Monday, April 25, 2016

Not Running Much, Eating and Barfing (and worse) In China: An Unwanted, Intimate Look at Chinese Health Care

I often joke that I only adopted my daughter from China because I wanted a first hand look at real Chinese Food. And though that is certainly partially true, the adoption has become one of the top three moments in my life, marriage and the birth of my other daughter tie it for the overall title.

When we found out that our daughter, selected for us with honest, careful scrutiny by the Chinese Government, was in Kunming, Yunnan Province, we had to look it up in order to have a clue where it was.  We were intrigued to learn it was in Southwestern China, surrounded by Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar, Tibet and Sichuan.

Kunming is a beautiful city with a very temperate climate, almost never going below 40 degrees F or above 80 degrees F.  Flowers bloom all year round and the Chinese view the area like we view Florida for our vacations.  And because the whole plateau of Kunming is surrounded by mountains on 3 sides and lies at more than 8,000 feet elevation, endurance athletes have many sports camps there.

Upon arrival at the airport after a mind-numbing 24 hours of total flight time, our guide was nowhere to be seen.  We ended up hailing a cab.  We soon discovered that just about everyone there either knew English or was learning English.  And if they weren't, they had a Chinese-English dictionary in their pocket.  And I do mean everyone...

Our cabdriver took the three of us and our bags in a car about the size of a smart car and off we went.  He apologized numerous times for us visiting China and only getting to see such a "small city" like his.  We tried to tell him that at more than 3,000,000 people, Kunming would be one of the larger cities in our country.  There, it was a blip on the radar.

With all the travel, I didn't get a chance to run at all for the two days of travel and arrival in Kunming.  We looked forward to a leisurely day off, but were rudely interrupted by the news that we were going to the orphanage early the next day for the official adoption!

When they brought JiaYi Guan into the room, I immediately recognized her from the several pictures we were sent over the preceding months.  She had a wrinkled forehead just like in every pic I had memorized.  Worry must have been one of her main companions.

JiaYi, showing the furrowed brow of worry. It soon disappeared.

JiaYi's original passport.

She was dressed in about 9 layers of clothing, (I am not making that up!).  It was related to us previously that this was always the case, as the guarding of babies is a national obsession.  Strangers on the street have no hesitation in coming up to your baby and zipping up their jacket or securing the 2 hats on their head.  Personal space does not exist in rural China.  Neither do lines.  All lines we so carefully queue up in here in America are free-for-alls in China.  And no one ever complains when you butt in line ahead of them, because they only regret that they weren't butting in front of you!

She also smelled like soy sauce.  Strong, pungent soy sauce.  All the babies in the orphanage were on soy formula, and it permeated every pore of our little JiaYi.  The bottle nipples were also festooned with a rather large hole.  That way the formula poured out and they could feed the babies quicker.

The care and love for the children was more than apparent during the tour of the facility.  I was amazed at the dedication and true love that the caregivers gave these abandoned girls.  There were tears in their eyes as they were handed to their new parents, with the obligatory tugging of all the clothing layers.

Luckily for us, JiaYi took to us right away.  We had been prepared for a little tiny baby, as at many orphanages in China, conditions are such that their growth is slow.  But certainly not at The Kunming facility!  Our daughter was twice as big as we expected, so the extra layers of clothes helped because we had hardly anything with us that would be suitable.  We had to cut the feet off all the onesies and make capris out of them, for instance.  Then the hunt was on for socks, as we had none that fit...

Our first forays out of the hotel were to find clothing at the department store (The Cherry Blossom) across the main road in front of the 4-Star Kunming Hotel.  Maybe 20 lanes of traffic were there with 4 reserved for bicycles, which were "wall-to-wall" as far as you could see.  The occasional street cleaner would come by with its warning song "Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer" (I'm not making that up!).

The entire first floor of the department store was reserved for mushrooms and ginseng, some of which had price tags of the equivalent of thousands of dollars.  Didn't hang around there much.  But the baby section was well stocked and we bought what we figured was hundreds of dollars worth of stuff, which somehow came out to be really barely $10 total.  And the clerks giggled as we walked away, thinking they had ripped us off!  It was one time in life that a win-win was actually manifested.

