notes on being hospitalized

August 27th, 2016

i was hospitalized earlier this month. because i had a fever that would come and go, but wouldn’t quite go away entirely. the doctors couldn’t find out what was wrong with me.

it is scary: there’s something wrong with you, but the doctors cannot figure out what it is. unable to name “it”, to be able to tell people what “it” is, or more importantly, to know what to do about “it”.

the diagnosis: a “fever of unknown origin”. and therefore i got tested and tested and tested, for all kinds of things. process of elimination. mostly blood tests (confession: i am afraid of needles), x-rays of my lungs, and other tests, some more intrusive than others.

doctors still haven’t found the cause of the fever. but my body responded to the mix of antibiotics they gave me. meaning the antibiotics managed to keep the fever under control. meaning it was probably some bacterial infection, rather than … cancer or something else. that’s a good thing.

a few thoughts and observations:

being hospitalized as a patient feels like being a plant, kind of. the doctor asks you questions and you answer. the nurse comes to take blood and you give it (sometimes at like 2am). you are given food and you eat it. when you try to ask a question, the doctor will of course answer it. but it is also clear that this is not something the doctor has a lot of time for. there are a lot of other patients waiting for her. and you meet a barrage of staff, nurses, doctors that come and go. over time, you will get to know them a little bit better, but in the beginning it’s mostly a blur.

being hospitalized with (seven) other patients in a room, can be really intense. my fellow patients were men, really old, in a lot of pain, often immobile, often unable to eat and thus fed through a nose tube, and often unable to go to the toilet and thus had diapers and other means of relieving themselves. because they were often in pain, they would compete for attention, sometimes wailing, sometimes howling, sometimes screaming, sometimes moaning, sometimes whimpering. sometimes you’d hear a sound coming from the other end of the ward and you’d go wide eyed and be like “… holy shit what was that?” sleeping at night wasn’t always easy.

my friends would ask, why don’t you put on your headphones? but certain things or activities felt inappropriate. i would use my phone, and sometimes read on my kindle, but most other activities felt strange and out of place. you’re in this place where everyone around you is suffering and in pain; are you really going to watch some youtube video or listen to your favorite songs? there is a kind of heaviness, soberness, intensity to being hospitalized, i guess.

being hospitalized also meant being close to death. you get to know your fellow patients around you, you talk to their family and friends who visit them, sometimes when they scream for help and no one comes helping them, you help them get help, and then one day, their bed is suddenly empty. you’re quiet for a few seconds; you hope they are someplace happy, pain free and at peace.

being hospitalized means being super appreciative of things you take for granted. slippers, because it meant i could get up, walk around. big deal. but i had to tell myself, be glad you can do this. because being a patient also meant that at some point you lose interest and appetite in a lot of things. you become passive, in taking care of yourself, in getting up to do anything. but then i would look around, and i reminded myself that i should be grateful, that i could get up and take a piss, that i could eat the food myself.

small things that saved my life: phone charger, slippers, wet napkins. and that second, third, and fourth blanket when my fever was acting up and i had chills again.

small things that sparked joy during my time at the hospital: a cup of milk tea brought by a friend. sudden unexpected visit of a friend. soup, brought by relatives. simple, nice chitchat with some of the staff. friends, who really listened to me. and friends, picking up the phone and calling me in those moments when i was feeling really low.

the good news? i have been without fever for a while now. i need to take it easy, but otherwise im slowly getting back on my feet. and i will be going back next week to see the doctor for a checkup.

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being a space cadet

May 6th, 2014

having dinner at classified, finished my pasta and soup, the waitress suddenly taps me on my shoulder and asks: “are you ok?”

I look at her, slightly surprised and nod faintly yes.

she smiles: “you seemed a million miles away.”

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snow falling in april

April 25th, 2010

I remember how surprised I was the first time I saw you. We were in the living room of my parent’s home. We heard the sounds of someone coming down. We turned around and it was you, with a smile so bright, so full of life.

It wasn’t until later that I found out that the smile was hiding a deeper sorrow, a heartache caused by a breakup. But by then, I already had fallen hard for you, and you, unknowingly or not, shattered my heart in return.

I am in my room, sitting on my bed, with a book in my hand, probably a Murakami. A few days before Christmas, it is cold, but the house is alive, with all its family members back, filled with excitement of hosting new guests.

I hear steps coming up to my room. It is you. You ask if you can come in. You ask if you can borrow a book from me. Surprised, but pleasantly so, we start talking. We sit down on the thick carpet of my floor, lean against my bed, and before I know it, we are talking about all the important things in life that people talk about when they first get to know each other – with an understated tension, but a spark of unanticipated excitement.

At some point, you fall asleep in my lap. I am frozen. “Does she like me?” “What does this mean?” “What do I do?” “What am I supposed to do?”. I decide to gently lift and hold you in my arms, carry you to my bed and cover you with a blanket. I look at your face for a long time, serene but so fragile. In amazement of this small miracle. Afraid you will wake up, because I don’t want this moment to end. My finger tracing your neck, thinking I discovered the secret of life. I sit on my bed, next to your side, and guard you, until I forget time.

