28 September 2017

It has been exactly 20 days since my grandpa passed away.

It was very sudden, and I don’t think it’s sunk in yet.

I got the phone call from my mom that he was in hospital on the morning of Friday 1st September. “Grandpa admitted himself again. I’m going to visit him on Sunday,” she said. I didn’t think it was anything serious. It’s not rare that grandpa checks himself into hospital. He has a weak heart and is going on 88 years old. Every time he bounces back and is home in a few days.

I didn’t plan on visiting him with my mom on Sunday. I had subtitles to translate and I thought it would be like every time. Thinking back, I feel a little guilty for that.

Then, around 3pm, I was sitting at home with my mom, about to start watching Music Bank, a Korean pop music show, when my mom’s phone rang. It was my uncle calling. He was on his way to the hospital. Grandpa had acute renal failure and was in critical condition. I knew things were seriously wrong when my mom, still on the line, folded the newspaper she was reading, getting ready to leave.

The whole family, my mom, dad, and I rushed to the hospital. The sight that greeted me in the communal patients’ room was shocking to say the least. My grandpa was in bed and was clearly in the most critical condition out of everyone in the room taking into account the swarm of Medical students around his bed. For probably the second or third time in my life, I couldn’t breathe. It’s as if someone sucked all the air out of the room. I felt faint. I had to go to the bathroom and eventually had to leave the room. I couldn’t be in there. It couldn’t be grandpa on that bed.

That day, his heart stopped beating for 15 minutes. The doctors brought him back and by that evening he was tucked into his bed in the ICU for cardiac patients. He was in a much better condition. More peaceful. And he recognised all of us. I went home still feeling apprehensive, but there was a glimmer of hope.

The next day was Saturday. I went to visit him in the evening. He saw me and smiled. He seemed like grandpa again, but he was very weak. His hands were in gloves to prevent him pulling out his life support tube, so I couldn’t hold his hand. He was on the special dialysis machine. His right leg was connected to the machine that was purifying his blood via a long tube. Tubes, there were tubes everywhere.

On Sunday, I went early in the day. There were 2 periods where we could visit ICU patients: the morning session between 11am and 1pm, and the evening session between 5pm and 8pm. He was much more ‘alive’. He was fidgeting a lot, and kept mouthing that he was thirsty. The nurse gave him a few drops and suggested that I put lip balm on him. So I went to the 7/11 downstairs and bought Vaseline, which I put on his lips. At one point he managed to pull the glove out from his left hand, so I got to hold his hand. Admittedly, it was to prevent him from pulling out the life support, but still. I held his hand tight and he held mine. The strength in his arm was surprising. He was pulling my arm close to his face and inspecting it. The bad news was he was also inspecting his glove-free hand, which by this time was pretty swollen and purple. I could see disbelief in his eyes. I guess that should have told me something, but I chose not to see. I left the hospital on Sunday feeling very optimistic. We started talking about when he’d be able to go home.

On Monday, I woke up early. My dad was waiting to speak with me. “Grandpa may have passed,” he said. I didn’t know how to respond. He had successfully taken out his life support tube during the night and his heart stopped beating for half an hour. They managed to pull him back, but there was no guarantee in what state he would be now. Save for a miracle, it seemed he could pass any minute.

I initially didn’t plan on going to the hospital that day because I didn’t think grandpa would recognise anybody anymore. But then my uncle called and said that he thought grandpa could recognise him. So I got dressed and got ready to leave for the hospital with my mom. When we got to the hospital, my uncle was sitting in front of the escalator, waiting for us, all smiles. “He’s exactly like yesterday! It’s a miracle!” Grandpa was fully conscious and as alive as ever, but he was full of complaints. He was thirsty. His legs hurt.

Then he stared at me and mouthed “close”. It took me a while to understand what he wanted to say. He looked up at all the tubes and machines surrounding him, and mouthed the word again. He wanted me to switch everything off. He wanted to rest in peace, not suffer anymore. I pretended not to understand and made silly jokes. He looked at me with imploring eyes and nodded. It was okay to let him go. I smiled. The decision was out of my hands. “Wait for Uncle. He’s flying from the States. He’ll get here tomorrow,” was all I could say.

