Two days after moving into the new place, I had a serious accident and ended up in Qianfoshan Hospital for a week. At about 2am, I got up in the dark to use the toilet. Not yet accustomed to the new layout, I fell down the stairs, landing on my nose and right wrist. I did not lose consciousness. There was blood everywhere.
Somehow, I managed to call KF (the assistant director who hired me) on WeChat. He called an ambulance. He and A (a Chinese calculus teacher who often translates for the foreign teachers) came too. While waiting, I pulled on leggings and threw a few things into my bag: phone, charger, passport, medications, wallet, glasses. The bleeding continued. I sat at the table holding a towel over my nose and hyperventilating. Chingu sniffed at me. I was terrified. Also wondered whether an ambulance was too much. Maybe I *could* find taxi by myself… at 2:30am… in the dark… while bleeding profusely and unable to see clearly or hold my phone well enough to scroll through for a photo of a hospital address.
The paramedics wrapped my head, covering my eyes. KF put a hand on my shoulder so I knew he was there. That helped tremendously. A small part of my mind noted that at least I had a solid excuse to skip the faculty meeting on Monday.
ER admission took forever. Chinese hospitals require payment in advance. Also, the wrist and face were different departments. (The EMTs and other people kept grabbing my wrist until KF loudly repeated my frantic requests to put a splint on it. Yes, the CT scan* showed a small break.) I remembered my bank card. I knew my address and door code and preexisting conditions. I had samples of my Rx meds. I even knew where the cat food was. In the operating room (KF reinforced my demand for general not local anesthesia when the doctor tried to convince me to let them do local), I guessed my weight in kilograms (not bad for a frightened and profusely bleeding English major from the U.S.). KF tells me that after the four-hour surgery, I turned and asked him whether we were still waiting for the operation to start.
They put me in a room. I refused to use a bedpan so Z (a human resources person who came later) helped me use the toilet. She also helped me hire a carer, since Chinese hospital nurses don’t bring food or help with personal care. She helped until the carer arrived. When S (the school director) visited, I told her that Z deserved a couple of flex days for this.
The carer, Jong, helped me eat. She put money on my hospital meal card and bough food at the canteen. She cut open the little bags of yogurt that were all I could eat at first. She brought millet porridge and steamed eggs, a roasted sweet potato, a sandwich (cut into bits) and sticky rice wrapped in bamboo leaves. She raised and lowered the bed, helped me change shirts, brought me to the payment window when necessary, and called the nurses when something was wrong. Hospital patients without family nearby have to hire helpers or they won’t eat.
The hospital kept asking for more and more money. That bag of emergency cash in my underwear drawer quite possibly saved my life, or at least my face. I had nearly a month’s salary in there. The hospital doesn’t have Bank of China ATMs and they share their credit card swiping machines with another building, so I am glad I had cash. Sometimes in an emergency ONLY cash will do.
Jong, spoke no English. Z wrote out some key words and phrases in Chinese and English. Otherwise, I used the Pleco Chinese-English dictionary app and an online translator. The nurses used translator apps.
I picked up some Chinese, to the delight and amusement of my roommates. I learned how to say, “I want an apple/book/water” and “THAT HURTS”. I also mastered “ok” and “there’s none left”.
I had to learn to talk about pain. There was a lot of it. The nurses were not proficient in the insertion of needles. I have three bruises on my left arm from their clumsy attempts. It should not take five tries to find a vein. When I’ve donated blood or done employment health checks, the phlebotomist always got it in one or two tries. One of the nurses said via phone app that it was because I am fat. I called her on that bullshit. She later apologized for calling me fat. That’s not the point. People of ALL sizes need and deserve good medical care.
One night, the pain pump needle was bent and nobody would listen when I told them that the pain meds weren’t working. On the last night, as nurses fumbled with yet another malfunctioning IV, I yelled and thrashed and demanded that they TAKE IT OUT. It hurt so much and I couldn’t take it anymore. I refused to “calm down” until they took it out. No more chances. No more tries. They talked to the doctor and brought me some antibiotic PILLS instead. The final morning after stitch removal they wanted to inject “one more” syringe of painkiller. I said NO! I DO NOT CONSENT! They begged to try ONCE. Said it was already paid for, no refund. I allowed ONE try. That’s when the one nurse apologized for calling me fat.
