Daily Archives: October 21, 2014

Things You Won’t See in Canada

I have written about characteristics of Chinese culture that can be a little hard to live with at times, but today I want to extol some Chinese virtues. True, patients have to provide a lot of services that we take for granted in hospitals but consider the following:

  1. From the moment George heard our predicament, he came to our aid and alerted Principal Xu, who in turn alerted Nanhu International and our BC owner, Harvey Su. As you know, they all came to the hospital and made sure that everything possible was done for us. I am not sure how many board office staff or members of local government would show up to lend a hand. (I do believe most principals and vice-principals would be there, though).
  1. The school insisted that they provide 24-hour care at the hospital for translation purposes. Teachers, imagine your principal asking you to work a 12-hour shift, which entails either sleeping overnight or spending an entire day in the hospital, looking out for a man you might not have met. Not one of these teachers have complained and they all express happiness that they could be of some service. I shared a cab home with one of them yesterday morning and gave her money to pay the fare when I was dropped off first. She didn’t want to take it but I insisted. Later that evening, George came to visit and gave me the money back. She insisted. Pretty awesome. Beyond care, they have lifted Geoff’s spirits by succumbing to his teasing and giving it right back to him. They have made him smile.
  1. On the first night, George and the school driver arrived at the hospital with two deluxe camp cots for both the teachers and me. They were quite comfortable, far more so than Geoff’s bed, which I tried one night but could only last 5 minutes, it was so hard. When I told George I wasn’t going to stay at the hospital at night after Sunday, he offered the cot to the servant to use. Pretty terrific.
  1. The school staff continues to offer support to me. On the first day, Principal Xu gave me a red envelope filled with coupons for the noodle house downstairs so I wouldn’t be hungry. On the second, he arrived with a huge bouquet of flowers. George has taken me back and forth to the hospital many times, bringing flowers also. The education minister visited on Sunday and has promised to return on Thursday. Her English is good and she is fun to be around.

In short, the Chinese administration team has gone beyond the call of duty in making sure we are well taken care of. They have helped make this scary event less frightening for us and done everything to make us as comfortable as possible. We will not forget their kindness.

Additionally, Becky and Dani, my vice-principal and staff members, made dinners for both of us the first two days and brought them to the hospital, along with a care package of teas and snacks. I am so thankful to have these lovely women on staff!

Today is Tuesday. Geoff had some tests this morning and everything seems to be okay. We are not sure when he can come home but he is now willing to stay for as long as they say is necessary—a good sign. We are reminded how thin is the distance between life and death and are glad that we have done our best to live lives to the fullest. Thanks to everyone here and at home for sending their good wishes and prayers. They make a big difference to the patient and No. 1 care-giver.

Morning Has Broken

Remember those Disney cartoons where lovely lilting notes with birdies chirping play just before all hell breaks lose?

BAM! The ward door bursts open and Florence Nightingale marches over to the farthest bed, blood pressure monitor in hand. WT…? I tear one eye open from the cozy confines of my camp cot to check the time. It’s 5:00am! Time for the day to begin? Mercifully, no. I drift off to sleep, then…

BAM! The same nurse barges into the room and approaches the first bed to take her blood pressure. The room’s residents nearest the window take this as the cue to start the day and fling open the curtains to reveal dawn softly breaking. The patient’s wife who has been sleeping on a hospital-issue hard green folding chair (that’s the padded one) immediately begins to fold it up, with a great screeching scratching carry-on. Above my head, a loud conversation breaks out. What time is it? 5: 40. I peel one eye open again to eyeball the servant and teacher from our school engaged in a fun and lively conversation, which immediately stops at the sight of me. Oh for a private room! But perhaps I am just spoiled. I wouldn’t argue the point.

