Again, apologies for not blogging regularly . . .
A few days ago Julianne and I were on our way home from picking up groceries at a department store called “Metro.” It’s similar to COSTCO and carries a lot of foreign foods and other things that we can’t get at the other department stores in Changsha.
While getting into a taxi to head home Julianne’s foot slipped on the floor mat and went flying at high speed under the driver’s seat to collide with something metal and unrelenting–she let out a cry and immediately began sobbing. Needless to say I was freaked out and tried to calm her down thinking that she just pinched her foot or toe or something minor . . .
It was NOT a minor injury.
PROVISO: If you are at all squeamish you should probably stop reading now.
Since it was impossible for either of us to see her foot, and in particular her big toe, because of the bags piled on our laps Julianne said she’d just wait the 3 minute drive till we got home to look at the injury closer. She told me she thought her big toe nail had been bent back, but she couldn’t tell how bad her injury was at the time.
Outside the taxi we looked down at her big toe to see a huge white crease running diagonally down her toe nail. The toe was already swollen to twice its original size, and blood was oozing out the running edge of the nail. We couldn’t tell if whatever had done a Godzilla on her toe had pierced the flesh underneath or if it had ‘just’ done a number on the nail . . .
Julianne hobbled up the four flights of stairs (no elevator in our apartment building, sigh) and after I got her sitting down I grabbed a lamp and we gave it a closer inspection. Julianne had been saying she would just clean it up in our apartment and let it heal itself without a trip to the hospital, but after each of us took a closer look at it, and I pointed out we had no clue what had stuck her or how severely, we decided it was “first trip to a hospital in China time.”
I picked up my cell phone and called our university liaison. I explained that we needed help to get Julianne to the hospital, and help translating with a doctor. Her reply was, “I have to go to a meeting.”
Now this probably where my blood pressure rose severely, and I began chanting to myself “don’t start yelling, don’t start yelling, be nice, be nice, be polite, be polite” . . .
I tried explaining what had happened, and that the injury was such that it shouldn’t wait several hours until it was convenient for her schedule . . . and got the “I have a meeting in an hour” reply again.
Alright, when my lover is in agony, needs medical care, and might have an injury with infection setting in in a place out of sight . . . well, that’s where my cross-cultural diplomacy goes out the f’ng window.
I reply, “Okay. I’ll call ‘high ranking person X’ and ask him to help us.”
Suddenly everything is copacetic (don’t get to use that word every day) and Miss I-have-a-meeting transforms into Miss I’ll-be-there-in-two-minutes. I hang up after telling her to let me know when she’s arrived with someone to drive us to the hospital.
One minute later, I’m not exaggerating, I get a call saying they’re waiting for us outside the apartment compound. Julianne hobbles down the four flights of stairs, and out of the compound to the car. It’s then I find out we’re going to the campus military hospital. It never occurred to me to be alarmed because in my mind I was doing the newbie-in-a-foreign-culture-thing and I assumed a military hospital would be similar to ones in Canada . . . yeah.
We drive about 250 meters to the clinic (hospital implies a large building in my mind, and this was not a large building). Arriving at the driveway we have to circle around a portion of concrete that is falling to bits and cannot support the car’s weight . . . this should have been my first warning of what was to come.
Walking inside there are no lights, and no people. My heart sinks and it’s then that I realize how all pervasive siesta time is in Changsha. From lunch time till about 3pm everyone is napping or taking a rest from work–and this includes doctors and nurses.
Our liaison walks around knocking on doors and calling out for someone . . . and after a minute or two a doctor comes out of a room dressed in a collared shirt and cotton pants with bare feet in sandles . . . nice. He pulls on his white doctor’s coat (good thing, cause later on I would have been asking if he actually had a medical liscence based on how often I had to ask for him to do certain things) and we get Julianne into an ‘examination room’ . . .
Inside the room the doctor pulls out a package of q-tips and asks Julianne to sit down on a bed. I look at him and wonder when he’s going to wash his hands . . . but after searching the room for a sink and soap the one I see in the corner makes me cringe like it’s crawling with vipers–it was filthy, and the bar of soap looked like a biohazard.
