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Catsup November 25, 2013

Posted by KG in Albanian, Family, Kosovo.
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In the nearly 13 months since I have written a blog entry, I have, in ascending order of pride in accomplishment:

  • Become, according to work, professionally proficient in Albanian
  • Successfully moved to Kosovo
  • Run numerous races, including my second half-marathon
  • And become a father

I suspect anyone still reading this blog already knows these things, but consider this a half-hearted attempt at lazily trying to restart blogging.  With a now nearly-8-month old, time is at a premium, but it wouldn’t be bad to squeeze in some time for reflection.


Here’s to 2011… January 5, 2011

Posted by KG in Etc., Family, Running, Travels.
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…  though to be frank, I have few reasons to mourn the passing of 2010.  In the final ledger ’10 comes out in the black: trekking in the Himalayas, roadtripping in the Pacific NW, hiking in Zion National Park.  Returning to DC, a new job that was terrifying on paper that has proven to be rewarding in ways I didn’t expect, a chance to work in NYC.  A nice house in a nice neighborhood, all our belongings out of storage, and holidays with family.  The whole back injury, emergency surgery, ten pounds gained because the doc says no exercise thing put a damper on the end of the year, but overall things turned out just fine.

2011 could be even better.  Yesterday I managed two miles on the treadmill in 16 minutes — a slow pace, but the official benchmark my PT gave me for going ahead and running outdoors.  New work challenges pop up daily, but somehow they seem more predictable than they did months ago, or at least more understandable.  The wife and I are starting to talk travel destinations for the new year, and the whole of North America seems ripe for exploration. 

I’ve come to dislike both New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Resolutions because they are setups for disappointment.  Goals were more my thing, but unfortunately I failed spectacularly at all of the goals I set for 2010, with the possible exception of “eat more fish.”   When 2/3 of your goals are physical, a back injury will do that.  So this year I’ll pull back from “resolution” even more — a list of ideas for making 2011 a good year: 

Read more books. 

Approach problems calmly.  

Appease loved ones and anonymous admirers by blogging more.  

And most importantly, avoid debilitating medical conditions.

The Operation October 21, 2010

Posted by KG in Etc., Family, fitness, Technology.

I took a taxi Wednesday morning to GW Hospital, driven by a nice 80 year-old Punjabi gentleman.  I’d developed the habit of stretching out/lying down on the back seat of cabs to alleviate some of the pain, and drivers had been more than willing to accommodate.  It’s amazing the sympathy and questions you get when you’re a taxi passenger going back and forth to a hospital, with an envelope full of MRI scans in your hand.  This particular taxi driver told me all about his wife, who had a much more extreme procedure on her back and didn’t recover well.  “Not the doctor’s fault though!” the driver said.  “She’s lazy and refused to walk after surgery for weeks.  She got blood clots!”

At GW, I walked to the surgical check-in desk, which was up a flight of stairs.  The walk from the doors to the desk was short but torturous, and I couldn’t breathe by the time I got there.  Of course there were no seats or benches at the check in, and I still had a batch of forms to fill out. I begged the woman behind the desk to bring me the forms at “that sofa– the empty one, right over there!,” gesticulating wildly towards an empty sofa where I planned on lying down. “But you still need to fill these forms out,” she said.  I explained, near hyperventilating from pain, that both sitting and standing were extremely painful and could she take pity because I’m getting surgery on my spine.  Nada.  It was one of the worst moments of this ordeal — a completely clueless hospital staff member so stuck on procedure that she couldn’t think of context.  Having done my own time on bureaucratic procedure (visas in India for two years!), I knew the psychology behind what was going on, and how easy a fix could be, which frustrated me all the more.  Luckily, a nurse saw me sweating and cursing sotto voce, and took me out of the situation before I actually fell down.  I got the forms done on the sofa, and was swiftly taken in back to a gurney to get prepped for surgery.

