Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Two Toes and a Centipede

Written by Mike and Miranda

A few Fridays back, we decided to go out for a night on the town. Usually this just entails grabbing a bite to eat, or a trip to the video store to rent a movie to watch back at home. Neither of us can be described as social butterflies. Usually by the time Friday rolls around, we’d prefer just to lock the doors, unplug the phone, and relax for a few hours by the glow of the television.

On this occasion however, we went to the recently renamed Yap Pacific Dive Resort for dinner and some entertainment. This sprawling hotel and restaurant is on a hill above Chamorro Bay and downtown Colonia, and is the closest thing you’d find to a “Fantasy Island” style mansion in all of Micronesia. We hadn’t been to their establishment in a long while, and were pleasantly surprised at the greatly improved quality of the food and the reasonableness of the prices. We shared a sushi appetizer featuring freshly caught tuna, and each had an excellent chicken burrito entrĂ©e. The best part had to be the homemade salsa, made with a locally grown chili pepper. These peppers don’t have quite the same lingering heat as the roasted New Mexico chilies Mike is familiar with, but are still eye-wateringly spicy.

After dinner, we had what started out to be a thoroughly enjoyable evening. We met some of our expat friends to see some live music, and joining us as well was a group of students from a Georgia college, who were on-island to do some work study. Two of our expat friends had been getting together for awhile playing music and wanted to perform once before one of them moved to another Micronesian island for work.

Everything took a turn for the worse when at one point that night Miranda went with some friends to view the twinkling lights of Colonia from a wooden deck overlooking the Bay:

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Miranda recalls:

The path out to the wooden deck is one I had taken many times, though this was the first time that the overhead lights were not on to guide the way. I walked carefully along the gravel yet well manicured path. About half way to the deck, when I stepped down with my left foot I felt an immediate stabbing pain in my toe, similar to a bee or wasp sting. Since I was in complete darkness, I continued to the deck where I could sit down to examine my foot. In very dim light, aided by a cell phone’s built-in flashlight, a common and useful thing here, we began trying to figure out what happened to my foot. A local friend stated it couldn’t possibly be a centipede bite because the wound was bleeding, maybe I just split a callus on my toe. After cleaning it up a little it was noticed that there were three small bite-looking marks on the outside of my big left toe. One was bleeding, one was oozing a clear liquid, and the other just looked like a small puncture wound. After allowing a little poking and prodding, my toe, then foot, then ankle began to swell with impressive speed. I contemplated with my friends whether a hospital trip was necessary, but as time progressed the swelling and pain became unbearable.

As I went hobbling back towards the restaurant where Mike was, he found me half-way. I tried to compose myself a little as the pain made it difficult to walk, and told Mike that our first emergency trip to the hospital was in order. Something had bitten me, and I was in a lot of pain. I explained that I didn’t see what had done the damage, but it could have been a centipede.

Mike rushed to pay our tab as I sat down and looked at my toe for the first time in full light.  One young college student, who proudly asserted that she was “pre-med”, spent a few moments examining the wound, squeezing and poking it, before coming to the astute conclusion that I should probably go to the hospital. I ‘m not sure why I let this girl inflict even more pain on me, as the toe had already been thoroughly abused by my friends while on the deck, but at least I gave her a story to tell when she returned home.

So to the hospital we went. The entire place seemed deserted at the late hour on a Friday night, but we were able to find the on-call medical staff. The doctor brought us into an examination room and within seconds, nodded sagely and said, “Centipede bite.” He explained they see them fairly regularly at the hospital. The record being three bites in one night.

