Life in the End Times

Shin's gift to Annie on their One Year Anniversary


Filed under: Just Writing — Annie at 2:28 pm on Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Recently a thought passed through my mind about what a day would be like if every cleaning product, clothing, and food product had no brand logo. I conjectured that it would make certain aspects of shopping easier, like clothes, for example. I think I would still recognize a good fit and good quality. On the other hand, I couldn’t imagine feeling safe eating just any, anonymously, packaged food. And cleaning products, I would carry a lot of doubt about whether a product were effective, or whether it posed health hazards for humans. I definitely acknowledge that, along with the negative namebrand hypes and biases, that trusting a product’s quality is an essential benefit of brandnames.

The train of thought about branding coincided with thoughts I’ve been having about possessions and quality of living. How does one really live with joy and significance. I think studying American history in my last quarter has generated thoughts along these lines because the description of a whole life is mentioned as having had remarkable virtue or remarkable depravity. And yet, to be something in the middle is just passing. So I just want to get down to the core of my purpose again, and pursue what that is. I’ve discovered so far, that using my creativity is one of those purposes that I need to continually practice. I would call creativity my “Qi”. Good Qi keeps me happy.

Yesterday, on my way to tutor, I dropped by the Mar Vista Library. I found a great book about “simple living”. Its a lifestyle focused on the important things in life, like family and nature. Solutions include downgrading consumerism, waste, and stress by making environment-friendly choices, owning less, dropping out of the rat race for newer and better everything, and thereby working less. For some, it means both parents working part time, living in a smaller, less expensive home, having one car, not watching tv, entertaining at home, giving to charity, volunteering regularly, becoming an activist for good causes. Reading what I just wrote I realize that must sound bizarre and hippy. I’m only halfway through the book so my picture is incomplete as of yet, but it already appeals to me. The author says, materialism never keeps its promise to satisfy, but simplicity always keeps its word.

Althought my parents don’t fit that model completely, I know the principles of simplicity must be true. Both my parents, despite working hard, aren’t considered middle class by their financial bracket. They own a 3 bedroom home that they’re still paying off. They’ve only owned one brand new vehicle, a basic, unmodified Honda Accord, while the others have been pre-owned and fixed up. But they’ve been committed to certain values.

Growing up, my mom stayed at home as much as possible to raise us. My dad has maintained a vegetable and fruit garden in the backyard for several years now so they enjoy organic foods at home (something which I’m extremely proud of!)! And they invest a great deal of time into inviting and serving guests a homecooked meal. One might say, well, sure, its easy to call it ‘simplicity’ when you have no choice of situation. But I would respond that they are two of the happiest, generous, unenvious people I know. That’s what sets them apart. Who knows, maybe its the values they instilled in me that makes this idea of simple living so appealing.

I’ve also seen something similar in one family that lives in my parents neighborhood. They were a family of four. The mother, Angie, may have been a stay-at-home mom while the father was a carpenter. They had two young kids, Sebastian and Amelia. When I was in elementary or junior high my brother and I played with them sometimes, although, back then I thought they were strange, due to my own prejudices. They’re Swedish and had a very natural, old-fashioned feel about them. They had one really old car. The kids weren’t allowed to watch television for the first couple of years, and they had set bedtimes, which I never had.

But when I reached high school I had an opportunity to babysit the kids several times and I observed new things about their lifestyle. Like how both the children were inquisitive, and interactive, despite being unaware of the latest game system, and how the earthy decor of their home created a calm, and relaxing aura. Later on they replaced their old car for a brand new one but they only kept one, to my knowledge. They weren’t consumeristic but there was a fullness and a frugality about their lifestyle. I recalled recently that when I was still in high school Angie talked about natural birth with me. She definitely influenced me. I think of their family as a great example of simple living.

Of course, this idea of simple living could easily be a passing fancy. But something about it resonates with a longing I have for a genuinely meaningful life. But it would definitely be hard. Especially when I’m around people who live affluently and I get caught up in desire or envy for things, or the opposite, when the people who love us want to give us material goods and comforts. So I’ll keep reading, pondering, and I should pray too.

“Appa” and Pink Berry

Filed under: Just Writing — Annie at 4:32 am on Tuesday, July 25, 2006

It’s 1:48am. We’re supposed to be asleep but find ourselves still awake. I, dripping sweat through my pj’s and sitting on a bath towel.

