Tuesday, 6 October 2015

It's not a tumour (except it is)

A few months back, I was sat on a plane, heading home to Dubai after a fabulous trip to Australia for a wedding. We'd had a ball at the wedding and then a great few days in Singapore. Probably a bit too much partying and late nights so I wasn't surprised when I got a blinding headache on the flight home. I suffer from headaches, so it wasn't something new. I rubbed my head all over in an attempt to soothe the throb when I felt a lump, at the end of my jaw just behind my ear.

"Ooh a swollen gland," I thought. When I landed, I went to the doctor to get something for the severe headache and I mentioned the lump, just as I suspected he diagnosed a swollen gland. A few days later I developed a kidney infection so it all fell into place. I had been fighting off an infection. Simple. After large doses of antibiotics, I recovered from the infection. Then I noticed the swollen gland will still there. "I must get back to the doctor to check it out."

Finally a few weeks later, one free morning after dropping the kids at school, I decided I better get that lump checked, on the spur of the moment. Just in case.

"Just a swollen gland, I'll prescribe some antibiotics." "But I had all those antibiotics!" "hmmmm"

Taken to the room next door for an ultrasound, I was then asked to wait while he spoke to the doctor. I could see them talking for five minutes or longer. Called in, I was told there was something wrong with my saliva gland "do you have a history of any problems? Does your family? You'll need an MRI, you'll need it today." 

I didn't have it that day but the next. An hour of jack hammering in my ear. "your doctor will give you the results in two days".

Exactly 48 hours later the phone rang. "It's a tumour. You'll need to see the specialist."

Tumour? Specialist? Tumour means only one thing. Fear and tears and dread. Death and deformity. It all seemed like an overwhelming wave of certainty or uncertainty. Tumour. It can't be good. 

Arnold Swarznegger uttering "it's not a tumour" in my head. But apparently it is. 

"These tumours are most often benign, but they can sometimes be more sinister. They can be cancerous. I recommend a biopsy. Whatever it is, the treatment is the same. It needs to be surgically removed, they can't be left, malignant or benign."

Google told me these tumours aren't common. Not necessarily rare, but fairly uncommon. Google told me, if malignant, they can be tricky to treat. Google told me Adam Yauch from the Beastie Boys had a malignant tumour the exact same size, in the exact same location as mine. He sadly died in 2012. Google told me the surgery could result with permanent facial paralysis and other weird side effects. I was terrified, to say the least.

I was admitted for the biopsy. It was painful, but not too bad. "We'll have the results in five to seven days." Two days later I got on a flight to Europe, for a holiday. Try as I might to ignore it, there was a black cloud hanging over me. I wondered if I'd actually return to Dubai. If the results were bad I would fly straight to Australia for treatment. Should I warn my friend in Ireland that we may not come visit them after all? Could I really have cancer? What if I do have cancer?

After a long weekend in Berlin we drove to Bratislava. My eye constantly wandering to my phone. Thinking, I should know today. As I put my bags down in our Air BnB apartment and logged on to wifi, I saw my doctor's name pop up with a ping on my email. 

"Samples indicate a pleomorphic adenoma." A benign tumour. I felt like 50 ton of concrete had been lifted from my shoulders. I burst into tears of pure relief. Benign in Bratislava. For more than two weeks I'd lived with this lump, not knowing if it was cancer. Knowing that it might be. Everyone kept saying "it will be alright" I daren't believe them, because what if it wasn't alright. It isn't always alright. 

My ENT in Dubai said it had to be removed because it would keep growing, as it got bigger it would be harder to remove and as it had already grown quite deep could affect the facial nerve. As it was growing deep, he couldn't remove it. All this meant I had to return to Sydney to see a highly-skilled surgeon, who repeated exactly what the ENT said, it needs to be removed. 

Wanting to avoid surgery, especially one that had risks, I read everything I could get my hands on. I could live with a lump on my neck. But they all said the same thing, these tumours have to be removed, especially in the location my was or they would cause more problems. 

