Category Archives: Life in Laos

I’m moving!

All is slightly chaotic on the Laos front as we prepare to move this weekend to a house that doesn’t have a spiral staircase, an unfenced pool adjoining the property, or neighbors running a woodworking business. It also doesn’t have a full kitchen inside, which is going to be a royal pain in the rear at times, but in all other respects it is a lovely house with a beautiful guest room – so let us know if you’re going to be in town.

On top of the move we’re trying to book tickets and organize our schedules for a month away as we visit the Washington DC area between mid-April and mid-May. I’m trying to decide whether it’s feasible for me to leave Dominic in Mike’s capable hands for three days to attend a writing festival in Michigan, and we’re trying to organize to visit family in Pennsylvania, figure out some time away just as a family, and split time between Mike’s parents and my sister’s house. Oh, and we have to stop over in Bangkok on the way home to get Dominic checked out at Bumrungrad hospital. Logistics galore. And trying to organize travel always makes me feel a bit like this:

In other news, I’m on my third round of antibiotics in the last six weeks – this time for a stubborn double ear infection (what am I, like, seven? I haven’t had an ear infection since childhood).

And I’m not only moving house this week in the physical sense, I’m moving house in the e-sense! My new and much improved website and blog are coming soon. Oh, and I’ve decided upon a cover for Love At The Speed Of Email. I love it, and I can’t wait to share it with you.

So things might be a bit quiet around here in the next two weeks as I work behind the scenes to finalize all the details of transitioning to my new home(s). I’ll let you know the new subscription details as soon as I have them so that those of you who subscribe via RSS can update your settings. I hate to make you move, but I’ll be staying put at this new address indefinitely and I’m looking forward to the e-stability.

Hope everyone’s week has started off well,

Lisa

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Old-fashioned community doctoring … virtually

Anyone who has tracked our recent medical dramas knows that we live a two-hour flight away from the nearest good hospital.

This doesn’t mean we’re devoid of options when we run into medical trouble.

For starters, there’s always Dr. Google. This good doctor’s wealth of knowledge is seemingly inexhaustible. You can ask Dr G anything. Anything. You can, for example, type in: “I’m 22 weeks and 3 days pregnant and I’ve thrown up 4 times in the last 6 hours and 6 minutes. I think I got sick after eating spring rolls from a street vendor in northern Laos 10 hours and 17 minutes ago. Should I be worried? What should I do?”

And chances are someone else has asked this exact same question, and someone else has answered it.

Granted, sometimes those answers run along the lines of, “drink a liter of goats milk seasoned with the blood of a three-day-old chick and stand on your head for an hour with your eyes crossed and you’ll be fine.”

But, still. Dr Google is on call 24-hours a day and always willing and eager to provide you with a wealth of useful information.

Well, information, anyway.

Then we have Dr Souphan, just down the road. Under protest, I went to see Dr Souphan just last week. To be fair to Dr Souphan, the protest had less to do with her than with the great inertia that seizes me when I’m afflicted with maladies that are more uncomfortable than dire. I just prefer to wait these things out.

Mike, however, is more proactive I am in the face of such problems, especially problems that have been going on for four days. So when we walked past her little clinic and saw that it was open, he gently suggested (read: almost frog-marched) that we stop in.

Dr Souphan’s clinic is one big room on the first floor of her house. While you’re waiting, you sit on chairs in the front half of the room. When it’s your turn to see the doctor you step to the back of the room where there’s a desk, two chairs, and a camp bed. No office door, though. Not that it mattered this time, because everyone else waiting was far more preoccupied with clucking over the little foreign baby with the big cast on his leg than with listening to me try to describe my intestinal disorders.

