Nearing the never ending Wisconsin winter of 2011 my friend Di Bustamante of Parent Link in Singapore and I were chatting on Facebook. I was complaining about the cold and yet more snow I'd have to shovel. She was LOLing as she enjoyed the content 75-85 degree temps of sunny Singapore. Then she asked me a question that changed my life in so many ways..."Would you like to come to speak at an even in Singapore?" I said, "YES!" without thinking twice. I live by the sage advice Tina Fey said she got from an acting coach (if I recall correctly): Always say 'yes.' Then figure out how to make it happen.
Honestly, I just wanted to thaw out.
I was to fill in for a speaker who had to cancel, so the line-up was being adjusted. The topic was Kangaroo Mother Care, which I knew a little about, but would require a crash course in order to speak cogently on the topic.
I feel it is important here to provide a bit of background. I am from a little tourist town of about 9,000 people. At the time of this trip, I had moved to a Wisconsin city of about 45,000 people. Big cities freak me out. I've traveled internationally, but never to Asia. I asked around for travel advice and many people, including my own doctor, made sure to tell me to take antibiotics and digestive meds. This amused my friend Di. She said, "You do realize Singapore is a First World Country, right? You can drink the water."
I set about making plans for the trip: researching and writing about the topic (the information distilled for the presentation eventually was published in Midwifery Today) and making travel plans.
Initially, my husband was going to go with me. His work prevented that. We tried to figure out a way for my grown daughter to go, but that didn't work out. Then my dad was going to go with me, but that fell through. As the trip approached, this small town girl was realizing that she was about to travel 1/2 way around the world, alone, to a great big city.
I was terrified.
Fortunately, my friend Di was sympathetic, worldly and witty. She walked me through the entire trip, from planning to my return.
Here is might be a good idea to interrupt the story to explain that the reason there are links for all of the places I visited instead of pictures is because all of MY pictures look a lot like this:
I arrived at the stunningly beautiful Changi International Airport. Di had suggested that I just take the MRT, which is the Singapore public transit system which about put me into a full-blown panic attack. I'd never taken a city bus and my one excursion on the 'L' was scary as hell. (When the conductor says, "Oh NO! You folks don't want to get off HERE! I'll take you back a couple of stops" you don't question it.) She finally assured me that the warnings to visitors about how hard it is to get a taxi are overblown, so that's what I did. (I needn't have worried about public transport, incidentally. I visited the train station later and it was clean, safe and efficient. I was envisioning what I had seen of U.S. train and bus stations, which had been pretty darn daunting, disgusting and scary. In fact, all of Singapore was easy to navigate, safe and clean. One of the expats commented that Singapore is a great first foray into Asia because it's 'Asia light'...meaning it is easy to get around, most people speak English, and it is so safe and clean.)
I was deposited at The Chinatown Hotel. I actually do have a clear picture I can share from my room:
Mind you, since it was just me, I got a small, inexpensive room. The accommodations had I traveled with my Dad (or anyone else) would have been quite different. Singapore has some of the most luxurious hotels in the world. I wouldn't have been in those either, but I made note of a nice Holiday Inn in a convenient location I'd check out next time.
The next day was a HypnoBirthing® training conducted at the Petra Hypnosis offices. Besides Singaporeans, attendees included women from Korea, Australia, Canada (some of the attendees were ex-pats living in and around Asia) and elsewhere. The first night Fauziah treated us to a delicious Indian meal, and the second we went to one of Di's favorite eateries, which was also fabulous. (And where the fuzzy picture above of my new expat friends was taken.)
Next up was the reason for the whole trip...my contribution to the National University Hospital event.
Despite being provided with a map, I got lost finding the auditorium in Tower Block because this place is HUGE!
Singapore boasts a world class healthcare system, "...being reviewed as a model by the Obama administration’s healthcare team as it explores ways to reform the US healthcare system" as it should. NUH is a certified Baby Friendly Hospital, a distinction that few U.S. hospitals can claim. (6.9% of U.S. births occur in Baby-Friendly designated facilities.) Singapore ranks much higher in infant mortality (with 2.5 infant deaths per 1,000 live births) than does the U.S. (with 5.9 infant deaths per 1,000 live births). Singapore is loses fewer mothers, with the U.S. at 21 maternal deaths per 100,000 births and Singapore at 3. THREE!
I gave my presentation, I learned much from the other presenters, and even had a bit of time for Di and her lovely daughter to show me around. We saw the Singapore Botanic Gardens and then I tried to keep up with Di as we hiked about Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. Gorgeous!
I went home, wrung out my clothes (we were hiking in a rainforest, for pity's sake!), showered and took a nap before catching my plane home.
22 hours later when I arrived in Chicago, my right leg hurt quite a bit. It had been bugging me the whole week, but I thought I had leg cramps from so much sitting. I massaged my legs, stretched and walked trying to get the kinks out. Likely, I had the clots from the first flight (which cut me off at the knees...United Airlines seats SUCK!) and didn't know it. In fact, looking back over the previous year, I have to wonder if it had been building all year with about monthly 9-12 hour car trips and a week long flu that left me dehydrated.
People have commented that I was lucky I didn't throw a clot there. I am, but not for the reason people assume. I am positive I would have received the very best care there. I just don't know how we would have paid for it! I think we're still paying for it from the care I received here and we're insured!
Anyway, I went to bed, got up and went to work the next day. I worked at a Wellness Center, and after a lunch meeting I told doc my legs hurt and asked him if I should be concerned that I had cankles. He sent me directly to the hospital for an ultrasound which showed several clots in my right leg. She didn't even look at my left, which also ached but didn't hurt, per se, and wasn't swollen.
Off to the anticoagulation center for Fragmin shots in my belly for 9 days, Warfarin, and daily INR checks. If you don't know, Warfarin is rat poison. It is very effective in thinning the blood. In that first month, I popped a blood vessel in my hand for no apparent reason, and when on this drug, these are the types of things that you have to consider:
"If that happened in my hand, it could happen in my brain."
"I wonder how long I should wait to see if I stop bleeding before I lose a finger?"
"I wonder if I should be concerned about bleeding to death?"
The blood tests I had done when the clot was discovered showed that I tested heterozygous (as I understand it I have one gene mutation out of two possible) for both Factor V Leiden and Prothrombin II gene mutations. My grandma also has this problem. It was being suggested that I spend the rest of my life on Warfarin like her. She has had several heart attacks and several incidents of being hospitalized for internal bleeding because this 'therapy' is notoriously hard to manage.
As soon as I could be fairly certain that the clots were stabile, I researched other ways to manage 'thick blood' without being afraid every day of my life.
Thus ends the tale of my journey around the world! I faced my fears and did it anyway, coming away from the experience enriched, with new friends, a little less fearful, and with new knowledge about my biology. WIN!
I'd go back in a heartbeat...on a better airline with prophylactic measures taken to avoid blood clots! I still don't feel comfortable in U.S. cities, but Singapore is a city I actually enjoyed and would like to explore.