Saturday, August 31, 2013

Making Friends

I have been feeling a bit odd lately, like something has been missing and I haven't really been able to put my finger on it. Not until the past few days, at least. Now that I know, I am not really sure how to go about changing it.

When I first moved back to California, I stayed with Ken and Charise and their children. It was wonderful spending time with people that I have known so long and mean so much to me. I was only going to be in the US for two months before heading to Brazil. I spent time with them, my sister and her family and a few other friends in Colorado and San Francisco. As everyone knows, I ended up not going to Brazil and well, I now find myself in a situation that is really starting to wear me down.

I don't really have any friends here at all. I have David. I have my roommates, but aside from them, there is nobody to phone for a drink, a cup of coffee or just to chat. I didn't really realize this until David left for Burning Man, where is has been out of touch since Monday and will continue to be for a couple more days. I was with my sister for a few days, so didn't notice it, but when I came home, I realized I was alone. And, of course, having limited mobility means I can't just grab my camera and go. I hate the fact my social life is tied mainly to one person, something I really don't think is healthy for either of us. On top of that, it is making me feel isolated and alone and I really don't want it to bring me down.

I did actually get a job at the beginning of August. I went through training and broke my ankle on my first day of work. I was hoping to meet people that way but then I ended up not working. I still have a job, but the reality is I am out until at least the end of September. And we are still in August. And even then, most people live quite spread out and you only see them every once in a while when scheduled to work together.

I went online to see if there were sites to meet local people. There are, but even the ones that say they are for friendship only, end up being about sex and dating. I thought about Craigslist, but looking into the platonic section of the site, I saw that for most people, platonic means dating and “fun”, neither of which I am looking for.

Living abroad, it is super easy to make friends. Either, there are local people that love to interact with and befriend foreigners, and then there are the other foreigners that you run into everywhere and end up hanging out with. To make casual friends when abroad often takes no more effort that walking out the front door. Within a week of arriving in India, I was invited to weddings, over to people's homes for dinner and had a full social life, just like that. In Turkey, I made friends the first day there with other teachers. In Tanzania, Ulco had a little party when I went for a visit and again, I knew people. Here in the US, it is not that simple. People are in the place they are comfortable, they are not actively looking to bond with others. I don't want to hang out at bars, and hanging out at Starbucks means sitting with a bunch of people with headphones in, engaged completely with their laptops and iPads.

So now, I am trying to figure out what to do. I have looked for clubs in things I am interested in, and there is a photography club that meets once a month quite close to me, including this coming Wednesday, so I will give it a try and see how it goes.

That still leaves the next four days full of nothing and nobody. If anyone has any ideas, I am happy to hear them.  

Friday, August 30, 2013

Casting Call

Three weeks ago today, I broke my ankle. I thought the most annoying parts of the whole thing were the emergency room, the insurance hoops to jump through and adjusting to life in a cast and on crutches. But I was wrong. The most annoying part of breaking my ankle and being in a cast, is that it seems the cast compels anyone and everyone around me to tell me their broken bone story. Or that of their cousin. Former roommate. Grandparent. Next door neighbor. Serial killer who lived down the street that nobody suspected. I hear them all day long.

I hear about how old they were, how they broke it, how many places and how bad. I hear about the orthopedic specialist getting it back in place or inserting pins, bolts, screws and other hardware and how they can still feel it when the weather is bad or they step, turn or sneeze just so. I have learned more about the skeletal structure from random strangers in the last three weeks than the rest of my entire life.

I have learned about the problems with plaster casts and how I should be so happy to have a fiberglass one. And everyone has tips on how to handle the itching, something I have not yet had to deal with and hopefully it will stay that way.

I have tried headphones and dark sunglasses, but people just won't let my cast pass them by without sharing. And I already can't stand when total strangers need to share parts of their life with me. I don't care and I don't want to feel obligated to nod, agree, smile and reply. I think someone intruding into my space when I am obviously occupied with something and forcing me to engage is rude. I just want to listen to my music or read my book or have a root canal.

Maybe some people find comfort in the fact that other total strangers they would never speak with in any other circumstance now have a reason to come talk to them and share a moment of their personal history. I am not one of those people. If you have never met me, please, just let me do whatever it was I was doing before my cast inspired you to share. Feel free to include me in your personal story when sharing with another random stranger or friend later, but otherwise, I don't want to know because I honestly do not care.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

On Doing Acid

Today, I did acid. I didn't mean to, it kind of just happened in the way that surfing the internet often leads to using dangerous chemicals. It wasn't planned. When I woke up this morning, I was just looking for a solution, something to help get through the day. And let me tell you, the acid worked. But not without a scary side effect and a few moments of panic.

