV and walking back and forth to the toilet every 5 minutes.

Around 6am they admitted me and I was taken upstairs to a regular room.  I sent Carolyn a text message and told her I had a regular room with a couch and chair, so she could bring the kids up there to lay down instead of sleeping in the car any longer.  She said she was on her way up.  In the 15 minutes it took for Carol and the kids to arrive at my room I made the biggest mistake of the whole 24hr period.  I was hurting and sore and exhausted and just couldn’t bare any more discomfort after having tried to pee without any relief for more than 6 hours.  I called the nurse, she called the ER doctor to come up and within a few minutes he was there.

I told him I was so uncomfortable and was there anything they could do.  He said they could put in a catheter and it would drain my bladder.

Now up until that point in my life I had literally done everything I could to avoid scenarios like this.  I ran from doctors to avoid shots, I avoided doctor visits whenever I was sick until the point where my lungs got so infected or my ears got so infected that I ended up in ER’s for pain medications and heavy duty antibiotics.  I always thought I would get better and not need to see a doctor, and this usually worked until I moved to Malaysia.  I hated seeing doctors.  I hated getting shots.  I hated getting poked and prodded.  It’s just one of those things for me — I absolutely hate doctors, hospitals and everything to do with it.

So here I was, battling my second kidney stone within a month, my second time in the ER in 24hrs, my second IV (the first one was bent underneath the skin and had bruised my hand), and my bladder felt like it was about to explode so I couldn’t wait for 3-4 hours more until the urologist showed up.  I was so delirious that I said “fine, whatever will give me some relief; put in a catheter”.  Stupid move.

I won’t go into the details too much, but I will say a few things about it.  The doctor said it only hurts going in, then you can’t really feel it.  That’s not true.  The amount of catheter tube the cram into you is almost unbelievable; I thought he was threading it up into my throat because he just kept pushing more tube in, each time was painful as hell.  There was a nurse there to do the wrangling, so to speak, while the doctor did the tube cramming – not fun at all.  After about 60 seconds of immense pain they let go of me and he said “it’s in”.  I was in pain all over.  My lower left back was throbbing in pain, my you-know-what felt like it had been cut in half, my bladder felt like it was still just about to explode, and now I hadn’t slept except for 3-4 hours in the past 24 and was just miserable.

I asked if the bag connected to the catheter was full of urine, hoping this ridiculously painful experience would at least give me some relief, but nope, the doctor said “huh. it’s empty”.  What?!?  Noooooo!!!

I laid there in the bed and started crying.  If I’d had a gun I would have shot myself in the head.  It was one of the top 5 low points of my entire life, but it would actually get worse within the next 10 minutes…

Falling apart

Now to pickup where I left off in February.  If you skip my previous post about the passing of Gregg Allman, my last update covered the end of January and the first couple of days of February.  The girls were out of school, celebrating Chinese New Year, and enjoying different outings that Carol setup — Hello Kitty Land, LegoLand and a local water park.  In the couple of weeks leading up to that point we had managed to apply for our new passports and I had been to the ER in Singapore when I woke up in the wee hours suffering from a kidney stone.

So February ended up being crazy, and not in a good way…  We did manage to get our new passports but my HR department continued to flounder in their effort to get our new visas, giving lots of excuses for starting the process so late.  In the end we got our updated visas and then all got new MACS passes so we can avoid additional stamps when just traveling back and forth to Singapore from JB.  That’s about as far as the good news went – we got our new passports and finally were issued updated Malaysian visas.

Unfortunately the bad news overshadowed that little bit of good news…  When I was in the ER for the kidney stones I was told that my blood pressure was very high and I needed to see a general practitioner about controlling it but perhaps it was only elevated because of the kidney stone and all the pain I was in that morning.

I took the recommendation seriously, and for the first time since leaving California in 2011 I setup an appointment to see a general practitioner.  I’ve seen far too many specialists since living in Malaysia; respiratory doctors for lung infections, ENT’s for bad allergies and clogged ears that needed to be cut open, and so on.

Carolyn found a doctor that accepts our insurance and setup an appointment for me to see Dr. Lim the next weekend.

We all made yet another trip to Singapore that Saturday morning in early February and I met with Dr. Lim for what seemed like forever.  She was excellent!  It seems like quite often doctors try to see you too quickly and don’t give you much time and fail to answer all your questions, but Dr. Lim had a full discussion with me about my health for more than an hour.  I told her the whole story about hardly ever seeing a doctor in California or Kentucky, but ever since moving to Malaysia I’ve suffered from several problems — mostly related to allergies that lead to lung, sinus and ear infections, but also rashes and feet problems which I attribute to the tropical (humid) conditions here.

She did a full physical and planned additional tests to determine whether or not I had any other conditions from a list of things I may likely have – diabetes, high cholesterol, other heart conditions, etc.  She verified that my blood pressure was indeed still high and now I’m on diovan, which after almost 4 months has controlled my blood pressure wonderfully, keeping it much lower than it has been for years.

After blood samples were taken we left Singapore and headed home, where things were more of ok for a week or two until I needed to return back to my new General Practitioner for a blood glucose test, urine samples to see if the bleeding from the kidney stones was gone, and further discussions on what else I need to do.