Pain control was also an issue during the nasal endoscopy. The spray anesthesia didn’t work enough. I said quite loudly, mid-scope, I CAN STILL FEEL PAIN. So Dr .Wang (the surgeon) gave me more until it worked. It is a bad combination to be sensitive to pain and insensitive to drugs.
Later, Dr. Wang, all smiles, asked whether I’d lost weight in the hospital. Said I should really lose weight. Really. THAT’S your priority? Mine is healing enough to move and eat without pain.
There are still stitches in my mouth and nasal passages. Half my nose, my upper lip, and part of my scalp are numb. Dr.Wang said the feeling will return in 6 months or a year. He said the internal sutures will dissolve. The attending, Dr.Fu, removed the external ones. That hurt.
I have been surprisingly well supported throughout this ordeal. Coworkers brought ramen, yogurt, KFC, a pillow, bottled lattes, and gossip. One slipped me some codeine, which I didn’t use but held like a security blanket in case of complete pain med failure. KF sent a phone charger via S (school director). He later sent scar cream, a flashlight, a nightlight, gauze, and a fork. T bought cat food. M fed Chingu and brought some clothes and the computer from home. And sleeping pills (which didn’t do much, but were better than the completely ineffective yet painful sedative injection). J and L, my co-teachers, came on the last day with cards from students and big bags of bananas and dragon fruit. KF and P (another English teacher) shared tips for scar treatment. KF also had tips for one-handed functioning.
I expect to return to work next Monday. This week, I am to rest. Both doctors Fu and Wang said that I should take a month off since I can’t use my wrist but I can’t afford that. I’m not really supposed to wear glasses on my broken face, but sometimes I need to see, so I’m using a cotton ball to pad them.
Mr. Mehta from Tandoor Restaurant delivered tandoori chicken and butter naan and salad on Saturday night. He doesn’t normally deliver but KF asked. He also told me to WeChat him if I needed help and said I am not alone.
On Saturday, a few hours after suture removal, I was discharged. Jong helped with paperwork. M carried my bags. I walked awkwardly, crutch in the wrong hand. At the apartment, M carried clothes and bedding downstairs. She fetched me a McNugget meal and an iced latte. Chingu remained upstairs until over an hour after M had left.
Yesterday, I got a green pedicure at D&L, a one-floor place near my new flat. The owner plied me with sunflower seeds, herbal tea, and Wi-Fi while she finished with the previous client. Cost was 80 RMB. I will be back. She was so careful with my injuries. AND she had a western toilet.
This week, I read The Eyre Affair and Lost in a Good Book. Now I’m reading Lords and Ladies.
Tomorrow, I can finally take a shower.
My bruised right knee and shin hurt. So do wrist, shoulders, ears, eyes, hip, and face. Not all at once. They mix and match like a dance. My face is still swollen and I have two black eyes. I walk like I’m 90. The thought of narrow stairs frightens me. The numb places itch. I can breathe through my nose, though. And smell. And eat.
I’m sleeping downstairs. The couch is much more comfortable than the bed anyway. KF said he thought we should get some guys to bring my dresser downstairs.
The school insurance will pay for 80% of the hospital costs, not including Jong’s services (170RMB/day). I was in a better position to pay for medical care than many local people. I had savings. Privilege.
I can now put on a shirt, and jeans easily enough. Shoes are… difficult. I am wearing the thoroughly broken-in brown DMs. Three-quarter sleeve shirts are ideal when one has a splinted forearm. Soon I will need to do laundry. I dare not climb apartment stairs yet, so it’s ask a coworker or schlep to cleaners. I need a bag that goes over my shoulder. The left hand is for the crutch and right wrist cannot take weight, though its fingers can move just fine. My shoulders are tired and bruised (right) but adequate.
When I return to work, I will need a lot of help. I can’t carry anything, not even (or especially) a meal tray. Certainly not stacks of books. Can’t write well either. Or run for the bus. I’d like to talk more with KF about how to manage with mobility impairment and injury. He had really good ideas.
*While in the CT scan, I tried to calm down by pretending I was Dr. Strange going through a dimensional portal. When Dr. Fu removed stitches, I thought about the Igors and Igorinas in Discworld novels. Sometimes escapism is necessary.