Hours later, you are up and we are sitting on my bed – a comfortable silence and conversation, deep in the night. And then, there is the blackout. “This can’t be for real”. Sensible as you are, you suggest to look for candles. I go down and come back, you light them. A faint and soft glow envelops the room. We continue our talk, and at some point I mention to you that I don’t know how to tie a tie. You tell me how you used to help your grandpa on Sunday. You look up and ask me if I have a tie, and I hand you one. You get up and sit close behind me. You slowly wrap your arms around me, softly whisper in my ear, gently show and teach me, how to tie a tie.

Days later, and you left. Snow fell the day after, as if to erase the footprints in my memories. Faintly, I still hear you knocking on my door, asking if you can come in.

As if snow was falling in April.

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I love you in a place where there is no space or time

April 13th, 2010

It’s 6pm. I’m sitting in my chair, with a book. I look out the window, and listen to the cars drive by, drifting away in distance.

I imagine we’re walking on the streets, your hand in mine. The sun is setting, radiating a slow golden glow that covers the city, the trees and the streets. Life slows down, and we are no longer in a rush. The occasional talk. Silently smiling at me with your eyes. So natural, yet so extraordinary at the same time. Your hands feel soft. And the world is made just for you and me. Melodies in my head, playing the soundtrack of our life. As time goes by.

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the comfort of company, of unspoken words

April 12th, 2010

Standing in front of the door, I remember the feeling of coming back home.

I walk in the building, greet the concierge, go into the elevator, anxiously wait for it to go up to the thirteenth floor. The cranky elevator takes it sweet time, every time, no exception. But then I am there, in front of the door. And I know you are behind that door. Waiting for me to come home. I no longer have to come home to an empty space, unlit and dark, curtains drawn, cold, with only the walls speaking to me.

You are lying on the couch, book in hand, covered with a blanket, soft music playing. You hear the sound of the key turning, the door opening, and you look up from your book to greet me, a smile understated from the outside but so warm from the inside. I walk over to you and I give you a hug. Your hair smells nice, you must have just showered. I rest my head on your shoulders for a bit. You stroke my hair, and ask me if it was a long day. I nod, close my eyes and feel the tension flow out of my body, finally home.

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to the girl in washington square park

August 16th, 2009

In the park. Music in the distance. Reading.

When a girl came to sit next to me. Quietly.
With headphones.
Her look drifting off. Smoked a cigarette.

I lean back, and gaze at the sky.

After a while she puts out her cigarette
picks up a pocket book from her bag. Japanese.

I’m breathing real slow. Life is good.

(to the girl with headphones who came to sit next to me, in washington square park, on a sunny saturday afternoon – July 25, 2009 ~4pm)

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the train back

August 16th, 2009

green trees solitary, passing by
quiet, desolate towns
stories, unspoken and untouched
clouds, still, stern and magnificent. looking over us.
blue, endless blue sky
the end of summer
the end of all summers

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leaving it all on the second floor

June 22nd, 2009

Sitting on the curb, the cars in front of us driving past. The street light illuminating the little stall where we got our food from: a bowl of beef noodles for me, chicken rice for my friend. We’re waiting for our other friends to join us – there is a party to go to tonight, after all.

We silently eat our food, gazing at the cars passing in front of us. Their lights, yellow and red, illuminating the dark night. It’s chill, but not too cold. A slight breeze keeps us comfortable.

“This rice is good”. I inhale the heat of the soup, take a bite of my noodles, turn my head and smile in agreement.

His friends arrive shortly after – grabbing a quick bite – doing some pre-party drinking from the local 7-11, and off we go, to the second floor in Taipei. The “second floor” is really on the second floor, it turns out. In line, I show my ID to the guard. He looks at the face in my passport, then lifts his eyes, gazes at me for a second or three, looks at my passport again. “It’s okay if you wanna use, but please don’t sell any, okay?” I give him a slightly blank look, smile and go in.

The night is still young – as the evening progresses, people come and go, and the floor fills up. The music becomes more intense, taking over our sensual sensory experiences. We start dancing, and dancing. To the beat that doesn’t stop. Friends come and go, it’s getting late and they start leaving. But it’s me and my friend. And we go on and on. We laugh, we concentrate, we leave our consciousness on the floor. We dance til deep in the night.