So we’re not entirely devoid of medical resources here, but what have we done when confronted with problems more severe than spending four days running to the bathroom? We haven’t relied on Dr Google or Dr Souphan. We’ve relied on good doctor friends in Australia, the UK and the USA. Just in the last eighteen months, these doctor friends have:

  1. Looked at photographs of Mike’s staph-infected legs and provided advice on which antibiotics to try and whether or not to seek medical evacuation to Thailand.
  2. Advised me about what to do when, at 22 weeks pregnant, I came down with a severe case of food poisoning.
  3. Let us stay in their house and use their car for a week while they were out of town (nothing to do with medicine, but much appreciated nonetheless).
  4. Given Dominic his two-month immunizations for free.
  5. Written very specific instructions for us on how to seek appropriate immunizations over here (including brand names) and answered our detailed questions about whether and how we could adapt the immunization schedule according to our shifting travel dates.
  6. Given me an entire course of appropriate antibiotics to take in case I get mastitis.
  7. Advised me via skype on splinting Dominic’s leg, appropriate pain relief, and how to make Dominic most comfortable until we could reach the hospital in Thailand.
  8. Reviewed pictures of before and after X-rays and written detailed letters explaining why the doctors in Thailand probably made the decision they did about Dominic’s care, we might have received conflicting advice about Dominic’s prognosis, and the pros and cons of additional corrective action within the next two years.

Ironically, Mike and I have found ourselves the recipients of more good old-fashion communal medical care here in Laos than we would have ever received (or asked for) if we had been living in Melbourne, yet all of this communal care has been delivered virtually. It’s all come from a “community” living on the other side of the world.

In the olden days, these people might have received some chickens or maybe a sack of potatoes for their help. Now they get nothing but heartfelt thanks.

Doctor friends,

Thank you. And thank you again. We’re so grateful that so many of you are willing to share some time and expertise via facebook, email and skype. You have eased the stresses that come with living somewhere with limited medical facilities more than you may ever know. Should you ever want to come to Laos, our guest room is always open and we’ll be happy to get some of those chickens and potatoes for you, too. Heck, we’ll even throw in a needy dog.

Love Lisa, Mike & Dominic

How have your friends reached out and helped you virtually?

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Conversations in hospitals

As you can probably imagine, Mike and I have talked about many things since Dominic’s accident. Much of what we’ve been mulling over is serious, hard stuff and nowhere near funny. These two snippets, however, I can share. They’re as close as we came to laughing this week.

In the doctor’s office, staring at Dominic’s X-rays on the computer screen while three specialists debated out in the hallway about whether Dominic needed surgery:

“I think I should quit the fruits of the spirit project,” I said.

“What?” Mike said.

“Think about it,” I said. “It took me more than a month after Dominic’s birth to untangle how I felt about the fact that maternal love hadn’t swamped me upon delivery. Then the month of joy was full of days that felt decidedly joyless. During the month of peace a friend dies and one of my worst fears fulfilled – now the month is ending with my baby in a cast. If I wanted to speak Christianese, I might say that I was under spiritual attack. Now, I sort of have to do the month of patience given what’s in front of us during Dominic’s recovery, but after that I think I should quit.”

Mike laughed.

“I wouldn’t laugh,” I said. “You know what comes after the month of patience? The month of kindness, then the month of faithfulness. I would want me to quit if I were you.”

Day three in the hospital. I’ve only left the room once each day, briefly, to go downstairs to the lobby and procure a caramel macchiato and a cream cheese muffin. Mike is trying to do some work and I’m on the bed pretending a toy bear is looking for honey in Dominic’s ear. When that stops working in about 23 seconds I will move on to fake sneezing, because that’s always good for a smile at the moment.

“Remember last time we were here?” I said.

“Yeah,” Mike said.

“I mean, I know you had an IV stuck in the back of your hand and all,” I said. “But once we knew the staph was under control it was sort of fun, wasn’t it? We ate French fries and ice cream sundaes. We got to hang together all week and work, then cuddle up in the evenings in the hospital bed and watch movies on the big screen TV.”

“And go for walks in the evening down to the nursery to look at all the babies,” Mike said. “And now we have one of our own.”

We both looked at our baby. He looked frustrated and needy.

“Last time was sort of like a little holiday, wasn’t it?” I said.

“Yeah,” Mike said. “It sort of was.”

Yes, folks. We were reminiscing about previous medical evacuations … wistfully. It was that sort of week.

