Archive for February, 2012

As I reported previously, I injured my right hallux (or ‘big toe’, as it’s also known) a couple of weeks ago by kicking a bus shelter in frustration. It hurt like a mythical underworld for several days and then, last weekend, I was able to squeeze out a fair amount of orange, bloody pus from a gap between the tip of the nail and the skin. Once drained, it was clear that the nail had pretty much completely separated from the nail bed. It was still swollen and painful.

I therefore bowed to the inevitable and went to a doctor that one of my colleagues helped me find. When I went there, I asked if I could use someone else’s insurance (which I’ve heard of being done before), but they said no, so I walked around for a bit looking for another oegwa uiwon or external medicince clinic that was a seonghyeong oegwa, or cosmetic surgery place.

I didn’t find one, so I ended up back at the same place.

The doctor didn’t speak English brilliantly, despite having studied in London and Minnesota, but he was friendly and down to earth. He knew exactly what was up with my toe and said the nail should come off. He didn’t order an X-ray, which is the main expense I was worried about. He also looked at my thumb and didn’t diagnose any great problem.

He planned to inject my big toe four times around the base to anaesthetise it. However, the only other time I’ve had injections in my toe – part of my warts treatment – it was incredibly painful. I started getting nervous; my ankle and foot were sweating a lot. The doctor changed his mind and instead used a thicker needle to give me only two injections, but these ones were each administered in two stages. There was a first, surface injection, then he push the needle most of the way through my toe to inject the other side. It was a bit painful – I gasped a couple of times – but it wasn’t terrible.

Once my toe was completely numb, the doctor insert one blade of a small pair of tweezery scissors under the tip of my nail at one side then swiftly rolled back the nail, revealing a sticky, bloody mess underneath. He dressed it and said I should come back every couple of days to have the dressing changed; I wasn’t allowed to shower.

The toe was still painful for a while after that – the fact that it was wrapped in a thick coccoon of gauze that got squeezed inside my shoes didn’t help. But it rapidly improved and when I went back subsequent times, the nail bed looked a lot better. I only went back twice, as having graduation and leaving the country somewhat interfered, so on the last occasion, the doctor changed his mind about applying gauze and instead simply covered the injury with a bit of ‘artificial skin’, which is an elastic, waterproof, skin-toned, adhesive layer of thin plastic or rubber. It’s surprisingly effective at its job and doesn’t peel away much when you’re wearing socks and shoes.

And now, what you’ve all been waiting for – photographic evidence.

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The Grand Tour

In just over a week, Habiba and I will leave Korea for a trip around Europe. We will be travelling for three months then doing three months working on a camp, after which we’ll head to the State to stay with Habiba’s mum for a while before heading back to Korea for the end of the year or early next year.

We actually leave the country separately. Habiba gets a free flight home (or wherever) from her employer; I don’t and had to buy my own. Habiba’s job have bought her a flight with Emirates, so she’s leaving at midnight on Sunday night and will have a half a day stop in Dubai. I got a much cheaper Aeroflot ticket and I leave at lunchtime on Monday and have a two-hour stop at Moscow Sheremetyevo.

So we arrive in Istanbul within a few hours of each other on Monday afternoon/evening. We’ll be spending a few days there before flying to Izmir on Turkey’s west coast. We spend another few days there and at nearby Selçuk, where the ruins of Ephesus are. Then we’re due to fly to Athens for a while then Thessaloniki and nearby areas for a while. There’s some civil disturbance in Greece at the moment with demonstrations against austerity cuts that have seen buildings burnt and the murder of three bankers. However, I think that there won’t be a huge problem as long as we take sensible precautions; and I don’t want to miss an opportunity to see the Acropolis and other sights.

Habiba’s mum will head back to Istanbul, then, for her flight home and we go to Albania – specifically, Berat, a picturesque town noted for its medieval buildings. We might stop in Tirana, the capital; we have a stop planned in Shkodra (or Shkoder – it seems to have two names). Then we visit another beautiful-seeming location, Kotor in Montenegro (where the average height is over 6 feet). Then it’s on to Croatia: Dubrovnik then Split (with a necessary transit through Bosnia and Herzegovina, which separates the southernmost tip of Croatia from the rest with its only coastal town of Neum) then Zagreb.

From Zagreb, we’ll travel north to Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, where we’ll meet a couple of friends. One is Hungarian, so we’ll also take a trip with him to Budapest. Then it’s on to Vienna and Salzburg, Prague, Berlin, Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris, Barcelona and Rome. Our travel during this stage of the trip will be by train – we’ve already bought Eurail passes; we need to figure out exactly how to use them, though.

