Friday, October 27, 2023

Don't Panic!

This last week in south Bali has been so hellishly hot and so fiendishly humid that I suddenly found myself short of breath a few days ago. I mean gasping for breath whenever I was outside. Of course, I was not sure that this was the actual problem (given the widening array of actual problems that I have), but it was becoming clear that something seemed way wrong and that I should probably address it. Therefore, I did one of my most personally hated things and headed for the hospital. I was thinking that perhaps they would give me an inhaler or something like that. I chose Sanglah Hospital as an alternative to the usually highly annoying and incompetent Kasih Ibu, where I had once been diagnosed with an infection that I did not have and on another occasion erroneously told that part of my right ear would have to be removed because of skin cancer (and I got that close to actually doing it!).

So anyway, I headed for Sanglah, only to find that the parking lot was full. More than full. Full two times over. As I drove around in circles, baked to a blistering crisp, and gasping for breath, I finally gave up, said F-it, and wedged my bike eventually back out of the superfluous parking area.

What now?

Well, I decided to go to the Prodia blood lab instead. Maybe my borderline diabetes had finally crossed the border. Air hunger, after all, is one symptom of high blood sugar. Or maybe my blood pressure was high. It had been so one time in the past. In any case, I figured I could get a few basic lab tests and present these later to some doctor somewhere who worked in a facility that had a parking lot with at least one open space in it.

Using the trusty navigator app on my hand phone, along with earphones, I was straightaway led into a maze of backstreets and alleys that did not in fact end up at the Prodia lab. It turned out that one had to do this by turning off ones navigator and finding the place for oneself.

Having gotten the blood draw, I gasped my way home to wait for the results.

The results showed, as has been the case for the last 3 years, borderline high blood glucose and high cholesterol. I had succeeded so far in spending 650.000 rupiah to find what I already knew. Knowing this result, did not decrease my shortness of breath. It had gotten worse.

Okay then, Kasih Ibu. It is fate. It is a curse. 

Off I go.

At Kasih Ibu they tell me that no doctors are available and send me to the emergency department, which constitutes an insult to language, actually. It is one small room with two beds and one curtain. The emergency department. The department itself is clearly in need of emergent care.

A resident comes in, I tell her my story, and she decides I need an EKG and a chest x-ray.

Oh my God! See, I knew I was dying!

And so we wait. Tick, tick, tick.

And then a lot more ticks.

At last, the tests are done. And they reveal the worst. They are normal.

Could it be, I suggest, as I suggested in the first place, that my problem with breathing has something to do with the unusually extreme heat and humidity?


They place an oxygen tube in my nostrils and go away. About an hour later, an Indian doctor shows up. She wants to talk about blood sugar and cholesterol. In general. I steer her back to heat and humidity.

In this kind of heat, people need to be less active, I think, she tells me. What are your daily activities?


Yes, what kind of physical activities do you do in a typical day.

Umm ... Drink coffee and watch TV.

Thr end result of this emergent visit is that they do not prescribe any medication and they do not cure me of my shortness of breath. They suggest that I see a doctor at some future time. If I'm still breathing.

Dejected, I return to my house. I have not been there 5 minutes when I realize that I have left all of my documentation on a table at the hospital. My ekg, my x-ray, my patient billing information, and so on.


My breathing grows worse yet.

Back to Kasih Ibu.

Not absolutely necessary. But they had told me in the emergency department that my usual doctor, the astoundingly incommunicative Dr. Yoanes, would be working this evening from 6:00 until 9:00. Heck why not pop in and see him after picking up my paperwork? Not that I miss him, but damn, if I'm going back anyway, why not?

It is my good fortune to find that apparently no one else cares to see Dr. Yoanes. At 6 o'clock, I am the lone patient outside his door, something unheard of in Indonesia, where the hallway outside a doctor's door looks something like the parking lots. 

I tell the doctor about my shortness of breath. But he wants to talk about blood sugar and cholesterol. He is irritated that I did not get a full laboratory panel. If you do not get a fasting blood sugar and the complete cholesterol panel, we cannot see where your levels have been.

Okay, sure. Now how about this shortness of breath?

He motions for me to get onto the examination table. As a rule, Dr. Yoanes does not speak. He motions with one hand. He proceeds to perform a cursory neurologic exam.

I pass with flying colors, I think, at least for a neurologically compromised person. Yay.

I begin again to describe my earlier experience in the ER and what brought me there.

What is your typical activity level, he asks?

Oh God. 

This started like 3 days ago, I tell him. I started to feel like I couldn't get enough air. Each day it got worse. As soon as I go outdoors, I can't breathe. I struggle to get a breath. I start to feel panicked.

Ah, the doctor says. 

That could be it!

Mm, he says. 

He gives me two prescriptions. One for atorvastatin, a cholesterol lowering agent. A second for something called clobazam. And says goodbye.

On arriving home, I look up the med.

Clobazam: A benzodiazepine, typically given for panic disorder. 

Patient, heal thyself.

Saturday, October 21, 2023

The Bostonian

 I happened to meet a Bostonian the other day, which is something I understood with the first words he spoke. How pleasant to meet a Bostonian, I thought. I have never met one before. I have never been to Boston. Funny how one would need to come to the other side of the world to meet a Bostonian.

The first thing this man said to me was "Are you a truck driver?"

Interesting. Not a common opening to conversation.

"No," I answered. "Why?"

"You walk like a truck driver."

