2016: What a Wonderful Year

January 2, 2017

When deciding when to begin early retirement, a major concern was not running out of money before taking the long dirt nap. The flip side was running out of time, physical or mental capabilities with enough bank left to have done or bought things earlier if I hadn’t been concerned about running out of money before taking the long dirt nap. That’s circular. No worries. It motivates me to just get on with things.

The best part of last year was my heart attack wasn’t fatal. The adventure started at 2:30 one morning in June with the cliche of waking up with my chest in a vice. Banged on a neighbors door for a ride to the ER where they stabilized me before a 135 mile lights and siren ambulance ride to Bangkok. Ever been wheeled straight from an ambulance into a surgery where a squad started working the moment the gurney came to a stop? It was both a major relief and, upon later reflection, concern why they needed so many people. Five subsequent nights in the Cardiac ICU gave me a clue.


They discharged me on the 11th day with instructions that included exercise. I obeyed.

Ten weeks later it was no big deal to do 3 miles in an hour without rests. That’s been my personal standard for minimum level of fitness for decades. That got boring, so I shortened the walk and added trips up, across, down and back over a pedestrian bridge. Built up to 20 minutes with 2 up and downs on each end before crossing. Yesterday for the first time since June, I did the hill I’ve always used before travel to get in shape for – wait for it – stairs and hills. My rule of thumb has been I’m ready when 5 laps is an effort but not unpleasant or a problem. Yesterday 3 laps met that standard. Could have done more but was concerned about sore muscles (my glutes hurt today). I’ll be ready for the Sydney Harbour Bridge climb(1) in March.

As for the money end of things, it’s great. The Social Security administration deposited my first benefit payment 3 days ago. IRA balance is 117% higher than retirement at the end of 2008 during the global economic shit storm. The non-IRA account, which had to last until I could access the IRA without penalty in 2014, should last until the end of 2017, despite some spending this year on expensive stuff I didn’t need. Details in the upcoming annual Cost of Living post.

Haven’t looked at my bucket list for years. Now seems like a good time.

(1) Top of the bridge is 440 feet above the water. Said to be a nice view. It would be fun. Then I saw the price. IS THIS SOME KIND OF JOKE?! Well… I could afford it. Then I realized it’s high adventure for some people, and thus worth it. I’ve been to 11,800′ in a hang glider, so the price-to-wow ratio of the bridge climb is unappealing. Even without that experience, I doubt I would have done it because cameras are not allowed.


Self Diagnosis Fixed Back Pain

April 14, 2014

Sciatica pain struck me a few days before the Formula 1 trip. It persisted, lessening twice before resuming. I woke pain free today, 13 days after returning home. It was the third occurrence of sciatica pain in my life, all in the last 6 years. The first two times it passed in a few days with the aid of pain meds and staying as active as possible, as per doctor’s orders.

The extended pain duration caused concern. Pain and I get along like oil and water, so I searched the net. Bottom line is I have Piriformis Syndrome (PS). Self prescribed treatment worked and fit what I knew about my body. Best of all, the path to prevention is as obvious as it is easy.

PS is rarely diagnosed, maybe because there are no standard tests for it, maybe because it’s symptoms are often essentially the same as sciatica. Maybe it was easy for me to diagnose because my piriformis muscles are as tight as drum heads.

Orthopedic clinics had extensive info on the syndrome – except for self diagnosis and prevention. I found those on Chiropractic and Yoga sites.

Diagnosis was easy: stretch the piriformis. If it activates the back pain, it could be sciatica or PS. Treatment is to slowly and gently stretch the muscle. If it’s PS, improvement in pain free range of motion is immediate. Stretching every other day eliminated my pain.

Getting and keeping the piriformis loose should prevent another occurrence. That’s where Tukta, my massage lady, come in. She knows where this muscle is, can make it (me actually) beg for mercy, knows how to make it hurt like a mofo the next day, but it’s all worth it because it stays loose for a month after that. I need to stretch every other day and have her work on the entire area as needed.


Optimism vs Thai Massage

March 11, 2013

I treat Thai massage like it’s physical therapy. Since the massages are done to suit me, I usually pick a day where I’m in a good mood and the body isn’t hurting. That’s because for the rest of the day and all the next a Thai massage leaves me beat.

Some people swear by massage to help sore muscles, I’ve always sworn at it. Too much pain. It occurred my massage lady might have the talent to give a massage that didn’t aggravate my sore muscles during the massage. She could. The aggravation happened over the next 4 days. That’s two days longer lasting than any previous massage aftereffects

Optimistim is good. It’s also good to learn from one’s experiments.

D’oh! v Shade

December 18, 2012

Is there a conventional way to describe intentionally becoming less tan?

Fading? No. In California beach culture of my day a tan faded through neglect or poor lifestyle choices. De-tanning? That’s a stupid as saying ‘de-installation’ instead of ‘remove’. Desaturated? Few outside the visual arts would understand. Lightening or whitening? Works in a detergent ad but problematic otherwise. SPFing With Extreme Prejudice? That’s just silly.

What’s not silly is my commitment to daily spraying SPF 30 on my exposed bits. Started doing so when I came to Chiang Mai because of spending more time outside, especially at mid day. Kept it up on a daily basis even when the anticipated time outside was less than an hour. The results were slow coming but are now obvious.