Since there is no antidote or cure for centipede venom, I was just given a couple of injections to help with the pain and one of Benadryl to keep the swelling down. The first shot to my toe did little to help the ever-increasing pain that was shooting through my toe and radiating up past my ankle. Honestly, it is the worst pain I have ever felt in my life so far. At one point I even joked about having them just cut the toe off to make the pain stop! Since the first shot of local anesthetic didn’t do the trick, a second shot, administered in two places was given. This shot blocked the nerves so that they could not feel the pain. Almost immediately half of my foot went numb, like I had been given a Novocain shot by a dentist with poor directional skills. my body instantly relaxed and I actually began to laugh at the absurdity of the entire ordeal. Who gets bit by centipedes? I DO!  Mike stayed by my side the entire time offering supportive words and a hand to squeeze through all the pain. The doctor prescribed some Tylenol with codeine and Benadryl to be taken every few hours, advised keeping my foot in nearly boiling water to help break down the venom, and said to come back for a consultation if the swelling didn’t go down within a week.

We had been told in the past by friends that a centipede bite was cause for a definite trip to the hospital. Luckily, we learned that night, it is only because of the incredible amount of pain, not because of the risk of dying or loosing a limb!

For the next several days I stayed off my feet and generally tried to get as much rest as possible, partly taking advantage of the sedative qualities of the medications. Even with frequent hot water foot-baths, my toe ballooned to almost twice its normal size by the next morning. Most of the pain came from the swelling, and the feeling that my “sausage toe” might burst from the pressure. Eventually, the pain lessened, and my toe deflated to near its usual size. After just getting my toe back to its normal size, and getting used to walking normally, I woke up the next Friday and noticed it had begun to swell again. This time, along with the swelling there was a new symptom, a burning and itching feeling beneath the skin.  It is like a really bad mosquito bite that has been scratched and become very large inside my toe, that constantly itches and hurts all at the same time.

Awhile back a friend of ours was bitten on the hand by one of these evil, evil creatures, and I remember about a week later his hand swelled and he complained of itching and pain all over again. So, with that in mind, I am hoping this is all a normal part of the healing process of centipede bites. If not, the hospital is well versed and can help us with this.

Once Miranda was over the worst of the pain, Mike decided it was high time to have his own foot-related injury. I just couldn’t let her have all the fun!

Mike remembers: 

Early one morning, I caught that constant trouble maker Peanut peeing on the floor. Instinctively jumping into action, I ran into the next room to grab a mop and bucket, and slammed my pinkie toe on the edge of some furniture. I doubled over in pain, while Peanut watched me closely, all the while still peeing on the floor. After cleaning up the mess, I didn’t think too much of my toe. It still throbbed, but I thought that would go away after a while. That is, until I tried to put on my shoes, and nearly passed out with the shock of it.

So, after a day or so trying to move as little as possible, with the pain not improving much, we returned to the hospital, pictured here.

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Another doctor was there, who gave my toe two pokes with his finger, and after two seconds declared, “Not broken.” I was given some Tylenol (without codeine), and sent on my way. We stopped at the pharmacy window, as seen below, to fill the prescription that was only $4! We enjoyed the “cover your cough” poster translated into Yapese.

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Thankfully, my toe has improved progressively on it's own since then, and I'm hobbling around with minimal effort. I'm sure I'll be back to running marathons shortly.

So, did we learn any lessons from our experiences? First, toes don't seem very important, until you're not able to use them properly, and then you realize that they're very important. Second, that neither of us like going to the doctors at all. Third, that we are so in tune with each other, that as soon as one of us is injured, the other inevitably joins in the misery, so we better watch each other’s back out here in the jungle.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Peanut, M&M

by Miranda

We had long been talking about getting a puppy since our stay here has been extended another four years. A dog seemed like a good idea to keep us busy, comfort us, and add a little joy to our house. Initially though, we were very hesitant to bring a dog into our home. Pets are members of our family, and with no vet on island we worry about what would happen if it became ill or was injured. Also, after our good friends Ray and Cihan’s puppy died suddenly and tragically in February from the pavro virus we worried it would happen to our dog if we got one.