I saw my new GP doctor early in the morning on a Saturday, February 25th, and after they took blood and I drank this sugary drink I went down the hall to give the urine sample, but while I was filling the cup I had the sharpest pain I’ve ever felt, right in my abdomen.  It felt like someone was jabbing a sharp hot poker through my guts, and it was so intense that I lost my balance, felt like I was going to vomit and started seeing black all at once.  I almost passed out and hit the floor, but luckily I caught myself.  It took me about a minute or two to get stable, but I was shaking and not sure what the hell just happened.  I went back into the lobby of my doctor’s office and asked a nurse if I could see my doctor because I had a really sharp pain and almost passed out in the restroom.  She said I didn’t look so good – I’d lost all my color and was pale white and starting to sweat.  Another doctor in the same office agreed to see me immediately, so I went back and met this doctor from the UK.

The British doctor told me that it was likely another kidney stone and I explained that the pain in my lower left back was there again but the sharp pain was in the front right.  He said that if the stone blocks the kidney it is considered a medical emergency that needs immediate attention and that I should go directly to an Emergency Room.  He suggested that I go to the NUH, National University Hospital of Singapore, because they’re equipped to handle emergencies like this.  I told him I needed to go to Raffles, Gleneagles or Mt Elizabeth, all private hospitals, because those were the ones my insurance covered.  He elaborated – NUH is a public hospital and even foreigners only pay a token fee, like S$150 per visit, but their ER is much better than those in the private hospitals because they regularly see medical emergencies.  He did say the specialists at the private hospitals are some of the best in the world, but that’s not who you see in their Emergency Rooms.

I gathered up Carolyn and the kids and off we went to Raffles.  I brought to the back fairly quickly and they started prepping me for an IV.  For those of you who don’t know me, I’ve always had a fear of needles.  I ran away from doctors trying to immunize me when I was a kid, requiring multiple adults to hold me down, and I almost passed out and fell onto the floor when blood was being drawn once in California.  I hate needles.

Obviously I wasn’t looking forward to my first IV, so I pleaded with the nurse, asking over and over if it was necessary.  I have never been hospitalized for anything in my 39 years, and never had an IV, so I was persistent.  She went back and forth to the doctor and finally said it was required because they needed to do a CT scan to look for any kindey stones.  She told me several times that it only hurts when it’s going in, then they secure it with tape and you don’t feel it at all.  Well, it took her 3 jabs before she got it in there, and it hurt like hell.  After she taped it up it still hurt, but when I complained she just ignored me and said “no, it doesn’t hurt after it’s in place”, even though I said over and over, “yes it does hurt!”.

They left me there in the ER bed for a couple of hours before we walked upstairs to the CT room.  It’s a narrow table that slides in and out of a big circular machine.  It wasn’t like the ones I’ve seen in movies where your body is completely inside, but the circle was only about 2-3 feet deep, so your legs would be out of it on one side while your head and shoulders were out of it on the other side.

It was only me and the technician in the room, so I was told to strip down and put on a gown, then lay on the table with my arms over my head so she could access my IV and I could hold the fluid tubes.  Apparently when you have a CT scan they inject dye into you for contrast in order to better see whatever they’re looking for, and they inject it through an IV in your arm.  The technician first hooked up my IV to saline in order to flush it out, but when she was connecting it there was a lot of pain in my hand and I complained to her.  She was just like the nurse in the ER, telling my that it doesn’t hurt.  I told her that it absolutely did hurt and so she called in a male nurse to take a look at my IV.  He said that if it hurt for the saline it would really hurt for the dye because it’s “hot and much thicker” than the saline.  He removed all the tape, re-positioned the IV a few times until it was hurting a little less (but still hurting) and then taped it back.  By this time I had purple bruises on my head around the IV.

They hooked up the dye and told me not to move, saying that the only thing I should feel was a warm sensation from the dye, mostly in my groin.  Well, that wasn’t the only thing I felt as the table I was laying on crept into the spinning and whirring circle while I held my dye tubes over my head.  I could feel the dye pushing into my veins and my hand was hurting immensely, but I didn’t move at all because I didn’t want to repeat this.  I was worried that it would damage my veins but the nurse had said it was ok because there would be a big lump underneath my skin if the dye wasn’t going into the veins properly.  As I moved into the circle and back out again there was indeed a warm sensation, especially hot in my groin.

Once it was over I got dressed and headed back down to the ER to await the results.  I asked several times over the next 2-3 hours if they could take my IV out because it was still hurting, but they wouldn’t eventually the results came back that they couldn’t find a stone so it was either obscured by my pelvis (meaning in my bladder) or I had already passed it and it was gone.  They were about ready to send me home with some antibiotics.

While the nurse removed my IV she had a crazy looking expression on her face, one that would indicate surprise, but surprise in a bad way, like “oh, my, God!”.  I asked what the problem was and she said “oh, nothing”, but I asked her a couple more times and finally she held up the IV and it was bent like 60 degrees.  That was why it had been hurting all along…  When the first ER nurse was sticking me over and over to get the vein she apparently bent it underneath my skin and then they ignored me all day long when I told them it hurt, until they removed it about 8 hours later and found it bent.

We got my medications and went home, arriving in Malaysia around 8pm.  I was exhausted.  From getting up at 5am to get ready and drive to Singapore so we could be at my doctor’s office at 9am, to unbelievable pain from another kidney stone, to an entire day in the ER with my first (and very painful) IV, and then fighting traffic back into Malaysia.  I went straight to bed.

