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Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

Sepsis is dramatic, and septic shock even moreso as the latter carries a very real chance of dying. Once you survive, the doctors talk about recovery being a matter of time. Time to regain your strength and stamina. Time to rebuild your muscles. Time for your immune system to strengthen. Time to make psychological peace with your brush up against your own mortality.

It’s not that simple.

I’d liken it more to swimming at a beach, being grabbed by the undertow, and dragged out to sea. Once you resurface, you’re grateful to not have drowned. You can even see the beach in the distance. So you begin to swim. Along the way you are forcibly reminded that the ocean is not the same as a pool and you find yourself at the whimsy of currents, waves, and a growing fear of what might be lurking beneath the water.

You may think my analogy melodramatic. I might have thought so, too, before the events of the past two to three weeks. After all, the infected kidney that nearly killed me healed completely. I have normal kidney function. I can finally keep food down again, and I’ve recovered from a dangerous brush with disordered eating. I’m in therapy. I’m going to physical therapy. My immune system sucks, but it’s improving. Granted, I’m summarizing and minimizing almost three months (April, May, June) of heartache and anxiety, but at the start of July I had genuinely felt that the worst was behind me.

Then my hair started falling out.

One day I ran my hand through my hair and found my fingers coated with hairs. I did it again. It happened again. Over a few days I shed and I shed and I shed. I wrapped myself in denial until I stood in front of a mirror, horrified by the sight of my scalp shining through the sparse hairs.

I emailed my endocrinologist, praying he could give me an answer. His reply came back that I should come in for an exhaustive amount of blood work, but that it was probably just telogen effluvium (TE).

In a normal healthy person’s scalp about 85% of the hair follicles are actively growing hair (anagen hair) and 15% are resting hair (telogen hair). A hair follicle usually grows anagen hair for 4 years or so, then rests for about 4 months. The resting or telogen hair has a club or bulb at the tip. A new anagen hair begins to grow under the resting telogen hair and pushes it out.

Thus, it is normal to lose up to about 100 hairs a day on one’s comb, brush, in the basin or on the pillow, as a result of the normal scalp hair cycle.

If there is some shock to the system, as many as 70% of the anagen hairs can be precipitated into telogen, thus reversing the usual ratio.

The resting scalp hairs, now in the form of club hairs, remain firmly attached to the hair follicles at first. It is only about 2 months after the shock that the new hairs coming up through the scalp push out the “dead” club hairs and increased hair fall is noticed.

Thus, paradoxically, with this type of hair loss, hair fall is a sign of hair regrowth. As the new hair first comes up through the scalp and pushes out the dead hair a fine fringe of new hair is often evident along the forehead hairline. At first the fall of club hairs is profuse and a general thinning of the scalp hair may become evident but after several months a peak is reached and hair fall begins to lessen, gradually tapering back to normal over 6-9 months. As the hair fall tapers off the scalp thickens back up to normal, but recovery may be incomplete in some cases.


Sexist of me, perhaps, but I wonder if my doctors were women someone might have warned me of this in advance. No, there’s nothing I can do to rush the growth. Wigs are impractical in Singapore’s heat. Yes, it grows back, but I direct your attention to the fact that I am looking at months of super thin hair. Hair so thin that someone thought I’d shaved the sides of my head. Hair so thin I don’t want to leave the house without a baseball cap.

And if I read one my site advising me that it’s just hair and I should be happy to be alive I’m going to completely lose it. Yes. Yes I’m happy to be alive. But because I am alive I get to be goddamn shallow about my goddamn hair.

I got the blood work and found out that I have a host of other issues. None of which caused the loss, but none of which is helping it grow back, either. A low reading of a hormone paired with a low cortisol number may indicate that my adrenal gland isn’t working properly anymore. All of which provides an explanation for why I’ve been an exhausted, irritable crybaby with no sex drive.

Months of vitamin and hormonal therapy, all of which are making the symptoms worse in the short run, followed by more blood work before we can get more answers.       I’m still losing hair. Not as fast as I was a few weeks ago, but “clumps” is still an accurate term. I’m clogging the shower drain. I’ve thought about shaving what’s left of my hair off, and Ravi offered to shave his head in solidarity if I wanted him to. I told him I’d divorce him if he shaved his hair off. I thought about dyeing it a host of bright colors because if it has to look weird, then I might as well up the weird factor, but it turns out that it will make it even more fragile and likely to fall out. It’s too fragile to have hair extensions put it. And wigs are just impractical in this heat. So I’m going to cling to what thin, fragile hair I’ve got left, and wear baseball caps in public.