Shin and I were just lying next to each other talking when he suddenly leaned over and kissed my cheek. It was so nice and gave me a flashback to the wedding day.

I was taking pictures with my dad after the ceremony when he leaned over and kissed my cheek for a photo. But after the photo he kissed my cheek several more times. The word “delight” expresses how happy he looked that day.

He hadn’t kissed my cheek since I was a little girl. And somehow, thinking of that and sharing it with Shin made me feel happy and sad at the same time. It brought tears to my eyes. I interrupted that moment to record it here.

I felt sheepish or prideless crying in front of him but his response has always been the “right” one; I never feel humiliated, always understood.

He’s fast asleep now. My momentary entry has become a lengthy one.

But I also wanted to mention what a great time I had with Shin, Charles and his mom tonight. Charles invited us to dinner and dessert. We headed to Zankou Chicken on Sepulveda. It was a relaxing, clean setting and the chicken was extremely tender. Then we headed to Pink Berry on Santa Monica. I ordered the last available shaved ice after the power out melted all the ice into water in the ice maker. I ate until my body couldn’t take anymore. Then, Shin and I went walking along the streets, past the gay nightlife and the closed fetish shops in the warm night, feeling completely full.

Miscarriage (Yellow Reminder Part II)

Filed under: Adventure Stories,Baby — Annie at 1:37 pm on Friday, July 14, 2006

This entry is not for the squeamish!

The next morning, after about 4 hours of sleep, we returned to the hospital for my appointment; this time at the ob/gyn clinic. My turn came quickly and I was given a standard examination to begin with (no need to go into details on that one), and then a vaginal ultrasound. The doctor was extremely gentle throughout the procedure. (not like a sadistic ob/gyn that I encountered at Saddleback college who, despite my request that he stop, and my terrified effort to contort myself away from him, forced the metal instrument into my flesh.)

This doctor showed me that the gestational sac was there, but there didn’t appear to be a fetus. That occurrence is something called a “blighted ovum” where the sac is empty. But he said, judging by the size of the sac that it was 5 weeks and 5 days old, so there was a small possibility that it was simply too early too tell. He warned me that it didn’t look like a viable pregnancy. So the plan was that I would have my hormone level counted that day, and I would return two days later to test my hormone levels then. If it increased, there was a likelihood that everything was normal. In the meanwhile, he gave me a small jar to collect tissue that passed in my blood. They would send it to the lab to detect any fetal tissue indicating a miscarriage.

That night I woke up around 1am and felt some pain in my lower abdomen. I also felt something like a constipation urge. When I came back from the bathroom my legs were tingling, and I broke out in cold sweat. I panicked. Should I wake Shin up and have him look up my symptoms on What if I need to go back to the E.R.? In the silence of the night I couldn’t tell if time was passing. I just felt scared. I started massaging my legs, and my lower back, trying to bring circulation back into them. Then I got into a position that I’d seen in a pregnancy book where you put several pillows on your lap and lean over them. That position took pressure off my back. Very shortly, the feeling passed and I managed to fall back sleep. I believe now that I experienced a true contraction.

The next morning I found the first large piece of tissue. If you feel squeamish about seeing your own blood, you can imagine seeing a bloody thing that looks like part of your stomach came out. I couldn’t get the “grossed out” expression off my face long after I collected the specimen. As the day progressed, however, I felt something more of a fascination with the biological aspect of it.

I had class that morning and left the jar at home. But after my first class I found a sizeable piece that was even larger than the first. It looked like a newborn, hairless rat covered with its mother’s womb goo, or, an alien baby. I wasn’t sure what to do with it or how to transport it home. It was too good a piece to flush away. I thought it might indicate something more horrible, like something that had torn inside, or a cervical tumor that exploded. So I wrapped it in a new piece of toilet seat cover paper, then secured it in a sterile feminine napkin and… I know this is the grossest yet… put it into a pocket of my backpack and went to my next class.

