Friday, August 28, 2009

¿Cómo se dice apendicitis en chino?

I recently had the pleasure of spending five days in a Chinese hospital. This was not my first experience in a Chinese hospital, but certainly the longest. My other experiences have been bizarre and often frustrating, but there are some matters so personal that even I won't explore them in detail over a blog.

As for the most recent incident, it all started innocently enough after dinner on one Sunday night. I had a really bad stomachache, not an uncommon occurrence for me. I decided that forgetting about the pain by sleeping would be the best remedy and went to bed at the tragic hour of 9pm. At 1am, I woke up with a start, barely able to move. The pain had moved to my lower right side--I just knew I had an appendicitis. I woke up Ming and turned on my computer to look up the symptoms. Thank you technology for allowing me to self-diagnose. I managed to confirm my suspicions right before I got dizzy and passed out (fainted, really). Never the one to overreact, Ming called the ambulance.

The ambulance, a concept in China that is unlike it's counterpart in the west. Where I come from, an Ambulance is a vehicle not to be reckoned with. You call it in the direst of emergencies and when you see it flying down the road you get the hell out of the way. It doesn't quite work that way in the Middle Kingdom, where an ambulance is given about the same amount of courtesy as any other vehicle--none. Truth be told, once I got inside of one I realized why the Chinese don't take them very seriously. In China, an ambulance is little more than a glorified van with a bed in the back. On the plus side, calling an ambulance in China is much cheaper than calling an Ambulance in the States. Probably about 1/70th of the cost, but I suppose you get what you pay for.

Though the ambulance ride did not live up the expectations engrained in me by ER and Grey's Anatomy, I did get to the hospital safely and quickly. We arrived to an empty emergency room, which must be a miracle by any country's standards. I was then fearing what they were going to do to me. To be checked for an appendicitis, I've heard horror stories of enemas and weird serums and scans. But not to worry, the doctor asked me a couple questions, poked me, and assured me he was pretty sure I had an appendicitis. Twist. . . since it was in the beginning stage they could treat the infection with medicine. Treat an appendicitis with medicine? Were these people serious?

Regardless of the doctor's opinion, I wanted the surgery. That's what people do in the States so it's got to be the right course of treatment.. Ming and his mom, however, had other ideas. They both advised me against it because surgery is dangerous and perhaps more importantly, bad for the body's qi. I care more about a ruptured appendix than my qi, but I decided to give the medicine approach a try. Monday I sat in my hospital room along with two other patients, their families and family, as well as most of Ming's family. I had an IV in my arm for the better duration of the day and I wasn't allowed to eat or drink anything. By Tuesday, I felt completely better minus a massive headache from my caffeine withdrawal. The end seemed in sight and soon I'd be able to eat and drink but suddenly Ming had a change of heart. He wanted me to have the surgery. His reasoning was sound--I'd be at risk for a future inflammation and it would be very dangerous if I were pregnant or traveling in some underdeveloped country. And we all know my penchant for traveling in underdeveloped countries. I agreed to have the surgery and I went into the operating room at 11pm on Tuesday.

Considering I just had surgery, the next day I woke up feeling okay. I opted for the more high tech surgery which involves only three tiny incisions and no stitches. I was on day 3 with no food or water (other than an IV of glucose, yum) which was making me feel pretty irritable. The steady stream of visitors was also a wee bit wearing. I didn't have the energy to conversate in Chinese and since most of my guests didn't speak English this was becoming a bit of a problem. Once Thursday rolled around and I could eat things started to look up and then on Friday morning they released me. I've now been home for over a week and almost as good as new despite all the crazy restrictions set upon me by Chinese doctors: no showering, no alcohol, no seafood, no spicy food, and no cold beverages of any kind.
On an end note, let it be known that I now realize being in a hospital can leave one helpless and scared. Those feelings are intensified when in a foreign country. In China, the methods for practicing medicine are completely different and it's hard to have people explain and translate things properly with all the medical jargon. To add a further obstacle, doctors and nurses don't really keep much of an eye on the patients, so it's up to family and friends to be there to monitor. It only cost $7/day to stay in this fairly pleasant and air-conditioned hospital, which probably explains why the care isn't so great. They have to keep things affordable because many people pay out of pocket in this Communist country. Despite the frustrations, I have to say overall it was a tolerable experience and I'm happy the hypochondriac in me will no longer have to worry about a rupturing appendix.