Friday, October 31, 2008

our new nephew....

Benjamin Caleb Rawlins. This new little bundle of joy was born October 31st at 10:29am. Weighing in at 7.5lbs and 20in. long. Brad and Steph made a dash to the hospital at 10am (leaving Kate at home with a friend). After Brad parked the car, he made it upstairs just in time to meet his new son! Ben is already proving to be one fast kid. Everyone is doing well and we are so happy for this new precious life.

kate and her new baby brother

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Hospital

Monday night around 2:00 am, I awoke out of my sleep with a severe burning sensation in my chest. It didn’t feel like any danger to my heart or lungs, so I wasn’t too worried. But for nearly two hours it continued. I drank some milk and downed some Pepto-Bismol, which helped me eventually go back to sleep. The next morning I still felt a little pain in my chest and the upper part of my abdomen. I’d never experienced anything like this, but attributed it to some kind of extreme heartburn or indigestion.

Before work, Randy (KJWW’s American mechanical engineer in India) called and said he wouldn’t be making it into work that day, for he’d spent the night vomiting and diarrheaing. Aaaahh, food poisoning, I thought. Probably related to what I experienced last night. Was it the chai we drank from the dirty tea stand in the middle of nowhere on the way back from Udaipur? Was it the McDonald’s we’d eaten later in the day? Equally suspicious.

As the week continued, Randy endured a couple more days of weak stomach and dehydration, but improved to full strength by the end of the week. On the other hand, I was experiencing some other digestive system troubles – increasing soreness in my esophagus whenever I tried to swallow, accompanied with some gastrointestinal bleeding.

So on Friday, I asked Ankoor, our company’s do-everything assistant, to set me up with a doctor. Unable to set an appointment with a private practice family doctor that day, he settled on sending me to the “expensive” hospital. So off I went, with our driver and a co-worker along to help navigate through the complexities of a large hospital with many non-English speakers.

After a consultation with the doctor, he ordered up a series of tests and also wanted to admit me for a couple days. I talked him out of staying at the hospital, but he did schedule me for blood, urine, and stool sample tests, along with an X-ray, a sonogram, and an endoscopy. He also prescribed three different medicines.

A bit nervous about the bill for all of these tests, I called Kirstie to have her contact our insurance company and see if there’s anything we should do. She was away from the apartment at the time, so I can imagine her panic upon hearing this news and sprinting home in a worry. She was unable to reach our insurance company; however, after seeing the total for the doctor consultation, X-ray, and sonogram, I realized there wasn’t going to be a big need for insurance. The final bill, with the endoscopy, laboratory samples, and prescriptions added in later, came to about $150, and I was able to put it all on KJWW’s company credit card. I expect this all might have been well over a thousand dollars in the US, so I definitely understand the appeal of medical tourism.

First I went to give blood and waste matter samples. Many bathrooms in India don’t have toilet paper, but I thought perhaps the hospital would. Nope. Fortunately, I couldn’t go #2 anyway, so I dodged the need to use faucet-and-bucket cleansing by electing to collect the stool sample at home.

Next was an X-ray of my chest. I’m not sure why this was necessary. Expectedly, nothing in my lungs or rib cage or heart size was causing my digestive problems. Later that day I returned for a sonogram. During the exam, the door kept swinging open for all the passers-by in the corridor to peer in at the American with a gelled-up belly and pants unbuttoned. As the radiologist scanned around my abdominal area, I wondered if I might be having a boy or a girl. A sign outside the sonogram room stated that it’s illegal in India to determine the gender of your baby before it’s born, so the doctor just told me my liver, gall bladder, kidneys, stomach, pancreas, spleen, bladder, and prostate all looked normal without mentioning anything about the baby.

The next day I dropped off a cup with my refrigerated poo at the lab, and received my blood and urine results – all normal. Then I was off to the endoscopy. This was the most exciting and dreaded part. At first when the doctor told me I needed an endoscopy, I was picturing a colonoscopy, and I was like “Whoa whoa whoa, is that really necessary?” And he said it’s not very uncomfortable and will only take about 15 minutes. So I thought, “That’s what she said!”

In an endoscopy, the doctors stick a tube hooked up to a video camera down your throat and explore all the way into your stomach. Going into this, I thought this must normally be done on men at least 50, and based on the other two men in the waiting area, it’s more like 90, actually. As I sat on a cot and awaited my turn, someone flipped the TV from a Bollywood movie to professional wrestling, and all the nurses and other staff took a break for a while to watch a tag team match.

First the doctor asked me a few questions about the problems I was having, then I was given a sedative, which made me relaxed yet awake throughout the procedure. A couple squirts of spray in my throat numbed my gag reflex, and I soon had a flexible tube travelling down my digestive tract. Ten minutes later, the doctor had found everything he was looking for and more. Hopefully you don't find these photos too disgusting:

  • Pill esophagitis, an inflammation in the lining of my esophagus (you can see the affected white area above), caused by taking a pill right before bed with only a small drink of water. Doxycycline, my malaria medicine, is one of the pills most commonly associated with this rare diagnosis. Not fully passed to the stomach, the pill lodged in my esophagus and in just a few hours, caused damage and symptoms mimicking esophageal cancer.

  • An ulcer, which could have come from a number of things, most likely painkillers, too much alcohol, smoking, or a specific type of bacteria. My money’s on the latter.

  • A polyp, which is a small abnormal growth, rarely cancerous, but usually harmless and can sometimes be linked to the same bacteria that causes ulcers.

Doctors say the esophagitis will take 4 or 5 weeks to heal. They will be doing a biopsy on a couple stomach samples, and there’s not much reason to be concerned at this point. Every sign points to benign. Hopefully my interjection of humor in this story lets you know I don’t have much more than a small grain of worry in me about this. I’ll found out later this week or next week for sure though, and give an update in the comments area below for any caring readers. Meanwhile, any prayers you offer for quick healing and good test results are greatly appreciated.

If you’re interested, I received a CD with the full video of the endoscopy, and I’d be more than willing to share that with anyone upon request. It’s quite interesting and gross!

Monday, October 20, 2008


The Venice of the East was quite a stop for us this weekend as we ventured about four hours north to the city of Udaipur. With three beautiful lakes, surrounded by breathtaking mountains, it was by far the best sites we’ve seen here in India. For this post, we must let the pictures do most of the talking…
The two Palaces on Lake Pichola
Our hotel... Baba Palace. Great location, great view, and a great name!
View from our room of Jadish Temple
more Jadish Temple
the carvings were so amazing!
Entrance to the City Palace
Gardens of the Palace
I pretended to take a photo of the tile work, but really I was stealing a shot of this HOT mustache
the Palace was so grand with hundreds of rooms, secret hallways and spectacular views
the doorways are a tad bit short

camel ride... note that the front seat is a LOT more comfortable! Especially for boys. The camel's hump was in a really inconvenient spot for Alex.

we got a first hand look at some painters hard at work

this lake palace was in the Bond film "Octopussy"

we took a lift up to the hills for a great view of the city

Friday, October 10, 2008


Yesterday was the last day of Navaratri, a festival here in India. Navarati is celebrated for nine days to honor the nine forms of Shakti (the Divine Mother of the Hindu religion). Apparently it is suppose to be held at the start of winter, however, we are averaging about 95 as our high each day still!

Each night during Navaratri the young and old participate in Garba. Garba is an Indian form of dance that has various steps that participants arrange to make their own dance. Typically people go out from about 9pm and dance for many hours. The nights Alex and I participated in Garba we only lasted for a couple hours.

Pences in their traditional Indian wear.

Our apt complex(called a society here in India) hosted Garba every night down in our courtyard. Each night around 8pm they started blasting the music and didn't stop till midnight. I think some of you caught our "background" music when we talked on Skype. Everytime I went down, there were plenty of young girls wanting to be my friend and teach me the latest moves.

Dance party outside our apartment.

On guard! The stick dance.

We also got to go out dancing one night with some of Alex's co-workers. Khyati and Sunita were sweet enough to let us pathetic dancers tag along with them. There were many venues throughout the city hosting Garba, but we were fortunate enough to have one a few blocks away from us! There we also met up with Bhavik, who is actually a dance instructor! He was on a whole other level than most of the participants there.

Check out those outfits!

Some fantastic Garba dancers, then Bhavik teaching Alex to dance. Hot or Not?

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Meat Market & Old City

Last week, our friend Bob, an expat American businessman here in India, invited us to check out the meat market on Sunday afternoon. Randy, Marty, Kristen, Kirstie and I loaded into his SUV and rode about 20 minutes or so until we crossed to the west side of the river - also known as "Old City." This side of the city has a much larger Muslim population, and thus, it's the place to go if you want to buy raw meat. Immediately after crossing Ellis Bridge, we found ourselves trying to pass through the Sunday street market. Cars were nearly bumper-to-bumper, and people flooding the streets freely darted through the 12-inch gaps between cars. After slowly moving along for several minutes and soaking in the sights of our surroundings, Bob's friend Sonny came out of nowhere and jumped into the front seat with him.

Crowded street market in Old City.

Immediately after exiting the vehicle, we were overwhelmed with the smell. 90-degree heat, a street filled with stands selling all kinds of animal meat feshly butchered blocks away, and shoulder-to-shoulder foot traffic.

Bob purchased some bone-in chicken chunks cooked in some spices & sauce. I tried a couple - delicious. Sonny bought us some drinks that were a mixture of exotic goodness. Some kind of saffron-flavored sugary juice with tapioca and ice cream. The dense tapioca balls were a little much for Kirstie, so she gave hers away and delighted a few nearby children who had been following us for a while and asking for money.

Surprisingly, you can get beef in Ahmedabad, India! All you have to do is find the vendor in the crowded market on the Muslim side of town, right across the alley from the pile of garbage. I had been open to buying some beef on this day, but seeing the flies travel from the garbage pile to the slabs of beef hanging on hooks deterred me. Bob's much more adventurous and bought a few cuts.

Bob & Sonny checking out some black market beef...

...a few feet away from this garbage pile.

Another highlight was trying some pan. This is a common snack to pass the time in India. Seems like only guys eat it, probably because it makes your teeth pretty nasty. I'm not sure what's in it, but it's basically a leaf wrap filled with all kinds of weird flavors I didn't recognize. I was a little hesitant. "You only live once, right?" is my common thought, and "That's the problem" is Kirstie's common response. So I popped the whole thing in your mouth and the brown juice just starts oozing everywhere and out my lips. It was quite a strong flavor and it took about 10 minutes to chew it down to swallowable. Probably my first and last time with pan.

Preparing some pan.

While navigating through the streets, we took a look at some of the nearby historical sites with Sonny providing lots of great information about them, and Sonny invited us up to the flat above his mom's shop for a rest and a drink. After a bit more walking around and sightseeing, Bob's driver picked us up and we headed home.

Well, this is getting pretty long so I'll just sum up our 4-hour journey through old city's crowded streets & meat market with four words: old hot nasty awesome.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Monkey Monkey

We have seen a few monkeys here and there, but this day there was a whole gang of them outside a store we visited...
I love that this guy is just chillin with the monkeys on the steps.