Tuesday was the last day I saw grandpa alive. He was much weaker that day, but I had a mission. I wanted to say goodbye. And said goodbye I did. I told him not to worry about me, that I was really okay. He tried to say something to me. I put my ear next to his lips. I could hear and feel his breath coming out, but couldn’t make out the words. His last word to me will forever remain a mystery. My mother and I stood by his bedside. I held his hand, which by now had no strength left. It was so swollen and purple, so weak. I held it softly. I couldn’t stop my tears from falling. Grandpa smiled when he saw that, but at one point it seemed as if he was starting to cry too. I asked my mom if she wanted to go home. And we left.

On Wednesday I went to the hospital, but I wasn’t feeling well that day so I went home without seeing grandpa. It was okay, I told myself. I had already said my goodbyes. No regrets.

On Thursday my mom went alone to the hospital. Later she told me how he was in pain, how he was fidgeting so much, trying to free himself from the tubes and restraints. Thursday was the day the relatives were given the bad news and a lot of them went to say their goodbyes. My uncle had arrived from the States on Wednesday and my grandpa’s three children had agreed to stop the dialysis and let him go in peace.

On Friday, according to my mom, grandpa slept peacefully. He was unconscious, but he didn’t seem to be in pain. His face looked ‘better’. My mom said that gave her a a little hope that he would get better. It was on that night, around 9:30pm, that he passed. I found out the news in the morning from my dad. I didn’t feel anything. I guess I was prepared from the moment I first saw him the Friday before.

On Saturday, I went to work as usual. I found out when I was about to get off work that the funeral would begin that evening. Family and friends would gather to send my grandpa off, pouring blessed water onto his corpse. After work I rushed home, got changed, got myself into a cab and headed straight to the temple. I made it. I looked at him, sleeping peacefully, lifeless. I poured the orange water (why is it orange anyways?) on his hand, lightly squeezed it for the last time and told him to sleep well.

I went to the prayers session on Sunday – exactly one week after I had to fight to keep grandpa’s hand away from the life support tube. The praying was quick. Then I went to have dinner with my uncles and aunts from Uttaradit – my father’s older brothers and their wives had come down for the day to attend the funeral.

That whole week, my mom went to the temple every day. I wanted to go with her, but I had a lot of subtitles work on my hands. It was the next Saturday that I went to the temple again, for the cremation ceremony. I stood shoulder-to-shoulder with my younger cousin, handing out the commemorative books which had photographs of the family – one of which was of me and grandpa that I’d taken a few years back when I visited him alone at his house and posted on Instagram. A moment of happiness captured for posterity. I put the paper flower in the cremation chamber and told grandpa that I’d see him again. After all the family had said our goodbyes, the officials closed the door and lighted the fire. And like that, grandpa’s body was cremated.

On Sunday, we went to the temple early to collect his remains. The tiny pieces of bones were neatly arranged in the form of a miniature human body. We picked out some pieces to keep in the family ancestral chamber at Chanasongkram temple, and the rest we took out to the mouth of the Gulf of Thailand and dropped to the bottom of the sea. We finally laid our grandpa to rest.

Grandpa had battled for years with coronary diseases and diabetes, but in the end we lost him to a simple viral infection from – our guess is – a shrimp and zucchini stir-fried dish that he ate for dinner at home the Tuesday evening before he admitted himself to hospital.

Life really is unpredictable.

This post was written so I don’t forget every minute of what happened, but I hope it also serves as a reminder for you all that those we love will not stay with us forever. Let’s make our time with them count so when the time comes to part we have no regrets.

Love,

Val

 

 

 

 

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15 May 2017

I went to visit my grandfather at the hospital yesterday.

He had checked himself in the day before due to chest pains. He was having difficulty breathing. And given how many times he had had heart surgery he wasn’t going to take any chances.

My mother called him yesterday morning and established what floor he was on, then we set off for the hospital.

Arriving in the spacious room with about thirty beds, I saw him. He was sitting on the bed, hunched over a few pieces of paper. He had not seen us.

The image struck me. He looked so vulnerable and alone. And the thing is, he is vulnerable and alone. He has a live-in helper, but that’s nothing compared to family.

He looked up, saw us, and put his papers away. My dad brought stools, and my mom and I sat down next to the bed. We sat with him for two hours, talking about this and that. My dad sat some distance away on the visitor’s bench, playing a game on his phone.

I was the one who suggested leaving. It was getting late afternoon and I wanted to sort through our DVD collection when I got home.

My grandpa was sad that we were leaving. He didn’t say anything, but you could feel it. As we walked away I looked back, and wished I hadn’t.

