I Flew South for the Winter

I took flight and south with the birds. I left my cold, snowy, mountainous home in north western China and headed to warmth, poverty, and humility than I’ve ever known in Bangladesh.

Being there taught me that just as a folded garment has many folds, so holds each experience in our lives. There is much I learned, much more than I could even begin to explain, but I shall share a few new creases in the garment I wear called life.

Saying I was poor in college is inaccurate.

Saying I’m starving before a meal is inaccurate.

Saying I’m sick as a dog when I have a cold (or even the flu) is inaccurate.

I sat with malnourished children, who know no different.

I saw young pregnant women who are afraid that eating too much will make their baby fat and cause them a hard delivery.

I entered homes built with mud bricks and date tree leaf thatched roofs.

I ate biscuits and drank tea from some of the poorest women I’ve ever met.

I heard laughter from little girls who had been brought out of brothels and into the safety of an all girl’s home.

I watched as people burned their dead family member.

I wept with a dying man.

Bangladesh taught me to use my words wisely; to be more generous with my time and my laughter, to love those unknown to the rest of the world.

I would love to say I lived among them, but that would do them an injustice, at best I lived near them in a more comfortable situation. To many a month of cold showers, no wifi, washing clothes by hand, sleeping in a concrete room, traveling roads that are dirty and broken … is counted as living among them.

But it is something altogether different to sit in numerous unfinished homes in a village as women bring out any tea or biscuits they have. Like a mirror forcefully thrown to the ground, it breaks your heart into tiny shards that threaten to be broken smaller still…

Standing on their broken roads looking at the water pumps awkwardly positioned between groups of homes, because those homes don’t have running water. Watching the women bucket bathe their children under the pumps, carry large clay or metal pots of water back to theirs homes to be boiled and made safe for drinking. To see them hand washing the little clothing they have right there at the pump; thankful, truly thankful, they have access to water so near…

To walk into a girls’ home full of little girls and young women whose mothers are prostitutes, to see that they have hope of an education. Hope of a future unlike the past of their mothers. Knowing that there are more girls waiting to come. Waiting for space at the home. Rejoicing that the sister of one of these girls was rescued from being trafficked. Knowing there are more like her. Tears welling up in your eyes, anger swelling in your heart at the injustice of these little girls’ pasts…

Holding babies and seeing pregnant women waiting to give birth in an orphanage. Looking in the faces of the babies as your told most of these children will grow up without families. Then choosing to hold as many of them as you can so none of them are left never having been loved…

Seeing an uncountable number of mangled homeless people, knowing that many of their injuries came from the “shelters” in which the stay. The gang members and “shelter” workers maiming them to turn higher profits from them on the streets. Being told that giving money to the maimed, the homeless, the children will only continue the vicious cycle. Choosing instead to carry extra biscuits to give to children that beg and look hungry. Watching some of those children take the snack and try to exchange it for money, while others eat it as fast as their hungry little bodies can chew and swallow…

Realizing that to make an impact, to make a difference, all that is required is parting with a few resources, giving my full self, and leting go of ridiculous self absorbed things.

To be there and want to fix all the problems but realizing there wouldn’t be a problem if people loved, truly loved each other.

Owe no man anything, save to love one another: for he that loveth his neighbor hath fulfilled the law.

Romans 13:8

When you love someone or something, you do not actively try to destroy it. You do not disregard it; as so many people in Bangladesh were tossed to the side to be someone else’s problem or dealing. To love, to truly love someone is to serve them. It fulfills the law. You do not murder someone you love. You do not commit adultery against someone you really love. You do not … fill in the blank.

As I walked the streets, I realized something was missing. Something was causing this problem.

Love.

Bangladesh taught me what it is to love a place, a people that I know so little about.

I flew south for the winter, with the birds that migrated.

