Monthly Archives: October 2012

Choosing a Korean Hospital

I have had a day and a half, folks.  I am now officially 36 weeks pregnant, and I basically had the crappiest doctor visit of my life today.

It started off normally with the blood pressure and the weighing.  I’ve gained a lot of weight over the past couple of weeks, and my blood pressure has crept up a bit.  I’ve always had at least mildly high blood pressure, even when I was running a 10K and doing a weight circuit every day.  Of course, high blood pressure can present its own set of problems, such as pre-eclampsia, when you’re pregnant.  I monitor it very closely – twice a day, in fact.  I’ve known from day one that this is necessary for the health of the baby of me.

Now, obviously my OBGYN has known about this from day one, as well.  I am obviously overweight, and they have known about my blood pressure.  However, it was never, at any point, conveyed to us that they might not be able to deliver our child.  Only today, after asking a series of pressing questions that our doctor seemed reluctant to answer, did it come out that, in the case of any sort of abnormal complication, the baby and I would have to be taken to one of the larger Changwon hospitals.

At this point, it’s important to note something that we just discovered today: specialist hospitals in Korea are NOT like specialist hospitals in England or America (and presumably much of the West).  In the US, if you have a heart problem, it’s normal to be referred to a specialist.  It wouldn’t be out of the question to be referred to a specialist hospital.  The specialist hospital would have all of the equipment and staff necessary to deal with any problems that arise due to patients’ treatment.  However, that is not the case in Korea.

In Korea, specialist hospitals, be they for your back, pregnancy, or whatever, only cater to the general issues that are unique to whatever specific treatment they provide.  If the patient has a complication in addition to needing that treatment, they are often not equipped to deal with it.  I did not know this, although in retrospect, I suppose I could or should have guessed.

As I said, my doctor has known that I have elevated blood pressure from day one.  Today, she informed me that because of my blood pressure and weight, it was probable that the hospital would not be properly equipped to help me or my child, should any complications arise.  Who the hell waits until a woman is 36 weeks pregnant to tell her that?!  Given that they have been aware of this problem from day one, does it not make sense to convey this message clearly from the first day, so that the patient/parents-to-be can make informed decisions about their healthcare?  Why wait until the eleventh hour to say that you might want to switch doctors and hospitals?  It makes me feel like they hung onto us this long so that they could take our money and then fob me off on someone else.  Not a great way to do business, frankly.

We got a second opinion about the whole thing, and this maternity hospital’s immediate solution?  You need a C-section TODAY!  Your blood pressure is too high to continue with the pregnancy!  When we asked if they had the proper equipment to care for a baby who would be considered two to three weeks premature, the answer was no.  And yet they were all prepared to schedule me for a C-section.  I mean, seriously?  Seriously?!  Why would you even start down that route, knowing you are not equipped to take care of premies?  As a side note, what maternity hospital doesn’t have incubators or things to care for babies who come early?  Am I the only person who thinks that is totally strange?  If so, call me a weirdo, because honestly, I think that just defies logic.

We finally went to Samsung Hospital, which is one the biggest and best in Changwon.  Some folks say Fatima is the best, but personally, my husband and I both have had nothing but great experiences with Samsung.  We went to Samsung and got right in to see the OBGYN on duty that day.  I gave them my records and explained the situation.  Immediately, they performed the pre-eclampsia tests – tests that honestly should have been administered before and probably would have been in the US and UK – and we were given the results within the hour.  The result?  Although I have high blood pressure, I DO NOT have pre-eclampsia.  In fact, the doctor checked the baby out, proclaimed her large and in charge (we knew that!), healthy, and in no immediate danger.  He recommended she stay in there as long as possible and continue being her kicky, hiccupy, hair-having self.  (You can see her hair on the ultrasound, which is super cool.)

They also did the tests that the maternity hospital ordered, and they were very thorough and explained clearly what would happen, why we needed them, and what the consequences would be given a variety of scenarios, which was something that our maternity hospital had never been as clear about.  The prices are generally the same for delivery (natural or C-section) at every hospital, so changing hospitals has had no effect on our pocketbook, thank God.  They have facilities similar to the maternity hospital, though admittedly not as “touchy feely,” although I’m willing to forego the hearts and rainbows in favor of the best care for my daughter.  I’d rather have someone who gives it to me straight and honest than someone who sugarcoats everything and then tells me the full truth at the last minute and even then, only after being pressed.

What you need to know if you’re delivering a child in Korea – or seeking any kind of specialist treatment – is this: there are three levels of hospitals in Korea, and they are not all equipped the same way.  We did not know this, by the way, but you really need to if you’re having any sort of medical problems here.  Level one is your basic clinic, similar to a private practice or GP (if you’re British).  They can prescribe medicine, do routine check-ups, and refer you to a specialist, but if you break your arm, you don’t want to go there.  Level two is the specialty hospitals and clinics.  They are better equipped than the standard clinics, but if you have a surgery there that results in a serious problem, they may not be able to treat you.  Their resources and equipment are also more likely to be limited – for example, only having one incubator for premie babies.  Level three are the big hospitals, and they can do most anything.  Some are better than others and you certainly have to do your homework, but if you need surgery or a major procedure and are having a problem, they are best equipped to handle the whole situation.  They are also likely to have a larger supply of things that patients need.

In a nutshell, we thought that we were making the right decision by choosing a hospital that specialized in delivering babies.  However, given even a somewhat routine complication like high blood pressure, that turned out not to be the case.  As a side note, I could be wrong about blood pressure being a routine complication, but I would imagine that it’s somewhat common in the US, like gestational diabetes and other things that are usually related to obesity.  We really needed to be at the bigger hospital from day one, and we ended up going through a very stressful situation to find this out.  However, I’m glad to go through it now and know that we will be in a place where the baby and I have everything we need to get through delivery in the best possible shape.  No, it may not be as “homey” or welcoming as a maternity hospital, but again, I’m willing to sacrifice smiles and pink wallpaper in favor of top quality treatment, regardless of the situation.

This is really not just information that is good for pregnant ladies in Korea – this is information that every foreigner needing a serious procedure in Korea should know.  Don’t think that just because the hospital is specialist means that they can treat you in every case, as that might not be true at all.  Ask lots of questions, in spite of the language barrier.  Make sure that you have all the information you need.  If your life or the life of your child depends on it, there’s no room for error.

Am I going to say bad things about the specialist hospital that I went to?  (I posted the name and where to find it in another post.)  No.  I think it’s a good choice for women who are having a routine pregnancy with no foreseeable complications.  If you are a woman who may have or probably will have complications, don’t bother with a specialist hospital.  Go to a bigger hospital.  Make sure that if something goes wrong, the facilities are available to you.  Don’t wait until something does go wrong to find out the hard way.  Ask all of these questions on your first visit.  I wish I had asked more, because I could have saved us a lot of stress and headache.  Changing doctors at 36 weeks is not what you want, believe me!  It doesn’t give you much time to develop a patient-doctor rapport.  Of course, to reiterate what I’ve already said, I’m willing to forego smiles and happy times in favor of someone whom I know can handle every situation.

