No, Really: I’m Still Here, Still Teaching

Wow, was I so busy teaching that really did let the entire summer slip by without a post?

Wasn’t intentional; just kind of happened. Guess my interest in my blogging hobby waxes and wanes, as does my interest in just about anything. I’ve never been very good at monomania; must be my Gemini rising sign.

So let’s hit the highlights, shall we?

Β Still Teaching the Kids Some English

Teacher's got a posse: Jeff and his teenage students -- the cool ones.

I’m coming up on a year teaching in Viet Nam. I was fortunate that the third time was a charm and did pay for all; in terms of teaching it’s been a great year and I consider myself pretty fortunate to have the experience under my belt. More about this later.

I will say that part of the break from blogging was a matter of necessity, as I taught a summer school class, on top of my usual full-time schedule. I had a choice in this, but not really — I still needed to make up time that I had lost from work because of my quadriceps tendon tear, and this put me back in the black, in terms of hours. Plus, I had a good class and enjoyed them. But it left very little free time for yours truly.

Incidentally, the photos below with the kids in yellow t-shirts looking sleepy or eating ice-cream? That was my summer school class at the Sai Gon Zoo field trip. The one’s pictured above were my good teenage class (not the evil one). I loved these kids, and I was sorry to have to give up this class to a new teacher after a number of months, in order to take on a new adult class. But then my adult class takes me out for Thai food and beer. πŸ˜‰

Teacher Jeff's ILA summer school class at the Sai Gon Zoo. Wake up kids! We'll start having fun soon. I promise!The Joy of Proximity

Plus, I bookended — that’s not really a verb — my summer school class with short vacations back to Thailand. I fear its food and culture has gotten under my skin, in spite of the rough experience teaching in a public school a few years ago. Again, more on this later.

Not Gimping Around Nearly So Much

My leg continues to improve; I can walk up and down steps now like a normal person (almost). Walking down stairs sometimes still proves a little challenging, especially after a long day in the classroom (i.e. Saturdays and Sundays).

But it’s not back to normal. Everyone keeps asking me if it’s back to normal, and when I say not quite then they ask when. I never know what to tell them. My ankle injury in high school, the only injury I’ve suffered close to the magnitude of my severed quadriceps tendon, literally took years before it felt “normal.” Even today, it’s not quite the same as the other ankle.

I need to get on a bike, but I’ve decided against buying one or shipping mine here to Viet Nam, as I’m going to be traveling at the end of October through the first of the year, ultimately relocating back to Thailand for a time. If you’re one of the two regular readers of this blog, you’re thinking “Wait, what? Really? Thought you’d never go back to Thailand.” I know, I know, but never say never, right? Reference above; more later.

P.S. Speaking of cycling, no less than Lucas Brunelle commented on a post I made last year about doping, cycling and Lance Armstrong. You may not know who urban cycling and alleycat proponent Lucas Brunelle is, but if you’re involved with cycling at all, you’ve probably heard the name; he’s a polarizing figure, to be sure. While I don’t agree with everything he does or has to say, he clearly isn’t afraid to march to his own drum, and that always gets respect in my book.

Plus it’s just fucking cool that somewhat like that commented on my blog, particularly when it’s been lying fallow, as of late.

Buying a Real Camera

Lego ninja in the Circle of Death I still haven’t replaced my big boy camera yet, although I’m really feeling the urge to get back into photography again, full time. More on this later, but I think after the first of the year I’m going to embark on a 365 photo-a-day project. I don’t seem to do well without deadlines, in terms of creativity, so I think I need to set myself some deadlines. I was thinking I might do that with blogging as well. I don’t know if I’ll have the bandwidth for both though; we’ll see. If only I was independently wealthy.

On the plus side, I have a decent laptop now with discrete graphics, so I can tinker with 3D modeling and rendering again, as well as use the latest version of Photoshop — which now has a subscription service, thank Dog — and it is effing sweet, let me tell you.

Pictured here, among other things, is a test shot — among many — I made playing around with my Canon G12. The G12 is at the end of the day, a point-and-shoot toy. But, it is a sophisticated, rather grand toy, one that I’m quite happy with as far as having a snapshot type of camera goes. Definitely more on this subject later.

Unfriended the Entire World. Bitches.

Joy of Tech: finding ultimate bliss by deleting your Facebook profileI quit Assbook several months ago and haven’t looked back. Haven’t missed it. In fact the only time I think about it is when I see someone at work on Facebook, or someone asks me to friend them/message them on Facebook. It’s funny, no one asks if you are on Facebook anymore, it’s just assumed.

Perhaps I’ll write more on this later, but then again, maybe not. There’s a lot of interesting things going on in the world at large and in my own little corner of it. Why waste time blathering about Assbook? Long story short, there was no one thing that caused me to leave it; it wasn’t concerns over privacy — which are quite legitimate, however — or anything like that. Just got tired of everything and everyone reduced to the lowest common denominator in a festival of the mundane.

I just don’t give a tinker’s damn what you had for breakfast or that you are leaving to pick up your kids at school. Unless you are having breakfast on top of Kilimanjaro or are picking up your kids from their first day at Juliard, it’s not significant and I don’t care. Beyond mundane updates Facebook has become the email forwarding for the 21st Century; at one point I had all my friends trained not to forward me cat videos and whatnot. Now, of course, they post all that shit to Assbook. Friends I haven’t spoken with in years — strangers, at this point — don’t reply when I send them emails, but they ask me to watch some idiot on YouTube.

Meh.

Maybe I’m officially old, but that’s okay. I’m happy to say you kids and your social network can get off my lawn. *shakes fist*

As for the few friends that have contacted me wondering where I went, you’ve got my email address and this URL. And now you know that I’m still alive and doing well.

