I apologize if this is too much information
In my four years in China I have had three experiences where I thought either my friends or myself were near death.
The first instance came about a month after I arrived in rural China. Not surprisingly I was struck with terrible food poisoning, which I tried to ignore. After running to the bathroom every fifteen minutes for 2 hours, I was still trying to claim that I was just fine. I knew that in rural China the last place I wanted to be was their filthy health clinic.
Before arriving in Longzhou I had met a grad student in Beijing who had informed me of an experience he had in rural Yunnan province. The nurses at the hospital had tried to re-use a needle, and warned that using a new one would be too expensive (he wisely spent the extra $.80).
It was roughly 3 seconds after my bright red bowel movement that I decided it was time to go to the emergency room. While I am not a doctor, I was certain that this was a sign of my impending death. I called my co-teacher (a Chinese colleague assigned to make sure the foreign teacher doesn’t die or do something stupid), she called the foreign affairs office and the other foreign teacher whose American girlfriend happened to be in town. So at 11:30 at night, the 5 of us piled into two motorcycle taxis and raced to the nearby hospital. The few minute ride was spent praying not only to survive whatever was destroying my intestines, but the medical treatment as well.
The examination room was small and dark. The doctor sat in the corner on a small wooden stool, puffing away on his cigarette as he motioned for me to sit down. He asked only a few simple questions about my illness, which I answered with the help of my co-teacher since he did not speak Mandarin, which I hoped was a sign of his age and not of his education.
We took the scribbled prescription to the pharmacy, or more accurately my co-teacher did this while I hobbled behind her. She came back with a needle still in its packaging and small glass vial of something. We all then returned to the examination room as I prepared for one of the more embarrassing moments of my life. It seemed every staff member of the hospital had gathered to witness the rare event of seeing a foreigner receive a shot in his rear end.
Just as the doctor had finished removing the needle from its package, the nurse from the pharmacy came running into the room (literally) and shouted, “Wait!” She snatched the vial from the old man’s hand and dashed back down the hall. I looked at the other Americans for some kind of sign that this wasn’t a big deal, but it was like staring into a mirror; they looked as terrified as I’m sure I did.
The nurse returned a few minutes later triumphantly. She had suddenly panicked over whether or not she had given me the correct medication. I was a bit relieved when my co-teacher said that it had in fact been right all along, and that there was really no need to worry.
As I lowered my pants (along with my sense of dignity) the crowd of doctors pushed forward to get a better view. Fortunately it blocked the sight of my friends, but left me fairly exposed to the crowd that I was certain had gathered outside of the window.
By the time I returned to campus I urgently needed the bathroom again. Since I was still new at the school I asked the other foreign teacher if there were any sit toilets on the ground floor, there weren’t. It was a struggle to drag myself back up the 8 flights of stairs that separated me from the sit toilet in my apartment.
Luckily that was my final bout for the day, and after drinking a few gallons of fluids and avoiding street foods for a week I made a full recovery from the brink of death.
Tomorrow I’ll be posting short versions of the two other nearly life ending episodes, along with tips for surviving Chinese hospitals.