Blame it on the hormones. Blame it on my PTSD getting triggered again. But I could easily fill the ocean from my analogy earlier in this essay with all the tears I’ve shed at this point. I am so tired of being brave, of being strong. I am exhausted physically and emotionally. And as an atheist I don’t throw around terms like this lightly, but I am exhausted to the very depths of my soul.

There are sepsis survivor communities online. I’ve looked at them, but I just don’t identify. Sepsis may be defining part of what I’m going through each day, but it’s not defining me. I refuse to let it define me or redefine me. Yes, I know they exist, but no, they aren’t a place where I would find comfort. It would feel like ceding that last bit of ground I have left to the disease.

I’m sharing this publicly because I don’t want to keep having the same conversations. Because I don’t want to go anywhere I can’t wear my baseball hat. Because if I take the hat off in front of you, I don’t want to shock you.

I know people mean well, but I’m tired of being asked the question “So, are you all better now?”

The only answer I have for you right now is to break down crying. No. No, I’m not okay. I don’t know when I will be. I don’t know how my body is going to betray me next. I don’t remember what normal feels like. Please stop asking me that.


I’m closing comments because this is all too raw and painful.


I feel it necessary to put a warning here to avoid this post if medical/psychological matters are triggering for you.

I’m alive.

In the past I’ve used that kind of greeting to start a blog post after a long hiatus as a joke. Today I mean it in earnest. My last post was on March 2nd of this year. A week after that I had to be hospitalized for my ongoing back and piriformis issues as we try to avoid a very serious surgical solution. I was in and out of the hospital for two weeks. During the next two, both Elanor and Rhi had surgery to remove adenoids. There were a lot of jokes about how medical March was. Then, in the first week of April I got an infection that spread from my kidneys to my blood, putting me into the intensive care unit in septic shock. I was in critical condition for a few days, before the antibiotics were able to fight back against the illness and I stabilized. I spent two weeks in the hospital, getting antibiotics via iv. When I got home, I was so weak that walking for 5-10 minutes meant laying on my back for several hours. I had trouble keeping food down for a variety of reasons.

The physical side of my recovery has demanded more from me than any other medical issue I’ve faced in my life.

The mental recovery has been worse.

I’ve discussed in the past that we almost lost Elanor at a week of age to septic shock. This trauma was something I have moved past as my sick baby has grown into a normal six year old. But facing the illness myself meant that I already knew too much. In my (few) lucid moments in the ICU, I understood exactly what my odds were. When my veins collapsed from the demands of long term IV’s, they placed a PICC line into an artery (a long term catheter that goes from your arm down an artery to your heart). Elanor had a PICC line, and the idea of getting one myself was so triggering that I begged to be sedated during the procedure (it doesn’t typically require full sedation). I left the hospital coping with having been slapped in the face by my own mortality.

I found a therapist. I thought I was beginning to cope with things. Then I realized that I had started starving myself on purpose. During my time post hospital release, my weight had gone into free-fall because my muscles were wasting away and I couldn’t keep food down. Unconsciously I began to see the number on the scale as the only thing that I could control. The only “good” thing about having just almost died because of a kidney infection. But once I *could* eat, I didn’t want to. The universe owed me–if I had to go through this, at least I should get some serious weight loss in return, right? When overweight people are taught to diet, we’re also handed the tools to have an even more dysfunctional relationship with food. At a glance, I can give a pretty good estimate of how many calories are on a plate, and I began eating as little as I could. If the number on the scale kept going down then at least I was getting something out of this whole pointless mess, right?

I knew what I was doing was unhealthy, even dangerous. The rational side of me was screaming that as loud at it could. It drove me to tell people I trusted–Ravi and a few close friends. The irrational side of me understood my choices were risking what little improvement I’d made and didn’t give a damn. Until the night I fainted. I felt a roaring in my ears and like the world had gone fuzzy. I knew that I needed to get from my chair at the table to the couch to lie down.  But I didn’t make it, and I fainted onto the hard marble of my living room floor. Ravi told me it looked like one second I was walking, then I tried to grab a bookcase, and then I was on the floor, although I didn’t remember the bookcase. That I fell to a seated position before landing face down probably saved me a trip back to the hospital. After that I confessed everything to my therapist, and I’ve tried to stay away from the scale, knowing no good can come from looking at it every day.

