Thursday, October 30, 2008

Enjoyable Hospitalization

While the blog title may seem like an oxymoron, it's a rather apt description of my maiden sojourn at a hospital early in the week. It all started when my lingering stomach ache blossomed into an elevated state of pain that forced me to take two consecutive afternoons off from my work last week. Then a most disconcerting development: I passed out black stools on Sunday afternoon and early Monday morning.

Previously in a discussion with Harriet, one of Wify's friends, when she related a similar ordeal of hers to us during which she had had to endure a protracted period of stomach ailment before she was diagnosed as a case of bacterial infection when follow-up antibiotics medication took care of matter, she had indicated that black stools are a sign of internal bleeding of the GI (gastrointestinal) tract.

Worried, I paid an unscheduled visit on my doctor first thing on Monday morning. I guess the mention of black stools to the receptionist must have triggered an alarm response such that I was ushered into the doctor's office with dispatch. The doctor took a quick look under my eyelid, confirming that I looked pale, followed by a rather nonchalant remark, “that certainly qualifies as black stools,” after he did a quick rectal exam.

His advice: check in to a hospital for an endoscopic examination to check for stomach ulcers that may have caused the internal bleeding. While my doctor has his own private practice, he is also a resident physician at the hospital next to him, the Memorial Hospital of Tampa. Without further ado and after a phone call to the hospital, I was promptly put on a bed in an observation cubicle on the first floor, changed to the hospital overall, a needle stuck to my lower arm (which was not to leave its newly found residence until I was discharged from the hospital two nights later), and the first of many blood works initiated and vital signs measured, including an EKG (electrocardiogram).

Around 2pm, I was wheeled upstairs into a double occupancy room. I took up the bed next to the window, one with a rather dull view of the outside world (the imposing presence of the bland rooftop utility room merely feet away tends to do just that). Then I had yet to make the acquaintance of my bed-side partner for the next two nights who only checked in toward the evening. Thus began my maiden sojourn in a hospital, a stay that I have only read about (the closest I ever got to doing that was visiting Wify during her deliveries back in Malaysia and also once in Shands Hospital, Gainesville, when she had a miscarriage in the early 1990s).

I was put on drips, the needle earlier lodged on my right arm becoming the convenient conduit, which of course was pre-planned from its insertion. There was also a heart monitor connected to several electrodes planted on my torso and the monitor placed in the front pocket of the hospital overall that I was wearing, gray colored rubber wires sprouting from its top and disappearing behind the overall, kind of like a hard-wired modern-day Frankenstein, minus my princely look obvious to any casual observer of course ( I guess an occasional indulgence in self-flattery wouldn't hurt). Then there were more blood works, and a whole slew of vital sign records (heart pressure, pulse rate, blood glucose level, oxygen level, and body temperature), at periodic intervals.

All these were not actually unexpected. In fact, I did have a haunch when I was driving to the doctor's office in the morning that today was going to be my day, my apprehension notwithstanding. Personally for me though, the only dreaded aspect of being admitted into a hospital is the regular blood works that I have to endure, whereas a visit to a doctor's office only merits the needle poking once during the time of visit.

Being a veteran of blood withdrawals does not help in my case at all. Every time I have to relive the squeamish feeling, averting my eyes from the flow of crimson red issuing from my body, and making me an ardent believer of Einstein's relativity where a second seems like stretching into eternity, all these while doing my damnedest to maintain a cool countenance. Admittedly, this may be more psychological in nature than anything else, but it's one that I find difficult to overcome.

But then I also found out that being hospitalized has its bright sides too, overwhelming the discomfiture due to blood works into mere but necessary inconvenience (how I wish they have found a painless way of withdrawing blood, much like now there is a painless way to measure blood glucose level without giving up one's finger for a hole-puncture like treatment).

First, the patience, the kind gestures, the soft and reassuring tones from all doctors, nurses, hospital technicians, hospital dietitian alike, even the lady from the finance department who explained the intricacy of the benefits coverage of my medical insurance vis-s-vis my deductibles to forestall any shock of an impending hospital bill. They are really a bunch of Angels in White, doing much to allay my clearly unfounded phobia of hospitalization. To borrow a cliché, saying that I was in good hands felt like an understatement.

