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A Letter From China
My Stay in a Chinese Hospital

A Stay in Hospital

During early January (2014), I had a cold that hung around for over a week, but shook it off and thought little more about it. I was busy with my books and submissions to publishing houses. I mention this because, although endeavouring to take more exercise, writing is very much a ‘sitting down at your desk for hours on end’ profession, perhaps exaggerated by the fact my office is a converted bedroom in our new home. Days passed into weeks, and I saw less and less of the outside world than I had imagined.

Nevertheless, life carried on, and I was very satisfied with the progress of my work. The only things I did not have enough time for, were writing missives like this one, and updating the China Expats website; I knew I would do both ‘soon’.

During February, we spent three weeks as independent travellers in Thailand, and had a great time. My wife Siu Ying found her international feet, and the holiday was a great success. We returned from the blazing sunshine of Chang Mai, to the soggy cold and damp of mid-winter Guangdong. Overnight heat blisters were replaced by cold induced goose pimples. Brrr!

However, we had missed the worst of the very short winter, and temperatures gradually climbed as we entered March. Around this time, our daughter Rhiannon came home one day with a cold. Siu Ying got it, but it appeared to pass me by. I was still feeling very healthy from all the walking in Thailand; a great deal of exercise was obviously just the tonic. After a few days, the girls shrugged off the infection, only for it to return a week later. This time around, I got it as well, and whilst they both shook it off for a final time, I never did. I would repeatedly reach one or two days clear, before coming down with it yet again.

I coughed and spluttered my way through latter March, the infection settling in my lungs and refusing to go. By April I was constantly afflicted, on good days I could breathe fairly well and be active, on bad days it was all I could do to lie in bed and gasp for air—this was becoming boring, and serious. We tried medications and some helped, others may or may not have done.

During this period, as the weather changed, becoming much hotter, if nice, mid to late 20’s, I was aware of another affliction reappearing, one that causes swelling to joints, particularly the toes and ankles, the affliction of King’s. I have lived with this for some years, and it is not usually a problem, except the medication I was taking for the breathing problems conflicted with the normal medicine I would take to counteract the gout. I use Ibuprofen for the gout, and Colchicine when a flare-up is immanent; my breathing problems were alleviated by Cefixime; both medicines bought over the counter under pharmacist’s advice.

I laid off the Colchicine, but was forced to use Ibuprofen for my feet. Within the hour it felt like my blood was boiling in the arteries and veins. I was overheating drastically, my whole body erupting in heat blisters, my head purple in colour; my eyes were bloodshot, and I felt very strange and unsure. It was not a nice experience. I dived under a cold shower, and fortunately the symptoms quickly disappeared. However, I knew never to mix the two within any overlapping timeframe.

In China I have discovered that many medicines can be purchased over the counter, those in particular that are only available on prescription in the UK or USA, and even those not approved for consumption. Colchicine and Cefixime are of this category; I mean, the latter is fine, but known to have serious side effects on a very small percentage of people (0.02%), these being mainly diarrhoea to begin with.

I had changed my lifestyle in other ways; I had not had a drink since late March, and I enjoy a pint of beer. My cigarette intake was way down, longer stubs, little inhaling, etc. I was opening a new pack every two or three days’ yet reached the point where I was hyperventilating through too much oxygen in my bloodstream, but I was also desperately short of breath. Walking the fifteen paces to the bathroom or kitchen would see me needing to sit down for a minute and recover. Ridiculous! I was so fit and healthy only one month previous.

I worked out I probably had either acute or chronic bronchitis, and perhaps both. I could never clear my lungs of mucus, which was often that insipid shade of putrid green, and had the consistency of setting glue. It quickly became obvious I had a serious health problem, and needed attention. We called the Doctor out, but he said he could do nothing for me, I needed to go to the hospital for treatment; and that's what we did.

You will note that the doctor came out to see me at my home, within the hour. This time he did not charge me, as all he offered was advice. The doctor came out to see me at 9 p.m. on Saturday evening. Get your mind right regards real service and professional healthcare, outside of the west. In modern UK, I believe most have to wait several days for a doctor’s appointment at the surgery, home visits are almost unheard of. My Doctor spoke good English, does yours?

I have used Chinese hospitals before, as an outpatient, for minor things. I have always found them to be extremely good, and often cheaper than the obligatory prescription charges made for medication in UK.

We went to hospital the next day, and due to circumstance, it was 3 p.m. on Sunday afternoon before we rocked up at Toisan Number One hospital. I was in a very bad way, my wife riding shotgun through the induction proceedings. I sat on the nearest chair as she waited in the enrolment queue. I had my passport handy just in case, but this was not required; I was inducted under my Chinese name, (‘Mo Lai See, Yut Han, Cha Lai See’), and given a booklet of forms, and a plastic registration and data card.

We went up to see the doctor, who was on floor two. The stairs were a mighty hurdle for me, two long flights that took me five minutes to negotiate. The lift was on the other side of the foyer, and would have taken me as long to reach. I had very laboured breathing when I reached the top, gasping for air as if I had just run a marathon. I rested on a disused reception counter to recover, before walking the ten paces to the doctor’s room. I sat outside, under the air-con outlet, and regained my equilibrium; the constant flow of cold air helped me recover—at odds with most respiratory diseases.

