Saturday, January 18, 2014

Hong Kong - Big time Nostalgia

I am sitting on a floating pontoon right now, watching little kids sail in little Optimists. I can't believe I used to sail in those bathtubs. I am at a club where I used to sail and row, and I am not quite sure how I feel. I don't think I feel terribly sad; of course, rowing and sailing were never a big part of my identity, like climbing is. I think I just miss this setting more...the weather, the facilities...being able to sit outside by the sea without a thick down coat in the middle of January. Seeing the little kids learn how to sail makes me smile a little as does seeing the small boat house from which we would launch our crew boats.

Current view
View from Middle Island, Hong Kong

Middle Island, Hong Kong

I think I am feeling especially nostalgic on this visit because for a long time, I wasn't sure whether I would be mobile enough to return to Hong Kong and get around. One needs to take a very short boat ride from Hong Kong Island to Middle Island; it was a tad annoying having my Dad constantly warn me about steps, try to help me in/out of the boat and so forth. Of course, it is totally understandable so I let it slide and just refuse offers of help and do my own thing. But parents will be parents.

I just got my haircut by a hairdresser who cut my hair 25 years ago (!), when I was 7 years old so, contributing to a few somewhat traumatic years :) I have a habit of getting my hair cut in countries where I either speak the language poorly or not at all (e.g. Argentina, Myanmar, Poland...), and the results are usually telling. This time, my Cantonese seems to be good enough to get the haircut I wanted. I guess it was also nice to talk to someone who has no idea what the past few years have been like, and just knows me as this little girl whose hair he cut a quarter of a century ago.

I am in a much better mood today than I had been the last 10 days or so. Up until Friday, the pain/discomfort in my left foot had not abated and was affecting my mobility to the point where I was seriously weighing the pros/cons of amputation. It sounds drastic but the possibility of being pain-free in that area outweighed the potential downsides of such a procedure/life. Obviously, this is something that will require considerable thought and consultation.

At the suggestion of a friend, I arranged to get an ultrasound done here in Hong Kong, to see if there were blood clots in my leg. Negative. Which is good, I guess, but it does mean the issue with my foot remains a bit of a mystery. The sensation is hard to describe, but it feels a bit like a giant lead weight, very little ankle mobility, swollen, but imagine standing on a cold metal floor all the time and feeling the heat being conducted away all the time. I also went to see a PT to help get fitted with diabetic circulation socks (I did a bit of reading and felt like I might benefit from such socks on the plane ride back), and to help with my golfer's elbow, which is still bugging me. Surprisingly, the visit to the PT helped my foot tremendously! He manipulated the joint a bit, said he felt quite a bit of fluid around there...oh my goodness, it was like night and day! I may have sprained my ankle without knowing it and the swelling may have caused the incredible discomfort. Anyway, I'll be going back again on Monday and Tuesday before I take off for the States on Wednesday.

This was my first real experience with healthcare in Hong Kong as an adult. Holy shit, it makes the US healthcare system look like even more of a shit-show than it already is. After doing some reading early Friday morning, I asked my Mum if she could contact her doctor(s) and arrange for me to get an ultrasound, and also see a PT. I was able to see the GP (that's what we call General Practitioners/Internal Medicine/PCP doctors here) that Friday afternoon, get my ultrasound done immediately after my appointment at the clinic across the road, and see the PT late that afternoon. Payment is out of pocket. The offices/clinics are immaculate, the staff are efficient and competent. I was seriously impressed. In the U.S., the system is so broken, doctors are so overworked and rushed. Here, I was the one getting antsy with the GP; I was like, erm, is there any more information you need from me, can I go? Don't get me wrong, I am super thankful for the surgeries I received in the U.S...but in terms of supporting care, I feel like my experience in America has been somewhat lacking. I feel that getting treatment in the U.S. is such a pain in the ass that one feels inclined to self-diagnose and self-treat their medical issues rather than seek help. Also, it seems that people here are healthier in general. I have yet to see an obese, even fat, person here. Seriously.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014


Every one wears slippers inside the house here. But, because of my very weak left foot, weak dorsi flexion and inability to scrunch my toes to keep the sandals on my feet, slippers just fly off my feet so I don't wear them.

The solution? Super Mario (and Luigi!) slippers (courtesy of my Dad, who bought them thinking that they were super deep and snug and would let me slide my foot into them). I love them (and him). They aren't perfect and my left slipper still comes off my left foot...but at least it doesn't go flying off the moment I take a step.

I know my Dad is pretty anal about stuff like keeping my feet and the bed clean etc but I'm still quite touched by his actions.