Never Stop Beating

Recently as I have sat down to put pen to paper or even my fingers to the keyboard, I find it hard to write out exactly what it is I’ve been thinking for the past days, weeks, or even months. The first year living here I found it easy to sit and write out anything humorous or touching. I feel I have run out of the humorous stories that come within the first year. There are many touching stories I want to write out, but for the safety of myself or others I have to refrain. So I write them in a notebook. “Stories that Beg to be Told” is what I call it.

There are people who don’t have voices, but everything within me screams out to give these people a voice. To tell their stories. To let people know they exist and what they go through.

There are times when you beg and will your heart to be quiet. For your heart to be still. That first date, when you can barely hear the words of the other person because your heart beats so fast and so loud. That moment when you sit before the Father and try to focus and drown everything out, but the noise of your heart overwhelms the quietness of the room. That view of the most beautiful thing your eyes have ever seen and you are trying to soak everything in. You want know everything all at once. Who this person is you are with at dinner. What the Father wants to reveal to you. How something could be so beautiful. You beg your heart to never stop beating. To be calm. To be quiet. But to continue to move you forward.

This past week has been one of those where I visited a new place. I sat on the side of a mountain and looked down at a tiny village (of 40,000 people) and was overwhelmed with the loud beating of my heart. The passion it brought about in me. The new feelings that welled up inside. This village is perfectly wedged into a bowl of mountains. Nothing more could fit inside it if it tried.

I wish I could tell you of all the things these eyes have seen. The things these ears have heard. This nose has smelled. Lips have tasted. But I can’t. Words and photos don’t capture the beauty of the moment, the heartbreaking stories. Unique experiences can’t be captured in photos. It can’t be captured in descriptive words. Not fully, anyway.

Walking away from this week, I am filled with passion. A passionate heart that I beg and will to never stop beating. To keep pumping the Life Blood to keep moving me forward. To giving a voice to the voiceless and hope to the hopeless.

Never. Stop. Beating.

 

The Village Idiot’s Surgical Experience

So, I told you about the hospital over all. This is my personal surgical experience.

After breaking my shoulder, the only way a village idiot knows how, I was told I had to have surgery. When the village idiot does it, she does it big. So I kind of freaked out and had my first spout of culture shock. So that was fun… not.

I had to check into the hospital on Wednesday for admittance paperwork and had to have a translator go with me. The nurses took my blood pressure with an outdated blood pressure pump (I know that isn’t the right word, and I’m ok with that – sorry nurses). This was so outdated that the pressure chambered is measured with mercury. Yep. Good ole poisonous mercury. When they took my temperature, in the armpit mind you, it was with a mercury thermometer.

Luckily I didn’t have to stay the night on Wednesday, but I did have to be back at the hospital by the butt crack of dawn on Thursday morning. That morning I had blood work and had to meet with my surgeon again. He explained it all to me, including the fact that I could have a shot in my neck to numb my arm so they could do the surgery. The neck shot was optional. I originally said no to the shot in the neck, because, HELLO it is a freaking needle in the neck. After meeting with him, I went back to my room. A new nurse came into my room and attempted to draw my blood. Again. I attempted to tell her someone had already done that. She went away, so hopefully she understood.

Later that afternoon, a little boy was admitted to the same room as me (remember from my previous post, there are three beds/patients per room). He was there for appendicitis. He is probably 7. Super sweet little boy. He was only in the room for a short time and then was taken away. I just assumed surgery. He never returned … I was afraid the kid died. No joke.

Every time there was a shift change or a new nurse checked into our floor, the other nurse would bring said new nurse to our room. They would look at me and ask me where the boy was. I kept telling them I didn’t know. Then was a little more afraid … the kid had to be dead and they hadn’t told the nursing staff yet. Holy crap. What was going to happen to me??!

That evening, a nurse came in with a syringe and attempted sticking it in my arm. Hold up. No thanks. What? I had to call a translator, I had no idea what was happening.

