Sebastian becomes a big boy!

August was a big month for Sebastian – he turned 2 years old and started school!

Just like all of my recent “catch up” blog postings, the events that took place in this post all happened a while ago and I don’t remember all of the details unfortunately.

The highlights from August were:

(1) Sebastian started school on August 10th, when he joined Logan at her school.  Sebastian continued there at Jolly Seedlings until the school year ended in November.  He LOVED it!  Being around the other kids was fun, he liked his teachers, but mostly he was so happy to not be contained to his playpen where he spent the bulk of his days up to that point.  I was thrilled for him and like his sisters, he never wanted to leave school in the afternoons.  He would use so much energy running around like crazy at school that he would almost always fall asleep on the car ride home when Carolyn would pick him up in the afternoons around 2pm.

(2) Sebastian and Logan went on a field trip with their school to Hello Kitty on August 25th.  Logan rode with one of her teachers, and Carolyn took Sebastian and met up there together with her friend Elizabeth and her daughter “Little Alex”.  They all had a blast — check out one of the group photos below and see how happy Sebbie is while being held by Teacher Mei – huge smile!

(3) The clerk who worked for me, Syifa, got a back injury one weekend while working OT.  Syifa is such a sweetheart and my family adores her because when I was in the US with all my medical issues she was the main person from Malaysia who kept checking on me and wishing me well.  I visited her in the hospital one evening with Zoe and Logan, and several of the guys who work for me visited her there too.  In on of the photos you can see a pulley at the end of her hospital bed, with a small rope running across it to a jug of water.  This was the hospital’s treatment for a slipped disc — tying the rope to her legs and letting the weight of the water stretch her spine out.  Seemed a little bit like medieval torture to me, and Syifa is a legend for surviving that place.

(4) On Monday, August 28th, we celebrated Sebastian’s second birthday at home with a dinosaur cake (Land Before Time) and several presents.  He loved the cake and made many “roars” from his new dinosaur toys at his sisters to scare them away.  He grew up so much in just a month!  Turning 2 and starting school…

Here are the photos from August:

The big 4.0 for Loggie Goggie

At the end of July Logan turned 4.  Times flies!

Carolyn got her two cakes because we planned two parties for her, one at school and one at home.  We also couldn’t decide on a theme because ever since we were in the US in March and all went and saw the live action Beauty and the Beast movie, Logan was crazy about all thing Belle, but between that time and her fourth birthday she also became infatuated with Trolls.  We split it evenly – school cake was Belle and home cake was Trolls.  Moonlight, a local bakery, made both cakes and they did a fantastic job.

The school birthday party was on July 28th, then we had a slumber party with the two girls who always hang out with Zoe and Logan, Jolisha and Jowita.  In the middle of the slumber party we had cake and Logan opened all her presents, including some Beauty and the Beast Barbie dolls (thanks, mom!).  The next morning the kids all went to TESCO to play in their huge play area for a while, then we dropped Jolisha and Jowita off at home.  To finish off the celebration weekend we went to NHK for dim sum brunch on that Sunday and Logan brought her dolls with her.

Logan has grown up so quickly that it is amazing.  Carol and I contribute quite a bit of that growth to her school, where some amazing teachers have given Logan so much loving instruction that her confidence has soared and her language skills have improved dramatically.  Carolyn and I are both so proud of the little lady she has become!

Here are the photos of Logan’s fourth birthday weekend:

Farewell to Papaw & a big decision

After we returned from Bali, Papaw stayed with us for another week before heading back home to the US.  Zoe, Logan and Sebastian had gotten used to him being there to drop them off at school in the mornings and to pick them up from school in the afternoons, and more so, they had gotten used to him helping them with their homework and reading them stories each evening.  My father is a lifelong educator and has infinite patience with my children when he’s teaching them something, and his teaching methods are what a professional would do, which is completely different than Carolyn and I because we try to explain a concept and then get flustered when a 6 year old or 4 year old doesn’t pick it up immediately.  I need to work on my patience a lot, and take time when I help the girls with their school work, but I’ve spent 17 years involved with Engineering, not Education, so it doesn’t come naturally to me.

After Papaw left we got back into our normal routine.  My health had somewhat stabilized except that I hated my C-PAP machine because it was very difficult to get used to having air smashed into your nose at increasingly higher pressure as you try to sleep.  Eventually we went to Singapore and my ENT got me a full face mask, so air getting pushed into my mouth and nose simultaneously made things a bit more comfortable than when it was the nose only.

The biggest thing that happened shortly after my father left was that my company asked me if I would consider extending my contract to stay in Malaysia for 1 more year (through 2018).  This was odd because normally they ask in November/December, but it was good because Carolyn and I had a lot of time to plan either way, which was a first compared to the previous years.