We’re back in Laos now. Dominic seems to be doing OK. Not well, but OK. He still needs pain medication every couple of hours, which is a bit problematic because he’s decided he hates the taste of the infant nurofen (not that I blame him, it’s sickly sweet and orange-flavoured).

“You think I’m going to take that nurofen nicely? Think again.

Every time we try to dose him with nurofen it’s a trial that starts with locked lips and glaring and inevitably progresses to screaming and sticky orange goo all over his face and clothes. The strawberry-flavored panadol, however, he gulps down like a starving piglet and doesn’t let a single drop escape. This week has so ruined his taste buds for broccoli and carrots.

Now the countdown begins. We take Dominic back to Bangkok for more X-rays and (hopefully) the removal of his cast three weeks from yesterday. My parents will be in town then, so on that day we were hoping to land in Bangkok at 9:30, clear immigration and customs, get to the hospital, get X-rays, see the orthopedic specialists and get the cast off, see a pediatrician and get 6 month vaccinations (sorry little guy, you’re just having the worst run at the moment), and make it back to the airport by noon at the very latest so that we can fly back to Laos at 1:30 that afternoon rather than overnighting in Thailand.

After seeing the lines at Bangkok airport immigration yesterday I think our chances of all that unfolding on schedule are … (insert appropriate idiom here). I’m tempted to go with “a snowball’s chance in hell”, but Mike thinks we can do it. Anyone want to place a bet?

Finally, here’s how today’s introduction to rice cereal went:

“Oooh, what’s that? Maybe it’s strawberry-flavored Panadol!

“Yuck! Rice cereal tastes worse than nurofen!”

“Why are you torturing me like this? What did I ever do to you?”

“How many times do I have to say no?”

“Much better. You got any panadol around, though? Cuz I’m sorta hungry, you know.”

Heading back to Laos today

The doctors at the hospital felt confident enough to discharge us yesterday … until I mentioned that Dominic had started to cough and sneeze. As it turns out, he was coming down with his first major cold.

When the hospital relayed this information to the insurance company, they strongly recommended that we stay at least one more night. In fact, they stopped just short of telling us they wouldn’t fly us home yet even if we wanted to go. So we spent our third night in the hospital last night with the poor little fellow – this time trying to figure out how to prevent him from falling asleep only to wake up two or three minutes later gagging, choking, and coughing.

Why is it that in all the parenthood stories I’ve heard so far, I’ve never heard someone talk about how scary to watch a baby struggle to breathe when they have a cold? Or maybe I’m just finding everything scary at the moment.

Anyway, Dominic is breathing easier this morning and so are we. We’re still dosing him regularly with painkillers, but he seems to be fairly resigned to the cast on his leg and we’re seeing many more smiles.

And even some flapping…

We’re being discharged today and flying home this afternoon on the 1:30 flight. Thank you all again for all your comments on the blog and via facebook, as well as your emails. We haven’t been able to reply to many of these messages of support, but they have all been read and greatly appreciated!

More from Laos,

Lisa

Dominic’s leg: The ugly, the bad, and the good.

We’re here at Bumrungrad hospital in Bangkok. I tried to organize this into some sort of coherent update by good, bad and ugly categories, but I not feeling coherent enough myself yet to pull that off. So, in no particular order and with no particular artistry, here’s what’s going on.

Good: Mike and I are overwhelmed by the amount of love and support people are directing our way from around the world. We are so touched and feel so loved. Dominic, of course, has no idea that so many people are thinking of him and praying for him, but we sure do.  Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Bad: Despite our insurer’s best efforts, it took us more than 30 hours to get Dominic to Bangkok after the break. During that time we splinted his leg using cardboard and gauze (Mike’s dad did most of that, actually) and kept him as still as possible. We slept him on the change-table mat on the floor and I fed him by kneeling over him. I also managed to feed him on the plane without taking him out of the car seat (which I think I should get some sort of acrobatics award for, and maybe an honorable mention for sacrificing dignity). During these last 48 hours there have been several times when I really wished I had not slacked off on yoga after Dominic’s birth.

Good: This is our second medevac with our medical insurance company, International SOS, and they continue to impress (and when I say “impress” I mean: I would like to kiss every single employee of that company plus anyone who sits on the board).

