My Hospital Story

August 4, 2016

This post has been a long time coming. I started to tell the first part of how I ended up in the hospital, but haven't yet finished telling the rest of the story. Just as a quick recap, I flew out to Urumqi to visit a friend I hadn't seen in 14 years. The first day I was there I was fine, and the next day I woke up and was in so much agony that I couldn't walk or even stand due to issues with my spine. While I was in the Urumqi hospital, I found out that I needed a serious back surgery. My bosses wanted me to come back to Shanghai to have the surgery, but the problem was that I didn't know how I could fly back, and there was no plan in place. It turns out that those in charge at my school was so worried about me that they flew out two of my bosses to Urumqi to see me. Isn't that crazy? I was not expecting that at all. Even though I thought it was unnecessary at the time, after looking back, I think it was probably really important that they visited me. I was going to go ahead and schedule the surgery in Urumqi, but my bosses convinced me to fly back to Shanghai and have it done. They knew about my concern with flying and saw that I wasn't able to move, so they told me about a company called S.O.S. This company would provide me with a doctor and nurse to accompany me on a flight from Urumqi to Shanghai, and it was bed-to-bed transport, so I would never have to sit up or walk. They also arranged a bed for me at one of the best bone hospitals in all of Shanghai. One of my bosses was there all weekend securing a bed for me. I'm glad that they came through for me in the end, because otherwise I would have been stuck in Urumqi with only one friend to support me.

For my last two days in Urumqi, they made me switch rooms because two patients in my room checked out, and they wanted to make my room into a men's room. My new room was NOT nice, and  it was super noisy. The lady in the bed next to me hovered over me, which was annoying at first, but I got used to it and eventually even found her helpful. She told me (in Chinese) that my mom was in America and unable to help me, so that she would act like my mom and do things for me in her place. She helped me get my IV's changed and even helped me with my bedpan.

The S.O.S people flew out from Beijing the day before I was to fly out, met with me, and explained the whole procedure. I'm an anxious flyer as it is, and knowing that I had to fly out on a stretcher was not helping my nerves. The next morning, my friend in Urumqi came to the hospital bright and early to say goodbye to me. He helped me finish packing a few things, and then my doctor gave me some painkillers, and they strapped me down onto a gurney. I was transported to the ambulance, and we arrived at the airport, and I had to go through all of these security checks. We waited for awhile at a health center, and then I had to take another vehicle to get to the plane. By the way, they kept true to their word and this whole time I was on a stretcher and did not have to attempt to move myself, but it didn't feel that great getting jumbled around every time they moved me.

The plane was on the runway, and the way to board was to go outside and walk up a bunch of steps. I had to have four men lift me up those steps, which was super scary because I knew it was probably hard to do. I could feel their arms starting to shake, and I'm just relieved that they didn't drop me! As I was boarding, almost all of the Chinese people in first class surrounded me and started to take pictures of me on their phone--it was seriously like the paparazzi! So yeah, that was pretty humiliating, and I ended up covering my face with my blanket.

There was a section of the plane in the back reserved just for me. I had nine seats just for my stretcher, but only needed six of the seats (2 seats wide, 3 seats long). They just put my stretcher on top of the seats, so I was really close to the ceiling above the seats. The doctor and nurse sat in the seats on the other side, right across from me.

Even though I did not have to move, I can't say that I was very comfortable. Because of my disc problems in my back, I had a terrible stabbing pain down my left leg. Sometimes changing the position of my leg helped me manage the pain, but regulations required that I be fully strapped down for the flight, so I couldn't move my leg. The doctor gave me extra painkillers because he saw that I was suffering.

Right before we took off, the doctor and nurse told me that there was bad news. They had lost one of my bags and had no idea where it was. I was extremely upset because I was already on high alert, and that morning I specifically told both of them to be careful when handling my backpack because it contained my brand new MacBook Air which I had just purchased a few days before I left for Urumqi. That morning, they reassured me and told me that they would be responsible for my bags and not to worry. We were supposed to take off in a few minutes when they fessed up about the mishap, and I started to cry and asked what would happen if they couldn't find the bag. The nurse told me to calm down and said, "I'm not just your nurse. I'm your friend, and I'll buy you a new computer if it's not found." In my head I was thinking, "Yeah, right!" I thought for sure that it would be gone forever because of what was inside, but at the very last minute a man came running towards the plane with my bag! Two minutes later, the wheels of the plane started moving. I seriously got my bag just in the nick of time, thank goodness!!

After that stress, we took off and the flight was a little turbulent at first. The nurse and doctor were both very attentive and asked me if I needed anything to eat, how I was doing, etc. I didn't have anything to eat and only had a few sips of water because I didn't want to have to go to the bathroom. The second painkiller started to kick in, and I started to feel relaxed. About halfway through the flight, an elderly man sat down by my doctor and nurse. He was pale as could be, sweaty, and it was obvious that there was something wrong with him. My nurse asked me if it was okay with me if she helped that man. Of course, I told her no problem. The nurse and doctor spent most of the remainder of the flight with that man. The nurse ran some tests and told me that the oxygen level in his blood was incredibly low, and he was given several tanks of oxygen. He was traveling alone, and the doctor told me that his condition was very unstable. I think it was lucky for him that my nurse and doctor happened to be on board to help out. The flight attendants were all around us, and the other passengers were staring. It was such an insane situation, and at one point, I really thought that man might die in front of us.