I’ve been home for two months now. I can drive. I can swim. I can cook dinner. But my physical and emotional recovery are going to be measured in months. Everyone asks me “all better?” but the only answer I can give is that “things are getting there.” I’ve had several set backs–a small infection put me on my back for a week, and I’ve caught every cold the kids have had–because my immune system is crap. I am constantly feeling the pressure of one step forward, two steps back.  Naturally this has impacted my back and piriformis as well, making the pre-existing issues that much bigger. Emotionally I’m still exhausted, and the process is one of hills and valleys. There are good days and there are bad days.

Before my in-laws left, they sat Ravi and I down and told us that we needed to hire a maid again. We–mostly I–argued that we didn’t. I could make do as I had been for the past three-and-a-half years if I could just get a tiny bit better. Eventually, though, we realized that they were right. My physical recovery is a six-to-twelve month one if I do everything right. Doing everything right means not pushing too hard (like picking up Rhiannon, who is triple my current weight lift limit). Screwing up my recovery means further damage and likely worse consequences (like spinal fusion surgery) and an even more complicated recovery. My new 100% may not be my old 100%. No one knows.

So we made the hard decision to hire a new helper.

I’ve always maintained that families should do what is right for them. Since firing B in December 2011 not having a maid was right for us (we had a part time cleaner and a sitter a few times a month). The decision to hire someone new was not made lightly, but it is necessary at this time. I owe myself and my family as full a recovery as I can manage, and in order to do that I need more help than I could otherwise get. This is what’s right for us now.

Change is not always welcome, but it is inevitable.

Please bear with me as I begin to write again.


Why I Chose Singapore’s Public Schools–Sassy Mama Singapore

I’m featured on Sassy Mama Singapore today, discussing why I chose Singapore’s Public Schools


My journey into Singaporean education began, as so many wonderful things do, with vicious morning sickness. Pregnant with my second daughter, I was spending most of each day prone on my bathroom floor waiting to/having just revisited everything I’d ingested for the last six months. The idea of sending Elanor to school – any school – became irresistible.

When I was a teacher in Boston (USA), Singapore was constantly held up as the pinnacle of academic excellence. It was also portrayed as a soulless factory of identical children in a large classroom with seats in rows. It was a country where children were not allowed to be children because after school they went to tuition. But they achieved, and we should strive to follow. We teachers left every one of these “motivational” speeches feeling sorry for those poor Singaporean children.

go here to finish reading the article

Translating Musicals, Trolls and More: an Interview with Anthony Drewe and George Stiles

If you are a fan of children’s theater in Singapore, odds are pretty good that you’re already familiar with the work on Anthony Drewe and George Stiles. In the upcoming 2015 The Little Company season, you will have the chance to catch TWO Drewe/Stiles musicals: 金发姑娘和三只熊  Goldilocks and the Three Bears in Mandarin (March 11-29) and The Three Billy Goats Gruff  (April 2-May 1).  In past seasons, you may have seen their production of The Three Little Pigs in English (2012) or Mandarin (2013), or the English production of Goldilocks and the Three Bears (2013).


A medley of songs from The Three Little Pigs

The Little Company recently gave me the opportunity to interview Mr. Drewe and Mr. Stiles.

What have you enjoyed most about mounting productions in Singapore? Do you have any great anecdotes about the experience?

We’ve enjoyed learning from the children in the audience because you can’t get away with anything with children; you know when they’re attentive, entertained, scared or bored. We were delighted to discover that Singaporean children are as vocal as British children when invited to participate by the characters on stage. We both get as much pleasure from watching the children’s faces as we do from watching the actors performing.

Anthony was once standing at the back of the auditorium and he saw a little girl being carried out of the theatre because she was scared of the Big Bad Wolf, even though Sebastian Tan played the role in a non-menacing way. When the three little pigs dispatched the Big Bad Wolf, the little girl was happy to be brought back to her seat.

3 bears eating no backgroundGoldilocks and the Three bears (credit: The Little Company 2013)

What are the challenges of adapting your musicals from English to Mandarin?

We have the advantage that the stories of each of the Trilogy shows are well known to children around the world. The challenge in translating them is really one that the translator has to deal with, particularly when it comes to the lyrics. As well as having to rhyme in Mandarin, the language has four tones which can transform the meaning of a word. Therefore they have to ensure the number of syllables fits with each line of music and the words are stressed correctly. Thankfully that’s not a job we have to do but we’re indebted to Danny Yeo for doing such an excellent job.

