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Archive for November, 2008

back to work so soon?!

Saturday, November 15th, 2008

jo-with-legs

hey guys, well I just completed my first work week since returning home 9 days ago. It’s great to be home again…I already ate the two things I was craving while in the Philippines: 1) fresh strawberries and 2) guacamole (in a steak fajita burrito from Chipotle MMM!). I thought driving here would be strange after not driving for two months, but it’s actually quite easy as people tend to stay in their proper lanes and not make their own. The price of gas (or “petrol” haha) actually went DOWN $2 per gallon while I was gone, which is insane, as the cheapest here is only $2.24/gallon. That’s the cheapest it’s been in years!!

I got over the jet lag pretty quick sleep-wise, except I was kind of constipated in the mornings the first week (TMI??). Also it is now reverse culture shock: I am blown away by the American portion sizes when eating out, but soon it will seem normal again and I will just have to remember that I don’t have to eat the whole damn meal! It also seems very cold here now that it’s not 90 degrees every day (32C) and super humid. Earlier this week it was in the high 50′s (14-15C) but this weekend is very nice, over 70 (21C). (note: I’m putting both the Celsius and Fahrenheit temps not just for the benefit of international readers but for my own. I vow to be bilingual in temperature language soon.) With the drop in temps I no longer have a strong desire for 7-11 Slurpees, Mini Stop soft-serve ice cream or carbonated beverages. So I haven’t been into a local 7-11 to verify that indeed, the biggest Slurpee size in the Philippines is the smallest size here, or that we have 4-6 different flavor offerings as opposed to just green apple and bubblegum.

I’ve been laying low because my first 2 board exams for prosthetics are next week, so I’ve been studying when not working and training. I’m back at Gary’s office as a part-time orthotist and prosthetics assistant and he has been the coolest boss ever. I’ve got more flexible hours so I can get in my training without sacrificing sleep and get home before it gets dark (around 5pm now). Plus he knows I’ll be back at camp in February, so I’m also “seasonal.” I think my workmates might soon get sick of hearing my stories from the Philippines, though. I miss being at rookie camp so I’m always talking about it here! Seriously, I’m like the girl in American Pie who keeps saying “…and this one time, at band camp…”

anyway, I did promise more pictures and stuff from my work in Manila, but that will have to wait at least another week. It is cram time! The next phase of Project Wongstar is to PASS THE BOARD EXAMS!! The one picture above is just me at the Manila clinic posing with all the legs that were about to be delivered at the 3rd prosthetics mission in Pampanga. Giving out new legs is always my favorite part!

now for…PROSTHETICS boot camp!

Wednesday, November 5th, 2008

it is my last night in Manila as I’ve decided I can proudly return to my home country now that I know who won the presidential election. Otherwise I would have stayed here and found a 5’6″ Pinoy boy as I’m told no guys here are 6’5″…the tall ones are 5’6″. even the basketball players. I’m SERIOUS!!

The past two days have been fun and challenging as I’ve shifted my focus from rookie boot camp in Subic to…prosthetics boot camp in Manila! Pamela is a 20yo patient who needed a hip disarticulation prosthesis…so we were basically given two days to cast, modify, fabricate, fit, and deliver it! She is here in Manila until January for chemotherapy treatments but since I was only here for a few days, they wanted me to lead the project and see the whole thing through. Pretty fun actually, to be team leader and turn around the making of a prosthesis so quickly with all the materials at my disposal and technicians to help out. Actually I don’t think I’ve EVER made a leg this fast, and this was a more complicated case than your average leg amputation!

here are a few pics but there are A TON MORE (well, hundreds) that I will have to upload to a web album, because if there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that Filipinos are VERY CAMERA-HAPPY.

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I was as proud as a mom watching Pamela take her first steps…and she just kept going! We quickly moved from using a walker to crutches, and she just kept going and going! (I know, I said that already.) I was stunned because she had chemo in the morning and was supposedly a little tired. Yes, there was a mixture of pride and relief…I actually *did* learn something in school and residency. (phew!)

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anyway I am happy to be leaving on such a positive note.
Phase One of “Project Wongstar–Philippines” has been a success!
bon voyage!

