Friday, December 20, 2013

Remember the time I had mono in China? (A tale of reverse culture shock)

"Are you allergic to any medication?"

“我对布洛芬过敏。” ("I'm allergic to ibuprofen.")

That was the first thing the nurse asked me. In English. I answered in Chinese because what, we're speaking English now? What's going on?

The previous 24 hours had been a thrilling adventure through 3 very Chinese hospitals, and now we were at an international hospital in Shanghai. Where we trusted the quality of medical care a lot more.

It was just like an American hospital, except that the nurses talked to each other in Chinese.

So. Bring on the reverse culture shock.

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They took me into an exam room and the first question was "Are you allergic to any medication?" Wow! At the other hospitals, nobody ever asked me. Nobody seemed to care. But I had told them anyway- I had written down, in Chinese, a whole page of information to show the doctors, and it said in very large characters that I'm allergic to ibuprofen.

One of my colleagues was filling out a form for me, with my personal information and medical history. Wow! This hospital requires patients to fill out forms when they get there! How about that! And they want to know about family history of various things! Just like in America! Oh also, they asked to see my passport. Wow, asking for ID? Crazy town.

(It was at this point that I remembered I'd had a hepatitis vaccine before my first visit to China, a few years ago. So it can't be hepatitis. Write that down on the form.)

The nurse took my blood pressure. Oh my goodness! It's like she's following a standard procedure- whenever a patient comes in, first you take their blood pressure, weight, etc.

Never in my life have I been so happy to have my blood pressure taken.

A doctor came in and talked to me in English. He was Chinese and wow his English was good. He said they'd need to take a blood test, and I asked if I could have some water or something, because I usually feel really weak after I get my blood drawn. He said I could have some juice and toast.

Toast? I almost didn't dare to hope... could it be toast like American toast? Not a really thick slice of strange sort-of-sweet-flavored bread, which Chinese refer to as "toast"? I tried not to get my hopes up, but I couldn't help but think of butter and jelly, spread on some toast... ohhhhhhhhhhhhh toast...

They took my blood, then took me upstairs to the room where I'd be staying. (I said to my boyfriend, "This room is bigger and nicer than your apartment.")

You know those beds in hospitals, with the little buttons to make the end come up so you can sit up? Yeah, it was a bed like that. Awesome!

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I asked the nurse if I could have some water. She said she had to ask the doctor first, and make sure they didn't need to do any tests or anything before I could eat and drink. Wow, it's like there are actually rules and procedures at this hospital. Crazy!

I got permission to drink some water. My boyfriend found out where they keep the toast, and he got me a few slices.

You guys. It was toast. It was toast like an American means when they say "toast."

You guys. There was a little jam to put on the toast. Just like in America. (I wasn't allowed butter because I don't have a gall bladder so they wanted me to avoid fat.)

Oh I had toast!!!

(Like I said, reverse culture shock.)

And on every wall there's a dispenser for hand sanitizer, and the nurses are going in and out of my room, constantly throwing away their gloves. And every time they gave me medication, they made me confirm my name and date of birth, to make sure I was the right person. Oh it was great.

(Funny story: so I looked at the paperwork from the little "local" hospital where I stayed one night, and apparently their thought process was like, oh she said she's 24? Write down her date of birth as 24 years ago today. Close enough.)

The hospital provided me with 3 meals a day, and gave me a menu so I could order them. It was all western food! I'm flipping through this menu exclaiming, "OH! Pasta! Pancakes! ... They have cereal!!! Cake! Caesar salad! ... Oh my gosh, pita and hummus! French toast!"

You guys, the food at that hospital was so good.

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Okay. How about we talk about the actual medical treatment part now?

At 11 pm the first night, a doctor burst into my room and said "You're going to die!" Oh no wait, that's not what he said at all. That's just how I interpreted it. He asked me a whole bunch of questions about everything, and he said my blood tests showed that my red blood cells were breaking down for some reason, and that's why I was yellow. And it could be a very very serious problem.

They put me in a wheelchair and took me down to get an x-ray and some other tests. I could barely stand up to get on the x-ray table.

Later, I lay in bed thinking, "I'm gonna die. I'm gonna die, and then who's going to take care of my cat? ... Actually... you know how every day in China when I cross the street and there's cars coming from every direction and I think 'oh my goodness, I'm going to die right here, on a street in China,' well I much prefer dying in this nice hospital."

Over the next couple days, I was constantly getting fluids through an IV, and there were so many blood tests and other various tests. I think that hospital is secretly run by vampires. Several doctors saw me and asked lots of very concerned questions- I had my gall bladder taken out last year, could this sickness be related? Is there something worse going on? What's wrong with my liver?

But it turns out I just had mono. The worst case of mono some of the doctors had ever seen. (According to wikipedia, "In developing countries, people are exposed to the virus in early childhood more often than in developed countries," so I guess a lot of Chinese people have an immunity to it. Actually, a lot of my Chinese friends had never heard of mono before.) And getting that IV back at that first hospital was what caused the jaundice.

I was in the hospital for a whole week. Some days my throat hurt so much I couldn't even talk. But by the end of the week, my skin had changed back to white-people-color, and I had enough energy to leave the hospital and go back to regular China.

So that's the end of the story. Now I'm back at my apartment (still in China), just resting, and my dad is here too. He came all the way from the other side of the world because he was worried about me. Isn't he the best?

It could take weeks or months to fully get my energy back after having mono. But I'll be okay.

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