So last week, after jetting into Sydney I went into hospital and had my lumpy little friend removed. I woke up in agonising pain, wondering why on earth this was necessary. Quickly though I began to feel better. Numb and sore at the same time, but better. I still sometimes brush my hair back from my face and feel a weird, spongy thing on the side of my head and it takes a few seconds to realise it's my poor, numb ear. "Who needs feeling in an ear?" people say to me, but I've realised I quite like feeling in my ear. It may come back. It might not. 

Once removed, the tumour was bigger than it was when I had the MRI. Further "proof" that surgery was necessary. A numb ear is better than a paralysed face or the benign tumour turning "sinister" as they can do. 

I'm now back in Dubai, after a whirlwind trip to Australia. Time to move forward from that time I had a tumour in my parotid gland. Incredibly grateful that I have the opportunity to move forward. 

Sunday, 23 August 2015

European Vacation

We recently escaped the Middle Eastern summer furnace for a few weeks in Europe. The only problem was it seem that the heat followed us with Europe being struck with a heatwave.

We flew to Prague and at the airport jumped in a hire care and promptly drove to Berlin. With the help of a friend's sat-nav we found our way through the north of the Czech Republic. The sat-nav only came with a German-speaking feature, so I had to follow the map and give the directions, which kept leading up off the autobahn and onto tiny, picturesque country roads. Which were lovely and all but after a seven-hour flight we was just eager to get the three-hour drive over and done with and get to Berlin. I have to say, Berlin was a bit of culture for this Middle Eastern-living girl. People walking down the street with their shirts off and a large can of beer in their hands, doesn't happen too often (read, at all)  in the streets of Dubai. It's funny how all these little things jolt you when you've been living life one way.

Our first day in Berlin was a balmy 41 degrees. Which is not too bad in Dubai, where we have lots of air con, in Berlin where the buildings are built to keep the heat rather than out it was stinking hot! We just looked at it as a good excuse to have a few German hop-beverages. 

The kids were a little overwhelmed by Berlin, but they did love the Berlin Wall. Especially Lil-lil who was fascinated by the memorial and museum and spent many days afterwards filling us in about what she'd discovered about the wall. Which shows why it's so important to remember these parts of history. 

Berlin Wall memorial
Preserved section of the Wall
The imposing Brandenburg Gate in Berlin
After a couple of days we headed to Bratislava on our way to Budapest. A few people had told me not to bother with Bratislava, but it was a nice stop-off point and plus another country, so why not? I'm glad we did as I really enjoyed our time in Bratislava. Along the banks of the Danube is a new development with lots of nice bars and restaurants. We ate dinner while the kids ran around on the grass in the late evening sun. The next day we strolled through the beautiful old town and had lunch in a Slovakian pub before setting off for Hungary.

Old Town, Bratislava

Budapest has been floating around the top of my travel list for some time and I have to say it didn't disappoint. In fact, the only thing I was disappointed in was that we weren't staying longer. The architecture, the history, the beer, the food, the vibe, the people - Budapest has it all. The only thing that made it difficult was it was 41 degrees in Budapest too, which made it hot and sweaty seeing the sights. 
If you haven't been to Budapest and you get the opportunity to go, take it! It's a fabulous city! 

Hungarian Parliament House

Lots of Hungarian salami!

After Budapest, we drove to Vienna, on my birthday. We've been to Vienna before, but the last time we were there it was cold and snowy. We arrived on a warm sunny day and headed straight into town to wander around. The best part was having the famous Sacher Torte with a candle at the beautiful Sacher Hotel as my birthday cake. 

The following day we wandered around the city again in glorious sunshine. We met up with some friends who used to live in Dubai and moved back to Vienna about a year ago. They took us on a short bus ride to the hills on the outskirts of Vienna with an incredible view over the city. We wandered down the hill through the vineyards until we found a winery serving food and wine and had a band playing out in the vines. It was magic evening where everything was just right - the music, the food, the wine, the company, the weather. Everything came together just right, there's no way you could've planned it. It's moments like this that make you appreciate living overseas and the people you get to meet. We'd never have found this place if we were on our own. 

After Vienna we headed back to Prague for five days. We wandered the town, ate lots of Czech food, climbed the hills to overlook the city. The city was filled to the brim with tourists and there were times I felt like part of the herd. There were moments of bliss though, like discovering a tiny French market on Bastille Day where we ate scrummy French food. 

