Ripples Following Ripples ~ OPERATION FIX-FACE

All this time, on a regular basis, I’d been corresponding with Yen Ha, and we had built up a rapport. When she heard that I might be coming to Adelaide, she asked her husband if he would mind me staying in their home while I underwent what would need to be done; surprisingly, he agreed, and the matter of accommodation there was settled.

DV’s family kindly got me a ticket back to Melbourne for March 11th, and I was met by Hung and his family when I arrived. The next day, he took me to see a Dr. Phuoc ~ someone I call ‘The Laughing Doctor’ because he laughs loudly whenever I visit him, and everyone waiting outside can hear. I showed him the CT-scan pictures and asked if he could refer me to the specialist in Adelaide, but he took only a cursory glance at them and didn’t appear interested, and merely told me to go over there and try to see him myself. Well, this is what I did.

On the 15th, Yen Ha and her sister, Yen Hing, were waiting for me at the airport, and took me to her home, where I met her hus-band, Cuong, and children, Sophia and Nicholas. I appreciated Yen Ha’s kindness, but how she’d prevailed upon her husband to let me stay there, I don’t know, as he has a jealous nature, which I was to see as time passed, just as he was to see, and focus upon, some of my negativities, which, as human, I admit having. If he had known me better, he would have seen many more.

The next day, Yen Ha took me to see a Vietnamese doctor ~ Dr. Le Cong Phuoc ~ who was expecting me. I’d known him for some years already, and indeed, Yen Ha had come upon one of my books in his clinic. He’s a very busy man, and his waiting-room is always full, so it was quite a while before he called me in. After glancing at my scan-pictures, he picked up his phone and called the specialist ~ Prof. David ~ who was a personal friend of his (lucky for me), and made an appointment for me to see him two days later. Prof. David was a very nice man, too, and after a brief examination, said he could operate on me the next month, and that a cut might have to be made across the top of my head from ear-to-ear, but he would try to avoid that; then, as an after-thought, he asked if I had private health-insurance, and when I said no, he said, “Oh,” then added, “In that case, I will get my team to do it,” and sent me off to see them. Whether he had ex-pedited it or not, I can’t say, but they arranged for the operation to be performed at the Royal Adelaide ~ South Australia’s top state-hospital ~ on the 24th. Things were moving very fast; usually, people must wait months for elective surgery in Australia. Maybe Dr. Le Cong had pulled some strings for me.

Various tests had to be run before the operation, so I was back and forth ~ courtesy of either Yen Ha or Yen Hing ~ between two hospitals and several departments over some days, and actually had a delightful time; every one of the doctors and other people I saw were so nice and friendly. I heard one Chinese doctor speak-ing, and was so impressed with her beautiful pronunciation and enunciation of English that when I was called to her office I remarked on it and asked where she was from. She told me she had been born in Calcutta but had spent 20 years in England; needless to say, we had lots to talk about thereafter. Then, an-other lady I got talking with told me that her husband had done the India-thing in his youth, just like me. Finally, I told the woman who ran the ECG on me that if everyone there was like those I'd seen so far, I wouldn’t mind coming in at all, and might even ap-ply to stay longer! It would be my first time as a hospital-patient, and apart from the removal of the spot on my hand some years before, I’d never had an operation.

The team told me that they couldn’t be sure if the feeling would return to my face, and it would probably take months if it did; and even at this point, they gave me the option to change my mind, but I decided to go ahead with it.

Before O-Day (Operation Day), Yen Ha got a call from someone in the temple where she regularly goes, asking if she could visit me. It was Caren, who I mentioned earlier, but had never actually met. I wasn’t too enthusiastic about it, but agreed, and she came over with some other people. The meeting was quite cordial, and turned into a Dharma-talk, and Yen Ha saw me in action. Follow-ing this, she decided to arrange a talk for me in her home after the operation, when she would invite more people.

