Ohana means family

Our family has spent the last four weeks on the beautiful island of O’ahu. I wish I could tell you it was for a much needed vacation and family time (in a lot of ways it was), but in reality it was because we had to be medically evacuated to the hospital here. I could write several blog posts about the inadequacy of the current healthcare provided to military families stationed overseas, but I’d rather focus on the amazing treatment I finally received and the amazing ohana I found on the island.

As Claire mentioned in her last post, we are both leaders in a running club called Stroller Warriors and lucky for me there are 48 chapters all over the world, including 3 on O’ahu! Before even arriving I had several wonderful ladies reach out to me to see what they could do to help. Traveling 4,000 miles away from home for surgery with two toddlers felt a little bit less daunting knowing I had a group of like-minded, supportive military moms to lean on if needed.

I had several pre-op appointments the week before my surgery and after dragging our kids through a full day of appointments, my husband and I decided it would be easiest if he dropped me off and spent the day with the kids back at the hotel instead of waiting at the hospital the day of my surgery. However, to make things a little tricky, we only have Japanese cell phone numbers (which actually work in Hawaii thanks to Sprint) and even though the hospital assured us they could call our number they proved several times that week that none of their staff actually knew the right number to dial. So I reached out to one of the awesome ladies from Stroller Warriors, Arlene. I just wanted to get her number so the hospital could call her and she could message Josh to come get me when it was all over. In my head, the surgery was going to go easy peasy and I was going to walk out as easily as I walked in.

Well, I was completely blown away when Arlene not only offered her phone number, but also told me she’d come sit with me at the hospital. I’d like to remind you right now that Arlene and I have never met. She is absolutely amazing for doing this! She showed up right after I’d changed into the super flattering hospital gown and no-skid socks. We instantly became good friends and every time a doctor or nurse came to talk to me they were shocked to learn my non-medical attendant/new best bud was a stranger to me 10 minutes prior. I cannot thank Arlene enough for not only keeping me company before surgery, but also for spending the entire day waiting for me to get out of surgery, talking to the doctor and relaying detailed messages back to my husband all day long. She even gave me a ride back to the hotel so my husband didn’t have to load the kids up to come get me. She is a saint!

Mallory and Arlene before surgery

I guess now is a good time to fill you in on why I had surgery and how I am doing. I was medically evacuated to Tripler Army Medical Center in Hawaii to see an ENT specialist and have a cholesteatoma surgically removed from behind my middle ear area. For reference, the cholesteatoma was found on a CT scan taken 10 months earlier. This is how long it took me to get proper medical care all because I am stationed overseas. Fast forward to my surgery, the amazing Dr. Chen was able to skillfully remove the non cancerous cholesteatoma, but unfortunately had to do an ossicular chain reconstruction, removing one of my three middle ear bones because the mass had caused deterioration from not being removed sooner. (See brief explanation below on how ears hear, thanks to Netflix’s Ask the Storybots Season 2, Episode 4, I am basically an Otolaryngologist as well.) I will have to have another surgery in 9 months to complete the reconstruction once I have recovered and we confirm the cholesteatoma is gone for good. So for now I have even more profound hearing loss than I had before surgery (-60 decibels, almost deafness) in my left hear, but have been reassured my hearing will be as good as new after my next surgery. When you see me, please talk loudly and forgive me if I miss what you are saying, I promise I am not ignoring you…or am I?

The three parts of the ear all help you hear. The outer ear funnels sound to the ear drum. This makes the eardrum vibrate. The three tiny bones in the middle ear (the malleus, incus, and stapes) pass the vibrations to the inner ear. There, the vibrations become electrical signals. These signals travel along the auditory (hearing) nerve to the brain.

Ask the Storybots

Having your ear sliced open and your temporal bone drilled into is a little bit harder to recover from than I thought…I actually thought I’d be operated on through my ear canal and back to normal hearing and activities within a few days….because that is what I was originally told. Luckily I was given a “sick note” or extended stay in Hawaii for an extra 3 weeks. My family let me rest as much as two toddlers could, but in all seriousness we were itching to get out and explore so I popped the recommended dosage of Tylenol and we crammed as much as we could into our recovery/vacation.

