Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The day I came home with stickers on my face

The other day, I was reading on BBC news, a reporter's story of how his face went on strike  and it reminded me of my own experience with Bell's Pallsy

Sometime in 1979, at the ripe old age of 6, I came home from kindergarten with stickers on my face.  You know, the kind that kindergarten teaches give students on their assignments: gold stars, blue squares etc…   When I came home from school, my mom giggled and asked what we did at school to involve putting stickers on my face.   I told her that we didn’t play with stickers, but that mid way thru the day, the teacher looked at my face, panicked, and covered me in stickers.  So off my mom went and peeled them off.  After she peeled them, she told me I could “stop making that face now”  “what face?” I replied?  Well, it turns out, partway thru Kindergarten class that day, half of my face decided to go on strike.

In the weeks leading up to me coming home with stickers on my face, I felt sick, my parents had taken me to the doctor and the doctor reported that all was fine.   My mom thought my whining about not feeling well was a bid to get out of school but when she peeled the stickers off and realized I wasn’t faking it, she rushed me to the hospital.  

It turns out I had strepthroat, which led to an ear infection, which led to pinching my facial nerve which led to paralyzing my face.  And add to the mix, I also had scarlet fever.  The first few nights in the hospital were hell.   To this day, I clearly remember the nurses waking me up and putting me into a bath of ice water because my fever was dangerously high.

Though I was young, I remember a lot about my hospital time.  Well, scarred for life is probably a better word.  You see, of all the units they put me in, somehow I ended up in the burn unit (I’m assuming due to the neverending Canadian hospital bed shortage)   The girl I shared a room with was a French Canadian girl whose flannel nightgown had burned to her body (fire retardant textile legislation was still a few years away).   And even though I was only 6, the image of Michael, the boy whose house caught fire while he was trapped in the basement, would roll his head to toe bandaged body down the hospital hallway screaming in agony.   That’s just something that stays with you forever.

I remember little about my actual Bell’s palsy treatment, but I do remember going into the room with the doctor while he hooked me up to something I only remember as being Frankenstein like.   It was a device that had wires connecting to my face and sent electrical shocks to my face to stimulate the nerve.  I guess it was painful, because my stoic German grandmother was the only one who could be in the room with me and even she was crying.

After my hospital stay, I had to go see Dr.Cohen to monitor my progress.   Part of how he monitored my progress was to say to me “Ok now Kathy, what noise does the horse make”  While my face was paralyzed, I guess I could make a pretty good “neigh” sound.  I would make the sound, Dr.Cohen would give me a lollipop and I’d come back the following week.  Once I couldn’t make the noises anymore, my face was back to normal and the lollipops stopped.
Today, when you look at my face, you’d never guess that my face was paralyzed and I count myself as extremely lucky because the only residual effect I seem to have from either the Bell’s palsy or scarlet fever is a dire fear of anything that has the potential to give me an electric shock!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Learning Italian the Lazy way

This isn't a post on a revolutionary way to learn a language.  No, it's about being lazy and complacent.   I've been in Switaly 6 months now and I speak pathetically little Italian.  It's not something I'm proud of.  But you see, Italy will be the 3rd language I've taken on learning as an adult and the 5th in my language "repertoire" so I feel my laziness is justified.

To be fair, one of the reasons I speak so pathetically little is because I can otherwise get by.   Understanding Italian isn't all that hard since I have French and Spanish as a reference.   So most of the time, I get the jist of what's going on.   There are times when these references can be false friends.  Like the time I saw "tortellini con burro" on the menu.  In Spanish, "burro" is donkey.  Though I've seen horse on the menu before, I've never seen donkey!   In fact, burro is butter and more like the french word "beurre".   Nevertheless, I didn't order the tortellini!

It is a little weird to understand what's going on, but to not be able to contribute to the conversation at all I have to admit.   But again, because I live in a country with 3 official languages, I get by.   A conversation will usually go like this:  stranger strikes up a conversation, I try to babble out a few words, they ask me what language I speak.  I list them out in order of preference (English, French, German)  the rest of the conversation continues in one of the 3, or sometimes all 3 at a time like during my recent surgery.   The surgical nurse spoke German, the anasthetist spoke French and my doctor spoke English.  Trying to speak 3 languages when you're about to undergo surgery is a challenge I wouldn't recommend!

I feel a bit bad that I'm not able to speak to most of my neighbors other than to ask them how they are and to smile a lot.  But I figure I can get away with a lot as long as I'm smiling!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Random facts about where I live..

As I celebrate my six month anniversary this week, I thought I’d take the time to learn a little bit more about my adopted country (also since I have time on my hands recovering from surgery and all)  Herewith are some of the more interesting (and unusual) things I’ve found about the land I now call my home…

Though I’d consider Switzerland a progressive country, women didn’t earn the right to vote until 1971.  Though they quickly made progress after that because the first female president was elected in 1999.