And I’ll sign off with “awwwwwwwwwww” image:

Phuc stuffs his face with ice cream after a hot day at the Sai Gon zoo.

ESL: Teenage Boys & Freudian Obsesesions

Little Kids Rule; Teenagers Act Like Fools

Lego Teacher Jeff: A portrait in ink done by a student and aspiring artist of the Lego school of yours truly, Jeff ChappellAs for the teaching ESL thing, it continues to go reasonably well.

I seem to have gotten a handle on my two teenage classes, although they still continue to be challenging, in terms of maintaining discipline and keeping the majority of the students engaged. The academic director of my school actually filled me in on one of his techniques for managing teenagers that works quite well; I’ll have to write about it at some point in the near future.

I still enjoy teaching the younger kids the most, however. My two favorite classes consist of a class of 18 kids with an average age of seven or eight years old and another class of 14 who average about nine or 10 years old. The larger class are on their second course of study – not beginners, but not quite intermediates – and the other class are on their third, making them more or less solid intermediate students, for their age group.

Eighteen students is a bit much in terms of class size – not ideal, but still manageable – certainly a lot easier than 34 Thai six years olds, lemme tell ya – or 40 Thai six graders who’ve never had a foreign teacher before. The class of 14 is just about ideal – well, as ideal as one class can get. All of the students are intelligent and outgoing, to one degree or another, and are almost always fun to teach.

It’s a good age; essentially they are young enough that discipline is easy to achieve – they will actually listen to what you say. Their level of English is such that I don’t really have to grade my language too much, and can communicate with them easily, which makes teaching easier and certainly more fun. Furthermore, a lot of games that would make my teenagers sigh and groan and whine, my 9-year-olds find endlessly engaging and fun.

If I’d Only Known About Teaching Teenagers

Fiona, one of my Vietnamese teenagers that is actually a delight to teach. Back in 2009 when I began to seriously consider moving abroad to teach English, I had figured that if I had to teach children – and knew that I would be asked to teach children, being a noob – that it would be teenagers that would be the least problematic. After all, I’m reasonably hip for a middle-aged dude, or so I thought – maybe by Western standards, perhaps. Furthermore, what the hell did I know about dealing with kids? Diddly squat, or so I thought.

Ah, I was clueless to the point of naΓ―vetΓ© back then; now I can say with authority that I’ve found the opposite to be true. So for anyone out there considering an ESL career who has stumbled upon this via Teh Google or Bing, take that under advisement. Avoid the teenagers if you can – although there are teachers that love their teenage classes – if you have to teach kids, go for the younger ones, if you want my advice. Even my beginner class, with an average age of six or seven, I find are more enjoyable to teach than my teens – challenging, sure, but fun.

Although when a five-year-old kid says he has to go to the bathroom right away — he tends not to be kidding. You can take it at face value and let him go. Doesn’t matter if class is over in five minutes anyway. Trust me on this one.

Of course, I can’t help but think at times that my teenage classes are a bit of karma. At times I’m sure I was every bit of a pain in the ass to my high school teachers as my worst teenage student is too me. I was probably as sullen at times as the most sullen of my teenage students. On the other hand, I don’t think I was as obsessed with bodily functions as some of my teenage students are – boys, naturally.

We played a game of Truth or Dare in class recently – or rather tried too. Between the lack of creative thinking, which often gets bred out of students by the rote education system prevalent here and throughout much of Asia – and the fact that my teenage boys seem to have a near-Freudian-level of obsession with urination, defecation and passing gas, and delight in the use of the related English vernacular – peeing, pooping and farting, etcetera – well, it didn’t go so well.

Live and learn. Next time I try that game, I’ll be composing the questions myself.

Karma Chameleon, Karma Quadriceps

In Which I Catch A6 and Ruminate on Recovery

No, no, no. Not *that* Karma Chamelon. I don't think Boy George and Culture Club had orthopedic problems and existential angst in mind. So a few days ago I passed the three-month mark: three months since I tore – completely severed, rather – the quadriceps tendon in my right leg, and had surgery to correct it the next day, Christmas Eve.

Has it really been a month since I last posted and laughed in the face of Fate and the Universe? I guess it has. I haven’t had a lot of bandwidth the past few weeks for much else beyond teaching and reading; I’ve had a cold that has persisted for two weeks – persisted in kicking my ass. I’ve compared notes with fellow expats, and it seems they have drawn the same conclusion I have – we don’t have the natural or resistance we would otherwise have back home, where our bodies are familiar with the bugs that get passed around.

Back in the States I typically would get a cold or the flu once or twice a year, and it would last a week or so. In between those times I might get a scratchy throat or a runny nose for a few days here and there, but nothing more than a minor annoyance.

But over here on the other side of the planet, there are bugs floating around that my white blood cells haven’t encountered before, and when you come down with a cold, it’s a bitch kitty, as my old man would have said. Coughing up technicolor snot – or blowing it out of your nose – every twenty minutes or so. Coughing until you sound like a trumpeting, randy elk. Not fun.

Somehow, thanks to my usual pig-headedness and over-the-counter drugs, I managed to keep up my teaching load, which is now back to full time. But as I say, the past few weeks, I haven’t had much bandwidth for aught else.

A technical diagram illustrating where the quadriceps tendon rupture occurred.That has included my therapy exercises, but now that I’m walking unaided, it doesn’t seem to have slowed down my recovery. Of course I make it a point to walk up and down stairs at every opportunity.

I still need a bannister to lean on, but when one is present, I take the stairs. I’ve been able to walk up stairs normally – provided they aren’t too high and there is the aforementioned bannister present – for the past three weeks or so; for the last two weeks or so, I’ve been able to walk down stairs normally.