He looked dejected. There was no better word to describe the image that I saw. He was sitting alone on the bed, and loneliness weighed down around him.

The whole episode reminded me of the fact that I still have my grandpa, that he is alone in his house, far away from us, and that he could leave us at a moment’s notice.

I’ll call him today to check up on him. I’ll also make time to go visit him on my days off. There’s a bus I can take that goes straight to his house.

I hope for the sake of me and him that the image stays with me. So I never forget that I have one very important person I need to spend time with.

I will try my best not to forget. I really will. This is my promise to myself.

Let’s not forget our elderly relatives. Let’s love them and be with them as freely as we do our friends and colleagues.

Until next time,

A thoughtful Val

8 April 2016

Guess where I am right now.

Answer: hospital.

That seems to be the only place where I get some writing done these days. Which is not a bad thing.

I didn’t come to the hospital last month because the time clashed with training for my new job. Yes… new job! *applause*

But here I am, over two months after my last visit. And apart from the new blood pressure measuring machines everything is pretty much the same – the stale air, the smell of unwashed clothes and sweat, the interminable wait.

Good news is my doctor is coming on time these days. So in approximately thirty minutes I should be seeing my doctor. Note to self: ask doctor if I can drink decaf coffee (oh may the answer be yes…)

So about this new job, I am now working as a Coach (Educational Service Coach to be precise) at Wall Street English. It’s an English language school and it just opened a branch near where I live. And that’s why I applied. Happily I got the job and I’ve been working at the centre for almost a month now – that’s half the time I spent at my old job already.

So far so good. A lot of things to learn. A lot of students to meet and get to know. It’s nice going around and having students saying hi to you. The centre is in the mall so we bump into them everywhere.

The centre being in a mall is one thing I like about the job: coming to work feels like going shopping. Not that I particularly like shopping but you get the idea. It’s full of happy people, and being around happy people is uplifting.

Another thing I like is the working hours. We start at noon (finish at 9pm) which gives me a whole morning to enjoy/slave away doing translation work for an extra bit (big bit) of cash.

So yes, new job. New opportunities. Life seems to be looking up at last. We’ll see how this one goes!

Love, as always,

Val

20 November 2015

I’ve got news. I think I’ve got myself my first English student. *fireworks*

It’s not easy trying to find students when you’re starting out in unfamiliar territory. I never had a problem when I used to give lessons to friends and acquaintances who are aware of my skills. But with strangers it’s a different matter. I can’t exactly present them with a miniature talking version of myself as a preview.

Nor would I want to, now that I think about it. It would be weird having mini copies of myself out there doing things completely outside my control.

Anyways, the first lesson is to happen this week. Here’s hoping that all goes well and the student is pleased with my unique(?) teaching method.

I’m at the mental hospital (gosh that sounds so wrong) right now waiting to see my doctor. It’s my monthly psychiatric appointment. (For those who don’t know, I was recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Details here.) It’s always a long wait. Most happily the hospital now provides free WiFi so here I am writing this post. I did bring a book (Catch-22), but it gets boring after a while and writing makes the time go by much faster.

I’ve written about Catch-22 before on this blog and on my other blog so I’m not going to go into it again. I’m just going to repeat here that I find it a most wonderful book and I’m happy to be re-reading it. *happy sigh*

Oops. Doctor arrived twenty minutes early and got called in to consult. It’s all done and now I’m waiting for my prescription. I think today’s hospital visit is going to be the shortest yet. The only thing left is paying for and getting my mood-altering drugs. Hmm.

Before I go, I just wanted to report that my learning German is still going strong. Happily I have mastered die Öffentlichkeit and moved onto tackling other tricky words (so many of them!). Duolingo informs me that I am now on a 50 day streak. This is very good. I am pleased. So pleased that I am considering learning a sixth language (after Thai, English, French, Spanish, and German). I won’t say just now what language it will be. I will be back to let you know once I’ve actually started.

Love,

Val

p.s. Re: the novel… *radio silence*

23 October 2015

We went shopping today! *fireworks*

Before I continue, let’s get this out of the way: no, I haven’t re-started my novel. Soon. Really. Pinky promise. (Confused readers go here.)

Now let’s get back to today’s topic: shopping.

I rarely go shopping. Only on national holidays with my parents (read: mom). Unlike most (?) girls, I never feel the urge to go shopping. I never look into my wardrobe and think, “Ah, I don’t have this in that colour; I need more of this; That’s getting old; so on and so forth”. I’m as far from a fashionista as can be and I usually make do with whatever I find in my closet (synonym for ‘wardrobe’. I don’t like repeating words; a habit from my IELTS days perhaps).