Unfortunately I didn’t sleep for too long, and the problems continued…

I will pickup in the next blog entry to mention how this problem continued into Saturday night and Sunday morning (Feb 25/26), but here are some photos from February and my time in various hospital rooms:

Fallen off the face of the Earth

I haven’t posted a blog entry in over 3 months.  To put that into perspective, I posted at least 1 blog per month for 10 years and 2 months straight, ever since I started this blog in January 2007.  My last post was on February 22nd and it was already quite a bit behind because in it I wrote about events from the end of January and the first couple of days of February.

I’ve always enjoyed posting on this blog because I consider it a journal of sorts, where my children can go back and see what was going on in my life, Carolyn’s life and their’s too, as they grew up.  Unfortunately the demands from my job increased significantly at the very end of 2016, and the beginning of 2017 brought a host of health issues that I dealt with in February, March and April.

I’ve finally gotten all the photos from the past 3 months moved to my laptop, I’ve gone through them and selected the ones to post, resized them and moved them to the website where I again went through the process of organizing and modifying them for display.  Now I need to write about what happened since early February, which I plan to do over the next week.

Before I go back 3 months, let me first start with the present day, which is Sunday, May 28th, in Malaysia.  This morning I woke up around 6:15am and did what I always do whenever I wake up – checked my phone.  I checked Whatsapp and noticed that I had a message from my mom at 4:30am.  It said “Gregg Allman died”.  I laid there in bed stunned…  I opened up a news website and sure enough, the top story was “Southern rock icon Gregg Allman dies at 69”.  I started crying.

For me, music is unlike other sensory things like visual art and food.  Over the past 39 years I feel like my life has followed a soundtrack, with different songs and bands covering special events and periods of my life.  Sometimes a photo can evoke similar feelings, but really nothing is as powerful as music.

I discovered the Allman Brothers band around 1993, as a sophomore in High School.  Around that same time I was getting my first tastes of freedom – having my own car (a red 1970’s mail jeep) and a job at a local video rental shop that allowed me enough money to enjoy some Friday and Saturday evenings.

From 1993-1996 I listened to lots of different bands, from Led Zeppelin and The Doors to Phish and Widespread Panic, from the Grateful Dead and Van Morrison to Lynyrd Skynyrd and Jethro Tull, but through it all my favorite was The Allman Brothers Band.  I was lucky to see them play at Atlanta’s Lakewood Amphitheater 3 different times from 1993 – 1996.  I haven’t talked to the guys who went to those shows with me in 20 years, but I still remember those shows.

The Allman Brothers makes me think of drinking beer at Chastain Park, riding around Atlanta in my friend John’s Honda Accord and doing things we probably shouldn’t have been doing, and so many others times that were a part of my life during that period.  My favorites were Blue Sky, Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More, Ramblin Man, Midnight Rider and Melissa, but I listened to Stateboro Blues, Whipping Post, In Loving Memory of Elizabeth Reed, Mountain Jam, One Way Out and several others hundreds of times each.  I collected bootleg cassette tapes that were recorded during different Allman Bros concerts and had probably 40 different shows in my VW Jetta the night I wrecked it in the summer 1997 in Atlanta after my first year in college.

I loved Duane’s slide guitar and Gregg’s voice.  I was sad earlier this year in January when Butch Trucks (the Allman Bros drummer) committed suicide.  From the original band only Dickey Betts and Jaimoe are still alive, which means there is no more Allman Brothers Band…

I cried because their music reminded me of fun times, scary times that I got through, easier times when I had no responsibilities.  I listened to their music over and over and over and over again, and could recognize any song in their catalog after just a couple of notes.  Of all the music I’ve loved in my life, the Allman Brothers were my favorite.  The music just made me feel good.

Another reason I always had a special connection to the Allman Brothers Band was because my parents had loved them 20+ years before I discovered them.  My parents listened to the in the early 70’s and in fact in college I still had the vinyl records for Brother and Sisters as well as Eat a Peach that my parents had since the 70’s, and had passed them on to me.

Anyhow, time stops for nobody and Gregg was lucky to live 69 years because he lived a pretty hard life, but losing him and knowing that it’s the end of the Allman Brothers Band is heartbreaking for a fan.

RIP Gregg.

Holidays in JB

Both girls were out of school for holidays following the Chinese New Year weekend.  I was still working, so we stayed in JB.  With all the kids free for the week Carol decided to hit some of their favorite spots to get them out of the house so they could enjoy their holiday.

Since I was at work that entire week I don’t have much to write about the 3 outings they did, but there are a bunch of photos below that show what was going on.  The 3 outings were:

  1. Hello Kitty on January 31st
  2. LegoLand on February 1st
  3. Mount Austin Water Park on February 2nd

Here are the photos:

Gong Xi Fa Cai – Year of the Rooster

Our third week back in Malaysia after our trip to the US (Jan 22-28) was much better than those first two weeks back.  No Emergency Room trips and our passports and visas were all in a wait-and-see phase.  It was actually that time of year again when things started being decorated in red and gold for Chinese New Year.  We’ve gotten to where we enjoy most of Chinese New Year – it’s actually our favorite of the Malaysian public holidays.  The red lanterns were hung all over the place, including on almost all the homes in our neighborhood as well as throughout our neighborhood park.  You could also find roosters everywhere; not live roosters (although you can definitely find some running around on the sides of the roads of Taman Molek at most times).  This is the year of the rooster, so they’re all over the place.

Carol had already picked up Sebastian’s CNY outfit at a street market in Shanghai back in December, but the girls still needed new cheongsams so Carol took them shopping at Aeon Bukit Indah.  Logan picked a lovely blue cheongsam and Zoe went with a red and white cheongsam that has peacocks on it.

