Way back in August 1999, I arrived in East Asia. I didn’t know how long I would be here, but I did know it would be a while. Two years minimum, but I had already felt I was supposed to be here “long-term”. Just didn’t know what “long-term” meant quite yet.
I arrived with a group of five others from Atlanta. We were the first ever foreign students at this university. As you might imagine, that first week was packed with wildly variant emotions. Looking back, it really was dream like. However, one event seemed to wake me from this dream and force me to embrace the reality that I now lived in East Asia.
On my seventh day in this gargantuan Asian city, I suddenly began to feel very ill. It was different than anything I had ever experienced. I thought at first I was just suffering from a bad stomach virus. After all, it was East Asia. It usually takes a while for stomachs to adjust to new foods, environments, etc.
No big deal. Just needed to drink some red Gatorade and lay down for a spell.
There was no relief. As a matter of fact, the pain in my stomach was becoming unbearable. Worry started to set in for the first time.
After a while, I sat up on the corner of my bed to see if that position would feel better. It was then that I realized I was sweating profusely. Much worse than I did when I played basketball. Given the fact that I am not normally a “sweater”, this was highly unusual.
As I leaned forward while still sitting on the corner of my bed, a small pool of sweat formed on the ground below me. Not normal. I’m not the smartest guy in the world, but at this point I did begin to think this might be a little more than a stomach virus.
By this time the pain was beyond awful. Unfortunately, no one from our study program was there on the campus. I called another man in town that I knew. He had been in the city for several years and spoke fluently. He immediately headed to the hospital and told me to meet him there. We were about an hour from each other.
About then, my roommates came back to our dorm and took me to the hospital. While Drew Johnson and Patrick Ku are great guys, neither had a clue about medical care in this country. At least Pat could speak the language. We were all fearful that it was my appendix.
We jumped in a cab. I was a mess. I was hunched over in the back yelling at Pat to tell the driver to hurry. All the while, the driver was looking in the rear view mirror, petrified over the sight of a sweaty foreigner making cow noises in the back, who was yelling instructions in a language that he didn’t understand. I’m sure he was just hoping that I didn’t puke or die in his car. It was the longest, bumpiest taxi ride of my life. I’m yelling at Pat to yell at the driver. The road was packed. No easy routes. I still yelled.
Drew and Pat had to carry me everywhere. Not an easy task, especially getting in and out of taxis and crossing crowded intersections on major roads in this city of 12 million people.
The hospital was rough. Conditions have gotten immeasurably better in this country, but at that time, they were spartan, to say the least. A rat ran by, but I was hurting too bad to care. Pat and Drew saw it but didn’t want to tell me. Doctors were taking smoke breaks in the hall. People would hack and spit on the floor. Yes, we were inside the hospital.
They took me to the ER, where I was waited on promptly. The ER attendant began pushing on my stomach asking if I had vomited. My reply was, “no, but I was about to!” Drew tried to hold up a nearby trash can. Not a good idea. Drew was covered. He wore a red Gatorade and bile sweater home that night.
After blood work and paying (they wanted to make sure I was good for the money prior to be being admitted), I was then put on a rolling bed and moved from the ER to the hospital.
The hospital was detached and a city block away from the ER. This might have been the longest 300-400 yards of my life. The bed didn’t have shocks. We hit every bump. With each bump, my side felt as if it would split open.
The entire time I was thinking to myself, “Is this real? Am I really being rolled on a bed down a city street in remote East Asia?” I would be lying if I said that I didn’t wonder if this was my fate. . . dying in a remote part of East Asia within my FIRST week of living here.
All the while, they were preparing surgery for me, thinking that my appendix might have ruptured.
I get to my room. It was shared with five other patients. Since it was visiting hours (maybe 4pm), the room was packed with patients and their loved ones. This poor group of visiting family and friends were probably in the midst of a calm visit with their hospitalized loved ones. Their visit was radically altered when this sick foreigner was rolled into the room.
With me were the three other Americans and a host of hospital employees. I am certain it was an unusual sight for nowhere Asia.
Do you know how you can best gauge my level of pain at the time? When we got in the room of 15-20 (several women in that number), they stripped me down naked to put a gown on me. Not a stitch on me. I was in such pain that I didn’t even care who saw. Looking back, I’d be rather embarrassed if I had seen any of them again in any other context. However, at the time, getting naked seemed like the best thing to do.
Well, I hurt for a while, then a specialist decided that he thought it was kidney stones. With the x-ray in hand and with all the other evidence, kidney stones seemed to be the logical answer. Then there was a release. I did some business for the first time in about 12 hours (I think I passed the stones then) and the pain gradually went away. It was in a crowded lobby of the hospital. I was sitting in a chair in my hospital gown. I would like to say I was embarrassed by others seeing me wet my pants in public, but I just didn’t care at the time.
To make a long story short, it was kidney stones. The pain was unlike anything I had ever experienced. Thankfully they called off the emergency appendectomy surgery during pre-op. That would have been awful.
Then it was calm after the storm. Nothing else in the world seemed to matter to me. I was just enjoying the fact that my stomach no longer felt like it was being stepped on by a large horse. The reality set in that I would not meet eternity that day in this remote East Asian hospital. I was pleased.
The doctors suggested that I stay overnight for observation in order to receive replenishment from an IV (I had lost a ton of fluid in every direction that day).
This story will continue. Though the kidney stones had passed, the adventure of my first East Asian hospital stay was just beginning. Click here for my next post on this rough night. . . My overnight hospital stay during my FIRST week in Asia.