I am in pain laying on a street in rural China….I am in an ambulance….I am in a hospital bed being told I have a broken back and need surgery…..It’s the middle of the night in the USA….I can’t reach anyone on the telephone…….Luckily, my future surgeon had spent 1 year studying in Seattle…..I remained calm as I told him I understand I need surgery but you have to understand I will not go under the knife until I can speak to Mark, my brother……I then spent 2 weeks in Dong’e People’s Hospital, Shandong China. My third experience with hospitals in China turned out to be rather serious.
Friday, September 7, 2018, I left my house at 11:40 am, not a care in the world. I was on my way to my favorite noodle shop for Lanzhou LaMian. In 15 days, I would be leaving to spend 2 weeks in Paris and beyond. I would take in a Jimmy Buffett concert or 2 and enjoy my favorite city. 11:45 am, in a mere instant, everything changed. As I was going down the road on my scooter, I passed a parked car. With “perfect” or “not so perfect” timing, the rear driver side passenger flung her door open. The force of her opening her door combined with the speed on my scooter created the perfect storm. I went flying and my scooter landed partially on me. As I was laying on the street in Dong’e China, a woman was trying to stand me up. I knew standing wasn’t going to happen and that I more than likely had a back injury. I had my purse crossbody and managed to find my phone and call Peter (my sponsor in Dong’e). I handed the phone to the woman who was still trying to get me to stand up and Peter explained to leave me on the road and an ambulance would arrive. Peter and the ambulance arrived nearly together. I was soon loaded in the ambulance along with Peter and the woman who hit me, also the one trying to get me to stand. I later found a video of me being loaded into the ambulance on Chinese social media.
Let me explain that arriving at a hospital in China isn’t exactly like arriving at the ER in the USA. There is no ER where an ambulance pulls in and unloads you to a room where you wait for a doctor. The ambulance pulled into a parking lot, a team arrives at the ambulance and you are transferred to a bed. The bed is then wheeled through the parking lot and into the front door of the hospital where you stop at the reception desk and get checked in. Now I’m assuming the procedure would be different in a life or death situation, but this is my experience. While at the desk, the woman that caused my accident had to pay my admissions fees. From this point, I’m not sure of all the places I went. I had x-rays, an MRI a CT scan, blood is drawn, urine sample you name it, I had it or gave it. I must admit, in all my years, I have never had anyone insert a needle so effortlessly, quickly and painlessly as I did here. I finally ended up in a room and was able to get in contact with my brother, Mark. Dr. Alex, my surgeon spoke with him on the phone and then forwarded copies of my x-rays and MRI to him to be looked at by a Dr. in the states. Surgery was scheduled for the next day. I had a T12 compression fracture and a broken tailbone. The T12 would be fixed with screws at T11 and L1. I was in considerable pain and finally received an injection.
One of the first things I learned being admitted to the hospital here was you need to provide your own pajamas, pillow, and blanket. One of my friends took care of my linens and pajamas for me. Next thing I learned is that the hospital does not provide meals for patients, these too are provided by family, friends, or wei mei which translates to “beautiful takeout”, kind of like Uber Eats.
Finally, I got some relief from the pain. I didn’t have much of an appetite, but Peter brought me some noodles. I also was not allowed anything after midnight since surgery was scheduled the next day. I managed to get a decent night sleep before the early morning blood pressure and temperature wake up. Next, I was off for an EKG. The doctor felt there was a slight abnormality and sent me for an echocardiogram. Once he was satisfied that my heart was okay, they started preparing me for surgery. Peter, Kimi (my teaching assistant) and my friend Dee were all with me. Dee would call my brother, even though it was the middle of the night in the states, as soon as surgery started and again when it was over.
Soon I was being wheeled away, I snapped a picture of my friends wishing me well and then they took my phone to keep Mark updated. Next thing I knew I was in the OR. It all happened so fast the only thing that bothered me was I hadn’t spoken to my brother or sent him a text before they put me under. I knew my friends would be speaking to him, but I was a little upset I didn’t tell him I loved him. I knew he knew I did, but something tugged at my heart and that “what if” was in the back of my mind. I didn’t have much time to dwell on it because they were putting an IV in the back of my hand and I was about to breathe that stuff that would help knock me out. Again, the IV insertion was a piece of cake. They definitely know how to insert needles at this hospital. I looked around at the team I was about to put my trust in and saw Dr. Alex. He asked if I had any questions and was I ready. I gave him the thumbs up and he gave them back. The next thing I remember was waking up and being asked to identify the people around me.
