Thursday, 22 July 2010

Dear God, Please Plant a Limau Tambun (Pomelo) Tree for Aunty Dalilah...

"Bend...and look in the mirror"...

"Now, on your toes, and hold, 1, 2, 3, 4"...

"Now, tendu (stretch) to the side"...

It was Monday evening (July 19), and I was in a large ballet studio pointing my not-so-tiny toes and getting lost in the light but calming music. I had just heard that Aunty Dalilah, or Aunty D as I call her, had passed on the morning of July 19. But I had seen the phone call from Kak Pi hours too late and thus missed out on following her down for the funeral.

Three friends have coffee in Sunway Pyramid: Dear Aunty Dalilah (right) who bought me a cake and a brooch before I left for Canada.

I wasn't shocked or sad to hear the news. I think I felt mostly relieved. I know Aunty D wanted to leave this earth in the holy land, but a part of me is happy she made it back so that Adam and Idris, her darling children, could see her. I was relieved to know her earthly suffering was no more. Aunty D, whose last conversation with me was about her still sleeping on the pink-heart pillow I had given her before I left Malaysia for Canada.

"Daphne, dah penuh my air liur on the pillow, malam-malam meleleh" (Daphne, the pillow is full of my saliva from my drooling every night).

As I stretched and flexed my toes in the studio, I felt a calm wash over me. My hips felt sore from the balancing, but I could hear Aunty D's sing-song, lilting voice going, "Daphne, I know you can do it!".

It has always been a childhood dream of mine to learn ballet (my joke about trying out for the National Ballet wasn't a joke that came out of nowhere), but somehow, my 9 year-old never thought about conveying that wish. I have never been on the tiniest side, and the idea of ballet didn't seem to fit my klutzy and sometimes too-big self. Morover, I had a tumour on my left foot, and even participating in School PE/PJ sometimes was difficult. That tumour was eventually excised when I was 16 because it decided to grow. Surgery came with its own baggage. After two years of electric shock shooting up my spine, I finally opted for steroid therapy that went on for another 2 years.

But throughout, I've always wanted to dance. And if there's something that I learnt from Aunty D., it's that you can do pretty much anything. A physical 'problem' should not stop you.

Something not many know about me is that I'm double-jointed. In the medical world, it is known as hypermobility. And for those wondering, no, I do not have two joints where everyone else has one. Double-jointed people are more prone to dislocations, subluxations (i.e., partial dislocation), muscle sprains, aches etc. It's because our ligaments, which are very loose/lax, allow us to stretch more than usual. As such, our muscles have to work extra hard to compensate for the lax ligaments.

Being double-jointed is fun, but it's also troublesome on a klutzy day. I'm the perpetual kid who trips over own feet, and splats on the floor. People on the street call us flexible. The one who will always get asked, inevitably: "Doesn't that hurt???"

One thing not fun about being double-jointed is being injury-prone. I've subluxed my knees and twisted my ankles repeatedly. I spent half of my holidays in London limping and hobbling. I've injured myself so often I've earned the nickname "Hoppy" from one of my professors, and "Hobbles" from one of the people I volunteer with.

The rheumatologists in Canada (it's a teaching hospital, so I see a team) sent me for physiotherapy to build and strengthen my muscles. And if I wanted to do yoga/pilates/dance for relaxation, it was fine too, they said. But I had to be careful.

I finally found a dance teacher who is willing to teach me ballet one-on-one. And what luck it is that he happens to be a physiotherapist by training.

What luck, two for the price of one...And so I find out I need to work on my hips (left side too loose), my ankles (both sides too loose), my knees, and my upper and lower back. Apparently, that's the whole body...


So I guess being flexible has worked against me. But it's allowed me to skip the flexibility training in ballet. Let's see how far one-and-a-half months of ballet will get me.

"Careful, your ankles are going in a different direction than your knees!"..

"That's...not good?"

"No, that's another injury waiting to happen!"

I could hear Aunty Dalilah giggling...I know she would go into a peal of laughter if I had told her about my very-not-young body trying out ballet for the first time. And the possible tremor that might have been felt all over Ipoh (you have been warned) when I go into jumping. Oh God, please don't let this mini-elephant fall.

And God, while you're at it, please keep Aunty Dalilah safe with you. If you need a spirit-booster for some sad souls, let her know, and she'd do the job splendidly. Oh, and God, if it's not much trouble, do you think you could please plant a little Limau Tambun (pomelo) tree up high for her? She loves the fruit, so don't get offended if she tries to hide it from You.

In the meantime, may You guide Uncle Saiful, Adam, Idris and all who love her throughout this difficult time.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Putting Theory into Practice: Lingam, The Little Boy in the Hospital...

I've been visiting a child by the name of Lingam* in the hospital.

He reminds me very much of Chee Keong--under the care of Jabatan Kebajikan, sick, stays for months at a go in the hospital, insists on his way with the nurses and they happily oblige, the whole ward seems to know him in some way, and his bedside table is filled with little things that parents and nurses will buy or bring for him. Clothes (mostly used), cookies and treats, little toys.

The only differences are, Lingam is five, and can talk. Unlike Chee Keong who was developmentally very delayed, and too sick for words, Lingam is able to talk to me.

So I visit him and look at picture books with him, give him little wet-sponges cos he recently got a catheter and some IV attached and I didn't want to risk infecting it, and helping him eat lunch (cutting his chicken, urging him to eat vegetables, cleaning his face and hands after eating, etc).

But I also know I'm leaving again soon and don't want to get tooooo attached. And since Lingam is aware of things and knows perfectly well how to miss a person, I don't want him to get attached too. So I visit him about once a week, and when I leave, tell him to expect me the following week ("Arrr, ok", he says, with a head bob).

I've popped in unplanned a few times where he is sleeping, so I stroll back out as I don't fancy waking a child up.

Like Chee Keong, Lingam knows how to throw a tantrum too; unlike Chee Keong, however, he is verbal.

If there is anything I learnt about behaviours and Psychology, it's that children who throw a tantrum basically are trying to solve a problem, but they lack the skills to problem-solve (incidentally, so do adults who throw tantrums). And if you reward tantrums by giving in, or even paying attention to it, it will magnify.

It's a process of Positive Reinforcement for the one throwing the tantrum, and Negative Reinforcement for the one giving in (cos the caregiver's rewarded by having the child stop the annoying whining and screaming).

So as he whines and gives me his crocodile tears, I tell him firmly "Lingam kena berhenti jerit, baru Aka cakap dengan Lingam" (You have to stop screaming, and then we'll talk). I then completely ignore him untill he stops, which is pretty quick. The minute he stops, I give him a big smile and shower him with praise.

So, reward the stop-whining, not the whining.

Reward and punishment are surprisingly effective, when done right--there are some rules for effective punishment. Alot of people think punishment means smacking, grounding etc. Not necessarily. A statement such as "I don't like that behaviour" or "what you did is bad" is pretty effective too (NEVER say "I don't like you" or "you're bad"), something known as Positive Punishment. Punish the behaviour, NOT the person.

You can also try Extinction, which is more what I'm doing, because with multiple caregivers with different behaviours, punishment is not going to be effective.

In Lingam's extinction, what I did was basically remove the reinforcement (i.e., attention, his way etc) he was always receiving when he whines. Since he was always getting his way by throwing a tantrum, me refusing to give in is in fact me setting him on extinction (at least, a context-based extinction). Eventually, he is going to stop whining, at least with me.

Lol. I'm spending time with a child in the hospital, and I'm also putting theory into practice...

But punishment must be coupled with reward. So I'm going to bring colour-pencils and crayons (and some colouring material that one of the physiotherapists passed to me very happily) for Lingam next week who asked to colour.

Note: *Name has been changed.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

The Last Lecture: “We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand”...

Image taken from here.

We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.”

~Dr. Randy Pausch~
(23 October,1960- 25th July 2008)

I recently bought the book 'The Last Lecture', a book based on the lecture "Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams", Dr. Randy Pausch's last lecture (on the 18th of September, 2007) before he passed away from pancreatic cancer. Dr. Pausch was a tenured faculty at the Carnegie Mellon University (CMU).

At CMU, some professors are asked to imagine if it was to be their last lecture, what will they want to pass to the student body and the world. For Dr. Pausch however, it wasn't something he had to pretend-play with, as he had terminal cancer.
He lost his battle to cancer on the 25th of July, 2008.

The lecture itself can be viewed on YouTube:-

I however, still recommend the book, as it chronicles the emotions that went along with the lecture, the preparation, and the different struggles that Dr. Pausch faced. This was something that sometimes was forgotten when you watched the actual lecture as he is brimming with enthusiasm, energy and zest. And it's really something to hear the words that you just read echoed back to you by the man who said it.

It really made me think.

Think about it: What would YOU say if you had one last chance to talk to the world and share all you have to share? What would YOU do if you have one last chance to immortalise yourself in the lives of your loved ones?

I wish the late Dr. Pausch's wife, Jai, and their three kids, Dylan, Logan and Chloe the best of their future ahead.