Friday, August 31, 2012

My Epic COS Adventure (Part 1)

Here are some highlights: giardia, dengue, medevac, Thai sweets fest, Thai dairy fest, 5 star hotel-hospital, hit and run.

End of July- Going away parties

I threw a going away party for my students. We all gathered at my house and I made a Chinese dish (tomato and eggs) and an ‘american’ dish (pasta). They all brought me presents and food and we had a huge feast with lots of picture taking of course. Some highlights, one girl had her aunt make me an elephant out of leather. It looks sort of like a paper puppet, but definitely one of my favorite gifts. Everyone loved the tomato and eggs, I guess its just a combo no one has ever tried before here. They all also tried to use my party as an excuse not to go to class (though it is summer vacay), but I made them all go anyway.

The second party was thrown for me by my health center. My director and Khmer tutor were in cahoots and invited all the village health volunteers. It was good to see everyone one last time and take  pictures. I got a present from the HC which was an Angkor Wat snow globe, a shirt made from a pashmina scarf, a handbag, and an apsara dancer statue. Of course they made me change on the spot into the shirt so we could all take pictures, I also had to hold my new handbag(see picture below). The most important part were the certificates. I got two certificates. One from the health center and one from my khmer tutor. For those of you that are unfamiliar, a certificate of completion or congratulations, or whatever is extremely revered in Cambodia. Nothing is complete without a certificate. So, it was really touching that they thought I needed them before I left.

july 31-Aug 2

I left for Phnom Penh on July 31 2012. My host family all got up super early to send me to the bus station in Siem Reap. I hugged one of my aunts goodbye and she almost cried which is a big deal because Cambodian adults almost never cry. I’ve even had a person ask me once if I was embarrassed that I cried in public (one time and they’ll never forget it). All the kids, my host parents, my other aunt, and I all got into the car and we left at like 6am. I was supposed to meet Kurt and I knew he wouldn’t make it until 10am.

Luckily we stopped in Pouk which is the big district town halfway to Siem Reap. Everyone got out and had breakfast at a restaurant! That is a big deal because we never eat at restaurants. And they kept wanting to get me coffee so I relented even though I knew it was probably not a good idea before a 7 hour bus ride. We get to Siem Reap around 8am and it’s a little awkward because I know they don’t want to wait until 10 and they don’t want to leave me. But I insist that they go back. Watching little Hoy, the 3 year old, waving goodbye to me from the car as they drove away almost made me burst into tears at the bus station. That’s probably the last time I’ll ever see them again.

Leaving site is a mixed bag. On the one hand, my village drove me crazy sometimes. Eating Cambodian food all the time and craving American/Chinese food all the time. The lizard that keeps pooping in my bed. The constant mosquito bites. Nothing ever happening on time. Always having to be careful about what I wear, what I say, what emotions I show. It wears on you. But, at the same time I have met some amazing people, worked with some really inspiring students, and my host mom is second to none in terms of hard working strong women.  She pretty much raised her children on her own cause my host dad was in the army and she never stops.  Cambodia can also be very beautiful. There have been so many days where I just sit and stare at the sky, amazed at how far I can see and how beautiful the clouds are. I’m really going to miss the tropic weather and the landscape.

Ok. So Kurt and I finally meet up and it’s a bit of a struggle to get two mountain bikes, a trunk, plus everyone’s bags in the bottom of the bus, but we make it work (as we always do). When we get to PP it’s late evening already, but we wanted to get there because Saeed is making us dinner! Saeed is one of my closest friends in Cambodia. We were neighbors all through training and I’m sure I drove him crazy. He is extending for a third year and I’m so proud of all the great work he’s done. As part of his third year, he moved to PP and got his own place, which is huge for  PCV in Cambodia. Many of us have no choice in what we eat, when we eat, or where we eat. We have no choice in our room. If I need to go to the bathroom at night I have to leave my room, walk through another room full of people, open up a bolted door which wakes everyone up, walk out to the back, and hopefully there’s electricity for the bathroom light. Saeed can now just walk to the bathroom.

It’s us, Andrea, Justin, Alan, and Garrett. A great group of PCVs to eat delicious chicken curry and rice together.

The next few days are a blur of getting paperwork signed and checked off. By Aug 2nd I have, on paper, COSed and become an RPCV. The only thing I’m waiting for now is Midnight on Aug 3rd, the official date.  So of course, we go out dancing. I can’t drink any alcohol because I was diagnosed with Giardia and I had to take the meds that night, but dancing with everyone was a lot of fun. Kurt and I get back around 2am and fall asleep right away. We have a 7am bus to catch the next day.

Aug 3rd- Dengue

I wake up at 6am and start packing. I feel really tired and nauseous, but I figured that was a combo of going dancing and giardia meds. Last time I took giardia meds I felt extremely nauseous and the next two days I had really bad stomach pains. So, I thought nothing was out of the ordinary. The bus ride up was hell. We had the back seats in a speeding van so I felt every bump and turn.  An hour or two into the ride I was curled up in the fetal position trying to sleep. I thought a benadryl would help. It did help me sleep. By the time we got to the hotel, around 1pm I could barely stand. I took my temp and it was pretty high. Unfortunately, the reason we rushed back to Siem Reap was to meet Kurt’s parents who were coming to visit. I was really looking forward to it and going back to Angkor Wat one last time. I did manage to meet Kurt’s parents under my fever induced haze and what little time I spent with them was great. But, the next day I got my blood tested at the hospital and it came up positive for dengue. I almost convinced the doctor to let me stay in Siem Reap instead of sending me to PP which is the usual since the PC docs are in PP. But in case of emergencies I needed to be in PP so I could be medevac’ed, which is exactly what ended up happening.

