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Location: Salt Lake City, Utah, United States

This blog is a record of events in the life of Joseph Taggart and his family since his spinal cord injury while body surfing in Guatemala in January 2006.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Week Past in Qingdao

Update from Qingdao:
This is Joseph's update from Qingdao from last week:

Wednesday 14th:
We went through physical therapy in the morning is normal. I feel like I can lift my right arm straighter out to my side a little more than I used to. This is definitely a result of the physical therapy, meaning to say that I don't think it's from the stem cells. That is something I've worked on specifically since I've gotten here, but also worked a lot on my pec muscles. For example, I will spend time on my back making a push-up motion up into the air with 5 pound weights strapped to my wrists. My left side has always s been much stronger than my right, and it still is, but my right side is gaining strength. I'm excited for these muscles to get stronger because they will allow me to move things with my hands in front of me instead of just out to the side. This will be especially important if I do get the proper rotation in my right forearm that I am hoping for.

In the afternoon we continued with the usual acupuncture and electrical stimulation. I find all very relaxing and sometimes I have a hard time staying awake through it. It's nice to have an afternoon nap, but I think it throws off my sleeping patterns at night. It's kind of funny sleeping while I can feel my body bounce around as the electrical shock zaps my muscles. I have him turn up the one on my arms quite high, it's kind of fun to watch. Whoever thought I could get a good upper body workout while I'm napping?

That evening Matt and I had a very interesting conversation with one of the translators that works here the hospital, a very fun and energetic young man. He came in to our room just to hang out and chat for a little bit. A lot of the staff is starting to do this is they feel more comfortable around us, and of course we love it. It's fun to talk with them one-on-one about specific aspects of Chinese culture like dating, family life etc. The discussion then turned to the purpose of life. It was a familiar discussion to those of our background but from a completely different perspective.

A similar discussion occurred this afternoon (Saturday 15th) a nurse that I have a really good relationship with came into my room and we started chatting. She noticed a CD on my desk that had a picture of our family together Easter. We discussed the members of the family but she wondered who the bearded figure was whose portrait hung on the wall behind us. Some of the general knowledge is more limited than I would have supposed in this area.

Thursday 15th:
Thursday morning during physical therapy we are discussing with a few of the other patients here at the hospital. Many of them are quite candid about venturing out into the neighborhood around the hospital. Not because it appears dangerous or frightening in any way, but just because they are timid and afraid of not being able to communicate. Only a handful of them are even aware of the massive park (Century Park) one block away. So we arranged to take a few of them out later that afternoon. It's nice being able to go out for a walk, be in the gardens, get some fresh air, and listen to the little waterfalls and streams flow by. I wish Utah had more parks like Century Park.

Anyway, while we were returning from one of the parks. We noticed a camera crew filming in one of the hedge mazes with what looked like a couple of actresses. We wandered over to get a closer look and a few college-age girls approached us and began to speak to us in English. They were from the Qingdao Agricultural College, and were English majors. It turns out that the crew was from CCTV (Central China Television, like the BBC of Britain) and they were filming a promotional video for the suburban district that the hospital and the University is in. The English students spoke to the film crew and they thought it was a good idea to film us saying "I love Cheng Yang" (the name of the district) for their promotional video. We all had our turn being filmed, and I think we all pretty much butchered the Chinese, but it was fun regardless. The producer took off his CCTV hat and signed it and gave it to Kala who is the five-year-old girl here from Trinidad and Tobago. It was really cute. This officially means that I have been on the local news on four continents now. I feel so famous!

Friday 16th:
Friday was meant to be our day off. So we slept in a little bit, and had arranged to meet with Andy around 10 o'clock. We were going to go do some shopping and spent some time with him. Unfortunately there had been a miscommunication about when I was getting stem cell treatments, and it turned out that at 2 p.m. I would be receiving a stem cell transplant intravenously. These are different than the transplants the go in through a spinal tap, these are simply fed into my bloodstream through a regular IV. Although I was pretty excited to finally try and intravenous transplant, I was disappointed that it was going to be right in the middle of our day off.

Andy is a pretty amazing guy. He lives in the city center, about a 40 minute taxi drive away, compared to a two-hour bus ride. Last time we met up with him we gave him money so that he could take a taxi to and from the hospital. That way he doesn't spend his entire day on the bus. We began to be a little concerned when he had not arrived yet and it was already after 12 o'clock, over two hours late. He eventually arrived and explained that he had donated the money we gave him for the taxis to the relief fund for the earthquake victims in central China. He said that all the students at his university were making a sacrifice in order to help the victims. I thought this was very admirable. Of course when it was time for him to return home we tried to give him money for a taxi. But he absolutely refused it. I think sacrificing something for the earthquake victims is very important to him.

