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Thank You...A Million Times Over

June 29, 2016
I just got out of the hospital after being in one for 55 days. It was scarier than anything I've ever dealt with before. Not having control of my body and being in severe pain was terrifying, but I was able to get through the worst of it because of all of the amazing support I received. I cannot believe how much people went out of their way to help me. My students' parents really surprised me. I knew that they liked me, but I am utterly blown away by how much they have done and continue to do for me. We haven't even received final confirmation of which classes we will teach next year, so they've done what they have without even knowing if I will be their child's teacher again. Other teachers at my school also stepped up and helped me time and time again. Some teachers I barely even knew visited me and kept me company in the hospital. That really meant a lot to me because I needed visitors to distract myself and to keep my spirits up.

Getting through the rest of my recovery will not be easy. I wanted to write this post to remind myself how lucky I am and how people really do care.

* Like I said, I was in the hospital for 55 days. That is a long period of time, but crazily enough, I had a visitor or group of visitors almost every single day, and I didn't expect that. Of course my close friends visited several times, but I made some new friends out of this experience. I looked forward to receiving guests each evening. It was truly the best part of my day because I could speak in English and just talk about other things besides my back problems. Also, being in a Chinese hospital for that long had its own set of challenges. It was nice to have other foreigners empathize with my situation and help me deal with culture shock.

* My friends and acquaintances helped utilize their connections so that I could get second opinions about my condition. Three of my friends have mothers who are nurses, so I would send them pictures and relay what the doctors at the hospital told me. It felt good to have their input because I don't have a medical background, not to mention the slightest clue if what I was being told was legitimate. A student's mom helped me in this respect because she used to be a nurse in one of the top hospitals in Shanghai, and my friend's fiancee (a practicing doctor in Shanghai) took a look at the wound on my back when I was having a complication. Hearing from others really put me at ease, but it also helped me know which specific questions I should ask the doctors concerning my recovery.

* My school supported me by finding a replacement for me. At first, I was getting asked a lot of questions about my class. It's not that I didn't want to help because of course I did, but I was just in so much pain and very worried about my situation. In the hierarchy of needs, my health had to come first. It was a relief to know that my class had a long-term substitute and that the other first grade teachers were helping him manage the responsibilities. I could relax a bit knowing that my class was being taken care of.

* During my stay at the hospital, I had three main doctors, a surgeon, and a wound specialist. One of the doctors gave me his personal phone number and said I could message him with any concerns or questions. I'm not sure if he did this out of the goodness of his heart or if he was told to do this, but I'd like to think it was the former. Regardless, having his personal number helped me immensely. I only got to see my doctors for a short period of time each day, but I would think of questions later on in the day, so it was great to be able to communicate with someone and get answers to what I had asked. That doctor also had to talk to my bosses at my school and explain about my condition to them in Chinese. Another thing he is currently doing is that he is cleaning my wound for me once a week for free. Again, I think he might just be doing that to help me out so that I don't have to wait in a long line in the outpatient building.

* I need to give a big thanks to Rachael. Who would have ever thought that a blogging friend would eventually be a person kind of in charge of my life?  Before I had the surgery, the doctors made a big deal about finding someone to sign for me. By sign for me, I mean that this person would be the one making the calls if something were to go wrong during my surgery since I was going to be put under and couldn't speak for myself. At first they weren't going to let a non-Chinese person do it, and they tried to encourage me to get one of my bosses from my school to sign. The bosses at my school did not want to do it, nor did I really want them to, so eventually they agreed to let Rachael be in charge. She had to get my parents' phone number and get in contact with them if there was a decision to be made. The surgery was invasive, and thank goodness nothing went wrong, but I'm glad I had a plan in place just in case.  Rachael also was the only friend to stay overnight a few times in the hospital. This girl is a true friend--she even put lotion on my dry, cracked feet. If that's not love, I don't know what is!

