Saturday, September 30, 2006

From Vietnam to Woodstock

Tonight I've been researching for my nonfiction class, trying to find connections between transplant surgeons and football in general, and everything is leading to Pittsburgh. I was reading a newsletter from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's Thomas E. Starzl Transplantation Institute (disclaimer: I'm temping there) and found a story about a Pittsburgh Steelers fundraiser. And I also found a story about Ngoc Thai, MD, PhD.

I didn't get a chance to meet Dr. Thai before he went to DC for awhile because of his military duties. When I mentioned to one of the nurses that I'd traveled to Vietnam, she told me that Dr. Thai was born in Vietnam--so ever since, I have been curious about his story. Now that I've found a newsletter-sized nugget of it, here is a link to that story. You may have to scroll around to the upper right of the PDF file to get to see the "Dr. Thai directs pancreas transplant" story.

I think it's pretty funny that he went from Vietnam to Woodstock. How many people could claim that?

Calling All Angels

I walked into the big Giant Eagle grocery store in McIntyre Square last night, and a few seconds later I heard Train's "Calling All Angels" start playing on the store's PA system. The music in that store amuses me every time I'm in there--sometimes I hear The Pretenders, other times Howard Jones--pretty much the whole range of alternative-ish 80s music. I expect the pop stuff, but I've heard The Ramones in there before.

I'm sure that I must be the target demographic for that store. Maybe that's how Train fits in, because they certainly aren't from the 80s.

My friend Samantha and I have had long discussions about signs from our dads. There's my dragonfly thing. And Sam has her song cue thing--and "Calling All Angels" is one of those songs. So I whipped out my cell phone in the produce section and called her--and told her what was playing in the store. My cell phone battery was in dire need of recharging so we didn't talk long.

Here's a link to the Train lyrics. I think they're pretty applicable to how I'm feeling about the world in the aftermath of that school thing in Colorado. Since it happened, I've had "I Don't Like Mondays" from the Boomtown Rats playing in my head. Lyrics are here.

I need to go back to the grocery store. There were some nice dragonfly thank-you cards in there.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

She was there

Got through on the phone to my uncle today. My aunt was working in Platte Canyon High School when the hostage-taking gunman came into the high school yesterday. I'm going to leave it at that for now while I'm trying to process all of this.

I know that in a very large way I should feel some gratitude that my aunt and hundreds of others got out of the building. But I know that the ordeal is just beginning for those students and teachers and staff and their families.

I learned when talking to survivors of the ambush which took the lives of my father and ten other men that it's wrong to say that the survivors were unharmed. I don't it's possible to come out of the other side of a traumatic experience and be unharmed.

My aunt is a counselor, and how is she going to help these kids get through this when she was also a part of it? Sure, there will be crisis intervention teams, a slew of mental health professionals all over the place--for now. I'm trying to assess the difference between having an outside person, an expert, to talk to, versus talking with someone who shared that experience.

From what I know from a veteran who served with my dad, it was after he started going to group veterans' counseling that he started wanting to talk with the men who experienced the same incident he did.

Having experts come into Platte Canyon will only be the first step. And it will be a fairly simple matter for these folks to find others who experienced the same incident--and that's what makes me saddest of all.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

A television day

Minette Seate from WQED Multimedia met me for lunch today. We talked a lot about out Vietnam trip, and the documentary about it, which is scheduled to air on November 9 on WQED-TV. (That's the PBS station here in Pittsburgh.

As we were walking from the Indian restaurant on Atwood Street, we waited for the signal to cross Atwood at Forbes Avenue, one of the busiest (vehicular and pedestrian) and most urban (the green stickers on the garbage cans are as green as it gets) intersections in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh. I looked up while we were watching the traffic go by and I saw a dragonfly buzzing down Forbes, then crossing over our heads onto Atwood.

I pointed it out to Minette. She laughed and said they're following me. I've seen some strange things at Forbes and Atwood, but that was by far the strangest. I'm glad that once again as in Vietnam Minette was a witness to it.

Then, later in the afternoon at work, I stopped into the hospital cafeteria to get some hot tea and saw people glued to the flat-screen television. There was some school incident going on in Colorado, and I stopped to talk to some of the people watching it. I've seen them around; they must be visitors of a patient. The CNN info bar showed "Bailey, Colorado" and I couldn't place it but knew that I knew the name Bailey. The arial shots looked way too much like Columbine.

I went back upstairs, not giving it much thought, until I thought, okay, I'll check online and I saw the name of the high school: Platte Canyon. Then it clicked--Bailey is the next town over from where my family out there lives, and my aunt works at Platte Canyon. (At least I think she still does, but I'm hoping not, of course!) I told the nurses I work with that I had to make some phone calls, and got my family's answering machine (which is what I expected) and then called Uncle Jimmy and told him not to let Grandma watch any of the news stations.

It looks like the school incident is over (at the moment CNN is reporting that the gunman is dead after the police stormed the school), but it's a reminder to me just how fast things happen--and that the trauma of those things can take a very long time to play out.

Minette and I had been talking at lunch about post-traumatic stress disorder, and I am sure there are now many new cases of it in Colorado.

Got low chicken?