That week was uneventful really, but the weekend (January 27, 28 and 29) were full CNY festivities.  The fireworks were crazy on Friday night.  Even though we’ve been through it for several years it isn’t something a foreigner ever gets used to.  At midnight on Friday it felt like we were in the middle of a war zone.  The Chinese Malays don’t specifically go for the beautiful fireworks that Americans prefer on the Fourth of July, instead they go for the loudest.  It doesn’t have to shoot way up into the air and blast a sparkling array of colors that trickle back down to Earth.  Inside, the prefer quarter sticks of dynamite that rattle your home’s windows and doors.

On Saturday (Jan 28) Carol and the kids went over to our friend Nancy’s home and celebrated CNY with her and some of her friends for most of the day.  Sebbie found a girlfriend and the girls had fun running around in their cheongsam.  I stayed at home but enjoyed hearing all about it when they all returned in the late afternoon.

Here are some photos, mostly of the kids at Nancy’s home on CNY, but also some from cheongsam shopping and a few from a local Chinese temple that was all decked out:

Passports and stones

When we arrived back in Malaysia after the holiday trip to the US, I had hoped for a quiet, uneventful but enjoyable final year in Malaysia.  Unfortunately 2017 started with all sorts of insanity…

I won’t go through all the details, our first two weeks back in Malaysia (January 7-21) had some highlights, or at least some notable points.  Two main things happened; first, we had to figure out how to get new passports for Carol, me and Logan while also getting new Malaysian visas for 2017, and second, my health has continued to deteriorate with a new complication.

Back in November 2016, when it was absolutely clear that we would be staying in 2017, I asked my HR department about visa renewals because our holiday vacation was already set and our visas that allow me to work and the family to live in Malaysia all expired on January 20th.  I was told “it can wait, we have plenty of time”.  I asked again twice in December before we left for the US on December 16th, and both times I was again told not to worry because there was plenty of time.  I even mentioned that 3 of us needed new passports when we returned in January because we were almost completely out of empty visa pages, and I was told that it wouldn’t be a problem.

January 9th, my first day back to work in 2017, rolls around and I’m panicking because there’s still no sense of urgency.  Carolyn sets up appointments for us to go to the US Embassy in Singapore to apply for new passports on January 20th (Friday), the day our visas are to expire.  My company’s HR had recommended we just go across the border before midnight on the 20th and cross back into Malaysia after midnight.  I explained that immigration may have a problem with this since we clearly left on the day my work visa expired and we returned back just a few hours later, not to mention that middle-of-the-night visa runs wasn’t something we planned to do with 3 small children just because they failed to take renewal of our visas seriously.  I told them we would spend the night in Singapore, they must pay for the hotel, and I was given an official company letter stating that they were in the process of applying for our visas in case immigration had any issues when we returned.

Unfortunately for me, those two main things happened to cross paths starting around 3am on January 19th.  I woke up with a throbbing pain in my lower left back, which I thought was probably from sleeping some funny way.  Carol and I were sleeping in the spare bedroom because of work going on in our master bedroom, so I wasn’t used to that mattress and after getting a drink of water I tried to go back to sleep by 3:15am.

It wasn’t meant to be…  I tossed and turned and that throbbing pain in my lower back was alternating to pains in my lower abdomen.  It got worse and worse no matter how I flipped and tried to position myself in bed.  By 5:30am I was in serious pain, so I woke up Carolyn and told her what was going on.  I went into our master bedroom and tried to lay on or mattress but the intensity of the pain just continued to increase.  I started to get worried that maybe my hernia was trapped because when I had my hernia diagnosed they had told me that could be a serious problem and it would need to be taken care of immediately in an Emergency Room.

I laid in our bed for maybe 15 minutes and then I started sweating even though it was cold in our room.  I told Carolyn that something was seriously wrong with me.  It was obvious that this wasn’t some normal cramped muscle or something like that.  I told her I wanted to go to the emergency room immediately, so she got the kids dressed and off we went to the ER at Gleneagles in Singapore.  Having been to ER’s in JB multiple times I knew I didn’t want to possibly end up in surgery here, so there was never any doubt that we had to cross the border into Singapore, but in retrospect it may not have been so sensible because we sat in traffic in immigration and going across the bridge for almost 2.5 hours.  The pain was indescribable.  It was so bad that it was taking my breath away.

I was the driver, with our 3 tired and hungry children all complaining in the back seat, as I was in excruciating pain, inching across the causeway bridge while Carolyn tried to keep everything somewhat contained.  By this point I felt like I was about to pee in my pants — I had to go worse than I’ve ever had to go in my entire life and I was stuck in the middle of the bridge.  I won’t go into the details any further, but I felt like I was dying there on that bridge.  It was the worst 2.5 hours of my life.

Amazingly, as soon as we crossed the border into Singapore it was like a switch was thrown and the pain went away almost instantly, the sweat stopped pouring and I was able to breathe normally.  We continued on to the ER, where I was seen and after a urine sample and a long wait for the analysis it was determined that I had likely passed a kidney stone in the car on the causeway bridge.  The pain was from the kidney stone and there was blood in my urine, which they advised me to check in another week in case there are other stones and further action is needed to make them smaller or to remove them surgically.  I was told by the doctor that “kidney stones are the worst pain a man can experience – it’s like childbirth for men”.  I heard that repeated about 50 times over the next two weeks by everyone I told the story to.  I don’t know what childbirth feels like, but passing a kidney stone feels like you’re about to die.  I can’t recommend driving a family of 5 across an international border while stuck in traffic for hours during this episode either — it only made the experience worse, much worse.