The doctor was dealing with one patient, and saw another before we went inside; the waiting was less than ten minutes. My wife explained in Cantonese (Toisanwah dialect), what was the problem, while I gave him my Chinese Certificate of Health Examination from last summer, he did not really need it, but it was backup information, and had a reference number telling him I was in the system. He actually spoke very good English, if a tad rusty, and we conversed directly, me telling him things from my point of view. These seemed to confirm what my wife had said, but the exercise was good for my faith in the system.

The physician ran cursory checks; pulse points times three fingers, stethoscope to the chest—say ‘Ahh’, and took my blood pressure. Mine had normally been slightly high, if only because it was always the first check made, just after I had climbed the stairs at the Health check place in Gongmuen (Jiang Men). I was delighted to read 126/78 at the first attempt. That's pretty good, eh?

The doctor filled out bits of the form, handed it back to us, and it was time to go a’travelling. The first thing we had to do was pay for my consultancies, and most of the cashier desks were manned, even late on a hot and sunny Sunday afternoon. The bill was a little under Y1, 300, or say £130 / $200. The first stop was for bloodwork, but not at the main desk fronting the unit beneath the stairs. We waited at a hatch, and a woman came over, pricked my finger, and siphoned off a couple of thin tubes of blood. I had never seen this done before, but it was fine, and only took a minute.

Next up was radiography; Siu Ying was directed to the next building just across the road. The side door into it was locked; the sun beating fiercely and directly down as I laboured up the adjoining alleyway to the front of the building; it was hot. I was very hot. I arrived behind my wife, and stood under the a/c at the door. Flowing air had always helped my condition, and this was no exception. After asking around, it turned out we were in the wrong place, we needed to be in the ‘other building just across the road’, the other road.

I crossed the square to our new destination, noting seven buildings, the main entrance set to my right. I made it with only one rest, as she again went ahead, and after a few seconds induction, we arrived outside one of four doors. Nothing happened, although others joined us in the foyer-like waiting area. The fans did not work, so we turned one on, and I retook my seat, which looked like it had been purloined from an airport thoroughfare, all metal and resilient.

The Consultant Radiologist, who had admitted us to the unit, duly came along and called four of us inside. He took our paperwork and went into a screened office to the rear, and as the other three stood nearby, I was called to stand by the machine. I had to turn around, and then we began. The process took all of thirty seconds, and I was told to go. That was it.

I went outside, and we waited as all the others were duly processed, and come time, we all waited. About twenty minutes passed, before we were called, and handed X-rays, plus his comments on the form/booklet. Back to see the first doctor. This time I made it up the stairs a bit better, but still collapsed, elbows supporting my weight on the conveniently placed and disused counter. The smell of fresh cigarette greeted me, filtering out of a nearby duty room, for all Chinese hospitals are non-smoking. I smirked aloud; “Here is China!”

We did not have to wait long before we saw the same doctor as first time. He reviewed the X-rays, and stated categorically that my lungs were perfect. Wow! That is a very big thing, especially for someone who has been a heavy smoker for the last forty-five years. “Perfect!” Double-Wow!!!

The doctor spoke for some time with my wife, they were speaking Toisanwah (Taishanese) again, but I was able to follow the gist of it. He would occasionally break to summarise in English, which confirmed my understanding of what was said. Good eh? The form was completed, we were handed a list of medications, was told I had asthma, and were dismissed. Asthma?

We queued at the pharmacy in the first building of the day, and paid for the prescribed med's, the bill less than Y130, or £13. Before the clock struck 4.30, we were on our way home. That is what I call excellent service.

The one thing I found confusing, was the general prognosis (in English), “You have ‘bad blood’. This is exactly the same as my home-visit doctor told me reference the gout. I searched the web looking for a similarity, any concurrence, and could only default to haemoglobin. Problems with white blood cells were relating to cancer, and platelets, plasma simply did not fit at all. The strange thing was, nobody had so far, and never did, mention iron. I have since bought my own iron supplement, and multivitamin pack, covering the bases you understand.

The following week I felt a tad odd. I don't know how better to describe it, or the way my feelings fluctuated. I took the medications, and used the ventilator as prescribed, well, occasionally actually. A question, a momentary doubt reoccurred; were these preliminary treatment for what should be ‘a week’s’ stay in hospital. I could not get my head around this, for surely if I needed to be an inpatient, then that would have happened on the day. Impatient, my wife was adamant that I needed to finish the medications, and if I was not healed, most likely, then I must spend time in hospital. I tried to define how long ‘a week’ was, and got nowhere. Knowing a little of the ways of women, I smiled, thanked her, and gave her a kiss and cuddle; never mentioning the subject again. Phew!

During former stages of my life I had endured far too much of British hospitals, and was pretty determined to avoid the stay; I mean, it was going to be so boring, and non-smoking. Sacré bleu!

