Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Day 4

None of the kids in isolation were allowed out of their room today, not even to go to the preschool room away from the other kids. There was a very strict nurse on duty. We had aides in the room with us for most of the day, so it was quite crowded. None of the sick kids (Lea-Celine, Ion, Petre, Andreea, and Cristi) wanted to eat much today, but when they wouldn’t eat, they were given bottles with a weak tea, which they seemed to like. Malika, the preschool teacher, spent time in the kids’ room with us and is wonderful with them, of course. She sang to them and talked to them in Romanian.

Celine was in a better mood, for the most part. Mostly, she was tired, and that resulted in flip-flopping between cuddly and cranky. She had a leg massage and stretch session, which melted away most of the tension in her leg muscles. One of the Jeans (two volunteers are named Jean; they are both school physical therapists—in the same school, I believe—and they look like they could be sisters!) told me to try stretching her feet because they need to be at a 90-degree angle from her ankles for her to be able to stand properly. She has amazing upper arm strength; she has to! At first glance, I thought she had been pulling herself up to a standing position, but then I realized that there was very little weight on her feet—if there was any at all. She can hold herself up on things like a trapeze artist!

Ion seemed to be in a much better mood, as well, except at feeding time when he didn't particularly want to eat. Today was Petre’s “Name Day.” This custom originated with the Catholic and Orthodox calendar of saints; believers, named after a particular saint, celebrate that saint’s feast day. So obviously, today was the feast day of St. Peter. Petre adores praise; when we clap for him and say “Bravo!” he looks very proud of himself and claps along with us. So when Dan told us it was Petre’s name day, we cheered for him; he had no idea what was going on, but he knew that people were clapping and saying his name, so it was exciting for him!

Lauren and I met Raul today and got him out of bed. Raul is eight months old and has epidermolysis bullosa, a severe skin condition that causes horrible blisters, both internally and externally. It’s a genetic condition, not contagious, so the masks and gloves we have to wear to visit him are for his benefit. It is estimated that 50 in 1 million live births are diagnoses with EB, but as it turned out, Raul’s twin had it, as well, and he died at one month. Apparently “Butterfly Children” is a term often used to describe younger EB patients, because the skin is said to be as fragile as a butterfly’s wings. Raul requires specialized medical supplies that won’t harm his sensitive skin; almost his entire body is wrapped in gauze everyday, so that he looks almost like a mummy child.

Lauren found that Raul likes to look out the window, so after she left the room, I held him up in a sitting position on the changing table so he could look at the trees, the trucks, and the sky. At one point, I took a hand away to fix my glasses, and he reached up to put it back on his waist. It’s clear that he craves contact with other people. He was very calm, alert, and sweet. My heart has been stolen. :-)

I held Maria-Cleopatra today, and she has gotten a lot bigger since last summer. I couldn’t hold her very long because my arm was incredibly uncomfortable, and I didn’t want it to give out and result in her head falling backwards. We settled her on the floor so that I could hang out with her for a bit. There seems to be some disagreement about the best way to position her on the boppy pillow, but she seemed to tolerate both ways.

I also spent a little time with Ionut, who is around 3 years old and has neurological problems. He gets overstimulated quite easily, so I tried not to bother him too much. I also played with Andreea and Roxana, a set of gorgeous twin girls. Andreea loves to dance when the music is on. I tried to feet Roxana her bottle in the afternoon, but she didn’t seem to want it.

When I visited the mobile playroom, I played with Alina, who grabbed my glasses and broke my mask string. She’s quick! And still as happy as ever. I don’t think she has gained much, if any, weight since last summer.

This afternoon, I brought my suitcase full of donations over. These were mostly clothes, thanks to gently used hand-me-downs from Savannah and a 90% clearance sale at Kohl’s (with an added 15% shopping pass!). I also brought some toys. Mihaela (country manager) dressed little Mihaela in the yellow dress that had belonged to Savannah, as well as a matching hair bow. I hope to play a little bit of dress-up with the kids tomorrow.