I could not ask for a more beautiful place to be on sick leave. The weather was absolutely fantastic, it did not disappoint. We basically drove all over the island, went to a handful of beaches, did all the kid friendly activities, hiked several different trails and ate ALL THE FOOD. And I’m talking ALL of the food. I actually think I’ve gained 10 pounds from all of the American food I’ve stuffed into my body. I don’t even feel a little bit bad about it because it was so delicious and I won’t have any for a long time.

One of the many beaches we visited

The Cheesecake Factory

Coincidentally, one of my cousins was working in Hawaii while we were here and we were able to have lunch several times and catch up with him and his wife. They got to meet my son for the first time, something only a few of my family members have had the opportunity to do considering he was born in Japan.

My cousin Robert

This trip was the best “family” vacation I have ever been on in terms of getting to spend quality time with family: blood family and ohana. In Hawaii an ohana, meaning family, is special. The people within it are bound together by genuine compassion, culture, support, loyalty, and love for each other. The experiences I had here were exactly that. I already told you about one of my new found sole sisters, Arlene, from my Stroller Warriors ohana, but I was also able to meet a few other amazing SW ladies as we spectated one weekend at the HURT100.

Stroller Warriors Kaneohe Bay at HURT100

The feeling of ohana didn’t stop there. I also met another social media friend and fellow contributor for Military Moms Blog, Rachel. We connected over dinner and chatted through a beautiful sunset.

Mallory and Rachel, Military Moms Blog

Once I was cleared to resume exercise I joined up with the local Saturday wear blue run group. There I met some loyal wear blue runners and enjoyed a meaningful run with them. (Embarrassingly I did not pack a single blue item, but I showed up anyways)

wear blue O’ahu Saturday run community

To become a part of someone’s ohana is a great honor and I am beyond honored to be a part of these groups. This military life can be rough sometimes, especially when you undergo something like a medical evacuation to the other side of the world, but the people you meet along the way who become a part of your family or ohana make this life worth doing. I’m feeling very lucky to have been in Hawaii and am already dreading the long flight back to Japan.

Arlene and Mallory = new bffs

Stay tuned for my next post about traveling with two toddlers, one of which screams the entire time, and the wonderful things we did in O’ahu.

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Stranger Things: My Japanese Birth Experience Part 1

Some husbands are very supportive and hands-on during their wife’s delivery. Not mine. Mine sits back in the shadows taking notes so he can remind me later of how much I cried. He is very loving in that way (hopefully you can read the sarcasm). You may recall his “smell log” from our first child’s birth. Well, he did not disappoint with his thorough account of the events leading up to our son’s birth in the local Japanese hospital.

Taking notes while I receive an IV of antibiotics

 6:32PM

We arrive at the hospital several miles out of town in a run down area. It is Saturday night yet there are few signs of the local population, save those hurrying back to their homes. We wander out of the gravel parking lot down the street until we see a dimly lit alleyway, now to select the correct door. Unable to read kanji we continue checking each door until one pulls open. With it comes the yellow glow of old GE light bulbs and the smell of Florida. Not the salt sea air of spring break but the musky oder of a retirement barely keeping the tenant afloat. There are racks of shoes to the left just inside the entryway, someone has been using the facility.

6:37PM

We step hesitantly, quietly, inching down the hall, the only sounds our own footsteps. The exit signs tell us we’ve gone the wrong way as we explore the first floor. A set of stairs eventually appears, but was it there the first time we passed down the corridor? As we climb up the stairwell there is a faint unidentifiable sound ahead. Cresting the top we look left, then right. The second floor much like the first appeared vacant of any life, only the old cream tile floors, walls of peeling paper and medical equipment long abandoned. We continued our search past the check-in hub, which was devoid of life. Then the noise again, this time closer. As I turned to confront it I only catch a glimpse of a white spectre scurry, or did it float? across the hall from one doorway to another. It was too quick to make out its true form. I rushed to follow, hoping for answers to this mysterious haven. But as I made the turn into the room with the strange bed, giant clock with its gliding hands, and foreign machines I am confronted head on with the creature, “Morris!” it exclaimed bursting from the shadows. Her…Her! accent, was thick…

6:45PM

She was no ghoul, but the on call nurse. Her actions were quick and severe. I was quickly backed into a corner, isolated, as she dashed off, quickly returning with a larger male. Still in disbelief at our discovery I am unable to protest as they tear away my wife to strap her to that strange bed. It is obvious the medical equipment still functions, though archaic it may be. While they focus on her I am able to visually investigate my surroundings. Every item in the room unmistakably has a place, though there are so many instruments in such a small space, that the look is very chaotic. The most disturbing, however, are the three metal pots, each about the size of a human head, with lids that have been locked shut.

