Two Years Living in the Philippines - Part 1: Physical Changes and Medical Woes

Physical Changes and Medical Woes

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Well after two mostly fun-filled years of living within the national confines of the Philippines archipelago, it’s finally time to encapsulate my feelings and experiences in a quick and dirty blog entry.

Or – as will more likely be the case – a long, rambling and – at times – disjointed one….

First off, let me state for the official record that I still absolutely love living and working in the Philippines.  My feelings about my life and experiences here haven’t changed in that way.  What has changed, however, is that the love I have for the Philippines is now being tempered but just the tiniest bit of hate…

Yep, that’s right – the rose-colored glasses have finally been yanked from my face and smashed upon the harsh cobblestones of reality!

Just kidding – They’re still firmly placed on my wide-eyed mug. 

As with most things you love that aren’t absolutely perfect in this world (such as Borderlands 2 or Firefly), after a certain period of time, most people begin to develop a sort of love/hate relationship with that particular object of their infatuation.  This is just a normal part of the human condition, and since most things are not perfect in this world, it happens more often than not.

But before I get into this part of my Two Year Report, let’s take a look at some other aspects first.

First off, is a brief overview of the physical changes that have occurred since arriving in the Philippines in late November of 2013, complete with some medical stuff:

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At least I ain’t got no parking tickets….

 

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My brain after two hours in direct Philippines sunlight….

Physical Changes
Weight – In addition to getting two years older, grayer and wrinklier, my body has also undergone some interesting changes while living in the Philippines.  When I first arrived, I weighed about 220 pounds, most of it muscle but a good portion consisting of a  “protective layer of insulative fat” that I have been carrying around throughout adulthood.  As soon as arrived in the Philippines, I started losing weight.  I am not sure if it was the quality and quantity of the food here or the incessant heat, but as the months marched on, I lost more and more weight.  Then, after breaking my back in Mabinay (now my least favorite place in the Philippines!), I lost even more weight as misery and pain didn’t do much to stimulate my appetite.  Coupled with not going to the gym, I lost a lot of “size” and got down to around 190 pounds – almost to the point where I could actually see my abs. (I know they’re in there, I just haven’t seen them since Honduras in 1986.)  .  It got the point where I had to go through my rather admittedly limited wardrobe and separate them into my “fat clothes” and “thin clothes.”

Then – about four months ago – I started gaining some weight back.  I had gotten an epidural spinal injection in June, and since then, I have been able to go back to the gym and hit the weights.  I have also been trying to eat better.  As of this writing, I am actually back up to about 205 pounds which is a good weight for me.  I have also been taking the Clomid for about three months now, and with the increased testosterone levels, I have been able to put on some good mass – even the guys at the gym are asking me if I am on steroids. (“Naw,” I invariably reply, “It’s actually mostly just fat….”)

 

A quick aside before we get back to the most important thing in the Multiverse – me!

LASIK: Before coming to the Philippines, I dropped some bills on LASIK eye surgery.  It cost a good amount of scratch, but looking over the past two years, it was the best investment I have ever made.  My vision was 20/200 before LASIK, and I was basically blind without my glasses.  Knowing that it rained quite a bit in the Philippines (and having justg gotten sick of wearing glasses), I figured that it might be wise to get my eyes done.  The procedure was painless (thought the recovery took a few months) and now living here with the constant threats of random rain showers throughout the day, it’s nice not to have to pull my bike over all the time and wipe off my glasses.

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The beautiful Twin Horns of Negros….

So yeah, the reason I got LASIK was because I was going to the Philippines. 

Clomid: You may have seen the video I did on “Is Ned Juicing (Or Simply Just Fat)” in which I talk about my experience in the Philippines with clomifene citrate.   I had feeling groggy and fatigued for a good long while here, but figured it was mostly me not dealing well with the heat.  After a while, though, I figured something more was wrong, so I got blood work done.  All the results were good except for my testosterone level which was 410 – which is kind of low for a 48 year old.  I talked to my doctor here and he recommended a female fertility drug called Clomid to boost my testosterone levels.  You don’t need a prescription for many things in the Philippines, so I was able to purchase clomifene citrate (local generic) without any hassles.  Splitting the pills in half (from 50 to 25 mg), I was advised to take a single half pill on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings.  (A month’s supply only costs about $12 USD.)  After about 30 days, I started to “feel” a little better – less fatigue and a bit more energy.  After about 60 days, I noticed my lifts in the gym going up, and at the 90 day mark I was really pushing some heavier weight and gaining size.  I got my blood tested at the 90 day mark and the results were pretty dramatic – it had gone from 410 to 841!  Whoa…..  Now, I am not a doctor, and – more importantly – I am not recommending that anyone else do this.  Although it is being used for boosting testosterone production in older men, it doesn’t seem to be working for everyone.  My plan now is to do another 90 days, get my blood tested again, stop taking it and then get it tested after 90 days of not being on the clomifene.  All in all, it’s been a pretty good experience.