So yea, on Aug 5th I had to take that excruciating van ride back to PP and this time there was no Kurt to take care of me so I had to rely on the internet and the kindness of fellow PCVs. Brian Peterson brought me some much needed food and some of the most delicious oranges I ever had. Vaughn is a great conversationalist even when you have dengue.
*Did I forget to mention that the van I was in hit a person while driving on the highway? Yea, apparently it was a mentally ill homeless person who stepped into the street. Of course, we didn’t stop and the guy is probably no longer alive due to the large amount of blood pooling out of his head. Surprisingly, the phnom penh police actually pulled the van over. Probably the first time I’ve seen the police do their jobs quickly and efficiently (or at all).  Unfortunately, usually little or no justice will be served to anyone. But, probably someone will make a lot of money off of this.

On the 7th, I was sent to Bangkok. If you can believe it that commute was way worse than the bus ride. First, I had to lug my stuff to the office, pay attention to instructions, and then I had to wait 2-3 hours until I could get a ride to the airport. Then at the airport I could barely manage to push my cart to the check in counter. And my flight was delayed. Except, none of the airline staff bothered to tell any of the passengers that it was delayed. There was zero communication. When I get to Bangkok, I go through all the check, get my luggage, walk to the taxi stand and from then on I don’t walk a step. I literally go from taxi to wheel chair to bed to another bed. By the time I’m in my hospital room it’s a bit past midnight. Keep in mind that the entire time I am super nauseous. I was so close to throwing up all over these two guys in suits while we were in the airport shuttle. Somehow I made it to the hospital room before I threw up.  This was all sort of expected. In a way a very characteristically Cambodian end to my time in Cambodia.

Aug 7th to Aug 16th- Bangkok

Let me tell you, if you are ever hospitalized you want to be hospitalized at Bumrangrad Hospital in Bangkok. It is a 5star hotel combined with an excellent hospital at a price many Americans can afford. The most expensive part will probably be the flight to and from Thailand. This hospital was pretty much built for medical tourism. They even extend your visa for you. Medical tourism is when foreigners go to another country for medical care. Often they do this because the quality and price combo beat anything they can get in their own country. And it was a wonderful experience besides the dengue.

The first three days in hospital were bad. I was super tired all the time and I had to lug around this IV which is a lot harder than it looks. Especially cause mine was automated and had all these wires, which is pretty hard to untangle in the dark in the middle of the night in a dengue/just woke up to pee haze. Also, IVs make you want to pee a lot.  I was also woken up by people showing up in my room like 20 times a day/night. Temp, bp, food, taking away food, customer service, food menu, restocking free tea/water, changing IV, consulting doc. It was a lot. I’m so lucky I had Kurt to help me. He came on the 8th and he was familiar with the hospital area since he had visited another PCV when he came for his GRE.  He got to stay on the couch in my hospital room for free the entire time.

So, what made me feel so bad was my extremely inflamed liver. Apparently, it was so inflamed that they thought I had Hepatitis. Which I didn’t. Dengue is a systemic disease so it mucks up pretty much everything. For a while my platelet count was also plummeting and I almost needed a transfusion, but I began recovering before that was necessary. I think I was probably discharged on the 11th or 12th and moved into the hotel across the street. They wanted to keep me around for blood tests because my liver was still pretty bad, no alcohol or certain medications for a couple months. Also, when I told the doctor I was going to India he sort of didn’t want me to go, but I eventually did go. I think I’ve become a bit more stubborn about things since being in PC.

Over the next couple of days Kurt and I just went around Bangkok. I wanted to get moving so I could begin recuperating for India. Too bad having Dengue left me as weak as a newborn lamb. On the first day we walked around to a park and having walked for 3 or 4 hours I almost fainted . Normally, walking for 3 or 4 hours is no problem. I think I recuperated by watching Brave and eating 7eleven. One of the perks of the hospital was nausea medication, but now that I was out I didn’t have it anymore and heat/tiredness also makes me nauseous. After the park we sort of took it easy. We went to a sweets festival and  dairy festival.  Both had many delicious free samples, but I think we probably had to take 5 different forms of transportation to get to them.  Over the course of 4 or 5 days, Kurt and I took taxis, tuk tuks, boat, public bus, railroad, MRT, BTS,  and walked. Bangkok is pretty awesome. Also, the food is so much better...

By the 16th, my liver function tests were pretty much normal and I was feeling good because, not only was it my birthday, but it was time to fly to INDIA!!! I have pretty much wanted to go to India for the past two years and not even dengue could stop me from going. Also, Kurt gave me an awesome camera to replace the one that broke earlier so expect some crazy pictures soon. At around 3pm, I landed in Delhi dengue free and ready for an adventure.