Convalescence

Click here for some background reading.

Waiting to be discharged

Instead of staying in hospital for two days as I originally anticipated, I ended up staying five days. I was kept in hospital for a day of observation after my wound was closed four days after my operation.

My stay at Oasis was generally very pleasant. I was one of three inpatients so the wards were quiet almost all the time, bar the muted sounds of nurses and doctors going about their work. The nurses got used to me shuffling out of my room and wandering aimlessly around the floor three to four times a day, getting my daily dose of exercise. I enjoyed my daily chats with the physio as he checked my progress and gave me more exercises to do with my left hand, wrist, elbow and shoulder.

Despite all this, it became general knowledge among the staff at Oasis and the friends I kept in touch via WeChat that I was desperate to be discharged. After months of exercising outdoors on a daily basis, being cooped up indoors for five straights days, even in conditions much better than my own apartment, felt like imprisonment. The temperature dropped drastically the week I was hospitalised, so the nurses were justified in denying my daily requests to go outside for a walk, especially before my wound was closed.

I’m a firm believer that God allows everything happens for a reason. In addition to a broken forearm, I was also nursing a cold while I was staying at the hospital. In fact, it was this same cold that fogged up my brain when I fell off my bike and broke my arm. If I’d just stayed home and nursed my cold that day, I’d still have an intact left forearm. If only I wasn’t so restless and easily bored…

Surviving in the real world

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Free from the cast, at last!

I was elated when Dr Miia announced I was well enough to be discharged from hospital on Friday morning, five weeks ago. The nurses were amazed at how quickly I changed out of my hospital gown into my own clothing without their assistance.

On the one hand, I was happy to finally be going back to my own apartment, sleeping in my own bed and regaining my freedom to roam aimlessly outside whenever I felt like it. On the other hand, the physical weakness of my left arm was a constant reminder that I’d had to make certain adjustments to my living habits to get by as much as possible with the use of only my right hand.

Here’s a list of bits and bobs that helped me get by in the real world:

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Kipling Keiko Crossbody

An impulse purchase at Kuala Lumpur International Airport to replace another broken Kipling bag, it turned out to be my lifesaver. I never appreciated compartments, smooth zippers and practical design until my life literally depended on it. It was big enough to hold my purse, keys, Iphone 6, headphones, office access card, transportation card and my compact cosmetic bag, yet small enough so I couldn’t overload it with things that were non-essential and overload my left shoulder.

Transportation mobile apps

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Didi Chuxing 

Uber’s strongest competitor in China, Didi’s affordable fast car  (快车)  services have been my lifesaver when I’ve taken a little longer getting ready for work and needed a ride to the office. The 15-minute ride from my apartment in Dongzhimen to Beijing Fortune Plaza typically costs between RMB 8-15, depending on traffic and weather conditions and the time of the day.

  • Chinese only interface
  • Payment method: Only accepts WeChat Wallet
shenzhou
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Shenzhou is the app I turn to when I can’t get a ride with Didi. Shenzhou provides chauffeur-drive cars and employs their own drivers so naturally their services are much more expensive. I started using their services when they launched the introductory offer of getting an extra RMB 100 for every RMB 100 credit I transfer into my Shenzhou account. That offer ended in September, but they still give you RMB 50 credit for every RMB 100 you transfer into your Shenzhou account.  But as I was telling a friend, when you desperately need a car to take you home on a cold, rainy night, money becomes the least of your concern. It’s reassuring to know that even if I miss the last bus, taxis are scarce and no one’s responding to my Didi request, I can always get a Shenzhou car to take me home.

  • Chinese only interface
  • Payment method: WeChat Wallet, Alipay, Jingdong Wallet, debit and credit cards issued by China banks.

Food ordering app

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Baidu Waimai

Cooking was out of the question for the first week after I was discharged from hospital. When I didn’t go out to eat, I ordered meals using Baidu Waimai. They have a huge range of restaurants, provide discounts if you pay by WeChat Wallet, Alipay or Baidu Wallet and often waive or charge a meagre delivery fee (RMB 5-7). If the food was delivered later than the time they originally estimated, they refunded 50% of the price of the meal.