Switzerland is fiercely protective of their neutrality and fear that another country could attack because of that.  It’s the law that a Swiss citizen never be more than a few minutes away from a nuclear shelter.  Also, there are rumors that the tunnels have stockpiles of weapons, “just in case”.

To drive thru the entirety of Switzerland from North to south would take just over 3 hours and East to West about 4 hours.  But don’t even think of trying to rush it because Swiss speeding fines are some of the steepest in the world. If you have been speeding excessively, Swiss judges have the option to fine you based on your total worth.  In 2010, a driver going 2.5 times the speed limit received a speeding fine of 650,000 euros.

The “CH” on license plates stands for Confederation Helvetica the official name of Switzerland.  Yes, the same Helvetica that’s a font option on documents you type.  That font was also invented in Switzerland.

Switzerland has what’s called a direct democracy.  If a group of citizens can gather 50,000 signatures within 100 days of a new law, that law has to go to a referendum and if rejected, the new law can be overturned.   I, as a non Swiss citizen, am not eligible to vote unless I would get Swiss citizenship (which takes 10 consecutive years and a lot of hoops to jump thru to get)

Sure, Switzerland is famous for chocolate, watches, banking, Ricola candies and Swiss knives but some random things invented in Switzerland: Rayon, Cellophane and Velcro.

Switzerland isn’t officially part of the EU.  Though they are part of the Shenghen agreement (which allows the free movement of people across Europe.  That means if I drive to Italy to go out for dinner or go grocery shopping, I cross a border guard station.  The border guards have the right to ask for documents and search the car, but most of the time they just stand around and chat.  And if it rains or it’s past 8pm, you rarely see anyone!

Monday, October 22, 2012

How to lose an organ in every European country or Katherine’s guide to European surgery

2 surgeries in 6 months, in 2 different countries isn’t exactly my idea of a wild time.  But as fate has it, that’s what in store for me.  And because of all the fun 2012 has handed me, I reserve the right to be angry at fate.

Right before I left Germany, I had appendicitis and my appendix was taken out.  As it happens, when they were taking it out, they discovered some of my other bits were infected.  I was given heavy duty antibiotics so that my ovary wouldn’t “explode” (the doctor’s actual words)  Going thru surgery in German wasn’t as bad as I thought.  It turns out you can get creative with surgery charades.  Signing a bunch of forms in German on painkillers also wasn’t my idea of wild time.  But I coped.  And other than the sexy white thigh thighs and a roommate who snored like a bear, it was tolerable.

Flash forward to 6 months later, I’ve been in pain ever since.  I’ve been too busy getting used to the new job and new country to really do much about until lately.   On Friday, I finally got in to see a specialist and was half expecting him to say that what I had was normal and would go away (since no test so far suggests anything) Instead he told me that once your ovary was infected, it could stay infected for the rest of your life and may never get picked up on.  He wanted to put me in for surgery Monday but thankfully the earliest date available was Wednesday.

Now, I’ve never lived my life conventionally and have tended to do the opposite of what everyone else is doing at the time, so it’s no surprise that while all these babies and pregnant people are in my life, I’m about to get a reproductive organ pulled out.

However, this time since I know what’s coming, I’m a bit scared.  Not scared of the actual surgery: I couldn’t be in better hands, my Swiss doctor is Harvard trained and Swiss medical care makes Canada’s look like 3rd world health care.  Scared because for even a short time, I’m going to be losing my independence and mobility.   Last time I was lucky because I had a few friends stay with me.  Getting laproscopy isn’t so bad because the healing time is much shorter, but because they fill your tummy full of C02, afterwards you feel like you’ve been hit in the gut by Mike Tyson.  You don’t realize the stomach muscles you use every day until you get laproscopy.  Coughing? Ouch!  Sneezing? Criminal!  Getting out of bed? Logistically challenging and Laughing? Well, forget about it.

So here I am, living in a new country for 5 months with my dog and about to undergo surgery.  I’ve accepted that I’ll have to be dependent on new friends for a while.   I’m “actually” going to go out and ask for help, which for me, is a big thing.  So I guess things happen for a reason, my pain will be fixed and I’ll be faced to deal with one of my biggest fears, but like Conan O’Brien once said in a great commencement speech, “there’s nothing more liberating than having your worst fears realized”  well, I’ll let you know how that works out next week!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Don't squeeze the produce!

One of my new favorite things has become shopping the markets in Italy. Each town has its own market on set days. Though I loved the farmers markets in north America, what's awesome about the Italian markets is that they're steeped in tradition and they're generally cheaper than the grocery store.

