Improbable Phrases

Who says that?

Imaginary French People, and Other Issues

Last week, I was washing my hair and accidentally sprayed water into my mouth and nose. I coughed, spluttered, and ultimately caught paratyphoid fever.

I’m generally very careful of my use of the water here because I cannot handle having it against my skin for very long. Having it inside my body? Disaster.

Monday night: Right at bedtime I spike a sudden fever so high that I could not stop shaking. I eventually settled down enough to sleep, but it took a while. During the night, the vomiting started.

Tuesday: Haze of fever, vomiting, diarrhea. I made the mistake of thinking that juice (which I had in the house) would be an acceptable substitute for a local version of Gatorade (which I did not). This choice of convenience was incredibly inconvenient for most of the day.

Wednesday: Watched TV between incidents. Discovered that Seth Green is (was? Stuff on the StarWorld channel might be very old) in a very sexist sitcom. At this point I’m psyching myself up to go to work on Thursday. At my job you aren’t permitted to miss more than two days in a row. If you do, they dock your pay.

Thursday: Drag out of bed. It takes 15 minutes to walk down to the place where I wait for the bus because I stop a couple of times. I have two classes on Thursday and I throw up in the break between them. My vice principal sends me home after I finish the second class. I try to see the doctor in the complex when I get back, but he’s out for the day.

Thursday night: Having watched a very dark French movie (subtitled) about the First World War, I wake up in the middle of the night with the very compelling idea that I have to find a French person. Because I do! But how will I find them? I need to get up and find them. Because I have to find a French person! I run this particularly nonsensical script for several minutes before a more rational piece of my brain catches up and reminds me that I know no French people. Exceedingly creeped out, I sit and watch some StarWorld (no French!) until I calm down.

Friday: To the doctor. He almost immediately diagnoses me with paratyphoid fever. Symptoms: fever, vomiting, diarrhea, erratic pulse and pressure, and occasional short bouts of psychosis. Nice to have those French people explained. He also tells me that my pulse is the lowest he’s taken all day. Bottom of the class pride! I take my bag of antibiotics back to my apartment and settle in to get better.

Saturday: Discover that the local version of Gatorade comes in a two liter bottle. Buy one, but quickly discover it’s cumbersome and requires both hands to tip it back to drink from.

Sunday to now: Feel essentially back to normal.

Paratyphoid fever? I don’t recommend it at all. But it responds to antibiotics pretty quickly.


Myth Dispelled by Adam Possner

The flu vaccine cannot
give you the flu, I tell him.
It’s dead virus, there’s
nothing alive about it.
It can’t make you sick.
That’s a myth.
But if we bury it in
the grassy knoll
of your shoulder,
an inch under the stratum
corneum, as sanctioned by
your signature
in a white-coated ceremony
presided over by
my medical assistant
and then mark the grave
with a temporary
non-stick headstone,
the trivalent spirit
of that vaccine
has a 70 to 90 percent
chance of warding off
the Evil One,
and that’s the God’s
honest truth.


I put this here because I read another article about California, where people who believe vaccines themselves are evil, and as such do not vaccinate their children. This has major implications. People are getting sick from diseases that had mostly been eradicated. I just…I lose my mind over this. I might not be alive if it were not for modern medicine, so the fact that some people think it is sneakily out to get you just makes me furious. Like safety: science first, folks. The idea that your brother’s neighbor’s sister’s son who heard it from their uncle is a better source than actual research is foolish, and in the case of vaccines, has the ability to be downright dangerous.

Seeing the Doctor in Gading Nias

This morning I stayed home from school so I could verify whether or not I had pinkeye. A week and a half of exam invigilation in lower primary and what do I have to show for it? Possible eye infection. Little kids are gross.

I went and saw the doctor that has an office two or three stalls down from our front lobby. He was a jovial older gentleman with passable English. He used a headlamp to look at my eyes. It made him seem more like a miner than a doctor, but he came to the same conclusion I did: pinkeye. He was also concerned that the back of my throat looked red and so I got an oral antibiotic in addition to eyedrops.

I waited 5 minutes or less to see him, and paid less than $10 USD for the privilege. I know that the American medical system is better, but this was certainly cheaper and more efficient.

He has odd hours, only some in the morning and some in the afternoon, but at least I know that I have an option that’s easy to get to if I have a minor issue. And one that speaks English, even if his staff didn’t.

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As time goes on, it becomes increasingly clear that lipomyelomeningocele is not like other types of spina bifida. Other types have a genetic component or a nutrient deficiency component. As I understand the latest studies, lipo has neither. It’s the neurological equivalent of the universe giving you the finger. The odds are akin to winning the lottery, being electrocuted, or successfully completing a Rubik’s cube unassisted.  It is, however,  more common than being turned into a magic pebble.

Essentially, what you have is a disabling condition with no known factors. Isn’t that nice?

Show me a child with a diagnosed lipomyelomeningocele and I will be able to show you a child who has had multiple diagnostic tests: X-Rays, MRIs, CT scans, diagnostic ultrasound, various urological exams, gait studies, and on and on. It’s unlikely that you will be able to show me a child who has not had at least one major invasive surgery.

