Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Weak At The Knees

The other day I received text messages informing me that a close girl friend of mine had suffered a stroke, was mildly paralyzed and was rushed to the hospital. I wasn't able to go to the hospital that night to see her, but a common friend of ours who did texted me: "She has Guillain-Barre Syndrome."

Of course I looked it up online. This site explains it well, but since it's a distant healing rather than a medical/scientific site, I looked at Wikipedia. Then I dug up a really useful site, the Guillain-Barre Syndrome Support Group, based in the UK. The best thing about this last site is that it contains testimonies of those who have experienced and recovered from GBS. Reading those accounts heartened me. I couldn't bear imagining this friend of mine permanently immobile and depressed.

I visited my friend - let's call her Rachel - yesterday afternoon after lunch. but most of the time I was there her mom and the nurse were busy bathing her so I had to wait outside.

When I first arrived I was able to say hi and ask how she was. "Hi, I have GBS."

This was what I noticed:

1. She was lucid, sitting up straight. She talked slowly and carefully, her voice a bit slurred. She said she couldn't smile because she had to support her chin with one hand while talking, because of the mild paralysis in the muscles of her lower jaw. She was connected to a dextrose drip.

2. Her fingers were nimble enough to receive and make short text replies to me on her cell phone.

I was relieved because I had expected worse circumstances.

On her way back from the restroom her mom asked me to get a male nurse to assist them back to the hospital room because she had to hold the drip. Rachel was able to walk slowly, but I realized her legs couldn't voluntarily support the weight of her body. Her mom and I propped her up on the bed, because the bed base was high. Then she asked to wear socks because her feet felt cold (she couldn't bend down to put them on). She told me she could feel the cold, but if her foot were dipped in water, she couldn't feel the sensation of wetness. She asked me to hold her hand, and it was cold and dry. Apparently she could not generate/regulate her body temperature (something to do with the nerves, I don't know how to explain it), but she could feel the warmth of my hands.

I asked if she was able to eat solids. She said she eats by supporting her lower jaw with one hand. "So there's nothing wrong with your tongue?" I asked. None, she said. She had solid food for lunch, despite the drip. The drip was there because earlier she had no appetite. Her blood pressure was up and down, and when she sat up from a prone position she felt dizzy. After she threw up she said she felt the pressure in her esophagus released, so then she actually felt hungry. She drinks water from a glass (doesn't need a straw), but can't stretch out her arm to get it from the table. She says she doesn't like to lie down for long periods without changing position, because the muscles in her back ache. When she lies down she puts a folded blanket between her knees for warmth and circulation. With some effort she can move each leg forward and backward, as long as she's lying down. She likes to be bundled up in a coverlet because her extremities constantly feel cold.

Apparently, this is what happened:

1. Last Wednesday, she woke up feeling numbness in her toes. She still went ahead with her duties. Through the weekend, she felt a tingling sensation climbing up her legs. By Monday, she was still able to drive to work. However, when she got there, her blood pressure shot to 160/100, and she passed out. One of her colleagues took her to the Infirmary, where she was given medicine to lower her blood pressure. But when the doctors noted her mild paralysis, they concluded she must have had a stroke. So her parents rushed her to the hospital for tests.

2. After the battery of tests and the CT scan Rachel was scheduled for an MRI. Early this morning the results of the CT scan came in and they discovered that her brain was undamaged - ergo she NEVER had a stroke at all. And best of all, there was NO brain damage. So when the neurologist interviewed her and she told him of the sequence of events leading to the hospitalization, he diagnosed her as having Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS).

Rachel was aware of GBS, because she had had one male student who suffered from it last year. One day while standing at the bus stop, he just collapsed, his legs buckling beneath him. He missed two months of classes, and when he came back, he was just barely able to walk. He reported to the class his experiences with GBS, so when the neurologist made his diagnosis, Rachel was able to grasp what was happening to her.

But Rachel's mom still doesn't understand what GBS is, or whether people are able to recover. I told her about the GBS Support Group, and the accounts I'd read. Rachel said, "If I'd really had a stroke, my brain would be permanently damaged. At least the doctor said, with GBS, there's a beginning and an end." According to the GBS site, the condition clears up of its own accord, only you can't predict when. My guess is, with the immunoglobulin treatment and the physiotherapy, Rachel actually has a chance of recovering most of her motor functions any time within six months. Rachel probably wouldn't be able to go on mountain hikes but at least she'd be able to walk short distances unaided, or even be able to drive again with a companion. The possibility that the quality of her life can still improve is what counts.