I wait one more minute, and then ask him if he’s going to put gloves on. I think he understood some English because that’s when he reaches into a cupboard and pulls out a package of gloves. By this point a nurse has arrived, and the room is getting crowded. The doctor, nurse, liaison, and Julianne and I . . .
This is when Julianne and I begin asking questions.
1. What does he want to do?
2. Does he want to cut off the toe nail?
3. How will he do that?
4. Will he use sterile instruments?
The first three questions get translated and answered pretty easily. The doctor wants to cut off the nail to see if there are any open wounds or punctures underneath it.
But ‘sterile’ was a word our liaison didn’t know and we had to try and explain it . . . and even after I tried several different ways of explaining and defining the term she didn’t have that glint of “I get it” in her eye. Julianne and I give up temporarily and gesture for the doctor to get on with it. Both of us watching like hawks to see what he will do, and where the instruments will come from.
The nurse reaches into a steel and glass cabinet that looks circa 1920’s and pulls out a stainless steel tray with a lid. Inside it are surgical scissors and other tools . . . all of which are HUGE in dimensions. I’m sure my eyes must have bugged out as much as Julianne’s were at that point because the doctor picks up scissors that looked like the kind you’d use to open up someone’s chest–not delicately cut off pieces of toe nail!
Julianne then asks “Do you not have anything SMALLER?” He says no, and crouches down to take a look at her toe . . . it’s at this point that I begin asking a question that I repeat several times, “Do you not have a lamp to help you see the wound clearly? To help you see what you’re doing better?”
No. Apparently this is a piece of medical equipment that wasn’t needed because the dim light of the fluorescents mixed with some sunlight was thought to be more than sufficient.
Getting back to the imminent horror of watching Julianne begin yelling, moaning, crying and shrieking in pain (NOT a good day for someone you love!) I watched as the doctor stood back up and said something to the nurse who then pulled a needle out of somewhere–Julianne and I were on INSTANT-WHAT-IS-IN-THAT-ALERT . . .
The best translation we were able to get was ‘something to numb’ Julianne’s toe . . . and at first I thought he was going to start jabbing it into her toe all around the injury area and I took a deep breath to begin helping Julianne cope with the pain that would flood her brain . . . but instead he flushed out the wound with what must have been a topical anaesthetic . . .
The sensation and pressure of the fluid was enough to have Julianne convulsing, and I don’t use that word lightly. This might be a good point in the story to explain that Julianne has freakishly sensitive feet, and in particular her toes are nerve centers of the finest and most extreme sensitivity . . .but the worst was still to come.
After numbing the area, which really didn’t seem to do much of anything but cause pain and tears, the doctor then began cutting off the damaged part of the nail. This actually went off pretty well considering the Rambo-Scissors he was using, and we could then kind of see the wound in the dim light of the room.
It was at this point that the nurse walks over holding a little steel cup thingy full of liquid and makes as though she’s going to start pouring it over Julianne’s toe. She gets within 3 feet of us and our 3 foot proximity warning alerts go off and we stop her, and begin asking questions.
By this point our lovely translator is showing signs of annoyance at all our stoppages and questioning of the doctor, but we don’t care. The best answer we can manage to get is that it’s ‘water’ of some kind meant to clean the wound. We ask if it’s sterile or if it’s come out of a sink tap and don’t really get much of an answer. Julianne and I sigh, and say get on with it.
The pouring of the mystery liquid over the wound sends electric shocks of pain through Julianne and she begins crying and sobbing. I hold her and do my best to comfort her, all the while thinking back to my own memories of what having your big toenail torn off feels like cause it’d happened to me when I was six years old.
After that, the doctor takes some cotton swabs and I pause him, tell Julianne to take a deep breath, and I give a 3-count . . . and then the worst pain of the cleaning began.
It was at this point that our translator’s nervous and uncomfortable smile disappeared. Up till then she’d had that smile that I knew all too well from my time in Korea that seems to be a common cultural thing in Asia (but I don’t know that for sure, so take that with a grain of salt).
I hold Julianne’s shaking, trembling, convulsing body as she cries and toughs it out while the doctor is swabbing and dabbing at the wound. After what felt like 10 minutes but in reality must have been 20 or 30 seconds I stop him to give Julianne a brief break to calm her breathing down, and recover a little.