* Rachael also started a fund for me by messaging the other teachers in the primary and middle school about my situation. I get very weird and embarrassed about this type of thing, but Rachael knew me well enough not to ask my permission and just went for it. If she had asked me, I would have said no, but in the end I was glad to have some cash to help pay for food. I also had some money leftover to go towards the cost of the ayi who took care of me. Sometimes I'm guilty of not letting people help me when they WANT to help because I feel bad, so it was a good thing that Rachael took matters into her own hands.

* My Chinese co-teacher has also been a God-send. She sent me adorable video messages from my students, gave me a card from the class, and visited me in the hospital every Sunday. She helped me out by taking my bank card to the finance office so that we could pay my hospital fee. I couldn't physically walk to the office myself, and I sent two of my American friends, but they were gone for an hour and fifteen minutes and came back muddled and frustrated without having paid the fee. It's not their fault--it was a complicated process even for someone who spoke Mandarin! Thank goodness my co-teacher took care of that for me because I was getting really sick of hearing that I owed money 10 times a day. Now that I've been discharged, she has also been helping me get to and from the hospital so that I can get my wound cleaned.

* I put my close friend Scott to work. He did a lot of the "behind the scenes" stuff for me. I felt like I made him my personal assistant, and he told me it was fun--like a scavenger hunt. He packed clothes for me to wear in the hospital, did my laundry, cleaned my apartment, got me reading material, returned my library books, and fetched items from my classroom that I needed. He had to go to the bank for me several times to help wire RMB into my account so that I could pay for everything. The most important thing he did for me was to get my new room ready for me. I'm not currently in my regular apartment, so he moved down towels, toiletries, a water dispenser, clothes, and other personal items. I'm sure this took him hours, and I really am so grateful. Scott was also super understanding when we had to cancel all of our summer travel plans, and the best part is that I told him to find another travel buddy to go on our trips with, but instead he is waiting for me to heal so that we can go together next summer.

* One of my bosses did a lot for me, too. He helped secure a bed for me in "one of the best hospitals in all of China." I guess it took him multiple trips and almost his entire weekend. He gave me permission to stay on a first floor apartment since I live on the top floor of an apartment with no elevator and cannot get to the top floor on my own yet. He had to visit the hospital and talk to the doctors about my condition and was in charge of getting all the paperwork for my insurance. Trust me, there was quite a lot of it. He was able to get my medicine and answered hundreds of my questions.

* My surgery and hospital stay ended up costing about $30,000 USD. I had to pay for everything up front and did not have the money. If it weren't for my dad, I wouldn't have been able to cover the costs, and I don't know what I would have done. Yes, I will get about half of that money back from my insurance, but it's really scary to think about what might have happened if I did not have his financial support. Of course, I'm going to pay him back, but I think I'm more worried about that than he is. In addition to my dad's support, the director of the primary school got permission to give me the leftover Charity Fair money to help defray the costs of my surgery. That's exceptionally good news for me because I'll be receiving almost $5,000, which leaves me just owing about $10,000 of my own money. Since I wasn't able to work and have not gotten paid for several months that will be the money I'll be using to survive on over the summer.

* Some of my friends back home offered to take care of me all summer if I could fly back to the States. A few of my friends even downloaded We Chat so that we could talk. We have been messaging ever since, and even though they can't be here to help me, it is helping me knowing that they care!

* Other friends that work with me in China have really been there for me as well. They brought me meals, kept me company, messaged me throughout the day, gave me reading material and DVDs as well as useful items that I needed and didn't have. My friends washed my hair, helped organize my room, picked up groceries for me, and massaged my legs so that I wouldn't get a blood clot after the surgery. One friend even offered to buy a flight home for me on a plane that has a bed in it. A different friend helped me get the back brace I am required to wear each time I stand up for at least the next three months. Two friends helped pack up all of my belongings and busted me out of the hospital and then helped me settle in. Another girl bought me some makeup, just to cheer me up. I could go on and on.

