Tag Archives: Thailand

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,


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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Happy New Year from Laos

Songkran Thailand (Source: http://www.journeymart.com)

So I sort of promised more from Bangkok this week, but I’ve failed on that front. I woke up at 6am in Bangkok this morning and was back in Laos by 11:30am, only to find that the streets are as crazy here as they were in Thailand.

The last three days have marked the traditional New Year festivals in both Thailand (Songkran) and Laos (Pii Mai Lao)

I’d heard that the locals celebrated New Years in Thailand and Laos by turning their towns and cities into a big three-day water fight, but before this week I couldn’t really understood how that worked. Unless you happened to get really unlucky, I thought, surely you could venture out outside without getting that wet? Surely it’s not like half the population has nothing to do for three days straight except stand around and assault others with water? Right?

Wrong. So wrong. On several fronts. Let me count the ways.

  1. It’s not like it’s half the population staking out the roads and looking to drench others. More like 80% I’d say.
  2. They’re not just standing around staking out the roads from the pavements. Gangs of over-excited teenagers, adults, and even a few grandpas, also ride around town in the back of pickup trucks armed with garbage cans of water they use to bail and toss, and water guns that squirt a huge stream of water more than fifty feet. When they see anyone walking or riding past and looking somewhat dry, a great cry of, “get them!” arises. And then they do. Even if you’re obviously pregnant.
  3. Not all the water being tossed is just water. Some of it’s been dyed pink. Or black. That’s particularly great when you’re dumb enough to venture out in white linen pants, as I was last night in Bangkok.
  4. Water is not all that’s freely bestowed. People also run around toting bowls of thick, white rice paste. As you walk past they reach out and smear this paste on your face, leaving behind big white streaks. Or they throw a cloud of rice flour onto you right after they throw water.

All this is quite fun when you’re watching it from the safety of your front porch or even the first time you get drenched. It’s a lot less fun three days later when you’re being drenched for the tenth time and you’re on your way out to dinner wearing conference attire.

I’d thought things might be a bit quieter up here in Luang Prabang than in Bangkok, but the reverse seems to be true. Everyone is out and about. Mike says he’s never seen so many people out giving morning alms to the monks as he did this morning, and as we drove in from the airport to meet friends for lunch, the streets were thronged. Hundreds of kids were crawling all over the one fountain in town – their parents standing around grilling meats, drinking beer, and tossing the odd bucket of water whenever the mood took them. Luang Prabang is just one giant, wet party that puts our university shenanigans (seemingly so many years ago now) to shame.

As we walked out of the café after lunch two little girls ran up to me with full containers and big grins on their faces. Fresh from the airport I was still wearing my conference attire, but it was close to a hundred degrees here today so I just stood still and let them soak me. It felt wonderful. I guess the eleventh time is the charm when it comes to getting into the party spirit (or getting so hot you’re just desperate to be hosed down).

Siok dee pii mai! Happy New Year from Laos!

Crowds out on the street in Luang Prabang 2011

Songkram, Thailand (Source: http://www.chiangmai-vacations.com)

Back at Home are Mike and I: Jottings on art, parenthood, and home

Well, we’re back from Thailand and we hit the ground running this week. Although, after a full week of looking at this on Koh Tao…

And this on Koh Samui…

And strolling through resorts…

And buying satay off the beach…

And dining in lovely seaside restaurants as the full moon rises over the ocean…

Well… let’s just say I wouldn’t expect any sympathy from anyone if I tried to complain that we’ve had some re-entry shock with getting back to work. So I shall just say that we’re well and truly back at work.

Mike returned to scores of emails and the usual collection of unruly work-related campfires needing to be tended (and, in some cases, extinguished). I have returned to a new schedule of memoir work in the mornings and consulting work in the afternoons.

I’m jotting this down in between switching from memoir to drafting a distance learning chapter on personal resilience. I have ended this morning’s memoir work without much idea about how to fix a tricky chapter transition. Or, maybe more accurately, how to fix a tricky whole chapter.

That would be chapter, uh, two.