Turns out, it was the medicine to keep my blood from clotting during surgery. No big. Took the shot. Then an hour or two later a nurse came by to draw more blood. When I was confused, she went to get one of the foreign (American) doctors to help translate. It was blood work for the next day, they wanted to draw it the night before so they could process it soon before my surgery the next morning.

They boy didn’t return that night. His family members would come in from time to time to get some of their belongings, but the boy wasn’t with them. We didn’t really know what was going on.

A friend came and stayed with me. We went to bed around 12:30am (watched a lot of movies, because why not). Around 1am or 1:30am two nurses come in the room, turn the lights on, and are doing rounds. They look at me and ask where the little boy was. After explaining I did not know, she left. She at least turned the light off when she left. The next nurse came in around 6, flipped the light on, and stuck a thermometer in my armpit. Thanks, nurse, thanks. She did not turn the light off when she left. I was sad. My friend got out of her bed, turned the light off. The nurse came back at 7:45 to take the thermometer. By that time another friend had arrived, but was sitting quietly in the dark waiting on Beth or me to wake up.

Another nurse came by to give me a shot. After calling my translator, we found out it was the same shot as the day before. To keep my blood from clotting. Yeah, shut that down. No thank you. Only need one of those. Another nurse came by, looking for the little boy. Still, no idea where he was.

Another nurse came in and told me to put on these pajamas she brought to my room. They were stained and looked like old man pajamas. I purposely did not take a picture wearing them. Hecky nah. I kind of looked like an old man, minus the whole being a woman thing.

A few minutes later they were ready to take me down to surgery. With no sight of the little boy, I was slightly nervous. Did this kid go into some kind of Twilight Zone during surgery? Was I about to become an experiment? Oh gosh! Too much!

I waved to my two friends, said, “wish me luck”, and went to the nurse’s station. Once there, the nurse loaded down my pockets with things that needed to go with me to surgery. My IV kit (needles, fluid, antibiotic IV, etc) and other things I couldn’t identify. We were also waiting on an elderly gentleman in a wheel chair. We were headed to the elevator when the nurse tells me to go get my friend. She also told my friend to bring my x-ray, CT, and then made my friend put on a jacket. She was making my friend come with me.

We get to the 5th floor, one of the surgical floors, and walk to these huge metal doors that enter the surgical floor. They made me put on slippers and move to the side. The nurses then brought in a hospital bed that would be used to transfer someone to surgery. They told the family members of the man in the wheel chair, to lift him up and put him on the bed. Yes, you read that right. The medical staff did not help the man from his wheelchair to the transfer bed. Nope, that was done by family. “THIS MAN WAS ABOUT TO HAVE SURGERY! ARE YOU CRAZY?!” That is all that went through my mind. Until…

We started walking out of the 5th floor and heading toward the stairs. The nurse wanted us to go to the 6th floor via stairs. Walking was actually kind of painful because every step I would take would move my arm slightly, stairs scared the heck out of me. You would think that going from the 5th floor to the 6th floor would only be 1 flight of stairs, 2 at the most. Wrong. Four. It was four. How in the …. ? Let’s move on.

We made it to the sixth floor and I put on new slippers, again. T.I.C. My friend was asked to stand there. Apparently for the entire two hour surgery. Sorry, Rachel… One of the surgical nurses walked me back and then took me into a room. She looked around, made a noise, and then we walked out of that room into a new one. So, wrong surgical room. That’s encouraging.

She asked me to sit in a chair. I sat. Then, the surgical prep team came in and set up the room. I sat there and watched them set up all the tools, tool by tool,OH MY GOSH! Terror. They finally let me lay on the table. It was either time, or they saw the look of shear terror in my eyes as I watched them set up the room tool by tool they would use to cup me open.

The anesthesiologist came in and I attempted to explain in broken Chinglish that I wanted the anesthesia that would put me to sleep and then the shot in my neck. He went to get the foreign doctor. The foreign doctor went to ask my friend. Then he came back and asked me what I wanted. We were all in agreement, sleep then neck shots. So they hooked me up to an IV (I had never had an IV up to this point). My thought process was hilarious, looking back at it now.