  • Chinese only interface
  • Payment method: WeChat Wallet, Alipay and Baidu Wallet

my forearm fracture adventure in Beijing – day 3 – the path to recovery

Click here for Day 1 and Day 2.

post-op

My first sleep post-surgery was interrupted every two hours by hazy trips to the bathroom. The nurse heard me go the first time and rushed into my ward to see if I needed help. I was already halfway to the bathroom, so she insisted I keep the toilet door slightly ajar just in case. Her request made me feel like I was a four-year-old all over again, but I obeyed nevertheless.

I woke up at around 7 am and couldn’t go back to sleep. I ate a banana that the church couple brought the night before while watching CNN and waiting for breakfast to be served.

Dr Miia came into my ward a little after 9 am. A Finnish lady of few words, she told me in as many words that as the operation went ahead at 4 pm instead of 12 noon, my left arm had swollen so much it was impossible to sew up the incisions on my arm after she put in the titanium plates. In order to reduce the swelling in my left arm, she told me to open and close my left palm by moving each and every finger one at a time, using my right hand to help whenever I had difficulty moving my fingers.  This was easily one of the hardest things I had to do in my life, as my hand had swollen to three times its normal size and each finger felt like it was made of hard, inflexible rubber. She then informed me that the physio would be visiting me later in the day to prescribe me with more exercises to help me recover the use of my left hand, and she’d be back the next morning to see if the swelling had reduced enough for her to sew me up. She wasn’t optimistic about the swelling reducing that quickly though and she was not going to discharge me with an open wound. That meant I was staying in the hospital for at least a couple more days.

I spent the rest of the day doing exercises with my left hand, mobilising my left elbow and shoulder, taking frequent naps, watching TV and fielding calls and messages. As I don’t subscribe to cable TV at home, it felt like a treat being able to watch CNN and flip to other foreign channels initially but the excitement quickly wore off. I began checking and replying to work emails. When my colleagues informed me they were coming to visit me in the evening, I asked that they bring my work laptop so I could do some work while at the hospital. I never felt work was so essential to my sanity and overall sense of well-being until that day.

I was being drip-fed a small dose of painkillers and a healthy dose of antibiotics, so even going to the bathroom required advanced planning as I had to unplug the machine from the power socket, tidy up the cables and push the tree trolley with a machine and bags of medication with my hand in the right position so I wouldn’t set off the alarm warning the nurses my drip wasn’t working.

The physio, Jason, came by at 4 pm. I showed him what my left hand was capable of after eight hours of doing Dr Miia’s exercises. Then he showed me how much more I could do with my left hand, pushing my fingers out and backwards when I opened my left palm and pushing them all the way in when I curled them into a fist. I felt the first bout of pain post-surgery and he encouraged me to up my dosage of painkillers if I needed to. I didn’t know what I was trying to prove but I decided not to do so, preferring to grin and bear it. He told me to do ten repetitions of the exercise as often as I could manage.

After dinner, I received a stream of visitors, with the last one leaving at about 10:30 pm. After seeing him off at the lift, I dragged myself back to my ward and promptly collapsed into bed, dozing off almost immediately. I hadn’t felt so exhausted in a very long time.

 

my forearm fracture adventure in Beijing – Day 1

https://www.internationalsos.com/clinicsinchina/en/Beijing.aspx
First X-ray taken of my left forearm fracture – Courtesy of International SOS Clinic

Two Sundays back, while trying on my brand new clip shoes on my road bike in an alley near my apartment, I managed to fall off my bike in such a way that my left forearm hit the edge of a curb. I remember hearing a crack as I went down and screaming in pain afterwards. I’m still not sure how I got up on my own, pushed my bike home with my right hand, found my mobile and called N to come help me get to a clinic. It’s incredible the lengths desperation and adrenaline can drive someone to.

