What I Learned From my Chinese Hospital Experience

May 27, 2016

So far I have been in a Chinese hospital for 27 days and counting. At times, it has been crazy. At other times it has been lonely or just plain stressful. I cannot deny that this insane experience has caused me reflect a lot on life...I mean, what else was I supposed to do seeing as how the first hospital I was at had no wifi and I had no books to read?!

What have I learned so far?

* I discovered how truly kind so many people in Xinjiang Province really are. Believe it or not, I made friends in the hospital I was staying at! A younger Uyghur doctor working there spoke English, so they sent him over to me to help translate. He came by several times a day to check on me. He told me I was his first and only foreign patient and that he was happy to have an opportunity to speak in English. We added each other on We Chat, and he told me that when I'm healed I have to come back to Xinjiang so that we can tour the area together. I also became friends with another woman there named Vicky. She was there to see her mom in the hospital, but when she would stop by to see her mom, she also would come and see me, even after I had to change rooms. One day, she couldn't see me, so she sent her husband in with lots of bananas for me.

On my first day at the hospital, I was all alone and had nothing to eat for breakfast because the hospital did not provide food. A woman saw that I didn't have anything and brought over part of her family's breakfast for me to have. I offered to pay her, but she told me not to be silly and that we were friends. Later on, I shared a room with a retired Chinese couple. They didn't even speak in English, but somehow we ended up having a conversation, and I found out that the man had the same exact back problem that I had! The couple was so sweet and they insisted on bringing me meals, even though at that point I could have had my friend in Urumqi ("C") bring me things to eat. I told them it really wasn't necessary, but they insisted. They ended up bringing me at least six home cooked meals and refused to accept any sort of payment. They just did it out of the goodness of their hearts, which meant a lot to me because I was seriously a total stranger to them.

Even my friend's friends really helped me out. Since I couldn't walk, I had to be carried over to have an MRI, and the staff at the hospital asked my friend if he could get some strong guys to lift me, so they came by to help me. My friends other friends bought me snacks, water, tissues, wipes, and other items I couldn't have done without. They helped translate my concerns to the doctors and just kept me company! I really am so grateful to them for giving up their time and spending it with me.

My friend C told me that one of his goals for the weekend was that he wanted to get me to like  Xinjiang so much that I would want to come back. It's funny because I had a terrible experience there because of my back, but despite all of that, I still left with a wonderful impression of Xinjiang. I would say that I have many reasons to return since I made some friends in the area, started to like the local culture and food, and of course, I never did get to go out and explore!

* I realized that anything can happen at any time. Of course, deep down, everyone knows this, but now I am much more aware of it. Also, I'm NEVER taking walking for granted again!

* When this all went down, I thought about how nice it would be if I had some Chinese friends to help me out. As sad as it is, I don't really have any Chinese friends in Shanghai with the exception of my co-teacher. I really want this to change!! C's Chinese friends were so awesome and nice, and I was thinking to myself that I was a little jealous and wanted some fabulous Chinese friends of my own. In past experiences living abroad, I was always able to make friends with the locals, but this year I have spent most of my time with the other foreign teachers. I do not want this to always be the case. Since I found out that I will be in Shanghai alone all summer, I'm hoping that I'll be able to somehow make at least one Chinese friend. I'll go to some sort of meet up if I have to, but I really do need to try harder. This situation was a wake up call for me in this area.

* I'm learning a lot more about the Chinese culture. Currently, I'm at a hospital in Shanghai and have to work daily with an ayi (caregiver) who doesn't know any English. I've even picked up a few more words and phrases in Chinese.

* I'm relieved that I was smart enough to make a savings account for an emergency because boy did I have one. When I can start earning money again, I'd like to double the amount in my savings account because this was a scary situation. I don't even want to think about what would have happened to me if I didn't have enough money to pay for this surgery.

* Even though I'm suffering a lot right now, in the grand scheme of things, I've been pretty lucky with my overall health. I will always have back problems, but at least I know I'll be able to recover from this. What about those who cannot? Or people with even more serious health problems? I give them mad props and would eventually like to do some volunteer work in this area.

* A tough situation like this has shown me who my friends really are. Yes, it's easy to be friends with someone when they are at their best and fun to be around, but unfortunately, life has those dark moments, too. During this time, I have been able to see who will truly be there for me. One of those people is Rachael. She was the one who signed for me when I had to have the surgery. Basically, she was in charge of consulting with my parents if something went wrong during the surgery. I really appreciate her doing that for me, especially since the person that should have done it for me didn't. For the most part, I realized that I have some damn good friends! Even people that I'm not close with have offered to come and visit or have sent me some get-well treats. There are two ratchet people that haven't even sent me one get well message, but you know what? I'm glad I know that's how they are and will steer clear of those two next year.