Of special note is Sharon, my daytime nurse on the first two days, who not only made me feel at home, which may seem somewhat ironical since nobody enjoys making a hospital a home, but also ensured that Wify's stay with me was a most comfortable one.

There there was Mr. Bobo, an eighty-three year old long-time Tampa resident who became my roommate for two nights, albeit under some trying circumstances. He has sleep apnea, and thus requires being hooked up to a machine at night. He was also on a breath-analyzer, a plastic face mask that bore resemblance to Dr. Hannibal Lecter, that famed (or infamous) brilliant but unsettling character in Silence of the Lamb (1991) played by Sir Anthony Hopkins (this was the remark made by one of the night visitors of Mr. Bobo that I overheard).

But obviously Mr. Bobo is very warm, approachable, and the best pal one could have to share a hopsital room. His medical condition did not diminish in any way his gregarious nature, full of life anecdotes gleaned from having run a family supermarket business with his brothers until eight years ago when perhaps health caught up with him that he had to retire. His family is a very close knit one as evinced from the many friendly banters he shares with his wife, brother, children and grand children when they came visiting. Being just a curtain away, I could not help overhearing the convivial interactions among his family members.

On the first night, while I was laying on my bed, my side of the curtain drawn, I overheard an exchange between Mr. Bobo and a man whom I figured to be a male doctor/nurse initially from his asking a lot of medical questions relating to Mr. Bobo's condition. However, as the conversation developed, it seemed to take on a more heated tone, which was totally unlike one that involves a medical provider and a patient. The clincher came when the man uttered, “Am I aggravating you?” Wow, that's direct. Then Wify whispered that the man was in casual wear and also later I heard that he addressed Mr. Bobo as Dad. So the man turned out to be one of his sons who was just showing his concern for his Dad who does not seem to be taking the medications as prescribed.

We too had our own little anecdote to commemorate our sharing a bed in the hospital, but at different times though. You see, most of the day I was bed-ridden, save for one trip to the bathroom cos' I did look ridiculous with a drooping neck line and a rather revealing back. So Wify would be slouching on a cushioned chair but one with a rather straight back and alternated between sleep and consciousness, not to mention the constant shift in the seating position with her head resting on different parts of the bed. Tired of being on the bed for hours on end, I would wake up at about 4am, just in time for the next round of blood works at 5am like clockwork, and surrendered my bed to Wify to stretch her curled up body to sleep like a baby.

My doctor would make his round at 7am, checking into my progress of the day before and plotting the next course of action for my recovery. Seeing that I was sitting up and Wify ensconced on the bed, he would remark rather sheepishly, “Now who is the patient here?” much to mine and Wify's amusement. There you see, doctors can be a humorous lot too.

If you could bear with me, there's just one more experience I need to share: my endoscopic exam (the full name of the procedure is esophagogastroduodenoscopy, or EGD, for short). It's a minimally invasive procedure when a kind of scope is inserted into the stomach through the mouth that does not require any incision. I have earlier learned from the nurse that I would be put under general anaesthesia but I still did not know what to aspect.

I was wheeled into the exam room, put on a bed surrounded by a host of computer terminals and dangling tube-like extensions. I remembered the doctor ask me to turn on my side, and the nurse then inserted a plastic mouthpiece with a hole in the middle for me to bite on to, and the wall clock was displaying 12:55pm. Then the light suddenly went out and the last thing I remembered was coughing a few times. The next instant I felt a gentle slapping of my face and woke up to find out the source of that face slapping, who turned out to be Wify, and I was already out of the exam room. And the time was 1:25pm. So half of an hour was unaccounted for since I have had no recollection of whatever happened during that limbo-like hiatus.

Later, Wify told me that the nurse was the first to slap my face, and rather forcefully too, and yet elicited no response from me other than a slight stir. I guess it must be some kind of telepathic connection that a spousal pair would develop years into their connubial relationship that only a loving caress from her would resurrect me, so to speak.

