Andrew’s Cancer Diary

The First Bit

Out of all the misfortunes which can strike us in life, probably cancer, in one form or another, is one of the worst. But as I sit here thinking about this, having already had a number of tests and awaiting a few more not only today but also the actual operation itself – yes, there must be an operation, this almost certainly cannot be avoided – and also gathering information, there is no feeling, personally, of having to regret things all the time. Self-recrimination and moping around wailing: “Oh, why didn’t I go to the hospital sooner???”… folks, it’s not helpful, either for yourself or for those around you, who probably have to pick up some slack in your absence. It’s a lot more important, for yourself and for others, to pay attention immediately upon what must be done.

Once you get over that and start to focus on the practical side of things, you may start to get the impression that some, at least, of those around you seem to suffer more than you do. One person in particular, a fellow ex-pat (but from a different part of the former British Empire) whose personal circumstances were – at the time of writing – rather difficult, and who had put himself in the situation of owing me rather a lot of money, suddenly realised what the consequences were of not repaying a sum which would now have made a big difference for me in a situation like this. But as I had other concerns (and had to find a way to pay for all of this without personal health insurance, as well as preparing myself for what was to come), I put it out of my mind and focused on what I would have to do both before and after the operation. After all, the point of having the operation is to live, is it not? That is a positive. People with this condition – any condition – should not lose sight of that!

To this we might add that, when the truth became known, the doctor concerned immediately pointed out what I had to do and this meant that there was no confusion either about relative timescale or choice of options; the general direction was crystal clear, and unnecessary prevarication was not on the menu… speaking of which, some foods also had to be avoided, which to be honest, left me feeling no pangs or cravings in their absence but instead, perhaps, were not missed terribly. This was something of a revelation in itself, and we will return to this later.

But at the outset, let’s be unambiguous about this: the reason why I have this problem is precisely because I am sitting here; this was the root cause. When you start to do a little online research, you find that, in many cases, cancers appear to be lifestyle diseases – people are either doing too much of something (especially eating too much sugar in their diet) or doing too little of something (for example, not getting enough exercise or sunshine); it’s not always simply a case of exposure to something carcinogenic – you may have bad habits. Or maybe your bad habits are exposing you to something carcinogenic! It’s very difficult to avoid things like electromagnetic or chemical factors that might contribute; the manufacturers (or other originators) don’t want you to think about such things – they just want your money!

My own case is simply that, for the last few years, I have had to do so much preparatory work at home for a series of teaching jobs that most of my waking hours were spent on my backside. And when the tumour was finally discovered, well, what a surprise! It looked like it was mirroring the pressure of said backside on a succession of surfaces – but the same point was always making contact and receiving the maximum bodily pressure.

Of course, this is not (and cannot be) the only causative factor; diet is also important, and the lifestyle I had been leading did not allow sufficient time for the preparation of reasonably nutritious meals (in the sense of allowing time for chopping up good vegetables, for example), or for regular visits to good (but not expensive) restaurants. Much of the processed food here has added carbohydrate in the form of HFCS or additional glucose. I had long since abandoned drinking sodas because of awareness of this, but the trouble with the rest of my diet was that it was very difficult to avoid fattening or otherwise unhealthy stuff. Some of it was undoubtedly stress eating, which was hardly helpful. So change was definitely overdue.

With something like this in mind, and perhaps presciently, for the last few years, I have had a constant influx of health-related information through a combination of regular e-mails directly from web sites or via my Facebook news feed (although I am wondering how much longer I will want to keep this – I don’t trust Facebook in the slightest with my data…), and as cancer has become such a huge issue globally, and especially in so-called “developed” countries, where the cost of treatment has conveniently (for the equipment manufacturers and Big Pharma) mushroomed, a wise person wants to be informed about what they should (and should not) be doing in what I would call a “prophylactic” manner. Compared to the difficulty in obtaining the simplest information in any quantity as recently as the 1980s, we now find ourselves bombarded twenty-four hours a day with information, and at times it is a chore trying to sift through it all; the input from “interested parties” who want to essentially profit from your medical misfortune, even though it may be well-intentioned, only adds to the confusion. You have to choose your sources wisely, and the ones I use will be discussed here.

To return briefly to the actual examination, I had in fact had a routine serological and urological cancer screening test about six months previously. The shock here – now that I can look back on it – was that despite the obvious flow of blood from my backside (and a stool sample was also part of this – how could they not have noticed the blood???), the tests were performed and two weeks later, I returned to be told that there was no sign of cancer, not to worry and to come back for a routine screening again “in two years”. Meanwhile, from that time until now, the bleeding never actually stopped, until one Thursday night recently there was suddenly a lot of blood; I texted my new manager and she arranged for us to visit a local hospital, and everything else has followed on from this.

The recent discussions with my first (examining) hospital doctor revealed (when I told him about the recent screening tests), firstly, that these routine biennial examinations, which applied to citizens and non-citizens alike (who were entitled to treatment as they were on a visa and contributing to the national health system financially) were imprecise (but it’s cancer, for crying out loud; how are they allowed to do that???), and secondly (immediately before the tumour was spotted) that like my father some years before, I had a number of polyps which had formed in my colon and rectum. So there was probably also at least one familial (i.e. genetic) factor involved. Type I (immediate) hypersensitivity has also been present historically in both sides of my family, meaning things like an irritable bowel, atopic eczema, and perennial rhinitis, for which I take routine medication (cetirizine 10mg tablets, once daily, but there is a story attached to cetirizine…).

What follows is a chronological sequence of events as they happened. I hope that readers will have an appreciative attitude towards all of those who have assisted me during this troubled time of my life; and realise, also, that we are not talking about me dying; we are talking about me living.