Before long, the parade to the washroom begins, followed by the arrival of the food wagon, announced by someone bellowing from the nurses’ station. People line up with their bowls to get congee and pickles. Why not? It certainly satisfies the required hospital bland. (pics to follow, once Geoff is home)

We wait until 7:30 for the store to open on the first floor so I can buy yogurt for Geoff. I know this regime can’t last very long and I’ve started to worry that he isn’t eating enough. We’ve worked out a bit of a plan that should be do-able, now that I won’t be staying overnight. I wish he could come home but know he has to stay; he is prepared to do so. A round of tests is scheduled for Thursday so perhaps he can leave after that. Then he can begin to rest properly. After he eats, I head home to shower and go to the school for awhile before I come back. He has made me promise to be home by 7:00pm each night, which will allow me to bring him some dinner, then leave him to rest.

A group of kids from the school visited Geoff today, which was nice. Unfortunately, they brought copious quantities of potato chips with them, a strict no-no on a low salt diet. I may be forced to eat them or pass them along (Tim?).   Fruit, Perrier, muesii, milk and a Starbuck’s latte were also included. They thought of everything! Sadly, Geoff couldn’t drink the latte so passed it over to the teacher who was on day shift. Too bad I wasn’t there, she told us honestly that she didn’t enjoy it.

It’s closing in on 4:00pm and the numbers of people arriving is growing. I thought 20 was the maximum these elevators would hold but I guess I was wrong. I really wish I could tape this scene–the noises are unbelievable. I guess it is rather cavernous in here and sounds carry but people are SO loud! I could reach out and touch the guy sitting next to me whose wife just came up in full volume, talking so loudly I inadvertently hushed her. Why the need to yell at the person right next to you? Don’t even ask about the people on cell phones. I could use a recorder right now. Sigh. TIC.

Another comment on China’s culture: They do adhere to scientific research in some areas. For example, in every classroom, water dispensers are available to kids for hot or cold drinks because some science suggests that lots of water helps brain function. They also hold to the understanding of SADS syndrome and make sure virtually every new apartment block is build narrowly, so that the maximum sunlight enters each apartment.   I can look down onto the lower hospital buildings and see that they are built with open areas in the middle to allow natural light in.  They also have green roofs.  No hot water, soap or paper towels but green roofs.  Go figure.

But I digress. Time to check on the patient. (Ed. note: And about bloody time too!)

Nothing Says Adventure…

…like navigating an emergency situation in a foreign country. On Saturday, we set an alarm to Skype a number of friends and planned to head out to Metro to pick up some great beef for a BBQ. Geoff woke my up at 7:30. Five minutes later, he was back in the room, obviously disoriented and in pain. Our Saturday plans took a dramatic turn.

As I tried to figure out was happening, Geoff went from room to room, rambling, not really sure what was happening. “Does your arm hurt? How about your heart?” Yes and yes. Okay, we need to get an ambulance. I soon discovered that when I brought my phone from Canada in the summer, I failed to transfer any emergency contact numbers to it. I had trouble with Geoff’s cell phone then discovered he had no numbers either. What now? “Next door!” he yelled at me. I banged on Tina and Klose’ door at 7:30am. That in itself must have been startling for them as they rarely stir before 9:00, even on a work day. Kloss’ mother answered the door, nodded, smiled, then began to close the door on me. “NO! Tina! Help! We need help! Call an ambulance. I think Geoff is having a heart attack.”

Geoff, in the meantime, had moved to the floor of the bathroom after a round of heaves. He was hyperventilating so I managed to even out his breathing and calm him down a bit by getting him to breathe into a paper bag. Tina and Kloss came in, fully clothed and ready for action, then the ambulance workers arrived They took one look at Geoff and another at their stretcher and realized he would not fit. After some discussion, they grabbed a chair from the dining room, strapped Geoff into it and managed (just barely) to carry him to the elevator. At the bottom floor, another 20 steps or so got them outside (needless to say, the second of the two entrance doors would not open, which would have allowed a gurney to come in). We boarded the ambulance, with Tina and Kloss following as our translators.

The scene at the hospital was crazy. This was the same hospital that I blogged about before, the one with the exposed brick in the bathroom where one was to go to provide a sample. Its only redeeming feature apparently is that it is close to our house! We were there in no time and directed into a large room with few beds and low-tech machines. I explained the symptoms, then out came the suction cup ECG machine. “It won’t work, he’s too hairy,” I said but Tina couldn’t translate that one. Eventually the worker produced a razor and they shaved his chest. He was in so much pain, he was begging for relief. A few nurses (I think) tried for awhile to put in an IV line but couldn’t get it in, then resorted to pills.