These last few years in the tropics have been an exception to my sun protection habits. Can’t really say why I eased up on the protection. Before retirement I was rockin’ big brimmed hats, long sleeves, long pants, and, at high altitudes, light gloves before anyone ever heard the term SPF.

Why? By my mid teens I’d spent enough time around boats to see how fast the sun could fade and then destroy a canvas cover. Next was meeting some of the original post WW2 California surfers, men and women who still spent all day on the beach many weekends a summer. Their mahogany colored skin had cracks deep enough to sew seeds in and hung off them because the elasticity was (dare I say it) toast. Since then I’ve tanned only enough for protection against accidentally getting too much sun.

Optimism vs Malaria

December 6, 2012

My conscious effort to be more optimistic has run into its first significant test. Two Thai towns on the Myanmar (Burma) border beckon, Mae Sot and Mae Sai. All credible medical sources state both are in areas where one should take malaria precautions.

The defensive measures are easy: Long sleeves and pants, liberal application of DEET on all exposed surfaces, be indoors during peak mosquito activity and of course take an anti-malaria drug. The drug side effects for some people can be substantial, but it sure beats malaria. The odds of infection are low, so it seems like optimism should win*.

Except for me. I’m a mosquito magnet. A strong magnet. How strong? Imagine how much attention one would attract if you walked into a police station carrying an assault rifle while smoking a joint and yelling “SOOIE! pigpigpigpig SOOIE!“. That’s the sort of attention I get from skeeters.

The optimist says either of these two towns would be a look at a different culture, as would crossing into Myanmar and the odds are low for either side effects or infection. The pessimist says why risk the possibility of weeks of side effects or a hospital stay for a few days of what may be a ho-hum travel experience?

* unless the pre-trip drug side effects cause one to stop the meds and cancel the trip

Hospital Drug Scam

April 7, 2011

My mind was both in neutral and in need of caffeine while I waited for the cashier to tell me how much I owed. My wallet was light so I assumed no matter what amount she said that my response would be that I needed to go to the wall of ATMs located conveniently nearby.

“Your total is 5515 Baht.” she said ($184)

“OK, I have to go to the …. WHAT! Can I see the detail on that?” I said.

Welcome to the Thai hospitals prescription drug scam. I’ve read they all do it. Everything involving prescription drugs in two hospitals and one clinic I’ve been in confirm that. First some background.

It seems that the only prescription drugs that actually require a doctor’s orders are the recreational ones. Otherwise walk into a pharmacy, show them an empty pill bottle or plastic bag with your name, a doc’s name and the drug’s name and you’re set. For many drugs all one needs is the drug name and dosage. It’s worked for me, though for a drug with little or no potential harm from misuse.

A prescription in Thailand is an order that travels between the doc and the cashier. The patient never sees it. You can’t take it to another pharmacy. The hospital wants the profit from buying drugs they know can be found elsewhere for less. I’ve read it’s not easy to just say no, but it’s easy to say one wants only a week’s worth. That way one can assess both the efficacy and if the side effects are tolerable. Not wanting to throw away drugs one can’t take because of side effects was my mantra. Walked out with a seven day supply and a bill of 1829 B ($61)

Is ‘scam’ too strong a word? Nope. They tried to sell me 45 pills, which is also a 45 day supply. This is after the doc told me to come back in 30 days so he could see how I was doing and reduce the dosage. Thus they tried to sell me a 15 days supply of pills I’d never take. That’s a scam. But at least they do hand you the drugs in a classy shopping bag.

[Update Apr 8, 2011] No side effects from the drug so went to Hua Hin’s big pharmacy (which is not a ‘drug store’ like Boots or Sav-on) and found the drug for 20% less than the price at Bangkok Hospital.

Health Insurance for Expats, Part Deux

April 2, 2011

I’ve been accepted for the health insurance I wrote about a month ago. It’s the Asia Expat plan from April Mobolite, which is part of a large French insurance group. Found out I had some of the facts wrong.

>It includes coverage while traveling for up to 3 continuous months outside of SE Asia (except for the expensive countries of Bahamas, Canada, Japan, Switzerland and the US of A)

The coverage while traveling outside of the country of residence (Thailand, not SE Asia) is only for accidents and only for 60 days. I’ll look into travel health insurance before venturing outside of Thailand.

>and up to two months in my country of citizenship.

Actually, it’s up to 90 days.

There were two options, inpatient only or inpatient plus outpatient. Choose inpatient only because routine costs are low here. Also docs know most expats don’t have outpatient insurance so they admit for things that would be outpatient in America.

Beat myself up a little for not buying insurance earlier because now I have an existing condition (GERD) that is not covered. Nothing I can do about that, so I let it go. Then I realized in 95% of people with GERD the only treatment they ever have is drugs, which I never expected to get insurance for. Looks like I got lucky.

Not so lucky with the lifestyle changes to combat acid reflux. I don’t mind the smaller meals, chewing thoroughly and having to time pills in relation to meals. What I do mind is not being able to lie down for 2 – 3 hours after a meal. There goes my afternoon naps and reading while lying down after dinner. I’ve been monitoring closely my body’s reaction to what I’ve been eating because the best treatment for acid reflux is to avoid anything that causes heartburn, no matter how minor. Looks like I’m going to have to give up both coffee and green curry. Boo.