I am from England and make apologies whatsoever for any grammatical, spelling or other ‘deviation’ from what the reader expects. This is real English, from England.

Also, remember what I said above about living. Uncle Andrew is not about to die. At the moment, the doctors are telling me that, from a purely surgical point of view, I have been lucky with the location of the tumour being far enough away from the anal opening that this simplifies any surgery that will be required. The next instalment will be on Tuesday 26th December with the CT and MRI scans to discover what stage in the cancerous progression I am at (early, hopefully, with no metastasis).

And I shall not spare you any of the details. This is serious, so be warned!

Thursday, November 30th 2017

After work, I went home and needed to use the bathroom rather urgently when I arrived, which has been a recurring theme over the last year or so. I was shocked to discover afterwards that I had released quite a volume of dark red blood, and immediately texted my manager, Jamie, about this. In turn, she suggested that we should go to see a doctor at a local hospital (we work on the periphery of the Yeungnam University Hospital in Daegu, so in any particular direction, this would only be a short walk). We therefore agreed to do this after the end of the third lesson on the following Friday afternoon.

Here we come to a complication: due to the routine cancer screening earlier in the year, when the result was apparently negative, it had not occurred to me that I might actually have cancer. So the assumption on my part was that I had a bad case of piles (haemorrhoids), a condition which (like the accompanying polyps) my father had experienced when he was at a similar age. Again, no idea that I might actually have cancer; everything seemed to point away from that conclusion.

Friday, December 1st, 2017

After classes, we went to a local hospital to see a consultant. We discussed the situation and I got the old rubber-finger-up-the-bum-hole, after which he said that there was no sign (feeling???) of haemorrhoids, but he needed to have me inspected for polyps, and put me on a restricted diet and gave me a prescription for suitable pharmaceuticals (I won’t say ‘drugs’ here) as well as a laxative pack with dosing instructions for both. The pills were straightforward, but the laxative was to prove quite an experience (and no, I will not spare you the details)…

As you can imagine, by this point I was beginning to wonder what I had got myself into, yet there could be no doubt that some kind of inspection and treatment would be needed; but the final discovery, the following weekend, would basically put the seal on it.

Saturday December 2nd-Thursday December 7th 2017

As I normally do not work on Mondays and Tuesdays (they are my ‘weekend’ in this job, so to speak) and as we are short of students for the normal weekend classes, the company informed me that it would be okay for me to come in to the office over weekends. The university building is very cold during the winter, as I had discovered when I started here in March; and to save electricity, the building management wisely (though not necessarily helpfully) has a timer system in place to turn off the air conditioners/heaters periodically, so we had to pay attention and keep turning them back on again!

We also have a couple of upright portable radiant heaters which we could use, and so we would use these to try and maintain the warmth in our large lecture room. It is surprising how late into the summer months the place stays cold, but this appears to be because there is a shielding wall beyond the building wall itself, and sunlight is only visible aslant this wall at certain times of the day.

We therefore have trouble trying to keep the place warm, especially during afternoon hours when the cold winter air really seems to strike. However, if there are no students, we can use the portable heaters, too.

Weekend hours, therefore, have been spent this month inspecting and preparing materials for an intended new Children’s 120-hour TESOL Certificate course. This proves tougher than expected due to some historical inattention to maintaining the materials, especially a set of videos which originated with the BBC, and which have subsequently been blocked globally by the organisation. It would prove difficult and time-consuming to find a suitable set of replacements from other sources around the Internet.

There were not any other serious bleeding episodes this week, as I was being careful with a diet consisting mainly of chook (Korean rice porridge) of one or two different types and brands, and otherwise restricting my diet as recommended by the consultant. The surprise here was how quickly this change of diet led to me losing weight, as alcohol was completely off the menu for the duration and actual food input was both minimal (mainly just the porridge) and easily digested and assimilated. When I returned to work on Wednesday having spent the first three or four days eating like this, Jamie commented on how much thinner I looked, although personally I wasn’t sure whether that was good or bad. But I did feel factually lighter when walking around, and it felt surprisingly good… the idea came to me then that I should try to stay that way when treatment was over.

Friday December 8th 2017

Tonight, I had to lay off the food (such as was actually allowed by the dietary restrictions) and start taking the laxative, which was a diluted solution of polyethylene glycol (PEG-3375) and D-sorbitol, the latter of which is probably the active agent due to its irritant effects upon the gut lining. The solution also contains added electrolytes, because (as I was to discover about an hour after I started drinking the stuff), it was very powerful and rapid-acting, and certainly left me with some soreness after its effects wore off the following day. I finished work and had one small, final serving of chook before diluting the first dose.

But I didn’t get much sleep that night…

Saturday December 9th 2017

Got out of bed feeling rather groggy after a night spent dashing to the bathroom periodically with the effects of the laxative. Now the bad news: I had to take the second dose! And the big question was whether I would poop liquid on the consultant’s bench while he gave me a session of endoscopy and polyp-popping (as there was no mention of cancer up to this point).

With regard to the effects of the laxative, let’s not forget why it would be necessary to do this: for a serious medical inspection and possible surgical procedure, you want any food/faecal matter completely out of the way. There’s nothing wrong with the patient eating again after the fact (although a similar gentle diet would not be a bad idea for about a week afterwards, to avoid damaging what are effectively wounds in the gut wall, caused by the surgery), but beforehand it should be removed and the lumen of the gut should be as clean as possible. The effect of the laxative had removed all solids by the time I left my humble abode, and what had been coming out was purely liquid, stained a light shade of yellow by remanent bile salts. When I saw that, I knew that I was ready for the procedure. My insides were not able to get much cleaner!