And there my waiting began.  I was told my surgery would be at 1:30, but that I was an add-on, which I guess is the surgical equivalent of stand-by.  It made sense; my need had come up suddenly, and they just had to squeeze me in.  Waiting was irritating, but I had diversions.  I finished reading “No God but God,” eavesdroppped on fellow patients, and took up playing an awful lot of Angry Birds. (so addictive!!)  A good 4-5 hours later than planned, the doctors started coming by to brief and prep me.  Sounds like a long delay, but given that I was on surgical stand by, I was lucky to even get in.  The surgeon was clear that it was either yesterday or ten days from now, and things could only get worse inbetween.

The doctors told me all about the procedure — a microdiscectomy/laminotomy on my L5 S1 disc, which had actually extruded around my nerve column.  “That thing is huge!” my surgeon said (giggle.)  The extrusion was so large that the doctor was speechless when I saw him Tuesday.  He explained why before operating: “I’ve only seen extrusions like this twice before, and we went in to surgery immediately because the patients couldn’t walk.  You’re lucky you’ve been moving.”  Lucky or stubborn, I guess.

They wheeled me back to surgery around 5:30 or 6, right after I took off my wedding ring and glasses and turned them in to be locked up. They had music playing in the OR, though I don’t remember exactly what it was.  The surgical intern was on her second-to-last day, and the anesthesiologist mentioned that the tunes of choice for my surgery were likely to be Lady Gaga, but that I wouldn’t exactly be singing along.  He hooked something up to an IV, put a mask on my nose and…

… the next thing I remember was coughing like crazy and begging for something to spit in.  I was also incredibly cold, shaking like a leaf.  I was in an unfamiliar place in the hospital.  The nurses got me swaddled in hospital-best quality sheets, and I spit profuse amounts of phlegm from my still-irritated throat.  It was two hours after my surgery.  I had no recollection of anything.  (Up until yesterday, I had never gone under general anesthesia, so this was totally new.)  For the next hour or so, I slowly rose out of a fog. I put my wedding ring back on and thought of the wife, so far away.  I put my glasses back on and decided to talk to the nurse, a really nice Filipina lady who told me (hah!) about the endless wait she was going through trying to get green cards for her adult kids.  I drank a ton of water and was pumped full of pain killers.  At one point, I was allowed to get up and go to the bathroom (I refused a bedpan), and found much to my surprise that the standing pain was gone.

I got in to a private room around 9 PM. They fed me a gross, dry turkey sandwich and told me to get comfortable for the night.  Through a percocet haze, I watched the Giants pull a sweet victory against the Phillies, and I watched a dancing Golden Retriever on Letterman.  More Angry Birds was played.  Every few hours, I had my vitals taken, and got a few more pain pills, antiinflammatories, and antibiotics.  I couldn’t sleep, so I sent emails all around.  The room was warm, but that’s probably because my legs were swaddled in super-attractive LeBron style compression socks, as well as machines to prevent blood clotting.

This morning I got full readouts from the doctors and anesthesiologists (I had received partial reports the night before.)  Everything had gone as planned.  There was a ton of disc bumping on my nerve, which was rubbed raw but not damaged.  The incision was exactly the size they expected, an inch long and an inch deep.  The procedure took an hour.  I forgot to ask if they really listened to Lady Gaga.  After those doctors, I saw a set of other people — physical therapists, who told me about the recovery timeline; various nurses and techs to tend to my wounds; the attending orthopedist on the floor who was younger than me and impressed by my injury.  The experience the morning after surgery was long and boring; though all my paperwork was done and I was ready to discharge at 10:30, I didn’t manage to leave the hospital until after noon.  I filled the dead time with phone calls and highly detailed emails to loved ones, friends, bosses, and random well wishers.  I tweeted like crazy.

Speaking of random well-wishers: thank you.  Seriously.  The supportive thought meant a great deal, and I’ve learned to not hesitate when I have the opportunity to pay the kindness I’ve been shown forward.  Also, a major thanks is owed to the HTC corporation, who made my smartphone (seriously).  My phone has been my lifeline through this whole ordeal, helping me fill the time, pass and receive messages, and move/share vital information.  I think I would have gone mad without it, and am making it a mission to get my wife one when she gets back (on Tuesday!).

