Exactly one year ago today, I wrote about the time I visited a Chinese hospital.
It was a nice foil for the struggles of arriving at site, and served as an amusing anecdote to haul out when I was around other Peace Corps Volunteers.
So this one time, I got taken to a Chinese hospital… and can you believe it? They thought I was pregnant! All it was was constipation!
Cue the laughter. Even Peace Corps Medical Staff loved the story, because it was a prime example of me keeping my cool and an example of why you need to call your doctor first.
One thing I’ve kept quiet is that the pain that sent me to the hospital that first time kept coming, but never as bad as the first time. Since we’d gone through the process before and determined it constipation, I just put on a brave face and suffered through it alone. Why call the doctors again when we already knew the diagnosis? Then, one time last April it was bad enough to make me vomit for hours, but by the time I dialed the doctor, my symptoms were already resolving. On a follow-up phone call two hours later, I felt as good as new.
Occasional attacks came through the summer, all continuing to be self-diagnosed, same as the original.
Then, a week ago, I woke up and rolled over to turn off my alarm. I felt a dull pop in my side, and that same pain came flooding back, stronger than ever. I tried using a heat compress, as had worked in the past, but once I started throwing up, I knew I had no choice but to call my doctor.
The initial diagnosis was a kidney stone, and my doctor arranged with someone from the school to take me to the hospital so I could get some pain killers and confirm the diagnosis. By this time, I felt like I could barely stand up, let alone walk down my five flights of stairs.
A picture I wish I could show you all here is me getting carried down five flights of narrow stairs wrapped in a bright pink blanket.
At the hospital, I went through the usual ultrasound routine. I carefully stressed the impossibility of me being pregnant. Then my cell phone rings. It’s the Peace Corps doctor, saying that maybe it’s still a kidney stone, but it seems like there’s also a mass on my ovary, so they’re going to transfer me to the Number 1 Hospital in Xi’an. They also tell me that since today’s the last day of the National Holiday, there are no flights available for a Peace Corps doctor to come meet me, but they’re sending one to Chongqing to take a flight out the next morning to be with me.
I was still hanging tough throughout this, only having one moment as we reached the Xi’an city limits and the driver turned on the ambulance siren that I really felt like I wanted to cry. Luckily, I was too dehydrated for that kind of nonsense.
At the hospital we play the ultrasound game again, and afterwards Peace Corps calls me up and says, “Yep, it’s a cyst and it’s twisting, so we’re going to have to do surgery to take it out.”
That doctor has subsequently told me she was afraid to tell me this news, since I was out in Xi’an alone and with no one to support me. She was shocked when I responded, “I get to have the surgery tonight, right? Please can we make it tonight? I don’t want to wait for anyone to come meet me, I don’t care what you have to do.”
Turns out extreme pain can conquer any fear.
The four hours waiting to be prepped for surgery were unbearable. I kept calling Peace Corps and making sure yes, absolutely, it would be happening tonight. Otherwise, I was just bored and in pain. Also mystified by the nurses who kept coming in and asking me if I could understand Chinese, and at the moment of my eventual assent would assault me with medical Chinese. Which, unsurprisingly, I do not understand.
Anyway, finally 9:30 arrives and I get taken off to surgery where I have two interesting facts to report. First, though I was excited about the operation, I still forced everyone to wait for me to throw up a final few times. This was a language learning milestone, where I realized I came prepared to say such useful phrases as, “I’m not done throwing up yet”. Second, Chinese surgeons wear plastic sandals in the operation room. Which makes total sense from a sanitation standpoint, but for someone raised on a healthy diet of “no open-toed shoes in the workplace” this was especially amusing.
Long story short: I had the surgery, somehow managed to recuperate from it without painkillers (because they never offered me any, and I didn’t know I could ask, ha!). Medical was equally hesitant when they called me up to inform me of the result of the surgery, “So, did they tell you what happened?”
"They took out the cyst and had to take my left ovary too, right? Does this affect my ability to adopt an animal later in life?"
A shocked Medical Officer, “Uh, no…”
After two days in the hospital, I stayed in a hotel in Xi’an for a few days with my doctor, where I slowly learned how to function like a human again.
Here I wish I could show you a picture of me being too weak to properly wring out my laundry, so instead I took each piece and carefully wrapped it in a towel and then sat on it. Innovative!
After two days there, and when my personal items from site finally arrived (biggies like shoes, a change of clothes, and a passport - thanks, site mate!), we took a flight to Chengdu, where I am now holed up in a hotel resting for the next week. I’m feeling back up to 90%, and though an impending sneeze does still leave me slightly terrified, I am wandering the streets on my own and feeling good enough to complain bitterly about the heat wave. It should end tomorrow.
The one thing that I can show, is that there is never, ever an inappropriate moment for a photo op. May I present to you me, on Day 3 of the hospital and getting ready to leave:
It’s the lady they hired to get me food/stay with me overnights, me (obviously), and my lovely doctor.
A lot of people have expressed concern about me feeling alone or scared, or any number of negative emotions. I never felt any of those things (except pain). I’m really happy that this happened here. In America, my recovery would be saddled with me worrying about how to pay my bills, or worrying about how much time I could take off from work and whether my job would be affected. Here, I’m free to not worry about a thing and just get better. It hasn’t been fun, exactly, but it hasn’t been terrible at all. I’ve appreciated the well wishes and hopefully this story can prove to be amusing enough to serve as a ‘thank you!’ to everyone.
PS: Okay, you probably to want to know the terrible parts. I can’t eat food that’s greasy or spicy for a full week, which means I had to turn away real bacon in Xi’an, and now that I’m stuck in Chengdu (arguably the capital of greasy and spicy) I’m stuck with plain bread and porridge. It’s a rough life I lead, and feel free to open send sympathy my way.
The answer to all of your questions in China.