Even I knew pills were a waste of time. When your whole body is in spasm, they are not going to stay down, and I was right. About this time, a doctor (I think) had written ‘acute cardio syndrome’ on a piece of paper and managed to tell me, “I think this is what he has.” Me, too! Now let’s do something!!!!!! Mostly they just seemed to watch the monitor as his heart rate dropped. Tina whispered that we should get him to Shanghai. Ideal, I thought, but he won’t make it. Maybe when he stabilizes. Then the same doctor returned to me and said, “It IS acute cardiac syndrome!”

Soon George–our emergency contact, neighbour, friend and co-worker–arrived and I asked about Shanghai so he made the enquiry. Yes, they could provide an ambulance and 2 doctors would go, and it will cost money BUT first we must go to Hospital No. 1. Okay, let’s go! So out we go again, into the ambulance, passing by several complete strangers who were gawking at us from the doorway. Principal Xu had also arrived by this time and stood by looking concerned as we left.

The second ambulance trip was right up there with toad’s wild ride. We were jostled to and fro in the back while the drivers did their best to get there in record time. My job was to keep Geoff awake, breathing and alive. The monitor dropped precariously low and at one point, flat-lined. The doctor traded places with me and pumped his heart with his hands. Thankfully, Geoff came around and did his best to stay with me. When we arrived, we discovered that they actually had a cardiology department and a team waiting for us as the first hospital called and teed them up.

The first stage of emergency protocol seems to be getting all the appropriate information, although they almost immediately got a morphine drip going. I had remembered to grab Geoff’s passport and handed it to Mrs. Chen, the head of Nanhu International, the business group that owns our BC school. As well, the local Minister of Education, whose daughter went to our school, also lent her support, as did the second in command from Nanhu, Mr. Shen. I am sure they pulled some strings because they seemed to take over the sign-in identification process and then told me that the Dean of Cardiology would be performing whatever procedure was necessary and he was not in the least interested in anything less than complete recovery. Okay! Great, now let’s do something!

The doctors told George that the first four hours after a heart attack are the most important to prevent serious repercussions and we were getting perilously close. If I was still considering Shanghai, Geoff had already decided he wasn’t going for another ride.  First, I had to sign numerous pages, all written in Chinese, to say I understood (“write ‘I understand’ here”) and I agree (write ‘agree’ here) to what ever was going to happen. Then they wheeled him away and I sat down to wait.

Hospitals operate quite differently in China; I know you will be surprised to hear it. Before long, I spot George and the head of Nanhu Intl pushing a gurney up to the operating room. Geoff would be moved to this bed at the end of the procedure. “What’s with the bed, George? You move it yourself?” Of course.

Meanwhile, the doctors had been looking at Geoff’s heart and soon invited me in to a room adjacent to the operating room to look at live pictures and explain what would happen. I could clearly see the blockage, which seemed massive to me. He explained that they would put in a stent to create a passageway for the blood to flow again. Fortunately, I knew about stents from our friend Scott who has been through this before. I relaxed a wee bit when I knew it was a relatively easy fix. But let’s get going, please!

From there, things moved very quickly and soon George and Mr. Shen collected the gurney to take him to the ward for recovery.  Some observations follow.

The omnipresent features of China, particularly glaring in a hospital:

  1. crowds of curious people—a white person, never mind a large hairy white person, is indeed an oddity in a hospital in Jiaxing. Adults and children alike gaped at us every step of the way.
  1. Crowds pushing to the front of the line—always the same, whether boarding a bus, the subway, train or elevator. We turned into the “Medical Personnel Only” hallway and moved Geoff on a gurney onto a lift: another 8 non-medical personnel crowded in around us, all of them gaping at the white people. (I’ve taken to climbing the 13 flights of stairs rather than wait for long periods of time for slow elevators that are going to be crammed with people who may or may not feel the need to have a loud extended conversation on the phone or with someone in the elevator).
  1. Chinglish—I smiled as I passed a bulletin board with the heading, “Propogate the Official Notice Fence.” Gotta love it, don’t you?
  1. Utter lack of privacy—In Canada, medical issues and procedures are discussed and performed with a doctor behind closed doors. In China, most discussions are in the open. Anyone who wants to listen can. Geoff was moved to a room with three beds, with him in the middle. A curtain closed off the first bed and another closed off Geoff’s bed on one side but not on the other. On the open side, a man reclined on the bed and his wife sat in a chair, watching us. It was better than TV for them. I felt like ordering popcorn. They never took their eyes off the proceedings, fascinated by everything.

