Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Somewhere in the world, Gloria Gaynor is humming.

Physio has begun!  After my first session, I was pretty sore.  For a few days, actually.
Pretty much up until my second session.

After my second (yesterday,) I'm sore, but less so than last time.  Some of what's being done in physio are movements that stretch out my spine.  While this is of course necessary, it's certainly uncomfortable and makes me feel for a day or two like my spine isn't 'stable' enough to handle any complicated, quick, or poundy movements, meaning I haven't dared to try jogging since physio started.  As I'm being treated twice a week there are essentially only 1 or 2 days during the week where I seem to be in decent functional capacity.  The result of this is that while my back is moving along toward a better state of affairs (I hope,) progress with things I'm trying to tackle around the house (such as making candy, organizing my soon-to-be studio, and so on,) have ground to a halt for now.  Next session is Thursday, so hopefully I'll feel 'right' enough tomorrow to jog, even if it's only a little.

I've finally seen my severance pay from work, and have finally been paid for the time I wasn't working by my mutualité, so now I'm just waiting on the official package of "you no longer have a contract with us" documents (otherwise known as the C4) to arrive from the hotel so that I can register in the Belgian system as a "job seeker" and get to the business of getting back on the horse as it were, however that works here.  My little bits of research into this system over the past few days only reveal to me that this process (like many things in Belgium,) looks mighty labyrinthine.  That, and Belgium needs more nurses, physiotherapists, boulangers, patissiers, and chocolatiers.  Did you catch that?  BELGIUM officially needs more chocolatiers.  Who knew?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Life has a funny, funny way of helping you out.

My MRI shows a ruptured disc in exactly THE place I've been feeling the weirdness from the start.  It's not the best news in the world, and it's certainly a little disheartening to see with your own eyes a picture of your own disc-fluid leaked out into places it shouldn't be, but I've had enough time to accept the fact that I've mucked up my back, that it could be much worse, and I've also had enough time to begin to accept that it can get much better than it has been.  Now at least I know exactly what's happened to it, which means I'll be able to receive some precise treatment to heal up as best as possible.

I've been prescribed physiotherapy, and I saw my physiotherapist for the first time today.  He seems great, and since we were talking about what kind of activities I do, he's going to make sure I get seen by his colleague who just happens to also be a "monitrice de yoga".  Basically she'll be able to use her medical training combined with her knowledge of yoga to help me confidently go back to yoga knowing what positions I shouldn't do, or how to adapt my movements accordingly.  I still have the green light for very careful jogging, too.

Work: I worked yesterday, and discovered along the way that MANY of the things I have to lift at work weigh *much* more than 10kg.  I survived the day and got everything done with proper timing, but it wasn't easy.  Then, when I was done my manager's boss sat down with me and we had a relaxed conversation in which he explained that I was being fired.

Yup.  Basically it's more like being "laid off" due to "restructuring of the company that occurred while I was away from work", but whatever.  Draw your own conclusions, (I have.)  I never thought that the prospect of losing my job would be so... un-stressful for me, but actually, it was.  After working the day, I had come to the conclusion that although I could handle resuming work, it might not be advisable for my body, as far as "getting fully better" goes, so in all honesty I was kind of relieved since I know myself and I likely would have tried to power through, grin and bear it and whatnot, but the fact is I'm not as functional as I thought I was, and work totally proved it to me.

I never realized how heavy the things I dealt with there were, and why would I have before?  If I could lift it without trouble, who cared how much it weighed?  Well, lets just say that there are a heck of a lot of things there that weigh 15, 20, 25 kilos, EASILY.  Dealing with those sorts of things for 8 hours straight?  I did it, like I said, and smiling all the while, but there were certainly points in the day where I was basically praying that my back would hold up while I was lifting something heavy.  Yesterday night I needed a pain killer and a lie-down.