The Wongstar is born.

Monday, November 3rd, 2008

jeep-ride

    How to Become an Asian Triathlon Superstar, Step #11: Earn yourself a superstar nickname.

    Well it is November 3rd and I left home exactly 2 months ago on September 3rd. It is hard to believe the time has gone by so quickly, it’s almost as if this was a perpetual summer: at home summer ends right after Labor Day (right before I left) and then I headed to a hot humid climate for 2 months of triathlon training with some prosthetics thrown in here and there. It will be almost winter when I get home, although a California winter is pretty different from say, a Switzerland winter. ;) Still, I may just leave all my hot weather clothing here, I *really* don’t want to get dinged with more excess baggage charges!!!

    I was sad to leave Subic yesterday, having bonded with the other rookies, our coach, and everybody else. Rookie Boot Camp was such a big physical (and mental!) test for me. Many of the other rookies came into camp with years of the pro triathlete training lifestyle under their belt, for me it was my first time to focus exclusively on the whole eating, sleeping, and training kind of life. I came into camp a little scared and intimidated. At the end of two weeks I wasn’t sure what I had gotten myself into. At one point, Coach told me “I can see you’re trying very hard, and I’m not sure how much longer you can keep trying.”

    But I persisted. I was not the fastest and definitely not the most talented, but goshdarnit I would be relentless in busting my butt for every swim, bike, and run. As I improved my fitness and technique, slowly I gained more confidence in myself. I stopped being so scared of Coach :) and less concerned with how much everyone else was whupping me in the workouts. I can muscle through the water like a steamboat, grind up the hills in a giant gear, and even run some decent 200′s after being told I have no speed. With my new run technique, I can run 2 hours without any pain after coming into camp with bad shin splints and being only able to run for 10-15 minutes.

    Coach says I still need to work on my discipline and my confidence, but I am confident the confidence will come as I continue to improve athletically. Does that make sense? By the last week I was much less sore and coping better with the unending battery of workouts. I never tried to guess when the next rest day was because I didn’t want to get my hopes up…so I just always assumed there would be another day of grueling workouts. (and I was usually right! haha!) Somehow I managed to avoid the various viruses that began to plague the freshman squad…it must be my Chinese warrior genes. They sure helped me get through my first boot camp!

    In the middle of it all, Coach gave me a new nickname. At first I thought he was calling me The Wongster, but he then clarified that I am THE WONGSTAR! (With his Aussie accent it’s pronounced like “Wongsta”…kind of like “gangsta” for gangsters.) Because I am on the way to becoming an Asian triathlon superstar. We are only on Step #11 though. I don’t know how many steps it will take to get there, but the past 4 weeks have seen a lot of progress and I’m going to do my darndest to keep up the momentum while I am at home, and heading into the next camp in February. It could be 100 steps, it could 500. or more! But I am so happy to have started this journey with the team and see what I can achieve with a lot of hard work, passion, and discipline.

    I am here in Manila until Thursday morning and will be helping out at the PGH prosthetics clinic (Philippines General Hospital) tomorrow. There is a young female patient, 20 years old, with a rare high level amputation due to bone cancer in her femur (the thigh bone). This is the level we call “hip disarticulation” because the entire femur and everything underneath was completely removed. Dr. Bundoc requested that I come by and help teach the technicians how to cast, fabricate, and fit this type of prosthesis, so today I’m studying up extra and have consulted my boss at home for some help. We learned this at school, but were always told it is such a rare case that most people only see it once or twice in their entire careers. Luckily for me, I had a great residency and we actually saw 3 or more patients at this level!

    Unfortunately I’ll miss the next Pampanga mission this coming Saturday (Nov 1st was a holiday here so it was postponed), but in the upcoming months I’ll be better defining what my contribution to the team social projects are in terms of prosthetics work. I have always wanted to go to Vietnam and Cambodia to help provide prostheses to landmine survivors and that is a definite goal. And I know that the better I become as a pro triathlete, the more my profile will be raised and the more people I can help. I think we should call it “Project Wongstar.” ;)