We decided to stay in for the night, getting to know our new family member.  We ordered room service and played a game with our giggling newcomer called "up and down" as she mimicked our other daughter's every move on the bed.  She learned right away to push up when we said "up" and to flop down when we said "down", even though we didn't move! Everyone told us that the girls from Kunming are both tall and smart, and that is certainly true.  Her wrinkled brow was almost totally gone by this time, which we correctly interpreted as a very good sign. We all were tuckered out and settled in for the night...

Then , all Hell broke lose....

The culprit. Across Bridge Rice Noodle (Yunnan Guoqiao Mixian)

One of the things we ordered for room service was the regional dish of noodles with vegetables in chicken broth.  It is said to be exquisite.  My one sip with the big Chinese spoon tasted funny and all of us put it aside to munch on the more American foods in our order.

Right on schedule (4-6 hours after ingestion), I was rudely interrupted from sleep for a violent food poisoning episode unlike any I have ever had before. I did not know that at the time.  I only knew that my insides were now gone!  Total emptying of my gastrointestional tract was accomplished with the first bout, but somehow they just kept coming.  Unbeknownst to me, our Chinese Handler was beckoned from her home to come to the Hotel.  She found a dried husk of a human being still trying to rid himself of anything of a liquid nature in his body.  Uncontrollably. Loudly.  Oblivious to all around him.  I honestly wished I could just die then.  Happiness to the bottom of despair in just 4 hours!

Xulan, all 4' 6", 85 pounds of her, took a test tube out of her pocket and poured what looked like a handful of black BB's into her palm. She gave them to me and said in an authoritative voice, "EAT THEM, EAT ALL OF THEM, NOW!"  When I hesitated, I thought she was going to kick me in the groin.  Which, in my present condition, would have been instantaneously fatal.  SO I HESITATED AGAIN.  I really wished I could just quietly die.  But the twitch I saw in her leg made my survival instinct return and I swallowed all of them in one big gulp.  Tasted sorta like fish mixed with dirt with a hint of garbage, but it was quick so I stood for a second and....

I Felt Better!
( Xulan told me "You never want to know what was in that handful."  And I believe her.)

Not completely better, but from that instant on I didn't barf (or worse) again.

Then I began my meanderings through the Chinese Health System.  I was taken by taxi with Xulan and my out-of-his-league brother to the "Western" Hospital in Kunming, Kunming Yanan Hospital ER.  A tiny chart was opened for me with all the usual questions relayed through three interpreters and my brother.  We waited on a long wooden bench, and I was drained of all life.  I was aware enough to see the squalor around me, dried blood (and worse!) on the floor in a horrendously overworked ER.  (I could out-do Ryan McGarry's Code Black even on their worse day!)  I really felt too bad to care, but I later learned that my brother was really freaked out.

Four bare-chested men dragged a blanket into the center of the room and dumped what looked like a human being that had been disassembled and crumpled back into a ball and placed in a blanket.  It was someone who had fallen from a great height on one of the thousands of construction site bamboo scaffoldings that covered the city.  Inexperienced farmers from outside the city were tasked with construction work none of them should have ever done, and this was the inevitable result.  I was glad that they then ushered me into a treatment room, as I couldn't stand to watch him die in front of me.  I think my brother got the honor of that, although I have never spoken to him about that since.

The doctor and three interpreters then did their thing and let me know that it was probably food poisoning (Duh, I thought to myself.  It honestly hadn't occurred to me! Or it was possibly appendicitis.  A surgeon was being consulted!

This immediately caused me to leave the hospital against the advice of the doctor.  I was freaked out that I may have to have surgery in essentially a barn in rural China!  I needed the advice of my wife and others as to what to do?

I called a surgeon friend at 8:00PM from China when it was 8:00AM here and he was just getting to work.  I told him everything and he said it wasn't my appendix but I should find the best hospital and have them render a second opinion.

I called the US Consulate in China and told them my story and they got several people working on it and came to the conclusion that the best hospital within 2,000 miles of where I was... was the same one I had been to!  I slunk off in shame, still feeling quite ill and returned to the belly of the beast in another cab.  Somehow, my shell-shocked brother again accompanied me.

And it was all different!

My doctor took me right in and spoke better English than I did on this second visit.  My little chart reappeared and the doctor decided that it was only food poisoning and I would get better gradually without any treatment at all but he wanted to give me antibiotics "just in case".  He told me that the vegetables were undercooked in my soup and that I got sick because the Chinese use special fertilizer for their crops.  (Human waste, or Nightsoil as they call it. Never eat undercooked veggies in China.  I have taken it to mean salads are Satan's Dish since!)