Let me explain...

I currently live with three other people; David, J and BP. A couple of weeks ago, we received some uninvited guests in the form of drain moths. Drain moths are those little black flies that at first glance seem like fruit flies as they invade the kitchen where fruit is often kept, but then they also invade the bathroom where we don't tend to store fruit. At first, it is no big deal, a single solitary fly. And then there are hundreds. On the cabinets, the counter, the dishes and toothbrushes. We have tried to get rid of them, but to no avail and this morning just before leaving for the day, David says he is going to look online to see how to get rid of them. Being laid up and with not many options for action right now, I volunteered for the task and started my research. I learned things I never knew I was lacking and before I knew it, I had identified the culprit not as the fruit fly, but as the drain moth. Drain moths are commonly called that as they tend to breed in the drains of kitchens and sinks, feeing on the decaying flesh and slime that lines the inside of most, if not every household drain. They are annoying to get rid of, because you have to kill the eggs, and to do so is no so easy.

One solution was to use a non-toxic drain cleaner and insecticide to both get rid of the attracting scum and slime and also kill the unhatched eggs. Just as I found the solution, J yells at me to come talk to her so she can complain about the flies and I, of course, happily offer up a solution and my bank card for her to go to the corner hardware store to pick up supplies. She does just that, but instead of bringing back a biologically friendly and safe solution, she brings back something that contains sulfuric acid. The plastic bottle is wrapped in another protective bag and there are skulls and crossbones all over the label. I don't have the best feeling about. That is some serious stuff, and people on CSI have been known to use it to get rid of a body. When I mention that I said biologically or eco-friendly, she told me it was all they had and that the guy told her it would work.

Being on crutches with a questionable balance at best, I decided to leave it up to J to carefully pour the liquid in the the drains, wait fifteen minutes and then rinse thoroughly. I remind her to open all the windows and make sure the dog is secured. I also give her some sunglasses just to make sure she doesn't accidentally blind herself. I am in my room, and I can hear her shouting out random updates. “Wow, this stuff is amazing!” “Oh my God, this is really working!” “This stuff smells like rotten eggs!” That last thing she said as the unmistakable smell of sulfur wafts into my room. Then I hear her scream “Robb! Robb! Get in here now!” I have visions J melting like the witch from Wizard of Oz. What would I tell the police? Would they believe me? Would I need to give DNA? And I had no alibi except that I was in my room. Alone. That never goes over very well.

I decide to hop my way across the hall and in the bathroom, is a formerly white bathtub that has turned the color of poopy brown. My first thought was that J had poured acid all over everything, but it turns out, it was a reaction to the fumes. It looked so bad, I made the immediate decision that all future showers would be done outside, under the hose. We rinsed and rinsed, filling the bathtub and letting drain. The color lifted slightly, but not to where it made any difference. J went back to the hardware store and they gave her those magic eraser sponges. I can tell you with certainty, they don't work. At least not on bathtub stains caused by a chemical reaction to the sulphuric acid fumes. All I could think was that I did not want to buy a new bathtub, and I started thinking up all kinds of plausible excuses to give the landlords. 

We knew right away that we would need some sort of detergent, but the acid liquid is not to be mixed with any other chemical, so we filled and drained the tub. Making sure all the acid was rinsed away and then tried a tiny bit of the toilet bleach gel, the kind that sticks to the sides. We tried a tiny little spot and it worked perfectly. We filled the bathtub with water and put a little bleach in it to let it soak. That combined with a little of the gel bleach to get the higher areas and the tub looks better that it ever has.
As of now, the flies in the bathroom are gone and hopefully, they will stay that way.

Whoever said dropping a little acid couldn't be a good thing?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

My Near Death Experience

If you're planning on having a near death experience such as breaking your ankle or any other bone, I would suggest doing it in a country other than America, because the processes and red tape and all that makes up the healthcare system here drove me close to insane. It went something like this...

Friday, August 9, I was standing outside Trader Joe's in Long Beach when I took a little step, my ankle rolled and popped three times. Cut to me on the ground saying a few choice words at high volume that had mortified moms covering their children's ears while my ankle instantly begins to inflate. The paramedics arrive, put on ice and tell me I need to get to the hospital. They called an ambulance, and while I was enjoying the overly dramatic Grey's Anatomy feel of it all, and it was all about me. Then they told me it would be really expensive and since I have no idea how insurance works here and I was close to home, I called David and he took me to the emergency room.

