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.

14 thoughts on “Nothing Says Adventure…

  1. Lynne

    OMG Terry. I can’t even imagine what the whole experience has been like for you both. It’s bad enough to experience a medical emergency when you are familiar with your own medical system, never mind all that. Thank God that Geoff is okay and you have some much needed help in the hospital. You are in our prayers. xoxo

  2. Lee Barter

    Terry, all I can say after such a harrowing ordeal is godspeed for Geoff and his recovery. My prayers and wishes are fully with you and Geoff. .

    – Lee Barter

    It just maybe time to end the China adventure.

  3. Laurie

    Oh my God Terry! How frightening for you both!! Thank God he is ok. This brought back memories of my cracked ankle bone in Japan- especially the curious crowds! My thoughts are with you – hope the recovery goes well.

  4. David Overgaard

    Geoff, wishing you a speedy recovery. (Though I do have to say it is amazing the lengths some people go to to get out of school). Take care and let us know how you are doing!

  5. pkintzinger

    What a great blog, Terry. Not to minimize the EXPERIENCE itself … it’s one for the memory books and the grandchildren. Having spent a little times in hospitals here at home this past summer, I have been busily making comparisons! Thinking of you, looking forward to reading Geoff’s voice and seeing the pictures, which will indicate he is good as new, maybe even better! xoxo

  6. Val

    This is an awful experience for you both. It was bad enough to deal with Bob’s heart attack while we were in Arizona, I can’t imagine dealing with the Chinese hospital system! We will keep you both in our thoughts over the next few days and are sending our best wishes for a complete and speedy recovery.

  7. Kim

    What an awful experience for you both! Glad to hear that Geoff will be okay, and hopefully home soon. Take care Geoff and rest up when you are home – we know you probably didn’t get much rest during your stay! Thank goodness for your “nurse’s aid”!

  8. Bruce

    Holy smokes. Geoff, get well soon! You are in the wrong hospital. When Kim had her appendix out in Shanghai, she was in a beautiful private room on a private floor with one full time doctor, four nurses, and two large cleaning crews. The floor was for ex-pats only and there was only one other person on the floor. She had great service. However it was $16,000 for the six day stay and the surgery.

    Get well soon, our thoughts and prayers are with you both!

  9. Rob

    Terry and Geoff,
    Thinking of you. This is terrifying. We are close by — let us know if there is anything we can do.
    Rob and Shelley

  10. mary thomas

    Holy Smoley… this is a Chinese adventure you can do without. So glad to hear that Geoff is stable. We are thinking of you both…. get well soon, Geoff and hang in there!! Hugs to you both !!!! Mary and Al

  11. Lawrence

    Wow….you did not need this occur anywhere…especially in China. Thankfully it sounds like things have worked out and we look forward to hearing from Geoff as he recovers. Get well soon.

  12. Lois and Gerry

    Trust Geoff to create chapter 16 of his Chinese memoirs in a hospital. All will be fine….hang in there. lois and gerry


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