Conscious In Life & (Somewhat) Unconscious During Surgery

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17th March was one of those days which left both a mental and a physical change on me. Well for one, I read, saw and heard a few things which made me (quite literally) stop in my tracks and just think about. (I’m not the best multi-tasker out there, You see.) There were many realities that I got to know about and just as many lessons that I learned. I would love to share them with You if You’d be willing to read on. 🙂 Oh and I had surgery to remove yet another wisdom tooth, too — specifically the bottom left one. The latter was the ‘physical change’ I mentioned in the first sentence.

I had the 3.30pm appointment at the dental clinic so I had plenty of time before that to complete a bit of work and to visit Goo — and pass her a jar of homemade granola and a Carrot Cake-flavoured LÄRABAR while I was at it, because why not (P.s. I got the LÄRABAR at S$1.65 instead of its usual S$3.25 retail price! What a steal!) — at where she was working as a waitress, aka the place where I, too, worked as a waitress for about 6 months last year in 2015.

It was such a warm reunion as I met (and warmly hugged) a couple of the lovely people who I used to work with. We talked and caught up a bit of what we missed in each other’s lives. I didn’t realise how much I’d actually missed them! Oh I befriended a German Raw food/ Vegan chef too! He is originally from Bremen, Germany, currently resides in Bali and was (and still is as I’m drafting this post) here in Singapore for a little visit. We conversed a little in German but he said his English is now better than his German so… we switched tongues and continued the conversation in English.

After a difficult goodbye to some wonderful souls, I opened the doors of the café and a fierce and very forceful blast of hot air hit me in the face. Gosh was I taken aback. To say the least, it truly was sweltering hot yesterday.

PART I: To Be Conscious In Life

Armed with Dr. McDougall’s “The High-Carb Diet” in my hands and the faith and hope for humanity firmly anchored in my heart, I made my way to the dentist.

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I love the way he writes. He is succinct and straight to the point. He doesn’t hold back with facts and one can’t help but be in awe at how much of a miracle a HCLF plant-based life-style could be if one would be willing to be open-minded about trying to live in such a way. Think along the lines of recovery from illnesses/ diseases (e.g. Multiple Sclerosis) thought to be incurable, effortless and healthy weight loss and lowered cholesterol/ blood sugar level among so many others that he mentioned. One word: incredible.

Due to underestimated travelling time, I arrived at the clinic 1.5 hours early. Yes yes, I’m taking punctuality to a whole different level, I know. 😉 Well so anyway, I asked if I could stay in the clinic to just read and they piped, almost in unison, “Why of course!”

I took a seat and saw a National Geographic magazine laying beside me. It was titled Eat me; How ugly food can help feed the planet”. That kindled the start of something beautiful. That was how I spent the next 90 minutes reading about malformed carrots and potatoes and lemons, why Malala fights for education, how Fjords are better adept than oceans at holding on to carbon (over a hundred times, to be somewhat exact) and how sunset paints the sacred Meoto Iwa (aka “wedded rocks”, I highly recommend a read on this – simply click on the link I embedded to “Meoto Iwa” – it’s a really sweet legend) in pastel hues and how florid meets frigid in a garden in Hami, where a blooming tree, watered the night before, dangles ice during a two-day cold snap in April.

*Fjord: fjɔːd,ˈfiːɔːrd/ noun; a long, narrow, deep inlet of the sea between high cliffs, as in Norway, typically formed by submergence of a glaciated valley.

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Oh and birdcalls! I learned that parrot communication goes well beyond “Polly wants a cracker.” Believe it or not, the colourful birds speak in dialects! Sonograms were used to compare vocalisations of Amazon parrots living in Costa Rica. It was discovered that all birds used a specific call to maintain contact with others in their flock, but the acoustic structure of that call varies by region. And when one bird heard the local dialect of another, it modified its own vocalisations to match the new tune and effectively be ‘accepted into this other group’.

Humans and parrots learn to vocalise similarly: Both listen and then repeat back what was heard. Relatively few animals develop communication this way. How brilliant! Animals are so so very brilliant and they deserve to be treated as such, i.e. with as much respect as we humans regard each other with!

At this point, a couple takes a seat next to me. The wife squealed at a magazine titled, Bread Bonanza, and her husband pronounces ‘Whatsapp’ as ‘What’s Up’ too, like my parents! Oh wait, no he was saying “What’s up!” to someone on the phone. Hahaha looks like You’re alone, Mum and Dad!

