Sunday, March 11, 2012

Here for a long time, not a good time

In my defense (for not writing anything on here in ages) I have been grappling with the twin-headed beast of coming back to work after a nice long holiday, and almost immediately being the most ill I've been in years. I do seem to be almost fully repaired now, which means I can look back and find the amusement in feeling like crap in China. So here's the story.

We got back from our holiday finale in Hong Kong, which was unexpectedly really amazing. Why did no-one tell me that there is s city in Asia where you can run over mountains, surf, mountain bike, and eat Mexican food all serviced by public transport? Why are we in Yongchuan when such a place exists? The one thing good old YC does have going for it is that everything here is about a tenth of the price of Hong Kong which made coming "home" a financial relief if not a recreational one. But I digress. One day of work later I found myself with what I thought was a cold. No problem. However, large problems emerged the following morning when I had a really high temperature and could barely stand up. Ah... "'flu" I thought to myself and stayed in bed, hoping to feel better in time to teach my first class later in the morning. This was turned out to be a dose of some real manly 'flu (not to be confused with man-flu) though which had me fearing for my life by lunchtime. 

Something I remember saying a few months ago when we were walking past the hospital in Yongchuan is "One thing I really hope for while we're in China is not to have to go to the hospital". I guess I now have to be careful what I wish for as I might get it, or not. Wishing is obviously a bad idea. Our principal, the school driver, and our secretary (acting as translator) transported my sweating and aching body to the glittering edifice (?) that is the Teaching Hospital in Yongchuan. As foreigners, we have private health care, which provides us with a mysterious "VIP" hospital card. I had hoped never to find out what exactly "VIP" treatment consisted of in a provincial Chinese hospital, but there I was. We were advised by some helpful nurses that the doctor had gone to lunch and would be back in about an hour, and that he was more "professional" than the emergency doctor so we should wait. We found a place for me to slump while we waited and time passed in a haze of feverish 'fluiness. It turned out I did have a really high temperature, so I at least felt justified in looking for some medical advice. Once the doctor re-appeared we were sent all around the hospital to get blood tests and a chest x-ray. As I staggered around the corridors I remember passing a large pool of blood with a pair of flip-flops in the middle of it. I was pleased that while my illness was feeling pretty unpleasant, it didn't mean losing my footwear and bodily fluids.

Tests completed, I moved to the next stage of diagnosis, which in a Chinese hospital is to stand in line while a doctor reviews your lab results on the computer. I was surprised that the doctor didn't seem to want to look at me, or come anywhere near me to perform his diagnosis... but perhaps that is just a Western extravagance I have become used to. My diagnosis was given as "not serious" and I was dispatched with a carrier-bag of medication labelled in Chinese. Back at home I struggles to focus on the computer screen long enough to decipher what I had been given. There were some bottles of some kind of herbal infusion, some herbal pills, a mucolytic agent, and some painkillers. I figured I must have been diagnosed with 'flu. Fair enough. Luckily there weren't any beds available so I didn't have to be put on an IV drip and stay the night, which I think is what you usually get for showing up with a VIP card. Sometimes not being treated like a VIP after all is a relief.

Skipping forward a few days, things weren't going well. I seemed to be getting slowly worse and breathing was becoming painful so it was time to "seek medical attention" once again. Our principal fortunately knew of a Plan B for medical help in Chongqing. Global Doctor seems to be an Australian company that provide reassuringly expensive western-style health care all over China. Luckily our health insurance covers Global Doctor so after a bus ride to the big city I found myself in a very convincing doctor's surgery actually being examined by an English-speaking doctor (from Paraguay). Dr Deniz and Chinese Dr Emma spent a great deal of time poking their endoscope camera in my ears and up my nose and performing a very entertaining House-style diagnostic routine which like the price, was reassuring. The team's opinion was that I did have 'flu, but had then picked up a secondary sinus infection which was the cause of my current problems. Respiratory infections are a big problem in Chongqing due to the damp climate and horrendous pollution and Dr Deniz seemed very familiar with my situation. At least I didn't have pneumonia, bronchitis, or any other nasty thing that I had been worrying about.

So I went home with some powerful Chinese nasal spray which had a pleasingly similar effect to drain-cleaner on my nostrils, and some antibiotics at a dose large enough to exterminate a horse. I was told that if things didn't get better quickly I needed to add a second antibiotic to really hammer the message home. Serious business. Skipping forward another couple of days, most of the contents of my sinuses had been removed by the combination of antibiotic sledgehammering and nose-scouring spray. After nearly two weeks of feeling awful I was finally on the mend. This process continues and I'm nearly back to normal, having learned a few things:

Firstly, I trust Western medicine. This is probably a good thing as I've spent most of my career furthering it (in a small way).  No doubt Chinese herbs have their place and probably have plenty of biologically active ingredients in them, but a bit of rigorously-designed testing wouldn't do any harm before we assume they work.
Second, I'm very glad my flip-flops and bodily fluids aren't on the floor in the corridor of Yongchuan hospital. Third, I think technology in medicine perhaps shouldn't entirely replace examining the patient.
Finally, life can imitate art, at least in the case of a doctor's office and TV medical dramas.