This tends to make my leg a bit sore at the point of the injury/surgical repair if I do it too much, but then, no pain no gain, at this point. My therapist, Mistress Lien, continues to be pleased with my progress. Although when I showed up last week – having canceled my weekly appointment the previous week because I was barfing up chunks of lung – and I looked like death and was braying like a donkey when I coughed, she politely inquired wtf I was doing there.

I wasn’t going to miss another week of therapy, I said, cold or no. Besides, a little physical activity might help – get the lymph moving around, and whatnot. And I’ve noticed that when my sinuses are swollen, physical activity is one of the few things that relieves them – the blood flows elsewhere, for a bit.

To top it all off I accepted a bit of freelance web development work from an old acquaintance that I know through work, and that’s kept me busy too, lo these past weeks. But I’ve enjoyed getting my hands dirty with CSS, PHP and whatnot again. Nerd is as nerd does. But as I say, no time for anything else.

Karma for Funky Walk: I’m Sorry Larry

I howl with rage and despair, just like this dog. Despair_by_FluffleNeCharkaAs I’ve noted before, I’ve been more than a little obsessed with the existential meaning behind my torn quadriceps tendon. I can’t help but think to some degree that perhaps that it is karma. Maybe not for one thing, but maybe for several little things. Maybe my karmic bank vault was a little too full and some sort of cosmic pressure valve opened – and I suffered a serious injury stepping off a bus.

The other day I was walking through the park – my gate is almost normal, at this point – when my leg buckled and I stumbled and nearly fell before I recovered. In order to walk with a near normal gate I still have to consciously think about it; my leg is still too weak otherwise and I limp noticeably. The buckling happens less and less as my leg gets stronger, but it still happens once in a while.

I found myself drawing stares from other people in the park, stares like I haven’t drawn since I left the crutch at home. It’s funny how quickly I’ve gone from an object of amazement – a foreigner walking with a crutch! In public! Out in the street! – to just another expat walking around Sai Gon. Once again the only people that give me a second glance these days are people that want to sell me something.

But as I regained my balance after my leg buckled that day in the park, I crossed a vast gulf of time, back to grade school and junior high, and in my minds eye I pictured a kid named Larry. Larry – or as a friend and I had dubbed him, as teenagers are wont to be cruel – Funky Walk.

Larry was suffered from what I presume now was some sort of congenital defect; one of his legs was malformed and didn’t quite point in the right direction, and he walked with a noticeable limp. I went to large suburban elementary school and junior high school, and he was one of those kids you see around, in the halls, in the lunch room, but never get to know. Of course, Larry stood out because of his rolling, rocking gate.

In junior high I had a friend; let’s call him “Ralph.” For a year or two we were pretty tight buds, and then in high school we grew apart. It was one of those growing-up kind of things where at some point you stop and think “why was I friends with that guy? He’s an asshole.” Granted, Ralph might very well have thought the same thing about me.

Keep on Truckin' Larry, wherever you are -- sorry we were teenage dicks. Anyway, whenever we saw Larry around school, we always remarked “there goes Funky Walk.” He looked like that iconic “Keep on Trucking” guy drawn by R. Crumb — himself iconic — when he walked. Teenagers can be real dicks, and I was no different, unfortunately.

I haven’t thought about Larry in decades; not since high school, of course. But the other day, I could picture him in my mind’s eye as if it were 1982 and I had just passed him in the halls of Anderson Junior High. His long dishwater blonde hair, black t-shirt and faded boot cut jeans (Larry actually looked pretty hip for a kid in the suburbs of Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1982, come to think of it).

Must have been tough growing up with that abnormal gate. He probably went to a lot of doctors and physical therapists, and in the end he was stuck with it – unlike me, who has a light at the end of his gimpy tunnel. I remember at some point in high school, I was hanging out with a girl, and Larry walked by, and I said something like “There goes Funky Walk.”

I guess I wasn’t quite into my more-thoughtful, post-teenage-dick phase yet. She informed me, and rightfully so, that I was an asshole, and that Larry was actually a pretty cool guy.

Larry, wherever you are are now, I owe you an apology. For what it’s worth, I’m sorry I was and adolescent dickhead. Having had a small taste of what it’s like, to be stared at because you aren’t as able bodied as everyone else, to say you have my respect would be an understatement.

Fuck Yeah! I can walk! And welcome all you meme googlers.P.S. SEO Funnies

It seems a lot of people are out there are wandering the Vast Series of Tubes in search of things related to the “Fuck Yeah” meme. My previous post has generated a lot of traffic in the month that it’s been up, most of which came from Google searches for “fuck yeah;” it’s become the second most popular landing page on this blog. Notably, it doesn’t contain the words “fuck yeah” anywhere in the post, but it does sport an example of the Fuck Yeah meme in the form of an image, and “fuck yeah” is included in the image tags (’cause I’m a good little search engine optimizer).

Of course I used that image because it adequately conveyed how I felt, being able to walk unaided and ride a bike, albeit a stationary one, for the first time since I ruptured my quad tendon. So for all you folks who landed here, read my meandering prose and all the while wondered “what the hell,” I bid you welcome.

And fuck yeah. I can walk. I may look like an R. Crumb cartoon when I do it, but I can walk.

Damn My Quadriceps, I’m Walking (Sort Of) Home. Through the Park, Even

A technical diagram illustrating where the quadriceps tendon rupture occurred. Well it’s been a few days since I whined about my torn quadriceps tendon, so I figured I’d remedy that. Saturday, Feb. 25 – heh, just realized it’s a leap year – will be nine weeks to the day I had my surgery on Christmas Eve. I had a therapy appointment today – the physical kind, not the head-shrinking kind – and I had hoped in the back of my mind that today might be the day that I could actually spin on the stationary bike.