On Thursday March 10, I was on my way to their house for our weekly coffee get together. Cihan called another friend who was with me and made sure we were coming. She said she had a surprise. Now, when Cihan tells us there is a surprise it is usually some yummy treat she has made in the kitchen. When we got to her house, she insisted on leading us into the house with our eyes closed. We weren’t sure what to expect. We definitely didn’t expect to open our eyes and see two TINY and precious puppies! She quickly told me that there were a few left from the litter belonging to a coworker of hers.

I called Mike and he came over and saw the puppies. They sure were cute, but we were leaving for our trip to southeast Asia in just 6 short days, we couldn’t possibly get a puppy then leave for a month! But Cihan, being the awesome and ever-giving friend that she is, offered that if Mike and I were to get a puppy she would take care of it while we were gone. Her famous last words being “We already have two, what’s one more?” Words she would later regret when she had three crazy puppies ruling her life for a month!

But within an hour of me first laying eyes on Ray and Cihan’s puppies we were driving away from picking up one of our own! At the house of some family with too many puppies, we were told that there was only one left which hadn’t yet been claimed, and that it was a girl. We had wanted a boy, hoping to avoid the problem of having to get rid of puppies ourselves. But we knew that if we didn’t take this tiny little puppy it may not survive. We scooped “her” up into an old flat rate priority mail box and took “her” home.

It took us three days to discover “she” was actually a he. When they are that young it is hard to tell, and we sure couldn’t! I was shocked, when one day I took our new puppy over to visit his brother and sister at Ray and Cihan’s house. A friend of hers was over, and insisted that our dog was a boy, and that the owner who gave him to us quickly realized this after we had left with the pup.

We were relieved that we had named him Peanut, and that Mike had insisted we didn’t name him Daisy, as I had wanted to, because how his coloring looks like a spotted cow. We decided on Peanut not only because of his size, but also because it seemed so fitting. Since Mike and I began dating some people refer to us as M&M, so naming our puppy Peanut really made him a part of our family. Now we are Peanut, M&M.  We should have thought about how quickly he would grow.

Here’s baby Peanut enjoying his most favorite thing in the world: chewing on things. This time, it’s Mike.

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Here he is the day we brought him home. So tiny!

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And here he is with his brother Zatan (Turkish for “Olive”) in April shortly after we returned from our trip. Note the broken flip-flop that’s become a favorite chew-toy!

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We barely recognized him when we got back from our trip! He was at least four times bigger than when we left him. Yet he continues to grow! Here he is on May 19.

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We recently learned that his birthday is January 14, so this last weekend he was four months old. His coloring has begun to change, with more spots coming through. He looks a little bit like a cross between a Jack Russell terrier, a beagle, and maybe a Labrador. Mike likes to imagine that one of his doggie ancestors came to the island on board Capt. O’Keefe’s sailing ship in the 1700’s. Whatever he is, he is a Yap dog through and through.

He quickly taught himself how to play fetch, bringing back anything we would throw. He is pretty good at returning when we call him, unless he is busy scratching, or playing with his brother and sister. He is still working on sitting, staying off of the furniture and out of the kitchen. He has also learned that if he barks at the door we will let him inside. However, he has not learned that if he barks by the door we will let him outside. Instead he often shows us he needs to go out by peeing by the door. We are still working on house training him, but he is getting better. Now we just need to get him to not pee a little, out of excitement, anytime anyone, including us, comes in the house. He’s often referred to as “pee-bag” or “wee-nut” because of his many little, and sometimes not so little, accidents. Thankfully, our trusty mop and bucket are always close at hand. 

He really has changed our lives.

At lunch time I rush home to let him out of his “puppy prison”, one of our unused bedrooms which is now where he spends his nights and while we are at work, with a pile of toys and a bowl of water. When he is inside with us, he is constantly under our feet and in our faces. He loves to play and will bark for attention if he is feeling neglected. He chews on anything that is within reach. Our flip flops now must be put up high or we suffer the consequences of wearing them while missing chunks or having teeth holes covering them.