Then he gives it a second go . . . and my heart breaks again as I watch Julianne writhe in pain.
I stop him again, and then ask for what was probably the tenth time if someone could not find a lamp so we could examine the wound for dirt and other debris and make sure nothing is stuck under the remainder of her nail–no joy.
It’s at this point that he stands up and says something which I take to mean he’s done. I squat down and scrutinize the wound, and I see two dark blotches, one small, and one a bit bigger, and I tell our translator to say that the wound is not done being cleaned. The doctor disagrees, and says that he doesn’t want to cause Julianne anymore pain.
Julianne and I both vehemently tell the doctor that it’s better to clean the wound than to leave some crap in it that will later cause an infection, and create an even worse firestorm of pain for Julianne’s toe and foot.
He relents, and gives Julianne’s toe one more bout of cleaning . . . and then it’s over . . . at least that part anyways.
Everyone relocates to an adjoining room with a table and chairs while I hold Julianne who is still sobbing, and try to help her collect herself enough to finish whatever paperwork and additional meds she might need to get.
We walk into the other room and there are two Chinese men in there. I ask our translator who they are, and she says they’re waiting for the doctor. I ask why they can’t wait out in the hall, and she says it’s “Chinese culture.” I look at her and say that when it comes to most things I’ll try and follow Chinese culture, but when it comes to medical treatment for most things I’ll follow the western cultural rules. She doesn’t respond, and I decide to let it go.
The doctor then begins writing out prescriptions, and Julianne and I begin asking another series of questions. Our translator doesn’t know words like “antibiotics” so we ask the doctor to look up the names in English or even latin (Julianne’s mom was a nurse and she knows a butt-load of medical terms and medicine info). We find out what they want to give Julianne, and then learn they want to ‘test her.’
We ask what they want to test her for, and they tell us it’s a test for the tetanus shot they want to give her. We shrug, and try to explain that Julianne had just had a tetanus shot before we left Korea but the doctor says he still wants to give her the shot. Fine.
It’s at this point we’re told that they can’t do it till 4pm, and it’s only 2:15pm (apparently siesta time thoughts were a bigger priority) . . . our translator tells us that we’re going to have to wait two hours until we can get the test and shot. Thinking ahead to after we’re done in the clinic, I ask her how we’re going to get Julianne back the 250 meters to the apartment and she looks at me and without blinking says we can walk.
She says, “I don’t know. Walk? I have to go to a meeting at 3pm.” My blood pressure began to rise again . . .
I look at her, and I’m pretty sure my eyes must have been glowing red, and I say, “You want Julianne to walk 250 meters on her injured FOOT?!” “Is there no one who can drive her back? What about getting a taxi?” I really was doing my best to try and find solutions to the problems being thrown at us.
I think she saw the ridiculousness of her suggestion, and possibly the flames shooting out of the corners of my eyes, and suddenly it’s possible for her and the driver to help Julianne get back to the apartment.
After sorting out the prescriptions we’re still told we have to get the meds, do the test, and then wait for two hours . . . Julianne and I are escorted a couple doors down to a waiting room. We walk in and thirty seconds later walk back out into the hallway. The room smelled of urine, vomit, sweat, and other sickness odors . . .
Out in the hallways I find Julianne a seat and wander down after our translator to where she’s knocking on the windows of the pharmacy which has no lights on–it’s siesta time, remember?
She fills the prescriptions, and then hands me a small glass ampoule (the kind you see in old war movies that you have to cut off the top before putting the needle in). I feel that it’s cold, and it dawns on me that if this medicine, I think it was the tetanus shot, needed to be refrigerated that by the time two hours had passed in the 40-degree heat and humidity it’d likely be luke warm if not hotter . . . I ask my translator to ask the doctor about that, and she does it (though by this point she’s got the ‘why-can’t-you-stop-asking-questions-face going big time).
While waiting to find out what the doctor thinks I notice a cat lying on its side 10 feet or so from the pharmacy. It looked so still that I wondered if it was dead. I walk over, and as I get a bit closer I notice it has sores on its stomach, and its fur is filthy . . . I shudder, and walk away.