The whole time I was wondering, “Do I need to refrigerate all these samples? Wouldn’t the blood oxidize and turn color, or start clotting, like a scab? I’d seen people transport hearts or lungs in ice packs, but I couldn’t bring myself to refrigerate it. Nor did I want to put Shin through that. Shin, btw, is extremely faint at the side of blood. If anyone even talks about needles, his blood pressure will drop. It’s endearing. He told me a story about how he volunteered to donate blood in highschool, but fainted before they put the needle in. When he woke up, he asked hopefully, “Am I done?!” They said yes you’re done and told him to go and eat some juice and cookies.

The most extraordinary part of the miscarriage was in the evening. Again, when I used the restroom, I found a translucent, amber-colored sac on my feminine napkin. I knew immediately what it was. It was the gestational/yolk sac. I couldn’t believe it came out intact. It was something of a miracle to witness. I tried to see if there was a fetus inside, or some indication of cells. But my eyes were untrained to detect that sort of thing. I gingerly placed it in the jar.

At that moment, I knew the process was complete. There was no way I was still pregnant. I called out, “Shiiin! It’s finished.” And from the bedroom I heard a long, woeful, “noooooo…….”

It was sad… we mourned our loss together.

Btw, Shin understood my third-person interest in the evidence of my pregnancy- but he never brought himself to look at any of the articles. He just knew of my tissue collecting from what I told him. Afterwards he said, “If you had the true spirit of a scientist, you would have washed that sac off and held it up to the light and photographed it.” True. But I couldn’t do because it was too gross. Once anything went into that jar, it stayed in there.

The next day I went to the clinic again. I gave them the contents of the jar, and one of the nurses said to me, “It looks like you passed everything.” So it was a complete miscarriage. I didn’t have to confirm it with a second ultrasound. I’m grateful it was clean. I’m grateful I didn’t have to have the medical procedure done to clear out my uterus. I told the doctor, with a hint of pride, that I saw the sac. She didn’t seem to find anything extraordinary about it. haha.

The doctor said it really wasn’t anything I did or didn’t do that caused this to happen. She said a miscarriage often occurs when the chromosomes aren’t forming right. Its natures way of ensuring that a healthy baby will form. I believe her. But a lot of my family feel the need to name a reason. They’ve asked me, “Have you been working too hard? What happened? Were you worrying a lot? Maybe you’ll have a successful pregnancy if you stop thinking about it; just let it happen naturally.”

I’m still watching Baby Story on TLC, and I’m not out of the “pregnant” state of mind. Shin and I have started a great eating habit, and I’m going to continue taking prenatal vitamins. Emotionally, we’re ready to try again. In the meanwhile, the other part of me, the one that’s not sad or counting my biological clock, is actually relieved for now. I realized a relief from my apprehensions about pregnancy. All the things you worry about- what to eat, or what not to breathe in. Now that we’ve had a partial rehearsal, I feel more prepared.

For now, I’m giving myself this time to recover at home. I’m learning how to rest. My mom really got on my case that we went to see a movie last night. She says a miscarriage is just like having a delivery. I need bedrest. Her and my dad are coming up to see me tonight, and bringing some good dinner. She made me promise that I won’t clean the house for them- and I made her promise not to scold me if it’s messy.

There have been a lot of things to be thankful for during this process. I can’t help wondering how this experience will come into play at some other time or for some other purpose. One thing is for certain. We both agreed on what to name our first child, if we have a boy. It’s not the transfer of a name that was meant for the first child. Maybe it’s a promise? We’ll wait and see.

The Yellow Reminder

Filed under: Adventure Stories,Baby — Annie at 3:42 pm on Tuesday, July 11, 2006

I’m pregnant.
We found out on Father’s Day, June 18th using a home pregnancy test. I’ve been secretly, and now publicly, very excited about the news. But recently we’ve had reason to be cautious about our expectations and announcements.

It’s only been about 5 weeks since I became pregnant. We’re still waiting for a prenatal health insurance to go through.I’ve also been doing all the research I could about home and water births, and what to expect at this time. One of the topics that has come up frequently in forums and questions is about spotting, which is when a pregnant woman produces a small amount of vaginal blood, far less than a period. It’s considered normal by many accounts.

But I started noticing some changes in the last few days. Prior to Sunday night, I started spotting several days in a row. Saturday was my cousin’s wedding and I felt fine. All the next day, July 9, I was extremely tired. And then Monday morning I discovered that my spotting wasn’t bright red. It was heavier, and a dark reddish-brown.