We do feel bad about locking him away so much, but we have known a few people who have had their dogs killed by locals for one reason or another and we aren’t taking any risks. There are so many wild dogs on Yap, many locals consider them a nuisance. We’ve heard that some dogs are even eaten! We had to get him a red collar, because by law it is required. We sometimes joke we should order him a dog tag that says “someone loves me” or “please don’t eat me” just to help avoid any unfortunate incidents.

As part of my daily routine, when I get home from school in the afternoon, I let him outside. He almost always immediately runs over to Ray and Cihan’s house to find his brother Zatan and sister Lemon. He plays with them for several hours and returns home to eat and collapse on the floor, exhausted. Some nights we have to literally drag him home to go to bed.

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Getting a dog here is very different than having a dog back in the States. Dog food is scarce, and we usually wind up giving him scraps and leftovers. We’ve also found that the local hardware store sells big, expensive bags of cat food. Don’t ask why they sell it, but thankfully they do, as Peanut really seems to enjoy it. He’s not picky, and will eat anything he finds.

Like taking care of anything, having a dog is a big responsibility. He also brings a lot of joy into our lives. But for all the work he causes us, he’s definitely worth it. How can you not smile when you look at that goofy face?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

“2 – 1 = 4” or “A Slight Change in Plans”

Written by: Mike

Back in January, I wrote about how I’m halfway through my “two-year tour of duty” as an Assistant Attorney General. Originally, the plan was to simply come to the Island, do my time so to speak, and then return back to the States when my contract concluded. However, I’ve learned that fate sometimes throws one a curveball, as since then, that plan has been somewhat altered.

193232_669380608839_10809878_37264497_2679444_oTo make a long story short, over the past several months I’ve been nominated, confirmed, and finally officially sworn in as the new Attorney General (“AG”) for Yap State. Seriously, some days I can hardly believe it myself. I’d like to think that being offered the job was a reflection on all my hard work and dedication. However, I realize that getting any job is a combination of many factors including timing, along with a fair amount of luck.

It’s also worth noting that there are very few attorneys on the Island, no amount of palm trees and fair weather can entice many U.S. lawyers away from their big firm jobs with big firm paychecks, and that life here certainly doesn’t agree with everyone.

For me, in addition to an increased workload and many more responsibilities, being the AG requires a commitment of four more years. This time frame is established by law and coincides with the term of office of the Governor and Lt. Governor, so that aspect was non-negotiable. As such, it looks like we will now be on Yap for a little while longer – with the countdown clock being reset to at least 2015!

I won’t bore anyone actually reading this blog with the tedious procedural details of how one becomes the AG. I can say that the road to get here was neither short nor easily traveled. There was a great many informal discussions between myself and members of the government, likely after other candidates had been considered and rejected. There were meetings and conferences, followed by more of the same. Eventually, there was a public hearing, broadcast on the radio across the entire State. The Legislature and members of the community asked questions about my background, experience, and opinions on various legal issues. Witnesses were called in to testify as to my fitness, etc. etc. The Legislature considered my responses, and voted by ‘secret ballot’ to confirm my appointment.

Shortly thereafter, on March 11, 2011, I was sworn-in at a brief ceremony in the Governor’s office conference room. Here’s a picture of Miranda and I, waiting patiently for the ceremony to begin.

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And here’s me and another Department Head, hands upon a pair of available Bibles, taking our oaths of office, administered by the Governor in the foreground.

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193524_669381192669_10809878_37264510_7708576_oAs with most official ceremonies, everyone was required to give a speech. Thankfully, I came prepared. Following that, we were treated to an excellent celebratory snack.

In retrospect, probably the most difficult part was making up my mind to say, “Yes, ok, I’ll do this.” Following that, the next most difficult part was convincing Miranda. Her sacrifices to make this entire adventure happen cannot be understated. She gave up a life and career to come here, predicated on my argument that “It’s only two years”. As you can imagine, agreeing to tack on nearly double that amount of time required a great deal of thought, discussion, and soul searching on the matter. While I’ve enjoyed my time in Yap, consigning five years of your life to any one particular job or location is a big deal. It was not an easy decision to accept this particular position, as there were so many pros and cons to evaluate.