Sigh. I hope something shakes loose on that front this week as I am determined to finish this edit before the baby arrives. Because, of course, after the baby arrives my life as I know it now will end. I will never again find the time or energy to write anything worth reading, and Mike and I have probably just gone on our last truly relaxing holiday and enjoyed our last meal out at a lovely restaurant.

OK, so maybe I’m being just the tiniest bit melodramatic. But I have to admit that stalking my genuine happiness about this coming baby is no small army of fears – fears clothed in thoughts similar to those above. So, as I get into a serious creative writing rhythm again, I was particularly delighted to stumble across a great article recently called The Parent Trap: Art After Children.

Frank Cottrell Boyce writes:

There’s a belief that to do great work you need tranquility and control, that the pram is cluttering up the hallway; life needs to be neat and tidy. This isn’t the case. Tranquility and control provide the best conditions for completing the work you imagined. But surely the real trick is to produce the work that you never imagined. The great creative moments in our history are almost all stories of distraction and daydreaming – Archimedes in the bath, Einstein dreaming of riding a sunbeam – of alert minds open to the grace of chaos.

Writers have produced great work in the face of things far more stressful than the school run: being shot at, in the case of Wilfred Owen; being banged up in jail, in the case of Cervantes or John Bunyan. Yet that pram is lodged in our imaginations, like a secret parasite sucking on our juices.

While I would argue that it may, in fact, be easier to write while locked up in prison than while trying to get kids ready for school every day, I loved this article for standing in opposition to some of my fears. Well worth reading if you are an artist with a family, or thinking about having one.

In addition to all things babies I’ve also been mulling on all things home as I start to pick up the threads of my memoir once again. I stumbled across this poem by Emily Dickinson recently and it intrigues (and baffles) me. Anyone want to help me out by offering their thoughts on it? I am particularly confused by the last two lines – about feet retiring and faces remaining.

Away from Home are some and I

Away from Home are some and I —
An Emigrant to be
In a Metropolis of Homes
Is easy, possibly —

The Habit of a Foreign Sky
We — difficult — acquire
As Children, who remain in Face
The more their Feet retire.

Thanks for dropping by!

Ten good things about boys: Attaining synthetic happiness one gender stereotype at a time

As we’ve been mulling over the fact that we’re having a boy this week, Mike and I have been talking about all things little boy and little girl. It started right after the first ultrasound.

“OK, tell me three good things about little boys,” Mike said to me while we were sitting in the white, tiled hallway of the hospital in Chiang Mai.

“Well, you wanted one to start with,” I said, tired, and not really ready to begin processing the news we had just been handed.

Mike laughed. “Is that the best you can do?”

“Yes,” I said, then pointed to the television on the wall. A news presenter speaking Thai was sounding rather frantic while footage of destruction marched across the screen.

“Is that a tsunami?”

It was. We watched footage of what was unfolding in Japan silently for a while. Then we talked about how we sure hoped the coastal area wasn’t too populated. And what we could make out of how the tectonic plates had shifted. And about the 2004 tsunami and what we’d seen of its aftermath. After that we weren’t much in the mood to talk about gender.

But as the week has progressed in a relaxing blur of pineapple fruit shakes, warm seas, and Thai food, we’ve found ourselves circling back to the topic repeatedly.

“Three good things about boys are…???” Mike will tease me at random intervals.

In response to this I usually pretend to think hard, then shrug my shoulders and shake my head.

“Good things about boys?” I might say. “I’m really trying here, but I have to say I’m drawing a blank.”

(I usually only say things like this when we’re sitting at a table in a restaurant or in some other public place where I run less risk of being tickled unmercifully or pestered with a shower of kisses.)

But the fact of the matter is, I have come up with some good things about little boys. And as I’ve been busy synthesizing happiness this week, I’ve also spent more than a little time mulling over the issue of gender stereotypes.

What ideals and expectations do we consciously or unconsciously hold about little boys and little girls? How many of these are grounded in fact? How should we let them influence our parenting? Do we even have much of a choice on that front – is it possible to be gender neutral when raising kids?