Another aspect of this feature of Chinese culture is that people, especially elders, feel completely free to visit perfect strangers in their rooms, hang out indefinitely and discuss in detail the nature of their ailments. Miss Dai explained this to me the first night when I was getting creeped-out by a man who just wouldn’t go. Apparently he comes from the same village as the old woman in Bed 1 but wouldn’t dream of talking to her in their village. Why? Because they are strangers. The hospital breaks down all barriers. Plus, most of them never have a chance to get this close to foreigners and so are making the best of it. I give them no encouragement whatsoever. On the other hand, the patient in Bed 2 has done his best to be amusing and friendly, hence the crowd of on-lookers.

  1. DIY—In a BC hospital, nurses provide around-the-clock care. They wash and toilet patients, monitor food and medications, etc. One price includes all (most of the tine). In China, you get your bed, bedding and the required attention and meds. After that, you are on your own. Daisy showed up with an armload of things we (WE!) would need: a washbasin, two small towels, a bedpan and a pee-pot, for lack of a better word, toilet tissue, water. Hmmm. It looked like a clue so I asked, “In China, do the nurses provide around-the-clock care? Will they use this equipment to care for Geoff?” No, that’s the responsibility of family and friends, ie, me. Yikes! We asked if we could hire a nurse. Maybe, said George, but it would be expensive. Do we care? No, especially Terry, she doesn’t care. What about food? You buy your own, either in the hospital noodle house or order from the food service, or bring it in from home. I could see an interesting week ahead of me.

After some thought, George said we might be able to hire a ‘servant.’ What might that be? About an hour later, he arrived with the leader of a company who hires people to be ‘servants.’ Think nurses’ aid. I did, because it stopped me from thinking ‘slave’ or channeling Downton Abbey.

Shortly thereafter, a 60-year-old man arrived to be the servant. He has been absolutely delightful! He checks on Geoff regularly, makes sure his equipment is attached and does all the tasks listed above.   Besides that, he is charming and happy and even takes care of me, offers me hot water to wash and even tucked me in to my cot in the morning. Guess what he gets paid: a staggering 140 RMB per 24 hours.   That’s about $26. He sleeps and eats in the room and does it all. Amazing! I am going to buy some coupons for him from Walmart because I know he will never take cash. Mr. Wang Shi-fa deserves more!

  1. Nasty habits—the same nasty things happen in the hospital as in the rest of China. No need to elaborate on the smoking, dropping of butts in windowsills, the hawking, talking in full volume, kids running and screaming, etc ( both Geoff and I were sure there was a ping pong game in the hallway of his ward last evening). I can’t even talk about the morning rituals.
  1. The absolute lack of personal space—in Canada, as a rule, we concern ourselves with others to the degree that we refrain from loud conversations or arguments in a crowd. When sharing a ward with someone, we would, of course, speak in hushed tones and do our best not to disturb others. It is a hospital, after all. Not so in China. So what if one person is sleeping? The others will talk loudly and animatedly across his bed. Sigh. TIC.

I wander around the hospital a bit to keep from going mad and to write blogs while recharging the technology. I came across a ‘Laundry and Boiling Water Room.’ This is where one or one’s servant can collect the boiling hot water to make tea or for washing, and also use the sinks and drying area to wash and hang clothes and towels. Who knew? We’re only in day two. Who knows what else we will discover? I no sooner write this sentence than the dinner service arrives, a whole group of them pushing food carts onto the elevator.  The pics are on Geoff’s phone so he post them once he is home.