The duration of the hospital stay, the cost of physiotherapy, and most of all, the cost of the immunoglobulin medicine worries her mom. Rachel asked me if I could ask all our friends to help raise funds for the medicine. I was shocked when her mom mentioned the cost of treatment. It's estimated that a GBS patient needs 5 vials of immunoglobulin a day for 7 days. However, the premier brand of immunoglobulin costs something like PhP 13,000 PER VIAL. If you calculate it, that's the amount you spend on a CAR. So Rachel's mom told me that she asked around for a cheaper alternative that was just as effective. She found one being supplied by a company somewhere in Manila, that was priced at PhP 5,100 per vial. The 35 vials Rachel needs for the treatment will then cost just under PhP 200,000 (less than half the other total, but still a hefty expense). So I said if they could get me the name of the cheaper alternative I could try to source it in the US and ask some relatives to bring them early next year when they come for our family reunion. Or we could ask our high school batchmates in the US to sponsor vials for the treatment. Or we could write to charity organizations abroad for help. Anyhow, I said I'd ask our other friend Francine to help me write some letters. We'll try to set up a bank account for donations as soon as possible.

If, after reading this, you'd like to help in any way, please send us an email or leave a comment below. We'd really appreciate it.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Claymation: The Corpse Bride

I recently took my mom to a showing of Tim Burton's Corpse Bride, at the Gateway Mall Cinemas in Araneta Center, Cubao. My mom had no idea what claymation was, but I knew the animation style and the storytelling would appeal to her. Earlier we had gone shopping for her birthday treats and for a friend's wedding gift at Rustan's. Naturally, we left the stuff in their package counter to be wrapped and went to enjoy the movie.

She knew Johnny Depp, from Chocolat. She knew Helena Bonham Carter, whom she first saw in Merchant Ivory's A Room With A View ("This actress looks like Joy! Look at that jawline!). But she knew it wasn't about the stars themselves, but their voice acting. In that respect, you would say Corpse Bride was a star-studded production. Other instantly recognizable cream-of-London-theater voices included those of Emily Watson, Richard E. Grant, the Absolutely Fabulous Joanna Lumley, and Albert Finney. Once my mom experienced the voice acting fleshed out in plasticine, shot in frame by meticulous frame, she was hooked.

The storyline of Corpse Bride is simple, loosely based on a Russian folk tale and set in the Victorian era. Reluctant working-class but materially prosperous Victor meets well-born but impoverished Victoria for the first time on their wedding night. He has trouble reciting his wedding vows, goes out on a winter night to practice them, and accidentally sticks the ring on a stick... which turns out to be the bony finger of our eponymous girl; to wit, "marrying" her. Emily was an innocent maiden mortally betrayed on the eve of her wedding by a dastardly fiancee. So Victor is sucked into an underworld of jazzy singing articulated skeletons, where he realizes that he is in love with the pure-hearted and very living Victoria. In the world above, Victoria's family thinks Victor has jilted their daughter and rush to marry her off to the sleazy Lord Barkis Bittern. The tale of Victor and Victoria's attempt to reunite in true love, and of the murdered Emily getting justice, is directed in prime Tim Burton style (see The Nightmare Before Christmas), and enhanced by the music of the very talented Danny Elfman.

Needless to say, my heart went out to Emily, the Corpse Bride. I don't know how they do the claymation of eyes welling with slow tears, but I am amazed by the attention given to details like that. My own eyes watered. My mom enjoyed herself utterly.

Definitely worth getting on DVD!

Girls' Night Out

A dog-lover friend of ours invited Almond, Tim and myself to a benefit dinner for the Philippine Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) last night. The event was at a small watering hole near Almond's house in Quezon City, and had a tribal theme. The ticket price of PhP 300 covered dinner, a drink and a free oracular reading of any kind. Unfortunately dinner turned out to be two pathetic sticks of pork barbecue and a cup of rice, and nothing else. The drink was a choice of either beer or iced tea. The free oracular reading was, to put it kindly, unsatisfactory in the sense that the readers were either inexperienced (one was still consulting a book! which we could have hypothetically bought and consulted ourselves!) or sounded like they were reciting from a pre-prepared script. Neither Tim nor Almond were impressed. Also, neither girl eats red meat, only seafood and vegetables, so they were in a quandary. The organizer was a wiccan who was promoting alternative lifestyle practices, so the two girls were under the impression that there some vegetarian food would be available.

"Serving vegetables would have been cheaper for them!"

"Do Wiccans eat vegetables?"

"But that Wiccan smokes!"

As for me, I wanted to get the most out of my PhP 300, so I grimly ate my two sticks of barbecue and washed down a couple of spoonfuls of rice, which was very dry, with the watery iced tea. I also wanted my evening to be more interesting, so I hied over the henna artists booth and looked over their catalog. The smallest size of henna tattoo was priced at PhP 50. When I asked if they could do certain designs in what I thought was the dainty fifty-peso size, to my dismay I was told that the tattoo stencils were actually bigger than the "clip art" size I wanted. Still, I was determined. Besides, the design would eventually wash away after several days.

I finally found a design that appealed to me, a rampant wyvern with wings outstretched, its tail curling like a seahorse's. A wyvern is a magical beast, the type you find emblazoned on coats of arms and other heraldic artifacts. It's actually a little dragon, but whereas the western-style dragon has wings, two front paws and two back paws, a wyvern's wings ARE its front limbs. Like a bat. Once upon a time, in a previous, physically fitter life I had been pointman for an assault squad of airsoft players in a team called Wyvern. The symbolism, you know, had to relate to something in my personal life and identity. I had it done, all three vertical inches of it, in the center of the small of my back, just above the waistband of my jeans. In fact, it took a while to dry. I sat near where a percussion band played tribal drums with my t-shirt taped up in the back to avoid stains for 45 minutes. I was chagrined that Tim and Almond were getting hungrier and hungrier while I waited for my henna to dry, but there was no help for it. In the meantime they moved around, successfully eluding the chainsmoking wiccan who wanted to sell them some colored magic love salt to dissolve in their bath.

When the henna dried and we piled in the car to go, Tim mentioned that she wanted us to try a restaurant called Spoon owned by newscaster Ces Orena-Drilon. She'd just read about it in the Philippine Daily Inquirer. It was near the ABS-CBN compound in Quezon City, not too far away. We finally found Spoon, amusingly enough, located right next to a place called Dish, which was actually some sort of nightclub. Alas, it was full and there was a long waiting list. Tim and Almond were delirious with hunger, but we decided to walk around till we found a restaurant that served seafood and vegetables, in a nice, family-type place not too dark or noisy. Parking was hard to come by, and we were damned if we were going to give up the slot we found just to look for a worthy restaurant.

Serendipity led us to Sangkalan, which is a Filipino restaurant and grill in the famous Trellis tradition on 27 Scout Albano St. It was newly renovated, too. It being the Halloween weekend they had booked an acoustic band to play later at night. Even I still felt a little hungry after the two little barbecues. So we ordered a sumptuous feast of sizzling tahong (mussels) in red chilli garlic sauce, chop suey with buco, grilled squid, deep-fried oysters in a salsa of mango, kamias and red onion. Silence reigned as we gulped and chewed. My ice-cold buco sherbet even arrived served in the coconut! The dishes looked wonderful and tasted wonderful. They erased the nasty memories of the mean little barbecues and watery iced tea. All our orders were winners! Even the acoustic band didn't sound too bad. We are definitely going there again. Serendipity indeed!

Waiting For Nick Bantock

I can't get over my glee at having scored my two Nick Bantock books (see previous post below)!

For those who haven't yet encountered Nick Bantock's works, he's an artist primarily and an inventive writer next (his writing showcases his artworks and vice versa). I first learned about Bantock a decade ago, from my friend Moni.

Bantock was the first to create a physical art form out of the genre of the epistolary novel. The Griffin and Sabine series of six books (two box sets of three) -- a fantasy, mystery and romance all rolled into one -- unfolds in a series of letters exchanged by two unlikely but intriguing characters. By physical form I mean on each page you will find an illustrated facsimile postcard or letter in an envelope that you can actually remove, unfold and read. If you secretly enjoy the voyeuristic thrill of reading other people's letters, you'll enjoy this series, his most famous work among many.

Amazingly, the first set of three G & S books Joy and I managed to complete by visiting the National Bookstore Main Branch in Araneta Center in mid-'90s. This was in the old days before the completion of the Gateway mall complex and the glossy-but-welcome facelift it gave the formerly seedy and pedestrian Cubao. The books (Griffin and Sabine, Sabine's Notebook, and The Golden Mean) were all on sale (old display copies, I think). We found them -- in wonderful condition -- on different trips by methodically searching the entire 4th floor which is now the area called "Previously Owned Books". (All book lovers, if you don't know it yet: this floor stocks discounted excess lots of trade titles, with bargain prices averaging at PhP 250 to under PhP700 for hardbound books, and PhP 100 to under PhP 500 for regular paperbacks and trade paperbacks.)

On other sales through the years we were able to find Nick Bantock's The Venetian's Wife (hardbound), The Museum at Purgatory (hardbound) and The Forgetting Room (trade paperback size -- ), but these were at assorted bookstore sales. I'm not sure if they are also set in the Griffin-and-Sabine universe, but they do exude that same indefinable mystery. They're so profusely and wonderfully illustrated!

My only sorrow in this happy tale is that someone who once read my Griffin and Sabine in our living room removed the beautiful dust jacket and put it aside (read: now the dust jacket is forever lost, or worse, possibly creased and folded to boot). Can try to find a pristine one on eBay as a last resort, hehehe.

Next on my list to find: Bantock's The Artful Dodger (his autobiographical illustrated book). It's now past midnight and I'm looking at Bantock's works online, drooling. But I'm patient. I mean, I waited in line for six hours just to get Neil Gaiman's autograph. I can wait till the next sale!

I Could Not Resist

Earlier this week a friend alerted me via email to the Powerbooks Warehouse Sale (126 Pioneer St., Mandaluyong). I ended up going to the sale two days in a row (yesterday was the last day). Actually most of it was spent panic buying for discounted office supplies at another room in the same building, but I did manage to score the ff. (everything less 20%):

1) Some beautifully illustrated hardbound children's books (Hans Christian Andersen, Arabian Nights and Grimm's Fairy Tales) for PhP 388 each (from PhP 485).

2) Clive Barker's second book in the Abarat children's book series -- Days of Magic, Nights of War -- for PhP 396 (from PhP 495). My brother-in-law Tristan has the first book in the same edition (trade paperback), I'll just borrow his copy to read.

3) Nick Bantock's Griffin and Sabine second trilogy -- book 2 (Alexandria) and book 3 (The Morning Star), each at PhP 772 (from PhP 965). A steal for collectible hardbound books still in their shrinkwrap!

Now I will definitely NOT be buying any more books for some time... Good thing I've already done my Christmas shopping (including packaging!). I don't want to suffer all the Yuletide last-minute stress and delirium.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

More Lilo

[insert photo]

Three-week-old Lilo was very hungry when I snapped this photo over Joy's shoulder yesterday. Note the intent stare!

Yes, Uncle Dave, Lilo's full name is Olivia Sofia, which holds her potential for Peace (Olivia) and Wisdom (Sofia). At the moment you could say she is mostly peaceful (when asleep) and baby-wise (with the knowledge that with a cry she can quickly summon her adoring slaves!).

For all friends and family members overseas who hoped to see more than the one picture in my previous post, click here.

Tuesday, October 4, 2005

Veronica Mars / Medical Investigation

Now that Rockstar: INXS is off the air, I was wondering what would be good enough to keep Wednesday nights my favorite tv night.

Good news, there's Veronica Mars on ETC from 8-9pm. Veronica Mars starts out like most teen angst dramas but is actually a detective story set in the fictional town of Neptune, CA. Veronica is the daughter of the town sheriff, and is best friends with the daughter of the town's wealthiest family. When her best friend Lily Kane dies in her own home, under mysterious circumstances, Veronica's dad Keith investigates and considers Lily's father Jake Kane a suspect in his own daughter's murder. Due to the Kane family's influence, Veronica's dad loses his job. Worse, Veronica's mom leaves their family. To top it all off, Veronica suddenly falls from grace with her high society high school friends. Her dad sets up his own detective agency, where Veronica works in reception part-time. The rest of the time she's a photographer with the school paper, and conducts her own investigation of Lily's death. One of her suspects is Lily's brother, who used to be Veronica's boyfriend... NOW do you see why I'm so hooked? The writing is tops, letting Kristen Bell play Veronica Mars as a sassy and fearless blonde hot on the trail of truth.

And then there's Medical Investigation, on Star World, from 9-10pm. Hotshot government medical investigators do real-time analyses to save lives during outbreaks. You'd think it was like CSI, only with more live bodies. I watched the pilot episode last week, and was trying to decide whether to hate Dr. Stephen Connor (Neal McDonough) or not. He has the ego of CSI: Miami's Det. Horatio Caine (David Caruso) -- (read: I will do everything in my power to save you, and indeed I DO have the power!) -- but you have no choice but to trust him, because no one else will make the difficult decisions. The other leads are ok, but the standout role in the pilot episode was intrepid NIH press officer Eva Rossi (Anna Belknap). She manages to hoodwink and corral a pesky reporter until the outbreak is contained, and THEN gives him the scoop for suffering her string of red herrings. Alas, according to the show was eventually cancelled. I guess it can't compete with the CSI franchise. A couple of seasons is good enough for the meantime.

Of course, my favorite show CSI immediately follows, to round out my Wednesday nights. (Update: Anna Belknap eventually joins the cast of CSI: New York. Talent too good to waste!)

Rockstar: Denouement

When I think about it, it's a good thing Joy didn't give birth until AFTER Rockstar:INXS ended. As I've said before, the show (and episodes of various CSI's) made my midweek tv programming. The fact that INXS chose JD Fortune to be their lead vocalist wasn't much of a surprise; he'd focused his performances and songwriting toward that end, and got what he wanted. I just thought that it also meant INXS couldn't step too far away from Michael Hutchence's ghost. (Some friends of mine commented that it was the same thing with Journey and the singer they hired to replace Steve Perry, Steve Augeri. He sounded enough like Perry to be able to render the old hits. Compare this to Van Halen replacing David Lee Roth with Sammy Hagar, and the band went from strength to strength. Van Hagar sounded different from Van Roth but good enough to keep record sales up. I actually liked Van Hagar.)

I'm glad Marty Casey didn't win. That means he and his band Lovehammers can go on to carve THEIR OWN niche in their own name. I downloaded their song "Eyes Can't See" and it was great. The great thing about tv singing contests is the fandom it creates for its contestants, and that finalists can get offered contracts outside of the show. I didn't mind that Bo Bice or Constantine Maroulis didn't win American Idol 4 -- they got their own contracts in the end. So I'm not too worried about Suzie McNeil or MiG Ayesa. MiG might even one day win a Tony for musical theatre.

I must say this, though: at the end of the show, INXS and JD Fortune played a new song called "Easy, Easy" and it made ABSOLUTELY NO IMPACT on me. I voiced this in my yahoo group, asking, "Why am I underwhelmed by this? Is it just me?" Apparently I wasn't the only one who felt that way. What impressed me more was the song "Us", but I would prefer a Suzie McNeil solo version (I downloaded the recording session version from the show) as compared to the all-hands-on-deck version by INXS, Dave Navarro and the last five finalists. I guess it's because the band already wrote all the songs as is, needing only JD's vocal as a plug-in. Maybe the NEXT album after this one would actually showcase JD's songwriting skills.


Lilo entered our lives last Sept. 22. My niece (and my parents' first grandchild) was delivered by caesarian section, weighing 5.8 lbs and measuring 16 inches long. She was the tiniest baby born that day, but don't let that seeming fragility fool you. Lilo is feisty and adorable, much like her mom, although for the first few days of her life some people claimed Lilo looked more like me (must be the eyes). Lilo was born with a shock of hair, and her daddy's nose. In three months we'll have a better idea who she looks like. When I held her for the first time I marvelled at her precious perfection, and fell in love.

Joy and Tristan brought her home from St. Luke's last Tuesday; in preparation the entire house was vacuumed and sprayed vs. insects. Our dad hurriedly went out and bought a new ceiling fan from Home Depot and had it installed in the living room before they arrived. We had flowers and fruit from all over. We saved the newspapers the day she was born so she'd have her very own time capsule. The entire condo building buzzed with the news, and our phones rang incessantly with congratulations.

When Lilo's hungry and starts crying she turns beet red all the way to her tootsies. She doesn't like people manipulating her arms; it's a struggle to put mittens on her (without the mittens she'd end up scratching her face). She's actually much stronger than you'd think. In fact, she scored an 8/8 on her Apgar test (the one that measures the senses, reactions and reflexes).

Tristan takes Lilo out in her stroller (a gift from Annie) to sunbathe for a few minutes in the early mornings. She luxuriates in her late morning baths. And when she's asleep she makes faces that make us all laugh. With a new baby in the house everyone's learning curve is steep: I can now add sterilizing bottles, preparing milk formula, burping and changing nappies to my auntie skills.

Lilo can now consume two ounces of breast milk/formula plus a half ounce of water every couple of hours. We all take turns feeding her, so that Joy can rest. Let me tell you, the amount of time and attention given an infant is exhausting, but when Lilo looks at you, you forget everything.

I even forgot to post a blog entry for more than a week!