I don’t know whether or not it’s because I am a once and future avid cyclist, or what, but that is some sort of milestone for me, psychologically. I can walk now, sort of. I don’t use my crutch around the apartment except when I get in and out of the shower, and then it’s just a matter of being safe. I really can’t walk with a normal gate yet – my quadriceps muscle and the related muscles, aductors, abductors and so forth, along with my calf continue to get stronger, but they ain’t there yet — but I can walk unaided for short distances. Out in the real world though, I generally use the crutch, but as little as possible in terms of weight bearing.

But for the past two weeks, in spite of doing my therapeutic exercises with a near religious monomania, for the second week in a row, I couldn’t bend my leg beyond 100 degrees. You need to be able to bend it about 110- to about 120-degrees to spin on a bike. Based on others’ experiences with recovering from a quadriceps tendon rupture, most people don’t get beyond 100 degrees until they are into their third month of recovery – I’ve just begun mine, so I guess I shouldn’t be pissing and moaning.

But still.

I have dreams about running and riding my bike. And it’s like well … it’s like dreaming about sex. It’s so intense and so real and so amazing and then, well, then I wake up. And I look at my leg and think, unlike a sex dream, I can’t do anything about this except be patient.

Once more: Sucks, this.

Strutting: as much as one can with a quadriceps tendon rupture and a crutch

On the plus side, I can actually walk around when I run errands nearby, instead of having to take taxis three blocks. The xe-om drivers cry out “Motorbike you?! Motorbike you?!” But I shake my head and say “khΓ΄ng cαΊ£m Ζ‘n” and strut on by – as much as a guy with a crutch and a mild limp can strut. Even in this manner it still feels good to walk. Sometimes I over do it and by the end of the day my leg is more swollen and sore than perhaps it should be, but to hell with it.

I’m walking, so take that, Universe. Put that in your metaphorical pipe and suck on it.

And further to the plus side, I was walking home early this evening through a nearby park here in Ho Chi Minh City, nΓ©e Sai Gon, when someone approached me and struck up a conversation. I was a little leery and guarded at first, as I live on the edge of the backpacker ghetto, and for every time a nice Vietnamese person who just wants to be sociable and practice a bit of English, there is someone on the make looking to earn a quick buck one way or another.

For example, the first time I walked through the park after my surgery, about two weeks or so after, I was still in the big-blue straight-leg brace, using both crutches, and my knee was still watermelon-sized and discolored. Sure enough, a young lady came up and launched into the “Handsome man where you go?” routine. “You wan’ massa? Boom boom?”

I sighed, looked down at my leg, looked back at her and smiled sardonically. “Do I look like I’m in any condition for boom boom?”

To which she replied, without missing a beat, “It no problem. I get on top, ride like cow girl! I go wit you?”

Sigh. “KhΓ΄ng cαΊ£m Ζ‘n.” That means “no thank you,” in case you hadn’t sussed that out by now.

Anyway, fortunately for me, tonight, this young man fell into the latter category – just curious, friendly and wanting to talk English. Once we got past the usual banter – “Where are you from? What happened/what did you do to your leg? Are you are on holiday?” questions, we had a nice talk as I walked home.

The conversation ranged from football (what the rest of the world calls football, and us Yanks call soccer, that is) – he was surprised a Yank knew anything about football, I think – to Thai culture vs. Vietnamese culture. He agreed that yes, if the American national team would play a more European/Central-South American style of football, we could probably win a World Cup. When I suggested we needed a British or European coach, he countered with a Brazilian or Mexican coach, to which I readily agreed that this would be as good if not better.

Before the football conversation started though, when he asked me how long I had lived in Viet Nam I had to explain that it was only four months this time,Β but that I had lived here before, both in HCMC and an hour north in sticks up in Bien Hoa (and I’m too lazy to conjure up the diacritical marks, so we’re doing to have to do without tonight) Β with six months spent teaching in Thailand in between. I noted that I liked living in Thailand well enough, but that when it came to teaching English, I preferred Viet Nam for several reasons. He didn’t seem surprised by this and offered up the observation that Vietnamese were more friendly and open to foreign people than Thais, generally, with which I readily agreed.

But then he admitted the only place he had been to in Thailand was Pattaya. Then he said “Vietnam, we don’t have any place like Pattaya here.” I instantly thought “You’ve obviously never been to Vung Tau, young man,” but I kept my mouth shut. But then he added: “But Thai culture is much more open to that and accepting. Vietnam, it is too conservative for anything like that.” I agreed with that, as I think it is generally true – Vung Tau not withstanding.

But after we discussed Thai culture and football, we came to the point where we were headed separate ways; we exchanged names and I told him to keep an eye out for me in the park, as I often walk home that way – it’s a bit out of the way for me sometimes, depending on where I’m coming from, but if I’m coming from the backpacker ghetto, it’s the best way to avoid the touts, xe-om drivers and working girls on Pham Ngu Lao street.

This sort of thing happens all the time here in Sai Gon; it happened to a lesser extent up in Bien Hoa, where foreigners are still exceptionally rare and exotic.

Doogie Howser, making a thoughtful post on his electronic journal, long before the term blog would enter the popular lexicon.So yeah, that was a nice little counterbalance to lift my spirits after my therapy appointment this afternoon. Okay, I’m going to get all Doogie Howser here.

I guess in the larger scheme of things I don’t have much to complain about. I’m chasing dreams, living abroad in an exotic locale, and other than my Franken knee and teeth that are long over due for a trip to the dentist, I have my health. And my leg will eventually recover (I’m told) and I’ll get around to going to the dentist one of these days. So life is good.

And tomorrow when I feel like bitching about my leg maybe I’ll come back and read this post again.

(What’s So Funny About) Nick Lowe, Elvis Costello and ESL Anyway?