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Only the best female fertility drugs for this guy!

Broken Back and Local Medical Care:  I broke my back hitting a speedbump/pothole in September of 2014 while motoring around the caving kingdom of Mabinay on one of our many misadventures.  I knew something was wrong right away, but it wasn’t until the next day that it hit me full on – excruciating nerve pain to the point where I literally barely walk.  It was pretty horrible, not just because of the pain but because I was a long, long way from home (and my sweet American health insurance).  After about three days, I was able to get somewhat mobile, and the nerve pain started to come and go.  I took it easy and visited some doctors who gave me a few different medications that didn’t really work.  Finally, an x-ray was taken and the doctor noted two compression fractures on my L5/S1 disk.  I went to the US a few months later and had an MRI done:  Sure enough, I had a ”prominent herniation” on my L5/S1.  The surgeon recommended an epidural steroid injection (ESI) to the affected site, but as I was only in the US for another week, there wasn’t time to do it.  Instead, about a month after returning to the Philippines, I had the fluoroscope guided ESI done by Dr. Richard Condor in Cebu.  In short, the pain relief was instant – the best 20,000 pesos I have ever spent!

As is often the case, the shot only worked for about four and a half months and now the pain is back.  I am taking tramadol for the pain and am considering heading up to Cebu to get a second ESI.  If that doesn’t work, it’s back to the US for the microlabindictomy surgery….

The point of this section is two-fold:  First off – and it’s pretty obvious – be extra careful when riding your motor in the Philippines, especially when it’s hot and you’re exhausted and on unfamiliar roads.  The second point is the high regard I have for the ESI injections that Dr. Condor performed – a true professional that had to deal with a whiny, needle-phobic foreigner who spent most of the time on the operating table fighting back tears….

Good on you, Philippines.

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Turtles don’t need epidural steroid injections…

 

Other Medical/Physical Stuff

The Sea Urchin: If you’ve been a long-term subscriber to My Philippine Dreams, you might remember that my newly-arrived dumb ass somehow managed to set his hand down on a sea urchin after being here for only a month or so.  About 12 needles broke off in my hand, and since we were outer island hopping in Sipalay (and a day from the nearest hospital) it ended up getting infected and going septic.  A course of Cipro (and a near hospitalization) later and all was well.  Argh – watch out for those sea urchins, peeps – they’re very aggressive!

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Sea urchin needles, 2 days later…

The Thai Tattoo:  It was bound to happen and it finally did.  In late October of this year, my YBR exhaust burnt the bloody hell out of my right leg.  Sara and I were out at Kid’s House (doing the final video) and had stopped the bike.  I was putting the kickstand down, when the front tire slipped out on the muddy path. The bike started going down and instead of jumping away from it (if a bike is going down, that’s always the thing to do) I tried to hold it up.  The bike went over and my leg got pinned underneath the exhaust.  It literally sizzled and a nice patch of skin was left on the metal.  Luckily it healed up well but I will still have a nice dark scar for a good long while.

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That’s gonna leave a mark…

A Plague of Boils:  The Philippines is pretty much one massive giant petri dish (laced with Magic Sarap), and bacteria from around the world regularly come here to either vacation or stay for good.  Right around the time I broke my back up in Mabinay, my right armpit also flared up with an increasing number of ugly and painful boils.  I had had ONE in an armpit about six years before, but this breakout was much more horrific – at one point, I counted up around 10 of them growing under there.  Two doctors and two rounds of antibiotics later and they finally started to fade.  It was so bad that one of the doctors was actually recommended that my sweat glands in that armpit be surgically removed.  Thankfully, up to this point, there hasn’t been a recurrence of those vicious little pit beasts.  Keeping fingers crossed…..  And just cuz I’m a nice guy – I’ll spare you the photo….

The Cough:  I’ll be the first one to admit that smoking can lead to coughing.  But I gotta tell ya, I developed a doozy of a cough just after we moved from the cleaner air of Candau-ay to the dirtier air of Bunao.  At one point, every time I woke up, my throat would instinctively compress and I’d cough up a good chunk of whatever I had been breathing in for the past 24 hours.  Since going to the US for 30days in April and returning here, it hasn’t returned.  But I know it’s our there somewhere…..just waiting….

 

OK, enough of the physical stuff.  Let’s move on instead and check out some other ups and downs of my life here in the Philippines over the past two years.

Actually, I’ve kind of babbled on long enough about the physical stuff, so I’ll leave the rest of it for the next posting.

Then we’ll get into how (or if) my feelings on the people, places and things in the Philippines have changed – for better or for worse.

And – more tellingly – I’ll list out all the mistakes I’ve made since arriving on these pristine, sandy shores….

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CLICK HERE to read the final part of my Two Years in the Philippines.