* My liaison is seriously the best. She backed me up ten fold and explained to my bosses why certain things that went on at the hospital really upset me. This wonderful person fought to try to get me my full bonus even though I missed some work, and she just had my best interests in mind. She even found me some crutches to use for when I start walking around again and gave me some perfume she wasn't going to take back to the UK with her because she knows I can't take a shower for another month. I know that I am very fortunate to have a person like my liaison looking out for me.

* My students' parents also went above and beyond anything I ever expected. They found ways to help me when I didn't even ask them for help. They gave me fruit baskets and flowers and sent me encouraging e-mails telling me that I was not alone. Several parents visited me in the hospital and some of them even brought my students. One of my student's parents sent me a get well song that his son made for me that had me tearing up. A student's mom had her ayi bring me meals three times a week in the hospital. My co-teacher told me that one of moms even offered to let me live in her house over the summer so that her ayi could care for me. My students' parents have been helping me get to the hospital and were going to try to find a college student to help me over the summer.

* Also, thanks to all of you guys for your sweet blog comments, tweets, and get well wishes on Instagram. It's nice to think that I had so many good vibes being sent my way from all over the world.

As you can see, this whole ordeal has been rough for me, but my goodness... I have some kind-hearted people in my life. I will never, ever forget what they have done for me and hope that when I am well again that someday I can pay it forward. 

How have people in your life surprised you in a good way?

Changing as a Traveler: 20's to 30's

June 27, 2016

I don't know about you, but there are some parts of my personality that have changed (for the better!) as I grew older. I know it's cliche, but I do feel like I learned many important lessons in my 20's that have made me both stronger and wiser. If a problem arises now, I handle it differently than I would have back then. There are also activities that I would have enjoyed in my 20's that I steer clear from now. Wait...that sounds a little shady, but I don't mean to be. I guess I'm trying to say that I'm a little more tame than I was in my 20's. Just as I've changed in my every day life, I feel as if I've also changed as a traveler over the years.

* My overall travel style is not quite the same. When I was younger, I knew exactly how many countries I had been to and wanted to go to as many different countries as possible. If I throughly enjoyed a weekend trip to...say Brussels, I wouldn't have revisited it in hopes of going to another city in a completely different country. Instead of trying to jump from country to country, I like to take things a little bit slower these days and spend additional time in an area so that I can explore it more thoroughly. And, now if I fall in love with a place, I have no qualms about going back time and time again, even if that means missing out on seeing a new city. Savannah is like that for me, and there are many cities in Italy I'd revisit in a heartbeat. Last year, I went on a trip to Iceland and the old me wouldn't have wanted to go back again so soon, but I thought it was beautiful there and wanted to have more time, so I planned a trip for this summer. Mind you, due to a major back surgery, I had to cancel the trip, but still... When I told others of my plans to go back to Iceland again, most people understood, but a few others did question me, asking why I would want to go back there again when I could go anywhere else. When it came to traveling as a younger person, I was very ambitious and wanted to do as much as possible in as many countries as possible. There isn't anything wrong with traveling this way, but now I think more about the logistics, as in, "Is it worth it to spend the money on airfare just to stay there for a few days?" 

* My interest in domestic travel within my home country (USA) has grown. In my 20's, if given the choice to travel within the States or to travel internationally, I would have chosen the international trip, hands down. Since I've done the majority of my traveling overseas, I realized that I have skipped over many incredible sights and interesting places in the USA. That's why when Rachael brought up possibly traveling to Hawaii this February, I was game. There are so many places on my domestic bucket list now like: The Badlands, Alaska, Santa Fe, Seattle, Oregon, New England, Havasupai Falls, etc. 