Other reasons not to stress too much about this?  After all that had happened with the shady handling of the 'work accident' situation by the hotel, I wondered if they wouldn't try to find a way to shoo me out the door when I came back to work.  I'd seen them usher another good employee out in a similar fashion, and so knowing they weren't above 'strategic firing' I'd already mentally prepared myself for this possibility.  Additionally I found myself throughout this experience feeling not only unsupported by people I'd worked hard for, but also seeing very clearly that I was working for someone who prefers to treat employees as things to be disposed of as soon as they aren't in mint condition.  Who wants to stay and work for someone like that?

Looking at it coldy: The hotel was my first job here, and I chose it so that I could refine my French skills and still make use of my English while getting accustomed to life here.  Given that I felt I was arriving at the point where I could either pursue some sort of post-secondary level studies in French or find a job that was more challenging, I was already comfortable with the idea of moving on, and had been thinking (privately) I'd probably do so in the New Year.  So instead of jumping in the near future, I got pushed about 6 months sooner than I'd wanted, but it's not so bad that it happened this way.

Because there was no problem with the quality of my work at the hotel, I'm in the position where being let go is supposed to be a 'compensated' farewell.  Not only does the hotel have to pay me severance, but while I'm figuring out my next step I'll (probably) receive some financial support from the government.  I'm not sure how much right now, but I know I likely won't be in fear of starving or be unable to pay the bills.  What could be a silver lining to this is that this sort of "rupture of work-contract" actually opens up a few opportunities for me that weren't easily accessible before:

Access to certain forms of education in Belgium becomes easier in this situation, which I think will be a big help, (there are very few ways as an adult living an "adult working life" in Belgium to secure educational opportunities.)  Having Belgian credentials seems to put employers in certain fields at ease, as they have a better idea of what they're getting or what they can expect to get from you if they're looking to hire you, and so I'll be very happy if I can get myself into a course here to add a bit more Belgo-education onto my CV.  Also: being able to complete a degree or certification in your non-native language generally serves as an immediately recognizable indication anywhere in the world that you must be at least functionally fluent in that language.

Soon (ok, soonish, this is Belgium, after all, and the fêtes are coming meaning admin. offices will likely move even slower than normal,) it will be up to me and a councillor at the FOREM to look over my papers, discuss my credentials and previous work history, my motivations and the direction I'd like to take my working life in, and to try and find something that fits in with that.  I've already been browsing around a bit, and I'm excited about my options.  I certainly don't think that it's a bad thing to be fired/laid off if it means I get access to someone who knows the system better than I do, and who is there to help me navigate it and make intelligent choices in order to get where I want.  At least hopefully that's what is going to happen.

In the end I suppose, it's rather like my compatriot (Ms. Morissette,) once sang: "Life has a funny, funny way of helping you out."

Monday, November 21, 2011

A day of reckoning.

In less than an hour I'll be on my way to the hospital.  I'll hear about my spinal MRI, will be given further instructions about continuing with physiotherapy and/or osteopathic treatments, and I'll find out if I'm being given the OK to go back to work.  I'm pretty sure that I'll be given the green light for work, so then I'll be making a call to the hotel to see about being put back into the schedule.

It should be interesting considering the whole shady deal my manager created by lying to HIS boss (my "big boss") and the insurance companies for the hotel in saying I never reported being hurt.  I'm curious to see how I'll be received at the hotel.  I'm interested to see if the hotel's insurance companies will want to take my doctor up on his offer to prepare them a dossier, so they can see that from DAY 1, this injury has been classified as a work-accident, and rightly so.  We'll see I suppose.

The good thing about my going back (aside from life finally, hopefully returning to something closer to normal,) is that I work alone for a sizeable chunk of every day, when I'm not dealing with clients.  Given that this is the case, it should be pretty easy to spot if someone at the hotel has decided to try and punish me for getting hurt by making me feel 'unwelcomed back'; they'd have to go out of their way consistently to make that sort of effort.  Again, we'll see.