Since we had to go to the US Embassy for passports the following day, we decided to just stay in a hotel since it was already around 2pm by the time we left the ER.  We spent the night and had a room with a great view of Marina Bay, then the following day we applied for our 3 new passports at the US Embassy before spending a second night in Singapore.  I was too miserable to do anything, so I basically slept the entire time except for while applying for the passports.  I was also on yet another round of antibiotics to ensure no UTI…

On Sunday, January 21st, when we finally came back into Malaysia, the immigration agent at the Malaysian border had a problem with giving us a stamp, just as I had imagined he would and just as I’d told my HR department he would.  My HR manager had said “you can call me if there are any concerns at all, and I’ll speak to them”.  Well, they had us pull over and took me into the office where a group of 5 senior officials went over all of our passports while I waited.  I tried to call my HR manager over 10 times while I waited there for nearly an hour that Sunday morning, but he never answered.  Eventually they gave us all “special visas” that needed to be taken to the immigration office immediately on Monday for a fine payment and endorsement.  Phew!  The only problem now was that we needed to go back into Singapore within 10 days to collect our new passports and we still didn’t have or new visas!

Here are some photos from that first two weeks back in Malaysia after our holiday trip to the US:

Finally! Relaxation.

After a brutal trip from Malaysia to the USA, full of all sorts of obstacles, we were ready to start the second part of our trip.  The first part of our vacation was spent in Birmingham, visiting family.  Carol, the kids and I all enjoyed seeing everyone, but when you have limited time it just feels rushed to try to visit with everyone while also taking care of the things you have to settle during your few days each year in the US.  It was really a lot of running around and tiring after travelling so far with so many problems during the trip back.

The highlights for me were seeing my grandfather during a few visits, as well as having a change to see my mother, albeit briefly.  Carol had fun seeing her mother, Elnora and Anna.

The second part of our trip was the “vacation” part, where we rented a condo on the beach in Panama City Beach, FL.  We would be there for 5 nights, including for Christmas.  The drive down there was uneventful, but added another 7-8 hours of travel to a trip already loaded with time spent in planes and cars.

The condo was fantastic.  Large, bright, open, right on the water, plenty of space and located in a quiet development but near enough to everything that we could drive to any attraction in PCB within 20 minutes.  My dad drove up from Port St. Lucie, and stayed with us at the condo.  We enjoyed having him and the girls were especially excited to see the Christmas tree he brought, which they decorated together with their Papaw and Jean.

Our time spent in PCB was the perfect mixture of pure relaxation and activities.  We went down to the beach with the kids each morning for 1-2 hours, then we would have breakfast that either Jean cooked or that we picked up from a nearby place.  We spent some afternoons lounging around the condo and others running around PCB.  We did some shopping, getting some DVD’s (Home Alone!), we took the kids to see Santa Claus and once again Zoe was the only one willing to happily sit on his lap — Sebastian was put on his leg but he went bananas, and Logan wouldn’t get out of the stroller but asked a million questions about Santa as soon as we left the mall.  Zoe did some bungy jump-swing thing and tried to get Bantu knots (it hurt her head too much).  We played putt-putt one night – I won, the girls had a blast, Papaw kept up with Sebastian and Carol continued to perfect her game.  We went to see a movie, Sing, one evening, then Zoe rode a few amusement rides with Carol and her Papaw, and we celebrated Christmas after Santa brought toys for the kids.

I hadn’t spent any time on Gulf Coast beaches in probably 30+ years, and I’d forgotten how nice they are.  The water was nice, but the sand was amazing – soft and pure white.  Carol and I said we needed to do it again in the near future, maybe Pensacola or Destin next time.

A couple of days after Christmas we drove further south for the third part of our trip – South Florida.  We stayed with my dad and ran lots of errands to take care of all the stuff we’re unable to do from Malaysia.  We watched several bowl games, had some fantastic meals (Which Wich rules, and so does Gettin’ Crabby!), dealt with one huge problem (our storage unit had been relocated to another city without anyone notifying us!), and took care of a bunch of jobs we needed to get done.

It was great to spend time with my dad, but after a few days it was time for us to drive down to West Palm Beach for 1 night before flying back to Malaysia.  The trip back was MUCH better than the trip over, including our second stopover in Shanghai.  We wish we’d had an extra week or two in the US so we could have visited family for more time, but it was a great trip in general.  Zoe cried harder than I’ve ever seen her cry when we left Papaw’s house.  She sobbed and sobbed for her Papaw for about 30 minutes as we drove to WPB; she finally cried herself to sleep.

Here are the photos from our time in Florida:

The first half wasn’t so easy

On December 16th we left Malaysia to head back to the US for a two and a half week vacation.  We always break up the flights back by staying overnight somewhere in Asia because it’s just too far to travel continuously with three little kids.  Korea has been the easiest for this so far, but due to ticket costs my company has decided to have us stopover in China previously and this trip was the same.

On a previous trip we stayed overnight in Beijing and that proved to be a mistake because ultimately Logan ended up hospitalized for the majority of our time back in the US after getting salmonella and E. coli poisoning in Beijing, and Zoe had the same and was hospitalized for 1 day.  In addition to the sicknesses picked up there I was also hassled at immigration when we went through the 72-hour visa-free transit line.  Eventually they let me through but it wasn’t necessary and just extra trouble after you’re already tired from traveling.