But I had fun today. In fact, I always have fun going shopping with my mom. It’s a fun activity to do together. (That’s three ‘fun’s in a row – for shame.) In fact, I generally enjoy hanging out with her: my mom can be really cute, in a very good way. I have gone shopping alone in the past, when I was living abroad. But I didn’t really enjoy it and I only went when I really had nothing in the closet. (Two ‘really’s – what’s up with me today!) I’d buy a million things at once and that would last me years. One of the items I wore today actually came from a shopping trip four or five years ago. It’s funny; I always wear the same clothes but they never wear out. Not that I’m complaining; that’s more money I can spend on books.

Today’s trip to the department store was unexpectedly productive. I hadn’t planned on buying anything; I had recently gained weight (hospital food was amazeballs) and in an effort to commit to losing it have pledged not to buy new clothes that accommodate my protruding belly. But I found this really cute longish white shirt that conveniently makes me look not fat. And then there were two other shirts which were okay but one can never have too many shirts. So yes, three shirts in total.

Then my mom reminded me that I needed a black eyeliner (which I do) and we went over to the MAC counter where we forked over THB 765 for this. For some reason, way back when I first encountered the concept of face paint, I started using MAC eyeliners. And I’ve stuck with the brand since. Not that it’s especially good (it always smudges). It’s just that I’ve formed a habit and I do not have neither the desire nor the patience to research on alternative eyeliners. I just can’t be bothered. (That’s behavioural economics for you.)

So yes, we bought the eyeliner. Then we went over to Daiso. In case you’re not familiar with the store, it’s a chain from Japan where you can buy most things for THB 60. (Though not in Japan obviously. They don’t accept the Thai baht over there, though who knows what will happen with the constant influx of Thai tourists; you cannot go anywhere without bumping into Thai people, and stores usually have signs written in Thai.) Tangent over, guess what was the first thing we saw when we went inside the store?

Yes, an eyeliner. A whole rack of them. THB 60 apiece. That’s THB 705 cheaper than the one I had bought not even a half hour before. I could trade the MAC eyeliner for a dozen of these Daiso ones. So I bought one. And if it turns out to be good (made in Korea; I have high hopes), today will be the last MAC sees of me. Gosh, I am getting mildly distressed thinking of all that money I’ve potentially wasted.

It’s crazy how much three letters cost: M-A-C. And it’s not even one of the more expensive cosmetics brands. Or maybe it is? I’m really not learnt in the economics of cosmetics goods. Maybe you could enlighten me as to the relative ranking of MAC compared to other cosmetics brands. I would appreciate it. *smiley face*

Anyways, let’s talk of better and brighter things: books! I bought books! So many books! I was extremely pleased to find that Sophie Kinsella’s latest Shopaholic book (THB 595) is out. This is the second Shopaholic book (after Shopaholic to the Stars) she’s released this year (money, money, money). And for an avid reader of the series such as myself, this is excellent news. So I bought that. Along with Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (it’s tiny!) and a bunch of other classics. I’m especially looking forward to reading F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night (THB 125). I read The Great Gatsby some years ago and it was a powerful read (yes, powerful; I cannot think of a better way to express the book’s impact on me).

Note how classics are so much cheaper than modern reads. Interestingly, books become cheaper, rather than more expensive, the older they get. Hail to the printing press! May no books ever go out of print. (I’ve had to track down out-of-print books before. It’s more expensive of course but if you don’t mind the condition of the book you could usually find willing sellers of second-hand copies easily enough.)

What else did we do? Ah yes. We ate. A lot. So much food. So much good food. Hmmm. No wonder the weight-losing has been so many months in the making. I do exercise a lot. Just not enough to outweigh the food intake. (Eat less. That’s one more thing to add to my to-do list after ‘write novel’.) It doesn’t help that I bought snacks to stock up at home. Oops. My excuse is that we rarely go out and that I deserve a treat from time to time. (I convince no one.)

This has turned out to be a lengthier post than expected. Well, it’s been an eventful day. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this. I’ve certainly enjoyed writing it.