First port of call

While N and I were trying to hail down a cab, N asked me which hospital/clinic I’d like to go to. N and I rattled off the names of a number of nearby major local hospitals, before N convinced me to go to International SOS Clinic. She used to work there and had a high opinion of the foreign doctors who worked there. I decided to go along with her suggestion. In hindsight, it turned out to be a very good decision.

I was allocated to Dr Sonia, a Taihitian who spoke English with a strong French accent and wore the funkiest Desigual dress I’ve ever seen on a medical doctor. I immediately took to her no-nonsense, straightforward, firm yet gentle approach. Before taking an X-ray, she told me there were two possibilities: I either sustained a hairline fracture, which meant I’ll have to wear a cast for three months, or a displaced fracture, which meant I required surgery so plates and screws can be inserted to set my bone/s.

After looking at my X-ray, she informed me that unfortunately I’d sustained the latter fracture and that meant I needed surgery. With the help of a nurse, she put a partial cast on my left forearm and elevated it in an ottobock sling. The nurse then dissolved a sachet of Ibuprofen painkiller in warm water and gave it to me to sip.

Next steps

Since SOS didn’t have inpatient facilities, Dr Sonia offered to refer me to orthopaedic surgeons at either Beijing United Hospital or Oasis International Hospital. Having been to Oasis to visit a friend who delivered her baby there, I had a good impression of the facilities (clean, bright and airy) and the attitudes of nurses (kind and patient), so I asked to for her recommendation at Oasis.  Dr Sonia was obviously pleased with my decision since she used to work at Oasis and personally knew the orthopaedic surgeon there. She went on to list the things I needed to attend to before admitting myself to the hospital the next morning (thank God for N who wrote everything down for me):

  • Send an email to the hospital with a copy of my passport information page and my medical insurance card so they can prepare for my admission the next day.
  • Have a good dinner and take a painkiller before I go to bed. Make sure my left remained in a sling and elevated across my chest while I slept.
  • I was not to eat or drink anything from midnight onwards until I’ve had surgery.

While in the cab back to my place, N said I’d been very brave considering what I was going through. Initially I thought it was shock and adrenaline that blocked my tears from flowing, but they didn’t come even when I was alone at home, packing my bag for hospital, talking to the staff at Oasis on the phone and drifting in and out of sleep as the pain came and went.  Whenever I had difficulty falling asleep, I just prayed and asked God to heal my arm and for help getting back to sleep. I didn’t wake up with an intact left forearm in the morning, but I felt rested and sufficiently energised for the day ahead.

To be continued….

drab Feb

First snow in Beijing to usher in the Year of the Ram/Sheep/Goat
First snow in Beijing to usher in the Year of the Ram/Sheep/Goat

In a blink of an eye, the end of the Year of the Horse galloped past me, and the fluff of all things ram/sheep/goat has descended.  It’s probably fitting that I’ve had moments when I found it difficult to breathe, such was the intensity of the whirlwind I found myself in.

Parts of the whirlwind were thrust upon me while the others were self-inflicted.

At the beginning of the month, I was thrown into a gruelling two-week project at work, where I was asked to copyedit the English translation of a 500-page service proposal.  Even though I eventually managed to negotiate my workload down to about half those pages, the technical nature of the document and often incomprehensible English translation meant staying in the office til the wee hours almost everyday for two weeks. After not doing crazy overtime hours for a couple of years, I found it tough working 18-hour days and surviving on 5-6 hours of sleep. And I had it easy compared to my graphics colleagues who were designing the layout for this mega document, some of whom spent nights in their office, catnapping in turns, because they’d get the text around 3 am and had to produce the layout in time for the daily 8:30 am meetings.

Courtesy of CCTV6
Courtesy of CCTV6

If I knew I’d be working on this project, I probably wouldn’t have signed up to help CCTV6 translate subtitles for the 2015 Academy Awards in the middle of the week-long Spring Festival break.  But it seemed like such a good idea when I first signed up for it. I’d get to watch the Oscars as it happened, indulge in my movie buff tendencies for a couple of hours and make some pocket money on the side.