We were planned to stopover in Shanghai during our recent trip back to the US.  I had asked my company to please not route us through China, but the lower cost beat out my desire to avoid problems again.  I also had raised my concern about a short 1hr and 40min layover in Detroit, as I told my company that we need 3-4 hours for transfers when coming into the US.  I was told that the airlines allow that transfer because it’s within a window they believe is sufficient time to transfer, but having been through immigration, customs, baggage claim, baggage recheck, security and gate hunting with a family of 5 that includes an infant and two toddlers, I assured them that it simply wasn’t enough time.  Again the lower cost beat out my sensible request…

We left our home in Malaysia around 3pm because we’d found in the past that waiting much later meant that we cut it close to missing our flights due to rush hour traffic jams when trying to cross the causeway after 5pm.  We got to Changi around 6pm, got ticketed, checked our luggage, made our way through immigration and then headed to the lounge to relax until our flight.  Around 9:30pm we went to our gate and through security, then boarded our China Eastern flight for Shanghai, which departed shortly after 11pm.

We arrived a Pudong airport in Shanghai just after 4am and that’s when the first hurdle came.  At major ports of entry in China, like Shanghai and Beijing, they offer 72 hour visa-free entry as long as it’s just a transfer stop in your itinerary (not the destination) and as long as you stay in that immediate area.  It stimulates tourism for China and gives travelers a way to break up their trips and see interesting cities.

Everyone except for us from our plane lined up at the normal immigration area, but we walked all the way to the end where the signs pointed to the 72/144 hour free visa counters.  Unfortunately there weren’t any immigration agents at our desks.  We waited for a while as the people from our plane were processed and other plane loads of people arrived and filled that line up again and again.  We asked where the agents were and we were told to wait.  We continued to wait.  Eventually after asking different officials we were told that this desk didn’t open until 8am.  What?!  They have planes arriving all night long at this huge port of entry and this desk isn’t open over night?

Eventually we got to the back of the regular line and after several hours with our kids crying, whining, crawling, sleeping, and just being miserable we made it to the counter and passed into Shanghai.  We collected our luggage and went through customs but since it had taken so long to clear immigration our ride wasn’t there waiting to take us to our hotel.  I called the hotel and we waited as they made the arrangements for someone to come collect us.  We eventually got a ride to our hotel.

We checked in and Carol went out and got some amazing dumplings for breakfast while I took a shower and the kids jumped around with their second wind.  The dumplings were unbelievably hot and when you’d bite into them they’d spray hot soup out all over the place.  I would definitely recommend trying them if you’re ever in Shanghai – they were great.

We eventually all got showers/baths and then took a long nap.  That evening Carol and Zoe went out into the streets and walked around, checking out the area and eventually picking up dinner.

The next morning we went to the airport and again our travel arrangements were a mess.  My company didn’t assign seats to everyone for some reason and had instead assigned two separate seats to one person, so we waited at the check-in counter for nearly 3 hours while the staff begrudgingly resolved the issue.  Of course the guy who made the arrangements later said he did it correctly, and of course the airline said it wasn’t done correctly.  All I know is that we were the ones who suffered – getting to the airport early to navigate it with children and then being forced to race to the gate after spending all that time at the check-in counter because somebody/nobody made a mistake…

We sat on the runway in Shanghai for almost 2 hours because “the sky in the corridor to Tokyo is full”.  As I mentioned before, I had already told my company I didn’t like the short 1hr 40min layover they had for us in Detroit, and yep, the nightmare continued.  We got to Detroit almost 2 hours late and missed our connecting flight to Louisville.  We had to clear immigration and wait for a while to get or luggage, then we waited in line to speak to an agent about booking a new flight.  We obviously weren’t the only ones who missed our flight so the wait was over an hour, then it took another hour to speak to the agent.  They could put us on another flight in about 8 hours and we were “lucky” because they’d had bad weather the past few days and canceled many flights and pushed those people to other flights.  I explained that I didn’t feel “lucky” having to extend our 65 hour trip from Malaysia to Louisville by about another 10 hours and it was at that point that I decided we would rent a car and drive.

We went outside the airport at Detroit to catch the shuttle bus over to the rental car place, and it was possibly the coldest I’ve ever been in my entire life.  Our little ones weren’t prepared for it, so we quickly tried to bundle them up as best we could while we waited 10mins for the bus.  I had already reserved an SUV in Louisville to be dropped off in West Palm Beach when we left to return to Malaysia, so I asked how much would the price change to pickup in Detroit instead of Louisville and was told the price would jump by another $1200 (original L’ville to WPB was $1400, so $2600!).  WHAT?!  Scratch that – how much for an SUV for a one way rental to be dropped off in Louisville?  They informed me that they aren’t allowed to rent SUV’s to walk-ups, only with reservations.  So we ended up with a tiny car that I needed a shoehorn to get in and out of, and we ended up leaving Sebbie’s stroller in the lobby of the car rental building because it couldn’t be crammed into our tiny car.

After this excruciatingly long trip with so many problems I smashed my family into this tiny vehicle and drove for the next 5 hours from Detroit to Louisville.  In the dark, while it snowed.  What a great start to a “vacation”.