Pretty Prague

At the end of the five days, it was time for Skip to head home to Dubai and the kids and I to jump on a plane to Ireland. We were lucky enough to be invited to stay with good friends in Dublin "for as long as you want! The whole summer if you like!" I thought the whole summer might be the end of a beautiful friendship, so we opted for 11 days instead. 

These guys were really good friends in Dubai (and still now, of course) and within 2 minutes of seeing their faces in the arrivals hall of Dublin Airport it was like we'd seen them yesterday rather than a year ago. Lots of laughter and chatter. They took us all over Ireland, from east to west and south to north. We swam (well I dipped my toes in the chilly water), we climbed mountains, we boated, we hiked and rode bikes, we sat in pubs and we camped, we partied and heard live music. It was a brilliant 11 days. Our six kids altogether had a ball, running outside and adventuring and playing and scampering and trying new things. Just like a summer holiday should be, even if it didn't quite feel like summer to us desert-dwelling Aussies. 

We flew back to Dubai, with a quick one night stopover in Prague. Happily back to Skip and our home. Not so happily back to the sand and the heat. 

It was a beautiful escape. One of the biggest perks of living here in the centre of the world. 

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Whatsappening in August

A few people have (no so subtlety) asked me recently when I was going to blog again. I wasn't sure. I wasn't sure if I wanted to even blog again. Sometimes you run out of things to say, sometimes you get sick of the sound of your own voice. Sometimes you edit yourself to the point where you wonder, well what's the point? I've had a lot of stories in my head recently, but they're not really for this blog and maybe that's just it! Maybe all these stories in my head need a new home and different space to play.

Yet, here I am typing so let's see what happens.

We are in yet another Dubai summer. Hot, dusty, humid, sweaty, oppressive summer. Quiet. Hibernation. Not much else to do but stay inside. Most of the city away in their 'home' countries, except for the Australians. For the Australians it's always the same - too far and too expensive and the wrong time of year to visit 'home', so it's a few weeks somewhere else and then sweat out the summer, swearing they'll never do it again (until next summer).

It's a strange time of year. You see Facebook posts of friends in the UK and then messages from other friends who are in Italy on their way to Scotland or in Russia on their way to Italy. You Whatsapp a friend you think is in town for a catchup and get a reply of 'Sorry! We're in Pakistan, we came back at the last minute won't be back until the end of the month.'

The other night I had a messages back and forth from a friend who is in Lebanon. She decided it was time to show her kids the place of her birth. There was talk of tanks and beaches and boredom and kidnapping. All as I lay in my bed and she sat in a hotel room 'that isn't four star' in a black out. A few weeks previously she messaged me as I lay in a tent in an Irish field in the pelting rain and she was in air conditioned comfort in Dubai. It can be surreal!

As August wears on there will be more messages, but they will start to be "We're back! It's soooooo hot! I forgot how hot. Are you around to catch up?" and "What day does school start again? Is it Tuesday or Wednesday? PS: It's so hot!"

As August wears on the kids will complain more and more every time I mention going to the pool or the mall. They may even get excited by the prospect of returning to school.

So I don't know if this qualifies as a blog post. But there  you go. I might even do it again. Crazier things have happened!

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Here, there and everywhere

For the first couple of years we lived in Dubai (we've been here almost 3 years, can you believe it?!), I lived in this strange state of confusion. In Australia, or more accurately - in Sydney, I knew exactly what time of year it was, there were constant little reminders that I didn't conciously realise I was acknowledging - the smell of Jasmine in the air, it's September; the sight of a glorious purple carpet of Jacaranda flowers, it's November; that cool crispness in the air and the sky is cloudless blue, it's April; the heady humidity, definitely February. What I didn't know at the time was, I'd know exactly where I was what needed to be done, the place in the year.

When I moved to Dubai and all these little indicators had vanished and the school year was suddenly topsy-turvey (not to mention the seasons), I found myself feeling constantly confused. In September I'd start thinking 'Is it almost Easter?' and in May I'd start thinking about Christmas. Then I'd have to stop and seriously think about what time of the year it was, had I missed someone's birthday? Quite often I would have to resort to looking at the calendar on the phone to remind myself. It was truly unsettling. 