What I didn’t anticipate was the toll two weeks of overtime would take on me physically and mentally. The days when I felt 100% after sleeping in for a day after I finished an intense project were well and truly gone. I collapsed in bed at 10 pm the first night after the proposal was submitted, fairly sure I was going to make up for lost sleeping time.  I was wide awake at 5 am, after a night of fitful dreaming about audit terms in English and Chinese, and could not fall back into restful sleep.  It took me another two days before I stopped dreaming about the document in my sleep, and another two days before I felt 100% physically and mentally, just in time for the Oscars gig.

As TV work goes, nothing ever goes as planned. Instead of the couple of hours I originally anticipated, I ended up at CCTV6 for the most part of the day, leaving only at 4 pm. By then, I’d received a mayday call from my colleague about a video project we’ve been working on, and I headed back to the office to translate the subtitles for a couple of hours. I hit the sack close to midnight, having worked 12 out of the 18 of my waking hours.

I wasn’t exactly surprised when my body caved in after catching a chill a couple of days before the month drew to a close.  Even then I only took one day sickie, as I was put on another urgent project.  That week passed in a blur of imbibing Chinese medicine, visits to a Chinese chiropractor and therapist, working a lot and sleeping badly.

Even though I felt physically well by the start of March, it took the rest of the month for my mental and emotional state to catch up (helped largely by an impromptu week-long holiday in Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe). I spent the most part of March assessing how I got myself into such a fix in February and making some hard decisions about how I was going to avoid repeating the same mistakes in the future.

The hardest decision was accepting that I could no longer work the kind of hours I used to do in my twenties without suffering unfortunate physical consequences, and I’d have to turn down work and appointments in the future to make sure I get enough rest. This went against every grain of my workaholic nature, but it was unfortunately necessary if I didn’t want history to repeat itself in the very near future.

I haven’t quite decided if maintaining this blog constitutes ‘work’, especially since I haven’t been posting as regularly as I hoped.  Perhaps I’ll let my physical health dictate if I should continue or stop blogging.

my vintage love affair

I bought this top from these ladies for 30 yuan (US$5)
I bought a gorgeous top from these ladies for 30 yuan (US$5)

As with everything in life, I discovered the wonders of vintage shopping later than everyone else. I remember reading about it in fashion mags from the US and the UK and seeing friends with amazing purchases from St Vinnies and the like, but I’d never bought anything second-hand before.

It was when my friend decided to throw a 60s themed hen’s party that I felt compelled to seek out vintage dresses.  I decided to head over to the Drum and Bell Tower avenue, Beijing’s vintage central, to see if I could buy something appropriate to wear for the party at a vintage market held in a dinghy nightclub frequented by teenagers and twenty-somethings. Having shopped most of my life in brightly lit malls and boutiques, it was squinting at random clothing with no sizing information, hung haphazardly on racks with no visible price tags.

Vespa Fair at 2 Kolegas
Vespa Fair at 2 Kolegas

It was a very hot summer day, the air conditioner didn’t seem to be working and there were no windows in the club.  After a mere 15 minutes, I wanted to leave the place but I was also determined not to leave empty-handed. I pulled out a couple of dresses and asked the male stall owner if I could try them on. In typical Chinese efficiency, he took one look at me, proclaimed that the dresses wouldn’t fit me, and proceeded to pull three dresses from his rack at light speed. He shoved the dresses at me and said these were the only dresses he had that would fit me.  I didn’t particularly like any of the dresses he gave me, but chose the one I disliked the least, paid whatever he asked for it, which was probably about US$10 and left the market as quickly as my legs would take me. I never tried the dress on.

I found out afterwards that I couldn’t actually make it to the hen’s night after all. So my first vintage purchase was relegated to the back of my wardrobe, as I waited for an occasion to wear it to.

18 months passed. I was rummaging through my wardrobe looking for something to wear to work on a warm spring day when I chanced upon my first vintage purchase. On a whim, I decided to try it on to see if it actually fit me. It did, like it was made for me. The dark brown silk dress with an orangey red leaf pattern that looked dowdy to my untrained eye was instantly transformed once I put it on. It gave me a waist, flattened my tummy and made me stand straighter, taller.