The following morning I wasn’t able to stop in to see my old boss because we were at the Louisville airport changing over from the car to our originally reserved SUV.  Amazingly we had a brand new GMC Yukon with only like 4000 miles on it.  The rental lady was surprised about because she said normally they only allow regular SUV’s to go one-way, not luxury class SUV’s.  The Yukon was fantastic!  Tons of space for everyone and very comfortable.

We immediately set out for Birmingham and made it there by early evening.  Our first stop was to see my Grandfather, who was being visited by my mom and my nephew, Riley, when we arrived.  We spent about an hour or so there visiting.  It was great to see them and I wish my mom had been able to stay in Birmingham longer, but she had to leave and we needed some rest after going nearly non-stop for 3+ days.

We got me booked into a hotel in Trussville and then I dropped off everyone at Carol’s mother’s home.  The next several days was spent visiting with family and shopping.  I went and visited with my grandfather 3 more times, once with Logan and two other times with Zoe.  I also joined Carol and the kids at her Aunt Elnora’s home, where I had a good time hanging out with Joe, Carolyn’s uncle, while Jean and the kids hung out with Elnora.  We managed to pickup a new stroller, get Christmas gifts for everyone, including an NES mini console for me and a new iPad for Jean, plus we all got new clothes to take back to Malaysia.

Here are the photos from our trip over from Malaysia to the US, including the stopover in Shanghai, as well as some from our first of three main stops – Birmingham:

Jabs, myringotomy and dusky leaf monkeys!

I haven’t posted a blog entry in over 30 days and the last entry was about things that happened back in mid-November.  I haven’t been on the ball.  At all.

Quite a bit has happened since mid-November…  We’ve taken a vacation to the US for Christmas and New Year’s, Logan and Zoe have both started a new grade in school, Sebbie started officially talking the other night (Jan 22nd) when he clearly said “night night”, I’ve continued to have health problems and Carol has been trying to keep up with all that stuff and more.

I plan to update this blog in 4 parts – (1) mid-November to mid-December recap, (2) US Trip before Florida, (3) US Trip in Florida and (4) What’s been going on in January since our return to Malaysia.

Mid-November to Mid-December was a long time ago, but I’ll hit the highlights, and since this is written by me I’ll start with what was going on with me personally.  I couldn’t hear out of my left ear at all and it had been that way for a while due to it filling up with fluid from my allergies.  I’ve been battling allergies and their side effects (respiratory and ear issues) ever since arriving in Malaysia, but 2016 was the worst.  I spent the majority of the year feeling miserable and made way more trips to see doctors than anyone under 40 should ever have to.  I had chest x-rays, dozens of courses of antibiotics, constant coughing and couldn’t hear for months.

We had been planning a holiday trip in December so we could go to the US and visit family and let everyone see Sebastian since he’s only spent a couple of weeks in the US since birth.  As we got closer and closer to the planned departure on December 16th I was worried we may have to actually cancel the trip because I was making weekly trips to Singapore for literally MONTHS due to my ear problems and the ENT just kept trying to halfass treat it and “wait to see what happens”.  It just continued to get worse until one evening I got home from work around 7pm and went straight to bed because I left work feeling ok but started getting a headache on the drive home and that turned into a pain in my left jaw, neck and ear.

I wasn’t able to sleep and the pain got more and more intense until I told Carolyn that it was beyond normal pain and that I needed to go to the Emergency Room.  I know when something isn’t right with me, and this was definitely a time when something abnormal was going on because the pain came on immediately and got so bad that I was writhing in pain in the bed and couldn’t barely open my eyes normally as we packed the kids into our van and drove over to Raffles Hospital.  We made our way to the ER and the doctor had a look into my left ear and said “your eardrum is being pushed out of the ear canal – I will call our on-call ENT to come in and check this”.  The on-call ENT was the guy I’d been seeing who had been playing “let’s wait and see” for 2+ months.

He jokingly said “the doctor thinks your eardrum is coming out of the ear canal – haha – let’s have a look and see what’s actually happening…  oh.  well… he’s right, it is bulging because there’s a large blister on your eardrum that is about to rupture.  you have a bad ear infection.”  Lovely…

They asked me about the pain level and I told them it was excruciating.  I was given some pain killer injections and then they wiped some antibiotics in my ear and gave me some medications and sent me on my way.  We drove back home and I was in bed around 3am after taking a few more pain pills.  I woke up at 7am to blinding pain and wet pillow, covered in blood and pus from where the blister had finally ruptured.  Carol called the hospital for me and they told me it would continue to leak for several days and to rest and take all the meds.  The pain pills did nothing and what was almost as bad was that because a layer of skin on my eardrum had exploded and made it thinner I was now able to perfectly hear blood rushing through the capillaries in my eardrum with each heartbeat but couldn’t hear anything else because all that fluid was still trapped in my middle ear!

The ENT I’d been seeing for a while had finally met the end of his usefulness – my condition had progressively worsened the entire time I’d been his patient.  It was time to find someone else, quickly.  I needed to have another myringotomy, like I had back in March 2014 when my symptoms were exactly the same – persistent cough and clogged up ears.  Carolyn checked to see which ENT I’d visited nearly 3 years earlier for this procedure and she made me an appointment to see him.  Unfortunately he wouldn’t perform the procedure on the first visit and he didn’t want to on the second visit either due to the condition of my ear still healing from the infection with the bursting blister, so we literally came down to the weekend before we were supposed to leave for the US without knowing if we’d go or not.  If I couldn’t have the procedure done there was no way I was flying and taking a chance of the pressure causing that fluid to completely rupture my eardrum.