I then proceeded to learn about how about a third of the planet’s food (2.9 trillion pounds of food) goes to waste. That’s enough to feed 2 billion people. Globally, 46% of fruits and vegetables never make it from farm to fork. Along the supply chain of fruits and vegetables are lost or wasted at higher rates than other foods. Easily bruised and vulnerable to temperature swings en route from farm to table, they’re also usually the first to get tossed at home.

In the fruit and vegetable supply chain, 20% is lost during picking and sorting, 3% is lost during storage and shipping, 2% is lost during juice production, canning or baking, 9% is discarded at wholesalers and supermarkets and 19% is uneaten and discarded in homes. That gives us the result of 47% of fruits and veggies being consumed while the other 53% is lost or wasted. – Australia, New Zealand and U.S. Data only

Amongst all the alarming and devastating statistics that I read about, I also read a very interesting article about Tristram Stuart, a British activist, waging a war against global food waste and how he does this. He challenged himself to produce a restaurant meal for 50 people—to plan a menu, gather food, then welcome guests to a venue in a city not his own. Complicating what sounds like a reality-show contest is a singular rule: Nearly all the ingredients must be sourced from farms and vendors intending to throw them out. All of this within 24 hoursRead on if You’re interested. I certainly was. 🙂

Staggered to learn that the U.S. wastes 30 – 40% of its food while 1 in 7 people suffers from food insecurity, Doug Rauch, former president of Trader Joe’s, opened a non-profit supermarket in Dorchester, Massachusetts. Called Daily Table, the supermarket sells discounted fruits and vegetables that are about to be discarded because they’re too close to peak freshness; it also sells inexpensive surplus goods and prepared healthy-to-go meals.

Hunger and wasted food are two problems that can have one solution. – Doug Rauch

Two-legged carrots and eggplants chant, ‘No more vegetable waste!’

Reducing Waste: How You Can Help By Reducing Your Waste Footprint

(1) AT A STORE: Make careful decisions about what and how much Your buy at the grocery store.

  • Shop at stores that offer misshapen food at a discount.
  • Purchase prepared meals at the deli or salad bar, which allows supermarkets to make use of imperfect produce.
  • Buy frozen foods, which suffer fewer losses from farm to shed.
  • Shop often. Start with a large trip and then make smaller follow-ups to buy a few days’ worth of produce at a time.
  • Buy fresh food at local farmers’ markets.

(2) AT A RESTAURANT: Americans spend about as much at restaurants as they do at grocery stores.

  • Skip the cafeteria tray. Diners who use trays waste 32% more than those who carry their plates in their hands.
  • Take home leftovers.
  • Share side dishes to keep portions under control.
  • Ask the waiter to hold extras such as bread and butter You don’t plan to eat.
  • Encourage restaurants and caterers to donate leftovers.

(3) AT HOME: Small changes in the kitchen can reduce the amount of food Your household throws out.

  • Use FoodKeeper or other apps for food-expiration reminders,
  • Switch to smaller dishes to control portions. The standard plate is 36% larger than it was 50 years ago.
  • Eat leftovers on a regular night each week.
  • Give uneaten food a second chance. Freeze or can extras. Blend bruised fruit into smoothies.
  • Try not to waster water-intensive foods like meat. Better still, consider a plant-based lifestyle. 😉

(4) IN YOUR COMMUNITY: Businesses, schools, non-profits and governments can all find ways to dump less food.

  • Bring back home economics classes to teach cooking, canning, and storage basics.
  • Get Your school to join the USDA Food Waste Challenge
  • As Your local government for a curtsied food-scrap collection service, like that provided in roughly 200 U.S. communities.
  • Share the bounty of Your home garden with Your community through ampleharvest.org.

This was all published as part of National Geographic Future of Food Series. Love it love it love it!

The following are a couple more random thingums which I picked up here and there during my read. 🙂

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A brave adventurer narrates an encounter he had with two beautiful creatures (above).

In 2010 the Meadowbank gold mine opened in Canada’s mineral-rich Nunavut; an immense territory with 37,000 inhabitants. Some 400 of them work at the mine. A dike keeps it from flooding in summer, when the tundra thaws into lakes and bug-infested bogs. An iron mine opened on northern Baffin Island in 2014, and elsewhere in Nunavut diamond, gold, and uranium mines are planned. Mines offer plenty of jobs for unskilled workers, from housekeepers to cooks to truck drivers.