I'm hopeful that anyone who inititally bought my managers lies will have had the time to let logic prevail, and to realize that even though my manager tried to convince them that I was just making "a big deal about a backache" and "trying to take time off with benefits", that in fact 4 different doctors wouldn't have kept me off work for more than 2 months if this were truly the case.  In reality, I'm still not at the point of physical strength I was before I got hurt, but I'm ok enough now to go back to work I think, and I want to.  While some might welcome a break from work, I've been pretty bored and frustrated over this period of time away from work.  Back problems are nothing at all like a rest or a vacation.

I'm really anxious to bring this whole nightmare of a situation to a close, and to finally, FINALLY (after more than 2 months of waiting,) have a better sense of what's going on, in general, with me and my life.  Cross your fingers with me for a second?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

A Curt update

I've got a pounding head today.  Headaches like this bring out the evil in me, so essentially I'm trying to keep to myself, keep quiet and do things I find calming, like making cookies, reading and so on.  It's not working really though.  After making a mousse for dessert tonight and cookie dough to roll out and cut later, I still feel stabby.

I attribute it to too much wine.  Friday we split a bottle with dinner, but since the boy is sick and since I hadn't had anything to drink in a bit, it hit us both a little harder than it ought to have.

Saturday was le Rallye du Condroz.  We went to check it out and indulged in a few vin-chauds during the day.  We only had the chance to catch 2 of the races though before it was time for us to go home and get ready for a friend's birthday party.  Which was at a wine bar, and was open-bar.

We each had 3 vin-chauds during the day at Rally and both took it pretty easy at the party, but despite that neither of us is feeling stellar today.  Bleh.  My brain is pickled.  I suppose I should be grateful anyhow, as at least I left the Rally alive.

The boy is STILL stick.
And he STILL doesn't cover his mouth when coughing, which is disgusting.  It is a miracle I haven't caught his nasty disease.  *knocks wood*

Monday, November 7, 2011

Oh Dora, jullie zein goed.

I've hinted at this before, but I'll just say it.  I have linguistic ambitions.  On my "bucket list" there is the line that reads "learn at least 4 languages to or past the B2 point."  While it's true that my French isn't perfect, it has arrived at the B2 level of fluency and continues to move slowly past it, into the C-levels.  My brain seems to be chugging along with it, doing what brains are designed to do and getting better largely on it's own via observation, pattern retention etc.  All I have to do is challenge it now and then by not avoiding French, reading more complex literary materials, and asking questions now and then to clear up things that confuse me (all of these things are fairly easy to do here.)

So there.  I've now got two languages, and need at least two more.

Now, lets talk about Dutch for a moment.  It's similar to English in some respects, and easier to sort out (to me, at least,) than German (since the Dutch don't have the habit of mushing several words together to form one mega-word.)  Mind you, rather like German when it comes to grammar it seems you must speak like Yoda if you'd like your sentence structure to be correct.  While many people tell me German would ultimately be a more 'practical language' to try and learn, I have the feeling that if I tackle Dutch first, German might become more accessible, much in the same way Spanish vocabulary and grammatical concepts seem to have become easier to grasp as my French has improved.

I've been trying very casually to improve my Dutch here, because it really would be useful to me to have more solid 'notions' of it.  Since I'm in a country where Dutch is used in daily life in the Northern half of the country, and is easily tuned into on several TV channels, and since the Netherlands is the country right next door, it's not like I'm very far away from any opportunity to practice.  And practice connected to real-life is what makes a language really "stick", at least for me.

Along with my sparsely exposing myself to internet podcasts like "Laura speaks Dutch", and using an online lesson scheme, (provided free by the Belgian government!)  I've finally discovered something in my own home that seems to help, and is easy to do.  Dora the explorer.  While it's true that Dora makes me want to bash my head repeatedly against a wall when I see it in English, it's actually quite helpful to watch in whatever languages you only have basic notions of.  It's very illustrative, clear, and repetitive using small variations on the themes in each episode.  My Dutch is so weak that I have a feeling it will be quite some time before I outgrow Dora, but I've decided to try and commit to watching her in Dutch whenever I have the chance.