Interesting as well. How does a truck driver walk? I have no idea. I'm thinking maybe slow and kind of bent over. Or maybe kind of like a sailor who is used to the rolling of a ship over waves. 

The next thing I noticed about the Bostonian is that his eyes were reddened, as if he had been smoking some weed. That would be a dangerous thing to do here in Indonesia, an inadvisable thing to do given the strict laws against drug use and the harsh punishment if caught. Still, he did for all the world appear to be stoned, and the more I talked to him, the more stoned he seemed.

Having exchanged these few simple words and observations, we sat quietly for a time. My coffee arrived at the table and I took out my novel.

"What are you reading?" he asked.

I showed him the book cover. The Poppy War, book one of a trilogy by R.F. Kuang.

"Oh, I don't read that kind of shit," he said.

"Yeah, I don't generally read this kind of shit either," I agreed. "But I've read and admired this author's other work and so I wanted to try this one as well. But to be honest, I don't like fantasy sort of stuff, you know swords and arrows and magic powers and all that."

"Don't blame you," said the Bostonian. "I don't read that shit."

With this understood, we proceeded to talk about various other things, such as the city of Boston and what he is doing here in Indonesia and what I am doing here in Indonesia, and about Oregon and the beautiful Pacific Northwest.

"I love Portland," he said. "I have friends there. They grow the best pot in Oregon. It's not like in Boston. The pot in Oregon is fresh. The pot in Boston grows out of sewers."

Good to know, I guess. Not that I'll be sampling any Boston pot. Nor Portland pot either for that matter. Personally, I never did like pot, although of course I have tried it long ago, like everyone else in my generation.

He began to tell me then about a book he would like to show me, but someone stole the book, so he can't. The book had something to do with how nobody gives a fuck. In fact. That seems to be more or less the title of the book, from what I could understand. It was not clear whether this was a book someone stole from him in an airport or a cafe or wherever, or whether he himself had written such a book and then somebody either stole his book or stole his idea for this book.

"What are you eating? he asked.

"Lemon cake."

The Bostonian went inside the cafe for a moment, and then returned with a slice of lemon cake. We ate in silence.

"I've got to go soon," he said.

"Ah. Well, pleasure to meet you."

 Do you know what time it is?"

"Just about 11:30."

"Is it really?"


The Bostonian nods, looking both at me and past me.

"One more thing, bud. Is this Sunday?"

Friday, October 13, 2023

BABEL, An Arcane History

 'Betrayal. Translation means doing violence upon the original, means warping and distorting it for foreign, unintended eyes. So then where does that leave us? How can we conclude, except by acknowledging that an act of translation is then necessarily always an act of betrayal?'

'But that's the great contradiction of colonialism. ... It's built to destroy that which it prizes most.'

BABEL, An Arcane History, R.F. Kuang

It has long been a habit of mine, when stumbling upon writing that stands out from the dross of literature, to proceed through everything that writer has written. So it has been for me with R.F. Kuang, whose novel Yellowface I reviewed here at an earlier date.

I've just finished reading her long novel BABEL, An Arcane History. Babel, which of course refers back to the biblical Tower of Babel, becomes as well, in Kuang's hand, the all powerful, though fictional, school of translation at Oxford college in the 1830s. Students at Babel are tasked with wielding the power of words, and that power is employed in the transfer to silver, which, here, is not only the the coin of the realm but an element possessing magical potentialities brought out by the power of words etched into silver bars. Endowed with such power, the silver becomes the engine of the industrial revolution, putting England far in advance of any other country. It's all about money, or rather silver, and silver is all about power, over individuals and over countries of individuals.

It is also all about betrayal, all kinds of betrayal, betrayal of ideals, betrayal of the nation, the nation's betrayal of its populace, the betrayal embodied in colonialism, the betrayal of beloved friends. Translation itself, as the quote it tells us, is a betrayal of language.

And I guess what I've said so far is a betrayal of the cogency one would expect in a book review. Lol. 

BABEL will be particularly fascinating to nerds such as myself who are especially interested in linguistics and etymology. Lovers of words. At the same time, it may be tedious for those not interested in such things (especially at 500 pages of small print). Nonetheless, the novel establishes a good pace and keeps it up for the most part throughout. It has the flavor of Dickens, not only for the early 19th century setting, but for the style of the writing and the drawing of the characters. Oliver Twist goes to college and ultimately finds himself in A Tale of Two Cities.

Monday, October 2, 2023


 Last week I suddenly lost the sight in my right eye for a minute or two. I had just taken a shower, as I recall, and I had come out to the dining room for a cup of coffee when a sort of gray curtain descended over my eye and I could see nothing but gray. It was brief, as I have said, and yet quite frightening. Of course at the time I had no idea whether my sight would come back at all, in a minute or in 2 minutes or in 2 hours. Since that time, I have experienced a number of other strange symptoms. One has been the return of the intense inner heat that I have long had a problem with but which has been generally controlled by medication (pregabalin). Suddenly, the medication was ineffective. Another was a feeling like the skin on my legs and feet was on fire. Really uncomfortable. Yet another has been extreme fatigue, such that I have been falling asleep two or three times a day. What all this means to me is that MS has reared its ugly head once again and gone into an active phase. Relapsing / remitting, right? So this is a relapse. At best. I have read that most MS eventually becomes progressive, especially with age or with the length of time that one has had the disease. Naturally, I'm hoping for relapsing rather than progressive.