Elvis Costello and the Attractions, around the time Armed Forces came out in the U.S. I experienced one of those strange moments yesterday that I imagine is not uncommon to many American expats living in Viet Nam – well, the more thoughtful among us, anyway. It was one of those moments when you are suddenly reminded that just a few generations ago the United States and Viet Nam were embroiled in a bloody conflict as ideologically opposed foes.

So who would have thought when the last helicopter left Sai Gon in 1975, with communist tanks rumbling through the streets not far away, that 37 years later – just a few generations – I would not only be teaching English to Vietnamese students in Sai Gon, but would be using Elvis Costello’s cover of Nick Lowe’s “(What’s So Funny About) Peace, Love and Understanding?” as part of a listening exercise? Granted, it’s not Country Joe Mcdonald’s “Fixin’-to-Die Rag,” and not even a protest song, per se, but rather an existential paean to the lost ideals of the 1960s in the wake of the more cynical 1970s.

While certainly not impossible, I nevertheless didn’t try to explain to my students the context in which Lowe wrote his song without mentioning the America War (that’s how the Vietnamese refer to what we call in America the Vietnam War, naturally). The thing is – the thing that many of my country folk don’t realize – that for Vietnamese students, just like their American counterparts now, that war is a matter of history (and judging from my teenage students reactions, of only mild interest at best).

It is the stuff of dusty museums and history books and documentaries. Three quarters of Viet Nam’s population was born after the war, and here in Sai Gon – officially named Ho Chi Minh City in the wake of the Communist victory – foreigners are not uncommon and there are many of us Americans among them. The infamous tunnels the North Vietnamese used to such advantage are now popular tourist attractions, and one has to make it a point and look far and wide to find reminders of the war. Heck we’re even military allies now, our navies having gone on joint maneuvers in the South China Sea (given its history, one can hardly blame Viet Nam if even a hint of a Chinese expansionist policy make it nervous).

Having been born at the end of 1968, I only know the Vietnamese-American war as something from the television news reports of my childhood. But then I grew up with the aftermath and what it did to the American cultural zeitgeist. So while I could appreciate the irony of helping Vietnamese teenagers in Sai Gon practice their English listening skills by using “(What’s So Funny About) Peace, Love and Understanding,” I’m pretty sure it was lost on everyone else in the room.

Incidentally, just in case you were wondering: this song is actually part of the intermediate/advanced curriculum for this particular class that I’m teaching. Like many English as a second language (ESL) texts, the book we use has reading, writing, listening and grammar lessons that are centered around a particular topic in each chapter, relating each lesson and exercise back to the ones before it. This particular chapter happened to be about war and peace; the reading text that opened the chapter was about Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite and the eponymous Peace Prize – Alfred having been appalled at how his invention had been put to use on the battlefields of World War I.

Musician, singer, songwriter and producer Nick Lowe (copyright, I assume, by the photogapher, Dan Burn-Forti)But then my school does permit us to use outside resources at our own discretion, so I could spring Country Joe on them if I wanted to. But somehow I don’t think it would interest them anymore than Elvis Costello’s Nick Lowe cover did. Keep in mind, these are teenagers who are reasonably well off (by Vietnamese standards and increasingly by American standards as well) who have never known war. When I asked what the students thought of the song after listening to it initially, one of the brighter girls in the class shook her head and said “It’s not K-pop!

No child, that is pub rock via punk, that. But then I suppose Nick Lowe has always been a pop-music bridesmaid and never a bride. That’s Mr. Lowe over there on the left, by the way. Below, thanks to the magic of VCRs, nostalgia and AV nerds, is the original video for Elvis Costello and the Attractions cover of the aforementioned tune.

Enduring the Mood Swings of a Quadriceps Tendon Tear Recovery

6 weeks after surgery to repair my quadriceps tendon rupture -- look at me, I can bend my leg!So if you’ve read all the previous posts under this quadriceps tendon tear tag, then you know that it has been an emotional roller-coaster ride; it seems that from both a physical and psychological perspective my recovery involves a series of steps forward in conjunction with half as many steps back.

This past week has been no different.

A week ago, on January 31, I took the first unaided steps I’d taken since the early afternoon of December 23, more than five weeks previous. Granted they were small steps, and they were only a few, and they were taken while walking between parallel bars in the physical therapy room of my local hospital – my hands hovering warily just an inch or two above the bars — but they were steps taken with nothing but my own two feet and legs. No crutches, no assistance from the therapist – or from said parallel bars, for that matter – just me, myself and I.

I was euphoric, to say the least. I wanted to scream; I wanted to shout. I wanted – alas – to jump up and down.

On top of this wonderful landmark accomplishment — in addition to this astounding physical feat, these four small steps for a man, this giant leap for ruptured-quadriceps-tendon kind – my therapist decided that it was time for me to kiss the straight-leg brace goodbye, as well as one of my Tiny Tim crutches. This was an entire week ahead of schedule, mind you; my orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Phat, originally had told me that I would inhabit the brace for six weeks.

I was a little scared, venturing forth on just one crutch with no brace to protect my misshapen leg, but nevertheless ecstatic. It felt so good to walk – not limp, but walk, bending my leg – even with the aid of a crutch. And it wasn’t – and still isn’t – a normal gait; while I do bend my knee when I take a step forward with my right leg, as I put weight on it and begin to step with my left leg I have to lock my right leg, consciously flexing my quadricep muscle. Furthermore, my quadriceps muscle is so weak, I can’t actually lock my leg – not completely, anyway.