I duly went to the hospital at the appointed time, changed into a gown, was taken into the theatre where the anesthetic was ad-ministered, and the next thing I knew I was in a ward. I didn’t even recall being in the recovery-room. Of course, I felt rather groggy, and as two of the nurses adjusted my bed and the i/v drip in my arm, I felt nauseous, and before they could get a bowl to me, threw up over the sheets. I was most embarrassed, but they assured me it wasn’t a problem.

An incision had been made along my right eyebrow, and another up inside my mouth; through these, they were able to perform the two-hour operation and insert some titanium plates to correct the damage done to my cheek-bones; a cut had been made on my abdomen to extract a bit of bone for grafting, and this was very sore. I’m glad I wasn’t there to see the procedure! Of course, my face was swollen, and my right eye shut, and it was hard to open my mouth; I was in quite a bit of pain and had to be given some-thing to dull it.

Because of the cut on my abdomen, it was hard for me to get up, and to relieve myself was very difficult, as I couldn’t press down because of the pain; I had to take laxatives to help, but even so, it wasn’t easy.

I looked a little like the Elephant Man of the movie by that name, but there was nothing I could do except wait for the swelling to subside; not wanting to look like Yasser Arafat at the same time, though, I made an effort to shave.

The care and attention of the doctors and nurses was nothing less than fantastic, and I have the greatest love and admiration for them; nothing was too much trouble for them. They even wanted to accompany me to the toilet/bathroom to make sure I was okay, but I begged them not to.

The food served, although vegetarian, wasn’t very appetizing, and I didn’t feel like eating anyway; I lost 5 kgs during my stay.

I’d expected to be in only overnight, but it was a bigger operation than I’d thought it would be. One of the doctors came to see how I was doing on a daily basis ~ usually a young Bahrainian named Walid. On the third day, he said I could probably leave on the next, but I’d enjoyed it so much, that I asked if I could stay for an extra day; he consented.

I was able to sleep alright and actually felt very calm and peace-ful. The ward was nicely air-conditioned to around 19º C. One night, I asked for a blanket, and the nurse draped a warmed one over me ~ it was so soothing! Any worries I'd had about wearing the standard hospital-gown and sharing the ward with others were completely unfounded. The four other beds in the ward were not all occupied. One day a young shaven-headed guy was brought in, and having bitten through his tongue, wasn’t able to say much. I noticed that there was a man in uniform sitting out in the corridor afterwards; the tongue-biter was a prisoner from jail.

And, not that I needed cheering up, it was nice to get a number of visitors, including Jill. Yen Ha and Yen Hing were especially kind to me, even bringing their kids to see me and make me laugh.

Right the way through, it was a heart-warming experience, but I'm not in a hurry to repeat it. I’m also grateful to the Australian tax-payers in general, as their money made all this possible for me; apart from Dr. David’s fee, I didn't have to pay a cent! It was all covered by Medicare.

On the fifth day, Yen Ha came to take me back to her home, where I stayed long enough to recover; of course, I had to return to the hospital for a check-up. I also went to see Dr. David again, to thank him and tell him my impression of my hospital-stay. He requested me to write to the hospital-administrator and tell her what I’d just told him, as he said many people were quick to complain but slow to praise. I did so, as everyone likes to be ap-preciated, and by return post, got a letter thanking me for mine.

Someone from Melbourne named Van came to visit me. He was over in Adelaide on business. He’s a devoted Buddhist, and has been quite supportive of me for some years.

About 20 people attended my talk at Yen Ha’s and it went quite well; Yen Ha got some good feed-back from it. Then, soon after, accutely aware that I’d overstayed my welcome as far as Cuong was concerned ~ I would greet him in the morning and when he returned from work, and got only a robot-toned ‘hello’ in return ~ I accepted Rick and Pat’s invitation to spend a week with them be-fore going back to my base in Melbourne. It was pleasant staying with them, like it was the first time, and while I was there, Wilanie invited me over for dinner, and I was not surprised to find a group of people awaiting me, as it is her way to share things. I was asked to give a talk before we all ate.