Now it’s time for me to get on with my German. (Yes, I’m still doing that every day. A hooray for me!) Today’s word to master is der Magen (stomach). It looks easy but for some reason it’s resolutely refusing to enter my memory. Urgh. I hate sticky words. Then I also have to memorise which prepositions are followed by the Accusative case and which by the Dative case. I have a feeling this will be one of the more difficult tasks yet. Good. I like difficult. The more difficult, the more fun (it’s got to do with a sense of accomplishment you see).

I’ll stop blabbering now.

Tschüss!

Val

 

 

 

 

 

27 September 2015 (Part 1)

Dear reader,

It has been almost a year (well, ten months) since we last met. I am deeply sorry for my absence. I hope you have been leading pleasant lives, full of pleasant encounters and pleasanty things.

A lot, and nothing, has been happening on my end. Let me give you a summary:

  • First real job ended two months after it began. For a variety of reasons. You could say we were incompatible. I did not find meaning in the ups and downs of marketing, and the company did not find a suitable employee in me. I simply could not make myself passionate about the work I was doing, and this proved fatal to our match. In any case, I retain pleasant memories from my short tenure; and valuable lessons in sociology and psychology were learnt.
  • I went crazy. Literally. I don’t remember if I ever told you about my depressive episodes, which occurred recurrently in 2010, 2011, 2013, and 2014. (2012 was an entirely happy year, thanks to the wonderful offerings of Paris where I was spending my Erasmus exchange.) Anyways, I swung to the other end in late 2014, around the time I was leaving my job as Internet Marketing Analyst. By mid-January I was entirely out of it. I was deluded and I believe at one point hallucinating. My brain had gone haywire.
  • So, I was hospitalised. This was late January. To say ‘hospitalised’ is a bit misleading; I was forced to enter a mental hospital, where I was confined to the company of other crazy people for a month and a half. It was entirely traumatising, though the food was excellent. I gained weight and a disease: officially becoming a sufferer of bipolar disorder.
  • Reeling from the myriad effects of my medication (drugs that made my brain not go crazy), I was released from hospital in mid-March, from which time I have been home (hence the ‘nothing happening’ on my end). The drugs’ side effects wore off one by one. Apparently, for weeks after leaving the hospital I walked like C-3PO. Then the neck ache (never understood what that was about; my head was fine, it was the neck that hurt) disappeared. Gradually, the morning naps became shorter until, very recently, I was finally able to go the whole day without feeling sleep deprived. So yes, many months went by without nothing much happening. I watched Korean TV, Korean series (this one was my favourite), and Korean singers. I became something of an afficionado. (Like my mom, I must add. One of these days I shall surpass her knowledge of South Korea’s entertainment industry!) Apart from that I ate and walked. My father had kindly bought me a treadmill which I used daily to hill-walk in the (ever desperate yet futile) attempt to lose my hospital weight (the stress of being confined behind locked doors having been thoroughly relieved through overeating).

Recently, however, I have been writing. And that is why I am now here updating my precious baby. For many months I had planned on picking up a novel I had begun to write when I was seventeen. And finally, at the gentle yet firm urging of my doctor (whom I like very much) to find something more substantial than Korean entertainment to occupy my time, I opened the eight-year-old file and started writing. It’s a fantasy novel, a cross between Star Wars and Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings and A Song of Ice and Fire (ah yes, I forgot to tell you I have also been spending my time digging up old novels to read), with just a hint of Pop Economics and International Relations. It’s tentatively named The Gems of Azora and takes place on, you guessed it, the planet of Azora.

I’ve been writing everyday, but the book is advancing at a snail’s pace; I swear time disapparates (random reference) when I’m writing. I had left the book at 114 pages when I stopped writing eight years ago, and now I’m at 14. Wait… what? Yes. Sadly, I’m having to rewrite most, if not all, of what I’ve written. It turns out one’s command of English and general writing skills do improve over time. I shudder thinking back to my first reading of the sloppy, grammatically-inaccurate, and overly-complicated 114 pages I had produced as a teenager. Anyways, I’m rewriting it, and if I may I have to say the book is looking much better than it did before. I read and put the finishing touches on the first chapter yesterday, and I must say it is good fun. Fingers crossed, when the time comes, publishers will agree. I won’t tell you anymore just now, but I’ll surely be back to report on my progress.

That’s it for now. I hope you found this entry entertaining.

Much love,

Val

p.s. I’m thinking of taking up a part-time job as a waitress. There’s this trendy little restaurant near my house. I really like the atmosphere and the waiting staff is polite and efficient. I think I could have a good time working there while I finish my novel. Yes, maybe I should. We shall see…