My biggest concern was that I’m not technically a “young lawyer” or “fresh out of law school” anymore. In fact, I think I passed that point long, long ago. Eventually leaving Yap after a total of five years to try and find another job back in the States might be easier said than done. Back in late 2009, when the effects of the nose-diving U.S. economy were just beginning to be felt, coming to Yap seemed like a good way to take shelter. Surely things will pick up in a couple of years, I thought. As it turns out, it didn’t. I’ll have to revise my hope that by 2015 the economy will be well into another upswing. Of course, by then, I’ll be in my mid-to-late-30’s, when most lawyers are thinking about making partner (if they haven’t done so already), and have laid the foundations of a cushy, yacht-filled retirement. Sure, I’ve had the opportunity to gain a lot of invaluable professional experience here, and will have some interesting interview stories after the inevitable “You worked in… where exactly?” questions, but only time will tell how well this translates to a job back home.

Maybe that’s half the problem: that I’m not really sure where ‘home’ is anymore. Perhaps this is due to making a conscious choice to move around a lot in my life. I was born in Pennsylvania, and moved halfway across the country to New Mexico when I was still a child. I spent most of my life there, but always dreamed of the day I could venture out and see what was beyond that horizon. In high school, I spent a year living in Europe, and in college I spent another year going to school on the east coast. After graduating, I moved to Seattle, and lived the better part of a decade there. I liked seeing new places and experiencing as much as I can in the places I’ve lived. Maybe I just enjoy the nomadic existence, that idea that you can just pull up the tent stakes and relocate elsewhere. In any case, I think it’s given me a broader perspective on things, which is invaluable. On the other hand, what it hasn’t given me is any sense of stability or permanence, or simply put: roots.

Back in the States, all my worldly possessions are mostly forgotten about, gathering dust and likely a fine layer of mold in a storage unit. I don’t own a car there, I don’t own a house. Considering my income, and the insane housing prices in the U.S., I’m starting to doubt whether I’ll ever be able to afford one. In contrast, on Yap, I’ve got (the use of) a house that is more than adequate, a routine, and a life that’s stable on a day to day basis. We’re able to save a little, mainly since there’s very little to spend your money on, aside from the essentials, the occasional meal at one of the seven or so restaurants on the entire island, and a few monthly bills. There’s also the palm trees. I’d say it’s a good life. Maybe these days all it takes to find that ever-elusive “American Dream” is to move to a foreign country. I’d highly recommend it.

As for being the AG, I’m looking forward to the challenge. It’s sure to be challenging. There’s certainly no handbook on how to be the new sheriff in town. I do have ideas on how to improve some areas, and a number of long and medium term goals for the future. These should keep me busy enough, in addition to the day to day responsibilities of being the chief lawyer for the government, and the go-to guy for solving problems other people don’t want to deal with. As in any job, I’m sure there will be ups and downs.

Of course, I realized early on what a sincere honor it was to even be considered for the position. It took a lot of courage and trust for the State leadership to put forward my name as a candidate, given the high-profile nature of the job and the fact that I’ll be one of only a handful of non-Micronesian AG’s in the entire history of the country. I do firmly believe that trust is a commodity that can’t be given. It must be earned. It’s my intent over the next four years to do exactly that.

As I promised in my swearing in speech, I’m prepared to give 120% each and every day, to provide sound legal advice and counsel within the letter and spirit of the Constitution, to uphold the rule of law, and to act in the best interest of the people of the State of Yap. Now it’s time to deliver on that promise, each and every day, for the next four years. Oh boy.

Note: All photos used in this entry, copyright Bruce Chang, Esq. All rights reserved.