Many of the mobile children were taken out for a walk. The weather forecast called for 100% chance of rain and thunderstorms this week, but we had lovely weather throughout the day. It was a little overcast, but no rain, and a comfortable temperature.

Tonight we had dinner at the Trattorio Da Vinci (or something like that). It consisted of yummy pasta and our choice of dessert; I chose a fruit tart, which was quite good, and I also treated myself to a White Russian. After dinner, we went to the Interex grocery store. I’ve been hungry A LOT between meals, sometimes because I don’t like everything we have and partly because I just get hungry. So I grabbed some supplemental stuff to keep in my room—bananas, a loaf of bread (some kind of wheat, maybe with sunflower seeds?) and the obligatory bar of Milka alpine milk chocolate. I also got a box of shelf-safe soy milk to use at breakfast (because I don’t drink the milk here at the hotel; it was confirmed that it is boiled, not pasteurized, and that may have caused some of my stomach troubles since last summer) and a case of 8 Actimel yogurt drinks (kind of like Activia) to last me the next week. All of that for about $10!

Some people are going on trips this weekend, and others are leaving for good (most of the team, actually). I plan to stay here, finally settle in (for real) and relax. Do some blogging and reading and catching up on Glee and True Blood. Yay! I can’t wait.

P.S. for those who are wondering: Gabriella (Mihaela’s twin) is currently in Iasi for tests and should return on Friday, and teeny-tiny Nicoletta is in the hospital with pneumonia, hopefully returning soon.

Maggie and Andreea





Ramona (social worker) and Ion

Celine, pulling herself up at Cristi's crib


Lauren and Raul



Mihaela in a pretty yellow dress

Cristi, looking like a smurf


Genie and Daniela

Monday, June 28, 2010

Day 3

This morning, we went over to the clinic in time for the 9am feeding. Lea-Celine, Ion, Cristi, Andrea, and Petre are in a kind of isolation because they have Candida (yeast infection). When we arrived, each of them was having blood drawn; the nurses had a hard time finding a vein in Andrea’s arm, so it took a very long time to finish her blood drawn. The poor girl was screaming bloody murder, and I can’t blame her. I’m sure it hurt terribly.

Celine had already had her blood drawn, so I sneaked past the nurses and aides to get her out of her crib. She was unsure at first, then reached out for me and allowed me to hold her. She insisted on showing me her arm, which was a little red and had some dried blood on it, but she seemed fine. All the sick kids’ mouths are blue from the medicine they have been given for the yeast infection (a medicine that, I’ve been told, is pretty much obsolete in the U.S.).

Because they are sick, we could not take them into the playrooms with the other kids; we had to either stay in their bedroom or take them to the preschool room. Guess which room we chose? The one with the table and chairs and toys and radio, of course! I had read in Celine’s journal that she likes to feed herself, so I sat her in my lap and held the bowl for her. She grabbed the spoon and went to town! She does quite well with the spoon. Ion was eating with a spoon for a little while, too, as he sat with Anna, and a couple times he held the spoon up to “share” with Anna. Celine saw that and immediately held the spoon up for me to “share,” as well.

Celine ate most of her food, and Cristi finished his bottle. Andrea refused to eat, as did Petre (though in the end, I think he did eat SOME). I’m not sure how much Ion ate. It seems that most of their mouths are fairly sore and that it hurts them to eat.

Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t so great today—it kept threatening to rain all day. The kids wanted so badly to go outside, but we couldn’t take them, so they had to settle for looking out the window. They enjoyed saying “bye” to the people walking around and pointing out the “hum-hums” (dogs).

I stepped out of the room to go and visit the other kids, some of whom I met last summer and some I had yet to meet. When I returned to the preschool room, I found that Celine had thrown a fit and was taken to bed to calm down. An aide gave Celine her morning snack in her room, and I fed Marius his snack in the mobile playroom. He would barely pause to take a breath after each bite of yogurt!

