Monday, November 12, 2012

about being sick in China...

my home base in Shanghai - and the view during my recuperation
Before I left for China
I was just getting over a cold that had never really turned into much,
I got on the plane to Shanghai.
Midway through the 15 hour flight my throat was so sore I could hardly swallow
by the time I landed in Shanghai
what I thought was the return of my cold 
was on full force.

I always bring a mini 'medicine chest' with me when I travel overseas (oscillococcinum, pepto, nyquil pills, advil, etc.), but I never considered doing more.  That is until I got sick in the middle of my China trip, found myself unable to work for two days, laying in hotel rooms weak, wondering how the heck I was going to get better, let alone on the plane to come home.  Being sick while traveling overseas was one of my worst fears before I left on my trip, but I never really thought I could get any sicker than an icky cold I'd normally get at home, or sick to my stomach from something I ate.  I never considered that I would ever be sick enough I would actually request to be taken to a hospital.

It was scary.
And eye opening.
the view from my 1st sick bed during a 'sunny' day in Hangzhou - the Qiantang River and China construction
At 4:30 am in the middle of my trip I called H.
"I am so sick, I'm not getting better, I think I need to go to the hospital, what should I do?"
I knew I needed either an iv, or drugs.
What I didn't know was where to get them, or how.
I realized for the first time that 'travel health insurance' might be a good idea when traveling overseas.
And I knew that getting back to Shanghai was a good idea, as was getting myself to a hospital.
By this point my eyes were full of blood - literally.  I didn't know why (back home in the US my dr. said it was a burst blood vessel, likely from coughing and sinus pressure).
My body was shutting down,
and on top of it I looked 
freakishly sick with these weird eyes.
I was scary to myself, and others.
I was weak.
I couldn't eat.
I was coughing a lot.
I was concerned I might have something much worse than I ever could imagine.
One month later, I am finally better - almost.
2 days left of my 2nd round of medicine.
The amoxicillan I got in China got me better enough to get on a plane home, but I was not well.  H had lined up a doctor appointment for me as soon as I got home and I was promptly put on another 10 day dose of amoxicillan.   
The doctor in China told me I had a bronchial infection, and he was right.  Unfortunately, after all the amoxicillan ended I got sick all over again and was put on a second dose of medicine - levofloxacin this time.

I finally felt good this weekend after literally being sick for a month.  
Finally - back on my bike!  Unimaginable to me while I was lying in bed sick in Shanghai.

the Concierge, the woman with the meds, and my boss
at the International at last!
Here is what I learned about being sick in China:
-When travelling overseas, especially to a country that may have a completely different approach to healthcare than what you are accustomed to ~ know where you can go if you get sick.  Chinese medicine might sound interesting, or like something you would explore when home, but when you are feeling sick as a dog in China scared you may not make it home it may not feel like the time to experiment.  Be prepared in the event of an emergency.
-Bring prescription drugs with you.  My boss had a Z-Pak with her that my dr's office, when I called home for help, said I could take.  Unfortunately by that point I was too sick to stomach it and it made me WAYYYY sicker.  I found out that z-pac's aren't for me, but as soon as the doctor in Shanghai got me on amoxicillan I was a new woman after 24 hours.  Relief at last!  In the future at the very least I will bring a 10 day prescription with me of amoxicillan.
-Ask the hotel concierge to get you to an 'international hospital' or an expat hospital or an 'American' hospital.  I think this would be harder in Southern China, but I was relieved to be in Shanghai where I knew there were many ex-pats - there had to be a 'Western' Hospital to go to.  We mainly were concerned about finding an English speaking doctor, but beyond that concern ~ the concierge knew if we went to the International Hospital we would have better care.  Thank goodness.  Not only that, but the concierge went with us in the taxi, went with us in the doctors office, and interpreted for us when we picked up my medicine (luckily right across the hall from the doctors office!).
-Get travel health insurance.  Luckily I was on a business trip, my boss said she would take care of me and she did - which included taking care of paying the hospital bill.  I have no idea how much the bill was - but we paid in cash and she said it was 'not cheap'.  If I had been there on my own and paid with my own dime, 'not cheap' could have been pretty bad.
-There is nothing I could have taken or done before I left that would have prevented what happened to me.  A touch of germs before the trip, high altitude flying, airplaine air, extreme pollution in areas of China that physically I was not used to (see above picture), long days, poor diet, constant travel ~ all created a horrible stew in my body and it finally broke down.

Though it was all an interesting experience, and I would have preferred not to have had it, along with the tips above I realized two things:
1.  People are good in this world.  We hear so much about the bad, but I was really touched on my trip in China on a few occassions at the kindness of strangers.  The hotel concierge who helped me is one of those good people in this world and I will be forever grateful for his selfless help.
2.  I am lucky to be better again.  Sometimes people do not have the option of ever feeling better again, but I do.  And everyday I will be thankful for my health, and the fact I got to come home again.