I had resigned myself to feeling this way forever. Until last week, when we returned from a trip to Australia. I pulled up to Darbs nursery and instantly we both saw a palm tree laden with fresh green dates. "Look, mum! Peas on that tree," Darbs squealed. "No they're dates! That means summer is on it's way."

Then as I drove home I saw a bright, glorious flame tree in full bloom and instantly thought to myself: "It must be May!"

Later than same week there was a haziness and a heaviness in the air. Like an old sailor, I commented to Skip: "The humidity is definitely on its way, can't be far off."

I realised that I have been here long enough that I'm starting to recognise the different little nuances of the seasons. That I've been here long enough for it to become familiar.

Coming back to Dubai after a couple of weeks in Sydney was difficult. We stopped in Singapore on the way home to break up the journey, have a bit of a holiday and catch up with some lovely old friends. When we arrived back it took me about a week to get used to it, every morning there was those few seconds - "Where am I? Sydney? Singapore? Dubai? Is it a weekend? Do I have to get up? What's going on???" I even had a moment on the plane when the stewardess woke me for a meal and I thought "Where the hell am I? Who is this lady?"

Life has now settled back into the routine, sort of. It's always hard coming back after holidays, you dream about how you can start a new life where you've just holidayed. I always used to start googling real estate and jobs to see if we could make a new life where we just been. Romanticising that life would be better in that new locale. It's weird when you start holidaying where you're from. Thoughts of "Should we move back?", "What are we doing here?" creep in. Just like before, you start thinking about uprooting life again from the mundane everyday world.

It wasn't helped that I developed a kidney infection and was back and forth to the doctor. Then just when I thought it was over, was told I had to come into every day for IV antibiotics That doesn't make the re-entry to real life any easier!

As the days roll on, you settle into life again. Look forward to summer (well sort of). Think about end-of-school year concerts and exams. Prepare for Ramadan and Eid. Get ready to wave friends off until August. Life rolls on wherever you are....

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Spring into action

We're in the middle of spring break here. The kids have two weeks off school and it was definitely needed. With the long summer break we get long stretches of school term, this one was 12 weeks and my little ones were definitely exhausted. I think after our trip back to Australia, they started the term exhausted! The past few weeks there have been cranky kids galore and more tears than I thought possible.

We have been taking things fairly slow in the mornings, but the rest of the day has been jammed-packed catching up with school friends and soaking up the outdoors. On Sunday, we spent 6 hours playing at the park. Six hours! The weather was just bliss and the kids were having 'the best day ever' so we just stayed. It's almost like you can hear the tock of the clock ticking closer to summer and being unable to get outdoors for anything length of time, we're certainly making the most of it.

The girls went and saw Cinderella at the movies with a friend and then there was another picnic in the park, but with the temperature pushing 38 degrees we didn't spend another 6 hours in the park this time.

It really is the best time of year in Dubai, the weather is perfect. If you're ever thinking of making a trip here, late March/early April is the time to do it.

This morning everyone was moving even more slowly, relaxation taking over, so we spent the morning splashing in the pool and the afternoon pottering around the house, reading and watching telly.

Next week will be a rinse and repeat of this week and then we'll be ready to tackle the last term of school for this academic year as well as a brief trip home to Australia!

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

When life trips you up

Last night I was busy in the kitchen when I heard a "MUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUMMMM!" from my three-year-old, screeching as only three-year-olds can. I dashed out and as I rounded the kitchen door my feet came out from underneath me, water spilt earlier by the three-year-old making it impossible for me to keep upright.

As if in slow motion, I could see my feet come up from off the ground, as I was about two feet up and horizontal to the ground my hip smashed into the sharp edge of a doorway arch. I hear a voice in my head calmly say, 'ooh that didn't feel too good, almost felt like a crunch, I wonder if there is blood and bones. Goodness what on earth is that noise?' The same calm voice in my head said 'Goodness that sound is coming from your mouth, I've never heard that guttural kind of scream before'. Just before I hit the ground, the same voice suddenly sped up 'I wonder if the kids will know how to call an ambulance, I wonder if I can drag myself and call Skip, Oh I'm sure it will be OK, it's just going to be annoying and all when we were on the homestretch to bed'. Crash. I landed with a thump on the tiled ground facing the opposite way I started from the bash into the arch.