Rick had taken time off from his painting to write a book about his erstwhile work at the abattoirs, and showed me the manuscript; it was impressive. He was in the middle of negotiations with a pub-lisher, and things were going well.

Yen Ha used some of her frequent-flier points ~ accumulated not through flying, but from buying things with her credit-card ~ to get me a ticket back to Melbourne, and Rick and Pat offered to take me to the airport. My unforgettable time in Adelaide was over.

Hung met me off the plane. During the month I’d been away, he had started extending and renovating the living-quarters at the back of the shop, and although he expected the work to be com-pleted in another 2 weeks or so, it went on much longer. I offered to help him with this, and he knew, from the refugee-camp, that I could do such work, but he seemed reluctant to accept my offer, even though it could have saved him quite a bit of money. Feel-ing not wanted, therefore, I kept to my room, doing my own thing unless and until he asked for help, which he did now and then, as did the builder, who was a messy worker, never cleaning up after him, but leaving it for someone else. I helped Hung to paint the shop-floor at night, as it was too much to do on his own. I also painted the frame of the new door into the shop he had opened, and cleaned the windows around it, but there was a silence about this, and the next day, I noticed that the windows had all been smeared. What was going on?

Their kids ~ Hai, 14, and Huy, 6 ~ spent a lot of time, unsuper-vised, playing computer-games, some of which, apart from being violent, have bad language embedded in them. Concerned about this, and thinking to help, I called a family-friend named Dat to come over and translate my ideas about this to Hung and Hien, thinking they might not understand if I told them myself. Dat him-self was a school-teacher, and agreed completely with what I said about the addictive-effect of such games on kids, and how they are not really useful, and that it would be better if they spent more time on their studies, as their native-tongue was not Eng-lish, and therefore they would need to study harder than their Australian counterparts, just to keep up. Well, they seemed to understand and agree with me, and were happy with my offer to help their kids with their English, as they should have been; after all, how many people had a resident teacher with them? People pay a lot for tutors for their kids. I soon came to see that their agreement was only on the surface; they told their kids to listen to me, but they themselves didn’t give me the necessary back-up support, and the scheme soon fell through. They might even have taken my concern as a criticism of the way they were raising their kids; I should have simply kept quiet, but it was too late, and I began to feel a change in the atmosphere.

I was in it for some time to come, however, as the process of get-ting a top denture made preparatory to having all my upper teeth out had begun. It was only a 15-minutes’ walk to Jamie’s clinic, and he made the impression and sent it to Hoa in Brisbane for him to make the denture from (he advised me not to remove the lower teeth, as it would be very hard to chew, even though they had given me more trouble than the upper). But Hoa was backed-up with work, and couldn’t do it for over a month, so it was not until mid-July that the deed was done. Jamie huffed, puffed and strained to get the teeth out, and I was afraid that some of them might break off in the gum, but they didn’t; the denture was then put straight in, so no-one would see me all gummy. I had to go back several times for the denture to be modified as the gum shrank, until the final visit in early September.

All this time, I’d been working on my mss, but progress was slow. Occasionally, I had visitors, and sometimes someone would take me out, but I gave less than 5 talks in the 5 months I was there, and Hung and Hien were not the kind of people I could discuss Dharma with; we had different ideas about Buddhism.

In June, Hung switched to broadband internet, and soon after this, Yen Ha sent me something known as a wireless router, which was a nice present, and would enable me to connect to the internet in my room without going to the main computer outside. Well, it took two people several hours to figure out how to install it, but finally, it was done, and was a boon to me until my com-puter crashed, and then it had to be installed all over again.

I decided to leave when my dental-work was over, and packed my stuff in readiness. I don’t know if Hung and Hien noticed this, but I didn’t tell them until the last week; they must have heaved a sigh of relief, as did I, when I left for Sydney on the 10th. It’s not that I was ungrateful for their hospitality, but had I asked what had gone wrong to account for the change of feeling, they would not have told me; it was just something I had to accept.