Italian markets are foodie paradise. Artisan honey, local wines, cheeses, meats and awesome shoes (the markets sell everything from bath mats to whisks to beautiful Italian shoes in addition to food)

What took me a while to figure out though is that you can't touch the produce. You have to wait for the guy (it always seems to be a guy) and you tell him what and how much of what you want and he gets it for you. But you can't touch the produce. I've gotten yelled at for picking up an touching fruit to see if it was ripe.

The lady carefully guarding her desired bundle of Porcinis.
Today, seemed to be the start of porcini seasons. All the locals were out at the start of the market and lining up for the porcinis. This one old lady had her heart set on a certain bundle of porcinis. She was running out of patience because "the guy" was serving us and she was accusing him of spending too much time with the young bellas (us supposedly) When we went to select some porcinis, she protectively guarded her beloved bunch. Since "the guy" wasn't moving fast enough for her, she went to grab them and ask for a bag. He caught her and said "only I touch the mushrooms" so back she went to guarding them until we were done!

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

The end of the Switalian honeymoon

Oh how I would love to see you again Dear to go coffee cup!

“they” say that once you hit the 6 month mark living in a new country, the honeymoon phase ends.  It’s when reality hits a wall that “holy shit” you’re living in another country and the things that you thought were quaint and charming are actually a pain in the ass in daily life.

When I lived in Germany, I didn’t really have a honeymoon phase, but at 6 months, it felt like I had hit a brick wall at autobahn speeds.  It was the turning point of things going from bad to worse.

In Switaly, it’s been a much softer landing.  Sure it annoys me that I can’t get a cappuccino to go.  In Italy (and Switaly by default) you just DON’T get coffees to go.  Caffeine is meant to be ingested on the spot and preferably over a gab with your friends but who has time for that in the mornings!  I consider cappuccinos my morning necessity and the most efficient meants to get caffeine into my bloodstream since I hate the taste of coffee.

And sure, whoever designed traffic flow in Lugano most likely started their career as a bar bouncer than a civil engineer.  I say this because for a city of only 50,000 there’s a lot of traffic.  But there are more (untimed) stop lights and crosswalks than I’ve ever seen in my life.  My personal theory is that they’ve made traffic an intentional nightmare to make the city look “busy” much like a bouncer would hold a line to make a club seem busier.

The quirks of living in Switaly are a lot more livable than the ones I had to put up with in Germany.  After all, it's nothing that can't be solved by getting my ass out of bed earlier in the morning, having a coffee at home and biking to work, except for the fact that mornings and I weren't built for each other.  But why then do I have this….. feeling of missing…. Home?  I dare not call it homesickness because I don’t get homesick.  As the oldest and first child in my family.  I spent a lot of time with aunts, uncles and childless family friends who wanted to hang out with a kid on weekends.  I loved these chances to get away and have never experienced homesickness.  While at camp, Winnie Welch, the girl who latched onto me and deemed me her best camp friend, started crying because she was homesick, I stared at her as if she had a 2nd head.  I couldn’t comprehend it!

So why then, when I’m happy with my life, job and where I live do I have this weird feeling for longing for home???  I blame it on the babies.  And by babies, I mean that most of my close friends uterus’ are currently housing offspring.  Don’t get me wrong, I have no inkling to move back home, nor do I pine for my old North American life, I just have this awkward feeling I don’t like that I’m missing part of the fun and that somehow if I were back home, the fun would be mine.  Then again, maybe this is a feeling I’d also have back home (probably) that just happens whenever lots of people near you start having babies and the most significant thing in your life is to complain that you can’t get a cappuccino to go!

Who knows, but I will be one step closer to finding out when I go home for a visit in a couple of months for the first time in two years.  Now THAT will be interesting!

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Grocery shopping in Louboutins

Depending on your perspective, one of the "quirks" about living in Southern Switzerland (or as I like to call it, Switaly) is the way people dress.  

Because Lugano is a big banking center (3rd after Zurich and Geneva) People here have money.  And because it's a 45 minute drive to the fashion capital of the world, Milan, people like to dress.   And by dress, I mean spend more on one pair of shoes than the amount I shell out for rent.  Considering that I went to fashion school, I don't mind it.  For the most part.  In Bavaria, for the most part, fashion consisted of overbearing large scarves (that could double as neck braces) and skinny jeans.  In Vancouver, well, uggs and yoga pants were pretty much invented there.  So yeah, even though I've gone to fashion school, I haven't exactly been on the cutting edge of fashion.

I can't say that I've been overly conscious about the clothing I wear for the past 20 years or so, until I moved here.  Sure, there are times when I like to dress fashionably, but most of those times involve the evening and a glass of wine.  I see women here dropping their kids off to school and grocery shopping in Christian Louboutin shoes!  It's unnerving.  I say unnerving because I'm usually at the grocery store on a Saturday morning in my yoga pants, t-shirt and sans makeup (no uggs thankfully)  So at the risk of looking like the local homeless person, now, I "actually" have to think about what I wear to the grocery store.  ugh.  far too much work!