Last Friday night, I went to a going-away party for my friend Thuy. She was moving back to California to join her husband, a university professor who's been working there for several weeks. Thuy worked here as a realtor, and for some reason the house she shared here with her husband is the house that wouldn't sell. (It's a contemporary house on a large lot in the "classic" end of Squirrel Hill, as Thuy calls it--anyone interested?)

I seemed destined to meet Thuy. She'd met the wife of a Friends of Danang member at a baby shower. Thuy worked a few years back with my friend Jonna. And Thuy had mentioned one day that she was going to a dinner that night--the same dinner my friend Phuong was going to. I got to that dinner late, and that summer evening a group of us went to Dave & Andy's for ice cream.

Phuong's friend Nguyen didn't join us that evening, or many of the other times we got together this summer, because he's been so busy working on his Ph.D. But I did get him out of his apartment long enough to come with me to Thuy's going-away party. My friend Jonna was there, and Louis, who was at that dinner where Phuong and Thuy met. The food was great, and the conversations were even greater.

Nguyen explained to me and to Jonna that in Vietnam, KFC chicken--industrialized chicken--is known as low chicken. He asked if there's a way in this country if he get chickens out running around. Free-range chicken, only he didn't know that term. Jonna and I told Nguyen about Whole Foods.

But after a few drinks, and the little fingers-do-the-warlking gesture through the dining room air when Nguyen was explaining the chickens, Jonna and I burst into impromptu song: "I got my low chicken". It had the gingle of a commercial with the twang of a country song.

I still have that ridiculous song fragment playing in my head, and it's getting me through the week, which, like an industrialized chicken, has been low.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Learning from past mistakes

I work in an office in a university hospital system, in a pioneering area of medicine. There, the importance of learning from past failures can literally be a matter of life and death. If there is anything at all that could be gained by the tragedy of losing so many lives in the Vietnam War, it would be to use what happened then to end a war that shouldn't have happened in the first place, and to prevent another war from starting.

Joe Galloway's latest column, Once again, truth is a war casualty, is the best piece I've read yet about the Vietnam War and what's going on in Iraq.

And as far as what might happen with Iran, there was a story on Editor & Publisher, Ellsberg Calls on Insiders to Leak Details of Alleged War Plans.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

I made a bindi with my cat food!



In case you're wondering why I think my cats are special, here's Cookie posing next to her cat-food-as-bindi in her dish.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Anybody wanna buy a raffle ticket (or six)?

I'm selling raffle tickets for Friends of Danang. One ticket for a buck, six tickets for five bucks. First prize $500 cash; second prize 32-inch color TV; third prize Steelers memorabilia. The drawing will be held at the Bethel Park Rotary spaghetti dinner on Saturday, October 14. (I'll have dinner tickets available soon.) If you're interested in buying some raffle tickets or dinner tickets, please drop me a line or call me. Thanks!

Crossing the road

On my first week of my non-fiction class, my professor asked me about differences between Oakland (where the University of Pittsburgh is) and Vietnam. I told him it was easier to cross the street in Vietnam. If you've ever attempted to cross at Fifth and Bigelow, or anywhere in the immediate vicinity of the university hospitals, you know that those intersections look orderly and safe. But with so many lost and stressed-out drivers and pedestrians and the bus traffic and Fifth's counter-flow bus lane, crossing the street is a little like playing a few screens up in the old video game Frogger. Bloop, bloop, bloop, and hopefully not splat.

I didn't walk across any big highways in rural areas in Vietnam, mostly because there aren't many big highways in rural areas in Vietnam. But here's what happened when we stopped along the side of the road to photograph the countryside east of Hanoi:



Apparently, the rule that applies in the cities: just start walking and the traffic will go around you, also applies out in the country. The cows know the rule, too. I believe dogs also know it, and pigs and chickens, and water buffalo. And, amazingly, the bus drivers.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Things are looking up

I heard from Phuong today, and she's back home, catching up on some much-needed rest. And I talked to Rick a little while ago. He drove straight home from Pittsburgh to Minneapolis, and he's been resting up from that.

And my class tonight was better than I expected. Our first assignment has to be related to football somehow, but not necessarily about football. Thank God.

One of the things I that I think would be so nice about living in a place like Hanoi is that there's no American football there. No NFL, no NCAA. I'll have to make a mental note to visit there during American football season.

Monday, September 04, 2006

I want to run away

Phuong began her journey back to Hanoi on Saturday. My friend Rick, who served with my dad, was here visiting on Saturday and Sunday on his way from DC to his home in Minneapolis. Now Phuong and Rick are both back at their homes, and I'm feeling lost and empty. It doesn't help any that we've had crappy weather, and the mayor died, and two of my former neighbors died, all in the past week or so. And the whole job thing is an issue, as is my apartment (that damn air conditioner is leaking again, the faucets are dripping, the balcony is crumbling and every once in awhile there's a thud as if the building is shifting or somebody's slamming something around in the garage space below me). And in my course this semester I have to write about (gag!) football. There are few things in this life I hate more than football and its associated culture--especially here in Western Pennsylvania. I grew up hating the whole football/steel/shot-and-a-beer yinzerdom world of the 1970s, which really hasn't changed much. I still hate it.

It's all enough to make me want to run away and go live in Hanoi.

I'd probably do that, if I didn't have two cats I love who couldn't go with me. Maybe someday.