Saturday, September 17, 2011

Coming Home: Going Medical, 8000 Miles Away


I got hit by a highly unexpected double health whammy in Shenzhen.

Firstly, I developed some sort of nasty respiratory infection, which was accelerated by the pollution and humidity. By the time of my birthday, I was pretty much violently coughing 24/7; a puff of my emergency inhaler would improve the situation for about two hours – half of the time it’s supposed to work.

Secondly, I got bit by a bug. Not a normal skeeter. Probably some sort of spider. Anyway, it went from a big bump above my ankle to causing swelling pretty much from my heel and ankle to my calf on my left leg, with accompanying problems and a fever.

I took time off work on Wednesday to go to a doctor in Hong Kong. Unlike other large cities in China, medical care in Shenzhen is not really very strong in quality. Foreigners are expressly asked to, if possible, cross over into Hong Kong to see practitioners there; those with single-entry visas usually go to Guangzhou. My employer, actually, urges any non-Mainland employee to seek medical attention in Hong Kong if possible.

I was prescribed medicines for what I had.

Then my condition worsened a lot Wednesday night. I called my parents in the States and talked to a friend as well. And then they asked me to come home.

And I decided to follow their advice.

I was irrationally nervous. I felt like I was bailing out. That I couldn’t survive being in Mainland. That I was being a wuss.

And then I realized. I’m feeling like shit. I can barely talk while I’m in Shenzhen. My leg is swollen. I have a new school year coming up, and I need to be recovered and rested for that. My mother is 8,000 miles away, worried to death; my friends are extremely concerned. My dad is a nervous wreck. My boss has already told me to lessen my work hours. I wasn’t going to be doing much in the last week.

It takes more bravery to make the right decision for oneself than it does to be stubborn. So I courageously returned my dad’s call.

“Dad, I’m going to listen to you. I’m coming back.”

I decided to go back to New York rather than Chicago. I would spend a week with my family recuperating, and see the doctor and get some good sleep.  In a way, since the trip psychologically started for me in Chicago, New York will probably be in my mind an extension of the trip.

I made arrangements. I changed my flight from the flight to Chicago next week to one to New York, via Vancouver, the next day. The airline was really great about everything; I didn’t have to pay through the nose. I started packing up my things. I bought a lot of stuff in China. Some of it my friend offered to ship back to me in the States, which was really nice of him. (A few presents, including Hannah Cook’s, will be delayed).
I went to talk to my boss and colleagues. They understood and gave me hugs, and helped me move out of the dorm. Then I crossed over to Hong Kong. I shed a tear as I left Shenzhen. It gave me a lot of amazing experiences and memories.

I went to the doctor, which ended up being a two-hour long experience. The doctor said that flying was not the best idea, but that with certain measures I’d be OK. Because of my leg’s condition, there was a small chance of thrombosis developing – in layman’s terms, a clot. I’d have to wear special socks on the flight. I also received a shot of antibiotics to last me through the flight, and surgical masks if I coughed a lot, so that other people wouldn’t get sick.

And then I flew home. The flight was not too bad; it was not that full and I slept a lot. I was a bit uncomfortable, since under the compression socks my leg was swelling. The plane had some good movies.

There was one little incident, though.

In Vancouver, we had to go into a transit lounge while the plane was refueled and recrewed. I was talking a bit with another traveller, who made a disguised dig about me being weak and uncultured for not being able to stay in China for that long (how juvenile!). I responded clearly:

“I made the right decision in that I needed to come back to be ready for my long-term commitments and to recover properly. I had an awesome time, and I now have an accumulated 15 weeks living experience [3.5 Beijing, 5.5 Shanghai, 6 Shenzhen] in China over the past four and a half years, as well as proficiency in Mandarin enough to be able to translate the Peking University code of conduct with the aid of a dictionary. I can live in China fine, but sometimes, I need to go home.”

And then I realized: dang, I’ve come far.
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I’m with my family now. I went to the doctor and had my medicines all changed. My leg is feeling better on the new medicine, and my cough has improved with the better air quality here. My mother has been a great help. I slept for most of the afternoon and early evening – here come some weird, jetlagged hours.

I had an awesome time in Asia, and I don’t feel bad about how things have ended. I’m going to write a long reflective post soon, and there are also two more posts I had in the making. Lots of jetlagged writing coming up!

Thank you all so much for your love and support. I am so grateful to have you guys as my friends. Rock on, y’all.

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