On Monday, I felt a lot stronger, and could almost breathe properly for the first time in weeks. I went out to the local shop, all of one hundred yards away, but then, there were the stairs to consider on the way back. It was fine. The next day I felt quite fit. I was awake before seven a.m., and decided to inject some pulse into my lethargic metabolism. I walked down to the local wet market, some three quarters of a mile distant, and stopped to rest just across the road from it. I had done well, and I felt well. I toured the market, buying thick pork loin, mushrooms, capsicums, and vegetables; healthy eating my ultimate goal. I rested in the same spot on the return journey, if only because it was already hot outside, and I had a way to go. The market was cloistering, the break not required, but welcome all the same. Normally I would have chilled with a cigarette, but not on this occasion, the weed stayed in my pocket.

I made it back, and back up the five flights of stairs to our apartment not unduly short of breath; things were going fine. I set about jobs around the home, and felt great; I was getting well again, and back to my old self. My concentration had returned, I almost felt cured. I reasoned that a little more of the same over the coming days, and I would not need to go into hospital. Ha!

I did a repeat the next day, Wednesday, heading for the second local wet market, which was as far away, but turning right instead of left at the junction. There was an accident there and half the junction was roped off, a heavy police presence loitering nearby, some taking measurements. A motorcyclist and a cyclist had collided, the latter being injured, if only somewhat.

I skirted the incident, and was nodded to by one of the police; there are very few foreigners in Toisan. I smiled and nodded back, knowing I did not feel at all paranoid; my wife and her family are well known and respected, and yours truly by extension. It happens a lot, like water off a duck’s back. I walked on, a rueful smile on my face.

I had not been to this wet market before and was up for exploration. Unfortunately, this day I was lethargic, but having done serious training in the past, knew the exercise would push me through it. It did not. Instead, I began to look for, and then need a place to sit for a moment, then several moments. Upon reflection, I should have taken a motorcycle taxi home, but I am not that sort of person; if I set out to accomplish something, then I see it through. Mistake.

Once clear of the market zone, I took the road home, and walked on a very slight inc line for two hundred yards, before resting for five minutes. The next time I made one hundred yards, and rested for ten. My home was one hundred yards away, and I had to stop three times, for a long time, to make the bottom of the staircase. The last time I was a mere twenty yards away, but hunched over gasping for breath. I local man came over to me to enquire if I was OK. I was not, but thanked him for his offer of help, and trudged the last few paces to the outer door. I can’t remember climbing the stairs, or what I did after, a shower I think, probably; or not? I woke in the early evening, feeling like shit, my body wracked with pain, and coughing my guts up.

On Thursday I was hardly any better, everything ached or if lung related, was swamped with obscene and gooey mucus. I made it down to the morning fast food place opposite our apartment, and ate a large bowl of Sik Juk, or rice porridge. That would turn out to be the sum total of that day’s achievements. The pills finished on Friday, and I knew I had to go into hospital, there was no other option, for the life I had at that moment was unlivable.

That stated, I would far rather live a full life, and die young … but then I've made it to sixty already, so That's good going I guess? What I mean to state is, I would rather experience all life has to offer, and go; rather than sit and ponder within misgivings of uncertainty and dotage, “Ah, I wish I had done that.” Oh no, not for yours truly.

That attitude, commendable though it has been in my life so far, was not helping me at that moment. Being unwell, the last thing I needed was for the entire Chinese family to descend on our home that weekend. They all arrived on Friday. Baba tried to give me one of his lectures about not smoking, but I cut him short, I was hardly smoking at all, and hadn't had a beer for weeks – I mean I didn't know how long, but it was at least three weeks.

He patted my shoulder, for we hardly ever, fully understood each other, but respected each other immensely. Mama and Rhiannon were with us, and later Yee Lo (Number Two Brother) joined us with his daughter. Later still, his wife rocked-up, and the place was full. Then our good friend Sung arrived and did things around the house. Baba shaved the front door so it would close, even though the real problem was that the three panels of wood it was composed of were separating. I tried to explain the intricacies of carpentry, because I understood what was actually happening, but to no effect. The Chinese family took over, and rallied to support me in my time of need. Bless. After due courtesy, I shimmied away to my office, and later our bed.

I arrived at the hospital the next afternoon, both my wife and I are night-people, and mornings are the perfect time for sleeping—some people are like this, don't knock it until you try it. Ah. Dawn = Boing! “Time for bed,” said Zebedee.

Leaving the wholly supportive greater family to fend for themselves, Siu Ying ushered me outside, and boarding a couple of motorbike taxis, to the hospital we were bound. I’d thrown a bag together, ample for my stay. We arrived at the main foyer, and instantly a second receptionist went off to get me a wheelchair unasked. Service.

My wife wheeled me to another unit in the opposite, but nearby building, where half a dozen nurses and other ancillary staff greeted us, all waiting for somebody to take care of. I was inducted, inspected, and ingested into the Chinese hospital system. Meanwhile, Siu Ying booked me in, and sorted out the details; she paid cash for my immediate treatment; three thousand RMB, or £300 so we could begin; it was a down payment for what was probably to come.

I was given an oxygen mask, and within moments, a doctor came to me, and ran a cursory examination. He reviewed my file, and spoke to my wife. They were mostly speaking Mandarin to begin with, so I had little idea what was going down. Later they swapped to a mix of Toisanwah and Cantonese, which was very much better for all of us. The doctor also spoke English, if a little rusty, but enough for us to communicate directly in some depth. Remember, I live in a local region where any figure of foreigner is a rare occurrence.