All this said, let this be a lesson to all pregnant women: If you are unhappy with your doctor or suspect that you don’t have all the right information, ask lots of questions and demand to know all the answers.  You and your baby deserve the best care possible.  When your doctor tells you point-blank that your baby is replaceable, you are not getting the best possible care.  Period.  Period.  If you don’t think they’re being honest, get a second opinion.  Get a third opinion.  Make sure they’re doing all the possible tests.  Doctors are wonderful, and we are lucky to live in an age where medicine can be so beneficial to us.  However, we should let that override our own judgment and place blind faith in these people.  They are human and therefore imperfect.  If you are not satisfied with your doctor, change.  I wish I had gone with my gut and done it earlier, because it would have saved my family a lot of unnecessary stress.

That sentence would be great for ending the post, but I’d like to end it on a light note and say that my baby and I are both great.  I’m tired and stressed tonight, but she is kicking as usual and wiggling around.  She has turned downward into the birth position (woot), and she is always moving and hiccuping (practice breathing!) and sticking her feet in my ribs (ouch).  I feel perfectly fine, aside from being uncomfortable and slow-moving.  We have one week left until she’s technically full-term, and we have about 2-3 weeks left until she’s considered well done and ready to come out of the oven.  I’m just glad that we found some bakers who can really take care of us.  Now if only they made cupcakes, too!

Addendum:

So the hospital drama saga, as it turned out, did not end here.  When we went back for another check-up the next week, we saw a different doctor.  His English was good, but his competency?  Not so much.  He did an ultrasound, didn’t check for the cord around the baby’s neck (we knew it was), didn’t look at my blood pressure reading (it was higher), and generally didn’t do a thorough job.  We were annoyed enough that we actually went back to our original maternity hospital to see a different OBGYN, not the woman we’d had before.  Let it be said, at this point, that I really like Samsung Hospital, and that was the first and only negative experience we’ve had there.  We’ve been back since for other doctors, and they were awesome.  It’s like we hit the lottery multiple times for crap maternity docs.

Anyway, because my blood pressure was creeping higher, the OBGYN at Moran recommended that we go to a university hospital in Busan.  We really didn’t want to have to travel that far to deliver our child, so in a last-ditch effort, we tried Fatima.  Fatima gave us the same response and essentially refused to admit me.  They referred me to Inje University Paik Hospital in Busan, which is a research hospital and can do all sorts of in-depth testing and has professor doctors in charge of all wards.  In a nutshell, it’s the big guns.  There are, I think, three such hospitals in Busan: Paik Hospital, Busan University Hospital, and Dong-A University Hospital.

Now, the thing to bear in mind about these hospitals is that they are the highest level stage three hospitals.  The most interesting point about them is that you can’t really just walk in like you can with the average Korean hospital; you need a referral to be seen by the specialists there.  If you do not have a referral, you have to be admitted in through one of the GP doctors there, who will write you a referral to one of the specialists.  Fatima wrote me a referral with an OBGYN specialist, Professor Dr. Kim Young-Nam, and made me an appointment for Monday.  (This all took place on Friday.)

I was admitted on Monday for observation and probable delivery that week, which ended up being what happened.  They took my blood pressure every 30 minutes, monitored the baby five times a day for 30 minutes, and finally put me on oxygen and gave me a medicine to bring down my blood pressure.  Prof. Dr. Kim finally told me that she recommended induction because I had developed preeclampsia, and it was no longer safe for the baby or me to continue the pregnancy.  Fortunately, everything worked out exactly to plan, there were no complications with the delivery (except that I couldn’t get an epidural, and it hurt like a wicked bitch), and we both received top-notch care.

So.  To conclude this whole dramatic saga, I would say this: if you are delivering a baby in Korea and are experiencing any complications, I highly recommend that you look into the possibility of delivering at one of the “big gun” hospitals.  You will definitely need a referral from a lower level hospital, but that shouldn’t be exceptionally difficult to obtain, if there is a real problem.

If you have a totally normal pregnancy, the regular hospitals will be able to handle you.  Don’t let my story scare you off.  Preeclampsia is not an unheard-of complication, but my weight is not something Koreans are used to dealing with, and the honest truth of the matter is that Koreans are no good at dealing with things that are outside of the norm.  Everything is standardized here.  Everything is conformist.  I don’t conform to normal Korean standards, and that was a big part of the problem.  If you are a normal woman of normal weight with no wonky issues, you’ll be fine.  In fact, even if you have wonky issues, the average hospital will be okay to take care of them.  If you are overweight or obese and delivering in Korea, know now that most Korean doctors will have little to no experience in helping a larger woman with potential complications.  That’s not being mean about weight or anything, but rather the simple truth.  Moms-to-be need to know this before delivery.

In any event, my parting thoughts on the matter are, if you have a normal pregnancy, stick with one of the maternity hospitals.  You should be fine.  If you know in advance that you’re a high-risk case or that there is a potential problem with your child, don’t mess with them.  Get to a big hospital that can handle special cases.  Ask for a referral to a big hospital, if necessary.  Seoul and Busan are the two best places to find these high-powered hospitals.  No, it’s not convenient, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.  Don’t let my issues scare you off from having your child in Korea.  The medical care here is good, it’s cheap, and you are in capable hands.  Just be aware that if you prove an exceptional case, it will be harder to find someone to help you here.

Bye-bye, Boob Tube

My husband is out having drinks with a friend of his, so that means I have the house to myself.  I can turn on all the lights – my husband prefers a bat cave-type atmosphere – watch Tim Burton movies, read conspiracy theories, and get some writing done.  I’m taking a break right now, actually, as I’ve spent most of my weekend writing homework and tests in order to prepare my maternity leave substitute.  I’m actually earning my keep this weekend!  Anyway, I was going through some of my news sites, and I found a really interesting write-up about the effects of television on babies and children.  It was nothing I hadn’t heard before, but now that our daughter is so close to being born, it’s really hit home how important these decisions about how to raise your kids can be.

My husband and I “got rid” of our TV.  It’s actually in the storage room, since it really belongs to my boss and comes with the apartment.  We can’t really throw it away.  However, we never watched it.  That’s partly because I hate TV, partly because we didn’t get any decent channels (as if there are any), and partly because we prefer to choose our content ourselves and therefore prefer online entertainment.  We put the TV away, it freed up tons of space in the living room, we save about $50 per month on satellite, and we have never missed it, even for a second.  When we want to see a movie, we go to the theater or download a movie on one of the computers and watch together.  Sometimes one of us will watch by ourselves.  My husband also plays online games from time to time, but I spend the bulk of my online time reading the news or sitting here, updating this blog.  Occasionally, I’ll watch something funny on YouTube, but I’m not a gamer and never have been.