Interestingly enough, there is a show that comes on after Dora that teaches Dutch children basic Chinese concepts.  I suppose if I graduate from the school of Dora I can move on to this show and keep on with regular exposure to Dutch while picking up a few Chinese basics?

Now, if I could just find a similar show to help compliment my slow internet learnings in Spanish.  Are there even Spanish channels in Belgium?  I know we have a few Italian ones, but I don't recall passing any Spanish ones.

So there.  I've gradually arrived at the decision that I'll be going after Spanish and Dutch to meet this "Bucket List" desire.  I feel good about the choice, it seems to make sense for me and to align well with other ambitions and interests of mine.  I'm not sure I'll ever arrive at the point of fluency I'd like with either of them, but you never know unless you try, right?

Anyone know of a place (online or on TV) where I might be able to find full episodes of "Dora la Exploradora"?

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The new coughing etiquette

Things continue to get better, and I couldn't be more pleased about it.  It was about time!  I've now jogged 2km, cautiously with only a little bit of 'weird' feeling in my back after the first 1.5km, and I managed to vacuum and mop the house in the same day without much suffering.  I'm totally off the medications, and can lift an 8kg bucket of water without feeling like I might be doing myself harm.

I've been given the go ahead with caution by the Osteopath to resume yoga, which I've always found has helped my back to feel better able to deal with whatever I've thrown at it in life.  I haven't tried yet though, as I'm waiting for a day when "sickface" is out of the house to do deeper breathing and such.  Yep, the boy is SI-ICK.  Emphasis on "ick".  Fever, chills, body aches, followed by a nasty wet cough.  Gross.  Given that I'm finally on my way out of the "I feel physically useless" realm, I certainly don't want to catch what he's got.  It's been a week full of veggies, garlic, Greens +, vitamins, live-culture yogurt, and anything else I can think of that will help to keep me from catching his nasty bug.  That, and harassing him to cover his mouth when he coughs.  A futile little fist in front of the face (the typical Belgian coughing gesture, shown below,) does crap-all to block flying germs.
(Notice how the illustrator here has shown the grossness of the cough flying right past the futile little fist.)

I like to think of the "futile fist" as a piece of theatre performed by people here so as to make it SEEM like they are covering their mouth, without actually having to make any genuine physical effort to stop the spread of germs.  Honestly this frustrates me to no end because why pretend you're being considerate of others when you are not?  It's to the point really where when I'm sitting across from someone on the bus and they do this (coughing all over me,) I'm tempted to grab their arm and make their futile little fist useful by punching them in their own mouth with it!  Seriously, people of Belgium: you need to master the sleeve-sneeze/cough, or at least really COVER your mouth and then go wash your hands after.  It's a matter of general respect for others, public hygiene, and just ... common sense!  Nobody else wants to share in your disease!

Maybe they'll finally learn when something like SARS comes to visit them.  It seemed to smarten people in Toronto up rather quickly:

Just so everyone can benefit from knowing what a "sleeve-sneeze" is.  Think about it... this area of the body doesn't (after you sneeze on it) touch door-handles, rub itchy eyes, or do anything else really that could pass your germs easily on to someone else.  The "sleeve-sneeze" is SO much better than the "futile fist", in my opinion.

And now that I'm done ranting, the bit about candy.  I have a marble slab, it's heavy (as marble slabs tend to be,) but I'm alllmooost at the point in my recovery where I can lift it and get it ready for some quality candy-making.  Just in time, really, considering Xmas is coming!  As soon as I can move it into place, I'll be starting off with some brittles, toffees and other hard candies. (It makes sense to start with these, as they have a long shelf life when stored in dry, airtight containers.)  I've got a few new recipes I'll be trying out, so I can't wait!  Expect candyporn in the nearish future.