I got a hug from little Mihaela, who immediately reached a hand down my shirt, as if she were looking for something. Anna had warned me about this current fascination of Mihaela’s with looking down shirts, but I guess I hadn’t expected her to shove her entire arm down there and almost dive in!

A short while later, I went and got Celine again; she had calmed down but had been left in a walker in her room by the aides. I took her back into the preschool room for a while, but it was obvious that she was getting tired and wasn’t feeling very well. She didn’t want to do anything except be held; she didn’t even want to look out the window! She began screaming again, so I took her back to her room and just held her, rocked her, and sang to her, and it seemed like she might fall asleep. She didn’t, but she was calm-—until I went to take her back to the playroom. So we stayed in her room for a while, talking, looking at books, and looking out the window.

Eventually we made it back to the preschool room, where Celine, Andrea, and Ion were given small cookies. Celine ate hers with no problem; Andrea took a bite of hers and started crying, I guess because it hurt. Ion, apparently, wasn’t chewing his cookie well enough (again, probably because it hurt), and he ended up choking on it. Lisa (a physician) had to do a mini-Heimlich on him, and he brought the cookie back up (and then some), but he was okay after a few minutes of coughing and catching his breath.

The kids had their diapers changed, and Ion blew me a kiss as he went into get changed. Then it was time for lunch (for the kids), and I don’t know why, but even our older kids (Celine, Andrea, and Ion) were given bottles this time. Celine had done so well with the bowl and spoon this morning, and I wonder if that’s why she refused the lunchtime bottle. The aide in the room told me to try putting her in her crib with the bottle, but it didn’t work, so another aide took over to try to make her eat at least some of it.

So after lunch for the kids, we put them all to bed and headed back to the hotel for OUR lunch, which was soup and salad. I didn’t eat much; some of the noodles out of the soup, some bread dipped in the broth, and a few pieces of cucumber out of the salad. By the end of lunch, I was exhausted; I guess the events of the weekend caught up with me.

I went back to my room and took a nap, and when Anna came in to see if I was going back to the clinic this afternoon, I told her no. (In fact, I apparently dreamed and/or hallucinated that whole scenario three or four times). I was just too tired, and I had a headache; I wouldn’t have been of much use over there. I went back to sleep, resetting my alarm every time it went off, but I guess at one point, while I was half asleep, I reset the CLOCK and not the alarm. So I got up, thinking it was time for dinner, but I actually had about half an hour, as the waiter in the restaurant informed me. Yeah, I felt pretty dumb. Oh well!

Dinner was chicken strips and risotto (I LOVE RISOTTO). We got ketchup to have with our chicken, but when I was about halfway finished, I found a dead fly in my ketchup. I don’t know if it started out there, and I’d just missed it when I was spooning the ketchup out, or if it landed in there afterwards and died. It looked fairly dead, so I think it was the former. Gross. That put me off my chicken and ketchup for the rest of the meal. Dessert was a fruit crepe; I think it may have been prune. I tried a bite and didn’t finish. I had planned to NOT buy much supplemental food in Barlad when we stop at the grocery store tomorrow, but I think I might have to. Not a lot, but some things—granola bars and such.

I argued with myself about whether or not I should post the thoughts I’ve been having on team dynamics, as I certainly don’t want anyone on my team to read this and hate me! So I AM going to post about it, but I’m pretty impartial and middle-of-the-road about it. The thing is, I (so far) like everyone on my team as much as I like anyone else I’ve just met. There are a few girls my age and younger, and then there are a good number of older people (mostly ladies; there’s only one man).

Obviously, with the age differences, there will be some disagreements and different perspectives on things. For years, I’ve tended to gravitate towards people older than me because I feel that, oddly, I relate to them more in a lot of ways. That’s just been my experience. What I’ve noticed with this team is that there seem to be a lot of personality clashes. Maybe my observations are wrong, but that’s what I see. I hope these clashes (mostly between different age groups, I think) don’t cause any problems.

