equivocality — Jeff Ngan's collection of thoughts, experiences, and projects, inspired by pretty much everything
02 Nov 09

Swine Flu Movie Reviews

Being sick is one of the most dif­fi­cult things for me. It’s a psy­cho­log­i­cal mind game. Not only am I unable to be pro­duc­tive1, which is some­thing that nor­mally keeps me sane, it’s the only sit­u­a­tion in which I feel like I can’t take care of myself. All I’m left with is this mis­ery, this suf­fer­ing that men­tally wears me down. On a long enough time line (though I’m talk­ing months to years), I lose the will to live.

I started get­ting some symp­toms since Tuesday after­noon, when I was feel­ing faint at work. When I woke up the next day, the symp­toms had got­ten worse. I spat into the sink, and cheered the fact that my phlegm wasn’t dark green, which is the case when I have strep throat (some­thing that seems to hap­pen annu­ally to me). I should say that I only sus­pect swine flu, since I didn’t have a blood test con­firm­ing it, but the per­son who gave it to me told me she had it, so I’m going on her word, and my symp­toms match up with how swine flu is dif­fer­ent from sea­sonal flu.

For me, it’s been:

This flu, though drawn out, has actu­ally been eas­ier than strep, which is so painful for me that I get fairly severe headaches. I went through two entire boxes of tis­sues, and I’m sure I would have gone through more, I had not spent almost the entire time like this:

Nose tissues

On the upside, it was an excuse to drink Neo Citran every night, which I also call Yummy Sleep.

In the five days since I real­ized that I have the flu, I didn’t leave my house, aside from going across the street to buy gro­ceries. Not a sin­gle one of my friends called me (although some of them prob­a­bly didn’t know I was sick), which was a lit­tle dis­heart­en­ing, but I didn’t let it get to me. Jen offered to pick up gro­ceries for me, but I didn’t take her up on it because the offer was enough of a morale boost.

This time, I sur­vived, I did it by myself, and I’m stronger for it.

To keep myself sane, I watched a record num­ber of movies. Usually, it’s hard for me to watch movies, because I feel guilty for not being pro­duc­tive, but this time I embraced my sick­ness. I may watch one every two weeks when I’m healthy, but this time it was nine in five days (ten if I hadn’t passed out in the mid­dle of Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice). Here are some quick reviews. Warning: SPOILERS.

Read the rest of this entry »

  1. I have the moti­va­tion, but it isn’t enough when my head feels like it’s explod­ing from the inside. []
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26 Apr 09

Conflicting Medical Advice

One of the drugs I’ve been pre­scribed for my col­i­tis, Asacol, is delay-released, which means it has a spe­cial coat­ing that makes it travel through the stom­ach, and absorbed only in the colon. This spe­cific brand is released in the left and end of the colon, which is where my col­i­tis is. I often get con­flict­ing advice about how to take the drug:

It’s gen­er­ally taken that the doctor’s advice takes prece­dence over any­thing else. But as a per­son who works in the med­ical indus­try, where doc­tors are fre­quently revealed to be incom­pe­tent, I know that not all of them know what they’re talk­ing about.

Scary, for an indus­try in which we put so much blind faith. Who am I sup­posed to believe?

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20 Mar 09

A Different Kind of Understanding

The doc­tor told us she has another 5–6 months. Her colon is so enlarged from the tumor that it’s thicker than her spine, and the pro­ce­dure was just a tem­po­rary solu­tion to pre­vent fur­ther blockages.

How strange it is to “know” how much time there is left. I guess that’s why they call it a dead­line. I had already assumed that this would going to be the last time I could see her, but that won’t make it any eas­ier when I have to leave.

I’m grate­ful to the peo­ple who have been send­ing me their regards. It’s a nice com­fort. One of the best pieces of advice came from Charlotte, who told me to “not leave any­thing at all unsaid to her…leave no ques­tions unan­swered, and to not with­hold any affec­tion you feel for her”.

I had come to Hong Kong with the inten­tion of telling my grandma how impor­tant she was to me. Finding the right words in Chinese to express exactly what I wanted to say.

But try­ing to speak with her has made me real­ize that she doesn’t care about any of that. She’s a very prac­ti­cal woman, almost to the point of tact­less­ness. For almost her entire life, mar­ried at 14 and as a sin­gle par­ent of seven kids, she’s had no time for words or feelings.

I’m here, and that’s how she under­stands how I feel.

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19 Mar 09

Here, Scared

Grandma’s at the hos­pi­tal. She woke up this morn­ing with pain all over her body, but more severely in her lower abdomen. They quickly drove her to the doc­tor, and it turns out there’s been a block­age in her colon. This after­noon they per­formed a pro­ce­dure to expand the colon, and it went through with­out any com­pli­ca­tions. She’s rest­ing at the hos­pi­tal for the night, and my fam­ily is tak­ing shifts to stay with her.

