Zěn Me Shuō "Fever!"?

A week ago Sunday, out of nowhere I came down with a bad fever in the middle of the night.  I got very chilled, vomited several times, and had diarrhea.  I couldn’t keep any liquid or foods down.  I was dizzy and a little delirious.  My body ached.  I can’t remember the last time I felt that bad. 

Tian and I were a bit nervous, and we debated going to the hospital.  I was  reluctant for many reasons:

  1. I did not know what to expect from Chinese hospitals and did not want to deal with it at all.  I had heard rumors about long waits, dirty needles, botched blood transfusions, etc…  Admittedly, I don’t trust Chinese systems to always put people’s safety and needs first.  While I am usually up for a unique cultural experience, given my condition, I was not at all interested in learning about Chinese health care that day.
  2. I was skeptical about any medicines they would prescribe.  Would they work?  At worst, could they make me even more sick?  I had flashes of the “milk scandal” in my head. 
  3. I knew that if we went into the hospital, they might need to quarantine me (and maybe Tian) for a day while they performed the required tests.  That would have led to a lot of complications for both of us relative to our work lives. 
  4. Going into the hospital could actually mean exposing ourselves to other people who did have H1N1 or worse ailments.
  5. I knew that going to the hospital would require a lot of energy in and of itself, and I wondered if I would recover more quickly if I just rested in bed.
  6. Neither Tian nor I had any clue about how much things would cost.  Our cash flow has been tight this month while we both wait to get our first pay checks.
  7. I didn’t want to vomit in the cab.  I know it’s a little silly, but that thought went through my head.

Ultimately, wanting to rule out H1N1 for my safety, we made the decision to go to the hospital on Sunday mid-morning.  I sort of remember packing a backpack with essentials for one week including a change of clothes, mask, cell phone and charger, bottled water, health insurance info, contact information, a book, camera, etc…  I remember putting on two layers of clothes, bringing a plastic bag in case I puked, trying to disguise my sickness in the elevator, and wishing it was over the minute we got in the cab.

When we got to the hospital, it was crowded.  We both put on our masks.  There were only a few open seats in the waiting room, and a lot of people were jockeying for position at the desk.  Tian went off to figure out everything while I cowered in a corner trying to shut out the noise, dirt, and smell and trying hard to see the bright side of things.  After 10 minutes, Tian returned and led me to another building which was the fever clinic. 

A view from the hospital's front gate.  We first entered the main building (center).  The fever clinic is to the right (not pictured).

A view from the hospital's front gate. We first entered the main building (center). The fever clinic is to the right (not pictured).

Two waiting rooms, a blood test, and another 25 minutes later, I was called to see the doctor.  The doctor talked a bit with Tian, and through her I answered a few questions.  They told her the test had come up positive for a bacterial infection, which meant that it was not H1N1.  We were relieved.  They said they wanted to take a stool sample to determine the exact type of bacteria, and I refused.  After the previous night, I didn’t want to deal with the indignity of a public Chinese restroom and I felt had nothing in my system left anyway.  I was glad they didn’t insist.

The doctor recommended that I get an IV to re-hydrate me and also to deliver an antibiotic directly into my system.  That sounded like a good idea, given that I hadn’t drunk or eaten anything in over 15 hours and I knew my body needed some nutrients.  I also relished the idea of lying down on a hospital bed and taking a nap.  Plus part of me just wanted to avoid getting back in a cab and navigating through Beijing traffic.

Another waiting room and another 10 minutes later, I was called in for the IV.  Much to my surprise (maybe it shouldn’t have been), the IV room didn’t have private beds.  Instead it consisted of about 12 chairs each with its own IV stand.  I sat down in the corner across from an old man holding his catheter bag, and who, it was commonly known in the room, was likely to die within the year.  Like many things in China, I learned that health care is a communal experience shared with strangers. 

Tian took this picture of me sleeping right before I started the IV.  She knew I would want it for my blog later.

Tian took this picture of me sleeping right before I started the IV. She knew I would want it for my blog later.

For the better part of two hours, about 10 of us patients took our IV’s and medicines together.  Each of us passed the time in different ways.  Some chatted with new found friends.  One young man listened to music and text messaged his friends.  Still in a daze and handicapped by the language barrier, my routine consisted mostly of long periods of boredom and body aches relieved only occasionally by a short nap.  About 30 minutes into it, I snacked lightly on bread that Tian went to buy at a corner store.  And after about an hour, my favorite activity became looking up at the IV bag to check how much fluid (and therefore time) was left before I could go home. 

All done.  Ready to go home.

All done. Ready to go home.

After finishing the treatment, I felt slightly better but was completely exhausted.  Tian got us a cab, which took us home, and I fell immediately into a deep sleep.  I woke up 3 hours later, and my fever had broken.  Both of us were relieved.  I spent the rest of Sunday and much of the day Monday in bed sleeping, eating bland foods, and drinking water.  Luckily, I was able to make it to my first day of work on Tuesday.

The whole episode made me really appreciate the fact that I am here on this adventure with Tian.  While I know that I would have survived on my own, it would have been a lot more difficult.  Not only did Tian help me navigate the hospital and Chinese systems, she stuck with me through all the unpleasant parts at home, ran little errands for food I could eat, and just gave me some TLC.  I was really grateful!

Another funny thing I realized is how much having a blog can help you keep a positive view on life.  I highly recommend it as treatment for anyone with chronic pessimism.  As I was going through the worst parts of this experience, the thought always crept into my mind, “At least this will make for a great blog entry!”  Anyway, I hope it has.



  1. Sheila Ochs · ·

    My only comment is that, as your mother, why is this the first time I have heard of this “Little adventure?”

  2. Anne Petersen · ·

    Oh, Jeff, this sounds exactly like the experience Abby had when she went to the hospital with a URI. They dither around, and then in the end, they give everyone an IV. She had to go back the next day to get an IV again, instead of just giving her (and you!) an oral antibiotic. You are lucky to have Tian to help you through the morass. Glad it wasn’t anything more serious.

  3. I have that same…”hey, at least this will make a good blog entry” thought process 🙂

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