They made probably a dozen phone calls to Laos to keep us updated on their efforts and a doctor walked us through how to splint the leg ourselves. They flew a doctor up to Laos to escort us back to Bangkok on the flight. We were met at the gate and whisked through the diplomatic channel at immigration and customs and then met at the curb of the airport by an ambulance and two nurses.

Bad: In the ambulance the nurses and the doctor who’d travelled with us were in frequent communication with the team waiting for us at the hospital. They told me they didn’t want me to feed him after 4pm because they’d scheduled him for surgery at 8pm, and then they put the sirens on the ambulance in an effort to get us to the hospital faster so that I could feed before the deadline.

Running the ambulance sirens because the baby needed to kin nom (drink milk) would have been funny … except that it wasn’t. Also, the sirens were a nice try, but they didn’t make much of a difference in the middle of Bangkok traffic jams. We sat on the freeway within sight of the hospital for more than 30 minutes (which, if things have been dire, would have been mind-blowingly agonizing).

Good: Bumrungrad is the nicest hospital I’ve ever had the (dis)pleasure of spending time in. The place looks more like a nice hotel than a hospital and the staff seem phenomenally efficient. With one exception (see the next “ugly” point) I’ve never had a moment’s doubt that we are receiving top of the line medical care here.

Good: Dominic had been X-rayed and seen by two specialists within an hour of walking into the hospital. During the first consult they told us that they would take Dominic to surgery, set the leg under a general anesthetic, and put him in a spica cast (a both-leg rib-height body cast). Then they changed their mind. They could set the leg without surgery, they told us. This initially seemed like good news, but…

Ugly: They didn’t mention anything about a game plan for pain relief. When I strongly requested they make such a game plan the nurse went away and came back with … oral paracetamol – the same thing I’d been giving him for the previous 36 hours. I argued that they should at the very least give him paracetamol and codeine, but the doctors told me that they only ever use paracetamol or a general anesthetic – nothing in between – and they had no experience with giving codeine to infants so they just wanted to “do it natural.” As if there is anything “natural” about breaking the end off your femur. I was so angry. Mike had to be the one to take Dominic in to get the leg set. I couldn’t face it.

Ugly: The break is bad and complicated – all the way through the femur, right above the knee and in the growth plate area. For those of you who haven’t had a crash course in orthopedics lately, that’s bad news when it happens to a baby at this stage because there’s a chance that it’ll disrupt normal growth patterns. Dominic will have to be monitored annually by X-ray for the next few years (1 yr, 2 yr), then every two years (4,6,8) and then annually again up through the teens.

Good: The break was set by 6:30pm (less than 2.5 hours after our arrival at the hospital). And in the end they did not have to put Dominic in a spica cast, just a hip to toe cast, and that will probably only have to stay on for three weeks. X-rays today reveal that the set helped realign – even my untrained eyes can see the difference and the doctors seem pleased. They also told us that the specialist team met again and they think the chance of us having ongoing problems has dropped slightly. They’re not sure, but they think the break occurred just above (by 1 cm or less) the growth plate. If that’s the case, the long-term prognosis is better.

Good: Dominic slept quite well last night, all things considered, and has been relatively content today with only a couple of crying jags. We’ve even had some smiles. It is a huge relief to see him in less pain.

Good: Despite how harrowing the last two days have been, we remain acutely grateful that we have the resources and the networks that allow us to receive such excellent medical attention. These have been some of the worst days of my life, I cannot really fathom how much harder they would have been without the resources that are available to us.

So that’s some of the good the bad and the ugly from this end. To finish, here’s the “lovely”. The insurance company had flowers and a teddy bear delivered to the hospital. Dominic was a fan … of the ferns, anyway.

Love and thanks from Bangkok,

Lisa, Mike & Dominic

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Say a prayer for Dominic

After yesterdays post when I talked about my fear of what if’s, today has been an unhappy irony. Mike’s mother fell on our stairs this morning while she was carrying Dominic. She is shaken and bruised. After a trip to the local hospital here (thankfully the X-Ray machine was working today and the technician was at work) it turns out that Dominic has a broken femur.