The doctor agrees with what I pointed out (gee, thanks doc, maybe you can think of these things before the foreign guy with no doctor training has to point them out), and it’s at this point that Julianne and I ask why we just can’t do the test, and then if she doesn’t have an allergic reaction, give her the shot and we can go home. The doctor says he just wanted to give Julianne more recovery time (and I’m sure he wanted his own siesta time too, lol) . . . we tell him to not worry about that.
Julianne is asked to go into a room with the nurse to do the test for any possible allergic reaction to the tetanus shot. We watch the nurse take the small glass ampoule and cut off the top with a cool looking coin thing. She then proceeds to mix two liquids into the needle–QUESTION TIME, lol, sigh.
We ask what she’s mixing, and again our translator can’t come up with a clear and specific answer. Julianne and I give what is becoming the standard default position of the hosptial visit–okay, fine, get on with it.
The nurse takes Julianne’s arm and does a prick test where she injects a small bubble of another mystery liquid, and then we’re told that Julianne needs to wait for fifteen minutes. That’s it. No warnings to watch for whatever possible side-effects might happen. Just sit there and be good little passive creatures and wait and see what happens.
We ask what the side-effects might be, and get a non-answer . . . by this point we just want to get the hell out of there, so we give up and begin to wait.
After about 10 minutes Julianne tells me she’s suddenly feeling extremely nauseous, and is likely going to throw up. I yell out into the hallway where our translator is sitting (because the nurse had disappeared) to get Julianne a bucket or something to be sick in.
The nurse reappears after our translator calls out for her, and looks around with wide confused eyes–as if she’s never been asked to get a bucket for a patient to be sick . . . seriously???
I turn back into the room to help Julianne, and I say “Just get sick on the floor. Don’t worry about it.” It’s at that point that the nurse hands me a plastic waste basket and without thinking I hand it to Julianne. A second later it registers in my brain that the NURSE had handed me a plastic bucket with a dirty plastic bag half filled with garbage, and buzzing with flies, to give to Julianne to use–oh, and did I mention the NAUSEATING ODOR permeating out of it?
I snap. I throw the basket out into the hallway, and say “Can someone get us something CLEAN to use?!!!”
The doctor makes an appearance, finally, and after hearing that Julianne’s heart rate is slow, and she feels extremely nauseous. He says that he wants to take Julianne’s blood pressure, and we all begin moving enmasse to another room (cause apparently there’s no blood pressure unit in the room Julianne’s in where they’re TESTING HER FOR AN ALLERGIC REACTION).
We walk into a patient room that has 3 beds. There’s a young woman lying on her side facing away from us, and the nurse gestures at Julianne to sit on one of the other beds.
The nurse then begins messing around with a contraption Julianne and I had never seen. A four foot tall gas tank (one that looked as though it was a helium tank) had tubes running out of it and into a small glass container that I could see a metal tube sitting in the center of it in the middle of water (or something else?) and there may have been a little ball inside the tube . . .
The nurse picks up a slender clear plastic tube with a peculiar looking suction-cup thing on the end and moves towards Julianne–and we both cross our arms in the international sign for stop-whatever-the-hell-it-is-you’re-doing, and ask our translator to explain HOW she’s going to take Julianne’s blood pressure with that THING!
It’s at that point our translator says, “She’s going to put that up your nose–”
Julianne and I stand up and simultaneously say,
“You wanna do WHAT with that?! Uh-UH! We’re outa here!”
And that’s the end of my story.
Julianne is okay, but the daily cleanings she has to do are extremely painful, and will likely remain so for at least another couple of weeks, if not more.
I hold her hand, and try to distract her with funny comments like, “Let’s have 10 babies.”
This usually gets a look of death and slight humor as she’s grimacing through more tears and pain from the bubbling hydrogen peroxide she just slathered onto the wound . . .
I guess the ‘moral’ of this story is this: do NOT go to any hospital other than one that has western medical standards, and that other expats in the area have recommended.
Julianne and I are going to check out “Global Doctor Changsha Clinic.” I’ll write a post about our visit there afterwards.
|Tel:||+ 86 731 523 0250
Hunan 2nd People’s Hospital