But Mistress Lien, as I like to refer to my tiny little therapist, drills it into my head – lock your leg, lock your leg, lock your leg – ad nauseum, ad infinitum.Β It’s difficult to do, aside from my weak-ass quad. Being an erstwhile gym rat, it’s instinctive to not lock my knee; locking the knee = bad, in my mind – hyperextension, effed-up ligaments, etc.
But as my therapist has explained, locking the knee of my bad leg makes it more stable when I walk, keeping it from buckling, and consequently giving the quadriceps muscle much-needed use. Meanwhile, Dr. Phat has assured me that at this stage, the tendon has healed and the odds of re-injury are nil (provided I don’t run out and do something dumb – not that I can actually run). What’s important now is strengthening my leg muscles, namely the quad, and gradually getting that tendon back to a full-range of motion.

Lets Do Something Dumb to Celebrate

6 weeks after surgery to repair my quadriceps tendon rupture.So yeah, last week I was metaphorically jumping for joy, if not literally. I decided to celebrate by increasing my working hours. I went from teaching three classes a week to eight, and by the end of the week, I was paying for it several times over with pain and swelling. As the pain and swelling increased, my happy-happy-joy-joy decreased, to the point that by Sunday night after class I was depressed and angry.

Again.

When I showed up for my therapy appointment on Monday my therapist took one look at me knee and said something in Vietnamese that I’m sure would translate into English as “What the fuck!?” After talking things over with her and Dr. Phat, we all came to the obvious conclusion that eight classes was too much, and that I need to step back.

But then Dr. Phat noted that he was still amazed that I was able to teach three classes a week, just three weeks after surgery, without ill effects. I should probably clarify “without ill effects.” By the end of a class my knee would be swollen (above and beyond the usual) and sore, but I always recovered by the morning of the next day; things would be back to normal – the new gimpy, misshapen normal, that is. Not so after teaching two classes, however.

So now I’m back to teaching three classes this week, and next week I’ll bump it up to four. If that goes well, the week after that, I’ll try five, and so on.

6 weeks after surgery to repair my quadriceps tendon rupture -- nope, still no bilateral symmetry.According to the research I’ve done online, I shouldn’t be complaining; it seems many who suffer a quadriceps tendon tear take months before they return to work, even those with desk jobs. Still, I find it difficult to take solace in such facts. As I’ve noted here several times before, I constantly tell myself that I should be happy at this point that my disability isn’t permanent; almost everyday I see people on the streets of Sai Gon who can’t say the same.

But none of this changes the fact that I’m sick of this, sick of all of it. Sick of not being able bodied, sick of everything taking three times as long and being three times as difficult, sick of being treated by able-bodied people as … well, we’ll save that for another entry. I’ve already touched upon this topic, but recent events require their own entry, methinks.

Wallowing in Despair: Did I Tear My Quadriceps Tendon or My Mind?

I howl with rage and despair, just like this dog. Despair_by_FluffleNeCharkaI fear this post will be a variation on a familiar theme, if not outright repetitious; consider yourself warned.

Some days I think the mental toll of my injury is far worse than the physical. Little things that ordinarily wouldn’t trouble me, emotionally – you know, those days when things don’t seem to go your way – do trouble me when coupled with my infirmity.

Little things like the one ATM near my apartment being out of order. Little things like the fact that the hot plate I bought is actually an induction cooker, and will only work with special cookware, rendering useless the pot and pan I already own. Little things like sweeping the two main rooms of my apartment – because it takes a half hour instead of 5 minutes. Little things like the fact that ants got into my crackers, despite the fact that they were still in the original packaging. Little things like the fact that I’m supposed to be on a trip in Northern Thailand right now, since I have a week off from school for Tet. the Vietnamese celebration of the lunar new year – instead I’m stuck in a two-thirds empty Sai Gon with a busted leg.

Okay, that last one is perhaps not a small thing. But all these things by themselves would ordinarily be no big deal – at least not cause for a depressive episode. But combine them with the functional loss of your right leg for the near future, and a bad day becomes a black day. Add up several black days in a week and combine that with a diagnosed predilection for depression and you go to a pretty dark place sometimes. Well, I have, at any rate.

Fortunately or unfortunately, stubbornness prevents me from doing any of the things I find myself contemplating in dusty, little-used recesses of my mind in these dark moments. As I’ve noted in an earlier post, that would feel too much like capitulation – like letting a bastard Universe – God(s)? Karma? Fate? – asshole that is is, whatever it is – win. I’m much too angry these days for that. I refuse to yield.

Bless my Scottish ancestry.

As for physical recovery from my quadriceps tendon tear, I can bend my leg about 40 degrees now. And there was much rejoicing.

Getting Bent: It’s A Quadriceps Tendon Tear Milestone

Quadriceps tendon tear: 3 weeks (and a day) after surgery, and it almost looks like a human leg.So now it’s been three weeks and a day since the surgery; I had my first post-surgical follow-up a week ago. The stitches came out then – Oh God, thank you, I can finally scratch the incision. I also got my orthopedic surgeon’s okay to bend my leg a whole 30 degrees during physical therapy exercises.

30 degrees. Woo.

The thing is, I can’t bend it anymore than that, even though I want to. Even after my physical therapy exercise routines, when my leg’s quadricep muscles, tendons and ligaments are all warmed up, my knee joint is still too stiff and tight for any movement beyond 30 degrees or so. Anything beyond about 32 degrees hurts — like say, someone jabbing a large, serrated knife into my knee and working it around. So I don’t do that.

So now I have months-long process ahead of me as I slowly regain my range of motion. Again, regaining use of my leg beats having no leg at all. Nevertheless, recovering from a quadriceps tendon tear still royally sucks. Wah.

On the plus side, when I wake in the morning, my knee is almost recognizable as part of a human appendage; the swelling has actually gone down enough that I can feel my knee cap; the flesh surrounding it no longer resembles some sort of large, over-ripe fruit – or, as a friend noted, referring to the stitches holding the incision together, a baseball that had been left out in the yard too long.

