Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Life of Zoë

"I think we are drawn to dogs because they are the uninhibited creatures we might be if we weren't certain we knew better. They fight for honor at the first challenge, make love with no moral restraint, and they do not for all their marvelous instincts appear to know about death. Being such wonderfully uncomplicated beings, they need us to do their worrying."

Troubles With Bird Dogs and
What to Do About Them (1975)
by George Bird Evans 

The day after Benji's tragic and untimely end, Cheryl visited the local animal shelter where we rescued him in search of some solace. Was it too soon? Probably, but there is no salve for loss as soothing as the replacement of the very thing we lost. That is not to say that Benji is so easily replaceable, but we had so much love for him that it would be a shameful waste to direct every ounce of it to grief. Instead we sought to give that love to another creature which deserves it, if only because it is still alive.

On 23rd of August, exactly three days after Benji's passing, we brought a new puppy home.

Zoë at Shelter
At the shelter.

On the way back, Cheryl christened her Zoë, apropos of nothing. When I looked it up later, I found that it is Greek and it means "life" or "alive", which is thought is delightful serendipity. There is nothing more antithetical to the deathly, funereal pall that have settled over our family than bounding, barking, warm, furry life. We needed this. I needed this.

Zoë in Crate
Zoë, in her crate, in the middle of crate training.

Zoë was very different from Benji, both in personality and temperament. To get the most obvious things out of the way first, she was female and was only about 2 months old (compared to 4 months old male Benji). While Benji was calm, confident and deliberate, Zoë was a firecracker - a wilful, hyperactive little bitch. The only time Benji got really excited was when he saw the cats, which he would chase in delight. Zoë however, have never shown any sign of noticing her feline housemates' existence at all. House training her was a more strenuous affair because of her weak puppy bladder so I was forced to wake up every 2 hours at night to let her water (or fertilise) the garden.

While Benji happily accepted his usual mealtime kibbles as training treats, Zoë proved to be a fussy, picky customer. She wouldn't even touch her dry puppy kibbles unless I mix it up with a spoonful of meaty wet food first. And since training treats have to be equal to or more "valuable" than her usual feed, I was forced to train her only at mealtimes, giving her spoonfuls of her food for each time she complied with commands. Eventually, I resorted to baking chicken liver for this purpose and thankfully, she deemed it a worthy enough payment in exchange for tricks.

Zoë & Sophie
Sophie, already plotting Zoë's downfall from day one.

Fortunately, with a bit of persistence, she was house trained and became "accident-free" within 3 days and could even hold it in through the night. Within a week, she learned to sit and lie down on command. She could even stand on her two hind legs for 1 to 2 seconds when asked, a trick I could never get Benji interested in.

Last Friday, a day before my son's one year old birthday, Zoë died. If this came as a rude surprise as you are reading this, it's because it was for us too.

Pretty girl.

On Thursday, 4th of September, Cheryl went to take her out for her evening toilet visit but noticed that there was something very wrong with her. I saw that she was holed up inside her crate and stood up, wagging her tail when I approached. However, I noted that she was not leaving her little sanctuary like she usually did. I peered inside and noticed that she was leaning on her left, her left wrist slack and floppy.

I reached in for her but she freaked out and scrabbled backwards, something she had never done. She had a sweet, outgoing and confident disposition, and had never displayed any neuroses prior to this. I carried her out gingerly and placed her on the floor to get a better look at her - and she immediately panicked and began running in circles, persistently falling to her left. She was also drooling like a faucet. I studied human medicine, but what Zoë exhibited were unmistakably neurological symptoms. But why? Cheryl just took her out a few hours prior but she was perfectly fine! The only thing that happened that day to her was her 2nd ivermectin jab, which she was on because she brought mange home with her from the shelter which had left her mostly bald with lots of sores from scratching (quite unlike her pictures here), but was otherwise completely well and active. We fully expected her to recover from it.

We rushed her to a nearby vet who found that her pupils were also dilated and she was exhibiting what he called "knuckling" where Zoë's doesn't notice when her paws were placed in odd, uncomfortable positions - indicating a loss of proprioception. He diagnosed her with ivermectin toxicity, gave her a shot of corticosteroids and a bolus of subcutaneous fluid between her shoulders because she was not eating or drinking. The vet also gave me a syringe loaded with diazepam, in case she started fitting that night. And that night, I learned practically everything there is to know about ivermectin sensitivity in dogs, how it afflicts certain dog breeds that happen to carry the MDR-1 gene defect which impairs a dog's ability to transport certain compounds out of their brains, leading to a build up. I slept in the living room as well so I could hear it if Zoë starts fitting. I fed her some of her favourite wet dog food from a can using a spoon, and was heartened to see that she could still lick it up and swallow. Her tail still wagging like a windmill, which I understand doesn't necessarily meant that she was happy. When I carried her down to the garden to pee, she could still do her half-crouch.

We brought her back to the vet the next morning as advised but found that Zoë's condition worsened. She had started making chewing movements with her mouth. The vet look at that odd behaviour thoughtfully and then swabbed some of the tears streaming out of her eyes, pipetting some of it onto a plastic cartridge that resembles a urine pregnancy test. He showed it to me and told me that it was an antigen test for canine distemper. One very bold line showed on it.

"One line," I said. "That's good news right?"

"That is the 'test' line you are seeing. The 'control' line have yet to appear, but you can see it forming faintly now," he said sadly.

Oh no...

Now all my confusion made sense. Why Zoë did not react to the first ivermectin shot, why she was suddenly struck with very severe generalised mange - which indicated that her immune system was failing. "But she already received her 1st shot of vaccination!" I told the vet but I knew the answer before he even answered. She had contracted it at the shelter before she was vaccinated, and the virus must have been incubating till now.

I am a doctor myself and I knew that we were at a crossroads of hard decisions. "When should we give up?" I asked calmly.

"When she fits non-stop," he told me. "Or when she is completely unable to eat or drink."

By noon, Zoë was a shambles of her former self; blind, highly nervous and likely delirious. Her jaws have started locking up and it was difficult for me to pry them apart and syringe some food into her mouth. Cheryl received word from the shelter that Zoë's litter mates have also started displaying signs of distemper two days ago, which pretty much proved that Zoë was exposed to the canine distemper virus before we took her home. She was a time bomb ticking to heartbreak, but we were completely unaware. I did more reading (as I am wont to do in times of crises) but the more I read, the more hopeless it seemed, and Zoë, at this point, had deteriorated to a state where she couldn't even crouch to urinate. It just dribbled out as she stood there seemingly oblivious to her own bladder movement. Finally, Cheryl and I decided on what we felt was right: we decided to put Zoë to sleep.

We took her back to the vet, who seemed to have been expecting us. This time, we were directed to a different room and in the middle of it was a large stainless steel table. We were asked to sign some papers and after we gave Zoë her last pets, the vet gave her a lethal dose of pentobarbitone - and just like a robot powering down, she slumped down gently onto the table surface, her head flopped to one side unnaturally. The room filled with the smell of faeces as whatever that remained in Zoë's rectum oozed out. Cheryl cried. I was too numb to follow suit. After a minute, the vet checked her for any signs of life and finding none, asked us if we would like him to dispose of her for us.

"No thanks," I said. "We are taking Zoë home with us."

The orderly there offered us a plastic bag - and we refused because it just didn't seem right. I put her back in her crate and drove her back to our house. There, I dug her a grave beside Benji's, and after wrapping her in the blanket she always slept on, buried her with her bright blue collar. I comforted myself with the thought that at least Zoë did not suffer long and had spent her last hours with people who loved her most instead of a cold, harsh metal cage at the animal shelter. In the last two weeks, she ate better than she ever had in her life and had toys (and feet) to chew. Her weight almost doubled under our care. We did everything right by her and told ourselves was not our fault she was already doomed from the get go.

But it was still painful as hell.

Zoë's human,
k0k s3n w4i

Monday, September 08, 2014

Darwin is One Year Old

"Today is my 111th birthday. 111 years is far too short a time to live among such excellent and admirable Hobbits. I don't know half of you half as well as I should like. And I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve."

The Fellowship of the Ring (1954) by J.R.R. Tolkien

On the 6th of September 2014, Baby Darwin evolved out of infancy into toddlerhood and came to the realisation that people will celebrate the fact the planet he was riding on managed to go around its sun for the 4.54 billionth time and give him free stuff for it. Darwin's mom had organised a joint birthday bash with his milk brother, Keve (which I understand is pronounced like how Ukrainians pronounce Київ, rhyming with "Eve"). Their milk kinship arose from my wife donating gallons of her breast milk to the care and feeding of Keve every time our freezer run out of space for my cocktail ice, because priorities.

Because Keve's actual birth date is on the 8th of September, they split the difference and threw the party on the 7th and everyone for whom the idea of parties with booze, drugs and loud music is a fading distant memory (i.e. parents) were invited. Even Darwin's maternal grandparents and his aunt's entire family flew over to celebrate.

It was Darwin's first party and quite a lot happened, and... you know what? I'll just let the kid tell you about it himself in the picture captions.

366 Days Old - Posing on Toy Car
Yo, 'sup? Now that my aging, prime-passing, wordy nerd dad is out of the way allow me to intro myself. I am Darwin - yeah, like that place in Australia - but you can call me The Winster or D-boy, like me mates at the daycare do. And I got like everything, man. You can see me chillin' in the picture up top on my brand new 2014 Kiddieland roadster. Check out its hot vroom-vroom flame decals. It is off-da-hook!

346 Days Old - In Pool with Balls
I even got me own pool and all the balls I can ever want. I have like ALL THE BALLS, brah.

But it all means shizznit if I ain't got that special someone to share it with, y'know what I'm sayin'? It's like feeling all lonely in a room full of peeps at me own 1st birthday party. Hey, that's deep stuff. Gimme a sec while I tweet it to my followers, mkay?

And then I saw her standing there across the room. And I thought to myself, "Va-va-voom! Who is that gorgeous little lady right there!?" So I got me old man to carry me over to her double-quick. My mom told me that her name is Charlie. Short for Charlotte.

So I went up to Charlie and gave her one of my smooth lines, "Excuse me, are you candy? Because you are making me drool and it ain't 'cause I'm teething."
I waited for a response but she just gave me this gaga gorgeous icy look so I introduced meself, holding my hand out for a dance all gent-like. "The name's Darwin, but you can call me..."
And here's the part where she turned and walked away, saying, "Sorry sugar, I am allergic to baldness."

But The Winster ain't no quitter, ya dig? So I took to the dance floor to show her my moves. If there is one thing I can do, it's working it. Of course, I boogied to my jam, The Bieb's Boyfriend, because I am a baby and I got phooey taste in music.

My hot dancing soon drew the attention of the other chicks in the house. This one lady was all like, "Your moves so hot, Darwin baby! Have all of my balloons!"

"Thanks but no thanks, sweet cheeks," I brushed all of them off. They were like, "Have a heart, lover boy!" and was like, "I ain't got no heart to give 'cause Charlie's got it."

'Sides, I only date gals my age. These girls are totally too old for me and I ain't no cougar-hunter, y'know what I'm sayin'? "Excusez-moi," I bid them and left the scene. I got some major sorrows to drown.

So, there I was trying to drown my sorrows in the pool 'cause my heart's fillin' the diaper, if you catch my drift. I am one year old and still single! Can you believe it, brah? I thought I got everything but I ain't got game. Ain't got hair neither. I just want to splashy-splash into the cold, deep water and end it but my mama's all like nuh-uh.
"You go back in there and blow your candle on your birthday cake, young man." she said. "Then, it's off to bed for you!"

Anyway, I didn't even get to blow the candle out on my own birthday cake because I still haven't learn how to do that without spraying me sa-li-va. Mama and Keve's mama blew it out for us. Keve there in the picture called dibs on the candle and I let him, because he is my milk brah. And like they always say - milk is thicker than water, amirite? Bros before hoes! Blue bibs before pink cribs!

And thus concludes Darwin's saga of love found, lost and clean forgotten by his next bottle feed.

I would like to thank everyone for coming and showering Darwin with more toys than he knows what to do with (though admittedly, he doesn't even know what to do with his two hands on most days). He had so much fun and excitement that he pretty much brought the party back home and terrorised his poor father and mother all night long. At one point, I was forced to stopper his caterwauling by streaming an episode of the 1994 The Tick animated series on YouTube for him (I am not even joking).

Here are some of the other pictures from the birthday celebration:

Darwin running to greet a fashionably late Keve by slapping him in the boobs.

Milk bros fo life!

Darwin and Keve's Olaf-themed birthday cake.

A pair of sisters giving an impromptu performance of Frozen's Let It Go.

Darwin, seemingly already gotten over Charlie. The blue 2-year-old in blue shirt reaching for the plastic cake knife is Darwin's cousin from Penang.

Father of one,
k0k s3n w4i

Saturday, August 23, 2014

I Killed My Dog

"All his life he tried to be a good person. Many times, however, he failed. For after all, he was only human. He wasn't a dog."

Charles M. Schulz

"I want a dog," Cheryl said and that made me realise that I wanted one too. The last time I had a dog was when I was 14 years old - and that was 14 years ago. My dad brought home a brown Cocker Spaniel when I was 11 but now I wish he didn't. I was expected to be responsible, to care for another living being on my own but unfortunately, I was just a stupid kid with two escaped adult hamsters, a litter of dead hamster pups and half a dozen tortoise carcasses on his permanent record. I was clearly not ready and predictably, that poor little spaniel lived its short miserable life in the driveway of my grandmother's house, its long beautiful curly fur in mats with a thousand grey bloated ticks draining its life blood. I also failed to train him and sometimes, I even made him jump at neighbourhood kids I didn't like to terrorise them.

One day, when my mother picked me up from school, she told me that my dog was dead. I was told he chose a nice sunny spot beneath a jackfruit tree in front of my grandmother's house earlier that morning and went to sleep forever. He was just 3 years old. My mother took me to a large deserted bridge connecting the mainland with a man-made island called Pulau Melaka and had me dump my dog's body right into the sea with my own two hands.

"I hate animals," my mother told me. "But if you had let me know that the dog was sick, I would have taken him to the vet for you."

But I didn't know. I had no idea because I was just a stupid kid and my stupidity and irresponsibility killed Pixel. Pixel was the name I gave him. That name is a stain upon my conscience; a badge of shame and regret that have followed me all my life since.

Now at 28, I am twice as old as I was when I lost Pixel. We have a baby fast approaching his 1st birthday and two mostly intact cats, and we just moved into big house with an even bigger garden. I thought there was no better time to give myself a second chance.

So, Cheryl, Darwin and I went to the local animal shelter together to look for the newest member of our little pack and that's where we found this little white puppy sitting in his cramped cage atop his own excrements - and even though he had every reason to be miserable, he wasn't. He came right up to the side of the cage to sniff at my fingers and lick them, his tail wagging up to nines. Having spent the last two years being licked by Sophie's sandpaper feline-tongue, the softness of his tongue surprised and delighted me.

But he wasn't a good looking pup. He was recovering from a bad case of mites and had bald patches all over his body. His large bat-like ears were completely hairless and flea-bitten. Besides, I was also worried because he looked a tad too old - about 4 months old - and I read that the older a pup starts training... well, old dogs, new tricks, y'know.

We also saw a trio of pups in another cage which looked far healthier but Cheryl said, "Those cute ones will get adopted." And we might very well be the only chance that that hairless little dog had to leave the shelter so we did what felt right. We took that sweet but mangy-looking pup back home and on the drive back, I christened him Benjamin Sabrecat.

Or "Benji", as we came to know and love him.

Benji at Shelter
4 days before we brought Benji home, we went and applied Frontline® on him.

Benji 1st Bath
Benji given his last bath at the shelter by Cheryl before we took him home.

I was determined to do right by Benji in a way that I never did for Pixel. Before bringing Benji home, I studied several dog care and training books to make sure I was truly ready this time. Cheryl thought I was being obsessive but she didn't know just how much this meant to me. Quite early on, I was determined that Benji would not be sleeping out-of-doors so that meant house-training needed to be instituted pronto. Every 3 hours, I would take Benji out into the yard to eliminate and learn where his toilet was suppose to be and I somehow managed to stuck to it, even waking up in the middle of the night at 3AM just to take Benji out for him to make his little doggy deposits back to nature. There were a couple of oopsies in the beginning which necessitated some vigorous cleaning (and cursing) but in less than one week, Benji got the hang of it! I was ecstatic. It felt like I was finally doing something right.

But I can't take all the credits for myself because Benji was, we believed, no ordinary dog. He was very smart and empathetic. We thought night-time whining would be a problem but he ceased that on the first night after only a few shushes. In the same week he was house-trained, he quickly learned to sit, shake paws and lie down on command as well. Initially, he barked and bounded after our two cats but he quickly stopped doing that as well after realising that his overenthusiastic approach would only draw disapproving hisses from me (and the cats). He was gentle with Darwin and never leapt up around him as dogs are wont to do when they are playful and excited. Benji was so responsive, so eager to please, so perfect. I cannot even begin to describe how proud I was of him.

My favourite memory of him was last Sunday when we spent some time together in our yard as a family. I was weeding the garden while Darwin frolicked in his inflatable pool filled with colourful plastic balls. Benji was let off leash and he went to and fro between checking Darwin out from the side of the pool and watching me work quietly without getting in the way at all. His fur had begun to grow out and his ears were covered in a new growth of white fuzz. It looked like he was going to turn out to be a handsome dog after all. Cheryl took pictures, so we we will always have Sunday.

Sunday with Benji 3

Last Wednesday, I came home during lunchtime because I forgot my phone and while I was there, I let Benji out in the yard and after he watered the grass, I noticed his reluctance in stepping back into the house. It was a beautiful afternoon so I thought, what the heck, I would let Benji enjoy his day in the sun a little longer and reminded Cheryl to bring him in again at 3PM. Then, I busied myself hanging up some bird feeders I put together clumsily on a couple of trees in the bottom of the garden. The last glimpse of Benji I had was him going right down to the woods that bordered the edge of our garden to poop. "Attaboy," I thought to myself.

After a short nap, I left home to return back to work in my car. I went to the surgical ward to interview an alcoholic who was brought in because he vomited blood and was having the shakes, and after that, I dropped by at the clinic to assess an old Malay lady who was referred to me for dementia (she wasn't - the referring doctor screwed up the ECAQ). That was when I received a call from Cheryl. She was weeping piteously on the other side. It was wrong. She shouldn't be crying. There was no reason for her to... Oh no... No no no no no no no...

"He's not moving," she told me through her sobs. "There is so much blood. He's dead. Benji's DEAD."

I don't know how but I knew immediately what had happened. It felt as if I had fallen into a deep, dark pool of unreality and its chill had frozen my mind in rigid disbelief. I automatically told Cheryl to calm down, hung up and concluded my session with the not-demented old lady. Then, I went to my Head of Department to ask permission to return home early, which he granted after I told him what had happened. On my drive home, I raced through all the rooms in my head and rifled through all the drawers, searching for a memory, a clue, an explanation for this crazy living nightmare I am living through... and I just lost it. I broke down at the wheel and cried my heart out. I cried for Benji. I cried for Pixel. I was a little boy who lost his dog all over again.

When I got home, I espied a metre-long monitor lizard crouching in the grass and staring greedily at my driveway. What it was eyeing was a small, white, furry body lying on the concrete floor in a large, thick pool of congealing blood. On its fur, I could see the black marks where the car tires made their cruel prints on him. There was a trail of feces coming out of Benji's rear end, telling me that he crawled about a feet, shitting uncontrollably in his death throes before he stopped moving. The blood clots were disturbed, which meant that Benji was alive for at least a few minutes - maybe up to an hour - before his suffering ended. I can't imagine what he could be thinking in his last moments or how much pain he must have endured before he could finally rest. He would have been so confused, so alone at a time he needed his family the most, and the thought just breaks my heart.

I killed my dog. I couldn't believe it. I did this. I am a murderer. Benji slept under the car and I drove over him, not even knowing what I did as I was doing it. At that time, I thought I would go mad from the guilt.

It was almost 5PM so I told Cheryl to pick Darwin up from daycare. I would deal with Benji, I mumbled even though I was having trouble knowing where to begin. I took his collar off and wrapped his little broken body in the blanket he usually sleeps on before carrying him to the forest bordering our garden. There, between a clump of banana trees and a bamboo grove, I dug Benji's grave with a trowel and a weeding fork. I don't know why it mattered but I remember thinking that I should dig a hole big enough for him to lie down in.

Before Cheryl left, she came to me to hand me Benji's red collar and the small aluminium candy box I kept his treats in.

"He owns the collar," she told me fiercely. "This means he has a family and not abandoned. Give it to him. Let him wear it."

And I did. I put his collar around his neck for the last time and nestled his treat box by his side before putting him back into the earth. Then, I went inside and cried into my hands until my head hurt. Till now, I am still seeing flashes of his motionless tiny body in the driveway throughout the day and I still feel my heart race every time I put my car in reverse. I kept replaying the day's event in my mind, wondering what little things I could have done differently so that innocent, blameless Benji wouldn't need to die such a violent, lonely death. There was a million things and one, and I missed every single one of them. If only I have brought him back in instead of leaving him outside. If only I put a chain on him when he was out. If only I didn't forget to take my phone to work, causing me to return during lunchtime to retrieve it. If only I looked for him before I backed my car out of the driveway. It was a bottomless spiral of what-ifs and if-onlies; so many chances were there for me to save him that I can scarcely believe he could even have died.

Goodbye, Benji. I will miss our walks late at night, your soft gentle licks and your huge floppy ears. You were a good dog.

You were too good for me.

You will always be family, Benji. I am so sorry.

Benji in the Garden
Benji exploring our backyard.

Benji Sitting Quietly at Vet's Waiting Room
Benji's first visit to the vet for his kennel cough which he picked up from his time at the shelter. He was told to sit so he did. It was less than a week after he came home with us.

Benji Pooping with Tongue Out
An already house-trained Benji pooping outdoors.

Benji and Darwin
Benji meeting and greeting the other baby of the house for the first time.

Sunday with Benji 2
Benji and Darwin on our last Sunday together.

Sunday with Benji 1
Darwin, Benji and me.

k0k s3n w4i

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Going Bump at Night

"There is nothing more frightful than ignorance in action."

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

"She's been having hallucinations and thought she's possessed," the medical officer on the other end told me. "We are admitting her for observation - in case it is really endometritis - but we would appreciate it if you can come and review her. She seems distressed though. Afraid. Especially after we told her that she would be admitted."

18 year old Malay woman. Just given birth to her first child a few days ago. Judging from the brief blurb my O&G colleague gave me, it might mean postpartum psychosis. It was 10 PM and I was not thrilled considering that I had to chase my last postpartum psychosis patient down a long hallway to stop her from "rescuing" her baby from the nursery.

I quickly found the ward and the patient's bed and I saw that both the patient's husband and mother was helping her to settle down. I know I should never make snap judgements from simple once-overs but the girl I was suppose to see appeared a lot saner than I thought she would be. Her name, for the purpose of this article, is Ruya.

After introducing myself, I interviewed everyone and this was the story I was given: When Ruya was twelve, her grandmother witnessed her rising from her bed after she had fallen asleep. She then tried to leave her room when her frightened grandmother gave her an urgent shake, jolting  her out of her blank, trance-like state. Ruya herself was surprised to find herself out of her bed and remembered none of her actions preceding her awakening. "It was like waking up from sleep," she told me.

Throughout the years, this odd nocturnal behaviour recurred alongside frequent nightmares. Ruya's baffled and terrified family then sought out the help of bomohs, shamans and medicine men who confirmed their worst suspicions - Ruya was being plagued by djinns and demons which possesses her to steal her away. However, nothing these witch doctors do could free Ruya from their clutches. "The spirits are too strong," they said in their failure.

Finally, they came into the care of a Muslim imam - a man they refer to simply as the Ustaz. The Ustaz gave them the same supernatural diagnosis and have told them that over the years, the spirits plaguing Ruya had multiplied in numbers due to the machinations of vengeful bomohs they have stopped patronising. And, with the help of this imam, the incidence of grand-theft-Ruya decreased as she grew older. Then it stopped altogether. Impressed by the spiritual mojo that this imam displayed, the family converted to Islam because clearly, it is the One True Religion™, is it not? Why else would Ruya's night visitors loosen their grips on her?

Keeping my face as straight as I could, I asked one very critical question: Did any of these "paranormal activities" occurred when Ruya is awake?


"My O&G colleague told me that you appeared very distressed and upset that you have to be admitted in this hospital. Why is that?" I asked further.

Ruya said that that's because she was afraid that she might have to stay in the hospital overnight alone. The Ustaz have apparently told her that she must never ever be alone or the spooks and djinns will take the opportunity to assault her again.

"Please tell O&G to discharge me tomorrow! Or my mother will have to sleep here with me for another night!"

At that moment, I felt very angry but since I'm a professional, I smiled instead. I started off by telling them that there are a lot of schools of knowledge and I happen to be from a school of medicine. I told them that what I know might bring Ruya some relief and proceeded to explain that Ruya is (or was) a somnambulist i.e. she walks in her sleep. Sleepwalking is very common in children and as a child grows older, the episodes will naturally decrease in frequency, as observed in Ruya's case.

After my brief lecture, Ruya's mother thanked me and mistakenly addressed me with the honorific of "Ustaz" (which I declined politely). Ruya's husband however incorporated the information I have given him into his worldview and agreed that the devious ghosts and ghoulies have been using sleepwalking to lure Ruya out of her bedroom. Holy crap, you can never win with these people!

Realising that this is a battle I don't want to fight so late in the evening, I politely excused myself, went down to the labour room and told the O&G team that they have just referred a case of sleepwalking to me. I gave Ruya an appointment, but not for her somnambulism.

Anyway, how did the imam "know" that it was evil spirits that's plaguing Ruya? Was he lying or did he fool himself into thinking he is able to detect supernatural entities just because he went to Qur'an school or something? And boy he must have considered it a great success to convert an entire family to his brand of magical thinking. Had Ruya's family consulted a Christian pastor or a Taoist priest just as her symptoms were abating, they would be following a very different god today.

I am frequently told that I should leave people's beliefs alone because, why take them away if it comforts them? Ruya is one of the reasons why. Thanks to pure superstitions peddled by the shamans and the imam, a young woman had become so afraid of the world around her that she must be accompanied by family members at all times. And this is not the first time I have one of my patients harmed by one of these charlatans.

This is the 21st fucking century, people. Stop being afraid of the dark.

He who bumps back,
k0k s3n w4i

Friday, August 01, 2014

I Am Twenty-Eight

"Birthdays are good for you. Statistics show that the people who have the most live the longest."

Larry Lorenzoni

My birthday visited me last month and since I have tweaked my social media accounts to not alert my acquaintances to its passing, I received only birthday wishes from the usual suspects. My mom and dad did, and so did my sister. As with all previous years, I got a birthday greeting on Facebook from that one guy with whom I went to high school who was born on the same day I was. The nursing matron who oversees the department I work in wished me as well, no doubt after recently handling my work documents but thankfully, she did not pass the word. Like some mountain-dwelling misanthrope, I purposefully kept my birth date a loosely guarded secret just to see who doesn't care enough to remember, so I can in turn forget their birthdays in a passive-aggressive fashion. Take that, friends-I-don't-have!

My wife reminded me of it weeks before le quatorze juillet (my birth date) came up, repeatedly asking me what I want for my birthday. Then, in spite of the (variable and confusing) answers I gave her, she got me a bottle of Ralph Lauren's Polo Blue Eau de toilette because my last bottle of BO concealer ran out two years ago. I take it that she thinks I stink but she's still married to me, so I guess it's true love after all.

Wrapped Present
She wrapped it so I can unwrap it in a few hours time at dinner.

Polo Ralph Lauren Blue
Eau de toilette literally means "toilet water".

Polo Ralph Lauren Blue Unboxed
Now I shall smell like a polo player.

This prompted me to look up the difference between eau de toilette, eau de parfum and eau de cologne and apparently, they are just different gradings for a scent's concentration. Eau de parfum contains about 10-20% aromatic compounds, eau de toilette has 5-15%, while colognes are usually citrus extracts with 2-6% strength. There are significant overlaps in the number ranges because the French just don't give a fuck like that. Anyway, the different grades dictates whether you can spray a fragrance on yourself liberally or simply dab your pulse points with a drop or two. Judging from how some people's application of their fragrances can make my eyes water from 6 feet away, I suspect that very few people are aware of this fact. They won't notice that their scent is overpowering of course because of olfactory habituation (the why-is-this-pile-of-poop-smelling-less-offensive-the-longer-I-stand-beside-it? phenomenon). Maybe I can share what I learned about perfume strengths with them and lose even more friends.

And what did I get for myself?

Well, since I asked, I'll tell me. I bought a new smartphone to replace my stupidphone. It's a Samsung Galaxy S5 - an Android - because I am an atheist and I want no part in the Apple religion. I also bought myself a few video games from Steam (Penny Arcade's On The Rain-slick Precipice of Darkness 3 and 4, and Might & Magic Heroes VI) and made myself a birthday drink for good measure.

It was a piña colada, of course.

Homemade Pina Colada
Add cat to taste.

And because birthdays are just thinly veiled excuses to stuff our faces and then vowing (and failing) to eat less for a whole week after that, we went to Sharing Planet, a nearby restaurant that serves food portions meant to be shared by two or three average-sized Malaysians. Cheryl and I ordered two whole portions and ate till we hate ourselves.

Sharing Planet Mega Nachos and Cheese
Quesa-nacho grande. La tentación del diablo!

Sharing Planet Mixed Grill
Mixed grill, with the addition of a slab of rump beef.

Now I'm twenty-eight. I'm at that age when I need to mentally calculate how old I actually am if people catches me unaware with a sudden question. I guess the older you get, the less significant each year becomes, eh?

Thirty ahoy,
k0k s3n w4i

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Courtly Chamber of Fairy Cave

"The Dwarves tell no tale; but even as mithril was the foundation of their wealth, so also it was their destruction: they delved too greedily and too deep, and disturbed that from which they fled, Durin's Bane."

The Lord of the Rings (1954) by J. R. R. Tolkien

I learned about the Fairy Cave in the nearby town of Bau in my first year of working in Kuching but it wasn't until April 18 earlier this year that I could find the opportunity to see it for myself. The locals have named it Gua Pari with "gua" meaning "cave" and "pari" denoting "fairy". Pari can also mean "stingray", but I seriously doubt that that's the case here. The site is officially a natural reserve so a small fee is collected from every visitor for custodial maintenance.

The cave entrance was about 4 to 5-storeys up a sheer limestone cliff face and could only be accessed via a ugly free-standing concrete stairwell in dire need of a new coat of paint. On my ascent, I noticed that a smaller set of stairs was running closely to the rocks which I presumed was how tourists used to reach the cave mouth in the past. 

Fairy Cave 01 Stair Tower

Fairy Cave 02 Old Stairs
Safety? Is that some kind of small mammal?

The Fairy Cave got its name because of its association to a Bidayuh local legend that tells of a village not too far away which once held a festival. Two orphans, drawn to the celebration and revelry, wanted to participate but the villagers made fun of them before chasing them away. For their heartless treatment of these orphans, it was said that they were struck with a curse that turned them all into stone figures.

That's what some of the more humanoid cave formations in the Fairy Cave were suppose to be - petrified jerkasses.

Fairy Cave 03 Antechamber
The cave entrance.

Fairy Cave 04 Down the Rabbit Hole
After climbing some wet stairs through a dark tunnel, you get the first glimpse of something greater.

Fairy Cave 05 Towering Staglamite
Towering monolithic staglamites taller than houses and covered in vegetation nourished by the skylight.

The tiny tunnel that formed the antechamber of the Fairy Cave could not prepare me for what awaits me at the end of the darkness. It was a very well-lit gargantuan chamber with soaring ceilings that disappear into shadows far above, giving me a religious awe that surpasses that of any cathedral. The incessant chittering of leather-winged chiropterans were audible but barely, emanating from the whatever lightless recesses the water-carved cavern conceal from sight. My later visits to the even more majestic caves in Mulu National Park would dwarf this experience but at this time, it was the largest cave I've ever seen. In fact, aside from the faint stench of guano flavouring the air, it was hard to believe that I was standing inside the hollow heart of the mountain. There was a very Lost World vibe to it.

Fairy Cave 06 Limestone Cathedral
The main chamber of Fairy Cave.

Fairy Cave 08 Whole Cave from Massive Skylight (3 Pics)
View of the cave chamber from where the skylight is.

Fairy Cave 19 Last View
View of the massive, Eye-of-Sauron-shaped skylight.

Fairy Cave 11 Bench with Giant Robed Figure
A solitary bench near the back of the cave chamber.

Fairy Cave 17 Deeper In
A concrete path leading into the darkness of the deeper chambers.

Fairy Cave 18 Darkness
The end of the concrete path. The tunnels go deeper but they were closed to visitors.

Right at the centre of a cave, someone have placed the statue of an uncanny childlike figure adjacent to a huge rock. A white cap was placed on its head, a black robe was draped over its shoulders and a red sash encircled its waist. I have no idea what it is suppose to represent but I really didn't like the way it stares at me with its pupil-less, empty stone eyes. Near it was a green plaque embedded right into the rock. It read "Titisan Air Fairy", meaning Fairy Water Drops or Fairy Tears. My imagination started playing a vague weeping noise that seemed to dance just outside of the audible frequency. Quit spooking me, brain!

Fairy Cave 16 Weeping Angel
"Can I come home with you?"

I didn't see any of the fabled fairies but I did spot a troll sucking greedily at his cigarette and letting his cancerous breaths waft about in the still cave air to find their way into the lungs of the young children who were also exploring the cave. After he was finished, he his cigarette butt nonchalantly into a pile of limestone formations. What is it with cigarette smokers that they can't even display the merest sense of consideration for other people?

Fairy Cave 07 Cave Troll
A smelly, ugly troll.

Unlike the caves at Mulu which were preserved in pristine conditions by the stringent rules the park authorities have laid down, the cave formations in Fairy Cave were unguarded and unprotected. Vandals can freely lay their grubby fingers on them, climb them or even pee on them, thoughtlessly disfiguring speleothems that took hundreds of thousands of years to form in just seconds. Some superstitious Chinese visitors even worships some of the humanoid-shaped stalagmites as the burnt out stems of joss sticks lying thickly at their bases can attest. Seriously, what the fuck is wrong with people?

Fairy Cave 10 Staglamite and Staglatite Worship
Like a throat with a uvula dangling from the roof.

Fairy Cave 12 Easter Island Head in Sarawak
A huge stalagmite that resembles the head of Shou (壽) with its high, domed forehead and beard. Shou is the Chinese deity of longevity.

Fairy Cave 14 Creepy Man Shaped Staglamite
I call this one Damocles and His Sword.

Fairy Cave 13 Tall Slender Staglamite with Torso
I don't even know what this looks like but let's worship it too, just in case.

Concrete paths and steps, and its well-lit interior made Fairy Cave an easy hole to explore - no torches are necessary. It is only about 30 minutes from Kuching (by driving, not by walking or riding a slow donkey) in a southwesterly direction. Finding it should be a cinch as many signboards point the way, and visitors often do the less famous Wind Cave at the same time - which I also visited but that's another blog post.

Fairy Cave 20 Free Cave
Overhanding mountainside near the Fairy Cave.

k0k s3n w4i