We muddled through using four languages; I had brought the current hospital file with me; for in China, the patient keeps all pertinent patient paperwork, including X-rays, consultant’s observations, and doctors’ notes. In the west, this is administered by the powers that be, and the patient has to submit a formal and written request to even be allowed to see his or her medical file. Strange? Why?

Incidentally, I note that recently, the British NHS has been selling personal patient details to the highest bidder as marketing information, for use by private sector scammers. In China, I retain sole copy of my health file. I still have it with me now. On that occasion, I handed my medical file, recorded as paperwork only, to the new doctor, and we proceeded from there.

I noticed to one side, a young man filling what appeared to be a most unsightly pillow with oxygen. I thought it rather odd, but was distracted as a nurse tried unsuccessfully to remove the tube from the oxygen cylinder supplying my breathing. The canister was of the size a welder would use for making joints with acetylene. The lad stopped filling the pillow, and produced a knife, which the woman used to pry off the tube. Result, and most entertaining; but what were they really about?

Knowledge comes to he that waits, and so it came to pass ... The youth coupled the tube, to my mind, unnecessary breathing aid, and made a connection to the pillow. Hmmm?

Within moments, the gallant young man took control of my invalid carriage, and wheeled me outside, under the beating sun. I had never thought to breathe through a navy blue pillow come buoyancy aide before; it was an odd experience, and one I hope never to repeat.

The lad pushed me to the far end of the hospital complex, accompanied by my wife, and the nurse from reception, who had acquired a parasol to keep the sun from shinning directly upon my eminence. The locale was rather nice, in a hospital sort of way; it had a lot of plants and trees, and areas fit for morning Tai Chi exercises; and over by the small lake with typical Chinese bridge, a grassy knoll set with large boulders, presumably situated aside for Zen meditation. I was wheeled past the official smoking area, into the ‘Respiratory Diseases Unit’. Subsequently, I was wheeled to one side and asked to swap chariots for one of that department’s, being offered the largest and most robust. The accompanying nurse then left us, taking back the wheelchair belonging to reception.

Without delay, I was wheeled onwards and upwards, via a nearby lift, to second-floor ward reception. Within a word, we passed rooms set aside for one or two people, all doors left open. I wondered, momentarily, if I would get a private room?

Nope. I was taken into a room with four other inhabitants, it was OK; I was allocated the bed by the window. The time was now—a final chance to escape, or remain to sally forth into the idiosyncrasies of Chinese healthcare, as an inpatient. I got on top of the bed, and was immediately swarmed by a plethora of doctors and nurses. The inauguration took only a couple of minutes, and soon there was only my wife and I, plus furtive looks askance cast warily in my direction, from the other inmates.

There was zero point in Siu Ying hanging around; I mean, we know each other very well, and ‘Chinese Face’ does not cut it for us—she needed to be gone, and I needed to get my mind around being locked up in this room for ‘a week’. I still did not know how long ‘a week’ was, but it seemed to be a mighty long time from where I was lying; the newbie on the block. C’mon: how long is ‘a week’? Eight days, ten if there is no quick resolution? I knew I would ‘be here forever’, hyperboles accepted—that’s what it felt like at the time.

Once alone, and rejecting the advice of others, I managed to get my bed down flat again. I don't understand why other people presume, that because you are in a hospital bed, the backrest must necessarily be perpendicular to the horizontal. I threw all the extra pillows and cushions out also; I was half-expecting to find a cuddly toy within the plethora of unwanted and unnecessary comfiture.

Toisan people are not like those of Foshan, and especially Shunde County, where I rocked-up upon these oriental shores, many years ago now. They are always a little reserved, in that they are almost insular, except they are nothing of the sort. They are perhaps British in this respect, weighing up the new situation, before offering a welcome. I am used to it, for they are great and true friends, once the ice is broken.

After I acclimatised, I noted I was one of five patrons, four of which had the draft from the air-conditioning unit, one set obliquely to my bed. My only air came from the window that was closed the wrong way around, allowing in a slight draft of hot air, but cooling all the same. The other four patrons had made use of quilts to protect them from the cool of the air-con; I had to strip off because I was overheating. I knew it was not the done thing, to show one’s torso in such a public way, but I was hot, they were chilled, tough!

The med's stared almost immediately, first a thorough doctors examination, followed by a load of pills and a smoking device I had to suck on for ages. I made a joke with the nurse that I was looking forward to smoking, and she giggled. Unfortunately for yours truly, it was not that kind of smoking, nor any other I had occasionally encountered throughout my checkered life, to date.

There was no nicotine in it, nor buzz, but otherwise it was OK and a version of the prescription ‘Seritide’, a combination of Fluticasone and Salmeterol administered as an ‘oral inhalation’. In combination, it’s pretty nasty stuff actually, but very necessary for my condition. I won’t weary you with the details of my incarceration, for one hospital stay is most likely like another. What I want to tell you about is what was different, odd, or quirky. Listen-up.

