Sick in China

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I double over in pain for the second time that hour and perhaps the twenty fifth time that day. I’m starting to think that my co-worker’s assertion this was ‘just a hangover’ was somewhat off base.

I mean, it’s been over 48 hours since I had my last sip of beer…

A drunken Friday night of smokey bars, dismal football results streamed on my laptop, and fighting the urge to slug the next person to jostle me without so much as an apologetic nod seems a distant memory early on Monday morning as I writhe in agony midst my tangled and sweat soaked sheets.

I haven’t eaten anything since forcing down a bowl of oatmeal on Saturday morning.

My floor is littered with Powerade bottles that Jenny and Kara were kind enough to fetch for me.

I don’t think I’ve been in this much pain since I bruised my kidneys in 2004.

Are You OK?

I write this entry feeling as far removed from my three days of nausea inducing agony and head-spins as possible. Whether it was simply time or some miracle of Chinese medicine that chased off whatever bug took me hostage and wasted my entire weekend; I don’t know; but you won’t hear me complaining about the sudden turn for the better.

After waking up for the third straight day in pain, I was beginning to think there was something a little more wrong than just a stomach bug.

I’ve had stomach bugs before. I’ve eaten dodgy street food and spent the better part of a day perched on porcelain shedding water weight.

Hell, this time last year I spent five days sick in South Korea with a gastroenteritis bug that doubled as a very effective weight loss technique as well. And while that one did have a little bit of light-headedness, it was a far tamer beast than whatever had me so thoroughly unmanned over the weekend.

What caused it?

I can’t figure that out. I didn’t eat any dodgy street food, that’s for sure. My late night delight was the always over-cooked McDonalds.

Formaldehyde in the beer? One of my co-workers swears that the embalming agent is used in the Tiger brewing process, but beer expert and reader, Luke P, had this to say:

“It is a stupid urban myth. The likely reason is they are using some shitty chemicals in the lagering process so they can pump the beer out quicker. They do it with all major industrial lagers. Lagering can take between 4-6 weeks (sometimes longer). Most industrial groups don’t want to sit on beer that long, so they throw HEAPS of chemicals into it, so it is conditioned in a matter of days. It is why I always say, drink craft beer, because it is not made with shitty high fructose syrups, and doesn’t have shitty chemicals in it.”

Luke’s certainly a man after my own heart. My Portland Brewery Tour seems like one he’d have enjoyed the hell out of.

So, it wasn’t the beer. And I’ve had more than enough hangovers to know that it wasn’t just a bit of mixing of the grain and the hard spirits. Hell, it wasn’t even a big night by Aussie on the Road standards.

A dodgy quesadilla? Doubtful. Food poisoning isn’t really a three day ordeal. Plus, y’know, no vomiting…

So, the how of it remains a mystery. It could have been dodgy water in an ice cube at the bar. It could have been a bug I picked up from one of the students. Truth be told, I don’t much care. Just as long as it doesn’t happen again.

Visiting Chinese Hospital

It was late on Sunday night – fully 36 hours into my fun little adventure – that I decided I needed to do more than just drink fluids and watch every movie I could get my hands on.

Incidentally, I’d recommended The Abyss and the Korean film, Doll Master to anybody with a bit of free time…

I made the call to our ‘foreign teacher liason’ and she advised me she’d have an intern run me over to the hospital in the morning. It wasn’t exactly the urgency I was hoping for, but it’d have to do.

But had I known how violently disgusting Chinese hospital would be – I think I’d have been perfectly okay with any amount of waiting…

A crowded Chinese hospital
It might look like a deli, but we're lining up to see a doctor...

Now, in China’s defense I should point out that (much like South Korea) the hospital plays the role of both hospital and general practitioner, so the place is always going to be crowded.

But having to shove your way through a sea of foul-smelling, couching humanity isn’t exactly what you feel like doing when you’re running a fever. The stink of smoke, unbrushed teeth, cigarettes, and stale piss fairly reek as we clamber up the stairs rather than wait for the over-crowded elevators.

Those in wheelchairs or on stretchers have no choice but to wait in the sea of impatient and ill.

We queue in one line for ten minutes to get a form that says we can queue in a line to see a doctor. I draw #202. We arrive in time to see #100 tick over. It’s going to be a long wait…

As I wait I am horrified to see not one – but several – elderly people punctuating their hacking coughs by spitting great wads of phlegm onto the floor. A quick survey shows the floor is dotted with these throat-born treasures.

I dread to think what would happen should a major epidemic ever strike China again. Hygiene doesn’t seem to be a priority in their hospitals.

chinese medicine
A standard prescription in China? Actually, smaller than most I saw.

When my number is finally up, it’s time to be examined while six or seven other (im)patients hover overhead and try to thrust their paperwork in my doctor’s eyeline. To her credit, she calmly advises me I need to go for a blood test.

Another queue and I’m clutching my arm and waiting thirty minutes for a result.

Then it’s back to the queue to see the doctor who informs me that nothing is wrong with my blood and I should come back for an endoscopy. In the meantime she has me queue in another line so I can pre-pay my prescriptions before it’s time for one last queue to collect them.

And then I’m back to my apartment with two boxes of different pills and something I’m supposed to dissolve in hot water and drink. I dutifully do all of these things and – medical miracle or happenstance – I’m feeling better by 6pm.

I declined the offer of having a tube shoved down my throat to find the root cause of my illness. I’ll take ‘no longer in agony’ and be happy with that.

So there’s my health scare. It wasn’t life threatening or even particularly terrifying, but it’ll do me. Have you ever been sick while on the road? What’s your most scary or gory health story from the road?



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