Everybody should have a pair of Mario and Luigi slippers.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Empathy fatigue

I couldn't think of a good post title to convey what I'm feeling right now. "Upset" is such a broad term.

I just got back from a dinner with my parents and two couple friends of theirs. I've been trying my best to try to put myself in my parents' position and try to understand why they act and say the things they do. However, this evening, my Dad did something which I am having a hard time accepting.

One of my parent's friends wasn't really aware of my accident, what happened, where I am now. She asked me very politely what was the case with me now. I try to be as honest with myself and with other people about my disability. I didn't go into details, but I started to say that I had an incomplete Spinal Cord Injury that resulted in some paralysis in my left leg. That was it. My father, at this point, interrupted me and told this lady that no, no, no, I just had a weak leg. My Mum then chimed in saying that I lacked sensation in parts of my leg, and then my Dad interjected saying, of course she has sensation, otherwise how could she walk. I stayed silent after this.

When my Dad tries to minimize my injuries like this, it really upsets me. I wonder if he is somehow ashamed of me and trying to hide from people the extent of things. Or if he is somehow in denial over everything and this is his way of dealing with tragedy? In either case, it makes me feel like he doesn't realize or acknowledge my suffering, my journey so far, what I've achieved/overcome. It is strange; on the one hand he will totally over-exaggerate the "adventurous" things I do e.g. travels, sports etc *yawn*. yet he totally plays down my accident/injuries. I understand that it might be a cultural thing; I don't think Asians are particularly good or keen about sharing true anguish. But I don't see any reason not to be completely candid about these things.

My Dad talks about me having a Masters from Stanford, having worked at Google etc etc but I feel like he should be more proud of what I have achieved in the last few years. I don't know why this hurts me so much in particular that I'm crying hard as I type this.

On the car ride back home I tried to tell him that what he did/said upset me. I don't think he could tell the effect of all this and just how upset I was; I tried not to cry because I didn't want to worry/deal with my Dad getting angry at me for crying. My Dad is a wonderful person in many ways, but sensitivity is not a word that he understands.

Amazingly, he respected my wishes not to continue with acupuncture. He tried to talk me into giving it one more go. But I wasn't detecting any improvement whatsoever, I don't believe in it, and it just seemed like a waste of time and money.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Hong Kong: Acupuncture visit

I think I tend to blog when I have something positive or victorious to announce. There are a ton of shitty days/times in between, such as the last few days.

Before, when I was in HK, I regularly ran a trail near my parent's home. It is pretty steep, a ton of steps...for a good while after my accident I didn't even fathom the possibility of being able to walk it again. I decided to give it a go on Thursday morning. It started off a bit rough because of all the stairs. I was glad not that many people were around to be waiting behind me as I plodded up the steps. But, I did it, and when I got back home I burst into tears, in a good way. I tried to express to my parents what being able to walk that loop meant to me; they didn't really understand. When I said that I was glad not many people were around to be waiting behind me, my Dad scolded me for caring about what other people think. I'm the sensitive one in the family :-/

So that was pretty momentous and I felt quite elated afterwards. However, as the day progressed, I’m not sure why, but I developed a sensation/pain in my left foot. It basically feels like I’m lugging around a lead brick and it makes walking very painful. Not in a muscular-skeletal painful kind of way…it is hard to describe. When my mobility is impaired, I get very down.

I am, by nature, rather skeptical. I am even more skeptical of things I do not understand, such as acupuncture. But, given the state of my foot, I was willing to give it a go. 

The treatment room. I think it is pretty cool that you can go from incredible luxury to Soviet-style in HK.

Some people have the impression acupuncture is relaxing. Let me tell you, it can hurt like hell. My Chinese is pretty crappy, and my Dad’s isn’t super either. So the two of us trying to explain my medical conditions to the acupuncturist would be slightly comical…were it not for the medical issues at hand. I am quite open to acupuncture for things like the tendinitis in my elbow; but for nervous system issues I’m a bit more, well, nervous.

I’m more of a suffer in silence kind of person, and have a high threshold for pain. In contrast, the woman next to me sounded like she was in labour. But I was streaming tears as I became a human pin-cushion and had these fat needles hooked up to electrodes and an electric current. This causes the needles to oscillate. At some point while I was lying there, there was the smell of burning/incense; I was thinking, I really hope that isn't my flesh burning. These treatments take awhile to take effect, I think, so I’m not expecting any amazing results any time soon. I’ll probably be going in every alternate day for the remainder of my stay in Hong Kong. I don’t mind enduring pain if I know that there will be a payoff at the end, but with acupuncture, I’m not so sure.

