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Friday, May 17, 2013

Don't Get Sick in China

As part of a government-run tour of China back in the mid-1980s, we made various obligatory stops at communes, factories, and a hospital. At the time, the latter seemed like a place of torture, as patients laid around undergoing procedures like cupping and acupuncture--treatments that seemed archaic at the time, but, in retrospect, rather ahead of their time. The sanitation conditions at the hospital weren't all that keen. Pity the poor Westerner who might fall ill and end up in one of China's health centers back in the 1980s.

Or pity the poor Westerner who falls ill in 2013...namely, me. It's an extremely hot May day in China. We have spent a long morning sightseeing at The Summer Palace. The afternoon is reserved for the concrete-clad Tiannamen Square and the expansive Forbidden City. It's 95 degrees, not counting the heat emanating from the pavement below. It is 2:00 PM--high time for Chairman Sun.

All is fine until we enter the Forbidden City, inside of which beverages for sale are verboten. I start feeling the effects of heat exhaustion, a condition from which I have suffered three times previously (the last after a torturous Bikram Yoga session). My heart starts palpitating, I go pale, and my mouth dries up like the Gobi. I know from experience that at this point, I am too far gone. I sit against the walls of the Forbidden City, knowing that it's a long walk to get out.

One of my colleagues runs outside the walls to buy beverages. Mostly water--which I later learn from the doctor makes matters worse--a version of Chinese Water Torture. But that's getting ahead of ourselves. I commandeer a wheelchair and ride through the rest of the Forbidden City, nearly crashing into people, rickshaws, and bicyclists along the way. But I get back to the awaiting bus one hour after the symptoms began and now feel a bit better.

That feeling was short-lived, and I knew an IV drip was the only cure. It took two hours to get through traffic to a hospital that ostensibly had an International Travel Clinic. Ostensibly, I say, as no one seemed to speak any language other than Chinese, and the toilets in the waiting area were definitely Eastern-style (not to say that some of the visiting foreigners might not be most proficient using said squatters).

After another hour, at 6 PM, I met with an English-speaking doctor and told him I believed I was suffering from heat exhaustion and dehydration. He ordered blood tests. Let it be said that Chinese nurses are not gentle with their needles, which are the old heavy metal types. After being jabbed in the wrist several times, I was finally wheeled back for an IV. I should add that my blood pressure was never taken, nor was my temperature. Furthermore, I was not given the ability to change out of my clothing, stained with sweat and, ahem, other bodily fluids.

Two young ladies from the Chinese outpost of Zarengold Tours stayed with me throughout the night and thank goodness. There was no accessible button to call the nurse. There were no regular rounds--I didn't see a doctor nor a nurse for hours at a time. When I had to take a bathroom break, my lovely ladies would grab my IV bag and hook it above the toilet. The dfacility, while Western-style, did not come equipped with toilet paper nor soap. No soap in a hospital? Not very encouraging.

Also not very encouraging--the first charge on my bill was for 6000 RBM--the equivalent of $1000. Then, each time they would run a blood test, they would take my credit card again. I can't wait to see the total.

I was dismissed at 7AM the next day, with nary a word from the on-duty doctor. My wrists were sore from the needle punctures, but at least I seemed to be rehydrated. And hopefully, my lovely TravelGuard insurance policy will cover all of the medical expenses, along with the extra hotel night I needed to stay in Beijing before rejoining my group in Mongolia.

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