When we came back to Korea this time, it was the first time I’d had paid TV since I was a sophomore in university.  My roommates and I had a package where we got Wi-Fi and extended cable for cheaper than Wi-Fi alone would have cost, so we went that route.  We watched TV at night sometimes, but we mostly watched movies together.  When I was in Germany, I didn’t have a TV, partly because you have to pay a tax on TVs in Europe (!), but also because I don’t really watch TV, left to my own devices.  When I got back to the US, I never bothered getting cable.  I just had a TV for movies.

My husband is more into the tube than me.  He used to watch the dreaded Korean Starcraft channel, since he loves strategy games.  Sometimes he’d watch if there was a good English program on, but those times were few and far between.  We went through a phase where we downloaded tons and tons of Star Trek episodes, but that has been about the extent of our TV-watching together.

I’ve said for years that if/when I have kids, I don’t want them watching TV.  I’ve written on this blog before about how much it concerns and angers me that kids today spend so much time glued to a screen.  When I walk into a class, almost all of the students above about third grade will be playing on their phones.  Their only interests outside of school are Minecraft, “Running Man” (a popular Korean TV program), and whatever other game/cheap entertainment is in at the moment.  They’re perpetually glued to the glow of the screen, and I honestly find it a bit frightening.  When their friends are sitting right next to them, they are ignored in favor of their other best friend, the TV/computer/phone.  It’s incredible to me.

I’m not saying this because I didn’t grow up with TV.  My mom allowed me to watch TV when I was a little thing.  I liked She-Ra, My Little Pony, Ghostbusters… The usual 1980s stuff.  I watched The Simpsons and 90210 when I got older, but even as a teenager, I doubt that I ever spent more than two hours a day in front of the TV.  Frankly, I didn’t have time, especially in high school.  I had clubs, social events, homework, and friends.  I had better things to do than watch the garbage on TV.  Sometimes I’d watch HGTV with Grandma – a guilty pleasure, as we both like peeping into rich people’s homes – or politics with Grandpa, since we both care too damn much.  But that was about it.

One of my best childhood friends grew up in a house without cable.  Their TV was only for movies, and their preferred flicks were Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and You’ve Got Mail.  I used to think it was strange that they didn’t have TV, but now I completely understand where her parents were coming from, and I certainly don’t think that the kids missed out on anything by not having cable.

More and more studies are showing that overexposure to TV severely restricts cognitive development in children.  I’ve heard people deny this, but how can folks not see it?  People are less articulate, less socially capable, less creative, and less able to reason logically and think for themselves than previous generations who were less exposed to TV.  I’m appalled when I read news commentary forums; I don’t want to believe that people are alternately so stupid and so inarticulate.  Don’t most jobs descriptions now require that people demonstrate adequate literacy and strong communications skills?  How many people out of the general population today can seriously boast those two incredibly basic requirements?

These studies that have been done on children are showing that children who are infrequently or never exposed to TV have fewer developmental problems, fewer social problems, get better grades, and are less inclined to obesity than their peers.  By the age of seven, a bulk of American children today will have spent one year of their lives in front of the boob tube.  Kids spend more time watching TV than they do in school.  Does that disturb anyone else?  Between this and the failure of public education, no wonder kids today can’t read or write.

The study also concluded that children whose homes have a TV constantly on are less likely to demonstrate normal language acquisition.  The background noise, it would appear, confuses children’s growing brains, and as a result, they don’t pick up language as quickly as children whose brains aren’t trying to sort through the incomprehensible TV chatter.  Doctors have reported that it is easy to tell which children are read to and which are placed in front of the TV – the children whose parents read to them talk and chatter much younger.

The flicker of the TV can also lead to disruptions in how the brain develops and perceives things.  In fact, the flickering of the TV forces the brain to create alpha waves, which have the effect of lulling a person into an almost hypnotic state – a state where they are more susceptible to suggestion.  Suddenly, it becomes easy to see why so many people believe what they hear and see on TV.  Well, of course there’s the fact that people seem to be gullible anyway, but this certainly does nothing to help the problem.  What happens when kids are sitting around like this for hours and hours every day?  It’s not hard to imagine how their development could be impaired, given this scenario.

Interestingly, not all media has been reported as being bad.  Radio and books, two mediums that require the listener/reader to use their imagination and envision scenarios and images for themselves, actually promote cognitive development.

I’m not judging parents who let their kids watch TV.  I’m not saying that our daughter will never see a program or a movie because I don’t think that’s realistic.  I don’t have a problem with her watching a movie sometimes or a (pre-approved) program from time to time, but I don’t want her to be one of these zombie kids that I see walking around, watching TV on their phones while they walk.  (Yes, I see this every day in Korea; I’m not exaggerating.)  I do think it’s possible for kids to develop normally if they watch TV, but I also think that parents have to spend lots of time working with them.

This is a personal decision that every family has to make for itself, but my husband and I are pretty happy with our decision to ban TV for our little lady, at least for the first few years of her life.  As Dumbledore told Harry Potter in (I believe) The Order of the Phoenix, “Soon, we will all be forced to choose between what is right and what is easy.”  It’s easy to use the TV as a babysitter for one’s children.  It’s easier, after work, to all sit down in front of the TV and just watch some canned, idiotic program.  It’s not so easy to get out and go for a walk or exercise, especially in the winter.  It’s not as easy to sit down and read stories together or play a game.  I know that not having a TV is going to make parenting harder for us.

I am also convinced that our little girl will be better off for it.  My mother read to me constantly from a very young age, as did my babysitter, and I am so grateful to them for it.  I was a very early reader, and I can say without boast that my reading and writing skills were always far above most kids my age. Interestingly, so were my friend’s – the one who wasn’t allowed to watch TV.  Yes, I do think some of that is probably down to genetics.  My mother was a good writer, and my friend’s parents are a doctor and nurse, respectively, so she came from good mental stock.  Nevertheless, I think that children can only benefit from having parents who spend more time reading to and playing with them and less time sat staring at a flickering screen.  Why take a chance that nature or nurture alone is the main factor in deciding whether or not your child will develop well?

Maybe I’m a snob.  Maybe I’m too concerned about my kid being smart.  Maybe I’m too paranoid and distrustful of the establishment.  Maybe I’m just a weirdo.  One thing I do know is that I have no problem being outside the statist quo.  What’s normal doesn’t always work out that well, so it doesn’t bother me to say that I’m a bit outside the norm.  I want our child to love books, writing, imagining silly things (that’s what kids do, right?), and to enjoy exercise and being outside.  I want my husband to teach her how swim and play chess.  I want to send her to skating lessons or baseball or ballet or whatever it is that she decides she wants to do.  But as for her “learning Spanish” by watching Dora the Explorer?  I think we’ll have to give that one a pass.