I’ve been stuck at home all day. Everyone else has been at the hos­pi­tal and they decided to leave me behind. I’m on immune sup­press­ing med­ica­tions and the hos­pi­tal is full of germs; get­ting sick myself is the last thing I need, espe­cially when it means that I wouldn’t be able to see my grandma, as her immune sys­tem is even lower than mine right now. I would only be in the way if I was there anyway.

I’m scared. I’ve never dealt with any kind of sick­ness like this before. The only peo­ple in my fam­ily who have passed away were always far away in Hong Kong.

And now I’m here.

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11 Mar 09

Being Strong For My Grandmother

The can­cer has spread to her bones and sev­eral major organs now. We asked the doc­tor not to tell her, but we can’t do any­thing against his moral oblig­a­tion to inform the patient. Either way, she doesn’t know how seri­ous it is, whether it’s from shock and denial, or mem­ory loss.

But she’s awake, and aware, and feel­ing no pain, which is good enough for me. The most we can do now is to try to make the rest of her life as enjoy­able as possible.

She thinks she’s going to be fine. Keeps telling me that she’ll take me to a nearby park when she’s bet­ter. As much as it hurts me to know this won’t be pos­si­ble any­more, it’s reliev­ing to know she’s so obliv­i­ous. We don’t let our­selves cry around her, for fear that she may real­ize how bad it is.

Her face is more sal­low, her fin­gers and legs ema­ci­ated, but she still has her thick, black hair1. Aside from a dis­tended stom­ach, it’s hard to tell that she has such a grim prognosis.

But by far the hard­est part is hav­ing to cod­dle her like a child to take her med­ica­tion. Telling her she’s a good girl if she swal­lows her pills and reward­ing her with ice-cream. That we’re only strict because we care about her. It tears me in half when she gives such a painful look of dis­taste with every pill we hand her, 18 a day.

She used to be so strong. Now we have to be strong for her.

  1. I used to have even more”, she tells me. []
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26 Feb 09

My First Colonoscopy

Warning: This may be a lit­tle too much infor­ma­tion for some. I find it funny that almost a year ago, Tiana crowned her­self the win­ner of our inad­ver­tent com­pe­ti­tion on gross-out bod­ily func­tion blog­ging, and specif­i­cally men­tioned that to top her period-blogging I would need to do a live blog­ging of a colonoscopy. I was too sedated to do a live blog­ging, so this is a night-of blogging.

Bishop takes rook-pawn, Tiana. Your move.

Before

The first (overnight) lax­a­tive is to clean out your colon of all solid wastes. It doesn’t kick in overnight, it starts work­ing in about an hour, which means you aren’t going to get much sleep.

The sec­ond lax­a­tive (mag­ne­sium cit­rate) makes your intes­tine absorb water through osmo­sis, so that you start pass­ing liq­uid for a more thor­ough clean­ing. The mag­ne­sium cit­rate wasn’t as bad tast­ing as I expected (sort of a chem­i­cally sour lemon­ade), but that, along with hav­ing to drink ten glasses of water to make it effec­tive, did make me slightly nauseous.

When liq­uid comes out of you from this end, it doesn’t make a nice con­tained splosh. No, it goes every­where. I lost track of how many times I went to the bath­room, and used almost two rolls of toi­let paper in two days. And when you wipe this many times, even three-ply, ultra-soft toi­let paper feels like it’s coated in dia­mond dust and dipped in acid.

I was able to get through a decent chunk of my novel, The Last Light of the Sun, and learned from GQ how to “Work That Tan”, why Shia LaBeouf is the upcom­ing bad boy of Hollywood, and that Rolex makes a $37,500 nau­ti­cal watch.

You really don’t feel like doing any­thing but lie around when going through this. As such, I was able to fin­ish God of War 2, and unlocked the awe­some Cod of War cos­tume, which still makes me laugh every time a Greek sol­dier addresses Kratos as “My lord!” when he’s wear­ing it.

During

Every per­son I spoke to who had a colonoscopy said that it was a breeze. Not so for me.

Pretty much as soon as they injected the seda­tive into my IV, I passed out, only to be awoken by bouts of agony. I’d say that for the entire pro­ce­dure I was only con­scious for about two min­utes in total, but those two min­utes were not fun. I don’t think I would have woken up if it wasn’t for the pain.

Part of the dis­com­fort is sup­posed to come from inject­ing air into the colon so they can bet­ter see the colon. I couldn’t tell if it was that, the instru­ment they used to do it, or the endo­scope itself snaking into my colon, but I felt a sharp pres­sure on both the anal cav­ity, and inside the colon.