“Ok, B. Don’t fight the medicine. Let it do what it is supposed to do.”

I still wasn’t asleep and they switched it over to another type of IV.

“B, don’t fight it. Let it work. Wait, did I just get switched to a new type of IV? What is that? It is kind of cloudy. Ok, maybe that is the sleep stuff. DON’T FIGHT IT!”

Turns out, it was the antibiotic.

“Wait, there is no more in that drip. They are switching me back. When do I fall asleep? Oh, is he injecting something into the IV line? That looks like it might make me … make me … me … what was I thinking? I’m confused.”

It ended up not knocking me out, but it did make me loopy and drowsy and the doctors laughed at me a lot.

“Holy crap, does that guy have a syringe in his hand? He is coming at me. Dang it, neck.”

The doctors then gave me 5 shots in the neck. I don’t remember it hurting, I just remember them asking me soon (time is relative at this point) if I felt any pain in my arm. I told them no. My arm felt fine. It was still comfortably on my stomach. I thought. I looked and realized my arm was stretched out in the opposite direction of my body. Oh, no pain. Good. Proceed.

I don’t remember too much after that, other than the doctors and nurses cell phones ringing and buzzing often. Then my surgeon answered his phone, between putting screws in my arm. It was someone calling and asking if he wanted Cornflakes from the import store. I apparently said, out loud, “Cornflakes, I want Cornflakes. That sounds delicious!!!” Which apparently made everyone in the room laugh, including the ones that do not speak English. I now fear there may have been sound effects… I forget how much I miss cereal.

Two hours later I was done with surgery. They pulled me off the surgical table, by the sheets, and put me on a transfer bed. They rolled me out of surgery and my friend Rachel was standing there… she had been waiting, the whole two hours. No chairs. I felt bad. They took me up to the recovery room on my floor. At that point I realized, that must be where the little boy had been all that time. No Twilight Zone. No death. Just recovery. The recovery room has 6 patients and anywhere from 1-9 nurses at one time. It was the least restful recovery ever. With so many people recovering from surgery, their families, and nurses … it does not equal a restful recovery. So many people. The curtains do not go all the way around a patient’s bed, like in America. Nope. If you need privacy for anything, someone has to hold the curtains closed while you do what you need or while others assist you doing what you need to do.

When I first got to the recovery room, I was so excited because I was told I couldn’t eat anything between midnight Friday morning until after my surgery on Friday. So getting to the recovery room my only thought was fooooooooooooooood! Oh how wrong I was. We asked the nurse when I could eat/drink. She said three hours. Three hours later, we asked again. She told me, three more hours. What a nightmare. All I wanted was food. So then we called the surgeon/doctor. He said if I could keep water down, then I could have food. So we asked the nurse if I could sit my bed up. No. Apparently they don’t let you do that after surgery either. Sitting was prohibited. Sad. We asked how I was supposed to drink water. The answer, a spoon. I didn’t have a spoon. So she told us to use the lid of my water bottle. (Cultural side note: that is extremely disgusting. It is just dirty to them). So we tried that. With me laying down. I almost choked. Bad choices. Bad. Choices.

We tried telling the nurse if I drank water that way I would choke. I don’t know the word for choke in Chinese so basically I said everything but the word choke and acted that word out. My friends and I laughed, but it made our point. They told me I could sit up, but they wouldn’t raise the bed up for me. My friends helped me sit up, gave me some water, and gave me some ibuprofen (the numbness was wearing off and I could feel a little pain in my arm). The nurses saw that I could sit up fine, so they raised my bed up. Seriously. This was 3 hour process, but they finally let me sit up in bed. I found out that is super Chinese. Oh the cultural lessons I learned being in a Chinese hospital.