Screen Shot 2015-02-18 at 12.41.40 amThe Three Billy Goats Gruff Sistic Page

My family is looking forward to The Three Billy Goats Gruff.  My daughter, Elanor (age 6) wants me to ask you “Who is your favorite character (in that show) and why and is the troll scary?”

Our favourite character is one that we’ve invented for the story – a little girl called Little Bo Frilly (the sister of Little Bo Peep). She is very keen to prove to her father that she is responsible enough to look after animals, in this case three billy goats. Although she admits to losing things and being forgetful like her sister, her passion for reading eventually saves the day.

The troll isn’t actually scary to children, but he is to goats – because he loves to eat them! In our story the troll bears a strong likeness to those found in Scandinavian folk law, rather than the cute little characters seen in the recent film Frozen. Our troll has a big secret which through her reading Little Bo Frilly discovers but you’ll have to come and see the show to discover what it is and how Little Bo Frilly saves her Billy Goats Gruff!

Many thanks to The Little Company, Anthony Drewe and George Stiles for this opportunity.

You can purchase tickets for 金发姑娘和三只熊 (Goldilocks in Mandarin) and The Three Billy Goats Gruff (in English) at Sistic.


金发姑娘和三只熊 (Goldilocks in Mandarin) promo video

Singapore Repertory Theatre’s The Little Company (TLC) is launching their 2015 season with a smorgasbord of five musicals and plays, promising a colourful array of classics for the family to choose from. We are proud to present the season’s two first exciting upcoming productions Goldilocks and the Three Bears (in Mandarin) in March followed by The Three Billy Goats Gruff in April.

Perfect for kids aged two to six, The Three Billy Goats Gruff is part of a trio series written by award-winning musical writers Anthony Drewe and George Stiles (Broadway’s Mary Poppins, Just So, and Peter Pan: A Musical Adventure). The musical is based on the classic Norwegian fairy tale, De tre bukkene Bruse, and tells the tale of three male goats that must find a way to escape the clutches of an evil troll in order to reach the other side of a river to find food.

The hugely successful Goldilocks and the Three Bears enjoyed sell-out houses with its English production in 2013. Now, TLC is introducing the Mandarin version of this classic story for bilingual children and budding linguists.

Featuring music and lyrics by the same dynamic duo, Anthony Drewe and George Stiles, this rendition of Goldilocks and the Three Bears is as classic as it gets, reminding the little ones of the importance of respecting the privacy and property of others.–From the press release

Full disclosure–I have accepted tickets in the past and for the upcoming production of The Three Billy Goats Gruff in exchange for honest reviews from The Little Company.  No compensation was offered or received for this interview.

River Hong Bao 2015 Opening Night

In a fit of insanity I took Elanor and Rhi to River Hong Bao 2015 on opening  night (Tuesday Feb 17).

IMG_4118The entrance if you’re coming from the carnival rides

IMG_4139The massive tableau that celebrates SG50. Elanor and Rhi are the tiny figures in the middle to give you a sense of scale.

IMG_4147The stadium seats were adorned with peacocks and goats

IMG_4165The view of River Hong Bao from the stadium seats as the fireworks began

IMG_4189The gorgeous fireworks finale

IMG_4197Walking back out the exit toward the carnival rides

It was difficult to do photography and keep up with the kids, so expect more River Hong Bao photographs from me in the coming days.

Buddha Tooth Relic Temple (Photos)

I’m currently taking a photography class with Noodle Photography, and last Friday Paul and I worked on Aperture Priority mode at the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple in Chinatown.  The first four photos are from class, the second four were taken on my own after class.

(Please note–This is not a sponsored post–I am paying full price for my lessons.)

IMG_3997Monks leading a Prayer

IMG_4003Detail on a table in the temple

IMG_4025incense sticks

IMG_4041Man praying

IMG_4048Dragon statue



IMG_4106Uncle playing the erhu outside the temple

Thaipusam 2015

Thaipusam is a very moving Hindu holiday (celebrated primarily by Tamil observers) in which devotees carry kavadis (or burdens) from Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple to Sri Thendayuthapani Temple in a show of faith. Some of these are small jars, but others are massive.


On Feb 3, 2015, I made time to visit Sri Thendayuthapani Temple to see the end of the Thaipusam route that devotees walk carrying Kavadis.



Thank you to all the very kind people who allowed me/encouraged me to take their pictures today. This is only a small fraction, but contains some of my favorite images.






See my 2014 Thaipusam post here


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