I took the bus to the office and then walked to the hospital with Jamie. We had to wait for a while as first one, then a second plastic bottle of Ringer’s Solution made its way into my veins. Interesting point: Ringer’s Solution’s function is the relaxation of the muscles. Contraction of the smooth muscles in the gut wall, which enables the motion of food through the gut by peristalsis, would be unhelpful when any surgery is necessary there, so Ringer’s is administered as a temporary relaxant. Well, now I know what Ringer’s is for – I had always wondered…

One temporary side-effect of the Ringer’s was that my heart rate went up to about twice normal (should be 60 beats per minute or less). Blood pressure was high when I first entered the hospital, but settled down to a more reasonable level (125/80mm Hg) immediately prior to the surgery.

Here is a point which should be observed by both practitioners and patients, and which I have not only observed in my own annual medical checks (first instigated back in December 2007 by President-Elect Lee Myung-bak, along with the requirement for a criminal record printout) but also apocryphally through third-hand accounts, and this is that hospital practitioners do not appear to give sufficient time to applicants to settle down properly before taking blood pressure readings. In my own experience, assistants sent with applicants to guide them around the hospital and through the procedure often have no idea exactly where they need to be taken, with the result that no matter how young they may be, they must arrive at the correct place looking and feeling as if they have just run a marathon or been over an assault course, and naturally this means an elevated blood pressure. They also arrive feeling nervous because they are now in a foreign country and do not know what to expect, even though nominally the medical checks should not be substantially different from what they might expect to undergo at home; in a state of nervous and muscular tension even if they are familiar with the procedure because, as we often discover, practitioners under the shadow of Western-style iatrogenic (read: pharmaceutically dominated) medicine look to drugs as some kind of remedy for such things, when dietetic and other lifestyle changes such as increased sunlight exposure and exercise are what are really needed. Practitioners should be aware of the need to relieve the applicant’s nervous and muscular tension prior to blood pressure readings, as they may be receiving the wrong signals.

Likewise, practitioners should probably try to avoid using the type of automatic, arm-insertion blood pressure machines on the grounds that they often involve a posture in which, if the applicant is anything other than wafer-thin of body, excess fat deposits around the torso will lead to distortion of the ambient abdominal pressure and lead to an elevated (and therefore factually incorrect and misleading) blood pressure reading, both for systolic and diastolic pressures. In any case, the main take-away here is that due to a number of physical and psychological factors, upon presenting to the practitioner, the applicant’s blood pressure is likely to be elevated beyond their normal resting values, and that an extended period of rest plus a non-compromising abdominal position are advisable before attempting to take a reading. Interestingly, readings prior to the polyp inspection were made in the prone position, where one would expect minimal additional abdominal/thoracic pressure and following a period of settling-down with the Ringer’s Solution, was pronounced ‘normal’.

Back to the action… I then made my way (on foot, the space was too small there for a gurney or similar) to the surgeon’s bench, assumed the position (on my left side, knees pulled up the chest, pulling my right cheek out of the way, ahem…), exposed my rear end and the doctor and nurses got to work on the polyps with their endoscope and other tools. I was not anaesthetised for this and felt no pain or discomfort during the procedure; I was able to see the whole thing on one of two large panel monitors, and I have to say that it mainly looked fine. However, the endoscope’s camera was pointing forward during all of this; when they turned it back to look at the ‘exit’, that was when they discovered the tumour, and quelle surprise, the shape of it looked like the corresponding area which experienced the most pressure when I was sitting down. We will return to this in a moment…

Thereafter, it was obvious to the consultant that there was little point in popping any more polyps, as the revelation of the tumour meant that more serious surgery was required, and many of the remaining polyps were within the range of proposed surgery, in any case. Having taken a series of photos of the situation with the endoscope, there were saved (along with other information) to a CD-ROM for the next hospital consultant’s reference.

The session ended with behavioural recommendations and note-taking by Jamie (with translation) and a further prescription for the next couple of days’ drugs. After that, I would basically be on the restricted diet (I thought this would be a good idea, to starve the tumour and any potential metastatic tissues of glucose, despite the doctor’s recommendation that a return to my normal diet was now acceptable. I qualified in biomedical sciences including biochemistry and pharmacology, so I do have a good understanding of these things) from that point onwards, including the avoidance of alcohol. This meant that I would continue to lose weight and become thinner, although it should be stressed that this was because of dietary restrictions and only in that way related to the presence of the tumour. Perspective is important!

Afterwards, we went back to the office, where I was working on lesson plans and materials for the proposed new 120-hour Children’s TESOL course, and also had another potential student to interview: interestingly, she was also in Daegu because she had been living in Seoul but came back for treatment of a rare kind of tumour…

Sunday, December 10th – Sunday December 17th 2017

As you might imagine, reading this, I had rather mixed feelings after the discovery of the tumour. After all cancer is… serious, right? But the consultant had said to me not to worry and that everything would be okay… well, I suppose he had to say something like that to a patient in such a condition, but he also stressed that I was lucky, because of the location of the tumour away from the actual anus; the intervening eighteen centimetres or so could be removed surgically and the two ends resectioned so that I simply ended up with a shorter rectum (and interestingly, during the later consultation at the university hospital, Professor Kim quoted a figure of only ten centimetres, which immediately seemed additionally optimistic, although it would not change the necessary extent of the surgery required).

In the wake of the first examination, however, several things happened.

Firstly, there was generally much less leakage of blood from the tumour, which would be visible with stools after defaecation. I took this as a good sign. ‘Good’ stools should ideally be as pale as possible, depending upon the food(s) consumed previously.