When we landed, there was supposed to have been an ambulance waiting for me, but I'm pretty sure they gave it to that man who was having trouble breathing, which was totally fine. He needed it more than I did! We did have to wait for a long time, and it took nearly two hours to get to the hospital. Once I arrived, one of my bosses was there waiting for me and he took my passport and some money and checked me in. I had to go to the bathroom right away, and that was an ordeal. Two nurses and an ayi (caregiver) insisted that I try to walk to the bathroom with their help, and got pretty aggressive with me. The way they were pushing my body caused me to have severe pain, so I yelled at them to stop because there was no way that I could walk to the bathroom, as much as I wanted to. (Bedpan it was...) One of the nurses later told my co-teacher that she thought I was "a pain" for this. Let's just say that in my mind I had some choice words for her!! I know that they were trying to help, but when they're yanking on my body and making it hurt worse, they should know to listen to their patient! Plus, I don't appreciate being talked about like that--who would? I told my friends about her, and they all used the choice words I was thinking of to describe her, and that made me laugh and feel better about the situation.

Anyway, my boss came back and asked me a ton of questions and told me that I should hire an ayi to care for me. In Urumqi, I didn't need an ayi because the nurses helped me with everything, but at this hospital the nurses refused to help. They said that there was no way that they would change a bedpan and basically when I was there, the only thing they did was change my IV bags and take my temperature. I did hire that ayi to take care of me, which ugh... I did not want to. It was very, very hard for me to work with her, and I'm sure she probably felt the same way about me since we couldn't really communicate.

On the bright side of matters, I was really happy to be back in Shanghai! I was also put in the VIP section, and my room was so much nicer than it was in Urumqi. The best thing of all was that I had a private room with two beds! Later I found out that I was paying $335/night for this room, which is a lot of money considering there were some rooms in the hospital for about $7/night. If I had known the price difference then, I would have opted for the cheaper room, so it's probably better that I didn't know that since having finally having my own room was vital for my sanity.

My co-teacher visited me that evening, and it was so good to see a familiar face. She brought me some special milk powder that is good for bones and met my ayi. My ayi told my co-teacher that she wanted to sleep in the other bed so that she could help me at night, but I really didn't want her to! I was so looking forward to having a peaceful night's sleep with no roommates, and I didn't need any help at night. I'm sure she thought I was weird, but hey, that night I finally had a great night's sleep for the first time in almost two weeks!

That week I met three doctors who were working with my surgeon, and all the tests I had done in Urumqi had to be done again at my hospital in Shanghai. That irked me a little since I had to pay for all of those tests a second time, but they refused to use my scans from Urumqi, so what could I do? Most of the tests were okay, but there were three painful ones I had to endure. The first painful one was the MRI. Now, of course the MRI itself didn't hurt, but they wanted me to walk from the hall to the MRI scanner since they couldn't roll the metal gurney into the room. My principal, boss, and grade one leader were all there, and it was awful to have them see my condition. Two of them had to help me and give me a chair to lean on. Walking hurt me a lot, and tears were streaming down my face because of the high level of pain. At least I was able to eventually do it. The second test that was far from pleasant was one where they injected dye into the discs of my spine so that the doctors could see the source of my pain. That one wasn't as bad as these other tests I had, which were probably an NCV and an EMG. I don't know for sure because no one actually told me. The NCV/EMG really sucked, especially because no one explained what was going on. The technician just stuck all these needles into my leg muscles and then basically shocked me with electricity to test my reactions. At some points the electricity was so strong that it would make my entire leg "jump" up from the table. This startled me because I was unprepared for it due to the lack of communication. For me, the NCV/EMG were the two worst tests I had to have, and I left the room sobbing. Again, I think if I had been mentally prepared for this, it might not have been as awful as it was.

After a week of tests, the doctors met with me and told me that they wanted to remove some of my discs, give me a laminectomy, and perform a triple spinal fusion on L4, L5, and S1 (aka my lower back). The doctors in Urumqi also told me that I needed a spinal fusion and that I had to have some of my disc removed, but other doctors told me that they thought they could just remove the part the herniated disc with a simpler laparoscopic surgery. The doctors that suggested I do the laparoscopic surgery hadn't actually examined me in person and only had seen my scans and test results, so in the end, I knew that I had to go with the more invasive surgery since two teams of doctors in two different hospitals drew the same conclusions. I was pretty upset with this information, but I wanted to get my problem taken care of. Even the doctor who examined me in the States last year told me that I had one of the worst cases of spinal stenosis for someone my age that he'd ever seen and that I was going to have to have surgery one day. I just didn't think it would be so soon.

Surgery was inevitable for me, so I was hoping to have it done as soon as possible because I wanted to get it over with and start recovering.

Since this is getting lengthy, I'm going to continue my hospital story in another post, but I just wanted to do some updates on here and let you know what's new with me. :)

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