Shit Happened. Frequently…

The last couple of days have certainly demonstrated to me that strange and unexpected things happen when situations are abnormal. However, some of what you experience is caused by others, and some of it is your own fault…

Being a patient person, as well as being a patient there, once I had given my blood samples back at the YUMC, I made my way home to Jinju (in unhurried fashion, as the Air Force had been kind enough to give us a few days off while our Korean co-workers were out and about around the province, looking for potential new grist for the high school’s mill when the current cohort disappears) and thinking: “Ah, it will take a couple of days for them to process those.”

So I waited.

And waited.

And a week later, I was still waiting…

Finally, the annual Buddha’s Birthday public holiday came around, almost two weeks later, and I would keep thinking to myself: “Hmm, wonder if the results were… not quite good?” and resolving to contact the Professor the following morning to find out.

In the post-operative phase, there is really nothing much to do (in the absence of anything requiring treatment) other than quarterly blood sampling and testing; only if there were signs of the thing having metastasised could you reasonably expect additional treatment along the lines of chemotherapy, and far be it from me to suggest that anything like that is even remotely desirable, except to note in passing, perhaps, that if all my hair fell out as a result of treatment, nobody would notice these days… But there’s the thing: in the absence of any further information, doubt constantly nags you. Are you in the clear, or not?

So, in the bus on my way to work, I texted the Prof and asked him about this, but dear Reader, not for that alone, oh no! You see, my single day of holiday, when I had planned to spend most of the day, er, sleeping, was marred by a gross (in every sense) gut malfunction. For several days, I had been avoiding the consumption of more than a little food, with the intention that I would not have to make frequent visits to the bathroom whilst not at work. The Professor had issued me with a three-month supply of Lopmin capsules and dosage instructions, and at this point, I had been following his bidding religiously for almost a fortnight. Then suddenly, my Poo Hole developed a dribble. This was not so unusual, as it had been a frequent happening while the FDD was in place, as indeed immediately thereafter, due to the fact that I had misunderstood the Prof’s previous instructions about what dose to take… but this was ridiculous. I couldn’t even lie down for any appreciable length of time before it was bothering me to take it to the shitter, but very little was coming out.

Then, early this morning, just as I was starting to worry that I would have to wear a double diaper again, it started to come but ohhh, dear, very hard and stiff. You see, dear Reader, while the upper portion of the intestine is geared towards post-stomach digestion of food, the lower portion is concerned primarily with dehydrating the remains, so that the body as a whole does not lose too much water too rapidly through defecation. Previous experience of delaying the departure of unwanted stools had convinced me that so doing was asking for trouble, as the rectum would then continue removing water until the stuff became stiff, hard and painful to pass; and that is precisely what, er, came to pass this morning. I had to go to work with a nasty, hard, stiff turd stuck in what remains of my once-capacious rectum, immobile and (truth to tell) somewhat painful; the jerky movements of the bus to work were hardly helpful. It wasn’t until the break between lessons this morning that I was finally able (with much grunting, groaning and moaning) to force the bastard out. After which a whole load came out more easily (but still not entirely painlessly), but I am sure that there is more waiting. You bet.

The Lopmin capsules I had been prescribed were (according to the Professor) intended to relax the part of the large intestine which had been grafted onto the forlorn remnant of my Poo Hole, thereby allowing it to slowly expand and eventually render a very similar level of storage function to that in the intact, pre-operative gut – this being necessary because the lumen diameter of the large intestine, which was attached to the anus during the operation, was much narrower than that of the segment which was removed; there was a diameter mismatch and hence, relaxation of the gut wall muscles (with Lopmin) plus time (he suggested about three to five years) should eventually cause the gut wall to stretch, hence restoring most of the lost functionality. The only trouble seems to have been that he was somewhat over-zealous in the dosing, with the result that the residence time for the average turd increased to the point where water withdrawal was maximised and so, alas, the necessary softness (for ease of passage, shall we say) was minimised. The result was much straining and pain… I have no doubt that it is in such circumstances that the Urban Legends of “Spiky Turds” emerge, the existence of which, paradoxically perhaps, the medical profession always seemed happy to deny (at least back in the UK).

To cut a long story short, after delivering the good news about the serological work, he suggested that I should reduce the individual doses to between one and three capsules, as required. Oh believe me, I certainly shall… during the first two weeks, I shat irregularly and probably only about two or three times a week, and when it finally emerged from my Nether Region, it tended to be large, stiff and difficult to disgorge. That Lopmin stuff is wayyy too strong... imagine shitting bits of dry, fossilised tree trunk. Like that.