I wore the dress to work and became the envy of my female colleagues, especially when I told them how much I paid for it.

From that day onwards, I became a vintage junkie. I went to so many vintage markets, I was recognised by sellers who’d give me and my friends exclusive discounts. I became so accustomed to buying silk dresses for less than 100 yuan (about US$15) apiece, I began to see paying 79 yuan for a tank top at Uniqlo as a luxury.  Wearing a well-tailored, one-of-a-kind dress with a history just seems so much more fun than wearing a brand new dress churned out by the hundreds and worn by as many others, not to mention the waste created.

I’ve enjoyed watching the attitudes of the local Chinese slowly thaw towards vintage clothing, especially in light of their deeply ingrained belief to always buy new things. Friends in Beijing, I look forward to see you at the next vintage market.

 

my first 100+ km ride

Cyclists waiting for leader to find a cycling path around Huairou Reservoir
Cyclists waiting for leader to find a cycling path around Huairou Reservoir

So I went on my first 100+ km group ride two Saturdays back.

I admit I was quite unprepared for the ride. Before that, the longest ride I’d been on was about 80 km with only one cycling companion, F. Since our Mentougou ride, F and I have been tossing around the idea of going on a longer ride to Pinggu. So when F spotted a cycling event to Pinggu organised by a local cycling club, he signed up and asked me to come along. It took me all of five minutes to forego indoor rock-climbing for a 140 km cycling trip happening two days later.

I prepared for my first 100+ km ride by buying a pro cycling top with pockets sewed in the back and a pair of cycling gloves.  For some reason, I assumed I could get away with 5 hours’ sleep before the ride, and so woke up at 4 am to watch a World Cup match (probably the knock-out stage).  That was the first of a number of misjudgments I made.

Waking up at 4 am, I was naturally hungry by 5 am and had breakfast by 5:30 am. It did occur to me that the air quality index was high (read: quite polluted) and humidity was over 50%, which was not ideal cycling weather. But my pride and sense of honour won out in the end, and I joined the other cyclists at 7am at the designated meeting spot.

Over 30 people turned up for the ride, and out of these there were about seven women, including myself. I’d expected to be in the slow group, but after about two hours of cycling, I was not just in the slowest group, I was literally the last rider in the group. The other riders did all hey could to help me ride faster. They oiled my chains, pumped my tires full of air and eventually told me to ride a brand new bike another girl was riding because she ran out of energy and had to be chauffered in the back-up car to the restaurant.

In the end, it wasn’t my bike or the new bike that held me back. It was my hunger and thirst. My stomach began grinding in hunger 3 hours into the ride. I was perspiring profusely but was fearful of finishing off my water supply without a means of replenishing it anywhere along the way. By the time we got to a convenience store and I downed a sports drinks and a Snickers bar, these things no longer had an effect on me. My energy had been completely depleted. I cycled for another 5 km to catch up with the back-up car and rode the remaining 10 km to the restaurant.

I managed to ride all the way from Pinggu back to Beijing after a proper rest and stuffing my face at lunch.  I properly did close to 130 km that day, which was the longest distance I’ve ever cycled in one day, and I should’ve been proud of my achievement.

Instead, all I remember on the return leg of the ride was feeling like puking most of the way back, because of all the polluted air I’d breathed all day, and cycling while my legs were cramping, trying not to fall over. When I got home at 8 pm that night, I managed to shower and order some pizza before collapsing on my bed, physically and mentally exhausted. If it wasn’t for my hunger pangs, I probably would’ve slept through the pizza delivery man’s knock on the door.

I remembered thinking, I’m never doing this again.

A gorgeous day at Huairou reservoir
A gorgeous day at Huairou reservoir

I recovered from the ride in less than 48 hours and began scouring the local cycling club’s website for the next long distance ride. And sure enough, I went on a 90 km ride to Huairou reservoir on the following Saturday. This time round, the air quality was excellent, and the sky was blue with some cloud cover. I wished I could say I cycled faster this time, but it didn’t matter. What’s more important was that I enjoyed this ride so much, I’d finally acquired a taste for long distance cycling.