I asked the nurse at my school’s health center about the bleeding. I told her I was scared I might be miscarrying. She said the school couldn’t examine me for the cause. But they could give me another straight pregnancy test. The result still read positive. But she told me to go to the emergency room at LAC-USC and get an ultrasound right away. She also said, if I had miscarried, I would want to have a D & C, where they would take a tube and suction out the tissues. That must be how they perform abortions. I knew immediately that I didn’t want that procedure. She didn’t see a need to complete my insurance form if I wasn’t pregnant, and if I still was, then the ER nurse would be able to sign it. So I left and went back to the library to get a hold of Shin online.

I debated whether or not it was wise to tell him. I was in a state of shock myself that the baby might be gone and suddenly I was facing the possibility of entering the ER and having a foreign procedure performed on me. He was supportive but he insisted that I go back and have the nurse complete the insurance form in case I was still pregnant. I could tell he felt bad asking me to do that, but it gave us both a purposeful hope.

Afterwards, I skipped my weight training class without a moment’s debate and headed towards home, wondering if I should cancel my tutoring session. I decided to keep that commitment although my body and emotions were telling me to rest. It was hard not to share this update with them, the way I wanted to share the pregnancy news with everyone we know. Luckily, it went quickly. When I came home it was around 5:30. I decided I would go to the emergency room that night. I got back in contact with Shin and he said he would leave work immediately. He set aside a big server move-over to take me to the hospital. He was grief-stricken.

We went to the UCLA Harbor Medical Center’s Emergency Room. I had an initial vital taken when I arrived and that was the best treatment I got for the next 9 hours. Thereafter I had 2 or 3 vitals taken every 4 hours.

All the same patients suffered together in that room, mostly silently.
I saw a man whose skin was an inhuman, curry yellow color. He was draped with a bright blue, beach towel that comically complemented his skin.
I saw a man with his whole side of the face swollen, perhaps with food allergy, bee sting, or broken jaw.
I saw a girl in hospital clothes weeping as she told her family how she got into a car accident. Shin noticed that the clear, plastic bag of clothes in her hands were bloody.
I saw a young man lying on the floor deliriously with some severe fever or cold.
I saw an elder woman with injured legs.
There were people asleep on hospital sheets in the vending machine room, which Shin observed must be the most comfortable room, away from the noise.
And there were others, including us, who lined the floor against the hallway walls.

We found ways to pass the time. We paced up and down the hallway, seeing how far we could go before the speakers became inaudible. We sat side by side and read a book aloud, we shared chips from the vending machine, we watched the tv, we stared into space, we talked about miscarriages and future courses of action, we even discussed the hidden tensions behind the pregnancy, including the finances, and the preparations for parenting.

It was hard to remain patient as the hours passed. At about the 7th hour we got into an argument. It started out with Shin pointing out that I was spending a lot more time on how the baby would be born, rather than on how to raise the child. He thought my enthusiastic desire for a homebirth was obsessive, and dismissed a sensible, and affordable option of hospital delivery. I agreed that I was obsessed, but defended my obsession as being “focus” and reassured him that I would soon obsess over the parenting as well. I told him I wasn’t against hospital deliveries but I would need his help finding a good, flexible, provider. But anyway, there was nothing wrong with setting my desires on a homebirthing option and this was the appropriate stage to invest time into deciding which course we would take.

That crisis was relatively easy to resolve. We heard each other out. I understood that it wasn’t about where I delivered the baby at all, but that my narrow desires were putting undue financial burdens on him. And he understood that this was something I really desired.

When we arrived, the first staff was at the end of their shift and clearly ready to go home. They had 16 trauma patients come in, taking precedence over those in the waiting rooms. The nurses grew impatient by the constant questions people asked about the wait time. A few hours in I went to the window to speak with one of the assistants. She didn’t even have the courtesy to come to the window. She remained 4 feet away and left me to shout my question through the window. I motioned with my hand for her to come nearer and she folded her arms and said, in place, “Are you going to ask me what the wait is?” And I said No. I wanted to know if I could make an appointment and come back the next day. But she said, in my case, it could be an ectopic pregnancy, where my tube could rupture and lead to death. I asked her skeptically, “Not overnight?!” And she said yes. It was advisable that I stay and wait.