Stupid Conversations with My Husband I

So I got off of work early tonight, which was a blessing that I wasn’t expecting.  School tests are mostly over, and those things are about the only reason I’d ever get off of work early.  My husband was already home, and I came in and flopped over, as I am lately quite prone to doing.  The conversations that we have sometimes when we’re just lying around go way past the realm of ridiculous.  Actually, I’m not even sure how we get onto these topics sometimes.  I think I was talking about one of my students, who is in first grade and has a brain the size of a walnut.  (I’m being generous with the walnut-sizing.)  Anyway, the conversation went something like this…

Me: You know how in Charlotte’s Web the goose lays like, eight eggs, and one of them doesn’t hatch?  This kid is like the egg that didn’t hatch.

Graeme: What?  How do you even remember about the stupid duck?  All anyone cares about is the spider and the pig!

Me: It’s a goose.  And I don’t give a fuck about the spider.  Spiders are disgusting, and Charlotte was a self-serving know-it-all whose only redeeming trait is that she saved Wilbur and wasn’t a glory hog about it, no pun intended.  And she was only doing it because she wanted to feel better about her own boring, stupid spider’s life.  Templeton was always my favorite.

Graeme: Wasn’t he the rat who was always stealing stuff?  Didn’t everybody hate him?

Me: Yeah.  He was an asshole, but at least he was honest about it.  I mean, he wasn’t trying to hide it.

Graeme: Yeah, it’s like that movie, Chicken Run, with the rat, and it’s always stealing things.

Me: Chicken Run?  Never saw it.

Graeme: You never saw Chicken Run?!  What’s wrong with you?

Me: Uh, it was a claymation movie.  Claymation is fucked up and disgusting.

Graeme: Claymation isn’t fucked up!  It’s like Wallace and Grommit!  Wallace and Grommit was awesome!

Me: Uh, no.  Wallace and Grommit was fucked up and terrifying, and so was Gumby and every other claymation thing ever made.

Graeme: What?!  You’re crazy!  Claymation is great!

Me: It’s fucked up, and I hate it.

Graeme: You don’t know anything.

Me: You don’t know anything.  It’s fucked up.  And that’s stupid that Chicken Run had a knock-off Templeton.  There can be only one.

Graeme: That’s The Highlander.

Me: Whatever.  Templeton forever.  I can still sing all of the songs from the 70s animated version of Charlotte’s Web.

Graeme: And you think claymation is fucked up.

Me: Don’t be jealous because you don’t know “A Fair is a Veritable Smorgasbord.”

Graeme:  So you really never saw Chicken Run?

Me: I thought we established this with the part where I hate claymation.

Graeme:  You have no taste.

Me: If not subjecting myself to people who play with clay and then make movies of themselves doing it is having no taste, then call me proud to be a tasteless know-nothing.

See?  This is what Friday night at our house looks like.

Can I get an “Amen!” about the claymation thing, though?  Honestly, who thinks animated clay is anything other than insane?  All I can think of is Gumby “skating” on one foot and then disappearing into a book or something.  Clay doesn’t just disappear into stuff.  It leaves a giant mess behind that stains everything.  Also, Gumby’s voice was crazy-annoying, and the stories were never interesting.  They always ended with someone melting into a puddle of what looked like green poop with eyeballs or something like that.  Even when I was a kid, I knew that was a crock of a plot line.

And Chicken Run is not a movie I will ever be seeing.  Ever.

Things That Scare Me

If you thought after reading the title that this was going to be another Halloween post, you’d be very wrong.  I might do another intentionally frightening post, but this one is really about impending motherhood and why, at times, I find myself completely freaking terrified.  I will be 34 weeks pregnant on Friday, and my doctor wants me to deliver in three weeks.  Sweet mother of God.  I will have a child.  A real, live, helpless human being that will demand food, love, diapers, attention, and a variety of other things that will all be communicated through screaming and poop.  Oh my God.

I could start off this list with the obvious “childbirth,” but let’s face it: every soon-to-be-mom is scared of childbirth.  What sane woman honestly relishes the idea of a giant baby popping out her nethers?  Not I, and nobody else I know, either!  I try not to think about it.  I saw the birthing video back in high school – the girl next to me was already pregnant, as was my health teacher – and I had PTSD for the rest of the day.  Just in case you were curious, I had a similar reaction the day my history teacher, Lord Nelson, showed us the first 45 minutes of Saving Private Ryan.  I’m not sure which was worse, frankly.

Besides childbirth, I’m scared to death of breastfeeding.  Does that sound ridiculous?  It’s not.  Breastfeeding is easy as pie for some women, but generally, it’s tough.  Sometimes the baby doesn’t want to latch on.  Sometimes you get horrible titty infections like mastitis and can’t breastfeed.  Sometimes you don’t make enough milk.  Sometimes the baby is an insanely aggressive feeder who will just fuck your shit up.  If, for any of these reasons, you can’t breastfeed, you then have to change strategy and formula feed, at which point the psycho breastfeeding mothers will shame you for your inability to nurse your child, and you feel guilty because your kid won’t get those extra two IQ points for breastfeeding.  Besides that, switching to formula, as my friends who just had a baby have found out, can cause upset tummy for your little one.  And that causes barf.  Lots of barf.  Joy.

My husband and I are both terrified of SIDS.  I know that we’re going to hover in shifts for the first month of her life, just to make sure that she’s still breathing.  There are so many things that are reported to cause SIDS – colds, letting the baby get too hot, toxins from mattress materials, weird smells, smoke from cooking, blankets, clothing, toys, crib bumpers… I mean, is there anything that can’t kill the baby?!  Sometimes it seems like the bedclothes are going to come to life and strangle her, and I need to watch every minute just to make sure that doesn’t happen.

I’m terrified of the first time she gets sick.  We have a bassinet that sits up a bit, in case she’s one of those babies who barfs on herself in the night (God forbid) or for when she gets that first horrible cold and can’t breathe well on her back.  Still, though.  I mean, I’ve hocked a loogie back before and nearly choked myself.  What happens if she hocks one back and chokes?  My Red Cross CPR certification expired like, five years ago, and I know the recommendations have all changed.

Also, our apartment is like the set for A Bug’s Life.  I know that it’ll get better in the winter when everything is dead, but seriously, we have giant spiders, house centipedes, and random other things that have attempted to set up residence with us.  Apparently house centipedes eat termites.  I mean, I have no idea how those would even exist in our apartment, since the whole thing is made of concrete, just like every other apartment in Korea.  The spiders are mostly a product of living on the first floor with a jungle outside.  That doesn’t mean I want them cuddling with the baby.  Am I going to have to shake out the swaddle sacks every night, like when I went to Costa Rica and had to shake my shoes out every morning to make sure that there was nothing poisonous inside that would kill me if I stepped on it?