7:25PM

After strapping my wife to the bed they leave and shut the door. It is very hot in here and we brought no water and there does not appear to be a tap in our confines. I don’t understand why one of us should be restrained, yet I am free to move about. How would they react if they found I had loosed her bonds? I don’t know how many others are here with us, either as “guests” or those who are holding us here. All I can hear now is the female milling about outside of our room, there has been no indication of the male for sometime. What do they want from us? And why are they heating our room? It is so hot!

8:05PM

They must have gotten what they wanted, they are moving us to another space. The first room must have been some sort of processing facility. This place looks more permanent, there is a bed, and an unusual looking stool. Neither are comfortable, however, when I lie on the bed exhaustion takes hold.

I labored in a Tatami room until I was in active labor

9:00PM

My wife wakes me frantically, they will begin the extraction on her now. We groggily move back to the original room, they’ve brought more of their people. All of them wearing pink smocks circa 1960s America, and masks to hide their identities, though I wonder how many have made it out the exit and back to safety. They are frantically chittering away like a swarm of insects working on a hive, strapping my wife back down to the table.

9:30PM

After half an hour of prodding and examining my wife their elder appeared before us. At this point, through tears and gasps for breath she begs him to end her pain no matter the cost. With a grin he speaks in his guttural language, in what I can only assume was a pleasant surprise that his subject broke so quickly. The chittering from the elder’s subordinates picks up in a deafening crescendo as three of the pink clad females grab my wife by the arms and legs. They contorted her until her spine was exposed and vulnerable. The elder then brought out an immense needle, plunging menacingly as her pain intensifies. I don’t know if that’s when they planted the darkness in her, but it certainly was the beginning of our hell to come.

We had quite the experience. It would be generous to call the place I delivered at a hospital. It was as empty and sweltering hot as my husband described. The OB has been in practice there for nearly 50 years and it definitely showed. Their methods were effective, but they were also very crude.

One of the main reasons I chose this particular place was that they offered an epidural, which is not common in Japan. I am not ashamed to admit that I do not handle pain well. Once I was taken to the delivery room the 200-year old doctor arrived to administer the epidural. He had lots of trouble placing the line, which resulted in several painful punctures along my spine and tenderness around the site for several weeks. It was all for nothing because the dosage was so low it had zero effect on me.

That birth was the most painful experience of my entire life. I wouldn’t wish that kind of pain on my worst enemy. I was crying, kicking, and begging for it to be over. I thought at one point that I might actually die, especially when the attendant had clearly also had enough and gave me a quick episiotomy, then went elbow-deep inside of me to pull the baby out. There was one nurse beside me the whole time whose only job was to shush me when I got too loud. And not in a kind or nurturing way either. I couldn’t believe it. We were absolutely the only people in this “hospital,” why did I have to be quiet? First, they botch giving me an epidural and then they tell me I’m being too loud as I writhe in pain. WTF?

I have since learned that the Japanese do not believe in pain-relieving drugs during childbirth, or after for that matter. This explains the doctor’s inexperience administering epidurals. It is believed that a mother’s ability to endure the pain demonstrates her strength and responsibility and not experiencing pain hinders the bond between mother and child. Japanese women are also expected to experience labor and birth quietly, explaining why the nurse kept trying to silence me. I have a whole new respect for these women, but I absolutely do not believe that my inability to suffer silently has any bearing on my capabilities as a mother.

 

Month of the Military Child 

For both Claire and I, being military spouses was not something we had ever dreamed about. We are, of course, happy in our roles, but we could take it or leave it. We have given up a lot for this life: careers, being near family, friends, being able to plant roots, etc. We knew there would be sacrifices and we agreed to them from the very beginning because we love and support our husbands. Our kids, however, did not get a vote.

April is the Month of the Military Child and we honor military children for their sacrifice in supporting their families and country. There are more than 1 million military children across the Department of Defense. Military children are remarkable examples of resilience, strength and flexibility. Like I said before, they did not get a say in whether they wanted this life or not, but they pack up their books and clothes and say goodbye to friends every couple of years anyways. Continue reading