I spent 3 days in ICU. Lucky for me, my student Lucy’s mom was the head doctor in ICU. Lucy’s mom, Sonya, speaks good English as she has also spent time training in the USA. She even spent several months at the Cleveland Clinic. The first 24 hours in ICU was pretty much a blur. I do know I was well cared for. Someone even came in and brushed my teeth for me. Once in a regular room, I insisted I could brush my own teeth.
My IV was easily moved hand to hand several times as they didn’t like the way it looked. I had several visitors, and someone always provided me with food. Although, all I really wanted to do was sleep. After 3 days, I was moved to a regular hospital room.
Once I was in a regular room, I quickly realized that nurses do exactly that, they nurse. They are there for your medical care/needs. Everything else is taken care of by family and friends. Even medication is your responsibility. The nurse would bring my meds morning and evening and tell me to take them 30 minutes after eating.
Peter found a caregiver for me. He also wanted someone to spend the night, but I refused. I did need a little privacy/my time. She came and spent approximately 10 hours per day with me in my room. Slight overkill in my opinion but, that’s just the way it is in a Chinese hospital. She even tried to hold my kindle for me while I read. I know she meant well and was “doing her job”, but some things I had to back her off. Peter brought me my Vietnamese phin, coffee, condensed milk, and my mug. Every morning when she arrived she would make me a cup of coffee. She helped me when I needed the bedpan. She helped bath me and wash my hair. She made sure I had meals, although I often ordered from wei mei. I had no dietary restrictions except Dr. Alex suggested I eat a lot of fruit. You know, get those bowels moving. I received daily acupuncture. Acupuncture treatment was on my abdomen and accompanied with electric stimulation and heat lamp. This was also to help keep the bowels in working order. There was also twice daily leg treatment to prevent blood clots. Unlike American hospitals, the Chinese don’t believe in getting you up and walking immediately. They feel bed rest is necessary and best. So, I spent 2 weeks in bed and at most having my bed raised to about a 45-degree angle for “sitting”.
I was the only patient in my room, except every now and again an outpatient was put in the other bed to receive an IV. They would be there for a couple of hours and then leave.
The second day I was in the room, someone came in and made a mold of my body, front, and back. About a week later a lovely blue ninja turtle suit arrived. I say ninja turtle because the back brace I would be sent home in looked like a turtle shell. Solid front and back pieces that adjusted with Velcro straps. Chinese women don’t have much in the way of breasts, so when I put the brace on the first time I had to laugh at the cutouts made for my boobs.
For 2 weeks my routine was pretty much the same every day. Wake up for temperature (thermometer in the armpit) and BP, doctors’ rounds, check my wound, dressing change, coffee, acupuncture, leg treatment, lunch, rest (nothing happens between 12 and 2:00 in China), leg treatment, read, watch movies, dinner and in the evening have visitors and more reading and movies. I usually called for the nurse around 11pm for a final bedpan, lower my bed and lights out. I had no bed controls or light switch at my bed, so someone had to come to take care of that. That was my life in Dong’e People’s Hospital.
One surprise, near the end of my hospital stay, I asked Alex if I could have a glass of wine at night. He said, “sure, 1 small glass”. My friends brought me a bottle of wine and I enjoyed a glass in the evening at the hospital.
Before I was released, I had another MRI and X-Rays. My caregiver gathered all my belongings. I had acquired quite a few. I had about 6 or 7 boxes of milk and yogurt. I was told this is a typical “gift” brought to you in the hospital. I also had bananas, dragon fruit, a watermelon, and a bag of apples. I was instructed to get dressed and a nurse came and helped me into my ninja turtle suit. Still sitting on the edge of my bed, Dr. Alex came in. He asked me how I felt. I still haven’t stood or walked at this point. I slowly stood and told him I felt a little light headed. He told me that was normal and to try to take a few steps. I asked if it was ok if I walked to the bathroom and used a “real toilet” for the first time in 2 weeks. That was my first experience up and walking. I came back into my room and sat on the bed. He gave me my release instructions and said I was free to go. Mostly, I was told no bending, twisting or lifting and if up for longer than 15 or 20 minutes to wear the back brace and to continue to get plenty of rest. I was also given exercises to do while in bed. I said okay, and we said our goodbyes until I would go back for a check up in about 1 month.
Unlike in America, there is no wheelchair ride to a waiting vehicle. My first big walk was out of the hospital and to the parking lot. That walk seemed like a marathon, but I did it. Its now been 6 weeks since my accident and I have no complaints about my treatment or recovery. It is truly a different experience than I would have expected in the states. I learned what to expect in a Chinese hospital. I can I happily say, “I Survived a Chinese Hospital”.