* I've come to see that the primary school I work for is pretty great, too. At a stressful moment in your life, the last thing you need is your employer giving you grief or trying to get you to find your own replacement. Thankfully, everything was taken care of for me and I've received nothing but support from the other first grade teachers, my principal, and my other co-workers.

* It could have been worse. Much, much worse. Like I said, I had C and his friends taking care of me in Xinjiang. Now that I'm back in Shanghai, my friends have been visiting me a lot here, and they bring me books, movies, food, and just spend time talking with me. Because of this hospital stay and surgery, I am not doing the best financially, but my dad lent me some money since the hospitals here don't take USD or my credit card from the States. The way my insurance works is that you have to pay everything up front, and then you can get reimbursed. Well, thank goodness my dad wired me $20,000 for this or I wouldn't have had enough in my savings to pay for everything. I was talking to some of the other teachers and they were saying that their parents didn't have that kind of money and would probably have to remortgage their house or take out loans. Also, the doctors here told me that this type of surgery is about $80,000 in the States. I'm not so sure about the exact cost, but I do know that it is cheaper here in China. I was also thinking about if this had happened over the summer because I was all set to travel in Morocco, Spain, and Iceland. It's better that it happened while I was already in China because I only have insurance through the school for the 10 month period of my contract. In July and August, I have a different kind of insurance since technically I'm not working for the school during that time. It would have cost me a lot more if it happened in July or August instead of when I was covered under the school's insurance because the insurance will cover about 75% of the total cost, I think.

* I discovered that I'm stronger than I thought I was. C, Rachael, and Scott have been telling me they've been impressed with how I've been handling this. Don't get me wrong, I did spent a night sobbing, "I'm in pain and I hate it here!" Overall, I think I have been pretty tough, especially considering I had never spent a night in the hospital before this. A lot of my friends told me that they would call their parents and beg them to come to China to take care of them, but I don't want to put that burden on my parents. I know that if I asked them to they would, but I think I can get through it on my own. After all, I am an adult. Throughout the course of my hospital stay, I had some painful tests and dealt with my back pain with minimal amounts of painkillers. I'm usually pretty humble, but I think I have to give credit where it's due and give myself a pat on the back for this one.

* I found out that hospitals are not restful places. The nurses keep telling me to rest, but goodness...between all the tests, the IVs, the visits from the doctors, my guests coming, and so on, I haven't been able to rest a lot at all. At the hospital in Urumqi it was worse because I had roommates. I'm very lucky now because I have a private room. Still, the ayi comes in ALL the time and hovers over me. It's so frustrating because it's so hard for me to fall asleep here and then when I finally do, she'll come in and rearrange something and wake me up! I've told a doctor to tell her to just leave me alone more, but that has not happened yet. In her mind, she thinks she is being helpful and doing her job.

* Independence is something that I truly value. I've always been the type of person who likes to do what I want, when I want. Because of my personality, it has been difficult working with my ayi. The ayi will try to do things for me that I can do for myself, and I find this irritating! She tries to brush my teeth and ermmm...wash me in places that I can wash myself. I have to wear a back brace if I sit up, and I need to be able to put it on by myself because that is what I will eventually have to do when I go back to my apartment, but she'll rip it out of my hands and roll me over so that she can do it for me. Sometimes I feel like I'm battling her, and anything that I CAN possibly do alone is something that I want to do on my own. The worst was the bathroom situation because I had to use a bedpan for three weeks, and she would put it away each time. When I had to go to the bathroom, I would have to buzz her, and I felt like a little kid having to ask permission to go! I really wanted her to just leave it out so that way I could go on my own, but even after I explained it to a nurse, it still didn't happen. I'm trying to be patient, but man is it going to be great when I can heal and do everything for myself again! I haven't had a real shower since May 1st, so the first one I have is going to be one of the best moments of my life!

* I learned to fall in love with reading all over again! I've never had this much spare time on my hands to just sit and read, and so I'm taking advantage of it. Thankfully, my wonderful friends brought me about 20 novels to read, so I'll probably be doing some book reviews here on my blog soon.

* I figured out that laughter truly is the best medicine. Two of my friends recently visited me and commented about how I was in good spirits, but I told them that I have to laugh and find happiness in this situation or else I will go insane! It's really important for me that my friends come here and we can all have fun together...otherwise, what do I have?

What have you learned during a difficult time in your life?
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