What if she has something wrong with her that the doctor and technicians have missed?  I think they would have noticed Down’s Syndrome, but what about some other genetic disorder, like Angelman or cystic fibrosis or something?  I know that I’m young and the chances are low, but still, that’s not something that you want to have to discover after she’s been born.  I don’t know if I’d be able to deal with a child who was mentally handicapped.  I know that it’s supposed to be different when it’s your own child, but let’s face it: not everyone is meant to take care of a special needs child.  When I was in fifth grade, my class had to do a once-a-week group activity with the special needs class, and I hated it.  Hated it.

You can call me an asshole right there.  I know I am.  I know that those kids never asked to be born that way.  Who would?  Mostly, I just pity them, though.  And then my pity is quickly chased out the window the instant that I have to actually interact with them.  I just don’t have the patience for it.  I deeply admire people who do, because I know that it is a gift I will never have.  But what if my kid turns out like that?  Will I be able to give her the love and proper attention and patience that she deserves?

Okay, now that I’m freaked out that she has a genetic illness that we haven’t yet identified, let’s assume that she’s going to be perfectly healthy.  How are we going to handle school bullies?  “The talk?”  Body image issues?  School work?  Whining about me not letting her have a smart phone?  (Y’all knew that one was coming.)  Teenage meltdowns that result in her telling me I’m the worst mom ever and me believing it?  What if she has an accident and breaks a bunch of bones or explodes a kidney or something?   What if she sees dead people or goes out and gets teen pregnant?

Was parenting always this scary?  I guess it was.  Back in the day, I suppose parents were worried about bear attacks, smallpox, and famine.  Now they’re worried about their kids committing suicide because they’re gay and bullied, serial killers, and car accidents.  I don’t know if the world is any more dangerous than it ever was, but I do know that becoming a parent is scary as hell.  I keep telling myself that so many people – people who are dumber, more careless, and less caring than me – do it all the time.  Surely I can manage?

I still wish I had my folks here to help me out a bit.  Trans-Pacific phone calls to ask about runny noses are a bit difficult.  Still, I think, somehow, we can manage.  I just have to calm myself down first.

True Ghost Stories from the Desk of Marge: 2012 Edition

As you all know, ghost stories and Halloween are perhaps two of my favorite things ever.  I could be endlessly amused by ghost stories.  My post last year about true ghost stories has been read more than quite a few of my other posts so I thought, being as how I love ghost stories, that I’d do another round of them this year.  I can’t promise they’ll be downright frightening, but they are true, and I hope they’ll at least give you the willies, so grab a cup of hot cider, a fuzzy sweater, and dim the lights!

Haunted Hotel

I’m just about the only one of my friends who hasn’t traveled extensively in Southeast Asia.  I went to Cambodia a number of years back with a friend of mine and enjoyed it immensely, but I haven’t been back down that way since.  For one thing, I haven’t had much vacation time, and for another thing, my husband and I have been saving for houses and babies and “grown-up” things.  I still wish I could have done some more traveling before little miss became a very real thing, but I suppose I’ll just have to live vicariously through my friends.  This is one story, however, that I would not wish to relive in person.

There is a worldwide phenomenon that is most commonly known in the Western countries as the “old hag.”  In Korea, it’s called the “ga-wee ghost” (가위귀신, I think is the correct Korean spelling).  The Hmong of China have the same ghost/spirit and to whom they traditionally make sacrifices in order to prevent the ghost from killing their young men.  Incidentally, mysterious night deaths among the Hmong in the US have been reported, and many believe that it is because their traditional rites of offerings to this spirit are no longer possible in the US.  (I could be wrong, but I recall that ritual animal sacrifice was involved, so… Yeah, PETA probably wasn’t down with that one.)  The Mormons believe that everyone has a personal encounter with the devil, and the old hag can be attributed to your encounter with the devil.  In any case, the hag is a worldwide phenomenon and most every major world culture has a name for it.

Modern psychologists call it “sleep paralysis.”  In most cases, the person wakes up from a dream and finds him- or herself unable to move.  The person usually also experiences a shortness of breath and often reports a feeling of someone or something sitting on their chest.  Further symptoms include auditory and visual disturbances.  It is generally dismissed as a natural occurrence that happens when someone wakes up too suddenly from a certain stage of their sleep.  I think, in some cases, this is a perfectly reasonable explanation.  However, I also think that certain legends and folk stories exist for a reason.  I don’t like to rush into believing that every report of someone seeing a ghost is just that.  However, I don’t discount the possibility of such things existing, and I don’t think that every person who claims to have had a paranormal experience is crazy or lying or seeing things that simply aren’t there.  I do think there are many things in this world that we don’t fully understand and label “paranormal” because science, at the present time, is not advanced enough to explain these things.

I have had three “old hag” experiences in my life: one in Germany, one in the US, and one here in Korea.  I’m here to tell you that they don’t always happen on your back, and they don’t always include sleep paralysis.  The scariest ones do, and the scariest experience of my life was the hagging three days before Christmas at my grandparents’ house.  I didn’t sleep for days, and I didn’t sleep in my bedroom there for close to six months; I took the downstairs couch instead.

But I’m not here to tell my tagging story.  One of my friends, traveling in Southeast Asia, had an experience of her own.  This particular friend of mine is quite the skeptic.  She is a staunch atheist who never once believed in Santa.  She is scientifically minded and doesn’t buy into much of anything unless there is sufficient, logical evidence to prove a point – a fact about her that I highly respect.  While I try to always remain as objective as possible, I will admit that I believe in things that go bump in the night.  Maybe that’s why she told me the story.

While down in SEA, she was making a visa run across the border.  She was living in Thailand teaching at the time, and most anyone who has taught in Thailand for any appreciable length of time knows all about making visa runs over the border.  It’s just something that has to be done every three months or so.  In any case, it was time for her to make her visa run, and so she hopped across the border to neighboring Laos.

Once your passport is dropped off at the Thai embassy, you have to stay overnight and await your passport.  After the long day’s trek and the embassy stop, my friend was quite eager to find a cheap hotel and hunker down for the night.  The place she stayed, she related to me, was frankly a bit of a creepy place to start with.  It was old, run-down, and had most certainly seen better days.  Still, it was cheap, and cheap is always the name of the game for backpackers.  Figuring it would do for one night, she rented a room and settled in.

She told me that the place really gave her the heebie-jeebies, but she pulled the covers over herself and fell asleep, not allowing her mind to fall victim to fanciful notions.  She had a terrible nightmare about an Asian male figure whom she never saw, but whom she knew was lurking just out of her vision.  She told me that she had the unmistakable sensation that he wanted to rape her.  The dream scared her very deeply, and she woke up from it not feeling much better.

In fact, she woke up from the dream, lying on her side in the dark, unable to move.  She told me quite frankly that she just knew that there was someone in the corner by door; she could feel the person there, and whomever it was, he (she was certain it was a man) was not a kindly figure.  She wanted very badly to roll over and prove to herself that nobody was there, only she couldn’t.  She told me that she tried over and over again to roll over, but she couldn’t.  She seemed to paralyzed.