I remem­ber scream­ing through grit­ted teeth, grab­bing the han­dles of the bed, swear­ing, and think­ing that I should have bet­ter man­ners before pass­ing out again.

At one point, some­one also had to hold me down, and uttered com­fort­ing words, but I couldn’t make out what he said.

After

Since the colon is inflated with air, I was warned that I’d be pass­ing gas for a while after the pro­ce­dure. This is true, and very invol­un­tary.

I have severe ulcer­i­tive col­i­tis, which is an inflam­ma­tory bowel dis­ease. The doc­tor showed me pic­tures of my colon; the right side is fine, but the left side is so inflamed that it’s black, red, and bleed­ing. All the infor­ma­tion is being sent to another spe­cial­ist, whom I’m very glad to be able to see soon.

I was pretty groggy for a while after, par­tially because I hadn’t eaten in two days, and par­tially because of the seda­tive. Every time I stood up, I felt like I was going to pass out.

Right now, I have to take 12 pills a day, one of them being pred­nisone, a steroid to sup­press the over­ac­tive immune sys­tem responses, the other being mesalamine, an anti-inflammitory drug to bring the swelling under con­trol. These drugs are scary. The side effects are pretty bad, but the doc­tor judged the ben­e­fits to out­weigh the poten­tial risks.

I may have to take pills (con­sid­ered “main­te­nance med­ica­tions” to pre­vent relapse) for the rest of my life. While I feel this low­ers my qual­ity of life, it’s much bet­ter than deal­ing with the flare-ups and side effects of col­i­tis. Aside from that, the only cure is to have part of my colon removed in surgery, which I really don’t want to do.

The diag­no­sis of hav­ing a chronic diges­tive dis­ease is not great, but I’m very relieved to have an expla­na­tion of the mys­tery pains, along with a treat­ment plan.

I hate, hate, hate being alone when I’m feel­ing sick. My stom­ach still feels very funny and unset­tled. So Julie came over last night to hang out a bit and to take my mind off every­thing, and watch some Robson Arms.

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14 Mar 08

Traces of Me

I’m just com­ing off a mod­er­ate cold I’ve had for the last week. All the clas­sic symp­toms — runny, stuffy nose, con­ges­tion, slight headache, yel­low phlegm — but oddly enough, barely a hint sore throat. It’s been unpleas­ant to say the least.

A lit­tle while ago, Tiana wrote “I look in the bowl after to see how impres­sive it was. I’m pretty sure you do too”.

This cold has made me real­ize that I not only look in the bowl (I’m sure Freud would diag­nose us as being fix­ated in the anal stage of psy­cho­sex­ual devel­op­ment), but I open my Kleenex after blow­ing in it as well, to check for dis­coloured mucus, phlegm, blood, or bits of brain that may have escaped through my nose.

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07 Nov 05

The Everyday Sickness Of Stress

Thumbnail: Card by Elle

I called in sick again today, but this time I didn’t go in.

In Psych 101, you learn that a group of stu­dents are sprayed in the face with the cold bac­te­ria dur­ing their exams, while a con­trol group is sprayed dur­ing the reg­u­lar school year. The result is that the stu­dents going through their finals are more than twice as likely to get sick. Stress low­ers the immune sys­tem, and the les­son here is that there’s a direct con­nec­tion between the health of the mind and the body.

Knowing this isn’t enough to pre­vent it. Sometimes it all adds up, and you get worn down.

Little sur­prises come in the form of friends offer­ing to pick things up from the phar­macy, peo­ple I’ve never even spo­ken to ask­ing if I’m okay, or care pack­ages from ex-girlfriends, con­sist­ing of choco­late bars, vit­a­min C drops, African peanut soup, a DVD of BMW shorts, and even a get-well-soon card.

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03 Nov 05

Still Being Tested

It’s been rough going the last few weeks. Every day is a con­flict between doing some­thing relax­ing, doing the chores that will make me feel com­fort­able, or going to bed. Even now I can’t relax. I clean my mir­rors of fin­ger­prints in between sen­tences, or brush Dolly of excess fur as she force­fully nudges my wrists in mirth, and only con­tinue writ­ing when I come up with the next idea.

A sore throat and weary body had me call­ing in sick today (I sus­pect that I caught some­thing from pet­ting the same cat as Karen yes­ter­day, who’s seems sick as a dog), although I ended up going in and work­ing six hours any­way. All the extra cur­ric­u­lar things are slowly wear­ing me down. There’s the two side-businesses, the new effort of learn­ing as much as I can about my new Canon Rebel XT by pho­tograph­ing every­thing, and the blog­ging. I also started table ten­nis again, although I’m not sure how often I can attend, tak­ing four hours out of a week­day. The one reprieve is a LAN party I’ve had planned since September that starts tomor­row, and even though it’ll be a good week­end of gam­ing, it’ll still mean lit­tle rest. Normally I’m planned, pre­pared, and prac­ticed for a LAN, but this time it’ll all be improvised.