Anyway, to make a long narrative short, I was diagnosed with having a stomach ulcer from bacterial infection. I was prescribed antibiotic medications with Prilosec, an acid reducer available over the counter, and to follow a bland diet consisting of soft cooked food, nothing raw, not even fresh fruits.

I was discharged on Wed morning, and am thankful for all the wonderful care rendered and warm relationship cultivated during my maiden but brief sojourn at the hospital. Now I'm in the good hands of Wify who would make sure that my road to recovery would be the most comfortable one, for which I'm most grateful.

Until my next medical adventure, which would likely be the colonoscopy, originally scheduled for next week but is now postponed by a month in order for my ulcer to be treated first, I would like to thank all those who have sent in their well wishes, including my colleagues at work, especially Connie and Mrs. Kim, two of Wify's pals who visited us at the hospital on our second night, and also my children and family members who were unceremoniously jarred into worry because of my unanticipated medical condition. But I'm glad it all ended well with a quick diagnosis of the medical problem and the prompt treatment rendered. You can be assured from now on that I would not take my health, and anybody else's for that matter, for granted. And the identification bracelets I wore and the pair of warm anti-skid socks from the hospital that I am wearing now would bear testimony to my enjoyable hospitalization.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Mutability of Life

CY, our elder daughter at Oregon, came to visit us this week. And she gave me three books, knowing that I'm an avid reader like herself. One of the books is The Year of Magical Thinking (Alfred A. Knoff, 2005) by Joan Didion. I have covered about thirty pages so far, which are primarily centered on her life as she sees it in the aftermath of the sudden demise of her husband.

In her words, which also constitute the first paragraph, in italics for emphasis, of Chapter 1:

Life changes fast.
Life changes in the instant.
You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.
The question of self-pity.

Then on page 5:

In the midst of life we are in death.

These words, albeit precipitated by a traumatic event of having lost a loved one, struck an emotional chord in me as they resonate with one of the tenets of Buddhism, impermanence. Some prefer to call it perpetual change, for nothing stays the same, not even for a moment that may last for a nanosecond or shorter. Sure, we do recognize things don't stay the same: cars depreciate in value, the volatility of stock markets, the whimsical weather, bus routes that are never punctual, and at times of frustrations, that people change. We may even quote a popular Chinese refrain: there is no dinner that does not adjourn, during farewell parties.

But we seldom think of ourselves, our loved ones, in those terms. As far as we are concerned, departure from this world is a distant possibility, not even a certainty. And we prefer to be buried in our dailiness, a term I picked up in Joan's book, instead of being prepared for this inevitability when it comes, regardless of which day it is. Consequently, when personal tragedies hit, we may spend an inordinately long time wallowing in grief, in self-pity. Or as a former Maryknoll priest wrote, as quoted in Joan's book:

We might, in that indeterminate period they call mourning, be in a submarine, silent on the ocean's bed, aware of the depth charges, now near and now far, buffeting us with recollections.”

When reduced to such a cocoon state of self-imposed incarceration, we become leaden and fail to be energized by the cherished thoughts of having known a great human being. The world still needs the living, and I'm sure the departed will rest in peace, knowing that we continue to contribute in our own small way to global well-being.

Being prepared to face the mutability of life does not in any way connote a fatalistic acceptance of what life throws at us. Or we meekly await for the day of reckoning, wasting each day in wanton pursuits that pander to the sensory organs. Conversely, we embrace life in all its elements: be awed by human ingenuity, be amazed at the wonders of nature, be happy for others' achievements, be compassionate to others' misfortunes, be demanding of our own work ethics, be forgiving of other's faults, and be grateful for whatever we have, right this moment.

Yesterday is but history. Tomorrow is but a dream. But today well-lived makes every yesterday a fond memory, and every tomorrow, an anticipated challenge.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

An Afternoon Eat-Out-door Experience

Our Korean friends, Mrs. Kim and her daughter, visited us last Saturday. We lived in the same gated community when we first moved to Tampa, Post Hyde Park in South Tampa, and Christina, her daughter, and CE went to the same high school and graduated from Plant High School together. Christina is now at Rice and was back during the weekend holidays.