* I would never, ever, EVER travel without travel insurance. In my 20's, I worked for three years in a foreign country and was provided with insurance through my employer. While that insurance was good in the country where I was living and working, when I traveled to other Asian countries, I had no idea if it was valid. I was young and healthy and thought I'd rather just pay out-of-pocket for healthcare instead of "wasting" money on insurance. When my back suddenly went completely out on a recent trip to Urumqi, I was in so much pain and was extremely worried about my health. The absolute last thing I even wanted to think about was the financial aspect of the whole situation. Luckily, my insurance will cover at least $15,000 of what I spent. You don't want to go into financial ruin or worse yet, be denied care because you cannot cover the costs! 

* I make more educated decisions, especially when it comes to how animals are treated. I had a chance to visit the Siberian Tiger Park in Harbin this year, but opted not to because of some questionable practices I'd read about that occurred at the park. In 2008, I did travel to Nepal and rode an elephant through Chitwan National Park. Would I do this now? No, because I know about the cruelty these animals are forced to endure. I'm not trying to sound preachy here, but merely want to reflect on how important doing a bit of research can be. 

* How good the nightlife is no longer factors into my decision to travel somewhere. Now I couldn't care less about the nightlife because it's not important to me. I care more about cultural attractions rather than if a place has a hopping bar scene. Of course, in my 20's, it's not that I ONLY cared about that, but sometimes I really did! 

* My preferences concerning accommodation are different. Even in my early 20's, I didn't really like staying in the large dorm rooms in hostels, but I would. Now that I'm in my 30's, I just can't! I'm more of a hotel, Air Bnb, or guesthouse kind of girl these days, but when I do stay in a hostel, I'd much rather pay more for a private room for me and my friends. The days of sharing rooms with strangers are hopefully behind me! I do value a good nights sleep a lot more! 

* I don't care about my looks...as much. I'm more concerned about whether or not I'm actually comfortable. I remember one time in Scotland, I wore these shoes that rubbed my feet raw but I suffered through the pain because I thought they looked good. Yeah, I don't like to wear trainers that much, but I'd gladly take them over blisters. I'm also totally cool with not wearing makeup in tropical climates. In Sri Lanka this year, I didn't even bother with it on most days. Now I'm all about comfort over fashion when I travel.

* I don't feel guilty for taking "me" time. Now my favorite part of traveling is that I try to make it a combination of taking in new sights and relaxing. I realized that chilling out plays an important role in my trips. In Iceland last summer, Rachael and I just spent an afternoon binge watching Season 1 of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and we didn't feel guilty for not being out at that exact moment exploring Iceland. We had a very fulfilling trip and got to see and do so much. Spending an afternoon like that made us feel rejuvenated and eager to be "on the go" the following day. 

* Technology has changed the way I travel. In my 20's, my travel buddies and I got around by using paper maps or by asking for directions. I didn't have a GPS or Google Maps to look at if I got lost. Since directions are not my strong suit, I guess I'm rather glad about these technological advances. Now when I travel, it's rare that I spend more than 2 days in a row without access to wifi, so I'm always connected, which is useful, especially if there were to be an emergency. Although I do love Instagram and other forms of social media, sometimes I do also miss the simpler times!

* I have to think more about my physical limitations. Some people in their 30's might be super healthy and this might not affect them, but for me, my back problems have and will hold me back from doing everything I would have done in my 20's. When I was in Koh Tao this year, my travel buddy Scott and I signed up to take diving lessons. On the first day, we had to assemble our equipment and I was struggling to carry it. Leaning over and putting everything together, really hurt my back a lot since I had a bad massage a few days before. I told Scott that I was just too wary to dive the next day and that I was out but he could feel free to go ahead and continue the course if he wanted. Because of my spinal fusion, I just don't think I will be doing things like riding horses or anything super crazy. I probably won't be getting any more back massages (lesson learned from Thailand), and I really have to try not to sit for extended periods of time. This might mean that I'll book myself some stopovers as a break between long flights or splurge on a business class seat to get the flat bed. 

What's your traveling style now? Has it always been like that or did you also change?