As with all things that are vague or have no known factors, research is done. Now, listen. I am not down on the medical community. They’ve been doing their research and ruling things out. They’ve been ruling out left, right, and center for the last 20 years. But, really now, can we not rule anything in?!? Why is it that the dots just seem to be getting further and further apart here, with a vague uncertainty on my part that there may ever be a line long enough to join them together? Is it just that cosmic finger, flipping the metaphorical bird?

Because I am tired. Just tired. Something about the idea of being the proud owner of a moderately debilitating disability that cannot currently be prevented in subsequent generations with any medical surety does not fill me with joy. Isn’t that interesting?

I find occasionally, through Googling (which I do not recommend) some things about spina bifida that give a sliver, an instance of hope. It comes in unlikely places. For instance, I was heartened this week to discover that Stephen Colbert was the guest of honor at last year’s major spina bifida fundraiser in Washington, D.C.  Way to go, spina bifida community, on getting someone with current pop culture clout to be involved with fundraising efforts! Or the fact that Gordon Ramsay, that foul-mouthed, ill-tempered bastard from Hell’s Kitchen raises money on a regular basis for the UK’s spina bifida association. That floored me. Other than loving his dear diminutive mama, it may be the only genuinely nice thing the internet has accused him of doing.

The raising of the money and the seeing of results, however, are clearly two very dissimilar things. And yet, is it too much to wish that something can be done to save another generation, another child, from being mysteriously struck by this neurological ‘lightning?’

I read:

Good Bad Mother by Ayelet Waldman (Love. Just love. How soothing her voice must be to women who are actually mothers.)
Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett (Hysterical. I had forgotten that this was the only work by Terry Pratchett that I enjoyed. Loved the old time definition of the word “nice” as something that was overly “precise.)

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The Plague! I’m Sure It’s The Plague!

I think I have amnesia. Not in any real sense, just when it comes to a memory for patterns. Every year around mid-July, I get allergies. They last until mid-September. Every year. The issue is, every July 15th or so, I find myself saying, “What is this sneezing? Itchy, red eyes? Am I *DYING?* No wait, I have seasonal allergies. This must be the season.”  Gah.  I’m seriously considering writing it into my Google calendar for the first week of July: Go buy Zyrtec. You don’t need it now. But you will.

I read:

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo (Children’s book about a rabbit. We’ll give it 2 stars. Plotwise: medium. Moralwise: look out! We have strong opinions on how you behave and what you think!)

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Relax. Go Have Some Ice Tea On The Porch.

Oh you wily, tricky, *irritating* swine flu. Do you know how you have taken over the evening news, the local papers, the internet, the international consciousness? Do you know how incredibly important you sound, with your new name?

H1N1.  (Looks a little like a license plate for someone named “Hiney.” Heh.)

But, yes flu, I know. Resistance is futile. It’s like back in the summer when we were all afraid of tomatoes. Which is just ridiculous. Because honestly? And I promise that I’m not casting aspersions here, you are FLU. Now, I’m not saying I want flu, or I like flu. Flu, I am happy to concede your awfulness. It’s just that, well, I’ve always recovered from flu. You know, in a fairly timely fashion. With no long term effects. So, imagine my surprise, Bon Monsieur H1N1, when 6 o’clock news on three different channels gave you a five minute segment this week, and then at the close of the report, recommended stocking up on containers of Gatorade. Just in case. In case of what? Are there magical antibiotics in electrolyte drinks now? No. It’s for nutrient replenishment after the vomiting.

You see where I’m going with this, right? You have a name, and you came directly from barnyard animals, but ultimately you are just flu. A lot like all the other flus in your family, where there aren’t enough shots to prevent you, but a little patience will wait you out. Now, please. Step back from the limelight. And leave the major news networks alone.

Damn uppity pig virus.  You are on notice.

I read: The Girl with No Shadow by Joanne Harris (Second time, even better than the first. So much nuance that I missed on the first go-around.)

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Just Honest Goodness

So these are horrible economic times. I am not telling you anything that you don’t know. And as people scrape and scrabble from one paycheck to the next, it’s easiest to simply take care of yourself, and not look beyond your own front door. And yet, if we come from a religious background; Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, etc., we are taught that the divine is pleased with our attempts to help and serve others. From a Mennonite standpoint, I have been taught, and I believe, that we are called to help those in need as a way of serving and worshipping the ever-powerful Creator God. Our service to others is intwined completely with living a faithful life. It’s the main reason that I have remained in Mennonite Voluntary Service. I think that there is value in offering my skills to the world without expecting things in return.

Often, the corporate world is portrayed as the enemy. They are the ones that would, in a second, take away your job, minimize your paycheck and your health benefits, without even so much as batting an eye. But what if the corporate world worked with its employees to make sure that everyone is cared for? How would the world change if just one company looked to the needs of the workers in addition to the needs of the budget? A hospital in Boston, called Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, is trying something that is amazing to me. Instead of laying off, their CEO has asked them what they can do, or do without, in order to make sure that everyone can stay at work. And the list poured in. We can do without raises. We can manage with fewer vacation days. We can do without bonuses. We can work fewer days a week.

This concept of living more simply so that others can simply live, is so central to what I believe, and yet so revolutionary in our commercial, bottom-line driven world. But it does my soul good to see that people are most often, when given the opportunity, good and open-hearted. All cannot be lost in a society that still contains such examples of altruism. And for that, may God be praised.