I know the answer to that last question is no – it’s not possible to be completely gender neutral in how we approach raising kids. Nor, am I convinced, would that be totally desirable even if it were possible. As for all the other questions… Well, I have some more digging and thinking to do.

But before I spoil things by doing too much research and finding out too many actual facts on the subject, I thought I’d share my rather unscientific and less than rational list of good things I’ve so far come up with. In no particular order, here are ten good things about boys:

1. Boys burn more calories on a daily basis than girls, so it stands to reason that boy babies in utero also need more calories than girl babies. The doctor in Thailand also told me that I should be drinking multiple glasses of milk every day. This all means that I can safely (nay, I should) be eating at least one extra scoop of ice cream every day that I am pregnant.

2. Mike’s aunt Kathy assures me that boys make excellent weed-pickers, rock-pullers, and wheelbarrow-pushers. I am assuming this also extends to carrying my luggage in airports. Bonus.

3. Mike tells me that not only are boys born without poo shame they also tend to hang onto this quality throughout adulthood – hence saving themselves a great deal of social angst. (For more on poo shame see, The Existence of Poo).

4. In one backed up be medical research, a little boy is much less likely to suffer down the track from my oh-so-fun medical condition, lymphedema, than a little girl.

5. Boys tend to have better spatial orientation than girls (I do believe this one is also backed up by science). On a practical level this will mean that with two men in my family I can almost entirely abdicate navigation responsibilities.

6. A boy may be less drama in the long run than a girl. (Think teenage years and, really, most of early adulthood).

7. Boy clothes are easier (and often cheaper) than clothes for girls, and boys’ hair is easier to care for.

8. There will be fewer princess movies, princess costumes, and all things princess in our house.

9. Hopefully our little man will grow up less burdened by an acute awareness of his physical appearance than little girls can be. I hope he’ll wage fewer battles in the hero’s journey towards the realization that self-esteem must be built on something more than being thought beautiful and desirable by others.

10. Finally, as my good friend, Danielle, pointed out, “Dads toilet train boys easiest.” I’m doubly thrilled on this front, as it means Mike will get to use his water and sanitation training and I just love to see him living in his strengths.

Cheers from Southern Thailand, where this list is a work in progress. In fact, Mike, I, and little Mango McWolfe may just go sit by the pool now and work on it some more. Have a great weekend! Catch you next week from Laos.

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It’s a…

All the women at Mike’s office want it to be a girl.

Our landlady wants it to be a girl.

Mike’s mother, after having two boys of her own, wants it to be a girl.

My sister wants it to be a girl.

The woman who sells us our favorite nutella crepes off the street stall wants it to be a girl.

Mike and I mostly wanted to hear that Mango McWolfe (the baby’s name of the week) looked healthy. But apart from that, I wanted it to be a girl. Mike initially wanted it to be a boy, but yesterday he told me that in recent months he’d begun to change his mind and decided that he, too, wanted a girl.

So I had two consults about two babies yesterday.

In the morning I chatted to an editor about the draft of my next book – the book I have been stalling on going back to for the last four months. I finally decided that what was needed was an impartial opinion from a trained professional as to its strengths and weaknesses and any potentially fatal flaws. This, I figured, might help me get some focus back and renew my willpower to push through to the next (and hopefully final) draft.

Her diagnosis? Thankfully it was, “healthy, sound, beautiful raw material that needs a bit more thought and work in parts before being ready to face the world.” Another couple of months (if I get my act in gear) should see the job done.

In the afternoon Mike and I flew to Thailand for the second consult of the day. I’m about 19 weeks pregnant now, and general consensus is that it’s a good idea to get an impartial opinion from a trained professional as to the baby’s strengths and weaknesses and any potentially fatal flaws right around this time.

So off to the hospital in Chiang Mai we went, stopping at a coffee shop along the way to dose the little Mango with caffeine so that it would dance around for the ultrasound and we’d have a higher likelihood of finding out whether it was a boy mango or a girl mango. (This was my sister’s idea, by the way. If any of you want to take it up with her, write to me and I’ll pass along her email address.)

