19 Days Left in the D

19 Days Left in the D (or, “On the Way to a Bittersweet Smile”)

Virtual Cookies to whoever gets the joke! Anyway…

It’s hard to believe:  I’ve only got 19 days left in Detroit.  A careful reader of the Broken Ankle Log would know that I got a job overseas, but that’s all to the left (technically to the right but, we don’t say that do we?) and who really reads that? Anyway, it all began over 5 years ago…*ripply flashback music*

A presenter from the Consul General of Japan in Detroit came to my Japanese class to talk about the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program (JET).  In JET, you go work in Japan for a year, generally as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) for English in middle and high schools, but there are other positions.  I asked if one had to be an American citizen to join, and was informed that one had to be a citizen of a participating country.  I was still an Honduran citizen at the time, and of course, poor little Honduras is not a participating country.

In 2004 I vowed to become an American citizen if John Kerry won.  I did not want to naturalize during Dubya’s presidency.  When Bush won reelection, I kicked myself for not naturalizing precisely to help vote him out of office.  Oh well.  Instead, I spent nearly a year looking for a job, got a part time job, and then joined City Year.  During my second year in City Year, I started the naturalization process, and became an American in July 2008.  I could finally VOTE!

With the scholarship I earned in City Year, I went back to college to finish the second degree I unwittingly started years before. I planned to graduate again in two semesters, earning a second Bachelor’s in Asian Studies concentrating in Japanese.  (It ended up taking 3 semesters, but close enough.) In December 2008, finally able to, I submitted my application to the JET Program and crossed my fingers.

In late January I was overjoyed to see that I’d made it to the interview stage of the application process. I would have my interview on the 18th of February.  I could think of little else.  Then, a mere 9 days before the interview, I had that fateful encounter with a patch of black ice.  I went to my interview, the one I had been waiting on for so long, on crutches, hopped up on Vicodin, without much preparation.

Luckily, when it was “game time,” I was able to focus on the task at hand.  It’s like on America’s Next Top Model: they’ll put the girls in crazy costumes that they have to “model beyond.” I felt I had to interview beyond my temporary disability, and certainly, beyond the side effects of the Vicodin, which at the time I still had to take in relatively large doses.  In mid-April or so, I received an email saying I’d made it to the short list, meaning my place in the JET Program was almost secured.  I was happy, but physical therapy was the first thing on my mind.  I later learned I would be going to Fukuoka Prefecture.  A little later still, I heard from my predecessor (Hi, if you’re reading this!) and learned that I would be at a high school in Dazaifu, the second largest city in the prefecture.  I was so happy!

When I first had the accident, the second thing I asked the orthopedist was “will I be able to travel overseas in August?” He said yes and I was greatly relieved.  But, he said that some of the screws I would be getting should be removed within a year.  I worried about having surgery in Japan.  I’d read that even in the United States, some surgeons might use different tools for the same procedure.  What if I went to a surgeon that didn’t have the right tools to remove my hardware?  I brought it up again at my May checkup, and my orthopedist said that if my ankle’s lateral motion was still severely limited in June, he could take some of my screws out in July; that would greatly help me regain motion, plus, I wouldn’t have to worry about getting it done in Japan.  He said it could be done outpatient in the office, as it only involved making a small cut above the screw head and unscrewing it out.

Unfortunately, at the June checkup, the x-rays revealed one of the screws had broken.  This is normal according to the orthopedist (though my physical trainer and therapist were thoroughly surprised: “those things are made out of titanium!”).  Since the broken part would have to be dug out, it had to be done in the operating room.  More all-out surgery. Oh Dear Diety.  Now, it wasn’t urgent to take them out.  But the orthopedist reassured me that it would not cost nearly as much as the first surgery, that the extraction would only take 15 minutes.  I got an estimate from the hospital: 10 grand, “more or less.”  That’s a lot, but if it was just 10K or a little more, I could set up a payment plan and live with it.

A few days after the surgery, I went to view my hospital account…and saw that the surgery plus recovery time had been over $17,000.  I couldn’t even be angry. Maybe it’s just me, but while technically the phrase “ten thousand more or less” can mean anything from a penny to a million, since it was an estimate, I figured the upper limit would be some 15 grand, but given the quickness of this procedure, I didn’t think it would go up that high.  Ha!

So here I am, back in the present.  What should have been a really happy time is bittersweet.  Now, I will go on JET not just to fulfill a dream, but to pay off a debt (unless Detroit Receiving Hospital has some more mercy on my soul). Nearly all the money I had saved up to pay for my move overseas went to paying for physical therapy.

As I walk about Detroit, and now notice how many people are walking with limps, I don’t mind the $1500 I still owe the Rehabilitation Institute; without therapy, I would doubtless still be “walking all crazy.”  Before my second surgery I met a woman who was about to have the same first surgery I did, just that on her left foot.  She had recently lost her job at an auto parts supplier so she had no insurance.  She frowned when I told her the discounted price of physical therapy for those paying out of pocket, saying even that was too much for her.  I wonder, will she be one of those walking around with limps for not being able to afford even to take on the debt of therapy? Likewise, that $17K surgery, well, I can’t say I don’t feel better without those two screws, because I most certainly do.  It’s a noticeable difference.  My ankle used to be terribly stiff in the morning, but now, the first step on it is enough to get the stiffness out.  And I feel better knowing there aren’t broken pieces of metal inside me.

So, that’s how it is.  I’m happy about JET, but too worried about the debts incurred to heal this injury to be freaked out about moving to another country for a year, as a sane person should be.  Perhaps it’s a good thing that way.

Well, I made a blog that will be just for my JET experience.  There isn’t much there now, but I’ll put it in the Blogroll.  If anyone is interested, it’s Lucky Hill.  I named it that because that’s what Fukuoka (福岡) literally means. I don’t plan on abandonning Scales of Libra, it will continue to be what it is now: a place where I blog about the Two Sides of Life, erratically as usual, for the amusement and/or edification of whoever wanders by. ^_^

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