Thursday, January 17, 2008

Three days, Three unbelievable trips.

One benefit of being a teacher is the wicked awesome vacation time. One benefit of having extended vacation time overseas is the possibility of visiting a seemingly endless number of cultural sites. Our seven-week vacation started last Saturday, so we hit off our first weekend with three days, three trips… all to the hospital... which in China is always a cultural experience.

Last week, Ellie and Erik unfortunately picked up a nasty cough. To make a long and pitiful story short, the sickness escalated enough that we found ourselves battling the crowds in the sometimes absurd Chinese health care system (in the middle of flu season) three days in a row this week. Our first visit was to the specialized Tianjin Children’s Hospital.

To make a long story long:

Trip #1 Saturday, January 12, 1:30pm

Our friends Chris and Emily Hardy accompanied us to assure professional treatment and quality communication between us and the hospital workers (she's a nurse and he speaks Chinese). Upon arrival, our first glimpse Rocked us like a Hurricane . In the words of Tiffany, “this was the first time I truly felt like we are in a third world country.” And we've seen squatters, so that is saying a lot. I guess the twist to what we've seen in Uganda and Cambodia is that in China, multiply the number of human bodies to be found anywhere by around 50,000. As we maneuvered through the labyrinth of sick, sad looking children lining the narrow ER halls, some of whom were already hooked up to ivs, we buried our kids’ faces in our clothes to shield them from the palpable diseases swimming in the stuffy, humid air around us.

When we made it to the Outpatient Department, Chris left us in attempts to fanangle through the unmercifully complicated procedures found in many instiutions here. If you like riddles or tricky mind games (compounded with communication problems), you’d like China because these procedures are full of steps and processes that nobody ever explains until you have to back-track, even when you ask. They only give you the next “clue,” maybe because that’s all they know, too! For example, there are a lot of long lines to wait in, only to realize that you need to stand in a couple other lines before meeting the requirements of the current line (it seems that the foreigners are the only ones who mind, though- maybe we have the problem).

Adding to the shabby facilities, sick children strewn about, and multiple kids peeing on the waiting room floor (common practice here for children- no diapers, no kiddy potties, though they do have amazing tailors who design pants with a long vertical cut up the backside to prevent soiling pants when a baby or toddler does have to squat), there were more than 100 patients ahead of Ellie and Erik on the list. In our 15 minute wait, only 2 kids were admitted. In our frustration, as well as Tiffany's paranoia that we were all going to pick up ebola from breathing that air, we walked to McDonalds, always one of the cleanest public facilities to be found in the city. While salivating over our juicy Double Cheeseburgers, we decided it wasn’t imminent to see a doctor that very moment. We cut our losses from the $2.50 doctor’s charge and went home.

Trip #2 Sunday, January 13, 9:00pm

We had planned a Monday trip to a highly regarded, "western-standard" hospital in Beijing, but were then convinced that it was probably a little unnecessary, considering the exorbitant charges, which included a deposit of almost $3,000 before being admitted to a room--yikes! After a priesthood blessing with our home teacher and with help from the Hardys and Barbara Tam, our branch mother, we tried our luck at the same Tianjin Children’s Hospital the next evening. This time, the hospital was nearly empty and from the first check-in to exiting the building, only about 20 minutes had elapsed! The nurse assured us that Erik didn't have anything serious (colds here commonly turn into RSV and pneumonia, though, so we're glad we checked!), but did prescribe some nasty Chinese herbs for the kids to drink that they despise with a fury. They do seem to work quite well, though.

Trip #3 Monday, January 14, 6:30pm

We didn't even take Ellie to the hospital on Sunday since Erik's condition seemed more severe, but late in the night, Ellie woke up vomiting, a bug she likely contracted during the Trip #1 viral-gauntlet stage. She was on the road to dehydration (she couldn’t even keep an electrolyte solution down--the Chinese equivalent of Gatorade is translated into the name "Pocari Sweat"--mmmmmm), so we hooked up with my friend Lilin at the Number One Central Hospital, and he stayed late after his shift to help us. He was highly indispensable by getting us right in past the confusing Chinese hospital administrative processes and by translating (although we did have three other translators on hand--the Hardys once again, and our friends Amy and David who gave us a ride). After a traumatizing blood test, Ellie got pumped with glucose water through an iv (which unfortunately didn't have the plastic tubing over the needle that American ivs do, so every time she moved, the needle would poke through her vein and the iv would back up with blood. Chris and Emily were champs in keeping her hand and arm perfectly still, despite a couple tantrums) and cried herself to sleep. We passed the hours until she peed (which was the signal that she was hydrated enough to go home) discussing all aspects of chickens. Thank goodness we'd brought a "safety bowl," since she through up her few sips of Pocari Sweat on the taxi ride home, but all in all, all was well again.

"Doctor made all better." Note: despite Ellie's claim, the doctor does not hit people. He helps people.


The Next Day: Tuesday, January 15

Ellie woke up feeling perky again with no more stomachache! In the evening, though, Erik manifested that he picked up Ellie’s bug by throwing up seven times in two hours. Once he had it all out, though, he was back to his cheerful self.

The Following Day Wednesday, January 16

Erik woke up late in the morning with some lingering symptoms, but as usual, he was full of smiles. I, on the other hand, had now picked up the bug, too (and was not full of smiles), and spent a miserable day doing nothing. The kids both had a couple relapses, but the worst was over. All I have to say is that Tiffany's immune system rules! We were blessed in so many ways this past weekend. We were so grateful that I was out of school to help and that we have such fabulous friends to support us in times of need.

This was not the ideal first week of winter vacation that we had planned (seeing the sights of Harbin, Dalian, and Tanggu), but hey! we still have six weeks left, and at least we got some quality family time in!