Carol and I discussed the pros and cons of staying for another year for several weeks, with my company asking many times what my plan was, and finally we decided that we were definitely ready to return to the US.  We originally thought we would be here for 2 years, then we had a 2 year extension and after that a 1 year extension.  After 5 years we were ready to leave.  Living in Malaysia has been a wonderful experience and I have seen the company where I work grow in leaps and bounds during that time, and in fact the entire area around Johor Bahru building up at a frantic rate, but we decided it was enough.  Enough being away from family, enough being aware from our own culture, enough not understanding half of what’s said every day, enough dealing with constant heat and humidity, enough craziness with the driving, just enough.

We were ready for our children to be able to see their cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents more frequently than a couple of days a year, and most importantly to us we were ready to see our own parents more frequently.  Time has flown by and none of us are getting any younger, so we decided not to let more time pass where we live a world away.  We want to see our family more frequently.  If we have medical issues we like having the support of family without having to make an emergency 35hr trip across the world.  We hope Logan will know just as much about Easter as she does about Chinese New year.  We just miss home I suppose…

All that said, we loved our time in Malaysia.  Mostly we have enjoyed meeting the great people we have spent time with and gotten to know well.  Carolyn will miss Elizabeth, Joann, Kas, Nancy and several other friends.  I will miss the people I worked closely with every day, like Herman, Aidil, Zul, Azmie, Kumar and Syifa.  Our girls have close friends at school too.

We will miss Sunday dim sum brunch at New Hong Kong.  We will miss the fantastic teachers that have worked so closely with our children, like Teacher Lisa, Teacher Mary and Teach Mei.  We will miss the superb doctors in Singapore, especially Dr. Phuah and Dr. Chee.  We will miss KL – in my opinion, the second best major city in Asia after Tokyo (Singapore is great, but KL is great too and has an edginess to it you don’t feel in Singapore).  We will miss our housekeepers and nannies, especially Jean!  We will miss chili crab buns.  We will miss monkey sightings and giant monitor lizards sprinting across the roads.  We will miss the acceptance and lack of (outward) vitriol that foreigners receive here, which seems much better than how foreigners (or those with differences) are treated in the US.

In the end, I told my company we did not want to accept the 1 year extension and that we were ready to go.  It felt like a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders after that decision was finalized.  I care about my company and the guys I have worked closely with, and I want to help my boss as much as possible, but there was a point where everything would be turned over and I would be free to move on to the next adventure and challenge.

The other thing that happened in July was that Carolyn and I decided that with our departure from Malaysia coming up we should have professional photos of the kids taken while we are still here, to remind us of this time in our lives, and we thought the best way to commemorate it would be by having them dress up in traditional costumes from the three main ethnic groups that make up Malaysia – Malay, Chinese and Indian.

Here are the photos from July, including some of the Indian costumes that were bought for the photo shoot and the girls posing at a nearby Hindu temple in those colorful costumes:

Returning to our relaxation destination – Bali!

At the end of June, about 10 days before my father was due to return to the US, we flew back to Bali for a vacation.  We stayed in the exact same villa we had stayed in years earlier (Balicosy in Legian); not just the same property where there are several villas, but literally the exact same villa.  The owner remembered us and she was just as sweet and accommodating as she had been years earlier, making special provisions for our children (toys, etc).

Like I mentioned in a previous post, the events detailed in these “catch-up” blog postings happened a considerable time ago (nearly 6 moths!), so I do not remember all the details.  What I do remember is the following:

(1) We spent lots of time in the pool.  I LOVE swimming around with my kiddos!  Mostly it was me, Zoe, Logan and Papaw, but Sebastian has the same insatiable desire to stay in the pool swimming and hopping into it from the edge that his sisters have, and he cried whenever he was taken out.  Zoe has gotten to be a good little swimmer and doesn’t need any floaties, while Logan has gained a lot of confidence and will jump in from the edge without you being right there to catch her.  We swam in the morning, we swam in the hot afternoons and we swam under the moon with the colorful pool lights on.  People nearby the property flew kites almost constantly, so we watched those while swimming, and we even saw someone buzzing around a drone over the property one afternoon.

(2) We returned to the Bali Bird Park, and this time Zoe was more courageous than ever, wanting exotic birds both big and small to perch on her arms and shoulders.  Sebastian wasn’t quite as impressed as his big sister by the birds, only briefly reaching out to pet a wreathed hornbill that was hanging out on the top of his stroller.  Logan was not as brave with the birds as she has become with swimming – she didn’t want any birds on her, but she loved looking at them from a couple of meters and pointed them out to all of us.

(3) We had some great meals, including some pizza/calzones from a place we had when staying in Legian previously, some excellent Mexican, and even some babi guling!

(4) The girls all went for an afternoon at a local salon where Logan and Zoe had their hair braided while Carol got a mani-pedi that included some bunga rayas (hibiscus flowers).

