Shit Goes South in Shanghai
“Good thing you got to us before this got any worse,” said the doctor. As she prepared my vein, my disdain for needles surfaced, and I let my mind drift off to how the entire mess started.
I was finding it hard to believe that, only a few hours prior, we were having the time of our lives on top of Shanghai. That night – jumping around the skyscrapers – my self-diagnosed “bad cold” was getting even worse, but I wasn’t going to let it get in our way.
Mistake #1 = Being stupid. I knew, I just knew from the very beginning – four/five days prior – that it wasn’t the “bad cold” I was telling myself (and Caanan) it was. There was not the gradual onset that accompanies most colds that I’ve had. But, I unwisely chose to not listen to my body. For several days.
Then, in the middle of the night after our crazy-fun evening on the town, I shot up in bed. I was coughing uncontrollably and producing mouths full of phlegm. Next came the violent shaking. It was so bad that, when I attempted to lift my head from the pillow to cough, my teeth would clank together painfully. Then came the nausea.
“Something is really wrong with me,” I said to Caanan.
I knew I needed to see a doctor. My only fear was actually getting to a doctor without coming completely undone on the way. We did a trial walk down the hall between bouts of sickness and figured I’d be able to make it if we timed the 3-mile trip just right.
Mistake #2 = Being unprepared. We didn’t scout out our China resources ahead of time. We had no clue where to go for assistance, and our hotel was no help (that’s another story altogether).
We wasted a lot of time in the middle of the night trying to figure out where and how to get help because we embarked on this adventure completely clueless regarding how heathcare and emergency services work in China. We ended up choosing the closest major hospital we could find. Well, it seemed smart.
When we went into the expansive urgent care center, no one could help because no one spoke any English. It was a nightmare. This is me on the phone with someone the receptionist called for assistance in translating.
The woman on the other end of the phone only knew the word “hello” to which I responded “I need help” over and over. Which brings us to…
Mistake #3 = Making assumptions. Assuming “everything would be easy” even if something did go wrong in the biggest city in the world – the emerging global capital. A lot of people would speak English at a hospital, right? Wrong.
After a lot of time at the reception desk, it was determined that no one in the multiple story hospital building could help. A doctor, recognizing my symptoms as serious, said (in motions and broken English) that he had found someone at another branch of the hospital who could speak English well enough to treat me.
Concerned about my condition, he accompanied us to the other hospital. That’s him on the phone telling the doctor to be ready for my arrival. That’s me double fisting water and thinking “I can’t be-fucking-lieve this is happening right now.”
When we got to the second hospital, they were busy so started treating me and running tests in a waiting area.
Finally, after a tense few hours, the doctor sat down with me to provide the fascinating and disturbing details of what was happening inside my body. She only drilled down far enough to determine that I had caught a nasty bacteria that was sending my body into a progressively severe state. This is something that, without treatment, would have gone from “serious to severe,” she said.
Learn from my mistakes:
1) You know your body. If your sickness feels unusual, it probably is. Get help. Your adventure is not as important as your health.
2) It doesn’t matter if you are traveling to New York City or Shanghai or Lusaka, scout out resources – at least loosely – ahead of time. A big city does not ensure ease.
3) Don’t assume. This happened in Shanghai, not a village. Know the basics of the language. Arrive equipped.
My recovery took a big toll on the rest of our itinerary. Our primary goal quickly became getting well enough to get back to Beijing for our onward journey back to the United States. No more bravado, no more “I don’t need to rest” denial.
The silver lining in all of this? The total cost for all the consultations, tests, and three hardcore medications was only 99.36 USD.