We first had lunch at The Yummy House on Waters Avenue, a Chinese restaurant offering HongKong-style cuisine that we have passed by many times but have yet to have a taste of their food offerings. Having been a patron to many a nearby Chinese restaurant, The Yummy House became the logical choice for an afternoon gastronomic pursuit.

Tucked at a corner, the restaurant was doing quite a brisk business that day, a testimony to their popularity among patrons who yearn for a scrumptious eat-out yet not costing an arm and a leg (the latter being after the fact for us). We each ordered a dish to share: seafood taufo claypot, salt and pepper shrimp, Egg Treasure claypot, cashew nut chicken, and Buddha's Delight, a vegetarian dish. We enjoyed the culinary servings tremendously, the salt and pepper shrimp being the unanimous choice of the day, our palates satiated, and stomach, stuffed. The check came as a pleasant surprise, at just over $50 before tip. That cost outlay definitely earns them the label “at reasonable cost” in my book. And as if to demonstrate that my sentiments are not exactly in the minority, proudly displayed on a cupboard next to our table stands a plaque that reads: Best Chinese 2008, awarded by Creative Loafing Tampa. [Later I went on to the website of Creative Loafing Tampa and note that The Yummy House shares this Best of Tampa 2008 award under the food and drink section with China Yuan on North Armenia. Perhaps the latter could become our next sit-down lunch destination.]

While dining at the Yummy House, the conversation drifted to the topic of Bubble tea, a purported Taiwan phenomenon of tea innovation variously known as the Boba tea or the Tapioca Pearl tea. And we know just the right spot: Got Tea located several doors away. So that's where we ended up. Our daughters each ordered one Bubble tea, and Wify got a salted chicken [the snack bar also serves food in bento boxes (the image to the right courtesy of Got Tea) that we have partaken of on our previous visits, and other light food items]. This tea craze has swept Southeast Asia and is now making inroads into US, and was featured in the Second Asian Pacific Rim Festival 2008 as blogged here by Hilton, a fellow blogger of local food havens.

Before we left, Mrs. Kim wanted to know the origin and the meaning of Boba. I thought it could likely be a colloquial adaptation of the word, Bubble. But the proprietor offered another rather less innocent source: the moniker originated in Hong Kong where Cantonese is the lingua franca, and is purportedly a naughty reference to women with big bosom. But I sure would like to stand corrected.

Then we decided to walk some of the accumulated carb/fat intake off by strolling in a park, in excellent company. It was close to 2.30pm, right before the hottest hour of the day. Not partial to the prospect of our bodies drenched in sweat, we chose the Lettuce Lake Park for its shady boardwalk. However, we forgot about the observation tower right under the sky. In fact it's that much closer to the sun, being three levels high rising about the tree canopy. Ah well, no venture no gain. While we are already old hat at walking around the park, it was to be the very first visit of the other members of the entourage, CE included.
We managed to work out some sweat and sought refuge in the air-conditioned Visitor Center, which happened to be open then (if you have read our previous blogs on our walk through the Lake Lettuce Park, the most recent one being this, you would have noted that the Visitor Center was always closed during those morning visits). The Center is run by volunteers from the National Audobon Society with funds from the County Government.

I saw a River poem on a poster hung on one wall and decided to take a close-up shot for blogging about it later. On hindsight, I should have written it down, the good old fashioned way. That would come back to haunt me somewhat for my close-up shot turned up to be a blur when I could only make out the lines, but not the words. Then I remember that it is published by the Southwest Florida Water Management District. However, I did not find that poster on their website. Undaunted, I turned to Google, which seems to be able to locate any online material based on my past experience using the ubiquitous search engine. Using the combination of “A River Poem” and “Hillsborough River”, I waited for the search listing expectantly. But alas, the closest I could find is this river poem of sort:

In the darkness of an oaktree swamp
With its thousand-million unseen eyes
& its myriad sharp-seductive cries
beats a heart as old as it is wise

- James E. Tokley Sr., The Song of the Hillsborough

I guess that will do for now and will jot the entire poem on paper on my next visit to the Center.