I’m being tested, and even though I know that I’ll get through this, it’s still dif­fi­cult. I’m forced to deal with peo­ple I’ve avoided my entire life. I’m push­ing myself past the lim­its of any­thing I’ve ever gone through. To be hon­est, it’s a lit­tle eas­ier than I would have imag­ined. The strength and con­fi­dence that I’ve gained over the last two years has helped tremen­dously. Knowing that things get done in their own time keeps me from being over­whelmed. If I can make it through this, I’ll be stronger than ever.

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17 Oct 05

This May Feel Cold

Thumbnail: Holter monitor

I’m lying down, naked from the waist up, gig­gling uncon­trol­lably. The nurse damp­ens some tis­sue with rub­bing alco­hol, and rubs down my torso method­i­cally. I feel it evap­o­rat­ing off my skin, star­ing at the ceil­ing, unsure of any­where else I could appro­pri­ately keep my eyes. Suddenly, there’s a sharply drag­ging pain on a small area, and I see her mak­ing quick, short arm move­ments in one direction.

Ow, what is that?”, I ask jovially. I’m still gig­gling, a result of my ner­vous­ness. She picks up on this.

It’s sand­pa­per. Haven’t you ever been exfoliated?”

The sand­pa­per removes the dead skin, mak­ing the elec­trodes stick better.

Are you telling me that this is going to make my chest glow, and reduce the appear­ance of any lines and wrinkles?”

She play­fully returns, “On these five spots, yes.”

Afterwards, I’m told to sign a form with a short expla­na­tion on what is being done, that acknowl­edges my understanding.

Holter mon­i­tor­ing pro­vides a con­tin­u­ous record­ing of heart rhythm dur­ing nor­mal activ­ity. There is no dis­com­fort asso­ci­ated with the test.

I’m given a jour­nal to record any abnor­mal heart­beats, whether it’s a skipped beat, an extra beat, or an irreg­u­lar beat, but for the 24 hours that I’m wear­ing this device, I don’t write in it once. It’s a guess­ing game for them, to sort out the what’s nor­mal and what’s not. After any test they do, urine, blood, stool, holter, they say the same thing: we’ll call you if any­thing shows up in the results.

They always say, no news is good news.

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04 Aug 05

It Was A Rough Day

I went in for a few hours of work, which was tor­ture with­out hav­ing con­sumed more than 40 grams of car­bo­hy­drates, 8 grams of pro­tein, and 180 calo­ries in the last three days, but really, I can’t afford to be sick. I’m going to try to make it in for a few more hours tomor­row, if I don’t feel as weak and light-headed, but they already know that I may not be com­ing in at all. To stave hunger and dehy­dra­tion, I’ve been drink­ing as much water as I can before it makes me feel nau­seous again.

John also said some­thing that hurt me enough to make me cry (some­how I man­age to lose more flu­ids). Even though his off­hand com­ment was uncalled for, it’s partly my fault; being either hun­gry, tired, or sick can make me into a very can­tan­ker­ous per­son, but all three com­bined is as dan­ger­ous as jug­gling chain­saws. In real­ity, it’s no excuse. I’m deter­mined to apol­o­gize the next time I speak to him. As starved as I am, pride is always a hard thing to swallow.

I stepped out­side in the late evening, wear­ing my cot­ton hoodie, and real­ized that it was still too warm to be wear­ing any­thing with sleeves. It felt com­pletely odd to be out­side in the dark, when the sun already sets so late this time of year, and still be uncom­fort­ably warm. I was reminded of past sum­mer nights spent with Darren, being in the mid­dle of the park at mid­night with noth­ing but a black­ened sky above us and a jun­gle gym around us. It made me real­ize that I haven’t been out past sun­set since I’ve moved here, some­thing I don’t par­tic­u­larly mind when I have the com­fort of a house, a com­puter, and a housemate.

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03 Aug 05

More Sickness

Hence the absence from work. It feels like the long week­end burned me out, and I need another one. Thank god it’s already Wednesday.

Really, it’s prob­a­bly just a mild stom­ach bug, caus­ing my body to reject every­thing but very dry, thinly sliced toast that comes in packs of eight, named after the stage name of Australian opera singer Helen Porter Mitchell. I sus­pect that I’ll also be able to con­sume col­la­gen processed from pork skin, cat­tle bones, and cat­tle hide, but I’m still wait­ing for it to set in the freezer.

I feel so help­less when I’m like this. I gen­er­ally don’t worry about much, but health is the only thing that I can’t look at cere­brally. I’m not even com­fort­able writ­ing this. It just keeps mak­ing me think of how bad I feel. Too nau­se­ated to fall asleep. Too tired to do any­thing else.

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