The past 2 plus weeks have made sympathetic to those blue surgical masks that so many wear here…including the temperature check lady at the airport (from my earlier post “Laser Guns and Surgical Masks”). Abe got a cold just about 3 weeks ago it hung on for a week and then turned into some sort of flu…including fever, chills, achey, nausea and the like. Like a good family it was shared with all. This bug has run through all of us and Abe and I are still recovering.
I had been sick for about 5 days with a terrible cough and was achey and fatigued. My cough began to get worse and I started to feel a bit short of breath and that brought on some anxiety…which then lead to more shortness of breath (bad cycle). I couldn’t shake it. I continued to cough and feel short of breath. When Abe got home from work I told him that I thought I really needed to see a doctor. So the 5 of us at 8 o’clock at night piled into a taxi just outside our apartment and headed to the local state hospital in Tuen Mun. We arrived to the hospital at the A&E (accident and emergency) just in time to see a man being brought in on a stretcher. Simon replied, “Mom that guy is dying right there”. Suddenly my cough didn’t seem so severe. We entered the doors and everything I saw continued to make me wonder why I had come. I mean a little cough? The waiting room was full of people, sick people…the kind that need to be at the ER. I began to get nervous that we were all about to ‘catch’ something even worse than we had had. Where are the surgical masks for us all? I checked in with the asian lady at the front desk, thankfully she spoke fair English. I showed her my Hong Kong ID card and gave her $100 HK, which is about $12 US. We then were sent to wait.
The waiting area was old. It is definitely a state hospital, no fresh paint, sparkling floors or cozy chairs to sit in. I suggested that Abe take the boys outside and sent them off with the hand sanitizer that was in my purse. I choose a chair to sit in with as may seats between myself and the next person that I could find.
It wasn’t but 15 minutes later that I was called…well actually a triage nurse came out and found me. Seeing that I was the only caucasian women in the waiting room he read my name and found me easily. That nurse asks me some questions in broken English and took my blood pressure. He says, “high” and motioned to the machine, it registered 155/102. Now I routinely have lower blood pressure, even while pregnant the systolic number rarely gets above 100. I begin to get nervous and think about pre-eclampsia and a host of other pregnancy related problems…all now on top of my ‘cough’. He takes it again, I try to inhale and exhale slowly. The numbers come down to 120/90 which I am much happier with. No doubt my anxiety level played a factor in my numbers that day. My oxygen level by the way was just fine at 98%, so much for being short of breath.
I was then then sent down a hallway to wait in another area. I pass by many patient areas with curtains drawn and then at the end of the isle is another patient area curtained off with folding chairs full of 10 -12 people just waiting. I was told to wait there. I glance around the area and am fearful of sitting too close to anyone. Again I wish for my own surgical mask. I clutch my sweater and hold it over my nose and mouth. I see out of the corner of my eye an asian police officer. I then notice that he is holding a chain that leads to a man’s waist sitting just down from me. A sick asian con-man I guess. He looked rough and yes indeed sick. A nurse comes by and tells me to “sit”. But now with the fear of getting sicker and now with the convict nearby I just move aside and hope she doesn’t notice. I watch a CNA walk down the hallway holding a bed pan….thankfully empty. The nurse from before comes by again and says the same thing, “sit”. I once again try to just move to the other side, still afraid to sit. The CNA I had noticed minutes before now returns walking down the hallway the other way just a foot or so from me now and I see that the bedpan is full this time! I cringe…wondering where she has to go with that…isn’t there a toilet nearby???
The asian con-man now has to get up and the police officer and his chain nearly brush the sweater I’m holding. Where am I? I keep thinking to myself and all because I have a ‘cough’. I finally hear my name “Hoey Sue” and walk across the hallway to see a doctor. The doctor asked me about my cough and my shortness of breath. She is kind but seems in a hurry…but of course this is an ER (or an A&E) and I do just have a ‘cough’. She takes some notes down. I notice she is holding a bottle of white out and she uses it frequently after asking me the same questions a few times. (a side note: we were forbidden to use white out in our charting as nurses…hmmm) She then listens to my lungs and says they sound clear. I couldn’t even muster up a cough for her. “No x-ray” she tells me because I’m pregnant. The doctor then goes on to explain how the baby can press on my vessels and cause some shortness of breath and that I may have some kind of upper respiratory virus. I again feel a bit silly that I am there. She says she will give me some cough medicine and sends me to another area to wait.
Another 15 minutes goes by, which seems like at least 60 minutes. After my wait I am ushered down the hallway to the pharmacy. I get my cough syrup along with a few small bags of little pills, all labeled for different use. One for sore throat, one for pain and a decongestant. I pay nothing and walk down 2 wrong hallways trying to find my way back to where we first entered. I come out a back door, walk along a sidewalk and find Abe sitting on the sidewalk with the boys in the night air. They are happy to see me and I am happy to see them…happy they were outside and not inside. We flag down a taxi and are home by 10:30pm. The whole excursion including taxi and hospital fee cost us just under $25 US. Not bad. I flop into bed that night still coughing, still tired. I wonder a bit about what just happened and then fall asleep.
After about 10 days I thought I was getting better but then I began feeling just as bad as I had at the beginning. Fever, aches, coughing. It was daytime this time and Abe thankfully was able to make a doctor appointment for me to be seen at Cathay City (Abe’s work) where they have a full medical clinic, one a bit more like I’m used to in the states. This time I went home with antibiotics for bronchitis and now 4 days later I am feeling like a different person. Abe is finishing up antibiotics as well and we are so grateful to be feeling better. What an experience. A real introduction to sickness and the health system here. We are hoping that our immune systems are bulking up Hong Kong style and from now on I’m keeping a surgical mask or two handy.