Days 0, 1, & 2 - TRAVEL

Notice: that's 3 days of travel listed in that title.

Right as the United Agent, Priscilla, began to check me in at the Pittsburgh airport, she got a notification that my flight to D.C. would be delayed. (If I had checked in before that notice, I could have avoided a lot of grief and boredom.) So the flight to D.C. wasn’t going to leave until 6:30—but I had to make my connecting flight to Frankfurt, which was to leave at 6:59, and there was no way I’d make it.

So my entire outgoing route was changed, and I ended up with connections in Chicago (five hour layover) and Frankfurt (seven hour layover), scheduled to get into Bucharest at 11:50pm. Keep in mind, I was originally supposed to get in at 1:30, and I had to be there by 3:30 to ride to the hotel in Tutova with my team.

(P.S. I am still not convinced that United did everything they could have done to help my situation and, therefore, will be writing to them about it.)

As I waited for my flight out of Pittsburgh, I found a wi-fi connection and looked for flights that would get me to Bucharest in time. I called and texted friends and family frantically, to see if they could help or had any ideas. This is where I have to profusely thank my mom, my sister, Cheryl, Lauren, and especially Terri, who helped me keep my sanity intact throughout this ordeal. Terri contacted other volunteers to get me Mihaela’s phone number, a hotel recommendation for Bucharest, and found me a train schedule for Sunday. She also kept looking for other flights that I could have tried to get on, had my luggage been checked through on the original flight. She put me into contact with Lauren, whose flight was also late, but she ended up making her connection and getting there in time. Unfortunately, it seemed I had absolutely no chance of making to Bucharest in time to meet my team.

When I arrived in Bucharest (after many extra expenses that I will be turning in to my travel insurance people, including a lot of paid internet time to communicate with the people I needed to communicate with), the silver lining was that I had no troubles with my luggage (apart from carrying it all, of course). I went outside to get a taxi, as there was nobody at the information booth to help me NOT get ripped off. I got into a taxi that said 1,39 lei/km on the door, and then the guy started telling me the flat rate is 150 lei. Um, no? I was told to expect around 60 lei for the drive to the hotel. He argued with me, telling me that it was nighttime, the flat rate is 150 lei, and that’s how much anyone else would have charged. (I, meanwhile, was unaware that it cost more to drive at night. Yes, I am rolling my eyes.) I talked him down to 90 lei, which was still too much, but I wanted to get to the hotel.

He dropped me and my luggage off at the Ibis Hotel, right near the train station, and thankfully they had a room for me. Unfortunately, they wouldn’t take payment by Visa, and I didn’t have enough lei to cover the room, so I had to get money out of their ATM. I managed to get my luggage upstairs, called my parents on Skype (yay, free wi-fi in the room!), checked some emails, and went to bed—in a real bed! I had slept a little on the planes, surprisingly, and in the airport, but I was exhausted.

Mihaela had told me in an email to take the noon train to Barlad on Sunday, so I went down to the station (walking distance) at around 10:30. I had no problem getting a ticket for the train, as Terri had sent me the schedule and I wrote down all the information I needed. I just handed the paper over to the lady at the ticket window, she wrote down the price, I paid it, and that was that. Then I found some teenagers who spoke English, and they helped me find the platform where I would board. And THEN I found another teenager whose seat was a row behind mine, and he said I could stick with him and he’d help me get to where I needed to be. He and his mother (?) also helped me get my luggage onto the train.

The train ride itself was fairly uneventful. I’d fall asleep for 15-20 minutes, then wake up. Fall asleep again. Rinse, repeat, over and over, for almost five hours. It seemed like my seat was the only one in the entire car that squeaked, and by 4:00, the man in front and to the left of me kept glaring at me. What on earth did he expect me to do about it? Stand up for the whole ride?