When she was finally able to move, she whipped over and turned on the lights… And there was nobody there.

Needless to say, she didn’t sleep for the rest of the night, and she checked out first thing in the morning, happy to get out into the morning sun and put as much distance between herself and that old hotel as possible.  She retrieved her passport and headed back for Thailand.  She spent time looking up this phenomenon of sleep paralysis, but she has brought this story up to me more than once, which leads me to think that it probably had a somewhat bigger effect on her than she’d like to admit, especially given that she doesn’t really believe in such things.

As for me, well… I know how skeptical she is, and I know she doesn’t make things up.  I also know that Southeast Asia is a place that has experienced a lot of upheaval, turmoil, and tragedy over the last 100 years or so.  There has been terrible violence all over that part of the world.  I find it hard to believe that places that bear witness to some of these things haven’t been left with scars of the past.  I think that sometimes events and people can leave their mark on a place.  It seems very possible to me that something happened in that hotel that left its mark.  It certainly left an impression on my friend, at any rate!

Home Sweet Home

When most folks think of haunted houses or buildings, they think of a really old, run-down place, preferably built over an Indian burial ground or where several grisly murders took place.  However, it seems that haunted houses don’t always have to be old, ramshackle places with skeletons buried in the walls.  Sometimes, they can look downright inviting.  This particular story is about a brand-new duplex in Columbia, Missouri, where a friend of mine lived for about a year.

I met this friend in Germany.  She was a nice, sweet, incredibly down-to-Earth person – definitely not the sort of person you’d think would be scared of the dark or who would make things up.  One night while I was studying in Germany, I was hanging out with another Mizzou friend, and we had some plan, probably to get into some sort of mischief, and we decided to go and see if she wanted to join us.  My friend warned me, however, that this friend might already be in bed for the night.  When we got to her room, I saw that the lights were on, so I figured there was no way that she’d be asleep.  My friend then told me, however, that lights on meant nothing; this girl, whom I’ll call Angie, always slept with the lights on.  I’d heard of folks sleeping with the lights on before, but they were usually much younger.  My friend relayed a story to me that Angie confirmed about a year later, after we’d all gotten back from Germany.

The summer before sophomore year, Angie had been looking for an apartment with two friends of hers.  They found a fourth girl to enter into the lease with them, and they set off on the oh-so-exciting college apartment hunt.  Columbia is full of duplexes, apartments, run-down houses that have been made into apartments… There is no shortage of apartments old and new, some right next to campus and others across town.  The four students decided that a duplex would be the best thing, since they tend to be somewhat larger, and they also don’t have the problems that some of the older houses in or around East Campus have.  They signed the lease for a four-bedroom apartment and felt pretty good about the whole thing.

Then, about two weeks before school started, tragedy struck: the fourth girl who had agreed to be their extra roommate died in a car accident.  The three roommates were understandably a bit shocked and saddened by this outcome.  Perhaps out of respect for the girl or perhaps because they just couldn’t find anyone, they didn’t get anyone else to take over the fourth bedroom.  Instead, they moved in on schedule and tried to forget about the grisly circumstances of her death.

Almost as soon as they moved in, strange things started happening around the apartment.  Odd smells would pop up for no reason.  This was easy enough to brush off.   After all, even though the duplexes aren’t old, the construction often isn’t the greatest, and they were aware that corners had probably been cut somewhere.  Then lights started turning on and off by themselves.  Things started disappearing for days on end and then reappearing in someplace random, a place where it never would have been before.  At first, the three roommates brushed the funny happenings off as poor construction or bad memories.  Surely between college partying and constant stress from work and school, people are bound to forget where they put things, right?

As the year wore on, however, the incidents became stranger and stranger – and more frightening.  Angie and her friends started hearing things in the night – sounds like footsteps pacing up and down the hallway, doors creaking, voices whispering.  It usually happened late at night, although it happened occasionally during the daytime, too.  Of course, she said it was especially scary if one was home alone, and it got so that many of them avoided the apartment entirely or only came home when they knew the other two roommates would be around.  In short, all three of them were a bit nervous about being the duplex.

One night, Angie and her friend, who was a guy, came home to find the house in complete shambles.  It was almost as though someone had broken in. However, nothing was taken, and most everything was in the room where it ought to be, albeit the rooms were all helter-skelter.  There were stains on the walls and carpet, she said, almost as if someone had smeared feces all over everything.  The worst room of all was the room where the deceased friend was supposed to have lived.  They kept the room closed most of the time and used it as storage for weights, extra furniture, and knick-knacks, though almost nobody every went in there.  They were completely freaked out to find what looked like footprints leading into that room, and the door was wide open.  They found no trace of anyone having broken into the house.  The doors were all locked, the windows intact and locked, and the garage door had been down and locked.

I suppose the normal reaction might have been to call the police, but after all of the other things that had been going on, Angie and her friend felt convinced that something else entirely was going on.  She said the atmosphere of the house was so frightening on that afternoon that the two essentially fled.  On the way out, the garage lights all turned on by themselves, and the garage door raised by itself.

When Angie and her roommates finally came back, they came back all together.  They knew they’d have to come back and clean the place up, at least.  The house smelled terribly, but they managed to get everything cleaned up.  However, the nocturnal sounds increased in severity, and it was at that time that Angie told me she started sleeping with the lights on.  She told me ever since that incident, she had never once slept with the lights off.  She was too afraid to see what might actually be haunting their apartment.

Towards the end of the year, purely through happenstance, she met one of the students who had lived in the apartment the year before.  The other girl asked her, point-blank, if anything strange had happened.  Angie needed almost no encouragement.  She told the girl the whole story from start to finish, including the part about their fourth roommate being killed a couple of weeks before the start of the semester.  The other girl’s eyes widened, and she turned ghostly white herself.  She then confessed that nearly the same thing had happened – one of her roommates had been killed two weeks before school started.  When they moved in, creepy things had started happening almost immediately.

That was enough for Angie.  She told her roommates what the other girl had told her, and they ended up moving out early.  None of them felt safe staying there and, indeed, the scary happenings never stopped.  They gave no explanation to the landlord about their early departure, and none of them really minded eating the fees for early termination of their lease agreement.  They were all happy just to get away from the place.

The last time I saw Angie, we were both 23 years old.  Angie was engaged to be married, back to running marathons, and looking forward to her post-graduation job.  And she was still sleeping with the lights on.

*Note: I have NO idea where this duplex was in Columbia, so any CoMo curiosity seekers can move on.  She never told me where it was exactly that she was living.  I just know it was in one of the newer areas, probably in south Columbia.