It’s getting light when we get out. “The birds are singing, fool!” he shouts at me, laughing, and chucking his half full bottle of water at me, trying to splash me. I laugh and push him back. As we cross the streets, we see people in suit, carrying briefcases, on their way to the train station, ready to go to work.

hearing you speak like that brings back memories of a time when the music really meant something. a time of relating, where people seem to shed the defenses built up while living in this sometimes cruel world…a place where people were friends no matter our backgrounds – where we lived, what we did in life, what ethnicity we were – everything was dropped because the only thing that mattered was that we stepped in time with the beat, and that is how we shared our universe. can’t explain the thoughts and the things we did. it just meant something then and it no longer means the same thing now…

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why nobody understands how i miss you

January 25th, 2009

Why is it that we attach such great importance to the need to be understood? It is in shared understanding that we find solace, comfort and a feeling best described as ‘home’. Home is not the place where you were born, or were you grew up, or even where you spent most of the time of your life. Home is not even a space. Home is where you are understood. Where unspoken words resonate, where people are able to read your tiniest gesture and know what to do with it. Where people know that something is wrong with you, depending simply on how you say and convey “hello”, “hi”, or “hey” to them.

Home is what you lose when you travel so much that people no longer notice your silences, let alone are capable of reading them. Home is what you long for when something terrible happened to you, when you need company, not just any company, but your true friends, those you (thought you) share an unspoken bond with. When you are too confused to make sense of what happened, and too tired to explain over and over again to the people the whole story. Where not only you wish you didn’t have to spend so much energy in explaining the obvious and the trivial, but where you wish someone could help you take off the load, assist you in thinking it through. When mere words are inadequate. Where you wish you had, in Joan Didion’s words, “a cutting room, equipped with an Avid, a digital editing system on which I could touch a key and collapse the sequence of time, show you simultaneously all the frames of memory that come to me now, let you pick the takes, the marginally different expressions, the variant readings of the same lines.”

Tired, of explaining, of coping, of pretending I am okay. Grasping for air. . and sorrowless understanding. Drowning in a vast bottomless sea, miles and miles going nowhere.

You wonder what is worse: To be overcome in moments of time with extreme surges of grief – where you walk down the road, lost in thought and memory, and tears just well up in your eyes, uncontrollably. Or the thought that eventually, this too, shall pass away. I never understood how the passing of time, the healing of wounds, can be considered a consolation. What if I don’t want it to pass away? What good is it to stop feeling, to lose hope, to give up, to give in to resignation? To be slowly dying away, losing the capacity to feel, even if it is pain.

Being alone is part of coping with grief. Grief, as Freud once suggested, being a state of mind that should be classified as a mental disorder, one related to manic depression. Grief, however, also that can be overcome with time, and something we eventually all have to deal with, somewhere, sometime. Being alone as a ritual, allowing the irrational possibility that your lost one will, can, might, has to eventually return. If only you continue the routines, as if she was still here. . If only, you freeze yourself in time, in stasis. . There is still, there remains the possibility, the hope that she might return.

But of course, she is long gone. I just pretend she isn’t.

La Ritournelle (the only love song)

Oh nothing’s going to change my love for you
I wanna spend my life with you
So we make love on the grass under the moon
No one call tell, damned if I do
Forever journey on golden avenues
I drift in your eyes since I love you
I got that beat in my veins for only rule
Love is to share, mine is for you

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the chair on the top of the hill at the end of the world

December 29th, 2008

It sounds like something straight from a Murakami novel: the chair on the top of the hill at the end of the world. And yet, it really exists. b and I rented a car, in search of some .. solitude, together. We printed out a Google map with directions, brought some books and snacks, and took off on a whimsical note, looking for some combination of adventure and quiet, as well as time alone together.

Who knew that there is this little beach 40 minutes away from where we live? On a strange day where it was over 60 degrees in New England, with a strong wind blowing, the weather was nice, with wind blowing in our hair, with dogs frolicking around, and the setting quiet but not all desolate. Walking on the avenue, we gazed at the boundless sea, fueling our imagination, wondering what was beyond the horizon.

But we digressed – we were in search of world’s end. Turns out we missed one turn, and instead went too far, ending up at the beach instead. Sometimes trivial choices of left-or-right lead you off the original destination, but nevertheless, what this teaches us, I guess, is that life is less about destinations than it is about the journey itself. After a nice walk at the beach, we turned around. We got to world’s end.

Arriving there, we were told by an old lady with a nice yet firm voice that we were really late, that the park was about to close. Whether we still wanted to go in. “Yes, please”. She charged us five instead of the usual ten dollars entrance fee. Wow, a discount at world’s end! And so we went in.

Left or right? What to do? Faced with the choice, we instead decided to opt for neither. We went straight up the hill. Racing b for the top, she suddenly pointed out – there it was – the chair on the top of the hill at the end of the world.

It was about to get dark, the sun was setting. We had to turn back fast and get out before the lady closed the park. But before we went back, we enjoyed a brief moment of bliss, sitting on the chair, together enjoying the marvelous view that I will leave up to your imagination. We capped the night in satisfactory fashion with some good Italian food at North End. Glorious day.

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book and sword : gratitude and revenge

is the first novel written by Jin Yong. The protagonist is Chan Ka Lok, who is the leader of the Red Flower Society. The book title refers to Ka Lok being famous for being well-versed in culture and martial arts, but also for having to make a difficult ethical decision. My father named me and my brother after him.

The subtitle is from a poem Desiderata