In spite of the lack of dishy doctors and slutty interns that TV emergency rooms seem to be overflowing with, the process in the ER went pretty quick. I was immediately shoved into a wheelchair and within a short time they were snapping all sorts of pictures of my leg, confirming that it was indeed broken, not sprained. The doc said that this break is better than a sprain, less painful and it heals better. Yay, I thought. They put on a temporary splint, told me to see an orthopedic surgeon on Monday, August 12, and shoved me out onto the angry, wild streets of Long Beach all wobbly on my new crutches. I had very little pain over the next few days and didn't really need anything stronger than an Advil. So far, so good.

Monday arrived and I called my doctor first thing in the morning for a referral to the orthopedic surgeon. I was informed my doctor can't refer me unless he sees me and he had no opening for over a week. I finally convinced one of the nurses there to contact the ER, get my x-rays and go from there. They do and then I am told that an approval first needs to be obtained from my insurance before they can refer me. Cool. No problem at all. That was Monday. A few scattered phone calls during the week and suddenly Friday morning I am told the insurance company needs six to eight months – yes, months – to approve a referral so I can get a cast for six to eight weeks. They then told me to go to one of two ERs and start all over. Their actual advice was to take a blanket, pillow and cooler with me as it would be a long wait. I thought they were joking, so I headed to UCLA Harbor Medical Center.

On my way there, I get a phone call from the Workers Comp rep telling me they will be handling everything. By this time, I am on a bus half way to UCLA Harbor and she said that was fine, just go with it and she gave me all the information. I get to UCLA Harbor, hobble around to the ER entrance, all but disrobe before passing through the metal detectors and then stand in the line to register. To say the ER was busy doesn't come close to describing the number of people. And with the pillows, blankets and coolers, it looked more like a bunch of sick people camped out for a music festival than an ER. I finally got to the counter to register and was told it would be at least twelve to fifteen hours before I could even be seen, much less have anything really looked at or arranged. The man at the desk told me I should go to Long Beach Memorial, which is close to my house and get taken care of there. As it was already three in the afternoon and I didn't have any camping supplies with me, I took his advice and hobbled back to the bus stop with my less-than-happy face on.

On the bus, I called the ER I originally went to, which is close to LB Memorial. They don't do casting at the hospital. What? So they gave me two numbers to call. Both were no answer and so I decided to call LB Memorial before schlepping all the over there only to find out they would not do anything. The nurse on the phone said they didn't have an orthopedic surgeon on staff, but they call them in as needed and suggested I come on over. I take the metro to the hospital, go in the main entrance dripping in sweat from the hot day and the upper body workout that comes with crutches only to discover that the ER is on the opposite side of the hospital, at the end of two seemingly endless corridors.

Once I got there, I signed in and was taken in immediately and within thirty minutes of arriving, I was once again on an x-ray table ready to have more pictures done. The tech asked me if it was my right ankle. I thought the temporary splint and bandages would have made it pretty self evident, but confirmed her Nancy Drew-like suspicions. And then I waited. And waited. And waited some more. I was on the x-ray table, but nothing was going on. Turns out, the system needed to be rebooted and it was not coming back up. I really didn't care. I was so exhausted, it felt great to lie down on the cool table. Twenty minutes or so later, we head to another x-ray room, pictures were taken and I was sent to the transitional waiting room where I was almost thrown up by some big guy with obvious stomach issues. I passed the time looking around for steamy doctors and interns like on Days of our Lives or ER, but there were none. They must have all been hanging out in the cuter wing of the hospital. Even a dead body on a gurney would have made things more interesting, but that didn't happen either. I started talking to the guy next to me. I asked what he was in there for and he told me a chihuahua bit him on ankle. While his girlfriend started laughing, I looked at it, saw nothing but commented on how lucky he was to even be alive.

A few minutes later, they took me out of the hospital to a bungalow that had been set up as I guess their regular ER is now too small. The nurse comes in to inform me I will be getting a tetanus shot. I told her I was pretty up to date on those things and was pretty sure I had been given one just about two years ago. Then I heard them at the nurses station complaining that a tetanus shot had been ordered for the wrong patient. I had heard about these things happening and it didn't really put me at ease.