I was wheeled out of the hospital and hailed a taxi home.  I sat up straight in the back seat, with no pain, and am doing the same now as I type this blog entry from a love seat in my living room. Earlier, I walked to the grocery store and bought a sandwich.  I took some trash (the light stuff!) out.  Recovery is going to be a long road and is going to require patience, but I’ve been through some terrible experiences dealing with this injury already and am prepared.  I am many things, but I am not a lazy man. Bring. It. On.

Bad Timing in Extremis October 20, 2010

Posted by KG in Family, FS Life.

Last Monday, the 11th, my wife left for her “orientation trip,” visiting the numerous posts that she covers for her job.  She’s got a fascinating portfolio covering some unique and isolated places, and I was (and am) killer jealous of her trip.

The Sunday before her travel, I worked out at the gym.  Respecting my body and the pain in my leg, I stuck to upper body work, and managed to hit some good numbers.  From the gym, I followed my normal routine — a walk through the farmer’s market for the week’s vegetables, a shower at home, and then a walk to the wife’s dance studio to meet up with her and have brunch.

Four to five yards into that last walk, something… happened.   I don’t know what, and I don’t know how, but all of a sudden the pain in my leg went from nagging to excruciating.  I hobbled for the rest of the day, screaming every few steps.  Once back home I went straight on my back to try and rest out the pain.  Sitting down — that most modern of modern man’s postures — was agonizing.

Monday afternoon, when the wife was leaving, I was still on my back.  I got an emergency appointment with an orthopedist and continued to rest.  Despite being extremely cautious with the rest, I still could barely walk up and down stairs.  Leaving the house wasn’t an option.  Full of ibuprofen, I had a fitful night’s sleep.

I’d been really excited about work last week.  While the wife was away, I was going to temporarily man the night shift as a staffer in my Bureau’s front office, a great opportunity to take a break from my everyday routine and get a new perspective on how the building works.  Unfortunately, my body made it clear Tuesday morning that it had other ideas.  Rather than go to work, I went to the emergency room, where I was diagnosed with a severe hip strain, advised to keep my scheduled ortho appointment, and sent home on crutches (which helped not at all).  Remaining hopeful that the pain would subside, I sent a message to my superiors with the diagnosis and a plan to work a light schedule Wednesday.  That was decidedly optimistic.

Fast forward to Friday.  I’m still in constant pain, not at work, and getting intimately acquainted with the best of daytime television (“Cash Cab” is a fantastic TV show).  My walking range has increased by about ten paces. I can’t stand for long periods, making things like showering and shaving an ordeal, and cooking only a distant memory.  I see the orthopedist, who laughs at the ER’s diagnosis, orders an immediate MRI, and sends me home with scrips to treat a bulging disc.  Being alone, I’m doing all my movements by taxi, and finding a way to get the prescriptions filled takes some creativity.  But I get it done.  I manage through the weekend, somehow going for an MRI, getting a copy of the Sunday paper, getting groceries delivered, keeping myself fed, all while effectively immobile and by myself.  Unfortunately, the meds prescribed are only minimally helpful.

Tuesday the orthopedist looks at my MRI.  He’s unequivocal in his evaluation, and sends me to get a second opinion the same day.  That doctor agrees.

I’m getting back surgery today.

It’s going to be an overnight at the hospital, but otherwise the prospects for full recovery are pretty good.  I’ve got friends here to help me out, one of whom coincidentally has had the exact same procedure.  Still, I am for all intents and purposes doing this by myself.  My sister is in New York, and my normally Baltimore-resident parents are traveling in Puerto Rico.  My wife gets back in six days.

