I am not one for drama, but let me tell you of the day I almost died. I am lactose intolerant. This means I cannot eat chocolate, drink mild, eat cheese or icecream, without suffering. Usually, this means gas. Maybe some pain in my gut. How do I survive? By eating a little bit of the things I like per day. That means one dairy product and not much of it. So, a few days ago I made myself my muesli breakfast, and added some yogurt to it, and since it is Chinese New Year, all week long, I could only go to the nearby McDonald’s to get some food. I ate two double cheeseburgers, but if that is real cheese inside then I’m an Olympic athlete. Anyway, I also later had an omelette with cheese in it and treated myself to a chocolate bar, but still being hungry, I passed a new Italian styled restaurant. Nanjing is full of pizza places, and I know of one run by a real Italian. Anyway, one yummy pizza later I went to bed, slept, woke and went for a jog. It was forty minutes of morning awesomeness. Few people on the track and the city being generally still and quiet now made the run almost idyllic. A shower later and there I am sitting down and resting while watching a show when I discover what it feels like for a horse to kick you in the gut. It is the only logical explanation for my body jerked into a ball.
What follows is two hours of my body trying to cleanse itself, my feelings and emotions be damned. The pain didn’t go away and I could feel my body fighting it even as my mind tried to work a way around my situation. Suddenly I felt relief, my mind relaxed and I knew that I had expelled whatever my body had been fighting over night. Great, now to just relax and spend part of the day recovering. Only, I couldn’t keep my water down. Whenever I drank I would cramp up and the get everything out my system. My arms and legs were shaking. Yes, it is chilly in Nanjing, but this was a shake I’d felt before. I was dehydrated and knew it and couldn’t keep water down to get over this. Panicking a bit I contacted my friend Linda. I had to go back to the bathroom and passed the mirror. My face had turned from a light brown to sick yellow, my eyes had purple bags hanging from them, matching my lips. I looked like a dead man. I looked like my dad on his hospital bed when I saw him last. And then the panic kicked in. I waited, shaking.
Well Mo, why didn’t you just call an ambulance? Because I couldn’t explain what was going on in Chinese and because of one key factor. I didn’t have enough money in my wallet. Money? Pay by card or call your insurance, duh! Yes, dammit! But to get to those steps you need to speak to someone who is patient and will care enough to help, and Chinese hospitals haven’t discovered those words yet.
Linda comes in and kicks into action. I find my shoes and she makes sure I have everything I need. Done, and then we are off at a wobbly gait, body resting in her arms while the other half of me tries to get one foot in front of the other. Out on the streets we try to get a taxi. It is Chinese New Year, so no one works, no one really goes out as they are all at home, resting and eating. Think bears in winter with chopsticks.
Linda runs into a small convenience store to buy water. I crunch down into a ball, keeping all my parts together. Some random American dude tells Linda I need an injection. This isn’t time for chatting, but I’m not able to say that. We hobble for a bit until two other random dudes walk near to us. One of them is pushing his bike. Linda says something to him and he looks at me and says “uh…”, Linda speaks some more and then comes up to me with his bike.
“Get on the back, but sit to one side”
I do so, mumble a thank you in Chinese. My tones are flat. Do you know that guy? His mom, is my mom’s friend and I told him where to go pick it up. Wow. Maybe there really is some benevolent being looking down on me. Then I remember it created pizza, chocolate and ice-cream and punishes me when I eat them.
An interesting bike ride later, my eyes focused on the roads beneath me, we arrive at the hospital. And then the games begin. First, you go to reception and tell them what is wrong. You either pay something straight away or get send to some room? Where? Usually, a name will be mumbled or a wrist might get flicked and a finger just might point you in a general direction. And that is when you ask again! So, you turn and look at the corridors and open doors with people sitting outside of them. I leave the hunting to Linda who makes a stool (the one with legs) appear and I sit and wait next to a doctor who has a messy line of people waiting to see him. He doesn’t look at me and asks Linda what is wrong with me. He doesn’t really look at her either. He sends us back to the reception hall. Linda makes me sick and passes my a bin while I get sick. The nurses line the walls and look. Tell him to do this and that, they tell Linda, before going back to their fun. I feel like I’m back in Manchester’s A&E watching two receptionists talk about baby photos in the middle of the night while I think about how much pain I am in. Back to the present: I focus on my pain.
Linda pays for a few things, runs around and tells me I don’t have a fever. In fact, the only person who bothered to check up anything properly the whole time was Linda herself. If I had come in by myself I would have died in a puddle of sorrowful puke. She takes me a room full of blue, leather arm chairs. You don’t get injections in China, you get a drip, full of meds and you sit and wait. I sat, shaking, my body wrecked by the lack of fluids. I look around nervously, my heart rate is jumping and I tell Linda they have to come quick. My head is pounding and I’m dizzy. Phantom aches whip my arms and legs. A cool, sharp needle pokes into a vein. I am so relieved, still gasping for air. I lurch in my seat as I feel a freshness tingle my arm and eventually clear part of my brain. My stomach does the roller coaster drop. Linda tells me to sleep, and that she has to go. I tell her not to worry. Everything will be fine. She goes and I rest on my head on my arm and blink into and out of sleep. An hour of my life is gone, and I feel good. No more pain, no more dizziness. No strength either, but I love the state I am in. So much better than the morning.
I spend five hours sitting and sleeping in a chair, and the time spend was amazing. I just sat and did…nothing. I don’t even understand how time could move so fast. I had a bottle of water with me. I took small sips, not trusting my stomach. I have a bag of yellow fluid with me. What my stomach produced when I didn’t give it anything more to punish me with.
I walked home by myself. Enjoying the fresh air. Taking each step very slowly.
I spend that night in bed, resting, exposed to the explosive New Year’s celebrations outside. I waited two years for this and pick this day to get violently sick. Just my luck. I smile, and sleep.