Prior to Sunday (March 29, 2009) I had been on the verge of catching the universal cough/cold that everyone seems happily in possession of here in Darlag... although I was doing my best to keep healthy through my vitamins and basic sanitation. Sunday afternoon I started feeling major altitude effects (difficulty breathing, light-headedness, general malaise) even though I had been fine with the altitude up to that point. The next couple days passed with me in bed or tottering over to Shangbo's kitchen to play with (and not eat) my food. Tuesday evening, a local Chinese doctor came to see me and asked me to come into the clinic that night so he could administer IV and meds, while keeping a closer eye on me. At that point, Dockpo had already given me several oxygen pillows to help with the feeling of an elephant on my chest, but I was developing other flu-like symptoms which warranted some help on the nutrition end of things.
Picture the calm rush of a typical American clinic or medical facility; things are balanced, efficient, maybe the receptionist is talking a little too loudly about last night, but other than that things seem under control. The carpet is a neutral, don't-freak-out color and there is that calming nautical print on the wall to remind you of smooth aquatic movement.
I was escorted into a dingy, low-ceilinged room, around a yak-dung stove belching smoke onto the discolored walls and seated on a bench just next to a ring of drunk poker-players crowded around a table, underneath a cloud of the aforementioned smoke. After being seated, my right wrist was grabbed, flipped over, and a needle was inserted into my wrist vein (sorry, no medical terms from me). I had no idea what the needle was for, if it had been cleaned (the doctor, in a dingy white medical coat, had carried the needle in his hand over to my seat, no sterilized tray/bag) and the place where I had been jabbed immediately began forming a hard, white lump under my skin. Fortunately, Dockpo came over and told me that it was a test for allergies before administering the IV meds, but I was still disconcerted.
From my prime viewing location of the raucous poker game, I was moved to a bed in the room with the leaky stove, surrounded by crying babies and some sketchy looking characters, all hooked up to IV's which were hanging from a network of ceiling hooks that reminded me of scenes from the slaughter-house. No happy Grey's Anatomy atmosphere here. As the lump on my wrist subsided, I was hooked up to the IV through a line in my left hand. When I asked why I wasn't being connected via the typical crook-of-the-elbow location, I was given a weird look and informed in Chinese (Dockpo translating) that even babies could handle the needle. I didn't feel the need to explain my extensive background in receiving injections/IV's, so did my best to handle the needle prick like a tough little Asian infant.
When the medicine started flowing, I had more difficulty breathing and was attached to a powerful oxygen pump that allowed me to calm down and let my body relax for an hour or so. At the end of my first IV, I was accosted by the very drunk clinic owner who thought that if he spoke Chinese to me veerrryyy sllloowwwllyyy that somehow I would understand. Everyone present got a kick out of him, and he brought the first laugh out of me that I'd had in days. We were sent home with two more bottles of IV medicine that I had to self-administer that night while keeping myself awake so as not to bleed back into the IV tube.
The next few days were more of the same, with the dingy white medical coat coming to my bed to attach more lines of the same three-course IV, while I groggily watched Season 7 of Seinfeld (a GODSEND that Dockpo happened to bring back from the States.) On Wednesday, however, the needle in my right hand bent and the glucose began running under the skin of my hand, swelling my hand to three times its normal size before anyone noticed and pulled out the offending needle. Because my normal doctor was busy, an ex-nurse was called in to put in a new needle and allow me to continue receiving meds/fluids through my un-glucose-swollen left hand.
He arrived, and my red flags went up. Barely able to walk steadily, breathing noisily, and peering myopically through thick lenses (that still had the price tag on them) he sat down on my bed and proceeded to stick my left hand four times, with no success in picking up a vein. In between sticking, he set the needle down on the nearest surface and tried to pick it back up to re-stick. I was petrified, and had to keep pushing his dirty hands away and telling him to clean the needle before trying to get the line in. And every time, I felt his sweaty breath on my hand as his old sausage fingers wavered around my veins, unsuccessful, painful, and ultimately he was sent away, leaving his last attempt stuck half-way into my hand.
My swollen hands sat on top of my covers, waiting for the real doctor, and I resigned myself to the next two days of painful IV, examining the row of 8 holes in my left hand, and the big baseball mitt my right hand had become. Yesterday, (Thursday) I finished my last IV, ate dinner like I hadn't eaten in a week, and woke up to a more normal level of energy this Friday morning. My hands are returning to their petite size, and I can type without wincing. I will most likely resume English class tonight, and look forward to enjoying my next two months here with minimal incompetency from scary "ex-nurses."
Dockpo, Shangbo, Zoba, Willho (Drokri) and all the girls, passing monks and visitors were wonderful nurses and made me feel as comfortable as possible. On Sunday night, when the asthma feelings started, Shangbo said "Don't be sad; we're your family now," and made sure that I felt well-cared for. Although unavoidable, it was not a terrible experience, and I am coming out healthy on the other side with some good blogging material for your reading enjoyment.
Again, thank you for your well-wishes, prayers, emails and encouragement! I am looking forward to seeing many of you soon. Happy April!