Distance from loved ones is one of those truisms of Foreign Service life.  At some point in time, you will be thousands of miles away from someone you care about when something happens, and you will be devastated that you can’t be there for them.  This goes both ways — it may be the parent of an FSO, wanting to see their kid in Luanda who has malaria, or the FSO who needs to get back to Denver yesterday to be with a sibling.  Being a tandem couple, and on a DC tour, our odds for avoiding that kind of situation are relatively high; 99% of the time, we’re very near at least one other family member.

Yet here we are.  And I’ve never had surgery. This whole thing is terrifying.

If you’ve got a spare thought today for this gimpy blogger, I’d appreciate it.

Belated Thanks December 9, 2009

Posted by KG in Etc., Family, Food, Friends, FS Life, Travels, Yoga.

Crazy time — parents and sister in town, then out of town with my parents and sister, then arranging for the parents to travel while staying in town, all the while transitioning to a new position in the office. Deep breath.

In the madness I forgot to give thanks this year, quite literally. Despite hosting two lovely strangers and my family for Thanksgiving, we forgot to go around the table and give thanks. Despite the chance to be with my nuclear and extended family, all at the same time, in our ancestral city for the first time in years, I didn’t think to thank anyone. Despite being able to show my family my workplace, introduce them to my coworkers, and take them to a rather unique local holiday celebration, not once did I think “I need to feel grateful for this.”

Here’s a corrective, banking on the spiritually evergreen nature of thanks.

Thank you Orville and Wilbur Wright, Otto Lilienthal, Samuel Langley, and all the other parents of modern aviation, for making the two week holiday half way across the world possible.

Thank you random farm in Pune, for providing amazing Thanksgiving turkeys two years running.

Thank you Michael Graglia for being the best yoga teacher I’ve had, ever. (we’ll miss you!)

Thank you cell phone deregulation and competitive market, for making it so darn cheap to call home.

Thank you Bandra for your ample bounty of cheap and delicious food, just a phone call away.

And thank you to all the family and friends who have visited us in Mumbai over the last year and a half, for making India feel a little bit like home.

Full Circle? June 8, 2009

Posted by KG in Calcutta, Family, India, Travels.
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The first two weeks of my second year in India have been spent in Calcutta, my ancestral home.  

It’s been a ball being back here.   Living in a temporary apartment has meant two weeks without television.  Commuting to and from work takes about two minutes, each way.  My Bangla has probably never been better, and since I’m expected to use Hindi at work as well, I’m working on learning the mental tricks needed to switch between three languages at a moment’s notice.  The chance to stay somewhere other than with family has forced me to get familiar with a part of the city I didn’t know well before.  Best of all, I’ve been able to spend some quality time with family, some of whom I haven’t seen in many years.  Despite it being less than a year since I last saw my grandmother, she’s looks to be about 150 years old now.

In my infinite wisdom, I packed my camera, my computer, but not my flash card reader,  so no photos of Calcutta (or “Kolkata,” for the more prosaic/politically correct minded) just yet.  But thanks to the many people that made this difficult-to-arrange TDY happen.

East is West (Bengal) August 23, 2008

Posted by KG in Calcutta, Family, India, Photos, Travels.
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As mentioned, we went to Calcutta last weekend, where the wife got a heavy dose of in-laws. Her first trip there was also a good excuse for us to be actual tourists — something I haven’t had a chance to do in many years. Unsurprisingly, it was another major Indian city, and thus felt only slightly more relaxing than Bombay. (If anyone comes to visit and can come up with a place less relaxing than Bombay, please let me know so I can avoid it.) That said, the trip gave us the chance to see some bits of older India, like…

hand-pulled rickshaws…
Badur Bagan Lane

old, winding lanes…
In Front of Victoria Memorial

the Victoria Memorial…

… (which was cooler than I remembered)…
The Line for the Kali Mandir

… a massive line at Dakhineswar…
Ganga at Sunset

… Ma Ganga at sunset…
Piu Piu

… and my Grandmother, aka Piu Piu.

It’s pretty enlightening to view Calcutta through the lens of living in another Indian city. I’d always associated it with crowds, traffic snarls, and filth. But after being in Bombay for three months, Calcutta almost felt… serene. Strange, how perspective works.