I have found Chinese hospitals to be extremely good, and great at the price. They practice modern western medicine, but without the ‘sue-all’ confines of other nations. Some only practice Chinese medicine, and usually within both, there is a degree of overlap. As I passed those first hours, I reckoned three of the four inhabitants were worse off than I was. I wasn't sure about the other one, way over to my left in trap one. He and the guy in trap two (nearest me) left around eight p.m., and never came back. I noticed they left certain personal belongings behind, and wondered…

My bed was opposite the bog - come shower - come personal convenience. It was basically a small box for attending to nature. The guy next to this was not good, and he stayed the night, but disappeared with his wife and family the next morning, never to return. To his right = my left in the far and opposite corner, was a man who was suffering badly, he would neither do nor say anything for hours, then have ten minutes lucidity. He was OK, but not OK, if you follow my meaning. He was attended constantly by his wife, who seemed to know more about the ward than those who womanned it; to me, that gender explicit phrase is politically correct.

I cannot say that I either liked her, or disliked her. She was a there for her husband, but tended to run our side-ward in nurse’s absence, and often in junior nurses presence. For instance, it was she that noticed my first drip had run dry; she bustled over and pressed the button at my bedside to call the nurse to change it. I thanked her, for I did not know, then. As she walked away, I realised we had unconsciously spoken the same language, Cantonese.

In addition, after the other patrons had departed, she changed the TV channel by doing things physically with probing chopsticks to the receiver up on the wall. I could hardly see a programme from my angle of perspective, way out on the left wing, so to say; but she changed to another channel, which was also in Cantonese; it was another soap, different theme. She switched the TV off at ten o'clock, again using her chopsticks to prod the rear of the device, and it was time for sleep. Boing! Thanks, Zebedee.

I eventually fell asleep, wondering if there was any means to leave this ‘magic roundabout’. Yeah, I was already seven-hours in, and counting … perhaps only 161 hours to go, and that felt like aeons to me, at the time. I wondered about finding somewhere to have a cigarette, but moving somewhere else was just too much hassle, and I also felt a tad bad about it, I don't know why.

Now here is where China and Blighty differ, as with the birth of my daughter; the woman set up a camp bed, supplied by the hospital—but sort it out yourself, next to her husband, and went to sleep; she was going nowhere, 24/7. In a Chinese hospital, the arrangement is a corridor, off of which are small wards, like rooms of a house. There is always a room supplying boiled water nearby, and a room that has camp beds and basic covers. All Chinese hospitals have these facilities, and it is expected the patient’s family will attend them, and at least one will stay overnight. Visiting hours??? Don't be ridiculous, family are expected, and welcomed, present 24/7.

In China, this family support is encouraged and accommodated, expected even. I was the only inmate who did not have a full-time family presence at my bedside. We wanted it that way, for it was ridiculous. However, knowing my wife, or another, could stay with me constantly was of great reassurance.

Another curiosity is that patients are expected to feed themselves, and I do not mean in any ways of life or death. Within the normal days of hospital life, it is expected that the patient’s family will provide their meals, or that they will buy them from the local cook, who is hospital staff. We had done similar before; when Siu Ying gave birth to Nonni, our dear friend Paul Yuan fed my wife every meal appropriate for childbirth.

This time around I was on my own. The young woman came round taking breakfast food orders that first evening; she was large, almost handsome—in a female sumo wrestler sort of way, and a very forthright person. We seemed to get along from first contact. I ordered Sik Juk and ‘Gee-yuk Min bao’ = full ingredients rice porridge, and a round rice bread with a pork filling. Her food was excellent, and cost me Y35, what's that, £ 0.35 pence, half a Dollar American? Get real; it was excellent food, nutritious and filling. We had enough shared languages to banter a little; none of the other inmates said anything much. Shame.

She also helped me acclimatise, but in other ways. I was a foreigner in a possibly hostile world, although I had no such worries, I think that some readers of this column may have felt that way. I responded to her outwardness by retorting; we spoke the same language, and had a laugh. I noticed other inmates, more reticent than I, snicker in the background, but I paid them no head, this was a golden girl, one whose simple and contrary presence, eased my stay; she was one fine woman.

In one of my books, Stargazer SG1, I wrote, and I quoth:
“Sometimes a person’s worth cannot be measured by their unique gifts of intelligence, cunning, fortitude, or physical dexterity; but merely by how they engender team spirit and cohesion within the group—but most of all, how they make you feel inside.”
I was facing the same thing, and played up to her outgoing personality; she was a treasure, and responded in kind.

I knew she would; perchance we lightened and enlightened each other’s day; repeat the next, and the next. Interestingly, she had to attend to the guy in trap 1 every day, but of the others, she always came to have a word in the round with me next, and I gave due attention back. Most of other inmates never bothered to speak to her, nor her them. Me make a difference; no apologies for living my life, it’s the only thing I know how to do. When I was leaving, she was nearby and came over to give me a quick cuddle and wish me well, fancy that; do any of you understand the why of it? Sharing, respect, honesty of our human condition. I showed her respect, as she did me, and none other I know of.

That first morning, unsure, 6 a.m., I followed my nose to the ‘other’ end of the ward, away from the nurses station, and using the stairs, went down one flight, noting all the cigarette butts on the way. I had a fag out of the downstairs window, and I did not feel comfortable about it at all. I worried the end so the hot stub fell harmlessly outside into a puddle, and added my butt to the appropriately placed, and half-full jar. I was not a happy camper, this was wrong.