Anyway, to conclude: despite the Prof’s admonition to avoid alcohol (and because of my training in biomedical science, I do know where he is coming from), I feel that some celebration of that type is due now. And at the weekend, come to think of it. Not crazy drinking, but just a little of what I have been mainly missing since last November.

Those were the outcomes of the first quarterly tests since my discharge from the hospital. The next tests will be due in August, and hopefully will return the same results.

First Check-up: 9th May 2018

So it happened… unexpected time off work (semi-official) coincided with the due date for my first post-discharge medical checks, which actually held a surprise which explained a few things… as usual in the medical context, there was not any actual “good news”, as samples were taken and as of this writing, results are pending, but there was some “sort-of bad news”…

Despite not knowing whether we would be having both Monday off (as Children’s Day unfortunately fell on a Saturday this year) plus the following three days (while Korean co-workers are around the country canvassing possible new students for the near future), I had arranged with the Professor to bring the due date for the first scheduled check-up forward by about a week to coincide with it. However, the appointment was at 9:30 a.m. and as it would have been difficult to get to Daegu from Jinju on the same day, I took my usual step of travelling to my destination the previous night and staying in a motel until the morning.

Previously, the Professor had told me to lose weight, get more exercise and avoid alcohol (I was in fact to learn the missing pieces of this and other information which he had not given me in this latest meeting). However, readers will probably understand that between having the tumour and its removal, losing my previous job and moving into the new one, which involved a lot of travel, great expense and (almost) the expiry of my visa, staying away from the pop was anything but easy, although I tried my best; it was easiest at the beginning but became progressively more difficult due to the stress level and the need to relax. More on this in a moment.

As it happened, I had previously received a letter (in Korean, of course) which suggested that I should turn up at the Jinju Tax Office. It was impossible to understand why I needed to do this, as I had never been to any Tax Office in Korea during my whole fifteen years here (since, like so many others here, I always left that side of things to my employer), and as I was about to discover, the location information they had placed online was now in error because they had since moved to new offices; I had gone to the old location easily by bus, but on arriving there found only a large Lotte building opposite the Galleria store. Enquiring at the Nonghyup Bank there, I was redirected to the correct location and took a taxi for convenience. One there, I presented myself and there was the usual confusion, including a call to my old boss in Daegu, Jun at Study Factory, which also turned out to be in error… eventually we were able to get onto the computer system with the paperwork, with the upshot that there were some ₩177,000 owing from 2016 and 2017, so I paid the larger one on the spot with my credit card , then made my way home by bus and paid the smaller bill at the local Nonghyup Bank. Then I went home and packed for the journey.

This time I was fortunate, because the train was actually waiting at the platform when I arrived, and I only had to pay for the ticket and walk through. This was an SRT train, and there were not many passengers, but there was Wifi. However, as the train rolled along the track to Daegu, I spent my time mainly looking out of the window and watching the countryside passing by… perhaps the most heartening thing about Korea is that despite its modernity and (in places) conspicuous overdevelopment, there remain still plenty of pockets of relatively undisturbed rural areas which you can see when you travel this way, and it has to be said that as a solo foreign traveller with nobody to talk with en route, it does make the journey much more enjoyable.

Arriving at DongDaegu Station, I took the subway to the Kyungbuk National University Hospital and walked to the immediate vicinity of my first apartment in Daegu, back in 2014, because – as it happens – when I first went there to meet Mr. Park, the owner of LSE (the adult hagwon where I was working, and which became defunct within a month) to sign the contract, I stayed overnight at the Mellow Yellow Motel, and this time, what a surprise! The nightly fee there had gone down by ₩10,000! After a brief change of clothing, I made my way over to Burger & Pasta in Jung-gu and ordered first their No-Bun Burger, and then – amazingly for me, still feeling hungry – I ordered the Chilli Cheese Potato Wedges and washed the lot down with four Absoluut Vodka and Tonics, and may I say, most refreshing they were, too.

It was still early when I paid the bill and started walking back to the motel. A 9:30 a.m. meeting with the Professor meant an early start, so I made sure that my alarm was set (6:00 a.m.) on the cell phone before booting up the motel room’s (XP Pro!) computer to watch some YouTube, as the cable TV had no UFC etc. to see. I didn’t sleep too well as I felt the urge to go to the bathroom a couple of times, something which I now know I could have avoided…

When the alarm sounded, I got up, put the news on the TV, had a shave etc. and then packed my bag to make the journey to the hospital, which was not difficult from there, being only four stops away southwards on Line 1. I got out at the Hospital station and made my way first up the usual four flights of steps, and then around the blocks and up the hill to the hospital itself. As might be expected, the place was thronging with patients and their family (and other) attendants, as well as various medical and clerical staff; the place is never still during opening hours. I had arrived there at about 8:30, so I had about an hour still to wait and watched the two waiting room screens, the left-hand screen with the order of consultations and the right-hand screen with the rolling news on cable. Eventually, after a line of tottering oldsters had seen the Prof., it was my turn and after further waiting outside his room for about fifteen minutes, I was ushered in.

Today, he had an obvious understudy sitting in the corner listening as best he could to the conversation, which was all in English. We discussed mainly my new experiences in Jinju but I got around to the current range of symptoms, mentioning that the starchiness of the food regime at work was mainly unsuitable – despite its obvious very good quality – and that I often try to have intermittent fasting days to try to lose more weight. He asked me how many times a day I would normally have to drop a load, and it was at this point that a penny dropped, because the Lopmin capsules he had prescribed me previously were (he now informed me) to relax the gut wall and allow it to expand, as the part grafted onto my, er, original anus had a narrower lumen and it normally takes about three years or so for it to expand and restore the function lost temporarily as a result of the surgery.

The trouble here was that his instructions when he issued me with the original prescription were somewhat vague; what should have happened was that I would be taking several of these each day, allowing me to more comfortably retain stools and dump them more conveniently, but his description had missed out some essential clarity. So he gave me a repeat prescription for the capsules, and then dropped the really bad news on me – avoid alcohol for the rest of the year!!! According to him (but I should know this already, of course), alcohol is often a causative agent in the ontology of an oncology, so I really couldn’t disagree. We then shook hands and I reminded him that I was still waiting for him to send me information and materials so that I could produce an English-language review of the FDD for him; he, in turn, apologised on account of his own being rather busy, but promised to send it to me as soon as possible. I left the office and then waited for my receipt, then went to the Appointments desk to pay for the later blood tests and the appointment and repeat prescription.

Alas, in the months since I was last there, I had started forgetting where everything was, and had to ask for directions for the out-patient phlebotomy team who, in fact, were literally just around the corner! Duhhh….. I went there and had a needle stuck in my arm, again, and rendered four small samples of blood for testing. Then I put my jacket back on, put on my shades and backpack, and made my way out and downhill to my old office, where manageress Jamie and my sort-of replacement, Chris the Canuck, were conducting things as usual. I chatted with them (Chris had to return to his lessons) and updated them as to what had been happening since they last saw me. We then hit the local KFC (I had a Twister, not a burger) and we chatted some more. Then we went to the office for a while before I wanted to get on my way, and Jamie came with me to the pharmacist across the road while I got my prescription. Then we said goodbye and I walked back to the subway.

The ride back to the DongDaegu Station was uneventful, but there was a lengthy queue for tickets (lengthened by one clueless old lady who seemed to be having trouble paying for her ticket). Then, of course, the unwelcome news that the next train would be some two hours waiting (unlike the previous evening, when the train was already waiting at Jinju Station and was off some five minutes later), so I walked down to see what was happening in the cafes. Holly’s was full, so I went back to the Caffe Pascucci and had a latte there, at the same time digging out the tablet to use the free wifi to check up on things and update the apps. This turned into a piece of pure frustration, initially caused by having changed my Google password recently, but eventually it was possible to get it all done. The battery was going down all the time while this was happening despite being plugged into a wall socket, but finally everything settled down with about thirty-five minutes to go before departure, so I packed everything back in my bag and then walked to the platforms; the information I needed was already up on the display so I just took the escalator down and sat on a bench, waiting.

Again, the ride home was uneventful, but having had a fraught couple of days, first with the tax office, then travelling to Daegu, and then the rest, I found it very difficult to stay awake; thankfully the KTX terminates at Jinju so there was no danger of missing my stop. I took a taxi home from there (because I still haven’t figured out which bus I can catch to travel between the two), and after picking up some food and bottled water from the local Top Mart, walked home and put the washing on.

So, a new set of samples was taken for testing, and I shall expect some news about the outcome shortly from the Professor; but having to mainly avoid alcohol from now on (as one hundred per cent. abstinence may be difficult) is a killer socially. I remind myself that I have a job to do and will often be busy; and probably, once the bookcases and other furniture are in place, I should be thinking about more reading when at home… and with that, thoughts of sleep are rattling through my head, so I shall take my leave of you, dear Reader.

The Field of Beans and the Limits of Perception

Aaarrgghhh… who forgot to turn off the cell phone alarm for weekdays? On holiday this week, and no need to get out of bed at 6:00 a.m. on Korean Children’s Day… when will I learn???

Slouching into the big room in my new apartment – the one with the computer and the books and other shit all over the floor because I need to buy some new furniture (to replace all the mouldy stuff I left behind in Daegu) – as I checked the mails and messages from the previous night, up popped a link at the “Lunar Barbecue” group page (thank you to Pedro Ribeiro for that) to the following YT vid about Terence McKenna called “Aliens and Archetypes” (from the “Thinking Allowed” TV series, dated 1990)… but what follows is really only tangential to his topic and a brief statement of a thought or two, being the result merely of my reaction to one of his remarks therein.

It has to be admitted that Mr. McKenna always had something very interesting to say about so many things, and whilst I was watching this I caught his brief remarks about communication within and with nature, which made me think: how is it that we ceased being able to do so? Could it be that what we have laughingly called “education” for so long is actually the inculcation of prejudices which make such communication (or even the sensibility thereof) impossible, simply by denying the possibility of such things, and therefore dulling our possible perception of them?

There have been, over the last few years, and especially recently, a flurry of items about how plants communicate via both the air and the soil coming through from various sources; this seems to be an active area of research. It makes me wonder what people will end up eating in the future, as it slowly dawns on everyone that plants are demonstrably sentient, like animals. Some say that eating meat is murder (although some of us just call it “food”), so what does that make eating fruits (often the reproductive organs of plants) and vegetables (their flowers or other storage organs)?

Of course, we would then go on to put on our biologist’s hat (well, I would, at any rate) and ask: “Well, if raising meat in broiler houses and the like is considered bad because it turns animals into products in an unnatural environment and is inhumane, then what are we to make of (say) a broad field of wheat, or a rice padi?” – if battery farms are unethical, then what can we say about a field of beans?

For a long time, I have been thinking that each grain of wheat or rice, each bean in the pod, is a life which has the potential to grow; its nutritional value lies precisely in the fact that it is one of the plant’s reproductive structures, in which energy and nutrients have been invested for the future survival of the species, just the same as (for example) a hen’s egg. The difference, however, is that parthenogenesis in a hen’s egg is a relatively rare event (although it does happen sometimes) and hence is rarely encountered in an egg cup or frying pan because, of course, there is no requirement to fertilise the egg before it becomes useful; its nutrient value for the human consumer would be wasted if the egg started to develop into a chick before delivery [1]. In the case of plant seeds, these would not exist without fertilisation, so we have a situation in which – unlike tubers, roots or even hens’ eggs – it is actually necessary to engender new life in order to reap the nutritional benefits of the plants’ labours, a fact to which we turn an eternally and conveniently blind eye.

Perhaps the tragedy of human existence – in the correct and original meaning and intention of the Greek term tragoidea (“goat song”, of a great person brought low by fate) is that humanity has become thoroughly enmeshed in a lifestyle where it exists purely as a result of squandering both itself and the world which supports it; yet being conscious of the full truth of its existence would cause impossible levels of angst at the thought of eating anything, and so its senses have to be dulled in order to make that existence bearable. Thus, it slowly destroys everything, including itself. It is doubly tragic that this exists alongside a patently untruthful inculcation about the past of humanity, which is used to keep us in a psychotic state and which allows us to be controlled more easily.

However, there are times when we need to be reminded of these things, even if only in passing, as here with the much-missed Mr. McKenna, as well as, perhaps, a nod to Aristotle in being able to express our psychological maturity by considering topics which we might otherwise find unpalatable [2], and perhaps, also, to reflect upon what level of difficulty we might have in actually communicating with aliens when our minds have already been so prejudiced against it on our own world. We have at least been fortunate to have occasional bright lights like Terence McKenna to illuminate our darkness with flashes of insight.


[1] Unless you like to eat a balut, of course: see

[2] “It is the mark of an educated mind to entertain a thought without accepting it.”: see