Shin and I talked over the possibility that another emergency room might be faster than this, or possibly that the line would be shorter if I were to come back to the emergency room the next day. But that would be ill-advised. Yet the cost of staying on would mean waiting anywhere from 3-5 hours more for the chance of being seen by a doctor in the early morning. We were told the average wait was 10-18 hours so even that was not guaranteed. Shin refused to sleep in the car or to go home and leave me there. I knew the effect of him staying up all night would be more detrimental for him then for me. But we were boxed in. We had already invested so much time, how could we turn back at that point. But the wait was unendurable. It was only worsened by the condition of the hospital and the seemingly oblivious workers.

One of the girls, Collette, who was taking vitals said that, since my symptoms weren’t serious, she would see if she could have a doctor examine my charts and write me an appointment for the ob/gyn. “Just a few minutes!” she said cheerfully. I came back an hour later and she said, “Oh, I just got so busy I forgot. Just three minutes!” And again, later, I came back, and she said, “I don’t think I can get a doctor to examine you. I’m so sorry!” I asked, “Isn’t there someone other than a doctor who could issue an appointment?” And she said, “No. It has to be a doctor.” Even later, I came back and asked another girl,
“Will I be billed if I just leave?”
“Who decides the order that patients are seen?”
She said, “It’s by time. If you’ve been here since 7, you’ll probably be seen at 4 or 5am but I can’t say.”
“Can I make an appointment for urgent care tommorow?”
“You don’t qualify for urgent care because of the complication of your situation.”
ARGH @#^&%*@($

The crisis about whether to continue waiting or leaving reached its peak at 2am, 7 hours after sitting confined in that wretched place where the line didn’t seem to be moving. We couldn’t take anymore. We were doubting if there were any doctors working at all because all we saw were the same group of people having their vitals taken but never being admitted into any other rooms. We felt we had been pushed lower and lower in the order of importance or urgency, even regardless of the time we had waited.

We finally decided it was not worth it. I didn’t care if my tubes burst in the middle of the night. I couldn’t see how any ill person could benefit by sleeping on cold tile floors, being around other sick people in uncomfortable plastic chairs, or being stressed by the lack of care in that place. If anything, we were all the worse for coming to the emergency room. I couldn’t take it. We got our things and walked through the parking lot. My shoulders were heaving. Hot tears just flowed out in frustration about this stupid healthcare system, the truly miserable people inside, the brainless, heartless people behind the desks, the injustice, Shin’s suffering, the baby… I wept. Shin couldn’t weep. He just let me cry.

When my tears subsided, and the engine was bringing warm air through the heater, we both agreed, we couldn’t leave like this. It wasn’t right. Whatever the cost, we were going to endure it. So we lightened our load and took some extra sweaters in. When we re-entered the waiting room, by God’s grace, it looked like we were entering it for the first time. We walked up and down the hallways invigorated by our drive to conquer the system. We got quarters and tried to buy a white Sobe drink. The machine took our quarter but it didn’t phase us. We found a seat against a wall and started to fall asleep when they called “ANNIE LIM KIM-” (They got my name wrong during the registration)

I jumped up, with Shin behind me, and…they took my vitals. By this time my lower back was aching, and sharp cramps were coming and going, which I let them know. Didn’t seem to matter.

We sat back down in our seats and commenced to fall asleep again when they called again- “ANNIE KIM!”

This time, an asian Rn looked at my charts and said, “Since you’ve been waiting so long I’ll give you an appointment at 10am tommorow.”
I responded firmly, “I prefer to see a doctor today”
She said, “If you see a doctor today, he’ll only refer to an ob/gyn. If you go tommorow, you can see a specialist directly.” That visit would be just a short 4 hours later. Shin nodded an approval, so I took her suggestion. But I was seething that an Rn was able to issue an appointment all along, not a doctor, like those women had claimed. If that girl had kept her word and showed my chart to someone, or had an Rn looked at my chart even 3 hours sooner…*sigh. They just didn’t know what they were doing or talking about, or what it cost anyone.

The Rn gave me a single, yellow appointment reminder which Shin grasped in his two hands, exclaiming that he wanted to see what we had waited for all that night.

The reason I call this entry, The Yellow Reminder is that literally, it was the reduced pay-off of waiting for emergency care. With a lack of consideration for the time spent waiting, I was assigned an appointment for the next day and received a paper. It represents the lack of human interest and the bureaucracy of the health care system. The order of patients being seen is not determined by the urgency of their need, but by a stack of paper charts ordered by how long the patient has waited. The irony is that the emergency room is not truly run by an objective system, but gives imperfect, arbitrary power to the staff to determine what constitutes an emergency. While I do feel grateful that there is some form of emergency care available, I find the system to be too problematic to be effective.

Raymond & Julie 7.8.06

Filed under: Extraordinary Days — Annie at 1:38 am on Monday, July 10, 2006

My cousin-in-law got married yesterday in Malibu. It was a gorgeous afternoon. The church was on a hill overlooking the ocean. The focal point of the chapel was the clear, tall window panels in a semi-circle. The flowers down the aisle were tall topiaries with vines encircling down the black iron poles. Malibu Presbyterian Church. It was breathtaking.

The reception was a short, 4 miles away at Duke’s of Malibu. It was a Hawaiian style restaurant on the ocean rocks. The balconies opened out onto waves crashing just below your feet and cool, tropical air. As the sun went down the full moon lit up a street of ocean in the foreground of a perfect, square-tiered cake with elegant brown and pink details.

The dinner was ok. It was a choice of salmon or chicken. From what I heard, the chicken was too salty. I’d already filled up on rice cake and fondued everything; strawberries, bananas, pretzels, rice krispies, and gummi bears! The fondue fountain was amazing!

Shin and I sat at a table called, “Success.” The other table names were things like, “Passion,” and “Honor.” I wondered if there was some small joke to the names of the tables she placed us at. The centerpieces were three stagger-sized, cylinder vases with orchids and white roses surrounded by “wet” river rocks, and tea lights. We sat with Raymond’s cousins, although Shin’s relationship is to Julie. We all got along surprisingly well with some very entertaining moments.

There were a set of three sisters at our table. The older, and middle were already married. But the youngest sat between them, not saying very much when suddenly, their father came mid-dinner and said something to her very seriously, to which her face, mid-chew, immediately turned into an embarrassed frown. Her older sister gave us a bemused look of sympathy as we tried to understand what was happening. She got out her camera as we all turned to look where the dad was taking her. He approached the table beside ours and introduced her to a guy in glasses. It was a setup! We all started busting up. She sat back down and received some applause while her older sister showed her the picture she had shot of the fellow so that her sister could remember what he looked like. Sounds like the older sister really knew what she was doing.

Another funny moment was when we were all introducing ourselves at the table. One of the cousins made a comment that Raymond’s brother, who was absent at the moment, looked like Shin. His girlfriend at the table qualified it. But later, after the wedding party was introduced and he joined us, she shook her head in embarrassed denial that she’d ever made the comment.

And then there was the bouquet toss. From our seats it was clear who the main characters were- not the embarrassed-looking girls trying not to be noticed, but the antsy ones in the middle who were following the bouquet with feverish eyes. First toss, the bouquet hit the ceiling. One girl still dove to pick it up. A second try was initiated. Julie set the bouquet gracefully into the air when, just as it was coming down the curve, a silky brown shimmer came charging from the right- Sylvia, her sister(!) intercepted the bouquet out of the other, eager girl’s hand. Then, in a triumphant gesture matched only by a touch-down, she thrust the bouquet into the air in victory. I’m guessing it was a competitive, athletic reflex more than a desire to be married next!

The dj was good. Entertaining, not too interfering. Good music. Good announcing. The reception had great transitions. The evening went on until 10:30pm and we hardly noticed the time go by. They even included a very brief Pebek in the ceremony. Afterwards there was dancing on a tiny dancefloor. Shin and I danced. I was feeling courageous, I can’t explain it. I didn’t even dance at my own wedding.

At the end, Shin and I greeted the new couple. He totally gave Shin a bear hug and exclaimed, “We’re cousins now!!!” That was endearing. When we got home we realized, “Oh shoot, we’re family! Should we have stayed to clean up?!” I’d forgotten it was a family wedding. I think that’s a good sign. We were able to enjoy the evening as guests, without feeling burdened by familial responsibility (although, we got to manage the bride’s gift table at the ceremony). What made it a truly enjoyable evening was personally knowing the bride and groom and sincerely celebrating their union.

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