Aldabra has one of the last healthy populations of coconut crabs in the western Indian Ocean. Elsewhere, the world’s largest terrestrial arthropod, with a leg span of three feet, has been eaten to extinction by humans.

Giant millipedes and flightless beetles which were threatened when rats reached the island resort of Frégate in the mid-1990s. An international response restored the island to a rodent-free sanctuary.

In Vallée de Mai, a World Heritage site on Praslin island, slugs congregate to feed on the flowers of the coco-de-mer, a majestic native palm that bears the largest seed of any plant.

Introduced as pets, ring-necked parakeets escaped into the wild and now threaten the national bird, the Seychelles black parrot, concentrated on Praslin island. Contract shooters are trying to wipe out the intruder.

Privately owned St. Joseph Atoll was once commercially exploited for fish and coconuts but it snow prized for its marine biodiversity and seabird colonies. In 2014, the island was made a nature reserve with a marine protected area. Its conservation is managed by the Save Our Seas Foundation.

Positive thinking is powerful. It turns out  most people look on the bright side of life -o or at least talk about it. A recent study by University of Vermont showed a universal positive bias in languages. Billions of words were gathered from 10 languages and 24 types of sources — books, news, social media — then identified the 5,000 words most frequently used in each tongue. There were more positive than negative and this supports previous anecdotal findings that humans tend to focus on the positive. 🙂 Fun-fact (1): Chinese books have many words clustered in a relatively neutral range. Fun-fact (2): Spanish websites have the most positive words overall. Fun-fact (3): English Twitter is sandwiched between the results from the Chinese books and the Spanish websites.

PART II: To Be (Somewhat) Unconscious During Surgery

Before anything began, my dentist ran through how the surgery would play out for me, how he’d slice open my gum, shave off some of my bone/ jaw using a drill-type machine and how this would cause me to experience major vibration and downward pressure, crack my buried wisdom tooth into two before taking it out piece by piece, and finally sew the loose gum to provide a good and clean closure to the open wound.

Then he informed me about the existence of a large nerve running along the jaw, just a little below the wisdom tooth which needed to be removed. 5 out of 100 patients do not regain sensation for a small, 10-cent-coin area of either their tongue, gum or cheek after surgery. 4 out of these 5 regain it after a while, so in essence, there is a 1% chance I may never feel a part of my mouth again. He assured me, though, that neither my speech, my appearance nor my ability to chew would be affected.

I signed a document which effectively allowed him to perform the surgery and the nurses proceeded to put a shower cap over my head, a pair of cool sunnies over my eyes and a green cloth over my body. The dentist then proceeded to inform me that the draping of the green cloth over me meant that I wasn’t allowed to touch my face anymore after that — for sterilisation purposes.

Just as he said this, my nose began to itch.

He was about to inject my gum for the purpose of local anaesthesia when he began saying, “Sorry Stefanie. This is going to hurt a bit but bear with me. Oh sorry Stefanie.” Hahaha I was holding so much laughter in me! I must admit, though, that how bad he felt for making me ‘suffer’ did scare me a little as to how painful the procedure could possibly prove to be, but the hilarity of the situation neutralised my fears. 🙂

Turns out the injections didn’t hurt as bad as I thought they would. The numbing gel they had smeared over my gum prior to the injection worked wonders!

About 5 minutes after the injections, the entire left side of my mouth was left completely and utterly numb. From my gum to my tongue and from my cheeks to my ears! I tried to be a little cheeky and started biting down on my tongue to see if it’d hurt. It didn’t, and the scariest part was when I realised I could bite down further and further. This reminded me of the fact that if not for the nerves in our tongue, the muscles in our jaw could potentially bite off our tongue. So I stopped.

Moments later, after having the dentist test the extent of my numbness by poking my gum with a scalpel-type thing, the surgery began. Occasional vibrations there were, great pressure there was and terrifying cracks there were… I felt so thankful for the access I have to anaesthesia. I couldn’t have imagined how much pain I would have had to endure if I had done it without anaesthesia.

“That’s it, we’re done,” confirmed my dentist, “15 minutes was all we needed, it couldn’t have gone better!”

He proceeded to do the stitching of my gum and I could feel strings brushing against my lips. It was a strange sensation knowing that needles were making their way through my gym and that I should have felt pain, but I simply couldn’t because of the anaesthesia. I couldn’t get used to it.