God Bless Ornery Old Women August 21, 2008

Posted by KG in Calcutta, Family, India, Travels, Wife.

We got back from Calcutta Sunday, and I’ve got some great pictures to show from my trip.  Unfortunately, our home internet is being a bit difficult and we’ve been busy.  To tide you over, here’s a poorly lit picture of my wife in a sari, with my grandmother and one of my many, many aunts.  (I’m still trying to figure out the camera settings…)

Grandmother, Marisa, Aunt

When I asked my grandmother what she thought of my wife, she replied curtly: “I like her more than I like you!”

Relatively Speaking July 7, 2008

Posted by KG in Family, Language, Mumbai.
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The wife is regularly amused by the Indian/South Asian/whatever concept of the cousin-brother, that is, the cousin someone grew up with who is close enough to be considered a brother. It makes a lot of sense to me. There’s no actual word in the Indian languages I know for “cousin.” They all translate into “brother/sister who’s uncle’s/aunt’s child.” And it gets infinite degrees more complex than that. The English word for “uncle” is simultaneously more rigidly and loosely defined than its Indian equivalent(s). Thinking about how to explain it without the benefit of a chart gives me a headache. Basically, we’re in a country where family relations run (or, if you believe the local media, ran) broad and deep. Imagine if everyone had a living lineage as complex and well known as European royalty. It’s kind of like that.

Cutting to the chase, yesterday my wife met some of my Indian relatives for the first time. The older one calls me nephew, his daughter calls me “dada” — the word for older brother. We’ve known each other for years, and though I can’t say we’re close, they’re definitely close to my parents and my father’s immediate family. We also met my newest relative…

If you want to get specific about it, this is my great-grandfather’s brother’s son’s son’s daughter’s daughter. The closest relative we share is my (and her mom’s) great-great-grandfather, who was living around the time of the US Civil War. I’m not exactly sure what I’d call her by Western reckoning*, but that hardly matters. She’s cute as can be, and her parents will have her call me uncle and my wife aunty (when she’s verbal).

*My know-it-all wife says “third cousin once removed.” I say “whatever.”

There’s No Place Like November 21, 2007

Posted by KG in Etc., Family, FS Life, Traveling, Wife.

It’s not just the retailers that have decided the holiday season starts sometime around Canadian Thanksgiving. My client base has as well.

Over the last three weeks, the volume of “welfare and whereabouts” calls (AKA W/W’s, and I have no idea why the slash is there) I’ve taken has increased exponentially. For the uninitiated, these are calls from concerned family or friends asking for the Department’s assistance in finding their loved ones. The stories vary from the tragic to the comic, but share a common aura of despair and sadness. Why the sudden increase? It’s a feeling in the air, I guess: the year’s winding down and people are noticing the empty spots in their lives. Maybe calling the State Department is a last ditch effort — an attempt to fill the missing chair at the table, or at least definitively push it in for another year.

Believe it or not, the Department takes these calls very seriously. No matter how improbable success is, I respond to every request, even if it is with the worst possible news. That’s part of the gut-wrenching side of ACS work; it’s not our place to tell families “maybe you don’t want to hear from X,” only our job to pass the messages along.

It feels like there have been more tears on the other side of my phone of late, more franticness, more manic breathing and screamed entreaties. It’s all I can do to just listen, quietly, and explain my limitations all over again. But in a year of doing this, I’ve learned that there’s a big difference between a happy ending and an ending, and we only have limited ability to decide where a closed case falls on that spectrum.

All work-related angst aside (kind of), I’ve been doing my own reflecting. And believe it or not, it’s good thoughts that pop up. In three hours I’m on a train north to see my parents and sister. In 30 days I’m on a plane west to see my wife and mother-in-law. Life’s not perfect, but I’m doing everything in my power to move it towards happy. For that inner strength, part inherited and part learned over many tough years, I’m truly thankful.

Happy Thankgiving!