Secondly, depending upon the extent of bleeding and the nature of the original food consumed, stools themselves often appeared quite normal, although not consistently due to the extent of blood mixing with them. I was not bleeding to death, but rather losing a small amount of blood regularly, which often led to me having to rush to the bathroom even though the volume to be voided tended to be rather small.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, I have always felt much better with an empty gut than a full one. This is simply a fact of life. So I actually felt really good in this condition; I cannot tell a lie. I was enjoying the feeling of emptiness and lightness. I was being careful with my diet and trying also not to eat too much. Psychologically, I was not feeling too phased at all.

Dietary Restrictions

Now we have mentioned the kind of dietary restrictions imposed as a result of this situation. But what is the rationale for this?

As I get a lot of health-related e-mails from various sources around the English-speaking Internet on a regular basis, the message is about as crystal clear as it could be: mitochondria in pre-cancerous cells often have a biochemical lesion – a genetic fault – which prevents their normal ability to process fat for energy and forces them to use sugar instead. Possible result: cancerous cells may proliferate and form neoplasms (like my tumour) when the diet includes excess carbohydrates, specifically glucose. Possible solution: by restricting the amount of available carbohydrate and forcing a more aggressively ketogenic environment within the body (i.e. forcing the body to metabolise fats rather than carbohydrates for fuel), the cancerous cells are starved of their primary oxidative fuel – glucose – and must die as a result. Therefore, creating and maintaining a habitually ‘ketogenic’ (and possibly more alkaline) physiological state within the body, future growth of cancers is rendered more difficult. This appears to be an emerging realisation among practitioners nowadays as a number of lifestyle and dietary factors formerly considered sacrosanct are being cast into doubt by modern research.

Likewise, there are other dietary factors, such as habitual lack of Vitamin D, which feed into the picture, if you’ll pardon the pun. Here’s a recent, very interesting discussion between Dr. Mercola and Dr. Michael Holick where they discuss this very subject:

We should perhaps add to this that since ambient lifestyle stress may be a contributory component, other dietary factors such as lectins from uncooked fruits and vegetables should perhaps also be taken into account. Although the following discussion between Dr. Mercola and Dr. Steven Gundry is not directly related to cancer because the primary topic of discussion is autoimmunity, the overall relationship between dietary lectins and bodily stress is probably indirectly relevant:

… especially the point which Doctor Gundry makes about resting both the gut itself and other parts of the body, such as the brain.

Caveat: None of the above should be considered absolute in their application to individual cases. They are included here because, like a whole range of lifestyle diseases (such as Alzheimer’s Disease or heart disease, for example), you can’t get away from them in any reasonable way without possibly major changes of lifestyle. That’s just the way it is.

My take-away from paying attention not only to Dr. Mercola’s output but also that of others relating to the ontology of neoplasms is twofold: firstly, Vitamin D (and also Vitamin K) needs to be maintained at prophylactic levels in the body and secondly: neoplasms are most likely to be fuelled by dietary glucose, and therefore a glucose-restricted diet is probably part of a healthy and cancer-avoiding lifestyle. So I started taking high-strength Vitamin D supplements and restricting my overall sugar intake. I felt better immediately.

Monday, December 18th 2017

Today, I am due at the University Hospital to see a consultant about my current state of health (is there any metastasis that can be observed, for example, and possibly what preparations I should make, pre-op). So we’ll see what transpires…

With my manager, Jamie, we went to the hospital, which turned out to be only two minutes’ walk away, as it is actually the university in one of whose buildings we work!

Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised at the number of people there on a Monday morning, but the signs of an ageing population were all around. I wasn’t the only obvious foreigner there, but in general terms, there were few younger people there receiving treatment; children present were generally attending with adults from their families. The whole place was full of pensioners and geriatrics either sitting and waiting or in a state of confusion, wandering around trying to find out what they were supposed to be doing.

After a bit of the usual faffing around trying to find out where we should be, we ended up on a higher floor (via escalator), and as we already had an appointment arranged through the original doctor who examined me, had to sit relatively silently in the waiting area, keeping an eye on the screens on the wall (one was the waiting list, the other was a Korean rolling news channel).

Eventually we got to see the consultant, Professor Kim, who seemed to speak quite good English (but thought I was American), and we discussed the previous results briefly and the news was not all bad: I was fortunate that the tumour was positioned away from the anus (meaning that this would not have to be “reconstructed”, perish the thought!). This meant that the offending section of my rectum would be cut out and the two free ends attached to form a resection. This after the Prof had given me the customary rubber-finger-up-the-bum-hole and declared (as the previous hospital doctor had) that there was no obvious, tangible sign of tumour formation close to the actual anus.

Now, because I pay close attention to health-related e-mails and visit the web sites of the likes of Dr. Mercola and Dr. Merkin with some regularity, I had a good idea about the kind of restrictive diet that would be necessary, as well as beneficial vitamin supplements, and before we left, the Prof and I discussed the desirable foods briefly. Then we discussed when I could return later for CT/MRI scans, and decided when the actual operation could take place. The duration of the operation would only be a couple of hours or so, and would be done by laparoscopy (keyhole). I would be resident in the hospital for the better part of two weeks.

We then thanked the Professor and made way for his next visitors, at which point the dates had to be confirmed and changed, if necessary. Finally, I was set to return for CT+MRI on December 26th, sign in to the hospital for pre-op on December 26th and the operation itself was timed for January 4th. Another strange Christmas!

Tuesday December 19th 2017

Finally, I made substantial time available to put most of the above together, in between bits of clothes washing and cleaning bits of the apartment, before getting on top of tomorrow’s lesson plan checking and materials preparation, as my students have their final Micro-teaching session tomorrow, after which they begin the penultimate Module of the current course. Unfortunately, my Boss (the one in Seoul, not Jamie, the new manager) has insisted that I should take the remaining two months of the current contract following this session recuperating, which is far from helpful financially as it means that signing a new contract in March will still not result in a new salary payment until the beginning of April 2018!!!

But I felt that it was so important to share this overall experience with others who may be faced with a similar situation. You are not alone.

Wednesday December 20th – Saturday December 23rd 2017

Next week will be the last week of the current session, and to be blunt, considering what is to come, I am glad about that. One thing I have found is that some students (thus far, always female rather than male) seem to feel a sense of ‘entitlement’, having paid their exorbitant course fee and then expecting to simply be given their precious certificate, despite the fact that the pass mark average is very high (70%), and also that the point is made at the beginning of the course that enrolment and payment of fees does not guarantee a pass. Only working hard and carefully can do that. But we still get these rude, ‘entitled’ individuals who seem to expect everything without having to raise a finger – or, it seems, in this case because the person concerned was a business manager who was constantly ignoring the lesson and messaging to lackeys on her cell phone, something I had warned her about several times already. She also arrived for the first day about seven months up the spout, with all the hormonal selfishness one might expect when anything made her angry. Before Miss Kim, my original manager, left because she wanted to go on a tour of Germany, I put it to her that there should be an ‘advisory’ (let’s call it that) on our local company web site to the effect that if a candidate was more than six months gone, they should postpone application for the course until their sproglet was well and truly out, kicking and screaming, to which she seemed to agree heartily.

It was on the Thursday this week, when I wanted to make use of some time at the end of the session to discuss the Final Exam and prepare the students for what they had to do that she started acting up again. As if her foal-in-the-hole condition was somehow an excuse for laziness. She started complaining because she did not (she said) have a very good level of English. The thought came to me: Why do you think that you can teach English, when you can’t damned well speak it? She huffed and puffed because, of course, in her own business she was the boss, and could somehow not accept that in my classroom, she was not running the show… I let her rant, finished the discussion and exited as politely as I could.

When I started here, there was likewise one (older) female student who, it turned out, had spent some time down in New Zealand and fancied herself as a good speaker of English. But this is a far cry from being good enough to teach it. The major stumbling-block which the students fail to appreciate is that being a non-native teacher of English really means walking a lot of talk – and the simple fact is that most of them do not have strong enough grammatical and self-correctional skills either to speak accurately and reliably during a lesson, or to be able to correct written materials reliably when not actually teaching. Of course, one might counter this by suggesting that, given the state of modern native speaker educational systems, many of the foreigners who come here to teach English are not necessarily a lot better; but the difference here is that most native speakers arriving here with a non-language-related Degree, who suddenly discover that their grammatical skills are not as good as they should be, will then read up on grammar in their own time and rectify the issue.

This is the sad part of the Korean English teacher’s situation: our course is about teaching, not speaking English; we are here to give candidates some idea about what choices they have about introducing new grammar to their students. We are not running a language course per se. Yet there seems to be an expectation, as I discover often when interviewing potential candidates, that they will be able to improve their English by attending, and I have to try to make them understand that this is not the case. They need to write well in the target language in order to do both the assignments and the two exams; but they shy away from such things, so how can they teach a language they cannot fully understand, let alone complete the course?

Anyway, the upshot is that there is often friction between us and the students because of this. And it turns out that this one current student has actually been calling our head office in Seoul to complain and (from what I understand) lie about myself and my manager, for example that my manager is always out of the office when she wants to talk to her; but the truth was that she had an unreasonable expectation of being able to talk with her during her actual lunch break, when any reasonable person would probably be out eating somewhere (if they had any sense). In fact, she never went to see the manager at all; she was simply lying. Her pregnancy hormones combined with her haughty attitude and refusal to accept my authority in my own classroom basically resulted in her overstepping the mark.

And this would not end until she finished the course. I doubt if I would bother to give her a follow-up call…

Now we are coming closer to the final event with regard to my condition, which is to say, the actual operation itself, which is slated for Thursday, January 4th 2018… not quite the way I had intended to see the New Year in, with my abdomen perforated with post-operative holes, but better than the result of doing nothing, of course! But the basic trouble was this: when I first came to Korea, I actually subscribed to the health insurance service of BUPA International, and remained a customer with them for as long as the monthly subscription fee remained less than 10% of my salary (in my first job, in Changwon, I was receiving less than 1.8 million won per month). After some time, however, BUPA decided that they wanted to raise the monthly payments from about seventy-two pounds eventually to a proposed one hundred and twelve pounds and at this point, I decided that enough was enough. After all, I had made it up to that point (about 2006) without any major illnesses or accidents, and in any case as a holder of a valid visa I was entitled to subsidised health care here, so it seemed redundant. But the estimated cost (which actually did not strike me as huge) represented a problem for several reasons.

Firstly, lack of students originally for the weekday sessions and then more latterly for the weekend sessions instead meant that for a period of about four months leading up to December, I was not receiving full pay. Bills were being paid and everything, but saving money was becoming a headache. Luckily, when December came around, the company said that I could come in and work on the weekends, but I had to account for my time there (with a simple Excel spreadsheet, as it turned out).

A second reason was that a new credit card from my bank back in England had not been forthcoming since the last one expired in 2012, when I was working for YBM Premier in Seomyeon (the corresponding debit card had been munched up by an ATM in Hsin Chuang City, Taiwan, some time before I arrived here), and discussions over the intervening period with bank representatives revealed that they could not send me a new one because – unbelievably – South Korea had had some kind of ‘embargo’ applied to it… I requested a new card shortly after returning to Daegu last year (2016), but still nothing came of it. Later, when I hit my online account to check how it was all going, someone had actually changed my residence country to “North Korea”.

Now you might think that there is not a lot that I could do with a UK credit card in South Korea, and besides, I already had a Korean credit card; wasn’t that enough? Normally, my answer would be “yes”, but this is not a normal situation. Between the prolonged lack of salary, the fact that a full salary payment for December would not actually become available until the week after the operation plus one unmentionable person (whom I shall not mention) who still owes me a couple of million (which could factually be fully 50% or more of the costs of care), this situation was becoming potentially disastrous. I needed something extra…

And this is where the UK VISA card comes in. Why? Well, that neat little Lotte Card that I was issued with back at the end of 2012 (and which has been replaced several times, in each case apparently without good reason, except for the first week because they spelled my name wrong and had to remedy it sharpish) originally had a limit of five million won, but when I went up to work for the KDLI in Icheon, I got into some trouble between this, paying the deposit on my apartment outside of Seoul and having to wait for my first salary payment, so they gradually whittled it down to two million; the first time I had to pay interest, they charged me 400,000 won, which wrecked me up financially for another month… eventually I wised up, as the salary payments would be received on the last day of each month but Lotte Card would not take payments until the first of the next month, so I would take out one million physically as cash as soon as it was paid into my account, then stick two fingers up at the ATM and walk out.

Anyway, as I said, I didn’t think that the residual payment from the patient would be outlandish, but it does feel to be badly-timed, I mean after all, this neoplasm was down on the hospital form on Tuesday as a “malignant tumor of the rectum” (and I know because I read it. Usually upside down. Repeatedly!) and nobody in their right mind would want to be attached to that for any longer than absolutely necessary, but the timing on everything else, salary in particular, seemed to be very poor. But the limit on the new card would be £7650.00, or a little under ₩11,000,000, of which only two or three million would actually be needed; I could then resume a new contract and everything would be easy to prioritise and repay within a reasonable time-frame. This year’s bonus would arrive in time to help smooth everything out and make it all more bearable.

But the third thing that I would need would be a guarantor signature. Now I had no intention whatsoever of lumbering any other person in the country with the responsibility of shouldering my costs when I had the means at my disposal to handle it all myself, but unfortunately this is a legal requirement. It would be doubly awkward to find someone because I had committed myself to working Saturdays and Sundays this month in order to make up a full salary payment, so I would have to go down to Changwon late after work on Sunday evening (Christmas Eve, for crying out loud) by train, get a suitable signature and then get back with the form signed and ready for when I check into the hospital on January 2nd. Then, hopefully, there should be no more complications.

I was glad to see that our unhelpful student was in a somewhat better mood on Friday, and lessons seemed to go without too much bother. It’s difficult for me to understand the reluctance of our students to actually work hard and enjoy the reward that they earn by so doing. But what I didn’t realise was that she had not only been complaining to our HQ in Seoul – she had actually called the CEO of the group, Mr. Kim, directly to complain about the slights she felt that she had been subjected to. Which, now that I think about it, rather reminds me of that court case in America the other year, where an African-American woman sued her employer for alleged emotional damage caused by said employer not buying her a birthday cake; an utterly foolish level of immaturity. People here are often kind enough to give me a birthday cake, but if they don’t then I likewise take no offence. But the following week, this was to lead to a very surprising e-mail…

Saturday saw me using our rescued laptop, searching for appropriate video materials for the new Children’s TESOL course. It is only when you see the mismatch between your requirements and the available materials on sources such as YouTube that you start to feel a sense of despair… my lesson planning was put back by weeks because of this. Jamie and Eunjeong, our weekend assistant, were mainly chatting away in the main office while I was partly freezing behind the dividing wall, as the air conditioners were on timers and would keep turning off every couple of hours or so. Most Saturdays are punctuated by a candidate interview or two and I had one of these. But the day was basically uneventful, largely because I have to arrive so early in the morning and leave so relatively late in the evening: if we had a normal weekend session, lessons would begin at 10:00 a.m. and finish at 6:00 p.m., but I was still required to be there before 8:30 a.m.

Sunday 24th December 2017

Sunday, on the other hand, turned out to be something of a strain, as I had foolishly decided to leave my tablet at home, and my USB memory sticks were all in the tablet’s bag! Fortunately, I had copies of the redesigned lesson plan blank on my computer at work and decided to suspend work on Module 01 temporarily and make a start on Module 02, which paradoxically, perhaps, inspired me with regard to Module 01 and would take me a long way towards completing it the following Sunday. But with no-one else in the office – precious few in the entire building, in fact – a flask of rocket-fuel coffee and a container of Lipton Rooibos tea bags, and ABC Classic FM on the Internet radio, I took my time and slowly, my perspective on the planning process changed, and I became more confident.

Eventually, however, I would have to get down to Changwon to get a guarantor signature, and would also have to swing by home first. So I had to get on the 410 bus, ride all the way home, grab my gear (including the aforementioned tablet and other kit) and then get on the bus again down to Dongdaegu and get a train… and therein lies a minor tale… When I asked for a ticket I was to told to hurry because the Mugunghwa train was due to leave in five minutes, so I hurried down to Track 5 to be confronted by a load of other passengers, all standing around and wondering where said train had got to… as it turned out, it was actually at the other end of the platform, and we all had to run to get on it, for an hour-and-a-half trip with no seat (again). I spent the time reading a PDF copy of John A. Keel’s “Operation Trojan Horse” on my cell phone until we finally came in to Changwon and I caught the bus to Jung Ang, signed in to the Paradise Motel before going over to see Justine in the Monster bar and tell her the Bad News.

Previously, I had arranged to meet a certain “Someone” in the old IP Bar down the road, but she was busy that night and finally called me to ask if we could meet the following day (Monday, which was actually Christmas Day). I agreed and sauntered back to the Monster before finally returning to my motel room, having a shower and hitting the sack and I don’t think I slept too well… I think it was all the UFC on the TV…

Monday December 25th 2017

I woke up fairly early and mooched around the apartment. The tablet, which I had left on charger next to my bed, had not charged much overnight, and I gave up on it; the LG cell phone, despite being twice as old as the tablet, performed much better for a brief perusal of Facebook.

After a while, I decided that a walk was in order, so I packed my bag, checked that I had not left anything behind and returned the key to the motel owner. Then I sent a text message to the person I had arranged to meet, and thought first about the Starbuck’s over by the Yongji Park, before changing my mind and going to the older one close by the Lotte Young store (a building which, for all the almost six years I had lived in Changwon, had been standing idle; then, when I left the town, it was refurbished and repurposed). I got a black Earl Grey tea and sat down to wait.

I was sitting there minding my own business (and trying to stay warm, as I was sitting close to the back door and quite a few customers were entering and leaving; bizarrely, despite knowing how cold it was outside, some of them would actually leave the door wide open) when the other party called me, sounding rather the worse for wear – the result, it seemed, of a late night spent drinking after she had completed her other task for the evening… so she would be delayed. But I had to get my guarantor signature before returning to Changwon because the scans and other tests were scheduled for that Tuesday afternoon… in exasperation, I texted someone else, explained the situation and showed her a picture (taken previously) of the guarantor document and she agreed to do the dirty deed herself. About twenty minutes later I was getting her a coffee and she and I completed the form together. Then she walked with me up to the bus stop at Jungwoo Sangga, where she had already arranged to meet someone else, and eventually I was on the way back to the train station.

This was one of those times when my desire to get a move on backfired slightly, as I had to wait nearly two hours for another Mugunghwa train back to DongDaegu, but it was worth it because this time there were plenty of seats and I kept falling asleep, at least when I wasn’t reading some more of John Keel. Then the subway to Daegu North, and the walk around the corner and up the hill to the bus stop for the bus home, and – aaackkk!!! The buses were uniformly full. I had to wait about half an hour in a freezing breeze before I could get on the bus and complete the journey. But I had achieved what I wanted; not quite as intended, but I was making progress.

Tuesday December 26th 2017

Today, I had to take a battery of tests, urological, serological, CT and MRI as well as (finally) a lung function test. The whole thing turned out to be somewhat less than perfect.

It started out OK as I paid for the tests with my credit card, then went to change into hospital attire, leaving my gear in a locker. I had an X-ray first, then had to have the heavy fluoride reagent injected, after which I had to wait 90 minutes for the stuff to permeate my tissues prior to the MRI scan. Alas, this was not to be: when the operator started putting the coils and other gear onto me, it felt very tight, and when he started to move me into the thing, I had a sudden attack of severe claustrophobia which I simply could not overcome. So eventually I just had the (less claustrophobic) CT scan and had the MRI fee refunded afterwards.

It was at this point that things started to fall apart somewhat, due to the lack of communication. In all the constant rushing between rooms and floors, my grey cardigan got left behind in the locker room, and I had to go back and retrieve it (some kind soul had thrown it in the wash), and then, thinking that everything was done and dusted, put my coat on and returned to the office, said goodbye to Jamie and walked up to the bus stop to go home… and just as I was standing on one side of the local crosswalk, waiting to cross the road, my cell phone started ringing. I had to struggle to get it out of my backpack, and then discovered that it was someone at the hospital and I couldn’t understand what she was saying, so I asked her to wait while I hurried back to the office to ask Jamie to call her back.

When she did so, it turned out that there were still three tasks to complete – blood sampling, urine sampling and the lung function test. We had to rush back because the hospital closed its doors at 5:30 p.m., and we just managed to get to the lung test and finish literally at 5:29. Then we went back to the office, I picked up one of my bottles of Seagram’s Sparkling Lime Mineral Water, then finally set off for home.

As you might imagine, I was feeling pretty stressed and tired at this point, not really because of the tumour but because of the constant confusion, rushing and general faffing about, plus the general avoidance of sugar input. But I think I slept pretty well. Eventually…

Wednesday December 27th – Friday December 29th 2017

Happily, the Final Exam seemed to go without a hitch, although I was a little concerned that some students seemed to get through it unexpectedly quickly. I didn’t evaluate the exam papers until the next day as I was feeling tired (and had to start the final Module immediately after the exam), but everyone passed.

It was nice to have a basically uneventful end to the course, except in one particular instance – while the students were engaged in a linguistics activity, I received an e-mail from the aforementioned Mr. Kim, the CEO himself, wishing me a speedy recovery and a return to the job! That rather made my day.

On Thursday I completed the evaluations, completed the spreadsheet with the students’ scores and printed their transcripts and certificates. We were ready for the graduation ceremony!

On Friday, we spent some time completing the most important points at the end of the Module, and I ended the course with a brief presentation of types of technology that they might want to consider in their own classes in future. Then we had to hang up the banner on the whiteboard (at which point, we discovered that one of our plastic suckers had vanished and had to use some pieces of sticky tape instead), proceed to robing, and finally the awards ceremony and chocolate cake (it used to be a cream cake but for some reason, former students didn’t like that very much, so I advised Miss Kim to switch to chocolate cake instead). Then I took my leave and returned to the office for the afternoon: the course was over.

Health-wise, I had been avoiding sugar like the plague, drinking mainly mineral water and Rooibos tea and taking high doses of the Vitamin D caps I had bought earlier out at Yulha Lotte, and I did notice one surprising change: there was much less blood now. This situation has not changed much from that time up until the current time of writing, and has been quite welcome, as the previous month the situation was more difficult. But all the sitting down is an apparently unavoidable causative factor and I will have to figure out a solution to this after the operation.

Saturday December 30th 2017

An uneventful day – I got in early and set to with the laptop, finally starting to make some progress with Module 01. There was one applicant who needed an interview and she seemed OK. I spent the rest of the time figuring out how to put it all together the next day, which would be New Year’s Eve without entertainment or booze.

Sunday December 31st 2017

Again, got in early and set up the computers, and as I was alone again, took my time, had ABC Classic FM on the Internet radio, a full (but soon to be empty) Thermos flask of strong Yergacheffe coffee and a supply of the remaining Rooibos tea bags. Inspiration finally came to me and I completed another four full lesson plans – equivalent to a full day of teaching on the new course. Then, finally, I made my way home and planned how I was going to do the cleaning on New Year’s Day.

Monday January 1st 2017

So… yet another weird Christmas/New Year period in Korea. At least this time I wasn’t actually looking for a job; signals from not only our head office in Seoul but also the actual CEO himself seemed remarkably positive, although it would all hinge upon a final medical opinion as to whether I would be re-signing with the company in March. But I have to focus on the task in hand.

I also felt that it would be nice to return the following week to a clean apartment, and spent most of today doing precisely that, also throwing out the trash and sorting out a load of old clothing for disposal. A lot of my stuff had slowly been destroyed by the sweat of several hot summers, and would have to be replaced. Everything else went out either earlier this afternoon or later tonight, leaving most of the place dust-free and cleared; when I returned, I would finally be able to sit in my new bean bag chair, which has been sitting there for four or five months while I have been too busy. The last thing to get done was one final load of washing, which would be placed in the kitchen (with an open window) to dry in my absence.

Most (I think) of the necessary packing was also done this afternoon, with a cheap black sports bag purchased specifically for the purpose, although I will take some other stuff in my customary black backpack. I don’t know how much really to take, as I suspect that the hospital will have me wearing the same blue short two-piece that I wore on Tuesday. But I will take a good supply of underwear and socks, plus some reading material and my tablet. I have a feeling, also, that the first few days post-op will be spent largely recumbent. I intend to relax.

Tuesday January 2nd 2017

So: T-2 and counting, and today I am due to sign in to the hospital preparatory to the operation, which is scheduled for some time (during working hours, I assume!) on Thursday.

Paradoxically perhaps, knowing that the intended procedure is laparoscopic seems to take a lot of the fear away, with the result that (as I said before) the thought of the laxative they give you is actually more unnerving than the thought of the operation itself, which I have been told is relatively short at about two hours. One friend has advised that I should, however, request that they give me some kind of painkiller in the immediate aftermath; the thought occurs to me that this procedure should really be rather less painful than the more traditional ‘cut-you-wide-open-yank-it-out-and-stitch-you-back-up-again’ methodology – less conspicuous scars, too, but then I’ve never been one to brag about past battles.

I spent yesterday (Monday) basically doing the remaining washing, packing some more clothing (although I suspect it will not be necessary; we’ll have to see later) and throwing out trash. Over the years, I have accumulated a lot of stuff which has proven to be either useless or very infrequently used, and much of this is actually paper printed over ten years ago when I was looking at programming in various computer languages, and the progress with these has probably rendered a lot of this information defunct by now, so they (and their rusting lever arch files) will have to be disposed of some time in the not-too-distant future. Sadly, perhaps, a succession of jobs here has kept me both busy and distracted. This also has to change.

So, with that, I probably will not be able to put any other posts up here until the second weekend following the operation (as the minimal recuperation period post-op is seven to ten days). We’ll see how it goes… short and sweet (and ideally painless) would be best!!!

The War that No-one Wanted (Continued)

And what should be doing the rounds lately, but:

The War that No-one Wanted

It’s probably because I don’t have a TV any more (and I would probably only watch UFC etc. all the time if I did), but if the Norks lobbing the occasional dud missile into the sea constitutes “provocation”, might I respectfully suggest that the people saying this are in need of “medication”?

Because you’d have to be living in a media-shill-controlled little bubble to think that the Norks are going anywhere fast. The parties with an interest in all of this are clear to see and the Americans in particular should have been sitting around a table with the Norks, Chinese and Russians, at least, to find a solution.

War on the peninsula is not inevitable but is being stoked by those who profit from it, for whom any person who is not in their diabolical little circle (ordinary people in Korea, North and South, plus the remainder of humanity) is expendable trash, that’s exactly how they see us.

And if anyone starts to raise the dubious spectre of “Democracy versus Totalitarianism” or similar waffle to justify a conflict, let’s remember that there used to be regular meetings between the concerned parties (“democratic” and otherwise), and an agreement was reached to help the Norks with their power requirements, which the Americans were proposing, but, ah… the disadvantage of “Democracy”, in this case, is that when the citizenry are swayed to change their administration, policy also changes, and that is why we are talking about this today, otherwise the “problems” with NK would have been solved around fifteen years ago and everything would have been much more tranquil.

But hey, there’s no profit in peace… is there?

Pentagon should move US military families from S. Korea ahead of possible war – Sen. Graham