When I arrived at the Barlad train station, a very nice man helped me take my luggage down from the racks and then helped me carry it outside. I looked around for Mihaela but didn’t see her, and I decided to stay in one spot in case we were missing each other. Well, after an hour, she still wasn’t there, so I was debating about just taking a taxi to Tutova. Then I remembered that, while I didn’t have the cell phone number Mihaela had given me (I lost the paper it was written on), I had the other phone number that Terri had sent to me, which was, I guess, her home phone? I found a woman who worked in the station and spoke a little English, and she allowed me to use her cell phone to call. I spoke with Dan, Mihaela’s husband, and explained that Mihaela was supposed to pick me up but hadn’t made it yet. As it turned out, Mihaela had planned for the actual clinic/hospital orientation to occur on Monday, but the head of the hospital, Dr. Delia, was on duty Sunday, so the tour happened then, causing Mihaela to be late.

She picked me up, and we arrived at the hotel in time for dinner, which I quite enjoyed, having not eaten since an hour before I landed in Bucharest. It was pasta with chicken and mozzarella cheese. Then we had ice cream for dessert—yum!

I met the rest of my team mates, and I’m rooming with Anna, who has been here for three weeks. Her family has joined her for this week, and they will be leaving on Saturday. There are so many one-week volunteers! I think we’ll be down to five next week, and then two the week after. I think, for the third week, I’ll be the only volunteer at the clinic. Help! :-P

After dinner, we finished orientation, and then we chose our “baby assignments”—the kids with whom we will be working one-on-one for development in specific areas. This is something I had been thinking about for a few weeks, since I’ve been reading other volunteers blogs and had a vague idea of the children and their situations. I wasn’t able to decide, though, so I was going to wait until everyone else chose and see who was left. After everyone else had chosen, Mihaela asked if I would like to take on Lea-Celine. I have to be honest, she was not a child that I had considered working with. Don’t get me wrong, she’s sweet and I adore her, but she is a handful because she was incredibly clingy last summer, and it seems that that part of her personality hasn’t changed. If you pick her up, you can’t put her down without a tantrum. She doesn’t want you to play with other kids if she’s in the room.

After reading her journal, though, and hearing tips from others, I have an idea of how to work with her. She IS incredibly bright, so I plan to work with her on speaking more-—in both English and Romanian. She also needs to work on walking. She no longer wears her foot brace, except at night, and she can pull herself up into a standing position, but she can’t seem to straighten her legs all the way. It might just be from tension in her leg muscles. There are two physical therapists on the team, so they’ll be giving me some ideas for working with Celine.

Some "exciting" pictures of my travels:

The book I finished while at the Frankfurt airport

Haagen-Dazs Mango Sorbet at the Frankfurt Airport

Breakfast on the flight to Frankfurt

Dinner on the flight to Frankfurt (despite the order of the pictures, this meal came before breakfast)

P.S. I wanted to say something about the amazing awesomeness of seeing the sun set whilst one is above the clouds, but it's simply indescribable. :-)

Friday, June 25, 2010

Leaving on a Jet Plane!

I'm leaving for Romania today! So excited. I'm armed with a suitcase full of stuff for the kids, a duffel bag full of stuff for me, and my carry-on. It'll be so easy to pack when it's time to come home again--I'll just toss the duffel and all my stuff (and possibly the carry-on!) into my suitcase!

My brother is picking me up around 1:15 to take me to the airport, and my flight leaves at 5:05. First stop is Washington D.C., where I have 54 minutes to make my connection. Shouldn't be a problem, as it's right down the corridor from where I arrive. Then it's off to Frankfurt, and then Bucharest by 1:30 tomorrow afternoon (6:30am home time). This will all be followed by a couple hours waiting at the airport and then 5 hours in the van as we drive to Tutova, as well as the traditional dinner stop at McDonald's.