While we were grocery shopping I had a chance to discuss with him a little bit about his family and tuition costs etc. He told me that his parents are getting old, and he is worried that he will not be graduated from university in time to take care of them before they can no longer take care of themselves. They grow corn, wheat and potatoes that they sell to the government for cash. As I understand it, all farmers sell their crops to the government who sets the price and redistributes the produce. He said the prices are very low, and it is very difficult for his parents to sustain him here in Qingdao as a student. He also mentioned that they grow their own fruits and vegetables on the side for them to eat, so that they do not have to buy any food so there will be more money left over to support Andy. He told me he's very anxious for the day to come that he will be able to support his parents so they will not have to work in the fields anymore.

Andy has been living in a boarding school or at a university ever since he was eight years old. At the boarding school the schedule was planned out from five in the morning until nine o'clock at night. The study schedule was very rigorous, and only those who performed well enough were allowed to go on to college. If not they likely returned home to the fields to work. It's amazing to me of how strong the connection he feels his family, despite having been away from them for so long. I get the same feeling from many of the nurses and staff here at the hospital. None of them hesitate to tell me how much they love their parents, and how much they miss them, but usually they only get to see them once a year if they are lucky.

One last interesting fact about Andy -- he told me that before he came to Qingdao to study at the University he'd never seen a computer up close. Only on TV. He also mentioned that he had no idea what a cell phone was before he came to Qingdao. The village he grew up and consisted mostly of farmers, and had a very widely dispersed population of 1500 people.

The stem cell transplant went well. It went pretty quickly. They just took up an IV, ran a little bit of saline through it, brought in the stem cells, let them run through the IV, followed it with a little more saline then we were done. The whole thing took less than 40 minutes. Matt got some good pictures of it, but overall it was pretty uneventful. Again I can't really say that I have felt any different before or after any of the transplants. I know this is normal, and that the improvements likely won't be felt for months to come. But part of me kind of wishes I could get a little hint of some kind of new motion or sensation just to put my mind at ease.

Friday night Matt and I tried a couple of cool looking sandwiches we found at the deli. Imagine too small pitas about 4 inches in diameter. In between them were lettuce, ham and a fried egg. They were really good. We're still finding plenty of new foods to try, it's going to be very boring going back to the Harmon's bakery on Redwood Road!

Saturday 17th:
Friday night and Saturday morning early I had a really hard time sleeping. Sometimes when I get the stem cell treatments I get a bit of a fever, most of the patients do. I ended up waking up a little before four o'clock and was unable to get back to sleep. I was also feeling some abdominal pain. I think overall it was all a combination of the transplants, all the physical therapy, and just how active we have been since we got here

This afternoon while I was resting, Matt got together with a few other patients here at the hospital and they all went into the city for a few hours. They went out to the beach and a wharf with lots of cool little things to see. They all went out to eat at international restaurant, with everything from Mexican to Mediterranean to Korean to American food. After that the ladies all wanted to go to the mall where they could all by knock off fashion items. Every famous international fashion brand of shirts, shoes, purses etc. were available. This didn't interest Matt very much so he went and wandered around the surrounding neighborhood and took a few pictures. He enjoyed being able to get out and see new part of Qingdao, and was able to do a little bit of scouting testing out the wheelchair accessibility in case I get a chance to go later.

Saturday night Lee and her two daughters stopped by for a few minutes and brought us some more apples and oranges. We are now having to distribute the fruit they all keep bringing asked to the other patients, we have been eating tons of it, but there's no way we can ever keep up. Lee and her daughters brought a hymnbook and sang to us a few songs. They wanted us to sing a song, so Matt and I sang "called to serve" for them. They finished by singing ‘I am a Child of God ‘in Korean -- I'm not sure why but hymns always sound better in non-English languages. Lee and her daughters bring such a wonderful spirit, we really appreciate them coming by. We are going to get a chance to meet her husband next week, he travels a lot because of his business so we have not had a chance yet.

A few minutes after Lee left, Peter and Shelly swung by. They had been out visiting some of Shelley's family where there are a lot of cherry orchards. They went and picked cherries for us and brought them back. Talk about fresh! We've been overwhelmed by the kindness and generosity of the local people here. I wish there were something we can do for them. They always leave such a sweet spirit when they come, we are very thankful for them.


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