Our emergency medical insurance company is going to get us to Bangkok as soon as possible tomorrow – maybe even by sending an air ambulance. Under the telephone advice of a doctor in Thailand we’ve splinted Dominic’s leg using cardboard and gauze, another pediatrician friend in Australia provided advice on pain relief (thanks Asha!), and we’re doing everything we can to keep him as comfortable as possible.

If you could say a prayer for Dominic – it could be a very long night (or several). If you could say a prayer for Mike and I – it could be a very long night (or several). And if you could say a prayer for Mike’s mother – she has been sick for most of the time she’s been here, and now this. Finally, if you have any prayers left over, will you send up a quick petition that this is the worst wedding anniversary Mike and I ever have?

Thanks,

Lisa

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Links to laugh at and Mekong adventures

Happy Wednesday! Mike and I are spending the day flying down to Vientiane and driving into Thailand. Then we will turn around immediately, line up on the other side of the border, and come straight back into Laos.

This is long story that I don’t want to write too much about because it tempts me towards feeling frazzled and making unwise public comments about the powers that be. Instead I’ll just say that flying down to Vientiane, then crossing the Thai border, then going to to the Australian embassy to get Dominic’s four month vaccinations (on that note, happy 5 month birthday yesterday little man), and then flying back up to Luang Prabang will make tomorrow feel about as long as this sentence.

I have a number of topics I want to cover on a Writing Wednesday, but our little jaunt is making this week feel squeezed and I don’t want to shortchange any of them. I’ve received way too much sad news via email and facebook recently so, in the spirit of smiling, today I’m simply going to share a couple of links that have made me laugh and some photos of what we got up to on the weekend.

Without further ado, the links:

The 50 most brilliant, obnoxious, or delightfully sociopathic Facebook posts of 2011: This made me laugh until I almost cried during a recent 4AM feeding, and anything that can make me laugh that early is some seriously funny stuff. My favorite was the fourth last one about chicken casseroles.

2011 lesson #2: Don’t Carpe Diem: Loved this post over on Momastery so much I immediately subscribed to her blog: “Every time I’m out with my kids – this seems to happen: An older woman stops us, puts her hand over her heart and says something like, “Oh– Enjoy every moment. This time goes by so fast.”… But as 2011 closes, I have finally allowed myself to admit that it just doesn’t work for me. It bugs me…”

Australian Tourism: Questions Answered: This is a list of real questions asked by potential tourists and the (not so serious) answers posted on the Australian Tourism website.

Now, the photos of our Saturday rock-climbing adventure on the Mekong. I hadn’t quite banked on the steep scramble up the banks while carrying Dominic in the Ergo, but I’m so glad we went. It was a great day out.


Here we are, all ready to go boating on the Mekong. More pictures in the slideshow below.

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What about you? Read anything that made you laugh out loud recently? Leave the link below.

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Christmas in Laos

Two quick writing tidbits: First, Writing Wednesday will be back next week and I’ll be sharing the title of book baby! I find titles difficult, and this one took me more than three years to settle on, so I’m super excited that during these past few months I’ve finally decided on a title that I love. Come back next week to find out what it is.

And, second, I received my first peer-feedback on my memoir this week – from Gina Holmes, the award-winning author of Crossing Oceans and Dry as Rain and founder of Inspire a Fire. I was thrilled to read her endorsement:

“This is a positively riveting memoir by a talented author and globe-trotter. I loved journeying with Lisa McKay as she sought the love of her life and a place to call home. I can’t recommend this beautiful and triumphant story enough!”

But this week hasn’t been all (or even mostly) about writing, so it seems fitting that this week’s post should be mostly focused on sharing a couple of snippets of our Christmas in Laos.

We may not have had a traditional Christmas tree, but we did have a Christmas fireplace and we even ended up with some nicely wrapped gifts piled beside it (thanks mostly to Mike’s staff who, incidentally, were also the only ones who bought Dominic presents – I suspect that’s the last year we’ll be able to get away with that).