Anyone interested in cycling along the border between DPRK and China for five days? 😉

 

Is cycling safe in Beijing? – Part 1

cycling_safe_in_beijing
Before I started cycling in Beijing, I used to ask myself relentlessly, “Is cycling safe in Beijing?” For the uninitiated, as I was then, the answer had to be ‘no’. Just looking at the congestion and the types of vehicles on the roads was enough. Cyclists in Beijing were either very brave or very good at cycling.

So I thought.

Then I got on Sottie’s bicycle and cycled almost 15 km from Jianguomen to Chaoyang Park. I was starting and stopping at inappropriate spots on the road, I almost collided with another cyclist on the Third Ring Road and I fell off my bike a couple of times through no fault of others. The most important thing was, I survived my first ride in over 20 years relatively intact. And that changed my view of Beijing roads and drivers.

After being asked this question upteen times by friends and acquaintances, I’ve decided to put my thoughts on the matter into a post, or three.

Cycling in Beijing can be safe depending on:

  1. where you ride your bike
  2. how fast you ride your bike
  3. when you ride your bike
  4. weather and air quality
  5. how often you ride your bike

Where you ride your bike & how fast you ride your bike

This is the route I take when I cycle to work everyday:

Home -> west along Liangmaqiao Road (4-lane road)-> south along Third Ring Road (6-lane road) -> arrive at Fortune Plaza bicycle parking lot.

Total distance = around 9 km.

I used to ride along the west side of Chaoyang Park instead of along the Third Ring Road, because the scenery was better. But as I leave my apartment later and later in the morning, I began noticing that Chaoyang Park Road had way more traffic lights and pedestrians than the Third Ring Road and so it made sense to go along Third Ring Road instead. Of course, there’s also more motor vehicles and exhaust fumes along the Third Ring Road and there’s no scenery to speak of, but after cycling along the same route for the last 9 months, even Chaoyang Park’s wondrous greenery has lost its shine. Getting to work on time has been claiming higher and higher priority these days.

To avoid breathing in too much exhaust fumes and Beijing’s generally polluted air, I almost always wear a Respro mask while I’m cycling. That takes care of the pollution argument.

Dealing with cars, buses, trucks, mopeds, motorbikes, ebikes and crazy pedestrians in peak hour traffic, however, is quite another matter.  It’s no fun being sidelined by a bus/truck or hitting the brakes suddenly to avoid hitting something/someone, especially when you’re cycling at your favourite speed or just begun accelerating.  I cycle at at average of 20 km/h, and am simultaneously hailed by one group of friends (infrequent or non-cycling) as a speed demon and rubbished by another group of friends (manic cyclists primarily from Western Europe) as an elderly snail.  From experience, it’s the safest speed on Beijing roads. Go too slow and you’re constantly cut off by other vehicles. Too fast and you won’t be able to do an emergency brake when faced with an imminent headlong collision.

When should a cyclist stop? When should a cyclist accelerate? Based on my experience, it’s best to look at both the traffic lights and the oncoming traffic when deciding if I should stop or accelerate at a green light turning red and vice versa. Here’s why —

  • Drivers don’t necessarily brake when they see a red light in Beijing. They might stop if there’s a policeman standing next to it. And that’s a maybe.
  • Most drivers I’ve encountered while cycling in Beijing would deliberately slow down when making a turn to give me enough time and an excuse to speed past on my bike. Panicking and stopping will attract a barrage of distasteful verbal abuse from said drivers.
  • When I encounters motor vehicles while cycling along designated bike lanes, I take it upon myself to return the courtesy and shout verbal abuse at the drivers.
  • In China, it’s always better to be more aggressive than whoever you’re sharing a road with, unless it’s a ginourmous coach or truck.

In short, what I’m trying to say is, you need to have all your wits about you whenever you’re cycling in peak hour traffic in Beijing. Don’t assume everyone will follows road rules religiously, cycle at a reasonable speed, make sure your brakes are in a good working order and you’ll be right.*wink*