Frankie the Ghost Cat

I still miss my apartment on East Campus in Columbia.  It was, far and away, the best place I’ve ever lived.  I painted it all myself, it had gorgeous hardwood floors, it was close to campus and the bars (always a plus), and it just had that certain je-ne-sais-quoi.  Everyone loved it.  I still have dreams about living there again, although I know that I never will.

The building, like most on East Campus, was old, though it was not run down.  My landlord saw to that!  He was nothing if not particular about that building.  It had probably been a house, at some point, though it had been converted into a series of nearly-identical apartments, four on each floor.  Although it was old, there was nothing really spooky about it.  It just had charisma.  I never felt “unsafe” in that apartment.

However, I became somewhat convinced early on in my stay there that I wasn’t exactly alone in the apartment.  I never really felt like there was another person there, but I did have the strange feeling that there might be a cat.  This wouldn’t necessarily seem odd, but there was a strict no-pet policy in that building which the landlord enforced hard.  I felt fairly certain that nobody in the building would risk the $500 fine for being discovered with a critter in the crib.

During the time I was moving in, I kept seeing what looked like the shadow of a cat out of the corner of my eye.  Seeing shadows is an easy thing to dismiss, especially at night, and most especially when you’re just moving in and things are all disorganized and in boxes, anyway.  I was moving a lot of things around, trying to get the painting done and getting as much put away as possible while I worked on that.  Still, I couldn’t help thinking that I was seeing what honestly looked like a cat.  I never told anyone about it, since I frankly felt like I was imagining things.  Ghost cat?  Pfffft.

I got everything painted and the house organized, and I settled in nicely into living by myself.  As I said, I was never one of those who felt afraid or nervous for living alone.  In point of fact, I thoroughly enjoyed my solitude.  Only sometimes at night, while I was in bed reading or even when I’d already been asleep, I felt something jump onto the foot of my bed.  Anyone who has a cat knows what a cat feels like when it invites itself into bed with you – it jumps up, usually at the foot, and pads up towards your head.  That very thing happened to me on numerous occasions, though whenever I actually turned the light on, nothing was there.  Believe it or not, I actually heard purring a few times!  I know, I know – it sounds nuts.  It really does.  I thought the same thing.  I actually doubted whether or not it was even happening.  Funnily enough, within about four months of moving in, the nighttime visits mostly stopped, and I wasn’t awakened by any unseen visitors for over a year.

After I’d been there for about a year and a half, my friend came to visit me with her new baby.  She was sharing custody of her son, and his father was living a ways away, so she was going to stay with me for the night and then meet the boy’s father the next day and drop the baby off.  I had a futon that turned into a fairly nice double bed, so that was where they stayed for the night.

Another friend of mine came over that night to see the baby, since none of us had really seen him since he’d been born.  As she was holding him and walking through the apartment, she must have heard something.  The boy’s mother was on the phone with her ex, and I was in the living room, pulling a sheet onto the futon for her.  My friend holding the baby came into the living and asked me directly, “Hey, are you taking care of a cat for Second Chance or something?”  (I used to volunteer on occasion with Columbia Second Chance.)

I furrowed my brow and said, “No way.  You know how old Mr. _________ is about animals.  He’d shit kittens if he thought there was even a hamster in here.”

“Well, I swear I just heard a cat in your bedroom.  It sounded like it was coming from the vents or something.”

“Well, maybe you’re hearing something from another apartment.  It’s possible that someone else has illicit pet, but it’s not me.  Could be an alley cat.”

“Yeah, but it wasn’t coming from outside.”

I shrugged and let it go.  I hadn’t thought about my “ghost cat” for months, and it honestly didn’t occur to me at that moment that maybe that’s what she heard.  It occurred to me later, though.

The next day was a big football game day – I think we were playing Nebraska, actually.  My friend successfully handed off her son to his father and then went tailgating with her family.  I, however, spent most of the day working for the Athletics Department in the concessions warehouses; that was my part-time (full-time during ball season) job during uni.  Days were long and stressful, but at least the people I worked with made it interesting.

My friend and I met back up at my apartment after the game for drinks and going out.  She didn’t get to do that very much, since she usually had her son, so we decided to have a nice girls’ night.  We started with beers at my house, sat around the kitchen table and shooting the breeze.  After about 30 minutes of conversation, my friend nearly jumped out of her chair.  It was like she’d been bitten by a snake.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“Did you just rub up against my leg with your foot?” she asked.

“Uh, no.  I’m all the way over here.  You know me – I’m short.  I can’t even reach your ankle with my toes,” I replied, shrugging.  “Why?”

“Marge, I’d swear you have a cat, because I just felt it brush up against my legs.  Like, I felt the tail and everything,” she said, slowing sitting back down.

“Man, that is strange,” I said.  “Ashley told me last night that she thought she heard a cat in here!  But there are no animals in this building.”

“Maybe you have a ghost cat,” she joked.  I agreed that maybe I did, and proceeded to tell her the story about the sensations of the cat jumping on my bed and seeing a cat out of the corner of my eye, usually walking through the hallway.

“You have a ghost cat,” she decided.  “You should name him.”

I laughed and agreed that I should.  So we sat there for a few minutes, and then we looked at each other and, no kidding, at the same time said, “Frankie.”  We gave each other shocked looks, and then we just shook our heads, agreeing that the whole thing was strange.  But Frankie it was, and Frankie it stayed.

I never saw Frankie again after that night, and I never heard him again, either.  I said goodbye to him before I left, and I hope that whomever lives there now is a cat person.  As ghosts go, Frankie was about the best sort you could have.

The funny thing about Frankie was that he only really appeared whenever there was upheaval in the house or, weirdly, when there were children around.  The one or two occasions where there were young children around seemed to bring him out of hiding.  I’ve always heard that young children can bring ghosts out of the woodwork, and rearranging things or remodeling will also sometimes create disturbances.  I’ve thought since then that this must have been the case for Frankie, because he always popped up during those times.  Whatever the case, if Frankie really does exist, I hope he has a nice “owner” now to keep him company.

Things That Go Bump in the Daytime

My cousin loves ghost stories like I do.  She also seems to have a lot more paranormal experiences.  Maybe that’s because she believes harder than I do. (Or at least, I think she believes harder than I do.)  Maybe she’s just more sensitive to those sorts of things.  Either way, almost every time I see her, she has a good ghost story to tell me.  And I am an avid collector of ghost stories!

This particular story happened when she was either in her late teens or earlier 20s.  She was still living back home, in an old house in Jacksonville.  She was renting the house out with  another friend of hers.  The hallway of the house (it was only one story) was shaped a bit like an L.  From the living room, you walked down the hall.  To the left, there was a bathroom.  At the bottom of L, there was a bedroom.  At the end of the L tail, there was another bedroom.

She said that from day one, spooky things would happen.  I guess in one sense, it was sort of the usual: lights flickering on and off, things moving around, strange noises at various times of the night and day… Still, even if they are “normal” and even a bit boring for supposedly haunted houses, they aren’t exactly things that most people are eager to experience in their own homes.  My cousin and her friend weren’t scared out of their wits at that point, but it didn’t take long.