Meanwhile, time moved on, and I got the hang of being an inpatient. It wasn't difficult, just boring. The two patrons to my left came back the next morning, they were obviously doing night release, and I fancied that. I noticed that every thirty minutes or so, the guy next to me went to the loo. I sort of knew what he was up to, and on the third occasion clocked it; he got a new lighter from his presumed daughter, before spending six minutes in the bog. Got your number sunshine, and his daughter laughed as I looked knowingly at her. He was not the only inmate to do so, but I did not indulge, British Face if you like.

I could have easily done the same, but I did not. Thereafter that first, and uncomfortable cigarette at the bottom of the stairwell, I never had another cigarette during my time as patient. It was a bit of the case of ‘do you control your addiction, or does it control you?’ You meet yourself within these moments, and this time around, it was I that was in control—wish me luck, although that sense of power remains to this very day.

In the interim, the whole family came to visit me on my second afternoon of incarceration, it was a show of Chinese Face, and appreciated by me, but they did not leave in timely fashion. I mentioned to my wife about a couple of inmates being on night release, and Siu Ying was there when the doctors came around for the early evening visitation. They did their stuff, and within a few words, I was home free, at least until 8 a.m. the next morning. Result!

Well, not quite, you see, the entire family accompanied us back to my home, and stayed to ensure I was OK. This included lectures on the perceived wisdom of not smoking, and of not drinking beer either, and well—anything and everything else they could think of that could possibly make life less endurable and more boring. Feigning tiredness, I left them discussing my prognosis; enjoyed an undisturbed cigarette in my study, and went to bed.

Siu Ying is not stupid, she is quite clever; she realised what was wrong, and miraculously, the greater family disappeared the next day, and before I got home that evening. I love them, but … what can I say, my home is our home, a castle if you prefer. It is where I retreat; we retreat to as a couple, as a family of three people.

Thereafter the days passed quickly. I continued to not smoke while I was technically a patient, but did allow myself one cigarette outside before the day’s incarceration began, and the next when I arrived home. I did not smoke a lot, and could not tell the difference, except for my nicotine depletion, and an overdose of oxygen in my carbon monoxide system. Yeah, feeling ‘spacey’ all the time due to hyperventilation is not a nice feeling, especially when you still cannot breath normally.

In the interim, I worked out what the nurses were, for there were many of them, and numerous. Most were what I know of as SEN’s, and wore a white cap. Sometimes the more senior ones had one red stripe on their cap = SRN. Twice I saw one who had two red bands = Sister. They did not appear to have a Matron, something British health organisations also sincerely lack.

During this period, I was amazed that my lower joints regained a youthful enthusiasm, but then it all changed on the morning of day three; the culprit was a pill, I knew it instinctively. During the afternoon of day three’s incarceration, my left foot swelled inappropriately, the gout had returned, and I was now certain it was due to the medication, but which one? There was no answer, but I now knew it was due to a conflict of medicines. Remember above, the Cefixime vs. Ibuprofen I mentioned before? Colchicine. This was the same, only this time around it was due to ‘Cefetamet Pivoxil’ (A very similar drug to Cefixime. I think I now know which one it was, but I remain slightly uncertain.

My breathing got ever so much better, and my gout got worse. Now, head’s up, gout is caused mainly by drinking wanton amounts of ‘beer’ (only) over a prolonged period of time. Guilty. The problem is essentially related to yeast = fresh bread also. I could curse Serendipity for foisting this happenstance of personal human folly upon yours truly, but is this fair? I haven't had a beer for months, I can’t remember the last time I had a sandwich, or toast, and yet the medications appeared to be setting off a gout flare – and let me tell you all, it is funny after the moment, but most exceedingly painful at the time.

I passed my time within incarceration by reading books, physical books; The Rape of Nanking—detailing the eastern holocaust Japan inflicted upon the Chinese during WWII in 1937, two years before us Brit's joined the war. I then read my fellow authors book, Green and Pleasant Land by Carl Porter (Paul Carter); a damn fine read it was, and highly original.

Very early on Wednesday morning, Siu Ying went to the wet market, and came back with the ingredients to make a medicinal soup for me. I quite like these things, although they vary a bit, but this looked like being a really good one: pork knuckles, loads of vegetables and medicinal roots (varieties), and pearl barley. It went into the soup cauldron, she added a ton of salt, and onto the stove before I departed at 7.30 a.m.

The motorcycle taxi took me straight to the hospital building; we could communicate quite well via a blend of his Toisanwah and my Bhatwah (mainstream Cantonese). I had time, as planned, for ‘a last cigarette’ outside, before I went upstairs to get my breathing sorted out.

I waved to one of the SEN’s who I knew well, arriving for day shift; she waved and smiled back. Other nurses I knew also came by, all offering a wave, and a few, encouraging words; this was going to be my day, I just knew it. I bid ‘Cheerio’ to the usual suspects who haunted the outdoor smoking facility, an area abounded by plants, and a rubbish bin. Non-smokers insisted on filling the ash-tray bit on top with their towers of used Styrofoam food packages; so inconsiderate, selfish; they only had to put them in the appropriate opening a few inches below. They jibe ‘smokers’ are inconsiderate: Ho-hum. This was a biblical case of ‘beams and motes’, if you understand?