Tetanus shot never happened and they gave me the good news that while the bone was broke, all the tissues and muscles were perfectly fine, just sore from the break and that no surgery would be required. A nurse which was about as close to heavy breathing material as I would see that day put on a new temporary splint and sent me home with a referral for an orthopedic surgeon on Monday.

Monday morning. I call the doctor they referred me to and a rude woman answered the phone and told me that since it was workers comp, that they needed the rep to phone them and then fax over a letter. I called the rep but she didn't answer. I called her a few times during the day, but always got voicemail. Another office called me back from the calls I had made Friday and I gave her the info and she said she would try to sort it on her end and get me in later in the day. I never heard back.

This morning, I called the workers comp rep who is really very sweet and she had been out ill all day Monday. She called around and got me an appointment for Thursday. So, finally, two weeks after breaking my ankle, I finally get my cast! Yay.

If this had happened in India, Tanzania or most other places I have been in the world, it would have been sorted and taken care of with no hassle at all. My experiences with doctors, emergency rooms and hospitals abroad have always been amazing. People give me looks of shock and horror when I mention stays in hospitals in India and Tanzania, but I can honestly say the experiences were fantastic, well, as fantastic as a hospital stay can be, and MAX Healthcare Hospital in Delhi is probably one of the nicest hospitals I have ever been in. The room was more like a hotel than a hospital. And the staff in Tanzania after my stroke were beyond amazing. Even the ladies from housekeeping would bring me fresh fruit and then came to say goodbye when I left.

I wondered if maybe I was expecting too much, but I think when someone needs medical help, it is already stressful enough. Throw in the hoops, long waits, and what seems like being given the run-around when all I wanted was just to get things taken care of and it gets incredibly aggravating. Most people have been really nice, but the process itself is a mess. And there are just no eye candy distractions to make any of it worthwhile.  

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Forty-Six For My Forty-Sixth

Yesterday, I turned forty-six. I remember a time in my life when that sounded like such an old and wrinkled number, but now that I am here, it doesn't feel that way at all. The past few years have been amazing, difficult, challenging, incredible, magical and infuriating to use but a few adjectives. I have decided to start this year off with a list of things, people and events I am thankful for. Instead of going into the year on a slippery slope, I want to start from a base of thanks and then go on from there. Here are forty-six things I am thankful for, some on-going, some just happened once, but they are all amazing and valued... And in no particular order of importance.
  1. Ulco
  2. Getting to know my sister Laura and her amazing family
  3. Meeting David
  4. Learning to ride a bike again
  5. Being able to hike in the Grand Canyon, Bryce, Zion, Arches, Valley of Fire and Joshua Tree
  6. Long talks that begin with “I have a question...” or “If you...”
  7. Sharing red wine
  8. Feeling inspired again to pick up my camera
  9. Taking pictures with my talented niece who I hope falls in love with photography
  10. Early morning Garageband sessions with my young nephews
  11. Spending a week at my sister Ava's house
  12. Losing thirty pounds :-)
  13. Being able to drive again
  14. Walking to the beach from my front door in just a few minutes
  15. Seeing dolphins while walking on the beach
  16. Thrifty ice cream
  17. Having a beer under the stars in the desert
  18. Having people who believe in me, especially in those moments I don't
  19. Falling in love
  20. Reconnecting with people I had lost touch with like my Godmother and my aunts, who I can't wait to see again in person
  21. Impromptu morning dances and plays performed by Christina's gorgeous daughters
  22. Feeling like myself again
  23. Being able to say “I'm sorry” and rebuild relationships
  24. The realization that an old dog (me) just might be able to learn new tricks
  25. Being Uncle Robb - Officially and unofficially
  26. The people who have been there and helped me, even when I was too embarrassed to ask
  27. Learning to ask for help
  28. Rooftops
  29. Friends around the world
  30. Life – I have had a close call, but I'm here
  31. Being able to laugh at myself
  32. The courage to let someone else see who I am
  33. In and Out... How I have missed you all those years!
  34. Having a marvelous kiki in the car
  35. Skype and FaceTime – So I can see the people I miss
  36. My health
  37. Weekly calls with Laura
  38. Feeling good about the future
  39. Learning to be more me
  40. Caring less what other people think
  41. Better music selection on my iPhone – Thanks David ;-)
  42. Warm summer beach days followed by cool evenings
  43. The moments I can sit calm and just be
  44. The ability to stop and really look at things, not just pass them by in a hurry
  45. Having more than forty-six things to be thankful for
  46. The knowledge that there are a lot more things to be thankful for heading my way