I’d intended to stay with Baker Vo and his family in Sydney, but my Lebanese friend, Iman, insisted on me staying with him for some time first, and in order not to offend him, I did. He met me from the plane, and gave me the spare room in his new town-house; he was on his own after his second son had moved out. His wife had wanted to get back together with him the year be-fore, but he hadn’t agreed, preferring his solitude to the endless arguments they used to have; the only thing she’d never blamed him for, he said, was the extinction of the dinosaurs!

I settled down to work on my mss, and the inspiration flowed so well that I covered over 100 pages during my 2 weeks there, and was pleased about that! My wireless-router, which I’d brought with me, couldn’t be used with Iman’s computer, so I used his broadband-connection instead, and this was alright; I could do my email and anything else I needed to do on the Net with that.

There wasn’t much rain at this time, so unless I felt lazy and slept longer, I went out every morning for my walks, and soon found my way around his area; I started to go out at 4 o’clock. No-one else was out walking at that time, and few people driving, too.

Bok and Pearl contacted me and took me to their home for dinner one night; it was always nice to see them again, and we had lots to talk about. They also arranged a talk for me at their place to a large group of friends, as they’d done before, and as upon those previous times, I was given a good hearing, and it went well.

By this time, I’d moved from Iman’s to Baker Vo’s, and unlike the previous times I’d stayed there, I donned ordinary clothes and went out for my regular walks rather than just pacing up and down alongside the house as before. I was soon into a routine there, and had lots of time to myself; I continued work on my mss, and would have got much further on it than I did ~ and would probably have completed it and had it ready for printing ~ if I’d not had more problems with my computer. The wireless-router I’d been using in Melbourne seemed to have jammed things up, and I was unable to create a new internet connection. Only with the help of someone more skilled in these matters than me, was the problem resolved, but it took several days.

A family I’d known for some years ~ Dao Tran and her sisters ~ invited me for lunch at their home, and as always, spread their best before me. The young son of one of them was fun to be with, asking lots of questions. His name was Henry, so I called him Henry the VIII.

I was also invited to Sangha Lodge for the first-Sunday-of-the-month dana, or lunch-offering, and quite enjoyed it, even being requested to say a few words. Tejadhammo was gracious, and solicitous of my welfare, and I had a chat with him afterwards.

Then, there was a talk in Chua Phuoc Hue, but I wasn’t pleased with how it went. Sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose.

Before I left Sydney, I got an email from my ‘Diamond Lady’, Ping Kim Suor, in Los Angeles, saying that a large mass had been dis-covered near her spine, and she was about to go into hospital for an operation to remove it. It sounded ominous, but she was pre-pared for the worst. I encouraged her to lean on the Dharma and contemplate on Impermanence. I also requested her to ask one of her friends to keep me informed. She did this, and I received two emails from another lady, saying that the operation had re-sulted in uncontrolled bleeding, and that she was in a coma. The next one brought the sad news that she had gone. I had known a courageous lady, whose adversity would have crushed most other people. I’ll never forget her.

Flying back to Adelaide, Yen Ha and Yen Hing met me, and took me to Wilanie’s, where I spent the next week. Almost as soon as I got there, the phone became hot with outgoing and incoming calls; Wilanie, with her usual flair began organizing things, and before I knew it, I was fully booked up with invitations for lunches, talks, and meetings with individuals. It was nothing I’d not done before, but it meant I didn’t have much time to work on my mss, so any hope of getting it ready for printing before leaving Malay-sia for Nepal disappeared; too much remained to be done on it.

I was urged to get travel-insurance before leaving Oz, just to be on the safe side, so got a policy covering me for seven months, not thinking I would need it. Equipped thus, I flew out to K.L. for the umpteenth time, and Old Faithful DV was waiting for me. I stayed in Malacca only a week, to get my round-trip ticket to Kathmandu valid for a year. I was thinking only as far as this trip, and even that was quite a projection, amounting more to wishful thinking than anything else. I had no plans or ideas beyond that.

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