To me, the ‘ayes’ had it, so I deliberately threw my un-extinguished butt on the top, and walked away. If not for the cellophane and Styrofoam, it would have landed harmlessly in the sand and been naturally extinguished; morons!

An hour later that morning, the doctors dallied for five-minutes discussing my case (In Mandarin), the senior (Male) appearing to be relating pertinent points to his understudy, a presumed trainee female. Before they departed, I asked a seemingly pertinent question, “Doctor, should I stop smoking?”

Confused, he momentarily looked askance, before replying, “Do you want to stop smoking?”

I said, “No”; and he came back, “Then don't quit. Why are you asking me irrelevant questions?”

This was the Senior Consultant of the Respiratory Diseases Unit speaking directly to me. Therefore, excepting for Bronchitis, which I didn't have, he saw zero relationship between smoking cigarettes and respiratory maladies. Yoah! I gotta love China!

I did discover what I was afflicted with during my stay, which was confirmed as ‘asthma.’ Durrrh? In time, I worked out the Chinese use of the word ‘asthma’ was a coverall for any respiratory disease. Cool.

Come midday I was hungry, unusually hungry; I rang my wife, but there was no reply. Neither did she call me back, which was strange. The pangs of hunger passed, and I got on with my life: hospitalisation. Hmmm. It was late afternoon, and the last drip was almost dry. I continued reading, not being in any hurry, when I noticed the woman coming over to me. I forestalled her by reaching for the buzzer, and said, “Ah-jap” when the voice enquired what I wanted.

When the nurse came to disconnect me, I asked her when I could leave for the day, and she said, “As soon as the nurse has taken your temperature, and after the Doctor approves.” Minutes later she told me the doctor said it was OK; I was just waiting for the thermometer nurse. I thanked her, rang my wife to tell her I was coming home early = another no reply. I washed out the smoking thingymagig, leaving it ready for tomorrow morning, picked up Paul's book and continued to read.

I knew that all things being equal, by 4 p.m. I could escape. I was within the final sequences of Paul's, now gripping novel. I needed ten minutes to finish it, maybe a time for reflection and author thoughts to understand deeper insights and questions raised by the book, and That's when Mama turned up…

What! Mama came into the ward carrying a large thermos of the morning’s soup. I had been extremely hungry a few hours previous, and would have welcomed a share when they ate it at home, at lunchtime; it would have been fully cooked before midday.

I hate to admit, but Mama got a cold welcome from me, and I knew she had gone out of her way to bring this sustenance to me. Had my dear wife answered her phone, or returned my calls, they would both have known this visitation was needless. In China, you have to laugh to keep from crying sometimes; That's how I felt. Nothing all day, I am virtually released, and lunch arrives, at 4 p.m.

Speaking with Mama, one-to-one, is a bit like chalk and cheese; did we hit the bull’s eye of understanding, or miss the board completely? She had brought with her the remains of the lunchtime soup, and urged me to eat. My hunger pangs had long since dissipated, and my mood was brittle, almost hostile

This was all we had. Within the miasma of disjoined thought, I managed to tell her I was about to be released for the day, and that I would eat the soup, reheated, when I got home. She seemed to understand this, and went off to check. She worked out what was going on, left to confirm, reappeared and disappeared swiftly; I was one unhappy bunny, for all the right and wrong reasons = what can I say, I am me.

You could call me ungrateful, which was not the case at all; the timing was wrong. Had my wife answered her phone, or called me back, her mother would not have been there in the first place. I would be enjoying the reheated soup at home, having finished Paul's book, and been very happy.

Mama left to speak to the staff, probably verifying her understanding of what I had told her. She returned a minute later and appeared to confirm what I already knew. She left shortly afterwards, although she was by then most welcome, and I returned to reading Paul's book.

Mama was gone a while, maybe even a long while, but when she came back and to me, she had the thermometer nurse in tow. I left the tube under my arm for ten minutes, Mama taking it from me and leaving to sort it out. Moments later she returned, and it was time to go. We left moments later, and she insisted on a four-wheeled taxi home. I got one quite quickly, as we were there just before rush hour; but note; I haled the cab, not her. Her eyesight is not very good actually, something I think needs attending to, but that is for another time.

We got home and life appeared to be going on very well without me. I briefly checked my pc while the soup reheated. I finished Paul's book = Mega! Despite the moment had been broken at hospital with Mama’s unexpected arrival, bless. Later I ate, watched a movie, and went to bed.

These happenstance's of normality conflicted greatly with my daily incarceration. Thursday was upon me, but the plan was the same ol’ same ol’: incarceration, institutionalisation, followed by nightly release. Hmmm … Is that a life?

Thursday morning was hotter than ever, my regular motorcycle taxi was waiting, and I said, “Hoi ‘yun mun yee yuen’” (Go to Toisan Number 1 people’s hospital). I did the smoking duty outside of the Respiratory Diseases Unit, just because I could. That is not to state that I am completely stupid all of the time, but when I do stop smoking, it will be because I choose to do so, and not because of any corporate, political, or pre-prejudiced peer pressure: I am my own man.