The nurses had given me about 8 IV bags, I drank water, and I cheated on the no eating thing. A friend brought me a smoothie from a Western coffee shop, bless you Heather, bless you. I wanted something to eat, but it was a fluid, kind of. So I didn’t cheat too much … No shame. Then there was a problem. I needed to pee. It took me three hours to get them to let me raise my bed up, how in the world was I going to convince them to let me go pee?! I wasn’t. I wasn’t going to convince them. They wouldn’t let me out of my bed. So you know what that means… bed pan.

You do not know humility until someone has to help you do every single thing. I mean everything. Drink, eat, go to the bathroom, you name it, someone helped me do it.

My poor friends, they literally had to help me go pee. Well, first they had to go buy me a bed pan, because the hospital didn’t have one. So they said.

One of my friends left to go buy one, while two others stayed and hung out with me. While the one friend was gone, a nurse walked in with the flimsiest plastic bedpan I have ever seen and, now I can say, used. It was a mess. Literally. I used it, and squashed it, and had to change clothes afterward. It was awful. Oh, I was also pee shy for the first time in my life. I out awkwarded myself. Who knew?!

My friend came back with a large bowl, we use them as mop buckets or clothes soaking buckets or for other things, because that is all they had at a store nearby. It was much sturdier than the bedpan the nurses gave me. I was thankful for that. I had to use it 2 more times. Sad. Let’s not even talk about how I took a shower… a friend had to give me a sponge bath. My friends and I are much closer now, and not in ways we would have ever asked for..

Once the anesthesia finally wore off and I could fully feel the pain in my arm, I asked for medicine. They told me to take ibuprofen. Umm… that is not exactly the kind of painkiller I wanted. I wanted something that would actually kill the pain. I took two anyway. About an hour later I was involuntarily crying because I was in pain. Their solution, a pain-relieving enema. It didn’t do much for me that time. Yes, that means I had more than one, but I’m not there yet.

That evening, the doctors were making their rounds before they were all headed home. They told me they would give me pain medicine around 9pm that would help me sleep, they told me this at 5. I knew I could hold out for 4 hours. No big, if relief is on its way, I could hold out. Well, 9pm rolls around and we asked for medicine. They gave me a shot in the butt. That was a first. It was just sleeping medicine, not pain medicine. I couldn’t sleep. So, I took 2 melatonin pills to help. Still couldn’t sleep. I was involuntarily crying from pain again. Oh goodie. At least I probably will never see most of those people again, except my friends. My friends that saw my butt on more than one occasion in the last 10 hours. Great. One of my friends sat with me, after enema number 2, until the pain wore off. Sleep finally came to me around 1 am and I didn’t wake up until 8:30 am.

How did I wake up? Glad you asked. Two nurses were “adjusting” my comforter on my bed and hit me in the arm. Oooouuuuccchh! They then told me I needed to get all of my things back to my actual room. A friend came and did that. So I asked if I could go back to my room. They gave me permission to stand up. So I stood up, and my friends and I shuffled (that was as fast as I could go) down the hall to my room. Hey, they didn’t know where boy was, I was ok with them not knowing where I was.

Made it to my room, got settled back in, and a group of 10 nurses came into my room. “Crap”… Nope, they were doing rounds. They got to my bed and asked if I was in pain, then told me I was going home that day (Saturday). I told them I wasn’t scheduled to go home until Sunday. They looked confused and went to the next room. Then a group of 8 doctors (3 of which were doctors I met with and were involved with my surgery) came into the room.  They too told me I would be going home that day. They made me go get an x-ray and then sent me home. (Home as in, I went to Amanda and Daniel’s – friends).

That is the tale of this village idiot’s surgical experience.

This is China … Village Idiot Series

Before you read the post, test your knowledge on Chinese Hospitals

Chinese Hospitals – A T/F Quiz

Due to my village idiot moment (aka broken shoulder/arm) I had to have surgery. Prior to this, the only bone I had ever broken was a toe, at my personal Yoda’s house. So surgery from a broken bone frightened and overwhelmed me. I was mainly overwhelmed by how different the Chinese hospital is from American hospitals.