As I slipped and was falling it was like the essence of myself had retreated into a little panic room inside my brain, disengaging itself from my body. Not wanting to be part of what was physically was going on. I could hear myself sobbing and gasping but it was like I was listening to someone else, as I calmly sat in the little room in my brain.

As I lay there on the ground the two parts of myself slowly came back together, the little panic room was unlocked and I slipped out. There was no blood or broken bones. I felt a bit sore and a bit shaken. In fact, I wasn't really hurt badly at all.  I lay there for what felt like ages.

The three-year-old walked out, half-undressed: "What are doing, Mum?"
I replied: "I slipped on some water you spilt."
"Oh, OK then," he said as he toddled off again, leaving me sprawled on the floor.

Finally, the two girls came out just as I was pulling myself up from the floor. "What happened, I thought you'd cut your hand off or something," the middle one said.

"No I just slipped over," I said,  "It took you a long time to see what happened."

"Yeah, I spose."

The funny thing is, although I felt sore and bruised, I felt lighter and a sense of relief. Just like when you're a kid and you graze your knee – you sob yourself silly before running off and playing again, happier than ever. Having a great big cry and letting all all the frustrations and boredom and stress and crap that's been built up get washed away by tears and pushed out by heaving sobs.

I read somewhere recently where someone said they had 'expat fatigue' and I nodded my head and said 'yes!' I totally got that idea and have been feeling it recently. Just tired of not having the support of family, having that old friend you can call in on, those times when you just want people you really know around you. Feeling a little worn down by that living in limbo feeling. Sick of having to put the effort in to make new friends in this round-about of a town. Those times when email and Skype and Facebook don't cut it and you feel like that communication line between home and here is dropping out.

Now, it's not like I'm ready to pack up and leave. You have funks and down times wherever you are. After a good sob, it feels like I've cleared the decks a little. Ready to pick myself up by the bootstraps and get excited about stuff again, because let's face it, there's always stuff to excited about.

Life is funny like that and our brains even stranger. Who knew that I'd literally have to crash to reboot myself.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Wasn't it supposed to get easier?

With Darbs starting nursery I had all these visions of free time to write and dedicate to the blog (not to mention quiet coffees and solo shopping trips). The reality has been vastly differently – once I get home and beds are made, dishes cleaned, washing done and put out, etc, etc and whatever pressing task needs to get done that day (bill paid, call made, errand ran) time has run out and I have to get in the car to start the school pick-up process.

Parenting is a funny thing. It's like that dangling carrot that it will get easier, better, less hectic once they 'get older' or 'go to school' or whatever. In some ways it's true, I will never take for granted being able to call out "Go to sleep!" and they actually do, oh how I wished I could've done that when they were babies (and for it to have worked). I also love being able to make dinner without a toddler attached to my leg, screaming for attention – I did that for far too many years.

I remember so many people telling: "Once they get older, it will get easier." And it does, sort of. And it kind of doesn't.

Now there are other things, more complex things. Things that can't be solved by just being in my arms or kissed better or being distracted by something bright and shiny. Once they go to school and grow up there are friends, cliques and navigating relationships outside of your family really for the first time. Along with that, there are broken hearts that their BFF is now someone else's BFF. There are classes and teachers and working out what they like and what they don't. There's not being picked for the team they desperately want to be picked for. There are sleepovers and playdates and knowing when is the right time to let go. There are school camps. There are tests. It's soothing anxiety. There's deciphering when something's really wrong and when to intervene or step back and let them have a go at doing it themselves. It's all the complex emotional stuff. It's knowing that they will remember how you reacted and responded. The thing is I can see things getting more complicated and complex as they continue to grow. I shudder at the thought of all the things teenage.

I think the past few months have been the most challenging of my parenting life. And I say that remembering months of rotten sleep deprivation, of having 3 children who liked to wake all night long. Instead of having babies waking me in the night, it's waking in the night worrying that you've made the right decision or that you've handled a situation in the right way. It's worrying that they'll be OK.

I think it's exactly that, at whatever age they are, be it 5 months or 35 years – worrying that they'll be OK. It's the constant state of parenthood.
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