Here then are some shots taken of our brief afternoon sojourn at the Lake Lettuce Park.

The foursome of sun-glassed ladies at the top of the observation tower.

CE took this shot of me gazing forlornly at the yonder. Kind of remind me of the famous prose, The Back Shadow, penned by one of the 20th Century Chinese literary giant, Zhu Zi Qing, one that we had learned while in Middle School back home, about the author's father.

A rare shot of us these days since I am usually the designated cameraman.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Fall Plant Festival at USF Botanical Garden

The Fall Plant Festival organized by the USF Botanical Garden was scheduled on Oct 11-12, 2008. We were planning to go on the first day, which fell on a Saturday, but that plan was derailed when I found out that the level of the engine oil in our Minivan was low, for seemingly no apparent reason. I was actually acting on a hunch after I noticed that the low engine oil indicator on the console would light up whenever I was braking, and would then disappear when the Minivan had come to a stop, much like the sloshing fluid motion in a less than full enclosed glass jar when it decelerates from uniform notion whence part of the jar will bottom out. So before we boarded the Minivan that morning, I decided to look under the hood and removed the oil dipstick for a visual examination. Lo and behold, the oil level was even below the first bottom mark on the dipstick. After apologizing to Wify for having to shelve the trip of wonderment at the Botanical Garden, I drove straight to the nearby Toyota Service Center. They needed to do a thorough examination and sent me home with a rented car provided for my convenience, at their cost.

The next day, I delivered the promised trip, in the rented Toyota Camry. Our experience sauntering among the many stalls, each presenting a unique floral/fruit offering showcasing the toasts of plant species found in Tampa and Florida, amidst the many visitors pulling little wagons behind them stuffed full with the purchase of the day, interspersed with plant taxis (these are buggies transporting goods for those patrons who found the trip back to the car park too onerous with their prized collections), is best narrated in a sequence of Kodak moments captured for posterity. Join us then for a flower extravaganza.

The Pitcher Plant, one of the few plants that trap insects alive, and then dissolve the helpless prey for ingestion. I have known it as a plant found in the wild but have not been aware that it has since been elevated to its present decorative status. I guess it can double as house pest control too.

Most of these fruits are actually common back home like durian, mangosteen, jack fruit, rambutan, etc. I was in my elements when I undertook to enlighten fellow visitors, some of whom have only seen these in pictures, on the different tastes of these fruits based on first-hand palate experience.

These caterpillar-like flowers are Chenille plants.

These upside-down gems of a flower are Angel Trumpets. How befitting.

These are the Philippine Violets. No prize for guessing right where they originated.

I was intrigued by the word, Soroptimist, on the banner, thinking that it must be a branch of botany or something. Boy was I wrong. Here's what Wikipedia says: "Founded in 1921, Soroptimist ("best for women") is an international volunteer organization for business and professional women who work to improve the lives of women and girls, in local communities and throughout the world."

These belong to a class known as Philodendrons. They are the dwarf species, somewhat like bonzai. At first I thought they are related to another plant the leaf shape of which is fondly referred to as Horse Face becuase of its elongated shape, like the face of a house.

Antique roses! What do you know. And I thought antique is a moniker reserved for things dead and like fossilized.

Plumeria. Sounds like a blossom of plumes.

Good old Bougainvillea, always a favorite decorative plant, spotting different shades of pink.

A soothing cascading stream to caress the tired mind engendered by the hustle and bustle of city life.

Cactus plants with their unique pink buds striking out at mid-section.

And to conclude the journey, Elkhorns.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Web Science and Eagle Eye

I first came across the term Web Science when I was reading the Oct 2008 issue of Scientific American, courtesy of the magazine stand at the local CVS. I was there to collect my prescription while wify, shopping for bargains. As usual, while waiting for her to finish her rounds in between the aisles, I parked myself next to the magazine stand, scanning the array of magazines on display. Actually, there are only a few that interest me, Scientific American being one of them (others are Discovery, Times and Newsweek, the latter two more for their coverage of technological matters).