Every doctor's office needs a "Multi-purpose Health Device, complete with a cluster-f*ck of leads for reassurance.
It was hard having my Dad there. I realise my Dad will try to look for hope wherever he can, but it is really annoying/disheartening when he thinks that seeing needles oscillate is a sign that somehow, my leg is fine. He has no comprehension of the extent of my injuries. He thinks I just have a weak leg. I can't really tell him about my physical issues because he ends up blaming me and my activities for my pain. We have a pretty intense relationship - good and bad. We love each other to pieces, but people have unhealthy/ineffective ways of conveying their love for others. It's hard being around him because he blames me for climbing and my accident. He thinks I'm too stubborn. I told him if I wasn't a stubborn fuck (I used other words) I wouldn't be out of a wheelchair and leg-brace. He thinks that if I wasn't a stubborn fuck, I wouldn't have had this accident. I'm trying to see things from his point of view, but it is difficult being around someone who is so disapproving of everything I do. Anyway, negotiating this relationship and interaction has been quite draining.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Hong Kong

Back “home” in Hong Kong. Back to the land of efficiency. I’m flooded with so many thoughts that I do not know where to begin.

This is my first visit back to Hong Kong (or Asia for that matter) since July 2009. I had avoided flying back since my accident for a number of reasons. The main ones were my concerns about the pain and discomfort of the long plane ride(s) and my mobility and how I would get around a place that is quite hilly. I worried about how I would deal with public transportation, walking up and down stairs in and out of the subway stations etc. Even though there are escalators everywhere here, you still need to walk up and down stairs to get in and out of the subway stations, and you generally need to walk around a lot more than in the U.S. I knew I would “manage”; I just didn’t want to feel extremely self-conscious (as I usually do about these things). I took the subway system and mini-bus today. Small victories, I guess. While I had to go up steps in my usual two-steps at a time with my leading leg, everything else went pretty smoothly. I was somewhat amused by a sign on a mini-bus that said “Please let the elderly and crippled sit at the front.” I think I've done a decent job of hiding that I have any kind of far. I also wonder whether people in Hong Kong are too self-absorbed and stressed out to notice these things.

I am having a very difficult time not completely losing it with my parents. I’m trying to be as empathic as possible, and I don’t have experience being the parents of someone in my situation. They are not the most laid-back of people, to say the least. They don’t really have a full understanding of my physical limitations or pain issues, either under-estimating or grossly over-exaggerating my ailments. My Dad was giving me a hard time about not eating much during the day, and when I told him that the reason I didn’t like to eat/drink much during the day when I am away from a bathroom was because I didn’t want to risk having an accident, I broke down into tears. His response was pretty stoic. I wonder if he thinks all this was something I chose to bring upon myself.

My Dad was chastising me about climbing. He thinks that going to the gym and golf are acceptable substitutes. I’ve been having an especially hard time not saying anything in retaliation to their thoughts that the feng-shui of where I was living contributed/was the cause of my accident.

My parents think I am a country bumpkin living in squalor. My parent’s home is so clean that you can eat off the floor. It is also much easier not to live in squalor when you have a domestic servant to do things for you. It’s been a long time since I had someone make my coffee (including heating up the milk) for me, ask me what I want to eat for dinner (and how I want my food prepared), wash, iron and fold all my clothing for me daily. I can see why it would be difficult to leave this kind of lifestyle, and I wonder why I couldn’t be satisfied or happier being waited on hand and foot. I’ve long realized it takes a lot more to make me happy and feel alive than the “average” person; but I still feel a bit wistful that I can’t be content living here. That being said, I love being able to go back and forth between different cultures and worlds. I love how international Hong Kong is, and feel fortunate to have grown up here.

I had forgotten how much more stylish Hong Kong people are than anywhere in the U.S. It is funny how much more dressed up I was when I was growing up here. I also feel a bit like a giant in the land of Lilliputians. In America I don’t feel terribly large, but my jacked upper-body especially, has me feeling uncomfortably big here. My Dad said something along the lines of “You’re not going out like that are you?” this morning, in reference to my hair and casual attire.

When I’m here, I find myself struggling even more than usual with notions of success. Growing up, I didn’t have a clear idea of what I wanted to do as a profession, but I did imagine myself being a smartly dressed, stylish woman in a business suit, striding around the Central business district purposefully. Now, as I walk around in my Chacos and troll-doll hair in a sea of such women/people, I wonder what my life would have been like and what person I would have been like had I gone down that route. I'm not feeling particularly glamorous these days. It is difficult not to be filled with insecurity and doubts because I don’t have more to show monetarily or I don’t appear “successful” by many people’s standards. I try to tell myself that my depth of character and experiences are far more impressive than all this superficial stuff. But somehow, when I’m in this kind of environment, it isn’t.