Once that was done, I had to rinse my mouth/ gargle and this went absolutely out of control. The left part of my lips were completely numb and my nerve endings there couldn’t pass the ‘message’ to the muscles to contract in order to ‘hold my lip in place’. Water was spewing everywhere with every slush in my mouth. It definitely wasn’t as beautiful a sight as that of the Magic Fountain of Montjuic in Barcelona, Spain, that Miriam and I will see in real life in a couple of months!

Before I made my way out of the room, the nurses handed me some gauze and medication and my dentist arranged an appointment for me next week to have the stitches removed then.

Ice cream and milkshakes would be perfect for You now! Focus on the cool. Enjoy! – My dentist

I could only think of one thing: Nice cream and smoothies galore! I knew that I wouldn’t have a problem with this. 😉

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Now this was a beautiful collection of art pieces that I saw as I made my way to the counter. I couldn’t help but stop and take a picture of it. I was reminded of the motif of ‘hands’ in Remains Of The Day by Kazuo Ishiguro, how the characters never failed to glance down upon their own hands whenever they sensed their own failure or questioned their own doings, their actions, their choices.

Whilst [Steven’s father] looks at the backs of his hands: ‘I hope I have been a good father to you’. I suppose I haven’t.’

The hand is the most frequently symbolised part of the human body. It gives blessing, it is expressive. According to Aristotle, the hand is the “tool of tools.” In general it is strength, power and protection.

The hands may almost be said to speak, to express ourselves in a way words cannot. Do we not use them to demand, promise, summon, dismiss, threaten, supplicate, express aversion or fear, question or deny? Do we not use them to indicate joy, sorrow, hesitation, confession, penitence, measure, quantity, number, and time? Have they not the power to excite and prohibit, to express approval, wonder, shame?

Hand symbolism has also been present in ancient cultures of the past. In the Celtic language of symbolism, hand symbol meanings were connected to authority and power. For example, Nuada, a king, lost his throne due to losing his right hand in battle. In essence, without a hand, a man was no longer a whole man, as he could not be balanced in his judgement.

Spiritual power also presented itself in the hands, which were believed to harbor the energies from the gods and goddesses. Beliefs regarding hand symbolism have also survived to be relevant in modern day. Asian cultures, for example, use the hands to demonstrate yin (left) and yang (right) energies. Peoples of this continent also concur that hands that are hidden in artistic works are indicative of humility and a necessary offering of respect.

I was wrapped up in my thoughts, thinking about what could hands mean for dentists. Was it so they’d always remember the gravity in what they do daily in the clinic? From patients who wish to improve their aesthetics to gain confidence in their appearance to patients who wish to improve their eating experience through a better bite, a lot hangs on the line in their everyday job.

The numbness and slight — I was surprised at how slight it still was — discomfort left me very silent in the lift that I took down to the second floor. I couldn’t smile except for a tiny lift of the right corner of my mouth and I couldn’t speak, too, for that matter, but it taught me to listen. I shared a lift with a Malay couple who were joking with each other about how weak their tolerance for the cold in the clinic was and with a caucasian lady who replied light-heartedly, “Ahha that’s why I always bring a shawl with me!”

The husband then asked the caucasian lady where she came from, to which she replied, “I am from Germany, from a city near Frankfurt,” and to which I piped in, “Oh my father too!”

“Oh my, what a small world indeed!” she added gleefully.

We wished each other good days and parted ways with smiles on our faces (well, a little grin in my case) and flowers in our hearts, ready to get on with our days.

I did a bit of people watching while in the bus on the way home — so many, too many people were too occupied with their phones; precious human interaction seemed to have ceased to exists… sometimes I imagine how things could be difference, how much more enriching our mundane errands could become — and before I knew it, I looked outside to realise that I had reached my stop.

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During my short walk home, I passed by some delightfully hot pink bougainvillea and couldn’t help but to capture the beautiful moment I shared with these beautiful flowers. I’ve always been confused. Did they have flowers within flowers, i.e. white flowers within hot pink flowers, or did they have flowers surrounded by two types of leaves, i.e. white flowers surrounded by hot pink and green leaves? A little research led me to learning that the actual flower of the plant is small and generally white, but each cluster of three flowers is surrounded by three or six bracts with the bright colours associated with the plant, including pink, magenta, purple, red, orange, white, or yellow.

A little more reading led me to getting to know that the Bougainvillea is the official flower of Guam (where it is known as the Puti Tai Nobiu).

I found out then, too, that I had scored viewers from Thailand and South Africa. I am so thankful for the reach that the Internet allows me to achieve. This warmed my heart so much. Hello, my new Thai and South African viewers! 🙂

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