I usually read the contents page first, looking for any title that strikes me in the technology front. And this one caught my attention: Web Science: Studying the Internet to Protect Our Future by Nigel Shadbolt and Tim Berners-Lee. I read it once there and read it again at home, the online version here, which lists it as in the September issue, but I could have sworn the hardcopy version appears in the October issue. Anyway that is beside the point.

In between the two reads, we watched Eagle Eye (the image to the right is courtesy of the official movie website) at the Muvico Starlight 20 cineplex, starring Shia Labeouf, whom we last saw in the latest Indiana Jones flick not too long ago, it's a science fiction movie with a lot of thrilling chase sequences thrown in. But there were also soft moments in between when Jerry Shaw (played by SL) and Rachel (played by Michelle Monaghan), a single Mom, were coerced by a female voice (the actress who lent her voice to the self-righteous human-thinking super-intelligence turned rogue will be revealed at the end of this blog) to carry out her agenda, all because her “informed” recommendation as regards a certain matter of international ramifications was promptly ignored by POTUS, the code name for the President Of The United States I first learned when reading Brad Thor's novels involving the Secret Service. In order to survive and to save their loved one (actually only Rachel's son was threatened, but he turned out to be a cog in the sinister assassination, or threat elimination, as well), they were forced to trust each other, with the Anti-terrorism task force of the FBI hot on their heels..

I doubt what I'm about to say constitutes a spoiler, but if you have not seen the movie, fair warning is hereby served.

There was a lot of cars flying off in all directions, in such quick successions that one could hardly imagine the scale of human carnage. But I enjoyed watching the chase sequence on the moving conveyor belt better, simply because I'm so used to seeing car chase sequences that are featured invariably in action movies.

The movie reminded me of The Enemy of the State starring Will Smith and Gene Hackman in which all manners of surveillance tools (CCT, VideoCams, and anything that can “see electronically” and wired together) were used to serve the personal needs of some megalomaniacs. But here the surveillance arsenal went beyond the visual in the passive mode, i.e., observation. She, only because she had a female voice, can do speech recognition by analyzing the facial muscle and mouth movement, better than the deaf reading lips. When that fails, she can also decipher by analyzing the vibrational energy that bounces off a surface. And tapping into cellphones, pagers and the like such as the electronic display boards, is a piece of cake.

Upon exit from the theater, wify said it reminded her of I, Robot, again starring Will Smith, because both involved the super-intelligence, as in the machine/supercomputer, taking matters into their own hand, like humans do. Both reveal the potential dark side of science, when wielded by the wrong kind of people, or wrong-thinking machines for that matter.

What's the link to web science then? Well, web science, as expounded in the SCIAM article, aims to “discover how Web traits arise and how they can be harnessed or held in check to benefit society. Important advances are beginning to be made; more work can solve major issues such as securing privacy and conveying trust”. All premise on the assumption that the ensuing discoveries are in the hands of great men with good intentions, and above all, high morality. But what if they are not? What if they are manipulated by the greatest machine intelligence created by man in the first place, whose allegiance is dictated by binary codes void of all human emotions, empathy, and compassion, like the scenarios played out in Eagle Eye? In the make-believe celluloid world, the good always triumphs over evil, at least in the final analysis when the curtain falls. But would that ending of good feeling always have its parallel in the real world? Far-fetched? Maybe. But I just can't help thinking about it, much against my training in rational thought.

And yes, the voice of Aria belongs to Julianne Moore, who chose to remain uncredited for her role. Aria who? She is both the female voice playing havoc in Jerry and Rachel's lives and that super-doper of a computer that supposedly would follow human instructions.

And Shia Labeouf is simply phenomenal, a glib talker who easily matches the Gilmore Girls. If Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull has shown Shia Labeouf to be a star in the making, then Eagle Eye confirms his status as one.

So Eagle Eye is the second best movie I have ever seen, after The Dark Knight. But perhaps this impression may have changed if we had watched it in IMAX instead ...