In the end he did the procedure but it wasn’t quite as thorough as 2014 – he only used the little vacuum for a couple of moments to get the fluid out instead of thoroughly clearing it out like he did previously.  The good news was that I was finally able to hear again – instantly.  They did a hearing test and said that I’d lost some of my hearing because of this illness, which wasn’t exactly good news.

At least we knew now that we’d be able to go to the US!

I wasn’t the only one during that time (mid-November to mid-December) who had to see a doctor.  Zobug was due for some jabs and she wasn’t really that excited about it until I told her she could go to Toys R Us and pick 1 toy if she got her jabs without crying.  I couldn’t take another episode like the last time where Carol had me take Zoe for her jabs and she was crying and looking at me with those big teary eyes pleading, “Why are you letting him do this to me, daddy?!”  It broke my heart and made me want to punch the nicest pediatrician on the planet in the mouth, so I needed another approach that worked for everyone.  Zoe took the jabs like a champ!  She was really brave and when he finished she said “that’s all?  it’s over? that wasn’t so bad!”  I took some photos that are included in the gallery below, showing her progression before-during-after the jabs.  Happiness, fear, relief.

Other than tons of medical visit trips to Singapore we also had a period where the kids were finally out of school on break, so Carolyn took them to the large play area at TESCO Plentong a few times.  Sebastian loved the balls and Zoe climbed all over everything.

The best thing about that period for me was that late one Sunday afternoon (11/27 around 5pm) I took the girls and our housekeeper, Rose, to Permas seafood for an early dinner while Jean and Sebastian slept.  As we left the restaurant we saw about 6-8 dusky leaf monkeys!!  This is literally across the street from the condos we lived in last year in Permas Jaya, and there’s development everywhere so they’ve obviously been there.  We’ve seen the normal long tailed macaques in that exact same area a couple of times over the past 4 years when leaving Permas Seafood, but we haven’t seen dusky leaf monkeys at all in Malaysia.  We’ve even been to wildlife refuges where they supposedly live and never saw them, so it was awesome.  Unfortunately all I had was my iPhone so the photos aren’t so good, but you can see that they have the white faces and definitely are the macaques that are all over Malaysia.  I just wish Carol had been there to see them too.  Hopefully we will run into them again before moving back to the US.

Here are some photos taken from mid-November to mid-December:

The Helper became an Artist!

Last year in mid-November we went to a place in downtown JB to celebrate the end of the school year for Zoe and all of her classmates.  The ceremony last year marked Zoe’s graduation from the Nursery and she won a trophy for being the Most Helpful Student in the Nursery.  This year Zoe moved up to K1 (Kindergarten, year 1) and spent many hours learning to spell words and then how to read.  Zobug can now read and do addition and subtraction, and we couldn’t be more proud of her.

When the middle of November came again this year it was time to celebrate another school year’s end and the accomplishments of all the children.  We went back to the same auditorium and watched several presentations, including a couple of dances by the Lower School – particularly by K1 and K2.  Zoe recited a memory verse on stage (Proverbs 3:5) while sporting an American Indian costume.  Her class was doing a presentation (dancing and singing) about children from “around the world”.  Each student was tasked to come dressed up in a traditional costume from some culture other than their own (Malaysian).

Just like last year it was obvious that Zoe was the best dancer on stage (maybe I’m biased), and she did a fantastic job.  Carol charged down to the front of the crowd to get photos but she somehow broke her zoom lens and couldn’t figure out how to focus properly with her normal lens so we ended up with only a handful of photos, but it was a great experience to see our little girl performing on stage.

After the performance there were a few more, then they did the award ceremony for the Lower School before moving on the the Upper School presentations and award ceremony.  We had already been tipped off a couple of weeks earlier that Zoe would again be receiving a trophy this year, but instead of being the Best Helper she was the Best in Creative Arts.  I was surprised by this award because early in the year Carol had a run-in with Zoe’s teacher about grades on some of her artwork.  Zoe is actually a good artist in my opinion; I don’t know many 5 year olds that use shading techniques.  After the run-in I heard a story later in the year that Zoe’s teacher was actually impressed with her artwork when the teacher relayed a story to Carolyn that she was walking around the classroom one day while the students were coloring a drawing of a dog and the teacher asked why Zoe had drawn circles on her dog.  All the other students were coloring their dogs a solid black or solid brown.  Zoe explained that she likes Dalmatians and those circles were its spots.

We were happy Zoe was recognized for her artistic abilities and we hope the award inspires her to continue drawing and coloring.  She loves art and spends countless hours coloring and drawing at home.  I have colored pictures of Elsa and Anna taped up in my office at work, as well as one of my favorite drawings of our family that Zoe ever made — it’s just a house standing in the middle of a green field.  I asked Zoe “where are you and Logan, and where are mommy, me and Sebastian?” and she said “it was hot so we all went inside that house”.  Of course!

After the ceremony we went back home, where Rose was watching Logan and Sebbie, and we picked the 3 of them up and all 6 went for celebratory ice cream at Baskin Robbins.

The following week was Zoe’s last week of school this year, and then she went to school with Logan for a week before Logan’s school year also came to an end.  The girls will both start new school years in January once we return from our trip to the US.

Here are the photos from Zoe’s graduation and awards ceremony, together with some shots from her last day of school and some from Logan’s school as well: