Oct 272011

Alright.  This is a bit cumbersome and slow, so please forgive typos and unadorned prose.  But, I figured I might share a few observations from my last couple days of experiences.

I have had the privilege of spending a few quality days in US hospitals over the years.   2  childbirths, a benign tumor removed, and fibroid embolization each afforded me glimpses of the US medical system from a decidedly patient-oriented perspective.  It may be worth noting that the ovarian tumor removal was the only procedure done on an out-patient basis!  That procedure was done on 9/9/2001 and the next two weeks spent in bed trying to recover were among the most grim in my, or indeed, US history.

Luckily, almost nothing about my German experience has reminded me much of those past medical encounters.

To begin with, all those other events occurred in large, urban hospitals.  Superficially sterile, white, busy, and intimidating.  There were lots of papers, lots of noise, lots of people, lots of interruption, and lots of instructions.

This procedure, on the other hand, took place in a small “Surgical Clinic”- so well integrated into its picturesque village that at first we could not find it at all.  When we arrived at 7:30 AM we were greeted with a petite waiting room and a buzzer instructing us to ring.  Once we did, a cheerful matron in surgical scrubs came bustling out.  Central casting could just as easily have sent her for a role as the  kindly mother superior or a Victorian household Cook, but she fit well as the head nurse.  She knew who I was before I introduced myself, apologized for her limited English and reassuringly patted my arm as she whisked me back to change into a hospital gown.

There was no waiting.  Well, David waited, but they took me right into an open ward with maybe 6 beds in it.  There was only one other patient when I arrived.  The anesthesiologist appeared within moments, and we were off!  He reviewed my anesthesia plan which involved a block of all the nerves in my shoulder followed by general anesthesia.  The nurses were all amused that I recognized propofol as Michael Jackson’s drug. The doctor told me I had the EKG of a young girl.  The IV was expertly inserted and as comfortable as such things can be.  “The block” was probably also done well, but it was painful and weird as it caused every nerve in my neck and shoulder to fire before numbing them.  I was grateful for it later that night, but at the time, I hated it.  If I had realized it went in that high on my neck I probably also would have fainted.  When I awoke I had a bandaid that would be suited for a vampire movie.

Literally as soon as it was done, though, they injected the propofol (white!) and I was out until recovery.  I never even saw the operating room.  No scary instruments were ever in my view.

As soon as I awoke, in the same room, David was by my side.  I looked at my arm, chest and shoulder and realized I looked like an oompa-loompa, or a certain guidette.  They had painted me orange with the surgical antiseptic.  They asked me to sit up, but, I fell over, so they had me lay down again.  😉  It apparently took quite a while to get my blood pressure back to normal, so we were in the recovery room for a few hours.  Then they moved me here:

David didn’t get a photo of it, but there was a mini breakfast nook at the end of the room by my feet.  A nice plate of fruit and a yellow table cloth on it.  The cabinet next to me was a fridge.  Around 5, my nurse came with a calligraphied menu card with about a dozen dinner selections to choose from.  They had chicken, beef steak and salmon.  Her English was not great, so I went for simple- chicken, baguette, salad.  It was wonderful!  They had cut everything into manageable chunks, the chicken was seasoned well and had a crisp top crust.  The salad was lovely.  And I could only eat about 12 bites.  I just had no appetite.  Ah well!  The anesthesiologist made his evening rounds and teased me about not liking their food. But, really, it was one of the best meals I had had in Germany!

Overnight they (gasp) let me sleep.  And in the morning the bustling Head nurse was back.  She left me with the youngest girl on staff whose job it was to help me with breakfast.  “What do you want to eat?” she asked.  I got the impression I could ask for any normal German breakfast items, but after quizzing her, I asked for ham and bread.  She came back with a tray piled with cheese, 2 rolls, coffee, ham, jam, butter and cream cheese.  Then she proceeded to wait on me like I was in some Merchant Ivory film.  I finally got so self conscious that I politely send her away.  She was back soon enough to clear things up.

Next a doctor arrived to take out my “rope” (drain tube… shiver).  Then they re-bandaged me and got me dressed to go home.  David arrived an hour later, and we left.  No paperwork, just a friendly handshake and well-wishes.

Back home

The color of Snooki (no bathing for another week, but we managed to sponge some off!)

 Next up, titanium, sugar and the mechanical chair!

Oct 242011
Looks like a kid with a buzz cut for the summer-  Only, you know, that is not a summer sky!

Hey all.  SO, I am scheduled to get my shoulder fixed tomorrow morning.  After that, I am not sure how long it will be before I can get on to post.  I will be left-handed for about 6 weeks, wearing a fun and stylish pillow brace on the right!  Honestly, I was less nervous about the surgery itself and more about the recovery- until I saw the images of the injections they will give me to numb the shoulder.  I am not sure why they need to do that since I will be under general anesthesia, but,  eww.. Just don’t wanna think about it.  I generally like more information, but I think in this case I could have passed on the pictures!  In any case, I am sure there will be plenty of stories to be told about my adventures, if I can manage to type them in to tell them… left handed.  Wish me luck and good meds!

Oh, before I go, here is a quicky update for those of you who don’t follow me on Facebook:

Thursday sucked.  

Seriously.  It was “one of those days” on steroids. Here is how I described it to my family.

“My day so far: Woke up at 4 AM for no good reason and couldn’t fall back asleep. Went to the doctor for a blood test. The girl missed my vein. Got an EKG- they use *suction cups*- felt like someone pinching me in 6 places- vaguely uncomfy. Skin has marks still, 7 hours later. Picked up DS to learn he got into a “tussle” with some older boys at school. The teachers are still trying to sort out what happened. As I am driving home, the gas light comes on. So I get gas. On my way to run errands, the car dies and won’t restart. Some burly German guys help me and the kids push it off the road. David walks over from work to get us. The 24-hour auto service number that VW insisted we use should we break down transfers us twice, then just gives us the number of a tow service- who charges us 130 EU to tow us about a mile. While David awaits the tow service, the kids and I walk the couple miles back home in 40 degree weather. Once we arrive, I call David who informs me that the reason the car died is that I put the wrong gas in it! They found the receipt on the seat. I put benzine in a diesel engine. David says it will cost about 500 EU to flush the tank and replace the important parts.  But, they should get it back to us Monday (knock wood) so we will have it for my operation Tuesday.  Honestly, I am not really upset.  Just kindof wiped.  Can I go back to bed now?”
(Editor note- an earlier version of that section said that DH had gotten into a tussle.  While DH did his fair share of tussling back in the day, in this case, DS was the one involved in some miscommunication-fueled over-exuberant jostling with German Teens.  No one was injured beyond a mildly bruised arm and hands were shaken in the end.)

So, yeah, all that happened.  Car is back today and seems fine, knock wood.  The suction cup marks eventually went away.  I really did look like the Salt Monster from Star Trek had gotten me, though.  This picture doesn’t really do it justice, but gives an idea.  There were, I think, 6 of these all over my torso, and the raised middle section was about 2-3 mm above the rest of the skin:

Speaking of pictures, here are a few other things from the last week or so:

The green pumpkins were yellow inside- interestingly, the orange pumpkins were tinged with green inside, though!

Roasted and ready for mashing

Finished Pie!  Turned out great!

The tree in front of our apartment was covered with all different lady bug varieties.  I always think the black ones are pretty nifty.

But there were varieties with all different numbers of spots and colors ranging from red to orange to yellow to black and in between.  When I opened the car door later, three tried to fly in and had to be discouraged!

The final strip of corn. 
We were working on Halloween/Day of the Dead decorations- DD made a dragon skull, of course!

DS working on a skeletal arm/hand (you can see the radius and ulna lined up with his own- you can also see his missing tooth to the upper right of his smile- lost that this week :)

Finished Dragon Skull

My Dia De Los Muertos inspired skull.
Oct 162011
A logging company on the northern end of the Black Forest.

So, after last week’s dismal weekend, we decided this week needed a bit of sparkle!  The trees aren’t quite in full color, yet, but the Schwartzwald is still beautiful.  So, we decided to take a Sunday Drive up to Freudenstadt, a town known for its huge marktplatz (largest in Germany), clean air, and scenic vistas.

This style of architecture is common

As are small towns with pretty churches

The Schwartzwald was a mix of deciduous and evergreen trees.

Conifers with heavy crops of cones on their upper limbs.  We are surprised by the lack of obvious squirrel activity.

Not a bad view!  There were parasailers enjoying the far side of the valley, but I never could get a good photo of them.

Right at the peak

Unable to see

Enjoying the view, er behind them!

Trying not to crack up.
Hey, where does that go?  (it was too steep for me, I will never know!)

Another Hotel Dreikönig- this one in Freudenstadt

In Freudenstadt- not something we would be likely to see in LA! The dog is easily as big as a small pony!

We stopped at McD’s (Sunday, not much open)- He meandered on through!  (Actually, we discovered a lot of restaurants open in the very touristy town square, but we didn’t know that at this point)

Part of the main square- that church was built in 1601

Pretty details on the old church

I think the fountain was added later 😉

Nice playground- this structure had a working water pump and pathways- DS couldn’t resist!

Coolest lawn “weed” ever!!

You can see them all over among the fallen leaves

One of the more modern sculptures in town.
On the way back, we stopped at a roadside veggie stand

This one was larger than most and had some accessories

Dragon Fruit?

For some reason, these cows seem to wander around near tourist traps

More fun stuff in the bins

I have been unable to find canned pumpkin, so I decided to try fresh- even though past attempts have failed- This one said it was good for pie, so we got one.  Green pumpkin pie may be a bit odd, though!  We also got…..

 the last one of these…  I am hoping to have gotten enough for two pies.  We shall see.

Nice display!

Our two pumpkins.  Now I need to figure out what to do with them to make them pie ready.  Other fresh pumpkin pies have been stringy, and, honestly, I never really liked the butternut squash pies as much as canned pumpkin.  So, we will see what we can do before my shoulder is out of service!

We arrived home to the discovery that they have harvested some of “our” corn field! 

Quick Update of Other Stuff:

We had already had a “Strike Day” for France, so this week we took a “Paperwork Day” in Germany.  The Ausländer Büro is only open from 8-12 each day, so we had to pull both children out of school to go down and apply for our visa renewals.  Took about 2 hours, then we went to the county offices to file our next set of paperwork for our Driver’s licenses.  They sent us to the City offices, where they told us they would just be sending it back to the County office!  At each step we tried to pay, and we finally got the City lady to take 7 EU…. So, of course, yesterday we got notice that we owe them about 70 EU and they won’t move forward until we pay.  I guess some things are the same everywhere!

Ordered furniture!  Next week we should get two large wardrobes for the master bedroom, and a few days later we will receive a large bookshelf for the livingroom.  One of these days soonish we may actually get all our boxes unpacked and stop living out of suitcases!  Woot!

Kids are doing well.  DD seems to be especially thriving right now, knock wood.  She has discovered that her art skills translate well across culture and that her willingness to assist other students with their math and technology work is also much appreciated.  Likewise, her unwillingness to brook BS from anyone means that she is able to stand up to the few obnoxious bullies who do wander the halls of hogwarts.  She sent a group of burly French boys packing when they were getting in the face of another girl with her and herself. But not before, she says, they showed appreciation for her art, which she found amusing.  Way to go DD!

DS is still struggling a bit more, but he is likewise discovering that his superior size aids in many tricky situations. He also is rather surprised to discover that he *is* actually pretty good at soccer!  Who knew? Right now we are working with him so he will be able to take the train more often on his own when I am unable to drive.  Honestly, this freaks me out, but there is a lot of growth opportunity there.  Knock wood.

Here are couple new fun signs- think of them as my moment of Zen:

We get a LOT of silly little bands and acts wandering through.  Most look like this (looked these guys up, their latest single is “God’s Pimp” on their CD “Pussy Lounge”  Classy!!!)
But things like this are equally common- note, the guy with what appears to be a red VELVET bagpipe.

Obi is celebrating “Beaver Bonus Week”, this display advertises their bonus book.
Here is Beaver and friends!
Oct 082011

Holy Moly.

So, context-

In order to get our German Driver’s Licenses we are required to take a First Responders class.  This is so that every driver in Germany knows what to do if they are in, or happen upon, an injury accident.  Not a bad idea, really.  Ours was taught by the Red Cross.  8:30-4:30 on a Saturday.  We had no idea what to expect. We prayed that there wouldn’t be a test! I imagined it would be in a classroom, with audio-video presentations (I wondered what the German version of Red Asphalt might be like) and then probably some hands on training, as well.

In actuality…

It was held in a small multi-purpose room in a building next to the Red Cross building, which houses all the local ambulances and is next to a hospital.  It reminded me of every small community center or church hall I have every been in that was built around the 1940s.  Big room with charming historic photos of community leaders, a few bizarrely incongruous oil paintings, and lots of stacked chairs.  There was a small entry room with bathrooms off the side and a small kitchen area where I am sure much cake and punch has been cut and poured.  The only difference between this and the American version was that the toilets had a viewing shelf, and, since every building has black-out shutters, the curtains didn’t need to keep out light.  The curtains in such places in the states, as I recall, are usually that thick canvas coated with vinyl stuff so that you can do slide shows and show 8 MM films, right? Here they were a pleasant white lace covered with another layer of fabric displaying an atrocious large brown floral print.  I am pretty sure my grandma had a couch with that pattern in the 70’s.

I was fully expecting that our classmates would mostly be teens- who else is getting their Drivers Licenses?  And, I was not mistaken.  One large group arrived surprisingly late and was dropped off en mass by a man I am guessing was their Driving School Instructor.  There was one other guy who looked to be over 40, and two women whose age was likely mid-20s, but everyone else were clearly in their late teens.  The 40-sumpthing guy was getting his Motorcycle License.  I guess he had to retake the class for that one.  In all there were 22 of us.  The instructor was a grizzled guy whom I am going to guess was a retired EMT.  He looked to be in his mid to late 60s.  He had stories to tell.

He had lots of stories to tell. 

In fact, that is all he did.  For the first 1.5 hours, he stood at the front of the room and talked.  He told us about how people didn’t used to stop and help.  But, since it was important that we help, they started requiring these classes.  He told us how to use call boxes.  He also told us what information we needed to give the dispatcher on the other side.  And…. well, about an hour’s worth of other stuff that I didn’t catch because I STILL CAN”T SPEAK GERMAN!  I tried to understand.  I really did.  But, if I got 1/8th of what he said, I am lucky.  And, David. bless him, felt self-conscious, so he was loathe to whisper with me to let me know what was up.  Later I discovered that he didn’t understand a lot of it either.  We both just wanted to sit and get through the day without too much hassle.

Blending…. Not

But, here is the thing.  Try as we might not to draw attention to ourselves, the instructor insisted on delivering his speech Directly. To. Us.   It was weird.  We just sat politely and nodded at appropriate times and chuckled when he indicated that he was making a joke.  We tried our best to blend.  We pushed down our “good student” instincts to answer questions (we couldn’t figure out how!) and to engage the instructor too much.  But, he just honed in on us, and talked directly to us throughout.  We cringed silently, hoped he wouldn’t ask us any direct questions, and wondered how the heck we had caught his eye.

The answer soon became clear to me as I allowed my gaze to flow around the room at the other students.  They all sat stone-faced, expressionless, and blank.  They all watched the instructor ceaselessly, but they would not respond!  I figured maybe this was the way German classes usually are?  Maybe you aren’t meant to be so transparently, noddingly American.  But, then I saw the instructor grow annoyed with their inactivity.  He cursed that they didn’t answer any of his questions and bemoaned the sad status of the German Schooling System. (hee) I remembered studies I had read in College about classes manipulating instructors by having 1/2 the room look engaged and attentive and the other half look distant and bored.  The Instructors would invariably move themselves over to teach almost exclusively to the engaged side.  David and I were inadvertently doing this- we were teaching the instructor through positive feedback that he should talk with us, and only us.  It was getting more than a little uncomfortable!  Having the full attention of the instructor is fine if you have a chance of understanding him.  Having his attention when you just need to slip quietly through class without his realizing you don’t understand a word he is saying is not so desirable.

Rolling Drunks

I resolved to go through class more stoically.  But, before I could get my game face on, it was time for our first activity:  Rolling unconscious people over to protect their airway.  David thinks this is primarily for Drunk People, but since this was an auto safety course, I am going to assume it is protecting folks from more serious injuries- at least a little.  Everyone in the room paired off, then we went 2 by 2 and shook eachother, shouting “Hallo” at our less-than-conscious partners.  Next we propped up one their arms, stuck the other hand by the person’s face, grabbed their far knee and FLOP! got them situated on their side.  Nice Judo, really!  But, it was silly and a bit undignified, so everyone giggled and just a touch of life began to show in the room.  Still, for over 2 hours of Lifesaving Class, this seemed pretty light weight.

Oh, I almost neglected to mention the High Tech Audio Video Extravaganza!  He had an overhead projector with a couple of transparencies with photos and a couple words on each.  He showed us someone going through the process of calling for help on an emergency phone, and a couple seemingly disconnected photos of a motor cyclist sitting injured after an accident.

Ah, wait- time for the next activity: 

Pulling a helmet off of an unconscious motorcyclist.  For this one, we all wore those attractive green  elastic and paper hats that ER workers and unfortunate food handlers everywhere get stuck with.  Then we wore the helmet and our partners pulled them off.  We realized too late that not everyone had to volunteer for this one.  The instructor stood over me.  “More, A little more, keep going.”  I was supposed to slip the helmet back until David’s head was just resting on the inside rim, then grab his head and support his neck.  “A little bit-” David’s head dropped- just a little!  “GRRRR” he said.  I quickly grabbed the back of his head and eased it down to the mat, stifling a strong giggle along the way.  If the instructor noticed, he was mighty German about it!

Then it was back to the lecture.  This time I really had no clue what he was talking about.  There was an image of a business man who had fallen out of his chair.  But, if it was revealed what this had to do with accident response, I never figured it out.  The droning in German was starting to sound like a lullaby.  I needed a break!

Almost too late, he told us we could go to lunch.  We only had 40 minutes, but we figured we could get over to McDonalds and back.  I was starved and I didn’t want to risk finding someplace new.  Over lunch, I told David of my observations about the teacher’s attention to the two nodding Americans.  He agreed that we needed to blend better.  We headed back with intentions of sitting very, very still.

Only, something was wrong.  The doors were already closed.  Everyone was inside!  We looked at the clock as we entered.  It was 5 minutes later than our car clock!  We were late.  Everyone stopped as we walked in and stared at us all the way to our seats.  No one said anything.  We sat down quickly, and class resumed.  So much for blending.  Late is definitely *not* German!

On the bright side, it looked like we were set up to learn CPR.  Amusingly, the German term for it is “reanimation”.  Chillingly, that term, if applied to the two extremely unnatural dummies now situated on the floor, would definitely start some serious nightmare time.  I was actually grateful they had no arms.  Ok, I have never used CPR dummies in the states (Annie came into vogue after my last CPR class).  But, these things have completely removable faces!  Each person changes out its “lungs” (a plastic bag with a valve closure).  And then they attach an entire fresh face- including the part that fits into the valve, which, incidentally, has the poor guy’s teeth.

In any case, I figured we had blown our shot at anonymity, so, I decided to take a couple photos.

David inserting the lung bag
David doing CPR- you can see the brown floral curtains and a few bored Germans behind him.
Bag of faces.  And teeth.   Nothing creepy about that.

The CPR was fun and went well.  But, for the entire rest of the class to complete the training, it only took about an hour.  After that we still had 2.5 hours to go.  The first one was OK.  He told us a horror story about a woman who cut her finger and then had it get infected and the infection went into her blood and eventually into her brain.  “All because she didn’t treat her finger cut properly!”  He had told other horror stories, but this was the first one my limited German allowed me to comprehend :-)   I felt proud.  (Hermosa Valley Middle School Alums- this guy could have given Mr. Arwine a run for his money on War Stories)  He showed us how to cut a butterfly bandage out of this cool bandage tape stuff I had actually never seen before.  It is about 3 inches wide with a strip of gauze padding down the middle and tape out an inch or so on each side.  You can cut your own band-aids to size.  Seemed remarkably practical and I wondered why the heck I had never had this stuff around!  Gotta get me some, now!

A bad time

After that, though, was one of the worst hours I have spent in a good long time.  Up until now, everything had been practical and tame.  Now it was time to leave us with an impression.  Though, honestly, I have no idea why this was the impression he wanted to leave.  He pulled out a stack of more transparencies.  But these were a little different.  German Red Asphalt, indeed.

It started with the breaks.  Only a few photos.  But each was left on the screen for several minutes while he told the story of the hapless patient whose injury we were witnessing.  Arms that looked like curved scythes, a wrist that was in no way still attached to its hand- complete with an X-ray, etc.  I started to squirm.  I am not unaccustomed to medical photos, but these were chosen for impact.

Then things got gruesome.  Burns.  And not just any burns.  4 of the 6 photos were children.  2 of those were babies.  Naked, and, yes, one of them was dead.  Not staged images.  No warning.  Real, dead and severely burned children.  Why the heck were we looking at these?  Awful.  And it isn’t like we were learning something new.  He had told us how to treat burns in the first hour.  This was just torturous.  I had to work not to cry.  David abandoned all effort to remain unnoticed and said loudly, and in English “I didn’t need to see that!”  He was squirming at least as much as I was.  I noticed that the younger students around me didn’t respond the same way to these photos.  The next group upset them more.  I guess being a parent changes that sort of thing.

For me, the next set of photos was a relief.  Wounds.  Again, each had a story, and judging from the reaction of the other students (who did, I must note, react strongly), the stories must have been even worse than the images.  But,  they were adult victims and, thankfully, my lack of German skills served me well.  I looked away and let the words wash over me without comprehension.  David held my hand.  We were to the home stretch, but this whole bit was worse than we had bargained for.  Red Asphalt was cheesy and staged.  This was real, in our face and completely unpleasant.  I wanted the clock to move faster.

Finally, he put the transparencies away.  I wanted to tell him that after all that he really owed us an image of a cute puppy or something!  But, I couldn’t remember the word for “puppy”.  Drat.  A few more minutes discussion of putting pressure (not a tourniquet!) on small, but strongly bleeding wounds and we were done.  No test.  But, it was a grueling day anyways.  David and I were the only students in the room whose certificates he was able to distribute without asking for the name. Yeah, ok, we suck at blending!

But, one more set of essential German Paperwork acquired.  Another check in a box.  This week we need to get our Visas renewed as well as jumping through more DL paperwork, so, I guess the Paper Fairy will be getting a few more offerings from us before next weekend arrives.  Stay Tuned.

PS.  David tells me I didn’t capture and convey how truly horrifying this day was.  But, there are some things I think you really don’t need to experience vicariously quite so much!

Oct 052011
Party Party Party!!

So, let’s see.  This week has been pretty interesting, I think. Though, we didn’t travel or get a new car.  The main events were a party for David’s workmate, Matthias, and my MRI and the aftermath.  I guess it makes sense to start with the partay!

Party at a Pool Hall

David’s work moved to new offices in Offenburg this week.  That meant a significantly longer commute for some of the employees, and one or two opted out as a result.  David’s closest work bud, Matthias, was unfortunately among this group.  He had been with the company for 2 years and he is well-liked, so they threw him a going-away shindig at a local pub on Thursday.  Despite the fact that I was fighting a cold and it was a school night, David thought it would be a great idea if we both went.  And, frankly, I was seriously craving some social contact, so I wasn’t too tough to convince!  Though, my Inner Shy threatened to put up a bit of a ruckus early on, I shouted it down effectively and got myself tidied up and partified!

The party started at 8, so, for the first time ever, we hugged the kids, told them to put themselves to bed at an appropriate time, and headed out the door without a sitter of any kind.  Felt sort of good, really :)

We found the bar easily enough.  It is definitely what I would call a dive, but a pretty nice dive.  They have a few gambling machines in a corner, electronic darts and a row of billiards tables off to the side.  A tiny white fluffball of a dog ran up to us as we walked through the parking lot, wiggling her entire body in greeting.  Her extremely, er, European, older male owner shooed her into the bar.  Ok, not exactly like most billiards halls in the states, I think!  The dog and owner spent the evening with friends in the gambling part of the establishment.  We met up with David’s co-workers near the bar and hung around the electronic darts board.  I could tell right away that this is the sort of party where people would be doing serious drinking.  Mostly because some of the folks were already a few sheets to the wind, and many others were talking about doing serious drinking!  David ordered a Diet Coke and I got what we eventually determine was a Panache- basically beer with a dash of lemon soda.  Almost everyone else was drinking beer- With the more inebriated folks adding in a little weed and/or shots on the side.  At least 1/2 the crowd smoked cigarettes, but the air flow made that less of a problem than I might have thought.    

The rest of the evening was divided between two activities- chatting happily with a few of David’s co-workers, and watching an overlapping subset get quite drunk and stoned.  It has been a very long time since I was a party with late 20-somethings intent on chemical alteration.  To their credit, the Europeans were all pretty polite and responsible with their sloshitude, from what I could tell.  Well, most of them.  There was one rather unpleasant ex-employee who had come up from Swizzerland for the occasion and felt the need to make a show of his inebriation.  Otherwise, things were loose, but mostly mellow.

I spent much of the evening discussing US politics with a petite French man named Christophe who had spent several years living in Quebec.  As a father of three, he is definitely outside the main demographic of the group.  I spent a little time discussing life with one of the few other females present, a Spanish/French woman who had spent time in America and Portugal and Argentina, if I am remembering correctly.  I also chatted a fair bit with another of David’s closer work-buds, Cay.  He has led a pretty interesting life even for the Spellbound crowd, with time in a Welsh boarding school, the German army and at Oxford for college.  He also won big points from me by going out of his way to make sure I understood things.  Actually, I was impressed by most of the multi-national crew.  These are well-traveled, smart folks with interesting lives and I enjoyed hearing their perspectives.

As a going-away gift, they gave Matthias a poster with a portrait of himself in a virtual environment they had made for a game.  Pretty nice gift, really.  He was well into the “I love ya, man” stage by the time we left- though, to be fair, David says that even sober he is usually pretty close to the “I love ya, man” stage, so it wasn’t a far trip 😉

We said our goodbyes around 11, just as the company president arrived with David’s recruiter, Vladimir, in tow.  At that point, David suspected few people would drag into work the next day.  But, apparently most of them did show on time.  The day was devoted to packing and moving, though, so not too much heavy thinking involved! 

In the minus column, the late night gave my burgeoning cold a chance to take hold.  I have been sick ever since.  But, I think it was worth it.  I needed to social outlet, and it was fascinating to hang with these folks for a while!

As a side note, we got home to two snoozing kids, both in jammies and tucked away in bed.  DD says they stayed up about 1/2 hour past normal, but both got in bed by 9.  Good Job offspring!

Next up…..

The Shoulder Saga

So, I know you all have been following along with the fascinating saga of my shoulder.  But, just in case it hasn’t stuck in your mind as much as it has in mine, here is a quick recap:

In early May, just before we got our car, I saw the bus we were trying to catch had already arrived at the bus station.  Not realizing that the buses wait to leave until their assigned time, I thought we were about to miss it.  So, I sent the kids ahead and dashed after them.  As I ran, I missed the curb and took a flying belly flopping skid onto the pavement.  I was like a penguin sliding on the ice, only the ice was pavement and my arm more jammed than slid.  The contents of my purse flew everywhere, and a very kind Frenchman with strong arms picked me up and set me upright.  I think it was his son who gathered up my things and returned them to me.  I was stunned for a moment, but, realizing the kids were on the bus without me, I brushed myself off and limped to the bus- which proceeded to sit for 5 minutes before taking off.  At home I realized the folly of tiny refrigerators and freezers- there was not enough ice to use to ice down my arm.  It took us 2 days to track down frozen peas- Sanja eventually brought some as a gift.  Very cute.  My shoulder hurt a lot, but I figured it would just heal and didn’t worry much.  We didn’t yet know how to use our insurance and I figured it was just one more hassle.

2 months later, it still hurt and we knew how to use our insurance.  So, we got me a referral to an orthopedist.  At this point, I realized that I couldn’t lift my arm to the side or above my shoulder in front.  2 months of physio therapy helped, but not enough.  Range of motion was improved, but only a little.  The doctor decided we needed a look inside.  1 more month to get the MRI set up.  Which brings us to 1 week ago!


Sort of looks like it is sticking its tongue out at you!

This was my first MRI so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I guess there isn’t a full story to tell in the MRI itself, but I will share a couple of quick observations:

  1. If a German office asks you to bring a piece of paperwork, bring it.  We lost our referral slip and while they accepted a faxed copy as authorization, we had to run over to my ortho’s office before it closed in order to get an original copy for the MRI place.
  2. Anywhere in the US where they would give you a modesty gown for a medical procedure, expect to go nekkid in Germany.  They just don’t much see the need to cover up… At least not up top!
  3. That little tube is really quite small.  I imagine some of the larger Germans I have seen simply would not fit. 
  4. MRIs are LOUD.  I mean, REALLY LOUD.  They gave me insulated headphones playing music (jazz first, then some sort of tribal drums).  But, whenever the machine was on, it was impossible to hear anything else.  It sounded like I was sequentially being moved through a spaceship battle, a forklift, and then a tractor engine.  It made me wonder if a bit of WD40 and a couple heavy duty ballbearings might not be a good holiday gift for the staff!
  5. Sitting still for 20 minutes is really hard.  Even though they strapped my injured shoulder into position, I was down to the wire in my ability to hold position by the end.   
  6. None of this futzy-dutzy “we know what it says but we won’t tell you” crapolla here.  The radiologist called us in 5 minutes after my procedure and told us that I had clearly ruptured my tendon and that I would need surgery.  He did say that he wasn’t the one who needed to tell me that I would need surgery.  But, he had no question about it at all.  I got the impression that he liked getting to talk with people.  Reading films all day has to be a bit lonely! 

Monday was the anniversary of German Reunification (a national holiday), so the soonest time I could get in to see Dr. Meiworm was Tuesday.  I gotta tell you, that was easily THE busiest I have ever seen a doctor’s office.  Lines of mostly elderly people out the door.  I am not sure what they were all doing there.  Various therapies and such, I think, because I don’t imagine they could possibly have all been there to see the doctors.  There are three doctors in the practice and given that Meiworm spent the better part of an hour with us, it seems unlikely his partners could have shuffled them all through!  In any case, it was largely a moot point for us because we got there before the rush and then the doctor made sure we got what we needed after that.

Getting technical for a bit, sorry!

As with most of my visits with German doctors, there was no exam.  He sat us down and showed us the films and used a model to help him explain.  Actually, it was funny, when we first arrived he was so intent on getting us the information that he forgot to speak in English and we had to politely stop him and remind him that our German was not good.  He explained that I have a complete, full thickness rupture of the supraspinous tendon, a partial rupture of er, I think the infraspinous tendon, and possibly a partial tear of the bicep tendon  The rupture is the full width of my humerus.  In the picture below, you can see whiteness where the purple arrow is pointing.  That is fluid filling the space where my tendons should be.   Ewww.

That white space is where my tendon is supposed to be.

So, yeah.  Surgery is really my only hope of recovering function and reducing pain.  On the up side, I should be OK in terms of muscle atrophy for now.  Even though the muscle hasn’t been used for 5 months, it still has another 6 or so before it starts turning to fat.  Lovely!  The procedure is done arthroscopically.  They will need to make up to 5 incisions to get in there and do their work.  They will use tiny rivets to attach the tendon to the bone and wires for support.  David was disappointed that these will apparently not set off metal detectors at the airport! I just had a passing thought, as well.  I wonder if I will ever be able to get another MRI?

The weird one, though, is that if the bicep tendon is involved they will do a rather non-intuitive repair.  Apparently too many people wind up with pain if they try to reattach it up at the shoulder, so they cut the tendon up above and then reattach it lower, in the groove of the bone.  He says that this causes no reduction of strength, but that in some cases it can cause the slightly lowered bicep to look a little funny.   Not super-thrilled with my options there, but I do prefer the lack of pain.  Hopefully, it won’t be an issue since they cannot tell for sure with the MRI if the bicep tendon is damaged or not.

We decided to schedule the surgery for the 25th.  The kids both have vacations at the end of October/beginning of November, so David will not have to drive them through that.  Also, it is soon, but there is still a chance that I will be able to get my Drivers license dealt with before going out of commission for six weeks…. Oh yeah, didn’t mention that part.  One night in the hospital followed by 6 weeks of immobilization of my shoulder.  They will give me a cushion to hold my arm out away from my body and a sling to keep it from rotating out more than 90 degrees, since then it tends to re-rupture the tendons!  So, no driving for 6 weeks.  DOH.  I am the main driver for the family, so this is going to be a major issue.  The mornings aren’t so bad, but pick up times are heck!  But, he tells me I should be able to type, still, so that will mean I can both work and Blog!

During immobilization I will have “passive exercise” at the physio, and then once the sling comes off, the real work of rebuilding the muscle and range of motion begins.  3+ months of that.  Goal in the end is to have greatly reduced pain and full range of motion and strength.  But, as he kept cautioning us.  “This is not a new shoulder.  It is a repair.”  I guess I am not supposed to look for 100%.

Other quick updates

DD has become disinterested with the silly German boys, though they persist in trying to entice her to watch their bizarre wrestling rituals.  She has, however, gotten a couple of kids from school to play her favorite online game (League of Legends).  She loves the overbearing French Teacher because she happens to be excellent at teaching French and DD really wants to learn.  She also loves Science and Ethics and she is doing quite well in Math.  Honestly, and I don’t want to jinx it, she seems pretty happy at Hogwarts.  Knock Wood.

DS has a new tutor.  She is freshly arrived from San Fran and says that he has made progress even in the last week.  So, yay.  Today he is having his first German Play Date (no, we are informed by his host, it is not a play date, it is a “chill date”, “no play, Chiiilll”  Hee.).  Overall, I think he is making some progress.  He is establishing himself in the pecking order at school, and learning German as quickly as he can.  With 6 hours of one on one lessons per week, plus complete immersion the rest of the time, he should be fluent before I can talk like a 3 year old!

David’s work just moved to Offenburg this week.  The building is far from finished, but the location is hugely more convenient for us.  So, more stories there as we go!

Apparently we are easily recognizable even here.  One of the office workers taking her break downstairs stopped us yesterday to tell us she had seen David with his work group out at a local restaurant!