One afternoon, my cousin was sitting in her friend’s bedroom, which was at the bottom of the L, and the larger of the two bedrooms.  The door was open, and she could clearly see the living room area, where her friend (a man) was sitting on the couch watching TV.  My cousin was smoking a cigarette and flipping through a book or something, not paying any particular attention to anything around her.

There was a dresser that sat against the wall where the door was and, to my cousin’s complete and utter shock, it all at once seemed to move away from the wall.  In fact, it didn’t just move away but actually tilted up on its front two legs, spilling the three drawers and all of their contents all over the floor.  Now, you’d think that the thing would have fallen over, but it didn’t.  Instead, it seemed to almost slam back against the wall, having thrown out its entire contents.  My cousin just sat and stared, unable to even move until her friend, whom we’ll call Andy, came running in, demanding to know what was going on.

He looked over at the spilled clothes and drawers and asked why in the world she had turned out all of the drawers in the dresser.  My cousin finally found her voice and told him that the thing had emptied by itself, that she had been sitting on the bed with the book and ashtray the entire time.  Although Andy didn’t really believe her at first, he quickly realized that he had seen her sitting on the bed, and that there hadn’t been enough time for her to turn over the dresser and get back onto the bed without him noticing.

After putting all of the drawers back in order, they spent the rest of the afternoon banging on the walls of the bedroom in attempt to get the dresser to move.  They beat the doors, the basement floors, the ceiling, but nothing made the dresser so much as budge.  They never figured out what had made it move, but after my cousin’s roommate came home from work that evening, they both decided that maybe it was time to find a new apartment.

And just in case you’re curious, her friend “Andy” corroborated that story, so whether or not you believe in ghosts, something strange did happen in that apartment that afternoon.

Ghosts of the Jacksonville Times Theater

Jacksonville, Illinois is an historic town, to be certain.  We have Underground Railroad houses, an historic downtown, two colleges, and plenty of ghost stories to go around!  Perhaps the set I’m about to relate won’t come as a complete shock to Jacksonville residents, especially those folks who have been on one of Loren Hamilton’s walking ghost tours.  Still, I was privileged enough to have had a friend, whom I oddly met in South Korea, who worked at the Illinois and Times Theaters for several years.  He relayed some of the best bits of the theater ghost stories to me during his late-night shifts.

The first story is one about a gray lady ghost who supposedly haunts the foyer of the Times Theater.  She is sometimes visible in the mirrors opposite the concession stand.  My friend told me that he saw her once, floating through the mirror.  Of course, there was nothing in front of him.  Apparently, there are others who claim to have seen her, although I never had the privilege myself, in spite of showing up on nights my friend was working in hopes that I might get a glimpse of her.

The gray lady is hardly the lone ghost of the theater, though.  The projector rooms are also reported to be haunted.  The right-hand projector room is home to the spirit of a child, whose name escapes me, though I want to say that the theater employees call him Timmy.  They have gone so far as to leave toys in the room and also to greet him by name and to say goodnight when they turn off the lights for the night.

The other projector room also seems to be home to a spirit, though nobody knows for certain who it is.  One night, my friend’s boss was up in that projector room, trying to fix one of the ornery old projectors, which had probably tried to eat a reel of film or some such.  She was having quite a time with the thing, and she was becoming increasingly frustrated.  Imagine her surprise when someone whispered in her ear, “I think it’s time to go home for the night!”  Being all alone in the theater at the time, she nearly jumped out of her skin.  She turned tail and ran down the projector room stairs, figuring that whomever was whispering in her ear was right – time to get out!

The ghost that has scared the most folks however, is the screen ghost, who hangs out somewhere between the right-hand theater and the boiler room, which is behind that side of the theater.  The ghost in this section of the theater is decidedly less friendly and has been known to show up on EVPs telling people to get out.  According to my friend, the ghost “lives” in the boiler room, and there have been weird happenings reported from that section of the theater.  Employees working late at night and usually by themselves have reported hearing strange sounds and voices.  At the time that my friend was relaying these stories to me, he was one of perhaps two employees who was actually willing to close the Times Theater at night by himself.  Most of the other long-time employees had heard enough things in the theater to have been sufficiently spooked out of hanging out after hours alone.  Employees sweeping up the floors and turning out the lights have literally run out of the theater after being confronted by the screen ghost.

Hard though I tried, I never saw or heard any of these ghosts, though I will vouch for the fact that the theater is creepy at night, as is its companion, the Illinois Theater.  If you ever have a chance to take the haunted walking tour, it should take you by the Times Theater, and perhaps you’ll get a chance to stare down the gray lady ghost.  For my money though, I’d buy a late-night ticket and stick around for a few minutes after the show ends to see if there are any “surprise endings” after the show!

A Second Premonition

Last year, I wrote about the dream I had of my mother and how it seemed to warn me about the upcoming sale of my family’s old summer cabin.  Well, this year, I had another dream quite similar, although my mother wasn’t involved.

It was early last winter, and in the dream, I was still over here, in South Korea.  I was working out at a gym, for whatever reason, and I received a phone call from my uncle.  He informed me very sadly that my grandfather had passed away in the night and that I needed to get back to the US as quickly as possible.  Of course, I was quite distraught in the dream, and the rest of the dream essentially focused on my trying to get back home.

When I woke up early that morning, I just knew that something had happened at home.  I knew it.  I could feel it in my gut.  A lot of people would pooh-pooh that sort of thing as letting the emotions of a dream go to your head.  I checked my phone and my Facebook, but there were no ominous messages or missed international calls, so I calmed down a bit, but I still couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong back home.

The dream haunted me for the rest of the day, and it was still weighing heavily on my mind as I made my way home from work that evening.  Generally, when I come home from work, one of the first things I do is check my Facebook and my gossips.  I guess I’m a junkie as much as anyone else.  When I opened my home page, there was a message there.  A message from one of my uncles.

In the message, he said not that my grandfather had died, but that my grandmother had had a serious fall in the night and was in the hospital.  He told me that she was going to need rehabilitation and that they didn’t know how long it was going to take or even if she’d be able to go home.

Fortunately, Grandma has been able to go home, although she doesn’t get around like she used to.  All things considered though, she does pretty well for a gal who’s almost 90 years old.  She still has a spry attitude at any rate, even if she can’t dance a jig anymore.

Nonetheless, the dream was a bit, well, scary, I guess.  They say that there is no way to predict the future, but I’m not sure that’s completely true.  Perhaps it wasn’t predicting the future on my part, but at least I got the message that something was wrong back home.  It wasn’t 100% accurate, but I wasn’t at all surprised when the news actually came that something was wrong.

Call it a coincidence if you want to, but I stopped believing in coincidence a long time ago.

Happy early Halloween, folks!