And yet.

I still depend on and consequently have to wear the straight-leg brace. I can take it off when I’m not moving about, of course. The doctor – Dr. Phat, cuz’ Phat is Wear It’s At – would prefer I sleep with it on; “We have to protect those sutures,” he said last week, referring to his deft knitting that currently keeps my quadriceps tendon attached to my patella. But he grudgingly acquiesced when I told him that I was a “quiet sleeper” – not prone to leg twitches, etc.

Actually I had slept a few nights here and there without the brace on already; I decided that If I didn’t, I soon would not have any flesh left on my leg, I was scratching so much. I would literally use half a tube of hydrocortisone cream every time I took the damn brace off, my skin would be so irritated. I gather from what I read on the Vast Series of Tubes that this is a common problem for those wearing leg braces for weeks and months at a time.

So far I’ve only woken once in extreme pain while not wearing the brace, having jerked my leg during a dream. I put the brace back on that night and to go back to sleep, but was so worried that I had popped some of the aforementioned sutures that sleep was nothing but wishful thinking. But the pain soon subsided and there was no discoloration or additional swelling, so I assume I did no damage.

In any event, at my post-operative checkup Dr. Phat said that my knee looked “better than normal” in terms of recovery, post-operative swelling, etc. I don’t know if better-than-average recuperative abilities are responsible for this, or if it’s because I’ve been pretty religious about doing my PT exercises – it only hurts the first few reps (and when I laugh) – and icing my knee. It was encouraging to hear, particularly bearing in mind that I still faced a month with crutches and a brace – now three weeks, as of this writing.

Doing It Myself, For Myself

Tear your quadriceps tendon and you too can wear this stylish-yet-comfortable full-length, straight-leg brace!On one hand, you could say that I hate this damn brace, pictured here, and you would be right. I literally hate wearing it, and I also hate what it symbolizes. But I also love it, for without it I would not have been able to retain my independence.

It seems I have a pathological need for this; my second biggest fear involves being permanently disabled to the point that I depend on others to fulfill my basic needs (first would be losing cognitive abilities to the point that I arrive at the same dire situation) . I’ve always been this way, even when I was young, but I think having watched my mother and father die in the fashion in which they both did has only made it worse. Seeing the insides of more than a few nursing homes over the years hasn’t exactly helped either.

It’s completely irrational, I know, this refusal of help unless I am absolutely beyond choice in the matter, but it’s the way I’m wired. Inconsiderate people – and one finds they are legion when one is forced to depend on crutches in order to ambulate – piss me off, it’s true.

But it’s the people that insist on helping me when I don’t need it that drive me absolutely batshit crazy. I know they mean well, and I do my best not to let it show, but it is so difficult. If I can, I’d rather do things myself, even if it takes twice as long and is twice as difficult – it’s hard to explain and I don’t usually try. Sometimes I just choke it back, grit my teeth and say “thank you.” Other times I’ll say “No, it’s okay, I can do it myself” and insist on doing just that. And sometimes these people get offended, but usually at that point I’m fed up enough that I can’t even pretend to care.

For what’s worth, if you want to help someone on crutches beyond holding a door for them or something, try asking first. Just. Ask. Don’t assume. I suppose I can only speak for myself, but as for my part, If I need help, I’ll tell you.

Seriously do-gooders. Let it go. If I genuinely need or want help, I will ask.

The thing is, living in a community-oriented culture here in Viet Nam, this goes against the norm. I can’t tell you how many times a Vietnamese friend, colleague or acquaintance, upon seeing me mobile and out and about, has asked “but who is taking care of you at home?” To which I smile and say “Me. I’m taking care of myself at home.” This is usually followed by the half-smile that denotes incredulity. Sometimes they will “tsk” at me and shake their heads.

We won’t even get into the topic of me returning to work part time, which I decided to try this past week – a grand total of three classes, spread out over five days. All of my Vietnamese colleagues – every one – has told me straight out that I should not be back at work, even on a part-time basis. Don’t get me wrong, they aren’t mean or nasty about it, although some of them can be quite adamant when expressing genuine concern.

I’ve even had Vietnamese friends volunteer to come over and clean my apartment, cook for me, etc. – offers which I invariably decline albeit with gratitude; I do appreciate them. But I suppose I have (that pathological) need to prove to myself that I’m still independent; I’m still able to take care of myself in spite of my thankfully temporary (I hope) handicap. Even when I was still in the hospital, when I got the okay to take a shower a few days after my surgery, I put my foot down — metaphorically, heh — and sent the orderlies out of the room once we had bagged up my leg.

Three weeks after surgery to repair a quad tendon tear: still ain't got no bilateral symmetry. On the other hand, I’m not a complete moron (although I’m sure many would argue that point). I appreciate it when someone gets the door for me, even though I can do it myself. And I have taken up a friend’s offer to help me go shopping once or twice, as I’ve just moved into a new apartment and had to buy a few things that won’t fit into my backpack. But generally I prefer to do for myself.

So yeah, on the other hand, I appreciate the crutches and the brace. I can’t even manage the smallest of limps at this point my leg is so weak and unstable still. I can stand in one place without the brace on and take a shower, but that’s about it. So without them, I would be helpless.

Nevertheless, I yearn for a future in which I can relegate them a corner to become dusty and forgotten with disuse.

Wah My Leg Hurts. Wah Life Sucks.

No WhiningYeah, I still refuse to yield. But it’s tough.

Little things that ordinarily would only be mildly annoying become epic pains in the ass. I have a new-found sympathy and respect for those that find themselves with a permanent disability. I’ve only spent the last two weeks in a straight-leg brace and crutches – and until the past few days I’ve needed those crutches to move even a few feet – and ostensibly will be able to shed both in four more weeks. The doctor says there is no reason I can’t make a complete recovery, although that recovery will be measured in months, perhaps a year or longer.