From Rome we fly to London (Gatwick). We’ll spend a few days there, staying with friends, meeting other friends and seeing the sights. Then Bath and Bristol. Then up to Runcorn and nearby areas. Then we fly from Manchester to Reykjavik for a couple of weeks volunteering on an organic farm. The farm is on the east of the country and the capital is on the west, so we need to take another flight between the two (there’s not much public transport in Iceland).

Then we fly to Switzerland, where we’ll stay with friends of Habiba’s in Basel for a while – and hopefully get in a bit more travel to surrounding regions. After that we’ve signed up to work on the Zenith Institute Sufi Camp in southern Switzerland. The work consists of five weeks of setting up, four weeks of being a steward at the camp itself (although, in exchange for attending the full five-week set-up period, we get a free week of seminars) then three weeks of take-down. This is Habiba’s dream and one that I have mixed feelings about – but I’ll try to keep an open mind about it.

The camp gives volunteers who attend the whole thing some money at the end – so we’ll use that to buy a flight to America. And then, presumably, we’ll start looking for work in Korea again.

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Buses to work have been mostly OK recently – I’ve either become accustomed to the noise and the jouncing or my luck in catching quieter, gentler buses has improved. However, one ride earlier in the week was particularly bouncy. When it neared the stop I wanted to get off at, the driver hesitated for a long moment at a zebra crossing, apparently asking me and another passenger if where we wanted to get off – as if the fact that we’d rung the bell and stood up wasn’t enough.

As soon as I got off the bus, I tripped on the uneven pavement, fell on my hands and rolled on to my back. In frustration, I kicked the bus shelter – pretty hard. Too hard, really, as my right big toe hurt pretty badly. I limped off, down the steps to the river, but I had to stop and rest a moment. I took of my shoe and sock and held some snow to my toe. It was already quite purple in the nail and the skin around it. When I eventually continued, I realised I didn’t have my travel mug and had to go back to the bus stop to where it was lying on the ground.

At the end of the day, much of my right foot was swollen. The toe itself, several days later, is still swollen and still hurts. The sensations reminds me of my wart treatment from a few years ago. I haven’t seen a doctor about it. There’s no structural damage – it flexes readily and painlessly. But the nail is pink and it’s surrounded by some bruising. I’m a little worried that the horror of my thumb might be repeated, but the bruising is not that intense – the nail is lilac with bruising, not black with pooled blood. I’ll be happy when the swelling goes down and it stops hurting.

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As you probably know, Habiba and I are leaving Korea in just three weeks. One of our priorities in planning our departure has been finding someone to take our cat, Billie. We adopted Billie from Habiba’s friend JP when he left Korea a year ago and she’s been a great companion for us … well, for me – Habiba didn’t always see eye to eye with her. Latterly, though Habiba and Billie have been quite close.

Billie is as quirky as any cat. She loves to be chased – something that evolved out of her propensity to randomly start zooming around our apartment. Once we started make a game out of it, making sudden movments to set her off, she calmed down a bit, became a little less spontaneously crazy. She was never particularly into toys: you have to work hard to get her to play with the fish on a string toy, balls and other small rolling things don’t interest her at all. The laser pointer Habiba got was another matter, though. She chased after the red dot pretty unfailingly, spinning round in circles trying to bash it with her paws, or jumping up the wall. She loves to lick plastic bags.

I put a posting on the Animal Rescue Korea website more than a month ago and we had a response from a prospective owner who seemed quite promising. She stopped communicating with us just as we were about to meet her, though, and nothing came of it. I had a few other message that didn’t come to anything.

Then on Friday, a guy called Trevor sent me a message – a few messages, in fact. I spoke to him on Saturday and he seemed very enthusiastic about adopting Billie. We arranged for him to visit us on Sunday. When he arrived he seemed like a great guy, very into cats and conscientious about being a good owner. He befriended me on Facebook while we were talking and promised to give us updates on Billie. Billie came out and investigated him and seemed quite comfortable. And we agreed that he should take her with him the same day.

So we gave him all our cat accoutrements then retrieved Billie from her hiding place under the bed, said our goodbyes, put her in her travelling case and let her new owner take her away.

I held Habiba for a little bit after we shut the door, feeling a little sad. Then I started crying. We’re going to miss her. But we think she’s going to a good home and an owner who will look after her for many years.

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This is what my left thumb now looks like. It’s better, in other words. I peeled away another strip of nail that wasn’t connected the matrix underneath. The bit of pulpy flesh has dried up and shrunk down to that little red scab. Most encouraging of all, skin is slowly growing up the bone and it’s being followed by new nail – it’s the pearly arc slightly left of centre. The yellow discolouration is from the plasters I’ve been sticking over it most days.

It’s going to take a good few months before it grows back completely; Wikipedia says fingernails grow at a rate of 3mm a month.

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