The doctor’s diagnosis? Thankfully it was, “unremarkable” – which (contrary to what you want an editor to say when discussing your writing) is exactly what you want to hear when you’re lying on a hospital bed staring at your unborn child sucking its thumb in your womb. The doctor reassured us that everything seems to check out healthy, sound and… male.

Yes, it’s a boy. A boy that needs a couple more months before he’s ready to face the world.

If I had everything in life the way exactly the way I wanted it, this book would have been done two years ago and the baby would be a girl. (Also the temperature of anywhere I was living would be permanently set at 22 degrees Celsius and ice cream and fried spring rolls would live right down there alongside vegetables on the healthy end of the food pyramid.)


However pretty much every acquaintance who’s had a child, and my recent studies in positive psychology assure me that, at least with regards to the baby’s gender, any disappointment is likely to be temporary.

It seems that there are two kinds of happiness in life. One kind is the happiness of getting what you want (researchers call this natural happiness), and a second kind is the happiness that we manufacture when we don’t get exactly what we want (also known as synthetic happiness).

In situations when you have no choice in the matter (such as, just to pick a hypothetical example, you find out your baby is a little boy when you were sort of hoping for a little girl), just give it a bit of time and your psychological immune system will generally kick in and synthesize happiness. And here’s the real kicker… research shows that synthetic happiness is every bit as real and enduring as natural happiness. Synthetic happiness can literally help change our preferences so that we want what we ended up with.

Mike, who often processes with the speed of a supercomputer, is probably already there. Forty eight hours later, however, I am still staring into the distance and repeating “it’s a boy, it’s a boy,” to myself multiple times a day – trying to hang onto this realization and extract some sense of what it might mean, and failing on both accounts. Knowing me, though, I’d probably be doing exactly the same thing if we’d found out Mango McWolfe were a girl.

Luckily, Mike and I are spending this week in Southern Thailand on the islands of Koh Tao and Koh Samui, so I can hang out in an infinity pool and stare out to sea through palm fronds and frangipani flowers while I talk to myself about little boys. And sitting here this afternoon in our room, looking out at the ocean past the end of our canopied bed and feeling little baby boy Mango tumbling inside me, synthesizing happiness doesn’t seem all that challenging.

P.S. If you’d like to learn more about synthetic happiness, start by watching this TED talk by Daniel Gilbert.

P.P.S. Thank you for all the comments and stories left on my last blog: life lessons in pregnancy and breastfeeding from cows. They’ve made me laugh, and think. Keep sharing your stories!

Today’s border run

Get up at 6:40. Go with Mike to his office. Go to airport. Plane delayed one hour.

Receive phone call from colleague informing us that CNN says there’s a tropical storm coming into Northern Laos from Vietnam today.

Fly to Vientiane. Go straight to get visa photos taken. Stare at many pictures of beautiful women while photos are processing. Discuss what constitutes “provocative” with Mike.

No time for lunch.

Get in car. Drive to national office. Get out of car. Pick up necessary visa forms from national office and discuss case of little orphan girl with relevant staff for five minutes. Get in car. Drive to the border. Get out of car. Get in line to leave Laos. Get in car. Drive across the bridge into Thailand. Get out of car. Mistakenly get into line to leave Thailand before we have officially entered. Get in correct line to enter Thailand. Fill out forms. Get hungry. Get in line to leave Thailand again. Get in car. Drive back to Laos border. Get out of car. Get in line to enter Laos again. Fill in forms. Get hungrier. Get business visa. Get in car. Head straight to airport in the rain. Drive across double yellow lines and raised median strip because running late. Get to airport 49 minutes before flight scheduled to leave. Get out of car.

Flight delayed by one hour. Sit on small plastic seat in departure lounge and eat ice cream cone and seaweed flavored crackers. Do not feel that this hits the spot, exactly. Hope we get back to Luang Prabang before the storm does.

Think I should probably write blog post. Come up with this. Sigh. Figure it will just have to do.