Every time self pity threatens to hold sway over my psyche, I think about the people I see every day here on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City: men and women with one leg and two crutches who are usually selling lottery tickets. Their legs aren’t going to grow back in a matter of months. My life is difficult because I can’t bend my leg – still wearing the straight-leg brace 24-7, at the moment (more or less) per doctors orders – but at least I still have a leg – two even – one that ostensibly will return to a state approximating normal some day.

So when I perceive that I’m getting too whiny and bitchy, I think about those people – or even literally look out from my apartment balcony and see them wandering down Nguyen Trai street – and psychologically shut the fuck up.

But it’s tough sometimes. Just to go out to the coffee shop for the afternoon is epic. It takes me hours to get ready. Everything takes three times as long – showering, dressing, packing up my laptop – not to mention my therapeutic exercises and icing down my knee. As I say, everything becomes epic. A load of laundry? Epic. Instant noodles for dinner and cleaning up afterwards? Epic.

And I’m getting fucking damn tired of epic.

P.S. I’ve started dreaming about walking and running. In these dreams that’s all there is: me walking or me running. Unaided. No Β crutches or braces. Β It is so, so sweet. But then, shit, I’d just be happy to be able to bend my leg.

My Quadriceps Tendon Torn Asunder

Surgery, Quadriceps tendon tear: with my kneecap slipped down below the joint, if you look closely and you can see the end of femur. So the day before the previous entry, December 23rd, I was stepping off the bus around the corner from where I teach English here in Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam, when the quadriceps tendon in my right leg completely tore away from my patella – the tissue that connects my thigh muscles to my kneecap.

I was stepping down onto the last step of the bus prior to stepping off onto the pavement when I heard a snap and fell onto the street, landing on my left side. Immediately I thought the bus’ stairs must have broken or otherwise collapsed – this particular Sai Gon bus happened to be pretty ramshackle. I looked over my shoulder back at the bus, but the steps were intact. Then I tried to stand up, and realized something was dreadfully wrong.

I could feel my lower right leg, but I couldn’t move it – nothing happened when I tried to move it, much less put weight on it. What’s more, I could see, even through my pants leg, that my patella was no longer where it should be, that it was in fact now located well below and to the left of the knee joint (if you were looking at my knee) – it was literally resting on top of the ends of my shin bones.

I specifically remember thinking, as I lay there in the gutter: “Oh fuck. That’s not right.”

About this time it started to hurt. Yet it didn’t hurt as much as one might think, thanks to the process of going into shock. I’ve only experienced this twice before, and the last time was more than 10 years ago. I had forgotten just how unpleasant it is – I’d rather deal with the pain than having to alternate between trying not to pass out and trying not to puke.

It was an interesting taxi-ride to the hospital, to say the least.

Now before anyone asks, no, the bus was not moving when this happened; it had actually come to a complete stop before I had descended its steps (this isn’t always the case with public buses here in Viet Nam). And as it turns out there was no organic reason for this to happen, apparently; no heretofore undiagnosed degenerative disease or other orthopedic problem. Rather, it is just chalked up to “one of those things,” i.e. random chance – “I stepped wrong.” Apparently my foot caught in such a way that my forward and downward momentum combined along with the position of my foot to tear my quadriceps tendon in twain.

I suspect it might have something to do with the half sandal/slipper shoe that I wear – make that past tense – wore to class, something that I could easily kick off during class, as I loathe shoes with a passion (one of many reasons to return to this part of the world). Perhaps my foot slipped ever so slightly at just the right moment. But I really don’t know; there seemingly is no reason for this – other than karma, perhaps – and this is the most maddening aspect of this whole experience – one of many, to be sure.

Just a random Yuletide Fuck You from the Universe. Once more: well played, Christmas.

Β But What’re These Gory Pictures? A Few Notes on the Surgery

My surgically repaired quadriceps tendon. Now my patella is where it should be.

Eeewww! Gross! Or, perhaps, cool! Fascinating! It all depends on which end of the squeamish spectrum you reside, I suppose. As you can guess, I live on the latter end. I find stuff like this endlessly fascinating, although I admit, given that it’s my blood and flesh cut open, the first time I viewed these images it did make me somewhat uncomfortable for a brief moment.

Anyway, my orthopedic surgeon here at Ho Chi Minh City’s FV Hosptial, Dr. Phat – cuz Phat is where it’s at — was kind enough, at my request, to snap a few photos during my surgery. These aren’t just any surgery photos, Dear Gentle Reader; that’s the interior of my knee laid open for you to see, in all it’s bloody and torn glory.

If you look closely at the first image above — go ahead, click on it, and enjoy the bloody hi-rez gore — you can actually see into my knee joint, and consequently the end of my femur. That’s because my patella, or kneecap, is nowhere to be seen; it’s still residing below the joint, just beyond the end of the incision (to the right of the image, which is in the direction of my foot; my thigh is oriented to the left). Dr. Phat — or a nurse or some other assistant — has the end of my torn quadriceps tendon in the forceps on the left of the image.

Frankenknee: 36 hours after surgery to repair a quadriceps tendon tear.In the second image, my tendon is all stitched up and reattached to my patella. Note you can no longer see down into the knee joint — that’s the way it is supposed to be. There are actually two different layers of sutures or stitches; again, if you look closely you can see some of these (they happen to be blue). I’ve forgotten to ask Dr. Phat three times now how exactly the sutures are connected to the patella, but from my research into the surgery I gather he likely drilled some holes into the bone.

Neato, huh? This final image over here on the right is my leg, all stitched up and put back together again, about 36-hours after surgery.