I agreed to the whole thing and was immediately ushered to the rather large treatment room.  I was placed on a cot and an IV was started in my hand and an IV bottle of what looked like Karo syrup was dripped into my hand, drop by agonizing drop.  Using my uncanny mental faculties, I tried to figure out how long the bottle would take at the rate it was going and came up with 6 days to 6 weeks as the quite firm result!

I think this was my real IV, not antibiotics.

Meanwhile people were coming in and getting IVs and leaving the whole while I was there.  This was the outpatient treatment center for a large area of Southwest China.  The nurse told me I shouldn't worry, which I didn't until another nurse related that everyone else was being treated for tuberculosis.  They were happy to see me, as I was a change of pace for them!

As the bottle dripped in (over 4 hours real time, 4 days in my mind's eye) I finally saw light at the end of the tunnel!  And then the nurse brought in the SECOND bottle.  I was shattered by this time and needed some way of diverting myself from the torture I was enduring.  Then it came to me.  I had to go to the bathroom (#2, and without urgency!!!)  A trip to the bathroom was a great diversion.  The nurse arranged an escort from a visitor watching a friend get his TB treatment to escort me to the bathroom down the hall.  I carried my glass bottle IV just like on Dr. Welby MD,  and dragged my sorry butt and gown down the hall to what I figured would be a "step up in accommodations".

But, Boy was I wrong! 

I've told this story to some of you before, but please defer to me again.  I will try to describe the bathroom in exactly the fashion it was.  100% total accuracy, I promise...

The room at first glance was almost like I expected.  To the left of the rather large room was a series of sinks with faucets just like we would expect.  Tile floor, fluorescent lighting,  paper towel dispensers.  Check.  Check. and Check.

Turning to the right, I was immediately confused.  Where was I?  What was I to do?  What had I gotten myself into?  There was a large trough in the middle of a sloping floor in front of me.  There were little foot shaped islands in the middle of the trough, and...  Nothing Else?  There was a trap door at the top of the slope and a trap door at the bottom of the slope.  Enough room for many people.  But doing what? No partitions, no dividers...  no nothing?

I busied myself by going to the sink and pretending to thoroughly wash as much of myself as I could.  The Chinese escort looked on in bemusement, not fooled in the least.  He gestured to me and showed me how to use the islands for my feet, squat and do what needed to be done in the trough.  Well, I obeyed and all came out well, as it were.  I was relieved until he motioned to me to use my hand to wipe and step back onto the floor.  I couldn't do it and just jumped up grabbed a paper towel to wipe and threw it into the trough.  He was aghast, as paper must not be allowed in the trough for some reason.  But I feigned mental illness and he seemingly let it slide.

Just then the top door of "The Slope" opened and a huge rush of water came down, washing everything down the slope and smashing it into the bottom door with a sickening thud.  Maybe ten people's deposits or so, including mine with the (gasp!) paper!  Then the bottom door opened and everything kind of slowly slumped outside (I do not know where?).  The evidence of my paper wipe crime went with it as long as my escort didn't squeal on me.

We trudged back into the TB sanitarium where he immediately blurted out some animated Chinese and everyone in the room laughed at the stupid American's expense.  So much for the Nixon Diplomacy!

As the drops of corn syrup continued to accumulate in my veins, Xulan returned and asked me what I wanted to drink.  I finally was thirsty!  "Grape juice" I replied as that was what I always had after any illness growing up.  She left and returned quickly with a big container from, of all places, Walmart!  (Check the map if you wish!) Grapes never tasted so good.

The last antibiotic drops were just about to fall when a big ruckus ensued and several people in the finest suits I had ever seen approached.  With them was my wife!  The men gestured and bowed like the Japanese always do and were apparently apologizing to me!  They brought elaborate floral arrangements with them (I hope I can find the pictures!) and apologized again and again.  I suppose they figured Americans were a litigious lot, and they are probably right.  But not this guy.  I accepted their apology with the 3 interpreters smiling profusely.  All was right with the world.  The total cost for 2 ER visits, treatments and all supplies for the whole ordeal came to $118.  I paid in cash.  With a smile so broad, they figured I was truly insane!

And it was done!
Or was it?  Part 2 coming... (This one only took me 15 years to write down.) 

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