In American hospitals, nurses not only do your IV but they take care of you. Family and friends may not be with you around the clock, so RNs, LPNs, CNAs etc. help you in and out of bed, take you to/from the bathroom, administer you medicine, etc. In American hospitals, food can be sent up to your room from the cafeteria for each meal. Many times, in American hospitals, you have your own room.

Wake up call. This is not America.

This is China.

When my doctor said I’d have surgery, he began explaining the cultural differences of a western hospital and a Chinese hospital. Here is your world wide hospital education.

Let’s begin with walking into the hospital.

Think about every WWII hospital scene in movies that you have seen. That is what the hospitals look like. It looks like they stopped renovating around 1927. Including how the nurses dress. Hats to shoes. I feel as though I have stepped back in time.

The nurses draw blood, start an IV, and take your temperature. They do not administer medication. If they do, in the case of narcotics or high powered medications, they must go down to the dispensary for each dose. It is not prescribed and given to the patient directly. Nope. It is regulated. This method takes anywhere from 1-2 hours before pain medicine is given to the patient requesting said medicine. We all know nurses are busy, but when a person is beginning to be in pain, hospitals in American would make sure patients receive medication before pain gets too much worse. Not in China. Not the norm.

Hospital rooms aren’t private rooms. There are about 3-5 beds per hospital room. My room had 3 beds. For part of day one there was a little boy in the bed next to mine. He had appendicitis. He was so precious and I felt so bad for him. He was prepped and taken to surgery within a couple of hours of being at the hospital.

In Chinese hospitals it is expected that your family or friends stay with you and care for you. They are the ones expected to help you in/out of bed, if needed, to/from the bathroom, up/down the hall or through the building… There is no cafeteria in the hospital. Family and friends are expected to feed you and to stay informed of when you are allowed or are not allowed to have food (like before surgery).

Another major difference is hospital record keeping. In western hospitals x-rays and CT scans are not given to patients, it is passed through the hospital to the appropriate doctors. In China, these are given to the patient to take to the doctor. Patients are expected to keep up with many of their own records. Some things, like blood work and a few other tests, are passed on to the doctors directly. Each person that checks into the hospital for any reason is given a booklet and a card. The booklet is the doctor’s notes for you, but you keep up with it. The card is registered to a number in the hospital computers under each person’s name and date of birth. This card tracks the tests and scans and x-rays. All tests must be paid for prior to having said test run. So if I need an x-ray, I pay for the x-ray then take the receipt and the x-ray form to the x-ray department.

Payments are made in the main building, with the ER and patient rooms. X-rays and CT scans are in a different building. It isn’t localized here as it would be in a western hospital. Things are a little more spread out and the patient has to walk from one place to the other to get each thing done. Then back to the main building to give things to the doctor.

One “fun” thing about Chinese hospitals is that anyone can walk into your room. For example, two friends were visiting me the day before my surgery. A man walked into my room with what appeared to be a medical chart and a bag. My surgeon and another foreign doctor had come to visit me earlier and had a similar looking bag. Naturally I assumed he was one of the local doctors coming by to check on me or visit me.

No. False. Wrong.

He was a salesman. He wanted to sell my friends or me a hand held back massager. No thanks, dude. No thanks. It took some convincing before he finally left, but he did eventually leave. This is super normal in China. On trains. On planes. In hospitals.

I had another rude awaking, outside of the above mentioned ones… The hospital did not have bed pans or bed pads (used under a bed pan in case of a spill or something) on hand. Patients, or a family member of the patient, need to provide their own. So when my friend asked for one for me, she was told to go buy one. That was fun. I also had to have my own toilet paper for my room.

This is the true Chinese hospital experience.

Oh, I forgot to mention… there are no showers in the rooms. Toilets are squatty pottys, because this is China.

It wasn’t a terrible experience, just a very VERY different one.