(5) It was really relaxing for me, and exactly what I needed from a vacation.  I spent the majority of the trip either in the pool or sleeping and it was perfect!

Here are the photos from our June 2017 trip to Bali:

Wires, wires and more wires

Back in May and June I tried to get back on track to get all my pending health issues addressed.  My general practitioner suggested that I go for a “sleep study” and gave me an order to meet with a specific ENT to make the arrangements, but I ended up scheduled to see the ENT who performed the two myringotomy procedures I’d had in previous years and he made the arrangements for this sleep study.  The other ENT that my GP recommended was not in-network for our insurance…

In the middle of June we all went over to Singapore and on June 17th, in the evening, I went to Glen Eagles Hospital and checked myself in for the sleep test.  Carolyn, the kids and Papaw were all staying at a nearby hotel.

Soon after I got checked in I was led to a private room in one of the wards on a high-up floor, and shortly after that a guy came by and took my breakfast order and brought me a pitcher of water.  Within an hour a Filipino guy showed up with a briefcase and got to work wiring me up.  He stuck electrodes to my chest, put some gel in my hair and hooked more to my head and face, tide some band around my chest, put something on my finger and fitted a tube around my head and into my nose and mouth.

All of the wires were connected to a little battery powered input module that was attached to that band around my chest.  I told the guy that the tube sticking in my mouth was annoying as hell and he said it was ok to try and bend it out of the way but that didn’t work at all because after a few seconds it would pop back into my mouth.

All of those sensors were there to measure different things as I slept, like my breathing patterns, my oxygen levels, my heart rate and so on.  All the data would be stored in that input module and the following morning the guy would return and collect it so that the data could be analyzed by software that would determine whether or not I had any problems occurring while I slept.

That night of sleep was miserable…  It was impossible to get comfortable with all those sensors stuck everywhere and wires all over me.  The tube in the mouth was a pain too.  I tossed and turned, only getting 30 minutes of sleep here and there until about 3:30am, when I finally passed out from exhaustion.  The following morning the guy came around 9am and pulled everything off and after another 2-3 hours I was discharged from the hospital.

Another two weeks or so went by until I went to see my ENT for the sleep study results.  He only met with me for about 3 minutes but gave me some pretty bad news.  He said the study showed that I have horrible sleep apnea, where you stop breathing while you’re asleep and then you wake up gasping for air and never really get into deep sleep.  That would explain why I am always tired and why I wake up 5-6 times a night and feel like I am out of breath each time.  He said my case was extremely dangerous and I could actually have a heart attack at any moment because the data showed I stopped breathing 68 times per hour!  The worst part was that my oxygen levels had gotten down to 40% multiple times throughout the night, meaning my heart was getting basically no oxygen – that is what causes a heart attack.

My ENT said I needed to start by getting a machine called a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure), which essential forces air into your nose or mouth so that it keeps the airway open and prevents it from collapsing, which is what stops your breathing.

I eventually got this fancy machine that has a mask I wear at night.  I hardly make it through the entire night with it on because somehow my airway still collapses and the pressure in this air tube builds up so much that I wake up with this mask literally blowing itself away from my face.  I do try to wear it for about 4-6 hours a night, and I have been able to make it through entire nights (7-9 hours) wearing it the whole time on some occasions, but it isn’t a very pleasant way to sleep.

Here are a few shots from my sleep test setup, and one of Papaw from the Korean BBQ place we always go to in Singapore, having lunch the day of my study:

Hanging out with Papaw

Papaw stayed with us for May, June and the beginning of July.  May and June were very relaxed compared to the chaos we went through in February and March with all of my health issues.

I worked, Carol took the girls to school each day, Papaw helped with Zoe’s homework and the kids enjoyed several different activities throughout those months whenever there was free time.  Carol and I took the girls bowling at the Tanjong Puteri in Pasir Gudang one weekend afternoon, and Papaw joined Carolyn and the kids on various trips to the TESCO playground and Hello Kitty.

We made it to New Hong Kong for our traditional Sunday brunch several times, and Carol joined the kids when they went to get their teeth cleaned here in Taman Molek (and Logan didn’t freak out at all).  The kids also had a couple of afternoons where they swam in their tiny pool in our yard.

I don’t really have many specific stories from those two months (May and June) because they were so long ago, but looking back at the photos reminded me of why the kids love their Papaw so much — at 68 years old he rides bumper cars with Zobug even though it was a struggle to get the safety belt over his head, and she had an absolute blast on that bumper car.  Papaw also crawled inside the children’s play area to help Sebastian get around and play.  Most parents don’t do that, and hardly any grandparents do.  It is December now and we are packing to return for good to the US and the main thing Zoe and Logan say they want to do is “see Papaw” when we get back to the US…

Here are the photos:

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: