Tag Archives: health

tumblr: For all of our countless innovations in technology, especially…

For all of our countless innovations in technology, especially here in Silicon Valley, we still depend on the charity of others to supply the very blood that flows through our veins and literally delivers life from head to toe, to all the cells in our body. Our bodies are built to be able to donate blood with taking very little away from the donor him/herself and by such a small act as donating blood (and/or blood parts, such as plasma), you can help save others’ lives.

I haven’t been healthy enough in years, but I used to donate blood regularly at the Stanford Blood Center, especially since I’m Type O (universal donor— let’s not even get into what that ironically says about me). They are running a blood drive today until 5 pm in the super-convenient location of White Plaza, so if you are able and allowed (I know— there are still some troubling discriminatory rules on who is allowed to donate), please do.

Posted via tumblr: http://sindyjlee.tumblr.com/post/72899450626 published on January 10, 2014 at 01:11PM


Here’s a little story to illustrate how curious my parents’ perspective on even the simplest things in life can be given everything they’ve lived through:

My father has been having increased trouble walking for various reasons over the past year to the point that he even has a handicap placard now because he has trouble walking even short distances, although he isn’t quite at the walker or even cane stage yet. I was talking to my mom yesterday about how he was doing and in describing the way he used to walk, instead of just describing a limp, she said (paraphrased from the Korean):

Remember the Korean president who had trouble walking? He was limping like that.

She was talking about Kim Dae-jung (김대중), president of South Korea from 1998 to 2003. I was actually lucky enough to hear him speak at Stanford (and see him limp in real life) shortly after he won the Nobel prize in 2000 for his policy of engagement with North Korea, known as the Sunshine Policy.

Now, the reason Kim had a limp was from being injured during the years of political persecution and exile along the road to his presidency and his longtime involvement in the struggle for democracy in South Korea. (Yeah, news flash: the Korean War didn’t magically make South Korea a democracy. It’s not even technically over.) According to Wikileaks data, when Kim passed away in August 2009, the U.S. Embassy in Seoul described him as “South Korea’s first left-wing president”. Specifically, Kim was a vocal dissident of the Yushin (유신) program of then president Park Chung-hee (박정희) which granted him near dictatorial powers, and after narrowly losing the presidential election to Park in 1971, Kim permanently injured his hip joint during a car accident. The accident was actually a failed assassination attempt by Park himself; later, in August 1973, Kim was eventually kidnapped by intelligence agents of the then military government of South Korea that was, of course, led by Park.

This was all around the time my parents immigrated to the U.S. and this is how my mom describes a limp. This is literally her automatic / natural frame of reference to describe something as relatively simple and seemingly innocuous as a limp.

And FYI, who was the father of the current and first female president of South Korea, Park Geun-hye (박근혜)? Former president Park Chung-hee.

A banana a day keeps the doctor away

12/27/2010 Tweet (19451633976999936): "Thanks everyone for your well wishes..." If you’ve been following/keeping up with me on Twitter or Facebook (which of course, if we’re connected because we know each other in real life, the answer is probably “not really”), you’ll know that I had a brief stint in the hospital about a week and a half ago, my discharge as a special present on Christmas Day. I will explain further, but in short, I was hospitalized for hypokalemia (low potassium) associated paralysis. Normally, although I’m on Twitter, Facebook, etc. and even keep this blog, I don’t really like getting into the finer details of my private life– especially the specific details of my medical history– but I’m sharing this here to educate others as well as point out how sharing some of those details in some lasting way (rather than just conversation– e.g., a hundred years ago, it would have been letters or a journal/diary) has helped me better explain and understand what has been going on. Through tweets/status updates, emails, text messages, etc., we each create a sort of digital archive of our individual lives and by reviewing the browser history of my life for the past six months, I’ve actually been able to construct a more accurate timeline, see how my symptoms first arose and progressed into partial paralysis, determine what additional factors may have been at play, and plan for better prevention as well as earlier detection.

12/23/2010 Tweet (17705579766095872): "So much pain all over..." About a month ago, I experienced very sore and easily fatigued legs as well as severe pain in my quads, hips and lower back, especially when trying to sit down or get back up (one of these lift chairs would have been amazingly helpful)– but the symptoms had gone away after a few days, so I attributed it to simply being tired/burnt out, stressed, and in need of some serious rest in the short term and some serious exercise and getting back into shape in the long term. Unfortunately, by the beginning of Christmas week– right after my office finally closed for the winter closure/break and I started a two-week vacation– my entire body was aching (on any of the commonly used pain scales, approximately 5/10 at best, 10/10 at worst), like it would the day after doing a hundred squat thrusts or lunges with weights in each hand (which of course I hadn’t done). I wasn’t able to do much for days (didn’t even sufficiently proofread my tweet!) and I simply sat or lay down with a heating pad, hoping that plus some rest would clear things up. But things only got worse: I could barely sit down or stand back up without being in excruciating pain (imagine how challenging going to the bathroom becomes at that point, especially for us women folk) and in addition to the pain, I started to experience not just simple fatigue, but actual muscle weakness. By Wednesday morning, I was having trouble getting out of bed (literally– not “I feel sad and don’t feel like getting out of bed,” but more like “I can’t get out of bed because I can’t actually move parts of my body and moving the parts I can causes intense pain) and getting dressed, the pain and weakness having spread by then to my arms and back. I had already contacted my primary care physician, trying to determine if this was more serious than just being tired, stressed and out of shape, and I was supposed to go in on Thursday afternoon to see her, but by late Wednesday night, partial paralysis had already set in.

Nature’s call woke me up at about 2 am on Wednesday (technically, Thursday) night; partial paralysis had set in and I found myself unable to get myself out of bed. I could barely move my arms and legs, much less push myself up and out of bed. I had left the heat set a little too high, so I not only had to go to the bathroom, but I was already starting to overheat. I couldn’t even move my legs enough to get out from under the covers, my legs becoming more entangled in the sheets with every pathetic kick, or move my arms enough to somehow pull the covers back. Panic started to set in as I struggled more and more, my now tangled legs adding to the feeling of being trapped, my normally featherweight duvet feeling like a weighted net holding me down, and each miserable movement only making it warmer and more agonizing in the trap that my bed had become. For those of you who know me relatively well, you know I’m no stranger to pain or nausea or illness in general: I have regularly suffered through days, weeks, maybe even months of constant headache/migraine pain, nausea and vomiting. I have woken up in the middle of an endoscopy to see the inside of my own stomach on the screen, had multiple bad drug interactions, from painful dystonic reactions to full-blown pancreatitis and liver inflammation, and found myself crawling to the kitchen because my back hurt so much. But I have never experienced such severe muscle weakness or paralysis of any kind and that feeling of such sudden helplessness is one of the scariest things I have ever experienced. I remembered a college classmate of mine who became paralyzed after contracting the Epstein-Barr virus— very athletic, he was a healthy high school student whose legs suddenly gave out from under him and hours later, they were paralyzed. I didn’t think it was nearly that bad, but I couldn’t help but remember his story.

I tried to calm down and assess the situation. I’ve been through enough neurological exams to do a few tests on my own and found that I could at least wiggle my fingers and toes, weakly twitch muscles over most of my body, and still feel things along my skin, so I knew I wasn’t completely paralyzed and just tried to focus on what to do. I struggled for nearly half an hour, trying to get out of bed enough to call 911 (and for some reason, the 911 operator kind of gave me a hard time because my cell phone number and location weren’t showing up correctly, but I digress…). Once the paramedics/ambulance were on their way, somehow, I managed to get some pants on (forget about any vanity– couldn’t lift my arms even to shoulder height, much less hold them up, so bed head ponytail and glasses had to do) and amazingly, once I was standing, I could actually walk, albeit awkwardly and stilted like a zombie (“traditional” zombie pace, not superfast like the crazed zombies of recent cinematic fame). I unlocked my apartment door (thank God for front door buzzers) and leaned against the wall, waiting for help. Once they got to my apartment, the paramedics wanted to sit me back down again to check me out while waiting for the actual ambulance, but I told them, “If I sit down, I won’t be able to get back up.” This wouldn’t normally be a big deal, but they hadn’t brought up a gurney/stretcher since it’s difficult (but not impossible) to fit one in my building’s elevator (not sure why I’ve never seen paramedics/EMTs out here use one of those stretchers that folds up more like a wheelchair, with the patient strapped in– the paramedics used that years ago with my father to navigate slightly narrow stairs at our old house). However, since I could still kind of walk, I just said “forget it, let’s just try walking” and we made our way down the hall to the elevator. Unfortunately, if you’re parked near the front door rather than the garage entrance, there are still two half flights of stairs before you’re on precious parking lot, car-level land. Gritting through the pain and holding on to one of the paramedics for support, I went down first the hard, indoor, linoleum covered stairs, then the even harder concrete stairs outside, feeling like I could go down head first at any second (and having done it as a child, going head first into concrete is not cool). Once they got me settled outside, they started checking me out while they wheeled out the gurney and one of the paramedics or EMTs asked why I was sweating so much. Another paramedic pointed out that I had said I had been pushing hard for the past half hour just to call 911 and unlock my door, not to mention just getting downstairs, which was good because I really was about to lose it from a combination of fear, panic, and pain.

12/23/2010 Tweet (18066176391249920): "In case anybody is looking for me..." Luckily, I live literally around the corner from the hospital, so getting there was quick, but I didn’t feel like folks were really taking me seriously until after the ER doctor saw me and then definitely once my blood tests came back, despite almost collapsing when they were moving me from the gurney to a wheelchair and all the help required me to get me into a hospital gown and onto the bed/stretcher in my room in the ER. It kind of felt like because I couldn’t name some recent injury or some underlying condition and because I was able to move a bit, they thought I was maybe not faking, but exaggerating things a bit. But when the ER doctor came in, she immediately asked if I knew how my potassium levels were, which of course I didn’t (it’s not like taking your temperature– checking your potassium level actually requires a blood test). My primary ER nurse was very nice, patiently holding my cup so I could drink some soda to help settle my stomach (I was nauseated, of course, as usual) and urging me not to push myself, to let her help me, even if it’s as boring as holding my cup so I could drink something (I was also pretty dehydrated by this point). Those of you who know me know that I like to be pretty independent, often to a fault, so you could imagine how hard even something as simple as that would be for me, but eventually, I was in so much pain and so exhausted that I just gave up and decided to lay there, stop worrying, and let the doctors and nurses do their thing.

In the real world– not the CSI, Law & Order, ER world– labs take a while, but after 1-2 hours (who’s counting at this point?), my tests came back and sure enough my potassium level had plummeted to a dangerously low level– normal potassium levels are between 3.5 and 5.0 mEq/L, mild hypokalemia is considered 2.5-3 mEq/L, severe is less than 2 mEq/L. My potassium level was 1.9 mEq/L, at which point flaccid paralysis (muscle weakness, paralysis, loss in muscle tone) and hyporeflexia (reduced or absent reflexes) can present. Rhabdomyolysis can also occur, skeletal muscle damage releasing harmful proteins into the bloodstream, and even respiratory depression (muscle is muscle after all and it takes some muscle to keep breathing) as well as cardiac problems, such as irregular heartbeat (prompting the fastest EKG ever). I had all of those symptoms, except for respiratory or cardiac problems thankfully (although they did have me hooked up to some type of cardiac monitor the whole time I was in the hospital– if your hospital gown doesn’t have the little pocket for it, you literally carry this thing around with you all the time like an albatross around your neck).

Fall Risk Ultimately, I was eventually moved into an actual bed to make me more comfortable while waiting to be admitted and moved to a regular room, this time with enough manpower to move me more easily (albeit painfully), doing the ol’ 1-2-3 lift from stretcher to bed. I was eventually put in the Progressive Care Unit (one notch below ICU and filled with patients who have had heart attacks, strokes, etc.) and they pumped me full of IV potassium which, in itself, is rather painful to administer (fyi, potassium chloride is one of the drugs used in lethal injection cocktails) and is usually mixed with lidocaine not only in the IV bag, but in the IV site as well to numb the pain (and with my small veins, they had to turn down the flow rate too). Low potassium levels really screw with almost everything– I experienced my first auditory hallucinations that first night. The lidocaine injection set off this horrible, loud ringing in my ears and even though I knew it wasn’t real, that it was a hallucination, it was new to me and scary. It was a full day before I could fully move my arms and legs again and not until Friday could I actually get up, walk around, go to the bathroom by myself, etc. After physical therapy, occupational therapy (i.e., showing I can put pants on, use the bathroom, stand at the sink without help, etc.) and several visits to the can (never knew how rewarding it would be to be able to go to the bathroom by myself again), I was exhausted by mid-afternoon and hurting all over, but at least I could walk again, feed myself, hold my phone to my ear, text message briefly– you know, the important things.

So, what caused all this? About six months ago, one of my doctors put me on a diuretic/water pill (hydrochlorothiazide) to help control my blood pressure and in turn, better prevent migraines, which worked (good), but that particular water pill has the unfortunate “occasional” side effect of hypokalemia (bad). This, in combination with a possible underlying genetic condition called hypokalemic periodic paralysis, made my body continuously lose potassium, eventually dipping to this dangerously low level. As I said at the beginning of this post, after looking through tweets/status updates, emails, and text messages, etc., I realized that for at least several weeks, maybe even a few months before being hospitalized, I was having more pain than usual– aside from headaches/migraines, I was having more than normal back pain, some soreness and weakness in my legs, and a return of moderate to severe numbness and tingling in my wrists and hands (which I wrote off as symptoms of repetitive stress/carpal tunnel). I realized that I had been having hypokalemia symptoms for months, but in addition to simply attributing them to just being tired, stressed and in need of getting some rest and back into shape, I have been going through continuous bouts of pain and related issues for a few years now and no one has been able to pinpoint and fix the exact cause or really even theorize a new cause other than the usual: being tired, stressed and in need of both rest and exercise. I think I felt like if I had brought things up a month or two ago, I was going to be told the same thing, so I saved myself the effort, discouragement and co-pay. Unfortunately, this time, there really was something “new” wrong and both doctors and nurses told me repeatedly how lucky I was, that considering how low my potassium level was that it could have been much, much worse. Well, message received and I am certainly thankful that only after a little over a day, I was able to move and walk again and that I didn’t sustain any lasting muscle damage, especially to my heart. I’m thankful to everyone, from the paramedics and EMTs to the doctors and nurses who took care of me to my friend who left Christmas Day with his family to pick me up and take me home.

12/25/2010 Tweet (18753475017965568): "Still, should be checking out..." I continued to experience pretty bad pain and soreness from the hypokalemia and rhabdomyolysis– muscle doesn’t repair overnight– but once I was taken off of IV potassium and able to sustain a normal potassium level through diet alone, I was able to go home on Christmas Day. I’m still recovering– mostly dealing with receding muscle pain, trying to build back up muscle strength, resting and sleeping lots as I’m still easily exhausted, and finally, making sure that I get my potassium through a glass of orange juice or a banana every day.


So, I haven’t had a substantive post here since last August, but I’m back now (hopefully). There’s lots of reasons I’ve been away– first off, I had a bout of pancreatitis last summer, which despite over a week in the hospital, was followed by repeat instances of pancreatitis (or some similar illness) for months after, resulting in a few more hospitalizations. After getting over my GI problems (sort of), I’ve been suffering from constant migraines, threw out my back (I have no idea how, but I could barely walk for days), and just had a car accident. It’s been a long nine to ten months and I’m trying to dig myself out of this hole. As my Facebook status reads, I am recovering from life. And with that comes a return to blogging, including my continuing coverage of IdeaFarm (the truck is back, alive and well parked on the corner of Castro and El Camino in Mountain View) and other random stuff, like my teenage infatuation with the Twilight series as well as my continuing love affair with Depeche Mode (I’m re-watching 101 as I write).

So, stay tuned.

Where you at?

You might have noticed that I have been MIA for a while now– my last, close-to-substantive post was on January 5. Fittingly, the topic of that post was the lumbar puncture I had had the day before and it was one of the many things with which I’ve been busy. As I may have posted in the the past few months, life has ben filled with visits to the doctor, medical tests, more frequent and increasingly severe headaches/migraines, and general malaise that worsens from time to time. Add to all this to the sudden increase in pain in my wrists and hands (from repetitive stress) and development of numbness and tingling in my hands, all the way through to all the fingers– both being so severe sometimes that they wake me up at night, keep me from falling back to sleep, and make it hard to do everyday tasks, like handwrite or get ready in the mornings, from gripping and turning faucet handles to blow drying my hair. I had some tendonitis from repetitive stress years ago when I first started working, but was able to treat it effectively through physical therapy, stretching and exercise, a more ergonomic work setup, frequent breaks, and the rest of the RSI rigamarole, managing to become relatively free of truly problematic symptoms.

However, the tendonitis suddenly became very severe a few months ago and is now accompanied by numbness and tingling that are certainly more annoying than the pain. The irony is that these “sudden” RSI symptoms started and worsened when I had actually reduced my work hours (only 40 hours per week!)– like most departments at Stanford do for significant cost savings, my office closes for a few weeks at the end of the year and aside from taking the long break (and even managing to avoid doing work despite being on-call), I even left for the break a week early. Since then, I’ve been out of the office more than usual due to illness (it’s largely a crapshoot everyday how I’ll be feeling) and a slightly ridiculous number of doctor and physical therapy appointments. I’m pretty sure I’m being punished for a life of playing piano and typing.

As of now, almost all of my test results are normal and one thing we’re pretty sure about is that it’s NOT lupus. So, for the most part, we’ve managed to rule out a number of things and otherwise, we’re back to the drawing board and I just need to suck it up while we figure things out. At the end of the day, I having basically decided that if I was a superhero, my powers would be tolerance of prescription drugs and the ability to stay relatively high-functioning despite constant pain.

In any case, I’m slowly starting to improve and get back to a somewhat normal life, including maintaining my offline social life and my online presence. Look forward to more frequent posting soon.

Lumbar Puncture

In the continuing efforts to figure out my chronic headaches, I had a lumbar puncture yesterday; in layman’s terms, you might call it a spinal tap.

When you have an LP (as you may also have heard it called, especially on something like House), there’s a 10-15% chance that you’ll get a severe headache with nausea, but that can usually be avoided by making sure you stay lying flat on your back for a few hours after the procedure and keeping your fluids up. A persistent headache can mean that a proper clot didn’t form at the puncture site and there’s a CSF (cerebrospinal fluid) leak– a microscopic leak, not one that comes oozing out your back, so the headache is the only real tip off that you have one.

Amazingly, after staying strictly in the supine position after the procedure at the doctor’s office and then at home (except for the brief trip to the car in a wheelchair and all and then up the elevator home), I avoided getting a severe headache and hopefully, a CSF leak. Imagine my luck, considering I otherwise have a headache everyday, often all day.

Anyway, thanks to Marina and Charles for taking me to the doctor and taking care of me all day yesterday. For the less squeamish, check out this video of an actual LP.

My Small Breasts and I

No, not actually my small breasts and I, but building on my brief claim to search fame for being the top hit for “blog breasts” back in 2004: it’s apparently Body Image Season on BBC Three and one of the latest episodes was a special on women with small breasts and how their breast size affects their body image, lifestyle, etc. Having the opposite problem, it was pretty interesting, especially watching one woman attach a suction apparatus to her chest every day in hopes of boosting her cup size.

However, the most interesting thing I learned about was the site myfreeimplants.com. Cosmetic surgery financing at its finest, the site basically pairs up women who want to get breast implants with men who are willing to “donate” money to their cause.

Only in America. You’ve got to love a free market.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to next week’s episode My Big Breasts and Me.


During lunchtime discussion today, I found out one of my friends/coworkers has had hiccups in the past for something on the order of 24 hours (I can’t remember if it was more). On top of that, it’s actually happened to him more than once– unbelievable! (There are often days when we discover fascinating things about him, despite his mild-mannered exterior).

After reading about hiccups in Wikipedia, I probably know more than I should ever know about hiccups, but here are a few interesting tidbits:

  • In 1988, Francis Fesmire of the University of Tennessee College of Medicine published his research on “Termination of intractable hiccups with digital rectal massage.” In 2006, he was one of the recipients of the Ig Nobel for medicine for his research. Aside from being “research that makes people laugh and then think,” as the Ig Nobel folks say, the additional interesting thing about this is that there’s an episode of House where a patient who claims to be suffering from hiccups, after being told they will go away on their own, requests a specific treatment/cure that he read about, one that some guy one a prize for. Later, House throws the patient’s file on the counter, telling the nurse to make a note about “drug-seeking behavior.” Dr. Cuddy asks, “Morphine?” House answers, “No, anal-digital stimulation.”
  • As recounted by my friend during our hiccups discussion, Charles Osborne, after slaughtering or weighing a hog (I’ve found conflicting reports on what he was actually doing, but it definitely involved a hog), suffered from hiccups continuously for 68 years, from 1922 to 1990. (He obviously holds the Guinness World Record for “Longest Attack of Hiccups.”) Contrary to what we thought earlier– that he had hiccups all the way until his death– his hiccups actually mysteriously disappeared on their own in 1990, a year before he passed away. Nevertheless, he still managed to live to the ripe old age of 97, marrying at least more than once and fathering several children.

Check out this interview of a girl who had hiccups for five weeks (the video shows her after about three weeks in):

28 on 28 and life at the ER

2 IVs while at the Stanford Hospital ER
2 IVs while at the Stanford Hospital ER
Originally uploaded by sindy

Thanks to everyone who wished me a happy birthday on Friday, including my co-workers who called me during my usual work-at-home-Friday to sing “Happy Birthday.” I turned 28 on the 28th!

Unfortunately, I spent Friday evening, into the wee hours, at the ER and then most of the afternoon and into the late evening on Saturday again at the ER. No, it wasn’t a “drinking related emergency” or any such fun– I had been suffering through five days of an excruciating headache and eventually ended up in the ER. The photo here shows the TWO IVs I ended up having put in on Saturday after they failed THREE times to get an IV in, finally got one in (the one in my hand) and then realized they needed to put a larger needle in higher for the contrast scan.

In any case, a total of fourteen hours later, I’m sick of the ER, but finally pain free and everything looks okay. (If you’re going to the ER and you have the chance, bring a book– you’re going to be waiting.) Thanks to the ER staff who, although they couldn’t get my scans to happen faster (who am I to trump a trauma?), were very nice and took care of me well.