 
I stayed busy feeding the Christmas elves by cooking up a storm in our toaster oven. Along the path to banana spice loaf with lemon glaze, chocolate chip cookies, and caramelized onion and sweet potato frittata, I’ve had to do a lot of something I never dreamed I’d do again after completing my high school cooking classes in Zimbabwe – cream butter and sugar by hand with a wooden spoon.

Twenty years later that endeavor still takes just as long and is just as laborious, but at least I have an interested audience to play to. Although, sometimes those audience members (particularly the furry one) are a little too interested in the process.

Feeding the Christmas Elves milk

Cooking the Christmas Elves cookies

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were lovely – relaxed and friends-filled. Our housekeeper, Oun, brought her baby around for us to meet. We had lunch with friends on the Khan, and another couple of friends surprised us at our house that night with carol books in hand and “caroled” us.


 
On Christmas morning we had two friends around for what turned out to be a champagne brunch, and then two more for a Moroccan dinner. The food turned out a whole lot better than our family Christmas photos.


 
Despite (and in some ways because of) the crying baby soundtrack, we had a delightful Christmas. We hope yours was every bit as special. Thanks for dropping by!

The exhortation of the dawn

Happy Monday morning folks. It’s 5:30am here, I’m saluting the dawn as I have almost every day for the past four months, by feeding a little one. So in honour of early morning wakings here are some beautiful words from the Quran to kick off a fresh new week:

Listen to the exhortation of the dawn.
Look to this day, for it is life, the very life of life.
In its brief course lie all the verities and realities
of your existence,
the glory of action – the bliss of growth
the splendour of beauty.
For yesterday is but a dream,
and tomorrow is only a vision,
but today, well lived,
makes every yesterday a dream of happiness,
and every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Look well therefore to this day.
Such is the salutation of the dawn.

We had a great weekend over here – the kind that make dreams of happiness. Here are a couple of pictures of what we’ve been up to recently.

What about you? How do you salute the dawn? Have you read words recently that have stirred your heart?

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T’is The Night Before (A Children’s Story)

It’s 8, and Mama Bear gives a yawn
She’s very tired, she’s been up since dawn
All day Baby Bear needed loving and feeding
Up and down he set emotions stampeding
She goes to bed, she begins to count sheep
One, two, three, four… Mama Bear is asleep

It’s 10, and Mama Bear wakes in the dark
Drums and cymbals and music, hark!
These are sounds she is daily dreading
The loud late strains of a Lao wedding
She lies in bed, she begins to count sheep
One, two, three, fifty… Mama Bear is asleep

It’s 12, and Mama Bear wakes in the dark
Papa Bear’s snoring sounds not like a lark
She tugs his arms down from over his head
Papa Bear sighs and rolls over instead
She lies in bed, she begins to count sheep
One, two, three, eighty… Mama Bear is asleep

It’s 1, and Mama Bear wakes in the dark
This time she hears a familiar dog bark
Zulu has chased a cat up a tree
And is leaping around in a wild frenzy
She lies in bed, she begins to count sheep
One, two, three hundred… Mama Bear is asleep

It’s 2, and Mama Bear wakes in the dark
Baby Bear moans, stirs, and lets out a sqwark
Mama Bear leans over and hands him his dummy
It’s a 24-hour job, this being a mummy
She lies in bed, she begins to count sheep
One, two, four hundred… Mama Bear is asleep

It’s 3, and Mama Bear wakes in the dark
“It’s morning! It’s morning!” the roosters remark
Mama Bear thinks about chicken pot pie
And how she wishes the roosters would die
She lies in bed, she begins to count sheep
One, two, five hundred… Mama Bear is asleep

It’s 4, and Mama Bear wakes in the dark
She hears a buzz, the mosquito trademark
Little legs brush her cheek like lace
She swipes, misses, and hits her own face
She lies in bed, she begins to count sheep
One, two, eight hundred… [beep beep beep beep]

It’s 5, and Mama Bear wakes in the dark
It’s Baby Bear again, a wee hungry shark
She rises and reaches for her little boy
He gives a sudden, toothless, grin of joy
She picks him up, she kisses his head
She thinks, “this is almost, maybe, better than bed.”

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