I left the bench where we ‘unclean’ are condemned to reside, and breezed into reception, and the ward, greeting all with a smile and vitality. Angela, a most lovely, big black chick I was fortunate enough to come to know very well (We shared smoke breaks sometimes), once told me something about life; I will pass her words on here: “People judge you by the way you present yourself to them.”

That Thursday morning, I guess I presented very well. I picked up The DaVince Code, one of the very few books in English I have out here, this one I bought in Hong Kong. I was intentionally reading it as a critic, an editor, looking at the structure, use and flow of words, and their lack of, and the why of it all = boring author stuff = my education, when the nurses came by to give me my morning smoke and drips.

The doctors were close behind that morning; they left me after spending a very short while attending; a quick triple pulse point thingymagig, a brief ‘Say Ahhh’ for the stethoscope, and that was it. Obviously, I was not critical in any way, and I actually felt pretty good. I got down to reading…

I had just finished breathing in the hospital smoke, and was half-way down my first drip, nine each day, when the English speaking doctor appeared at my bedside. He asked me how I was and a couple of other questions; before he surprised me by telling me, I was free to go. “Whoopee! Get me the hell out of here, but the drips…?”

I called my wife at once to tell her the good news = reply. “Baby, I can leave right now, but they say they need you here to pay the bill. I mean, I have the patient card and the money, but they say you need to be here because I won’t understand it; as if?”

“Lo-gong, I am on my way, ten minutes, I am with you.”

It took twenty minutes, but I was not watching the clock; I knew she was doing the best she could for me, and at very short notice. ‘Know your wife’.

We kissed, briefly, publicly, and afterwards I explained. She left moments later, telling me to wait in reception whilst she paid the bill, or rather, got a refund. I knew I could have done this myself, but the Chinese did not think so. I loitered with bad intent, within the bounds of ward reception, before making a break for freedom when nobody was looking.

I escaped by using the stairs, and made it outside before anyone missed me, I think. The smoking area was the busiest places in the hospital grounds, but I found a space where I could smoke, and also look out for my wife. She was gone a long time. Most patrons left, but I noticed an older guy to my right who just seemed to be passing his day. I nodded to him for no reason, and continued.

I was almost finished cigarette number two by the time my wife reappeared; she looked hot and frustrated. I bummed my butt in the now clean top of the bin, turned to offer a small bow to the man to my right, who nodded his head, and offered likewise—strange how basic human contact can be so minimal, yet important. I joined my wife, who was not pleased to see me, “We need to go back to the ward,” was all she said.

I beat her up the stairs and we went through to ward reception. We already had my prescription, my wife was carrying it, but they needed to explain it to me. This meant somebody who spoke English quite well. I saw the smile of the SRN nurse from the morning, and she was headed my way, with a neophyte SEN in tow. She began by explaining how many of each pill I had to take each day, and how often. I stopped her after the second lot, and told her the rest in Cantonese. Yes, I could read that much Mandarin, surprised, no I was not. She was.

Needing to hit back, she then launched into a diatribe of greatest import, the essence of not smoking, AKA, the prevalent WHO (World Health Organisation) bully-scam. It was clear she was recalling what to say from her student days, in English. I applauded her great language skills, but remained unmoved; the trainee spoke extremely good English, to both our surprise, and I was told this was the standard patter for all inpatients leaving the unit; job done then.

I left hospital, walking but not cured. By that, I mean that they sorted out my breathing problems, all done and dusted. Nevertheless, I knew instinctively that one of the many pills or potions was causing an unnecessary gout attack, but which one? They, their medicines had brought this on, not sorted it out.

I never did resolve which medication it was, but I suspected the innocuous white capsules. I knew I could not use Ibuprofen to counteract the gout, because it would conflict with the Cefetamet. The products of crocii were an anathema. I had to use something, Ibuprofen, and the same happened as before with the Cefixime, but not as bad. Well, I flushed and had heat blisters, but a cold douche under the shower fixed that immediately.

Yesterday, I finally finished the hospital medications, and allowing fourteen hours, hit the Ibuprofen = all swelling gone within four hours. I now feel sprightly as a lamb, and am eager to take on life once more.

I don't like being medicated, at least for the ones mothers’ and doctors’ give you. Being unable to breathe was a big wake-up call for me; my maternal family has a distinct frailty to bronchicular complications. I live with this hereditary; I am my Irish Grandmother’s son, so to say.

I have no need of a long life, but I do demand that the one I have been given, will be as full and all embracing as possible, improbable even. And so it comes to pass, as it always does; this could get boring … I am still alive, revitalised, and ready to turn my literary wit’s upon the less fortunate once more; onward and forwards; Excelsior!

Know that if I were offered the choice between UK healthcare, and that provided in China, even if I do have to pay, I would choose Chinese health provision every time. Don't knock it until you try it, you may be very pleasantly surprised, as I was.


This work including text and associated photographs is Copyright of Jonno Morris (Unless stated otherwise), and may be reproduced for personal and private use under Collective Commons 3 Licence. An email would be appreciated in such circumstances, as would a reference.

You are not allowed to use this information to make money from my work - regardless of how fancy or well paid your lawyers may be.

Some artistic licence has been used arbitrarily in some of these Letters, and whilst most facts are in essence correct, some personal and literary interpretation may have been employed to greater or lesser degrees.
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